When Adam Lazarus complained about a seven-year-old boy putting his hands on his daughter at school, he was told not to cry sexual assault. “They don’t think like that,” the teachers said, “not at that age.” “But it’s power,” Lazarus seethes, recounting the incident. “It’s gendered power, and if you excuse it this kid thinks it’s OK.”
The Canadian performer made waves at the Edinburgh festival in 2018 with his controversial, gut-punch solo Daughter, which he is now bringing to Battersea Arts Centre in London. The show is told from the perspective of a young girl’s father and what starts as a charming and funny quasi-standup set quickly turns into something acidic. Over the course of an increasingly intense hour, Lazarus – dressed in fairy wings, dancing adorably to his daughter’s favourite song – unspools a brutal thread of toxic masculinity. First it’s shrugged off as a joke, then a distasteful comment, until suddenly there’s a metal rod in his hand and we’re wondering how we got here. “Are you OK that I did that?” he asks in the show, as remnants of laughter start to taste like bile.
Having trained at Philippe Gaulier’s prestigious clown school in France, Lazarus makes work that stems from bouffon, the French style of theatre with its roots in mockery. In contrast to his past performances, which involved elaborate costume and character, the father in Daughter is almost indistinguishable from Lazarus himself, and it leaves you wondering how much is true. “We had to ride the line [between reality and fiction] to be sure you couldn’t dismiss him as a character,” he says. “We were trying to get to a point where the room would say, I get it, I understand how a person could think like that.”
With his co-creators Ann-Marie Kerr, Jivesh Parasram and Melissa D’Agostino, Lazarus began developing Daughter after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi. “It blew the minds of Canadians, because we listened to him every morning,” explains Lazarus. Ghomeshi was acquitted in 2016 of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking involving three complainants.
Daughter is built from real stories, though only some are from Lazarus’s own life. Regardless, audiences frequently believe it’s all him and that it’s all true. In the Edinburgh performances, some people walked out, while lots of others refused to applaud. But silence is not the worst response Lazarus has had; people frequently ask his wife if she’s OK, some close friends believe the stories are his own, and one man threatened to kill him for suggesting men had such a violent streak.
The hardest responses to reconcile are from the people – primarily women – who have been hurt by the performance. “I don’t think everyone needs to see the show,” Lazarus says frankly, when I ask about those who reported crying in the toilets afterwards, wishing they hadn’t seen it. “The show picks at a scab and if you have a trauma or a trigger that’s in there, it’s gonna peel really bad. I don’t know how to prepare people for that.” After every performance the company hold a space to talk, led by producer Aislinn Rose. Lazarus doesn’t attend those sessions; audiences feel more comfortable without him.
Lazarus argues that Daughter is a feminist play. “Pre-Trump I think it was a warning. Now I think it’s a rallying cry.” The show, Lazarus freely admits, is an attack on men, and the behaviour we often excuse. “It seethes underneath everything. These are microaggressions everyone is part of. The ‘good guys’ have a lot of work to do.” He does the quotation marks in the air.
With thunderous impact, Daughter toys with these complex ideas of responsibility and consent, asking how we protect our daughters by talking to our sons. Lazarus’s daughter is now eight, his son five. Scared and hopeful for them both in equal measure, he paraphrases a recent article by Peggy Orenstein. “We have to talk to our sons about sex in the same way we talk about manners: often. Even if you feel like you wanna poke your eye out talking to your son [about sex], if you don’t teach them, porn will.”
QotD: “The portrayal of porn culture as an empowering, feminist win epitomizes the degree to which pop culture feminism has lost its way”
Last Sunday, a number of Pornhub’s most popular Asian performers took to the runway at New York Fashion Week to model the “Herotica” collection from Namilia. The designers behind the label, Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl, described their choice of models as a “feminist statement.” Li explained, “The cosmos of sexual pleasure has been restricted to a few boring and chauvinistic narratives for the pleasure of the male gaze,” adding, “Porn isn’t something existentially male.” With this collection, Li and Pfohl intended to subvert the dominant narrative of submissive Asian women, by using dominatrix-inspired looks — a traditional Chinese dress was deconstructed, and merged with contemporary sadomasochistic porn culture.
