Now that the trickle of sexual abuse and exploitation revelations against British aid organisations has turned into a flood, much can be discerned by the language used: the way some of the alleged victims of Oxfam staff in countries such as Haiti are being described as “child prostitutes”, when people who have sex with children below the legal age of consent are, in fact, rapists.
We hear so many of the local women whom aid workers paid for sex described as “sex workers” without understanding the context. In countries where aid agencies have a large and permanent presence, people who live in their shadow have been conditioned to believe these organisations are there to offer them help. For example, everyone in Accra, Ghana, knows where the Save the Children offices are; in Liberia, almost anyone can direct you to the headquarters of Médecins Sans Frontières. These organisations are visible, and flashy – with expensive, branded four-wheel drives, and offer locals the possibility of rare and lucrative permanent employment.
In my experience, particularly in the aftermath of disaster, when foreigners are sometimes the only source of resources, women seek from them any help they can get. What’s emerging now is that handouts have been offered, allegedly, in exchange for sexual favours. It’s a transaction that is obviously unequal and exploitative.
We have all been conditioned to believe that aid agencies and charities operate in an uncivilised vacuum. It’s hard to overstate how much influence large NGOs have over the information we receive. These days few newsrooms can afford the cost of sending correspondents into crisis zones without their help. As a result, the news we consume is filtered through the prism of humanitarian relief work, where the civilised help the uncivilised – and if the helpers become deviant, what can you expect in such a climate?
The revelations about sexual abuse and misconduct – long overdue – have prompted a depressing combination of tropical neurasthenia and faux moral outrage. I say faux because this is really all about money. Our interest in these organisations is based on the fact they have received millions from British taxpayers. It is this that has been the centre of our concern rather than the wellbeing of the victims themselves.
Meanwhile, we have remained utterly uninterested in the thousands of incidents of UN peacekeeper sexual abuse that have emerged over the past decade, including a rape-for-food initiative in Central African Republic, a child-sexual-abuse ring in Haiti, regular sexual assaults of girls as young as 12 in Liberia, and other incidents whose depravity is hard to grasp, such as the time blue helmets are alleged to have tied up four young girls and made them have sex with a dog.
What is yet to emerge is the scale with which British and other foreign business travellers prop up local developing economies through prostitution. There are few, if any, official figures on the scale of this, but time and time again I have seen white men with clearly underage girls in hotels and bars throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. I have never been able to understand how this became normalised.
Is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, or because it is always wrong to use massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex?
The details of the Oxfam ‘sex scandal’ have been reported in great detail already, so I won’t reiterate any of that here. There is a debate to be had about global development in its current form (is this the best way to do it? does it work long term at all?), but that is beyond the remit of this blog post; in the short-term, in the face of disasters like the Haiti earthquake, organisations like Oxfam and their activities (minus the sexual coercion) seem to be better than no action at all from the global north.
I hope this scandal, as I hope for the ‘me too’/’time’s up’ movement in the entertainment industry, results in genuine change; I hope Oxfam, and other big charities like it, use this as an opportunity to get their houses in order and regain the public trust. I hope it is not used as an excuse for the UK government to scrap foreign aid altogether.
I am genuinely, personally, upset by this, Oxfam is a brand I trusted (they partnered with the Moomins for goodness sake), and I want to be able to trust them again.
Oxfam has never promoted entry into the sex industry as a ‘solution’ to the poverty of women and girls. Every campaign to end poverty for women and girls emphasises getting women into sustainable employment and their daughters into education, which, tacitly, is about keeping them out of prostitution.
The reactions to the Oxfam scandal are very different to the reactions to Amnesty International’s decision to support the decriminalisation of the sex industry back in 2015 (see all blog posts here).
The AI decision certainly did make headlines in the mainstream press, but not like this; there was no universal rush to condemn AI for its support of abusive institutions, there were no think-pieces questioning whether human rights organisations could survive such a scandal, because it was never reported in the mainstream press as a scandal at all.
The question here is simple: is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, and the Oxfam aid workers were breaking local laws, or is it a scandal because using massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex is always, objectively, wrong?
If it is always, objectively, wrong, how can it be acceptable for a ‘human rights’ charity to campaign and lobby for the decriminalisation of the people who perpetrate, facilitate, and profit from, such exploitation and abuse?
