Most parents approach children’s questions about sex with careful thought. We know that our period chat, puberty Q&A, our bleakly vital guidance on sexting and porn won’t just affect their present happiness and bodily ease, but future relationships too. We entrust schools to make up for our shortfalls or embarrassment, to further our conversations with sensitivity and fact.
We’d expect RSHE (relationships, sex and health education) lessons to be conducted by trained teachers, schooled in biology, alert to pornified and misleading internet content. We’d hope our kids learn not just where babies come from but that sexuality is diverse, that sex isn’t just about problems, like STIs and abortion, but a source of joy.
Instead your child may be taught by the School of Sexuality Education which asked kids to Google then draw masturbating animals. Or the Proud Trust, whose dice game asks 13-year-olds to speculate how various body parts and objects will pleasure their anus. Or Diversity Role Models, which promoted the message beloved of paedophiles: “Love has no age limit.”
Because any organisation can now teach RSHE, including activist groups with political agendas. Staff don’t need education or child development qualifications. There is no professional register or regulation of their curriculum. The Department for Education (DfE) says it is a school’s responsibility to oversee lesson content but many don’t have time, often entrusting outside speakers to address classes with no teacher present. And if parents demand to see teaching resources, groups often cite copyright law and refuse.
RSHE teaching, as Miriam Cates, a Tory MP and former biology teacher, noted in her Westminster Hall debate on Thursday, is “a wild west”. Indeed it is a deregulated, privatised, quintessentially Conservative mess.
The government’s response to criticism about inadequate sex education was to make it mandatory from September 2020 for both primary and secondary pupils. The DfE advocates a “programme tailored to the age and the physical and emotional maturity of the pupils”. But instead of providing funds to recruit or train RSHE specialists, it left schools often to outsource lessons to groups, some newly formed to win these lucrative contracts. Since then many parents have voiced concerns. First at the inappropriately sexualised content of lessons for young children: 11-year-olds asked to work out from a list if they are straight, gay or bisexual; ten-year-olds told to discuss masturbation in pairs. Compelling pre-pubescent children to talk about explicit material with adults transgresses their natural shyness and is a safeguarding red flag.
Many groups brand themselves “sex positive”, a confusing term which doesn’t mean “relationships are great” but that no sexual practice is off-limits and the sex industry, specifically pornography, is wholly liberating. BISH Training’s website entry on “rough sex” dismisses the notion that online porn is responsible for a rise in choking, hair-pulling and spitting as “annoying”. Although 60 British women have died of strangulation during sex, BISH simply tells young people to go slow “at first”.
Reading RSHE groups’ online material, and most is hidden from public scrutiny, none addresses the fact that boys and girls are fed different sexual scripts from increasingly violent mainstream porn. Those being choked, violently penetrated in multiple orifices are rarely male. Yet there is no feminist critique or much focus on female pleasure.
Such teaching is supposed to uphold the 2010 Equality Act in which sex is a protected characteristic, yet much of it blurs biology. The Sex Education Forum divides us into “menstruaters” and “non-menstruaters”. Just Like Us states that sex can be changed. Amaze suggests boys who wear nail varnish and girls who like weightlifting could be trans.
Researching my report on the Tavistock child gender service, I spoke with parents of girls on the autistic spectrum who’d always felt like misfits but after listening to outside speakers at school assemblies or RSHE classes now believed they were boys. Gender ideology, with no basis in science or fact, is being pushed in schools, as Cates says, “with religious fervour”.
In its carelessness and cheap-skatery, the government has enabled teaching that is well out of step with public opinion. More In Common polling of 5,000 people found that while 64 per cent of us are happy for schools to teach that some children have two dads or mums, only 31 per cent believe primary schools should teach about trans identity. Parents know it is confusing, unscientific and predicated upon gender stereotypes.
The government’s present hands-off policy also leaves schools vulnerable when challenged by homophobic religious groups, as in Birmingham when extreme Islamists stirred up parents to oppose teaching about gay parents. Head teachers then said they’d have welcomed more prescriptive government guidance so parents could hold elected politicians, not individual schools, to account.
At Thursday’s debate, the chastened schools minister Robin Walker noted that parents should have ready access to all RSHE teaching materials and said the equality and human rights commission is working out guidance on how gender identity should be taught in schools. Such lessons must include evidence of social contagion, the harms of puberty blockers, warning about irreversible treatment and the experience of a growing number of “detransitioners”.