The collection is heavily influenced not only by porn, but by sadomasochism in particular — the designers included a schoolgirl-type uniform, with a pink and white pleated leather skirt (a blatant nod to porn culture’s fetishization of girlhood), and printed the phrase “cock wrecker” on a number of items from the collection. During a backstage interview, Li said, “We wanted to take porn into a new context to kind of normalize sex work, prostitution, pornography, and put it in a fashion show context, so there’s not as much shame and taboo,” emphasizing her desire to create a “revolutionary new feminist youth culture.”
The portrayal of porn culture as an empowering, feminist win epitomizes the degree to which pop culture feminism has lost its way, completely abandoning the long-standing feminist goal of female liberation in favour of a faux-feminism that panders to male desire. Far from representing a challenge to the male gaze (the apparent aim of the designers), the show stayed perfectly on script, falling prey to the sleight of hand that has convinced women that our sexual objectification is subversive and liberatory. In a classic marketing move, porn culture and those who profit from it have sold us something that harms us, and convinced us that we wanted it all along.
Pornhub is one of the most popular porn sites on the internet. Alexa, the leading web-traffic tracker, lists Pornhub in 36th place among the world’s most visited websites, out of tens of millions of sites. Rule out search engines like Google, web portals like Yahoo, and shopping sites like Amazon, Pornhub takes fourth place, beaten out of the top spot by Wikipedia, Microsoft, and Netflix. Four other porn sites crack the top 100, including XVideos, BongaCams, xHamster, and xnxx. Between these five porn sites, their combined views per month exceed 6 billion. That equates to over 138,000 views per minute, or 2,300 views per second. Pornhub alone claims 115 million visits per day, and 42 billion specific searches annually.
Over the last year, Pornhub has been implicated in a number of cases of sex trafficking, child exploitation, and rape, as the site hosts an unknowable number of video recordings of sex crimes. In October, a 15-year-old who had been missing for a year was found after explicit photos of the girl were posted online. Further investigation found that she had appeared in 58 porn videos posted on Pornhub, and the man responsible was arrested in Fort Lauderdale. The girl reported that she was forced to have an abortion after getting impregnated during this time.
A few months after being attacked and raped at knifepoint, Rose Kalemba, who was 14 at the time, found several people from her school sharing a link online in which she was tagged. After clicking on it, Kalemba was led to Pornhub and was horrified to find multiple videos of her attack posted online. Recounting her story, Kalemba said, “The titles of the videos were, ‘Teen crying and getting slapped around,’ ‘Teen getting destroyed,’ ‘Passed out teen.’ One had over 400,000 views.” Kalemba emailed Pornhub numerous times over a period of six months, begging for the videos to be removed from the site, but she received no reply and the videos stayed up. The videos were not removed until Kalemba set up a new email address pretending to be a lawyer and threatened legal action against the site.
In a viral blog entry posted last year, Kalemba shared a detailed account of her ordeal, and called for Pornhub to be held responsible for their extended inaction. She heard from dozens of other girls saying videos of their sexual assaults had also appeared on the site. Though Pornhub claims to remove all videos of assault, the reality does not reflect this and Pornhub continues to unapologetically host videos with titles such as, “Teen abused while sleeping,” “Drunk teen abuse sleeping,” and “Extreme teen abuse.” The company’s defence is that they “allow all forms of sexual expression” that do not go against their terms of service, even if “some people find these fantasies inappropriate.”
More recently, 22 women sued the owners of GirlsDoPorn, Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, as well as porn actor Ruben Andre Garcia, saying they were coerced into performing sexual acts on film that were later uploaded to Pornhub. The men had posted Craigslist ads for “beautiful college type preppy girls” needed for photo shoots, but when the women arrived, they were plied with drugs and alcohol and pressured to participate in a porn shoot. The victims were awarded $12.7 million. According to a federal indictment, Pratt and his co-conspirators also produced child pornography and trafficked a minor.
These cases demonstrate how dangerous Pornhub is, and how easily the site can be used as a tool to capitalize on the abuse of vulnerable women and girls. Laila Mickelwait, Director of Abolition for Exodus Cry and anti-pornography activist, found that all that is required to upload content to Pornhub is an email address. No government-issued ID is needed, even to become a “verified user.” She found that it took less than 10 minutes to create an account on Pornhub, and to upload blank content to the site, which was immediately live and accessible to all users. If she wanted to become a verified user, she could have done so with nothing more than a photograph of her holding a piece of paper with her username written on it.