AI had as a member Douglas Fox, a known pimp at the time, who claims credit for AI’s ‘sex work’ policy. Mexico’s Maria Alejandra Gil Cuervo was vice president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, which received money from the Open Society Foundation, and advised UNAIDS; when, in 2015, she was found guilty of sex trafficking and sentenced to 15 years in jail, the story was ‘broken’ in the English speaking world by Kat Banyard, on the Faber and Faber website (a publisher not a newspaper), and again there was no ‘scandal’.
There are some obvious differences, AI is not an aid agency, and it receives no government funding, but there is still the issue of public trust – I, personally, do not trust AI at all, if they could behave so dishonestly over this, what else are they not doing correctly?
Janice Turner in the Times (a publication I now trust more than the Guardian to report on trans and prostitution issues, misogyny transcends notions of left and right wing), reported on AI’s disgustingly cynical and hypocritical response to the Oxfam scandal:
Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, was “shocked” by the Oxfam scandal, she told Woman’s Hour. She demanded an inquiry; for “lessons to be learnt”. I’d hoped Jenni Murray would follow through with a question: so what is Amnesty’s view on aid workers in poor countries paying women for sex? But she didn’t ask it, so I did.
Why is the question important? Because in 2015 Amnesty, a global organisation with seven million members, changed its policy on prostitution to support decriminalisation. Feminists were aghast: 3,000, including Gloria Steinem, signed a petition in horror that Amnesty was not only legitimising trade in women’s bodies, but the pimps and brothel keepers who exploit them.
No matter. Amnesty had been taken over by supporters of libertarian identity politics who regard prostitution not as a system of sexual abuse driven by economic need and inequality but a personal choice or a sexual identity, like being gay. Even, it seems, in disaster zones like Haiti.
“Decisions to sell sex,” states its policy document, “can be influenced by situations of poverty . . . Such situations do not necessarily . . . negate a person’s consent.” The only exceptions are “particular circumstances that amount to coercion where an individual faces threats of violence or abuse of authority”. But Amnesty’s overall stance is that it “neither supports nor condemns commercial sex”.
So how then would it view Roland van Hauwermeiren and his Oxfam compadres rolling into Port-au-Prince in safari jackets and mirrored shades, their 4x4s full of antibiotics and baby milk? Does it constitute an “abuse of authority” to round up a few hookers in town, take them to your villa and have a little fun in exchange for a few dollars and an Oxfam T-shirt? Or must we respect that these young women in a devastated land, with sick parents or hungry babies, have, in Amnesty’s words, “the agency and capacity of adults engaged in consensual sex work”?
Where does exploitation end and consent begin? I rang Amnesty for clarification. Kate Allen’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation. “The appalling situation of aid workers paying for sex in a context where they’re working with and providing services to extremely vulnerable people in crisis situations is separate from the issue of the legal status of sex work.”
But is it? In Haiti, 316,000 were dead, millions homeless, the entire infrastructure destroyed. Oxfam was “providing services to” a whole nation. Does Amnesty think it was wrong for van Hauwermeiren to prostitute a woman he met at, say, an aid distribution centre but it was fine for him to select equally impoverished women from the local brothel?
Given its neutral stance on commercial sex, is it cool with its staff using prostitutes? “Amnesty’s employment contracts clearly stipulate that employees must not behave in a way that brings the organisation into disrepute,” it said, “and in light of the Oxfam case, we’ve instigated a full review of all relevant policies.” Which reads less like a principled stand than a scrambled PR operation: ie we’ve smelt the public mood and don’t want lost donations. Only when I pressed further did it say: “Any staff members found to be using sex workers in the course of their work would face an immediate investigation and potential disciplinary action.” Which directly contradicts its own policy! What about neutrality, women having “agency” and punters not being penalised?
Turner also describes how the Labour Party has failed in its response to the Oxfam scandal:
Amnesty is not alone in being tied up in liberal knots. The Labour Party has been notably silent on the Oxfam prostitution scandal. The shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor defined it as a “safeguarding” breakdown, which reduces it to a failure to protect underage girls or prevent coercion, swerving the tougher question. But then in 2016 Jeremy Corbyn declared “I am in favour of decriminalising the sex industry”. Does he then approve of Roland’s poolside fun?