But the government needs to go further, with a register of outside groups and close monitoring of misleading materials. It should also teach critical thinking, so children can evaluate the porn-suffused culture in which they live. There’s no point parents putting such care into how we teach children about sex if the government gives none at all.
Just read a Guardian piece on “50 years of Deep Throat’. The thinly veiled sneeriness at feminist critiques is predictable but what also gets to me is the pretentiousness. Like you’re not just a prude but a cultural ignoramus if you’re insufficiently appreciative.
It reminded me of the section in [Louise Perry’s] The Case Against the Sexual Revolution on ‘The Sadeian Woman’ – the urge to mystify and render edgy an ultimately unsophisticated exploitation that isn’t really new.
“You just don’t get it because you miss the broader cultural, political and intellectual context” is another of those Emperor’s New Clothes coercive narratives. No one wants to look stupid so it’s easy to scare people off stating the obvious about a glaringly obvious film.
(I remember this pressure – never EVER be the idiot who states the obvious – very vividly from being an arts postgrad in the late 90s, and it’s really dangerous when what you’ve decided to be an authority on is pornography and/or violence against women).
France has taken the first step towards banning some of the most popular pornography websites, with the state regulator seeking a court order because of their failure to prevent access by children.
Roch-Olivier Maistre, head of Arcom, a new audiovisual and digital communication authority, acted after Pornhub, Xvideos, TuKif, Xhamster and Xnxx failed to respond to a final warning in December to act on a 2020 law that requires age verification to access their material.
If the judges issue the order, internet service providers must prevent access to the sites and search engines must ban them from listings.
Attempts by the firms, registered in Cyprus, the Czech Republic and the Portuguese island of Madeira, to open “mirror sites”, offering the same content with different addresses, also would be blocked, Arcom said.
Since the French rules took effect, Pornhub and other X-rated services that account for five of the fifty most popular websites in France have merely asked users to confirm with an anonymous click that they are 18 or over.
The French move is part of a crackdown across the European Union and in Britain against sites that give children access to free pornography and other damaging content. Three French-based porn sites, including the popular Jacquie et Michel, have complied with the government rule by requiring users to obtain passwords after providing credit card imprints to validate their ages. They do not have to confirm their identity by other means.
Earlier attempts to impose age verification have fallen foul of privacy rules in France, Britain and elsewhere. France’s data protection watchdog warned that age verification by publishers of pornographic content must not enable them to collect data on users derived from their identities such as their sexual orientation and tastes.
President Macron’s government has promoted a bill that requires the installation of parental controls in computers, phones, gaming consoles and tablets sold in France.
Over 80 per cent of children aged 10 to 14 say that they regularly go online without parental supervision in France. On average, 70 per cent of children of all ages say that they watch online videos alone, the parliamentary group of Macron’s République En Marche party said.
The bill, passed by parliament, could yet be rejected for breaching EU laws. This is because the mandatory controls could be deemed to breach single market rules since they impose French standards with which other EU manufacturers would have to comply.
TuKif, French for “You Fancy”, has contested the court action, saying that it would be ready to comply, but only if the state pursues 2,000 other porn sites that have not been targeted.
Child protection groups that began the legal action with the regulator said that they were starting with the biggest sites but legal action would reach all of them. “The idea was not to issue injunctions to all sites but to signal that the party is over,” Olivier Gérard, a spokesman for the National Union of Family Associations, said.
France is the sixth biggest user of Pornhub, the world’s most popular pornography provider. Britain is the second, after the United States. Pornhub said last year that the French law infringed the privacy of adults and “leaves large areas of the adult industry completely unchecked”.
Porn websites in the UK will be legally required to verify the age of their users under new internet safety laws.
The legislation, which is part of the draft Online Safety Bill, aims to give children better protection from explicit material.
The measures, to ensure users are 18 or over, could see people asked to prove they own a credit card or confirm their age via a third-party service.
Sites that fail to act could be fined up to 10% of their global turnover.
The Online Safety Bill is expected to be introduced to parliament over the next few months and is designed to protect users from harmful content.
Children’s safety groups have long been calling for age verification on porn sites, over fears it is too easy for minors to access publically available material online.
Similar measures were proposed previously but dropped in 2019.
Studies show that half of 11 to 13-year-olds have seen pornography at some point.
Experts who work with children say it gives them unhealthy views of sex and consent, putting them at risk from predators and possibly stopping them reporting abuse.
Announcing the age verification plans, Digital Economy Minister Chris Philp said: “Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see.”
As well as being able to fine websites that do not follow the rules, the regulator Ofcom could block them from being accessible in the UK.