Pornhub is a resource for anyone who wishes to upload content, with absolutely no verification needed other than an email address, making it a perfect breeding ground for exploitation — something they appear to be in no rush to prevent, despite claims made in their terms of service.
In her book, Pornland, Gail Dines explains that when you Google the term “Porn,” over 2.3 billion pages show up in the results, generated in less than half a second, with Pornhub being the top search result (hence it being frequently referred to as the “YouTube of Porn”). Based on what comes up just in the first page of links, some of the most common sex acts in mainstream pornography appear to be vaginal, anal, and oral penetration of one woman by three or more men simultaneously, double anal sex, double vaginal sex, gagging, and bukkake, along with regular references to women being “destroyed,” “punished,” “choked,” and “brutalized.”
The three porn performers that modelled for Namilia are Asa Akira, Marica Hase, and Jade Kush. A quick search of these names on Pornhub turns up videos with titles such as, “Japanese Porn Star Marica Hase Fucked Rough in Bondage,” “Marica Hase Beauty Teen Fucked Hard,” and “You Fuck Jade Kush Every Which Way Then Cum On Her Face.” When we consider the amount of abuse that has been hosted on Pornhub, the normalization of such titles is unsettling at best. And the idea that portraying Asian porn performers as dominatrixes will subvert the norm of submissive Asian women is nonsensical.
First, reversing a norm does not necessarily weaken the norm, and in fact could be said to strengthen it. The reversal is an acknowledgment of its power. The idea of a dominatrix is only considered sexy because we have been taught to eroticize imbalances of power; that a dominatrix is treated as a fetish shows that she represents a deviation from the norm of male domination. She is a male fantasy. Second, we do not undo the damage caused by sexist stereotypes by swapping sides in the narrative. A dominatrix is “sexy” because it is not real — that “power” does not extend beyond that moment, in that bedroom or scene. The dominatrix, though somewhat contrary to the social norm of male supremacy, still reinforces the eroticization of unequal power. Being a “cock wrecker” is not a feminist position, and only further perpetuates the idea of violence and abuse as sexy.
This move by Namilia does nothing to liberate women, and instead represents yet another instance of the pornification of pop culture. Pornhub is not a feminist utopia of sexual empowerment, but quite the opposite — it is a resource frequently utilized by abusers of women for manipulation and humiliation. Collaborating with Pornhub to display outfits that fetishize sexual power imbalance, girlhood, and leather is about as far from feminism as anything could be, and indeed, only serves to normalize and bolster the site not only in the eyes of the general public, but for young women specifically, who are being told this is what feminism looks like.
Andrea Dworkin once wrote that “the new pornography is left wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die.” It looks like the corpses will be dressed in pink leather school skirts with “cock wrecker” emblazoned across their chests.
Crimes have a tendency to become not just stories but genres, once we get too accustomed to them. As more and more stories of sexual assault have been made public in the last two years, the genre of their telling has exploded. One thing we often do with narratives of sexual assault is sort their respective parties into different temporalities: it seems we are interested in perpetrators’ futures and victims’ pasts. Whatever questions society has about the perpetrators tend to concern their next steps: Will they go to prison? What of their careers? Questions asked about the victims—even at their most charitable (when we aren’t asking, “What was she wearing?”)—seem to focus on the past, sometimes in pursuit of understanding, sometimes in pursuit of certainty and corroboration and painful details.
One result is that we don’t have much of a vocabulary for what happens in a victim’s life after the painful past has been excavated, even when our shared language gestures toward the future, as the term “survivor” does. The victim’s trauma after assault rarely gets the attention that we lavish on the moment of damage that divided the survivor from a less encumbered past. One of the things that Margaret Atwood accomplishes in The Testaments – which recently won the Booker Prize (shared with Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other) – is enlarging our perspective by focusing on the aftermath of assault. This engaging sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale tempers the first novel’s grim vision by supplying a parallel text that reveals one of its villains, Aunt Lydia, to have been a rebel in waiting.