In Corbyn’s view, decriminalisation is a “more civilised” approach. Indeed, no feminist who signed the petition against Amnesty wants to punish desperate women. Rather, most favour the Nordic model, now law in France, Sweden, Ireland and other countries, which legalises selling sex but criminalises its purchase. Total decriminalisation always causes the sex trade to expand. And while Amnesty distinguishes between trafficking (coerced: bad) and sex work (consensual: fine), when male demand soars, more “product” is required and locked vans of Albanian girls arrive at the mega-brothels of Amsterdam or Hamburg’s Reeperbahn.
Finally, something on which we can agree: charity officials ought not to buy sex. No one, so far, seems prominently to have argued, of the Oxfam employees’ misconduct in Haiti and Liberia, that, providing their female purchases were adult, and not coerced, then their prostitution should rightly be called sex work, that is: a perfectly dignified transaction, from which both sides – say, impoverished survivors of a disaster and benevolent male humanitarians – stood to benefit.
We have yet, admittedly, to hear from Amnesty International, the human rights NGO, which now doubles as the world’s leading advocate of legalised prostitution. In 2015, a year that will forever be celebrated by its allies in the pimping and trafficking community, Amnesty committed to the decriminalisation of all aspects of “sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse”.
So, hint for Roland Van Hauwermeiren, who is currently to be found in Ostend, explaining how incredibly easy it is for a vivacious Oxfam official to be mistaken for a sex-buyer: Amnesty is there for you. Equally, critics of Oxfam’s conduct, including Theresa May and Penny Mordaunt, can expect a reminder from Amnesty that it’s people “who live on the outskirts of society that are forced into sex work. It may be their only way to earn a living.” Once you see it that way, Oxfam workers who live, courtesy of charitable donations, in villas suited to large pool parties, can be seen as doing prostitute attendees a tremendous kindness. Inalienable human rights, meet trickle-down effect.
The Oxfam-related outrage must be baffling, also, to many British parliamentarians, for whom the option of reducing prostitution via the Nordic Model (also adopted in Northern Ireland, Canada and France; now backed by the SNP) is so much less appealing than the formal commodification of – overwhelmingly – women’s bodies.
Jeremy Corbyn, for example, supports decriminalisation because he wants to “do things a bit differently and in a bit more civilised way”. Around a pool, perhaps? At any rate, all that was missing from this progressive analysis, given the exploitation reported in the decriminalised German and Dutch industries, was an alternative scheme whereby sex trade “things” could be separated from violence, poverty, murder, pimping, drug abuse, stigma, illness, trafficking, misogyny and coercion – and the inevitable implication that all women, prostituted or not, have their price.
In a rare show of political harmony, Corbyn’s enthusiasm for a free market in women’s bodies, or, as it would be defined in Sweden, unfettered violence against women and girls, is shared by the Lib Dems, the Greens and by the Commons home affairs select committee. The latter, reconstituted under new leadership, has yet to withdraw a 2016 report on prostitution that urged immediate decriminalisation (without any measures to protect women from exploitation). Only after publication did it emerge that its chair, Keith Vaz, one of eight men on an 11-person committee, was himself a sex buyer. Mercifully for Vaz’s future in public service, the relevant purchases had occurred in Edgware, not Port-au-Prince.
In fairness to Bennett, her piece only came out a day after Turner’s, so she couldn’t have seen the replies from AI. But, it seems, she is not a thorough Guardian reader, otherwise she would have seen the report last week calling the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Haiti ‘underage sex work’. (And in fairness to The Observer, it and the Guardian are editorially independent, the Observer has, in the past, been better at not calling raped children ‘sex workers’.)
BUST magazine reported recently (I am linking to an archived page so they don’t get more links/clicks) on a picture book (from the ‘Feminist Press'(!)) called How Mamas Love Their Babies. Within, the sex industry is sold to children as ‘wearing a uniform with special shoes’ and ‘mamas dancing all night in special shoes’. Start them young, right?