The bosses of these websites could also be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.
Previously, only commercial porn sites that allowed user-generated content were in the scope of the Online Safety Bill, but all commercial porn sites will now be covered.
Andy Burrows, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), welcomed the strengthening of the Online Harms Bill but said it didn’t go far enough.
“It’s right the government has listened to calls to fix one of the gaps in the Online Safety Bill and protect children from pornography wherever it’s hosted,” he said.
“Crucially, they have also acted on our concerns and closed the ‘Only Fans loophole’ that would have let some of the riskiest sites off the hook despite allowing children access to extremely damaging material.
“But the legislation still falls short of giving children comprehensive protection from preventable abuse and harmful content and needs significant strengthening to match the government’s rhetoric and focus minds at the very top of tech companies on child safety.”
Proposals to make people confirm their age before accessing explicit content online were first introduced under the Digital Economy Act in 2017, but the government never enforced them.
They were officially dropped in 2019, with ministers pledging “other measures” would achieve the same results.
When the first draft of the Online Safety Bill was announced last year, campaigners were shocked it did not contain these long-promised checks.
It will be up to companies to decide how best to comply with the new rules, but Ofcom may recommend the use of certain age verification technologies.
However, the government says firms should not process or store data that is irrelevant to the purpose of checking someone’s age.
Despite the widespread use of age verification technology in sectors such as online gambling, there are still fears it poses privacy risks.
Campaigners have warned that a database of pornography users would be a huge hacking target for blackmailers.
Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, which campaigns to preserve digital rights and freedoms, said the rules would benefit age verification companies while offering “little practical benefit for child safety, and much harm to people’s privacy”.
“There is no indication that this proposal will protect people from tracking and profiling porn viewing,” he told the BBC.
“We have to assume the same basic mistakes about privacy and security may be about to be made again.”
But Iain Corby, executive director of the Age Verification Providers Association, said firms he represented had developed a wide range of methods to prove someone’s age online without disclosing their identity to the websites they visit.
“By using independent, third-party organisations which are audited and certified to comply with the highest standards of data protection and security, adults can be confident their own privacy will be preserved while their children are protected.”
It is dinner time on a Friday evening and a teenage girl is sitting in her bedroom facing the camera on her laptop.
On the other end of the screen, boys are telling her to take her clothes off. “Your tits look heavy, do you want me to hold them?” a boy says. “I’d still dog you darling,” another replies.
Later on a boy asks if he can call a girl, who is black, a “dirty little slave”. Another group livestream is titled “n***a lynching clubhouse”.
The conversations are all happening on a social media app called Yubo, which is known as “Tinder for teens” and allows children aged 13 to 17 to match with potential dates as well as to join “lives” where they are encouraged to interact with about 100 other teenagers.
An undercover investigation into the app, which has 3.6 million UK users, has found children are subjected to sexual harassment, racism and bullying.
Schools have sent warnings to parents telling them that Yubo may not be safe. Head teachers have shared a newsletter saying that “due to the nature of this app, your child may come across content that is not appropriate to them”.
James Loten, deputy head at Harwich and Dovercourt school, in Essex, told parents he was concerned it could be “exploited by adults for nefarious purposes”. Kingsley primary school, in Co Durham, said children should be stopped from downloading it.
Our undercover reporter spent ten days on Yubo, posing as a 15-year-old girl called Anne. No age verification was required, with the journalist able to use profile pictures of her 20-year-old self.
She was propositioned for sex and frequently asked to send nude pictures. A message from a 17-year-old boy said: “Let me rail [have sex with] you”, while others on a livestream told girls they would “strip you naked and rape you” and “choke you”.
A black 16-year-old was told by another user: “I’d let you pick my cotton any day.”
Self-harm and suicide were frequently discussed. Our reporter saw a group of boys trade explicit images of girls they knew while others chanted “get your wrists out” to a female user. Others were told to “f*** off and kill yourselves” during a discussion about feminism.
Many of the conversations happened as teens were finishing school and doing their homework, with some parents shouting up to bedrooms about coming down for dinner.
MPs and campaigners said the investigation raised significant safety concerns. They also questioned whether children would be sufficiently protected by the new Online Safety Bill, which could be presented to parliament within weeks.
The Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said the findings were “deeply shocking, both for the parents and children involved, and also for educators across the country”. “The Online Safety Bill is a welcome step in the right direction but much more needs to be done to keep pace with the ever-evolving technology,” he said.