The Handmaid’s Tail describes its fictional dystopia, Gilead, as a male theocracy with almost perfect powers of surveillance over its female subjects. What The Testaments proves – reassuringly – is that Gilead’s hegemony was not just incomplete but flawed from its inception: someone was always in fact keeping an eye on the Eye. The horror of the Handmaids’ suffering, which in The Handmaid’s Tale was somehow both sanctioned and ignored, is somewhat mitigated by the revelation that it was always being witnessed: strict records of abuses were being compiled. The Testaments is a text that believes, quite strongly, that dossiers showing wrongdoing by the power brokers matter. Its premise is that if the truth is recorded, exposed, and circulated, consequences will be meted out and power will crumble.
This strikes me as an anemic optimism. If Me Too (not to mention impeachment) has taught us anything, it is that testimony does not dislodge power. We careen from outrage to outrage in a rollicking attention-deficit economy that most perpetrators are able to outwait or outshout. And even when they don’t, no one can agree on how revelations about past abuse should affect the offender’s long-term treatment. Soon enough, they return, and rarely are they much resisted. Jeffrey Epstein was entertained by powerful men after his 2008 conviction for “procuring an underage girl for prostitution” and soliciting a prostitute.
Me Too has altered such calculations by amplifying the survivors’ claims, but even now, after the public disgracing of Harvey Weinstein and humiliation of Epstein, the embarrassed professions of regret from Epstein’s powerful associates feel partial and crabbed. Weinstein was recently out at a downtown comedy club. Many of Epstein’s allies resent that their conduct is up for public discussion at all. As for dossiers knocking down corrupt institutions, well, to take one recent example, Ronan Farrow has alleged that NBC withheld the Weinstein story because Weinstein was threatening to expose similar allegations against one of the network’s own stars, Matt Lauer. Rather than expose both abusers, it kept them both safe. We know all this now, and yet no power structures have toppled. The men who decided to protect Weinstein and Lauer still have their jobs and their influence. Several of Weinstein’s accusers are on the brink of signing a settlement in which he will not have to admit fault or pay a dime himself.
Testimony did not seem to bring a revolution. Yet there is something liberating about this: if the legal system is unresponsive, and power is not collapsing, then why should testimonies be restricted to the formats that the law or journalistic standards require? What little public understanding there is of a survivor’s experience labors under a heap of clichés. The expectations we have for how people should act immediately after being attacked are as strict as they are implausible (she should be beside herself, ideally sobbing, and go to the ER at once to get a rape kit done, and deliver a perfect statement to the police while registering suitable pain and panic).
This is why Chanel Miller’s Know My Name, in which she recounts the experience of waking up to medical personnel and police after being raped while unconscious, is as educational as it is literary. In describing the confusion of reaching back to pluck a pine needle out of her hair and being gently told she can’t, because it’s evidence; of reaching for her underwear and not finding it, and blocking out what that means; of not knowing what happened and realizing that no one quite does—in finding a language for bewilderments that few people have put into words—her testimony is crucial. So is her description of what happened after. Our models for the aftermath of a survivor’s journey usually include revenge, despair, or the fantasy that exposing the truth will provide a just outcome. Miller’s account offers no such catharsis or closure; she describes a jumble of conflicting mental states that proceed along parallel tracks and do not resolve.
When it comes to sexual assault, victims are often deemed to be not perfect enough: their sexual history too louche, their behaviour afterwards too wild. Yet predators pick off the vulnerable and survivors sometimes process trauma in deeply damaged and self-destructive ways. Instead of these factors being taken as evidence that something terrible has happened, too often they are cited as reasons that the victim should not be believed. The focus is placed on the effect, not the cause.
We are going to have to learn how to make room for imperfect victims, and to understand that the key to their stories lies in their imperfections. Few are more imperfect than Feldman. It was easy to believe the accusations against Weinstein when they were coming from such impeccable sources as Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie. Things are a little more complicated when abuse allegations are coming from a former child star who does wacky things on TV. Really, you need only to look at Feldman and Haim to know that something, somewhere, went extremely wrong. But that requires you to look at them and not turn queasily away.
Senior police officers should be prosecuted for mishandling a Greater Manchester sexual abuse scandal that resulted in most offenders getting away with their crimes, a whistleblower has said.