The idea for the book [Against Our Will] grew out of Brownmiller’s activism, specifically, the consciousness-raising group to which she belonged in the early 70s, the New York Radical Feminists. One evening, one of its newer members, Diane Crothers, arrived bearing a copy of the Berkeley feminist magazine It Ain’t Me Babe, which earlier that year had printed a long account by a young female artist of being raped by two Vietnam veterans while hitchhiking home from her first women’s meeting. The issue Crothers had in her hand brought news of a stunning retaliatory action against the assault of a dancer by some men at a bachelor party, carried out by group called the Contra Costa Anti-Rape Squad #14. On the day of the wedding, this group had stuck flyers on the windscreens of guests’ cars, detailing what had gone on. “Sounds ugly?” asked the writer of these flyers. “Well, it is. It goes on all the time, one way or another. These pigs know the law won’t touch them, they can always insist the woman is a liar or a slut or crazy. [But] we women are learning to see through that nonsense. We hope you learn to, too.”
After everyone had read this story, Crothers announced that rape was an important feminist issue and that it should be explored by the group. Brownmiller, a journalist, wasn’t convinced. Like many people then, she thought rape was a “deviant” crime, one that any alert woman could surely avoid if she tried. But others disagreed. They wanted to talk. One woman, Sarah Pines, quietly began to describe how she had also been raped while hitchhiking. The worst part of her ordeal, she said, had been at the police station. “Aww, who’d want to rape you?” teased one police officer. Another insisted – does this sound familiar? – that she was too calm to be credible. The men involved were eventually given suspended sentences.
It was while listening to Pines, and to those who followed her, that Brownmiller began to see rape in another light, and when the talking was over she proposed that the group hold a conference on the subject, with research papers and panel discussions. “But I was a laggard,” she says, with a laugh. “The others told me: no, we will have a speak-out first, and then a conference.” The speak-out was held in a church, 30 women took part, and their experiences ran the gamut from street harassment to rape. One woman described how she had been raped by her therapist; another how she had been assaulted in her apartment after opening her door to a man who said he was delivering a package; yet another how she was molested by a junior doctor on a date arranged by his aunt and her mother.
The conference took place in a high school auditorium four months later – Brownmiller attended it on crutches, having sprained her ankle when she kicked a man who had goosed her in the street while she was handing out flyers for it – and by the time it was over she found she was able to look her own vulnerability “squarely in the eye”, something she had hitherto always refused to acknowledge. She realised that something important had been left out of her education: a way of looking at male-female relations, at sex, at strength and at power. She had, in other words, changed her mind about rape, for which reason she was now determined to write a book about it, one that would deploy examples from history, psychoanalysis, criminology, mythology and popular culture in the service of illustrating her conviction that “rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear”. Was she surprised, as she embarked on this project, that no one had attempted such a thing before? “No, not really. We were uncovering so many new truths then. The early 70s was a great time for us. Women were so brilliant in their analysis.”
Against Our Will finally came out in 1975, five long years after the first of the key texts of women’s liberation: Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Though it would later be attacked by, among others, the black activist Angela Davis for its attitudes to race (in his piece, Remnick writes that Brownmiller’s treatment of the Emmett Till case “reads today as morally oblivious”), its reception was mostly positive and it became a bestseller (much later, with pleasing neatness, it would be included in the New York Public Library’s Books of the Century).
Some of the sisters, however, were not happy. “People in the movement were starting to say: ‘We don’t need stars’,” Brownmiller remembers. “When I announced to my consciousness-raising group that I’d finished writing it, someone said: ‘Why don’t you be the first feminist without ego who doesn’t put your name on the book?’” She clicks her teeth. “She was jealous, of course. Another time, when I was giving a talk on a college campus, a woman raised her hand and asked: ‘Why did you put your name on Against Our Will? All your ideas came from our movement, after all.’” How did she respond? “I said: what page did you write, sister?”
Did she think its publication would change things? (It is widely agreed now that not only did the book shift attitudes to rape, it may have influenced some changes in the law, including making the victim’s sexual history inadmissible.) “Oh, yeah,” she says. “I thought it would change minds all over America. But I also feel that I was part of a movement. Even as I was writing it, rape crisis centres had begun opening, legislators had begun looking at the law around a woman’s past.” In the long term, however, things did not change nearly enough. “I remember being startled when it came out that DNA samples were not being processed properly in some states, and it was pretty horrifying when it became apparent that some colleges were not going to take accusations against, say, their football players seriously on account of what their alumni might think.”