Chris Philp, the minister for tech and the digital economy, said: “What I have heard about this site is sickening. Apps designed for and marketed at children should be safe for them to use. The government will not allow this kind of thing to continue threatening children and that is why we are strengthening the Online Safety Bill to put a stop to content harmful to children once and for all.”
Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, one of England’s biggest academy trusts, with 52 schools, said the site was dangerous and must be made safer “to stop lives being lost and futures ruined”.
Young people have contacted the charity Childline asking for help. “A guy saved my nudes on Yubo. I eventually got him to delete them but he said if I don’t send him stuff tomorrow he’ll get the pictures back and spread them,” one girl said.
Ian Critchley, in charge of child protection for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said sites such as Yubo were being used to “commit some of the most abhorrent acts”.
“These platforms are multimillion-pound companies. They take large profits and they have the moral and legal responsibility to make sure the communities they have created are safe communities. There is much more they can do.
“The findings from your report highlight the role they must play in being proactive in seeking to stop child abuse where perpetrators are seeking to groom children,” he said.
Sarah Parker, from Catch 22, an agency that works with police and schools to combat child exploitation, said Yubo had been mentioned in a “flurry” of recent cases.
The new Online Safety Bill is supposed “to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.
Under the new rules social media companies will have to show a “duty of care” to users by removing illegal content and ensuring children are not exposed to inappropriate material.
If they do not meet these responsibilities, tech giants could face fines from the regulator Ofcom and senior managers may be held criminally liable.
Baroness Morgan of Cotes, a former education and digital secretary, said: “No teenager should be exposed to the harmful content that you found … just because Yubo or any other platform can’t properly police their sites. Those running Yubo and similar sites need to be held accountable.”
Yubo says its moderators check profiles and monitor messages for inappropriate content, yet chats with names such as “pissing on dead n**gs” appeared to go unnoticed.
Rules on the discussion and consumption of drugs, which it also claims to enforce, were consistently broken.
Our reporter heard a drug dealer telling a 15-year-old girl about ketamine and acid. As a teenage girl appeared to snort cocaine, a male user said: “Would you do a line off my wood [erection]?”.
Yubo, which is based in Paris and was previously called Yellow, has been linked to a string of criminal cases involving teenagers being groomed.
Last week Rhys Stone, 21, was jailed at Cardiff crown court after he locked a 17-year-old in his car and subjected her to a sexual attack as she screamed and begged him to stop.
He had met the victim hours before on a Yubo livestream.
Dewan Gazi, 22, was sentenced to 12 years in October 2019 for raping a 12-year-old and sexually abusing a 15-year-old. Over a period of 12 days, he had messaged 95 teenagers on the app.
Detective Sergeant Jinnett Lunt, from Greater Manchester police, said: “What this case showed was Gazi’s apparent intent on using Yubo with a view to making contact with as many young people as possible, before moving them on to other platforms where he would then commit his offending.”
Last month pupils at the Jewish Free School in north London revealed that younger children were using Yubo, where bullying and harassment were rife. The school was placed into special measures last year by inspectors after the death of a 14-year-old girl.
In a report Ofsted told of widespread “sexual bullying including via social media” at the school, which has 2,000 pupils and where three students are thought to have taken their own lives in the past four years.
Assemblies on sexting were held, with parents given advice on supervising their teenagers’ phone use. The school has since improved.
A spokeswoman for Yubo said the safety of users was “our foremost priority”, with safety practices developed on a “constant” basis. They added that the site cared “deeply” about the wellbeing of its users.
Yubo said it had an extensive range of safety tools in place to “safeguard our users at every stage of their journey within the app”, with moderators who “intervene in real time”, and has an age verification process.
A spokeswoman said: “We are saddened to learn of the journalist’s experience and can only apologise for the way she and others have been impacted during this time on our platform. We’re taking the investigation by The Sunday Times extremely seriously and have instigated an immediate review of the safety features and how they may have failed. Our users and their safety always have, and always will, come first.”
When Andrea, a Metropolitan Police constable, was summoned into a room by her inspector he stood up, she assumed, to greet her politely. Instead he lunged, grabbing her breasts and forcing his hands into her underwear. She froze, then aimed a kick at his groin and fled.
Andrea hadn’t intended to report him — “you shut up and put up with it. If you speak out, you’re finished” — but she confided in a colleague who did. Compelled to pursue a complaint, a 30-month ordeal began which ended in her dismissal for discreditable conduct in 2020. The inspector kept his job.