Margaret Oliver, a former detective constable who led Greater Manchester police’s investigation into child sexual exploitation, said the force had spent years trying to cover up its failures.
An independent report published on Tuesday found that up to 52 children may have been victims of the sexual abuse ring, but Operation Augusta had been shut down prematurely partly because senior officers had prioritised solving burglaries and car crime.
Some of the officers involved when the investigation was launched in 2004 are still serving, and the findings have now been passed on to the Independent Office for Police Conduct to decide if there was any wrongdoing.
“I can’t be more critical of what they did. Accountability is the answer, consequences for those failures, changes in the law to ensure that they can be charged with gross misconduct,” said Oliver.
“Based on [GMP’s] track record I don’t have any faith that they will do anything unless they are forced kicking and screaming to do it.”
Oliver resigned from the force after 15 years in October 2012. She had also worked on Operation Span, an investigation into reports of grooming in Rochdale. She later went public with claims that allegations of rape and sexual abuse were not being recorded by police.
Although she said she felt vindicated by the publication of the report, because it “officially acknowledged” the validity of her concerns, she added that ultimately greater action was needed to right the wrongs of the past.
“It’s very easy to talk the talk, what we need is action and not just from GMP, this is a national issue,” said Oliver. “This needs to come from the top of government, they need to be forced to address it properly.”
“Multiple rapes of vulnerable young children – 11- and 12-year-olds – deserve action and those who should take that action are senior police officers.”
The original investigation was launched following the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia, who died from an overdose in 2003 after being injected with heroin by a 50-year-old man.
In an emotional statement on Tuesday, Victoria’s grandmother, Joan Agoglia, said the publication of the report was “wonderful, as I’ve been fighting for this all my life it seems” but emphasised the extent to which authorities had not taken concerns raised about the girl’s wellbeing seriously.
“Vicky told me about what this man had done to her. She was so bruised underneath her private parts, you couldn’t believe it. She told me that she had been beaten,” said Agoglia.
Although the operation was shut down in July 2005 because of a lack of resources, Oliver claimed the force viewed the girls as an “underclass”, adding that “these weren’t the chief constable’s daughters”.
The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, who commissioned the review, said he had raised the findings of an inquest into Victoria’s death with the attorney general because he felt “uncomfortable” that they did not raise failures of authorities to safeguard her.
Assistant chief constable Mabs Hussain, the head of specialist crime for GMP, said: “We have made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct so that they can carry out an independent assessment to determine if there are any conduct matters that should be investigated.”
“Of course back in early 2000s, the priorities for forces across the UK were very different. This has completely changed and today safeguarding the vulnerable is our absolute priority.”
QotD: “The Ayia Napa case is an object lesson in how rape victims face not just the old horrors of a callous judicial process but a new one too: the prospect of global, indelible shame”
Just a few clicks and you see it all. Newspapers may have scruples about identifying gang-raped teenage girls but angry men on social media don’t. They’ve published her name, gleefully harvested her cheery Instagram selfies. A video of her having sex with her boyfriend, filmed secretly by her alleged assailants, just before they piled into the Cyprus hotel room, was posted on porn sites.
Through this rich plethora of material the girl’s body, morals and sexual prowess are luridly debated. Twitter shrugs, happy to host her public shaming. Eventually the porn sites removed the sex footage, not to spare her further humiliation — who cares about that? — but because some of the 12 Israeli boys she accused of rape were under 17, the Cypriot age of consent. Which means the mob now calls her “paedophile” as well as “slut”.
What should we say to a 19-year-old girl, A levels passed, a university place bagged, who is beautiful, adventurous, looking for a summer of meeting boys, parties and fun? That if something goes wrong you may be utterly ruined. The Ayia Napa case is an object lesson in how rape victims face not just the old horrors of a callous judicial process but a new one too: the prospect of global, indelible shame.
Moreover, for all our mighty #IBelieveHer feminist campaigns, this girl probably faces more disbelief than a generation ago when few would think a well-brought-up young woman would happily allow a dozen men to take their turn. But now “gang-bang” is a much-searched porn category: images resembling her ordeal are watched by guys who are led to believe this is a normal sexual rite of passage — and that girls love it.