What has struck her most forcefully about the wave of allegations in recent weeks? (As I write, no fewer than 122 high-profile men stand publicly accused of assault or harassment in the US.) “Well, I’ve been astonished that these perpetrators seem to have such weird sex lives, that is very important. They’re perverts, and I think that comes from pornography.” She sighs. “Unfortunately, the pornographers were in the end a lot more successful than Women Against Pornography.” In 1978, she attended the first national feminist anti-pornography conference in the US, held in San Francisco, which was also where she first saw the dungaree-clad Andrea Dworkin in action, addressing a Take Back the Night march in an edgy part of the city (“I immediately dubbed her Rolling Thunder,” she recalls in her 1999 memoir In Our Time). Back in New York, she and other members of WAP ran educational tours of Times Square – then still horribly sleazy – at five dollars a throw, transgressive invasions that would regularly see them thrown out of strip shows, and which, in their first year, attracted some 2,500 “tourists”, among them a pair of Benedictine nuns from Erie, Pennsylvania.
It was presented, at first, as a simple case of injustice in the prison system. The Observer ran the story with the headline “Transgender woman in male prison ‘nightmare’ on hunger strike”. The facts given were these: Marie Dean, 50, is refusing food in protest at being held in HMP Preston on an indeterminate sentence for burglary without access to “hair straighteners, epilator or any makeup”. The report linked to a Change.org petition demanding that Dean be “moved into the female estate as quickly as possible”. Some detail, though, seemed to be missing. If you wondered why a burglar would receive an indeterminate sentence, the answer wasn’t here.
But a cursory Google explained it. Before she transitioned, Dean, aged 42 in 2009, was convicted of over 30 offences including voyeurism, aggravated burglary and assaulting police officers. Dean broke into homes, dressed in teenage girls’ underwear, and filmed herself in their bedrooms engaging in what the court reporting coyly called “sex acts”. “Your victims,” said the judge, “undoubtedly regard you as being a dangerous man within the community and the sort of dangerous person that will give them every reason to be careful or worry when things go bump in the night.” (Dean’s 2003 trial for charges related to an indecent video of children ended in a not-guilty verdict.)
That’s why the crimes came with an indeterminate sentence: because Dean was a sexual offender with an escalating pattern of behaviour against women. After complaints, The Observer updated its report with details of Dean’s crimes, but the fundamental outline of the story remains as it was, while the Pink News version still only mentions burglary. Alarmingly, it was only possible to learn this because Dean had made a relatively minor name change. One unhappy consequence of the well-intentioned taboo against “deadnaming” (using a trans individual’s pre-transition name) is that past actions are able to slip from the record.
At this point, I think it’s OK to ask where women figure in all this. This is someone who presents a manifest danger to women, someone whose victims live in the long shadow of violation in their own homes; yet media outlets have given an uncritical platform to demands for Dean’s transfer into the female estate. If being denied hair straighteners can be presented as a cruel and unusual punishment, one might imagine that housing female prisoners with a voyeur would rate somewhere even higher. But in prison, as everywhere else, the expectation appears to be that women’s safety comes last.
Where trans inmates are housed is, at the moment, a matter of discretion for prison authorities. And simplifying these cases (by, for example, obscuring the sexual nature of Dean’s crimes) does an immense disservice to the pressures on prisons, where resources are sparse, violence rife, and self-harm and suicide hideously prevalent.
Campaigners for prisoner self-identification usually refer to three trans women who died in custody in 2015: Vikki Thompson, Joanne Latham and Jenny Swift. But of the three, only Swift had asked to be moved to a women’s prison. An inquest found that Thompson hadn’t intended to kill herself, and hadn’t requested transfer. Latham had made a request to transfer to another prison, according to the report after her death, which did not record any request of transfer to the women’s estate. The report concluded that the prison she was incarcerated in “appropriately supported Ms Latham’s decision to live as a woman”. It is also uncertain whether such a move would have even been possible, given that Latham had been assessed as exceptionally dangerous and was being held in a close supervision centre, which only exist in the men’s sector.
Forty years ago this week, Roman Polanski went from being one of the most celebrated film-makers in the world to becoming the United States’ most notorious fugitive from justice.