Speaking to Andrea about her 20-year police career answers key questions about the Met. Such as, why were no red flags raised about Wayne Couzens, nicknamed “the rapist” because he loved violent porn, used prostitutes, unnerved female colleagues and indecently exposed himself, long before he murdered Sarah Everard? Or why did Deniz Jaffer and Jamie Lewis take selfies with the bodies of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman to share with colleagues for a laugh?
Why did a policeman feel entitled to have sex with a vulnerable woman in Charing Cross police station? The subsequent investigation has brought to light WhatsApp messages between officers of sickening misogyny. To a female colleague an officer wrote: “I would happily rape you . . . chloroform you . . . if I was single.” Others discussed how beating women keeps them loyal. One remarked about his girlfriend: “Swear to got [sic] I’m going to smack her.”
Such attitudes are shocking, but not for Andrea. The inspector lied to investigators that she’d given him oral sex in her car, that she was a stalker out to destroy his career and marriage. She was threatened with a charge of perverting the course of justice. Her union rep sat in silence as her character was trashed (she had an impeccable record) while senior officers referred to her assailant chummily by his first name.
A year into the inquiry, despairing that no one believed her, Andrea attempted suicide. Regardless, she was then brought back for another brutal seven-hour interrogation: “If my sister hadn’t been with me afterwards, I’d have thrown myself under the Tube.”
Almost daily in the Met, Andrea witnessed what in any other workplace would bring a visit from HR or even instant dismissal. She was paired with an officer who liked to park near secondary schools to ogle teenage girls’ breasts; colleagues constantly watched porn on their phones; a PC, convicted of gross indecency for masturbating on a train, kept his job; men would return from domestic violence scenes saying the victim was mad and deserved a slap.
If Andrea failed to laugh at such banter, colleagues would ask: “Are you on your period?” If she left her notebook lying around she’d find a penis drawn inside. Older women were “Dorises” or “white goods” (ie domestic appliances). When a young tourist disappeared, men gathered around the computer to gawp at her photograph, one saying: “She’s locked in my sex dungeon at home.” When the station carpet was treated for a flea infestation they joked: “It’s for Andrea’s crabs.”
Only a third of Met officers are women, well below the national average, and Andrea often worked in otherwise all-male teams. Having trained in a more diligent home counties force, she was shocked by the impunity in the sprawling, disparate, unaccountable Met. Above all, she knew that to report what she saw, even via the anonymous complaint line, marked you out as a traitor, a grass. “Even if you’re moved, everyone knows everyone.”
WhatsApp groups, she says, “are the worst thing to happen in policing”. Every station has one; officers can share things too gross to say out loud, entrenching, even amplifying, racist and sexist attitudes. Plus a group can deliberately exclude someone like Andrea and plan her demise.
When the Centre for Women’s Justice (of which I am a trustee) first lodged its super-complaint on failure to address police-perpetrated domestic abuse it had 19 cases, mainly wives and girlfriends of police, with some female officers like Andrea. The women found their menfolk were investigated by officers they knew: evidence was “lost”, cases dropped, the women themselves were threatened with arrest. “Who’s going to believe you?” one was told. “There are lots of us.” After the CfWJ went public, it was flooded with calls: it now represents 163 women.
The College of Policing and the police inspectorate will decide whether to take up its recommendations in April, which include abuse being investigated by a neighbouring force. CfWJ also asks the home secretary to expand an inquiry into Couzens to encompass the broader culture of the Met.
Let’s hope it does. After the Charing Cross revelations, Sadiq Khan has put Met chief Cressida Dick “on notice”. A poll shows women’s faith in policing has tumbled since Everard’s death. Soon another Met officer, David Carrick, will go to trial, charged with 23 sexual assaults including 13 rapes, with potential for even more reputational damage. Dick clearly lacks the strength or courage to take on the old boys, the locker room culture, the vested interests in her force. Only a tough, clear-sighted outsider will do.
Women are half the electorate, half the taxpayers funding police salaries. What a dismal service we receive. If we are raped, there is now only a 1.6 per cent chance our attacker will even be charged. It should be those police who think sexual assaults are a joke, that domestic violence victims had it coming, that they have licence to grope female colleagues who are forced to hand over their warrant cards in disgrace. Not women like Andrea.
Ministers are preparing to introduce laws to prevent children accessing online pornography.
Plans to bring in age verification for adult sites, which were shelved in 2017, are now being looked on with approval by Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, and Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary.
Their support follows work by Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, who has sent a report to ministers recommending that age verification becomes compulsory on all porn sites.
