If Brexit is the most divisive issue in British politics, requiring a talent for squaring ideological circles and cajoling compromises from bitter enemies, reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) runs it a close second. The consultation, long-delayed while three successive ministers for women and equalities scratched their heads, is finally launched on Tuesday.
Although even that isn’t official. Bizarrely the government wouldn’t confirm (or deny) the date. But I’ve seen emails: groups will give evidence in late July, a sleepy summer recess slot calculated, perhaps, to contain the GRA firestorm. Some chance.
Opposing forces are drilled for battle. On one side the trans lobby, including Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, who claim changes to the process by which a trans person acquires a gender recognition certificate (GRC) are merely a tiny administrative tweak. On the other, feminist activists who fear that a legal redefinition of “woman” from biological sex to the nebulous, inner feeling of “gender identity” threatens female safety and privacy.
Much has changed since Maria Miller’s blithe 2016 trans rights report recommended sweeping, contentious changes including expedited hormone treatment for children and removing gender from official government records. Most controversially she sought to replace the GRC process whereby a person must live in their new gender for two years and have a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” (a mental disorder whereby a person feels their identity is opposed to their biological sex). Instead Mrs Miller proposed “self-identify”, ie a man could simply declare himself a woman with no requirement to transition physically.
The report caused a furore. Without hearing evidence from a single women’s group, Mrs Miller also proposed abolishing exemptions to the 2010 Equality Act which allow domestic violence refuges or hostels to admit only biological women. Interviewing Mrs Miller last year, I was flabbergasted by how little she had thought this through. She saw no conflict of rights at all: women, she said, must learn to accept without challenge male-bodied people using their changing rooms.
New feminist groups, including A Woman’s Place, sprang up in alarm. Despite picketed meetings, a violent assault and a bomb threat, they’ve shifted the public consensus to the view that liberating trans people from discrimination and abuse should not remove protections from another vulnerable group: women.
Unsurprisingly, Penny Mordaunt, women and equalities minister, is proceeding with caution. She has stated she will not touch the single sex exemptions and is yet to be convinced about “self-ID”. The consultation will address how the GRC process can be “less bureaucratic and intrusive”.
Yet a GRC is a serious undertaking: it allows a person to change the biological sex on their birth certificate, a document of public record. A person’s identity is then sealed, only to be opened in circumstances such as criminal investigation: there is no way of proving someone is not the sex they claim to be. Only 5,000 GRCs have been issued to date. But if this process is made easier, with no careful checks for sincerity, the Equality Act exemptions are rendered almost meaningless.
Moreover if the GRC is “demedicalised”, requiring no gender dysphoria diagnosis, there are implications for the treatment of children. There is an epidemic of teenage girls believing they are trans: female puberty often involves body self-hatred, long expressed in anorexia and self-harm and now breast-binding and demanding double mastectomies. But why explore this new phenomenon if “gender identity” is officially as indisputable as eye colour?
If attaining a GRC is easier, should single sex exemptions be reinforced? Already companies and public bodies that misunderstand the law or who are intimidated by Twitter storms, such as when Topshop was branded transphobic for excluding a man who identifies as “non-binary” from its women’s fitting rooms, have capitulated.
The government should reassure them and suggest no single sex policy is changed without an impact assessment. This week Times2 reported on a co-ed school where the head designated all toilets “gender neutral” without consultation. Yet “gender reassignment” is just one protected characteristic under the Equality Act: there are eight others, including race and biological sex. The head should first have assessed the impact on girls learning to use sanitary products next to boys, or their fears of phones being used to take pictures under cubicles. The girls won back their single sex toilets, with a few WCs anyone can use.
If my local pool was to allow biological males into its women-only session it should first assess the impact upon the mainly Somali and Arab women in burkinis who, alas, feel unable to swim at any other time. Cancer UK should assess the impact of using the words “people with a cervix” rather than “women” in its cervical cancer campaign. Which will save more lives? Being “trans inclusive” or making sure that women with poor English who might not understand an obscure medical word are screened? If crimes are recorded according to a person’s gender identity rather than biological sex, as FOI requests to police authorities suggest, how will this skew crime figures, given natal women commit a tiny fraction of violent and sexual offences?
All these are reasonable questions for a government consultation, not hate speech. Yet Penny Mordaunt will be dealing with groups who believe “trans women are women” not figuratively or legally, but literally and biologically. Therefore no conflict of rights can possibly exist. Compared to negotiating through this, Brexit is a cinch.
Naomi Alderman’s tale is a murder mystery, the story of Hypatia, the mathematician murdered by a mob in the learned city of Alexandria, around the year 415 CE. Hypatia was a communicator of science, tackling difficult maths and teaching it to her students. This was incredibly important work. It was enough, at the time, to make her Alexandria’s pre-eminent mathematician, and probably therefore the leading mathematician in the world.
And there’s historical evidence that Hypatia made some discoveries and innovations of her own. She invented a new and more efficient method of long division. In a time before electronic calculators, the actual business of doing sums was an arduous part of engineering or astronomy, and any improvement in efficiency was very welcome.