Once, self-respecting parents wouldn’t greet as homecoming heroes sons who, even if they fell short of rape, had collaborated in a squalid, hateful act. Nobody disputes that four lots of DNA were found on her body, along with internal injuries and scratches on her thighs. Nor that outside the hotel these little princes bragged they were going to “do orgies” with the “English girl”. Or that they filmed her having sex with their friend without consent (not even a crime in Cyprus).
“Are you not ashamed?” asked a female Israeli journalist. But the boys and their male relatives popped champagne, let off a confetti cannon and kept chanting: “The Brit is a whore.”
We should warn young women too that their bodies and lives may be mere collateral in bigger power plays. In Hollywood women were silenced with cash for non-disclosure agreements to save studio moguls. In Cyprus, politicians weren’t going to let one silly British girl spoil relations with Israel, which not only uses the island, its only friendly regional neighbour, as a playground for its youth but is a key defence and trade partner.
On Thursday the Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu met the Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades to sign off the $6 billion EastMed gas pipeline project. You don’t have to be a tin-foil hat conspiracist to think it unlikely Cyprus would imperil this deal by having 12 young Israeli men, some reportedly from high-born political families, stuck indefinitely in its jails.
By then it was their accuser who was in prison. The police, having taken her initial statement in July — that the gang burst in, that one sat on her shoulders so she couldn’t even count how many raped her, all affirmed by doctors — recalled her to the station. There they questioned her for eight hours until in desperation at 1.30am she allowed a “confession” to be dictated: she’d consented to everything, she said, fabricated the rape as revenge for the illicit filming. It wasn’t enough the Israelis were free: the girl must be punished, charged with “public mischief” and after four weeks already on remand in a Cypriot prison is now facing a jail term.
It is a truly monstrous case, more redolent of “honour” punishments handed out to raped girls in Afghanistan than to a holidaymaker in an EU nation. By refusing to hear rape evidence, the judge Michalis Papathanasiou employed all the logic of a witch trial. If her lawyers could not prove the attack was real, how could they clear her of making it up?
Now there are demands for a presidential pardon. But to accept absolution for a crime means first admitting your guilt. The girl is relinquishing her university place, reconsidering her chosen career since it is incompatible with a criminal conviction; she’s suffering from PTSD and “hypersomnia”, sleeping 20 hours a day. If the verdict is appealed against in the Cyprus Supreme Court or taken as far as the European Court of Human Rights it will prolong her ordeal for months, maybe years. All this for reporting a gang-rape.
While we denounce Cypriot courts, let’s not pretend our system delivers justice for sex offence victims. Here, too, women may be interviewed by police for hours without legal counsel. Nor does the victim always have a lawyer representing her interests in court. Although the number of reported rapes has increased, fewer than half now result in charges. In 2018-19 there were 1,925 convictions for rape or a lesser sexual offence, down from 2,635 in the previous period. The justice system and police are impossibly stretched now mobile phone information must be tirelessly searched and disclosed, while many women, fearful for their privacy, drop charges.
Pursue justice and you risk vicious online exposure and vilification from your rapist’s friends. The young woman who the footballer Ched Evans was convicted of raping, before being acquitted at a retrial, fled to Australia. The stakes for rape victims who refuse to stay silent, as a broken 19-year-old in Ayia Napa knows, have never been higher.
The message to foreign women thinking of booking a holiday in Cyprus could hardly be more stark: if you are attacked don’t expect the authorities to help you. On the contrary, reporting a rape carries a significant risk that it won’t be properly investigated, as appears to have happened to the 19-year-old British woman who went to the police in Ayia Napa in July saying she had been gang-raped. Moreover, you might end up deprived of your own liberty.
The teenager found herself convicted on Monday with inventing the whole thing, and faces a potential prison sentence when she appears at the Famagusta district court next week. Predatory young men, on the other hand, might easily come to the conclusion that they have nothing to fear.
The case now has all the ingredients of an international incident, following a highly unusual intervention from the Foreign Office. A spokesman has described events in Cyprus as “deeply distressing” and says that the UK is “seriously concerned” about the young woman’s right to a fair trial. While limiting damage to the tourist industry may have been the primary concern of the Cypriot authorities, it has backfired spectacularly. The UK is also an important ally and has military bases on the island. Whatever is being said publicly, it’s likely that frantic discussions are taking place behind the scenes, seeking a way out of what is fast becoming a public relations disaster.