Today she reveals that in meetings with porn providers she found them willing to introduce age verification measures as long as they were imposed industry-wide.
Studies show that half of 11 to 13-year-olds have seen pornography at some point. This rises to two-thirds of 14 to 15-year-olds and four in five 16 to 17-year-olds, according to De Souza. She is also pushing for the big tech firms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to do much more to prevent children from seeing porn and other damaging material on their sites by accident, although ministers are not expected to back full age verification for these platforms.
The eight big tech companies have been summoned to a meeting on Wednesday hosted by the two ministers and De Souza to thrash out how they stop children stumbling across porn or harmful material on suicide and eating disorders.
De Souza, a former head teacher, said she had seen the hugely damaging effects of pornography on children, including a young girl who took her own life. “Kids are seeing things that warp what they think real sexual relationships are like,” she said. “I’ve had girls say to me that during their first kiss with their boyfriend he’s tried to strangle her because he’s seen it on a porn video. Girls are filming themselves in their bedroom and sending it to boys who are sharing it. These girls are being pestered ten or more times a night to send naked images of themselves. I’ve had boys traumatised because they are in big WhatsApp groups, seeing things they don’t want to see.”
The tougher rules are expected to be written into the forthcoming online harms bill, which had been due before Christmas but has been put on hold until the new year after Boris Johnson told the House of Commons liaison committee that he wanted to see it strengthened. Dorries has also told MPs that she wants it to go further.
Theresa May’s government passed the Digital Economy Act in 2017, requiring commercial providers of pornography “to have robust age verification controls in place to prevent children and young people under 18 from accessing pornographic material”. However, it was never enacted after privacy campaigners claimed that it would force users to hand over their identities to porn sites.
De Souza said that technology now existed that will allow users to prove their age online using a passport or other identification in a way that they secure an access code. “Technology is so much better now and the privacy issues are no longer a concern,” she said. “Third parties can do age verification and get rid of that information straight away.
“I met with some of the biggest porn companies and challenged them on age verification. As long as all adult sites have to have age verification put on them, they would be comfortable to go forward with that. They basically said, ‘Make us do it’. I was pleased with that.”
Ministers are examining how to introduce age verification using biometric data and “age assurance” measures, whereby sites can use artificial intelligence to identify children by the way they they behave online or interact with a device, including the language they use.
Senior government sources said officials were considering whether to write changes into the published draft of the bill or whether to amend the legislation when it goes before parliament in the spring. The bill is expected to become law by the end of next year.
Women woke to find a new item on our stay-safe list. Beneath “stick to well-lit streets” and “wear flat shoes you can run in”; after “text your taxi’s number plate to a friend” and “clutch keys in your fist like a claw” came new guidance: “Don’t trust a policeman working alone.”
Is this our duty too? To adjudge on dark nights whether men paid with our taxes to protect us may prefer to kill us? The North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott said that Sarah Everard “should never have submitted to arrest”. But women are raised to comply. It’s drummed into us: be good, be kind. Sarah got into Wayne Couzens’s car because, in visiting her friend, she knew she’d broken lockdown rules. Sorry, officer, I’ll come to the station. Handcuffs? Are you sure? OK . . .
No more. If Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power, in which women’s rage converts into high-voltage electricity, were true, skies would crackle, buildings blaze. Not just for Sarah or Sabina Nessa, bludgeoned crossing a park, or Julia James, walking her dog, or Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, enjoying a summer night. Nor even for all 80 women killed by men since Sarah. But because we will no longer accept male violence, and the misogyny which underpins it, being shrugged away.
The police should have no doubt this is their Jimmy Savile moment. Cressida Dick chose the day Couzens pleaded guilty to kidnapping and rape to talk about the odd ‘bad ’un’ in the force. But what does that make colleagues who let him slide across the spectrum, from slapping a female cop’s backside to stopping only women motorists, using personal details to loiter outside their homes. Women now know that acquiring the nickname The Rapist is no impediment to a police career.
It’s all banter isn’t it, just a laugh? Couzens, spotted driving around naked from the waist-down? A kink, maybe. (Once flashers were comedy staples, now it’s argued that indecent exposure is an outdated offence in our sex-positive age.) Couzens using violent pornography or hiring prostitutes? Only a prude would judge. (Unembarrassed men browse PornHub right beside you on a train.) Every warning sign that Couzens saw women as disposable objects was glossed over, not even picked up in professional screening which granted him a gun.