On 1 February 1978, after 42 days in jail, Polanski fled the US while awaiting final sentencing, having pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. On these facts, everyone agrees. There are no hazy conspiracy theories – we know exactly what happened because Polanski admitted to it and later wrote about it in astonishing detail in his autobiography, Roman by Polanski, published six years after he left the US and went to France, where he still lives. There are some quibbles about who said what, but the generally agreed facts are as follows: in March 1977 Polanski, who was then 43, took a child, Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), who he knew was 13 years old, to Jack Nicholson’s house to take photos of her for a magazine. There, he gave her champagne and, according to her, quaaludes. He then had sex with her, drove her home and, the next day, was arrested.
The facts have never altered. What has changed is how this case is discussed in the public sphere. For a long time, the simple – and somewhat simplistic – divide was that while people in mainland Europe viewed Polanski as a tragic artist undone by US prurience and corruption, Americans saw him, as he put it in his autobiography, as “an evil, profligate dwarf”. But, in truth, for many British and US actors, working with Polanski never lost its cachet, and arguably had even more once he became excluded from the US mainstream. Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Winslet and many more have appeared in Polanski movies in the decades since his conviction, and questions about why they were working with a convicted child rapist were seen as tacky, proof of a rigid mind more focused on gossip than art. When Winslet was asked last September whether she had any qualms about working with Woody Allen, another director accused (but, unlike Polanski, never arrested and never charged) of a sex crime against a minor, she replied: “Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person. Woody Allen is an incredible director. So is Roman Polanski. I had an extraordinary working experience with both of those men, and that’s the truth.”
When the Harvey Weinstein story broke last October, the reaction among the movie industry was wide-eyed shock that someone so many of them knew and worked with could be a rapist. “I didn’t know. I don’t tacitly approve of rape,” said Meryl Streep. And yet only a decade and a half earlier, Streep had stood and applauded when Polanski won best director at the 2003 Oscars, not so much tacitly approving rape as explicitly celebrating a convicted child rapist. If only anyone had known about Weinstein they would never – never! – have worked with him, movie insiders say. And yet, for the past 40 years, many of them have been falling over themselves to work with a self-confessed child rapist, even defending him by pointing to his artistic credentials. Debra Winger described Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland in 2009 as a “philistine collusion”. Reactions to Weinstein come soundtracked with the distinct sound of bandwagon-jumping; thanks to the #MeToo campaign, the public mood is firmly on the side of listening to victims, and Hollywood has keenly followed suit. On Sunday night, at the London Critics Circle awards, only months after defending Polanski and Allen, Winslet spoke tearfully about “bitter regrets I have at poor decisions to work with individuals with whom I wish I had not. Sexual abuse is a crime, it lies with all of us to listen to the smallest of voices.” Yes, if only there had been some way Winslet could have known about these decades-old cases before signing on to work with two directors accused of sex crimes! This kind of hypocrisy about Polanski makes you wonder how serious the industry really is about dealing with this problem, as it claims to be.
QotD: “35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partnered sexual violence at some point in their lives.”
More or Less is a BBC Radio 4 programme that investigates the use of statistics in everyday media; today’s broadcast looks at an advert by the UK branch of UN Women about rates of sexual violence against women and girls, called ‘Draw a Line’.
The first thing is that they confirm the statistic that two women a week in the UK are murdered by a current or ex-partner.
Next, they look at the claim that, for 1 in 3 girls, their first sexual experience is coerced, which is more complicated. The claim comes from a 2005 WHO report, which studied ten different countries, all of which have very different rates of sexual violence.
14-30% of women in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru, and Tanzania, reported being forced to have sex, while fewer than 1% of women in cities in Serbia, Montenegro and Japan described their first sexual experience as forced. The big difference is due to age, in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru, and Tanzania the women were reporting rape from within child marriages (when they were girls under the age of fifteen).
The presenter interviewed Claudia Garcia-Moreno, the woman who co-authored the report, who doesn’t think we have the data yet to support the 1 in 3 claim globally; she and her team are still working on violence against women and girls, and have collated studies on physical and sexual violence against women and girls from around 75 countries, and have come to the conclusion that:
“35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partnered sexual violence at some point in their lives.”