While some elements in this shocking case are particular to Cyprus, it highlights a culture of disbelief towards victims that is almost universal. That distrust expresses itself in different ways, depending on the jurisdiction, and it appears that the investigation in Ayia Napa was flawed from the outset. In the UK, victims often complain about the length of time a rape inquiry takes, but the Cypriot investigation was over in just 12 days. How can a thorough investigation into an alleged rape with multiple perpetrators be carried out in such a short space of time? Yet all the accused boys were released and allowed to return home to Israel.
The young woman’s legal team claim that local police failed to collect evidence from the hotel room where the incident took place, didn’t secure the crime scene and showed no understanding of the impact of traumatic events on the complainant’s memory.
Instead of treating her as a young and vulnerable witness, they interviewed her on her own late at night, with neither a lawyer nor a family member present. The Cypriot police do not record interviews, so there is no independent record of what happened during the seven hours before the teenager signed a “retraction”, which she says she did under duress.
This sequence of events is a stain on the Cypriot justice system, but what lies behind it is a hugely disproportionate anxiety about false accusations. Indeed it is one of the principal myths that undermine rape investigations, even though the idea that there are high levels of false allegations is unsupported by evidence. In the UK, a handful of widely publicised cases that ended in acquittals or a decision not to proceed to trial has tainted the entire system for investigating rape. Many people do not understand that a decision not to prosecute reflects an assessment of the available evidence, and does not mean the victim was lying.
The Crown Prosecution Service denies the accusation that it has become “risk averse”, but there has been a 52% drop in the number of rape cases prosecuted since 2016, despite an increase of 43% in complaints to the police. According to the latest figures for the year ending in March 2019, there were 58,657 allegations of rape in England and Wales but only 1,925 successful prosecutions. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, it simply defies belief that more than 55,000 women are lying about being raped every year.
The truth is actually much worse: a habit of treating women as untrustworthy witnesses has imbued our own criminal justice system with a corrosive degree of suspicion. It’s far from unusual for victims to face intrusive demands for personal information, including school and medical records. They are made to feel as though they, rather than their alleged attackers, have shameful secrets in their past.
These developments have not gone unchallenged. The Centre for Women’s Justice is seeking a judicial review of the way the CPS makes decisions in rape cases, while the information commissioner is investigating a complaint from myself, the London victims’ commissioner and women’s groups about excessive demands for complainants’ private data.
In the meantime there can be no doubt that thousands of sexual predators are going free. Some of them, no doubt, will attack again. And while we rightly shudder at the treatment a British teenager has received in Cyprus, we should not forget that our own criminal justice system is in crisis – or that it lets down rape victims every day.
Perhaps less easy to discount is the pornography consumed by Boy A, including material depicting violence against women. Gardaí found thousands of images on his various devices, as well as internet searches for “child porn” and “horse porn”. But the psychological assessments stated that he had a normal view of sexual matters, a fact scarcely believable given the nature of the attack. Ana was naked when found, her ripped clothes scattered around the room.
In the absence of external factors, it’s tempting to label one or both boys as budding psychopaths, devoid of empathy and preprogrammed to commit horrific crimes. But again the reports said neither showed signs of personality disorders or traits indicating psychopathy. Similarly, there was no evidence of mental illness in either teen.
This is what we mean when we say misogyny is ‘normal’ and ‘normalised’; hatred of women is so entrenched in ‘everyday’ culture and society that a ‘normal’ teenaged boy who looks at violent porn online can go on to commit a brutal sexual murder for ‘no reason’.
A friend told me his student daughter had become a feminist activist. Check out her Facebook page, he said. So I did, expecting posts on the gender pay gap or #MeToo. Instead I discovered the campaign to which she and her mates devoted their energy was to save the Sheffield branch of Spearmint Rhino.
Seriously? A lap-dancing club? Indeed, a multinational lap-dancing corporation, where men from London to Las Vegas can pay near-naked women to grind on their crotches in private booths. Spearmint Rhino, whose posters of strippers dressed in sexy uniforms for “naughty schoolgirl” parties were banned by the advertising watchdog, and which exists to flatter and feed the sexual entitlement of men, according to its founder John Gray.