Because we never riot and, alas, lack electric super-powers, police disregard our deaths. Even our grief at the Sarah Everard vigil, where officers stomped flowers and strong-armed speakers, wasn’t worthy of the respect protesters receive for lying on the M25. They are political: women are collateral.
If a man is freaked out by lockdown he might kill his wife of 44 years: Ruth Williams. If he’s drunk, horny and has watched choking porn he might strangle his mistress: Sophie Moss. (Both men got five years.) All these reported pillars of the community, decent dads, nice, quiet blokes who just “turned”. Nothing to see. Just an annual 150 or so one-offs.
Yet Sue Fish, the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire, has spoken of “institutional misogyny” so ingrained in the decision-making “they don’t realise they are doing it and why”. She reports police calling young women “whores” or “sugar tits”, older ones “Dorises”.
No surprise that Couzens and colleagues traded racist and misogynist WhatsApp messages or that other Met officers posed for selfies by Nicole and Bibaa’s dead bodies. Because we know northern police forces ignored gangs trafficking underage girls for sex for decades, since they were just “little slags”. We learnt this week that police chiefs disregarded undercover cops having sexual relationships with women by deception. The impunity of the penis rules the police, as elsewhere.
Now a third of officers are women, yet it is still hard to complain about men like Couzens. Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent, said female officers hesitate to report colleagues lest they be labelled as troublemakers so “when you press your emergency button on your radio for back up, no one comes and you get beaten up in the street”.
In a super-complaint lodged by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), of which I am a trustee, 666 women reported abuse by police officer partners. Australian research has shown that since policemen tend to have more authoritarian personalities they are more likely to be controlling spouses, yet their conviction rate for domestic violence is 3.9 per cent compared with a 6.2 per cent average in the general population.
CWJ argues this is because the police service looks after its own. Abusive officers told their wives that since colleagues would investigate their claims, they would never be believed. Indeed, in case after case women report that witnesses aren’t contacted, statements and evidence lost, no further action taken. (CWJ wants a separate channel for police partners to report abuse away from boys’-club meddling.) No wonder that since 2009 at least 15 serving or ex-police officers have killed women.
This statistic is from the femicide census, the annual list read in parliament by Jess Phillips compiled by the campaigner Karen Ingala Smith from news reports. She does this because, astonishingly, the government doesn’t keep data on how many women are killed by men. The first of many acts police need to perform to win back women’s trust is create a femicide league table showing which forces have brought women’s deaths down. And spare us that sly obfuscation “gender-based violence”.
It is time for the demands of violence against women campaigners to be addressed. Cressida Dick should dedicate her remaining years to this most intractable crime. Male violence is a problem with the deepest, most tangled roots. And police are just men, but with handcuffs and warrant cards.
Reports of sexual abuse between children in England and Wales more than doubled over two years, new figures show.
Police figures show that there were 16,102 reported cases of sexual abuse between people aged under 18 between April 2018 and March 2019.
This was up from the 7,866 cases between 2016 and 2017, and the 14,915 cases between 2019 and 2020, according to BBC Panorama.
In the latest full year of data between 2020 and 2021, 10,861 reports of abuse were made, despite months of lockdown and closed schools due to the Covid pandemic.
The broadcaster says 34 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales responded to a Freedom of Information request asking for the number of sexual offence reports, including rape and sexual assault, where both the alleged perpetrator and victim were under 18.
The online offence of non-consensual sharing of private sexual images or videos was not included in the figures.
The figures show that the alleged perpetrator was aged ten or under in ten per cent of the reported cases, with boys the alleged abusers around 90 per cent of the time.
Vicky Ford MP, minister for children and families in England, told Panorama: “We’ve strengthened [guidance] every year, specific advice on keeping children safe and education from sexual abuse.”
She added the government had also launched safeguarding partnerships between schools, the police and social services to help schools tackle the problem.
The Welsh government told the broadcaster that guidance had been issued to support schools in creating a safe learning environment for children.
The Labour MP and former teacher Emma Hardy said: “I still think that those figures might be an underestimation of the extent of the problem, because not all cases ended up going to the police. Not all things are reported.”
Rebekah Eglinton, chief psychologist for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, said unwanted touching, along with being pressured into sharing nude photos, had become a part of everyday life for children “to the point where they wouldn’t bother reporting it”.
“What children have said to us is that sexual violence is now completely normalised through social media platforms [and] through access to online pornography,” she told Panorama.
The disclosure of the figures follows The Times reporting rife abuse in unregistered schools, which continue to operate within a legal loophole which prevents them from being inspected like registered educational establishments.