All quite innocent science, so why did Hypatia end up being murdered by a mob? Natalie Haynes presenter of “Natalie Haynes Stands Up For The Classics” tells the inside story to Naomi Alderman. And Professor Edith Hall discusses Hypatia’s legacy.
Government response to petition ‘Consult with women on proposals to enshrine ‘gender identity’ in law’
The Government has not yet decided whether or not to introduce a self-declaration model, and will not change the Equality Act 2010 provisions which support organisations to run single sex services.
The Government has committed to consult on how best to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004. This Act sets out the process by which trans people can legally change their gender. We will publish this consultation in due course. All members of the public will be able to respond to the consultation. Once the consultation has closed and the Government has carefully considered the responses, only then will we decide how to reform the GRA.
Gender recognition is a devolved issue and the Scottish Government ran a separate consultation, which closed on 1 March 2018.
We have been clear since announcing our intention to consult on the GRA that we will ask about how we can make the process of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate less bureaucratic and intrusive for trans people. That does not necessarily mean we are proposing self-declaration of gender. The Government will consider the results of the consultation carefully before making any decision on how to reform the GRA. We are clear that we have no intention of amending the Equality Act 2010, the legislation that allows for single sex spaces. Any GRA reform will not change the protected characteristics in the Equality Act nor the exceptions under the Equality Act that allow provision for single and separate sex spaces.
The Government does not intend to change the safeguarding processes that are currently used in refuges and healthcare services. Providers of women-only services can continue to provide services in a different way, or even not provide services to trans individuals, provided it is objectively justified on a case-by-case basis. The same can be said about toilets, changing rooms or single sex activities. Providers may exclude trans people from facilities of the sex they identify with, provided it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.
We are committed to a respectful and evidence-based discussion, and, for this reason, we have engaged in many pre-consultation meetings with a range of stakeholders including women’s groups, charities and service providers. We will continue to do so during the consultation. The consultation offers an opportunity for women from all backgrounds to be heard.
As part of our evidence gathering, we are looking at the experiences of other countries who have different gender recognition models. There are countries, such as Ireland, Malta, and Belgium that have adopted a self-declaration model, making use of statutory declarations. We are also looking at countries that do not have a full self-declaration model, such as the Netherlands.
We want to emphasise that any reform of the GRA will not mean reform to the medical treatment that trans people receive, and the age at which they can receive this. Access to treatment on the NHS, including cross-sex hormones (which the NHS allows from 16) and surgery (which the NHS allows from 18), is not regulated by the GRA, but decided on by clinicians. Any GRA reform will not change this.
When the GRA was introduced, it was considered a world-leading piece of legislation. Whilst it has worked well in many ways, over the last decade it has been viewed as outdated. We have heard from many trans people that the current requirements feel overly intrusive and bureaucratic. It includes the need to provide a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and a second medical report of any treatment, proof of having lived for at least two years in their acquired gender, the approval of their spouse if married, as well as the fee to apply, and any associated costs with obtaining supporting evidence. Furthermore, trans people are already able to more easily change their name and gender in their passport and driving license. Streamlining the process of changing their legal gender on their birth certificate, so that they are recognised legally in their acquired gender, would help trans people to have all their identity documents match.
The process of gaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), as set out in the Gender Recognition Act, is a Government service that is not working well for the people it is designed for. Only 4,850 GRCs have been issued since the Act came into force. Our research shows that trans people find the process too bureaucratic and hard to use. We therefore propose improving this service, but want to ensure we only do so after a full consultation, to allow us to hear from trans people, and also from women’s groups, faith groups, LGBT groups, young people’s organisations, charities, refuges, and many more individuals and organisations, so that we can decide how best to make these reforms.
The Government is committed to improving the position of women and girls, and supports their rights, safety, privacy and dignity. We are also committed to improving the position of trans people and supporting their rights. We are confident that advancing the rights of trans people does not have to compromise women’s rights, and will work with all groups to ensure this.
A court in Lancashire last month jailed six men and one woman for their part in a sex trafficking ring. The group had been bringing women from Romania, and sexually exploiting them in a network of brothels around the UK. The court heard the key to this gang’s operation was the use of a classified ads website – Vivastreet – on which they advertised women to sex buyers.
The group didn’t have to worry about disguising the prostitution adverts they were placing; Vivastreet openly hosts and charges for “escorts” listings. During the investigation, one of the suspects was found to have spent more than £25,000 on advertising victims on the site. Yet Detective Sergeant Stuart Peall, who led the investigation, discovered that, astonishingly, when one man placed what amounted to more than £25,000-worth of prostitution adverts – for multiple women – the web company did not respond by calling the police, or even by refusing his requests. Instead, Peall says, they gave the suspect “his own account manager”.
Vivastreet is one of the “prostitution procurement websites” identified in a recent inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on prostitution as enabling industrial-scale sexual exploitation. Along with its competitor, Adultwork, the site allows users to shop for sexual access to women’s bodies. It is free to use for the sex buyer, who can search profiles according to his location and contact the person being advertised (or the person selling them) via a mobile number listed in the profile. The profits come from fees charged to those placing the adverts.