Not just any old Spearmint Rhino either but Sheffield’s, where the council recorded 74 breaches of the licence and 145 of the club’s own code of conduct, including sexual touching and masturbation. Yet outside the club with placards, demanding the council ignore such violations, were women students.
Until recently feminists campaigned to close such clubs, which proliferated under New Labour’s shameful loosening of licensing laws. Residents fought to stop them being sited near homes or schools, where passing girls would be cat-called. Women in business battled male bosses who entertained clients in strip joints, meaning female executives must either endure the bump ’n’ grind or lose networking opportunities. Women’s equality was judged incompatible with male sexual services on every high street.
Yet the Spearmint Rhino feminists told Sheffield council that “stripping is a crucial drive in the feminist movement” and “plays a huge role in empowering women”. Those who wanted the club closed, including the local Women’s Equality Party, were “SWERFs”: Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, ie prudes and bigots. Among the club’s most vocal supporters was Sophie Wilson, 23, a Sheffield councillor and now the prospective Labour candidate for Rother Valley.
Given this constituency includes part of Rotherham, you’d expect Ms Wilson to be mindful of the town’s recent sexual abuse scandal, aware that 20 men were jailed for grooming, rape and trafficking, that her voters include some of the 1,500 female victims. These grotesque crimes, the ensuing cover-up and recriminations, have left a festering wound. No surprise that residents voted for a zero-tolerance policy on sexual entertainment venues: from next year Rotherham council won’t renew any strip club licences.
Yet instead of reaching out to victim groups, Ms Wilson has gone to war against one of Rotherham’s bravest survivors. Sammy Woodhouse described being raped and impregnated as a 14-year-old by Arshid Hussain, now jailed, in her memoir Just A Child. With low self-esteem, few qualifications and criminal convictions (after Hussain inveigled her into robbery and drug dealing) she could only find work as a stripper in clubs.
For nine years she endured sexual assaults, the constant badgering by clients for “extras”, saw foreign women trafficked by pimps who demand girls illicitly offer sex. Many lap dancers she met shared her troubled trajectory: child abuse, manipulative boyfriend, a subsequent sense of worthlessness. The parallels with the Rotherham victims are obvious. As the National Crime Agency wrote: “The girls, who were all vulnerable and craving attention and love, were deliberately targeted for the sole purpose of becoming sexual objects for the men.” Perfect strip-club fresh meat.
Sammy Woodhouse is aghast that middle-class students believe lap-dancing clubs are empowering. Or that Sophie Wilson responded to Spearmint Rhino’s offer of a free night out as reward for saving their licence with an excited: “I’m up for it.” In response, Ms Wilson called Woodhouse — a Rother Valley voter — “SWERF trash”. It is hard to believe such an immature, insensitive person could be selected for a seat beset with complex problems. But the Rother Valley long-list compiled by Labour’s NEC excluded most local candidates. Ms Wilson was a Momentum choice.
She will need all the goodwill she can get. The seat has never returned a Tory but Labour’s majority has fallen steadily to 3,882 at the last election. Despite this, Sophie Wilson’s only impact so far is to trample on the town’s sensitive past.
Who will go out leafleting for her on dark nights now? And if she wins, will she prove to be another hastily chosen, social media big mouth with little real-life experience, like the disgraced Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara?
Yet sadder than this betrayal of South Yorkshire voters by the party they have always trusted with power is the mindset of Spearmint Rhino feminists. Has the first generation raised on internet porn come to believe that sexual objectification is normal, even desirable? They call themselves “sex positive”, implying that women who oppose lap-dancing clubs ain’t getting any. (As if the sex trade has any respect for female pleasure.) They say lap dancers just need unionisation and for men to tip them well.
This, remember, is the #MeToo generation that calls a hand on a knee sexual assault and railed against entitled businessmen ogling hostesses at the Presidents Club charity ball last year. Yet it does not see that the narrative that gave Harvey Weinstein impunity to grab any passing starlet is played out in every £30 private dance. Wrapped up in their own narcissism and “identity” they are blind to the bigger picture. They are Spearmint Rhino’s useful feminist idiots. Ladies, you’ve been had.