In June, shocking analysis of the Everyone’s invited website, set up to allow women and girls to anonymously report sexual abuse, revealed numerous reports of sexual harassment in primary and secondary schools across Scotland. A few weeks earlier, English schools’ regulator Ofsted warned that sexual harassment has become “normalised” among school-aged children. Ask female pupils what they think the root of the problem is and many will say the same thing — porn.
A growing body of evidence links pornography consumption to harassment and abuse. It is said to propagate degrading ideas about women, inspire sexual violence, and desensitise viewers to shocking sexual practices. Commenting on the character of porn videos, Dr. Norman Doidge, an academic at the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, writes that videos are “increasingly dominated by sadomasochistic themes… all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation”. Given all this, is it any wonder that attacks on girls are taking place?
The production of pornographic videos is also harmful to porn industry insiders. Women are leaving the industry in droves and lamenting the toxic culture that exists “on the inside”. A recent Reddit thread penned by a man who worked for several pornographic websites reveals a toxic and criminal industry, indifferent to human suffering and safeguarding concerns and always pursuing financial profit, regardless of the cost to people:
“New content would come in (filmed/shot) daily and it needed to be edited/published ASAP. It didn’t matter what the talent looked like. Hot, drugged out of their gords, crying, happy, questionable age, raped, didn’t matter. The company paid for it and it all had to be used. If I objected to questionable material, I was told to ignore it and do my job.”
“…companies are required to keep records of the ages of all the talent they use. In one company…It consisted of images of the model holding their IDs next to their faces. These photos were the first ones before any of the porn photos… Four times out of 10, the model has their thumb over their date of birth.”
“When the stuff is shot, it’s shipped off to the main office to be edited. Like I said, they shoot EVERYTHING. Nothing is tossed…I saw a lot of homemade rape, child porn, borderline stuff, guys injecting their genitals with stuff, drug use, etc. Oh, and actual incest.”
Mind Geek, the parent company behind the world’s largest porn site “Pornhub” and other major sites, is now under investigation by Canadian authorities for publishing videos of actual rape and child abuse. In May, a letter signed by 750 people including victims of sexual exploitation accused the site of: “corporate indifference regarding harm caused to women and children on its platform” and “facilitating and profiting from criminal acts” including sex trafficking, child abuse, and voyeurism.
Given the significant and growing evidence showing porn’s harms in wider society, and in the industry itself, it is staggering that so little is being done to curb it. In the UK, the Conservative Government, which has controls over internet regulation, has consistently refused to implement even the slightest measures to restrict access to commercial porn sites by children, and punish sites that post vile content.
Ministers scrapped legislation, Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, to usher in age verification and regulation of “extreme” content in 2019 — despite these measures being backed by children’s charities and women’s groups as well as Parliament as a whole. And they are refusing to resurrect the measures despite growing pressure from Scottish parliamentarians, Peers, and the public. Why is the government so hesitant to enforce legislation that could counter sexual harassment, and deter sites from publishing vile content?
The Government might point to its online safety regime, expected in the coming months. However, if this regime ever does come into force, it is not set to cover all porn sites. Its focus will be user-generated content, of the type found on social media platforms. Commercial porn sites that do not host user-generated content (or quickly change their rules to avoid doing so) will be missed. A requirement for age verification is also missing from the government’s plans. Perhaps this is deliberate.
Cabinet politicians appear to have bowed to pressure from voices who see any restrictions on porn access as a violation of “freedoms”. One prominent think tank actively campaigned against age checks on the basis that providing ID to access porn violates privacy. Privacy is important. However, adults provide ID to access other adult products online. I recently had to provide ID to purchase cutlery from Amazon. It hardly seems right that we require proof of age for access to cutlery but allow children to access explicit sex videos on porn sites with no age checks whatsoever.
It is also hard to justify the publication of videos that favourably portray rape, violence, and humiliation — especially in a context where harassment is on the rise. Whether such videos are dramatised or not, do we really want to turn a blind eye to them? What message does this send to women? The duty of care politicians have means that they should protect young, impressionable minds from these odious videos, which teach boys that rape and harassment are satiating, rather than sinister. And protect women from attacks motivated by online pornography.
The porn industry profits from human misery. Why should we allow it to continue unchecked? Civilised societies don’t allow exploitative industries to exist, they tear them down. It is past time the government got tough on the porn industry and acted to protect women and girls. No more dither and delay, no more half measures. If Ministers won’t usher in age verification and regulation of porn sites, MPs across the political spectrum must stand up, join up and act.