The figure of a third is one that keeps recurring in different studies from around the world (but there are many countries with no data collection at all). The Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that around a third of women report experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their lives.
I was a feminist in the early 1990s. We may not have had hashtags back then, but we still had our anger. I was 16 when, in 1991, marital rape was finally made illegal in England and Wales. Writing for The Spectator, the journalist Neil Lyndon described the change in law as a being motivated by a “terror of Eros”, condemning a feminist orthodoxy which “insists that male that male sexuality is actively antagonistic to women”. It’s strange to note how similar this language is to that which appears in many of today’s woman-led attacks on #metoo. The frankly idiotic suggestion that description is prescription – that women make themselves victims by naming their victimhood – has its roots in men’s rights activism, but has been repackaged as nuanced, rational feminism more times than I’d care to remember.
The most obvious example of this may be the 1993 book The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism, written by the same Katie Roiphe now associated with the outing of the author of the Shitty Media Men list. The cooler-than-thou tone and lazy, half-baked arguments throughout this book could form a template for today’s attacks on #metoo. Responding to what she sees as the extremism of “rape-crisis feminists”, Roiphe goes all-out to present basic observations of social reality as examples of self-inflicted victimhood (“by viewing rape as encompassing more than the use or threat of physical violence to coerce someone into sex, rape-crisis feminists reinforce traditional views about the fragility of the female body and will”. Coercive control? Never heard of the thing!).
On one level, this is nothing more than high-level trolling. What are statements such as “rape is a natural trump card for feminism” and “regret can signify rape” supposed to do, other than cause offence? Yet at the same time, this type of trolling can slowly get under the skin. As Ariel Levy was to put it in Female Chauvinist Pigs, “Nobody wants to be the frump at the back of the room anymore, the ghost of women past. It’s just not cool.” The association of women having sexual boundaries with women being weak and passive is false, but it becomes compelling if the message is repeated often enough.
#Metoo will help individual women and push our understanding of consent that little bit further along – and by way of a thank you, it will no doubt be remembered as a movement led by extremist, hysterical sexphobes. Such is the way of these things. We’ll talk about “that time when feminists took things too far” and we’ll blame this “taking things too far” for the fact that we’re still fighting the same old battles.
It’s happened before, it’s happening now and it will happen again. That it will keep on happening is proof of the intractability of patriarchy, but also of the fact that we never give up. There will always be backlash because there will always be feminism. In the future we won’t be saying #metoo – but I hope we will still be defending our bodies and boundaries.
Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right group whose posts were retweeted by US president Donald Trump last week, is accused of trying to persuade the victim of an alleged sexual assault from making an official complaint, the Observer has learned.
The 31-year-old deputy leader of the anti-Muslim group Britain First is said to have tried to persuade the victim not to complain after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by the group’s leader, Paul Golding, in July. The alleged attack occurred after one of the group’s demonstrations in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, when members congregated at a hotel after a rally denouncing child sex abuse.
Former Britain First member Graham Morris, in the hotel that night, says he witnessed Fransen encouraging the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to stay quiet. Morris said: “Jayda was saying, ‘I can give everything you need, a platform. I’ll do this for you, that for you.’ She was offering her all sorts. I’m thinking this is sick, but [the alleged victim] went along with it. I was there and I saw exactly how it went.” Morris, who says he was dating Fransen at the time, then alleged that the Britain First deputy told the victim that she should go back to the hotel bar where other members of the group were drinking.
He added: “Jayda said: ‘You’re going to have to come back to the bar and let everyone see you with Paul [Golding] so it looks like a misunderstanding. I was disgusted that a woman could try and encourage another woman not to report what happened.”
Fransen did not return the Observer’s calls. Britain First did not comment.
The alleged victim did eventually report Golding to police in early September; Morris, 54, from Leicestershire, revealed that he had also contacted police about the claims he makes about Fransen. Despite Fransen’s tweets being retweeted by Trump, Britain First is described by critics as a modest movement riven with infighting.
Fransen, who has ambitions to lead the party, is awaiting trial for hate speech at a rally in Belfast.
QotD: “Domestic violence refuges are the refugee camps of women and children on the front line of the war waged by male violence”
Domestic violence refuges are the refugee camps of women and children on the front line of the war waged by male violence. Women must protect these spaces furiously.