Vivastreet’s French business was interrupted on 4 June when the Paris prosecutor opened an investigation into Vivastreet France for aggravated pimping. Last week, Vivastreet France shut down its prostitution adverts. This comes in the wake of Adultwork and similar sites dropping prostitution adverts in the US after a new law holding web companies criminally and civilly liable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking came into force in April. In Britain, prostitution advertising websites continue to operate, the UK’s patchy and inadequate laws against commercial sexual exploitation leaving sufficient leeway for them to profiteer openly.
France has led the way by taking action on prostitution websites under comprehensive anti-pimping laws and, crucially, tackling the demand underpinning them – by criminalising paying for sex, and decriminalising selling sex. It is time the British government did the same and finally woke up to the sexual abuse scandal playing out in brothels across the country.
Ministers will come under intense pressure from a cross-party group of MPs this week to follow the US by banning so-called “prostitution websites” amid mounting evidence that they are enabling a huge growth in sexual exploitation and the trafficking of women to the UK for profit.
Members of the all-party group on prostitution have secured a parliamentary debate during which they will demand that the Home Office acts to make websites such as Vivastreet and Adultwork accountable under law for encouraging and profiting from sexual exploitation.
The websites make money by placing advertisements on behalf of gangs and individuals running networks of women, many of whom are trafficked from abroad. Vivastreet operates in 19 countries and is owned by an offshore holding company based in Jersey. Adultwork is registered in Panama.
A recent inquiry by the all-party group heard evidence from the Joint Slavery and Trafficking Analysis Centre – a multi-agency intelligence unit set up by the police, the government, and the National Crime Agency – which concluded that “adult services websites represent the most significant enabler of sexual exploitation in the UK”.
This was because the sites are at the heart of a money-spinning online industry that allows running networks of women to connect with men who want to buy sex. Investigators believe much of the profit made by those managing the women is then used to fund a wider network under which vulnerable women are sought out abroad and systematically trafficked to the UK.
Amid rising outrage about the use of such websites, US President Donald Trump signed a bill earlier this year that gives federal and state prosecutors greater power to act against platforms that make money out of such advertisements. The bill also enables victims and state attorneys general to file lawsuits against the sites.
The MPs say it is now crucial that the Home Office follows the US and changes the law in the UK to make such websites directly accountable under law for encouraging exploitation and trafficking. They will demand swift action from Theresa May, who made action to stamp out modern slavery a top priority of her time at the Home Office and reiterated the same commitment on entering Downing Street.
Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham and a member of the all-party group, said she would attend the debate and press whichever Home Office minister represents the government to follow America’s swift action. “UK legislation needs to be radically overhauled to keep pace with the changing face of prostitution,” Champion said. “We need to update our laws to make websites legally accountable for facilitating and profiting from sexual exploitation. The idea that commercial prostitution sites make it safer for women is not true.”
Diane Martin, who was awarded a CBE for services to vulnerable women and survived trafficking and prostitution in her late teens, now supports exploited women. “As a survivor, my perspective means firsthand experience of the realities of prostitution,” she said. “My years of supporting hundreds women to exit prostitution has also only strengthened my fervent belief that we are failing some of the most vulnerable women in society unless we address the demand of the buyers and the greed of the pimps.
“Currently, UK legislation is inadequate to deal with this. I want to call on MPs, and all with the power to make positive change, to see the reality of prostitution, to be on the side of the most vulnerable and to adopt an approach where pimps, brothel owners and third-party exploiters are not tolerated.”
This article was published in the Observer, which is editorially independent from the Guardian, but shares its website.
It’s almost laughable how much the Guardian is dedicated to the ideology of ‘sex work’, and calling commercially raped women and children ‘sex workers’: the Observer places the article under the category ‘prostitution’, while on the front page of the Guardian, it is under the category ‘sex workers’, and the word ‘prostitution’ has been taken out of the headline.
A London-based nurse has been convicted of trafficking five Nigerian women into Germany to work as prostitutes after subjecting them to “voodoo” rituals.
Josephine Iyamu forced the women to swear oaths to hand over money to her during “juju” ceremonies.
Iyamu, 51, formerly of Bermondsey, was convicted of five counts of arranging or facilitating travel for sexual exploitation at Birmingham Crown Court.
Jurors also found her guilty of perverting the course of justice.
The rituals saw the women forced to eat chicken hearts, drink blood containing worms, and have powder rubbed into cuts, the court heard.
Iyamu is the first person to be convicted under Modern Slavery Act laws passed in 2015, allowing prosecutions of British citizens for overseas sexual trafficking.
She was born in Liberia, but became a British citizen in 2009 having been allowed to stay in the UK due to her nursing qualifications.
Her husband, 60-year-old Efe Ali-Imaghodor, was acquitted of doing acts intending to pervert the course of justice.
Iyamu declared a modest income of around £14,500 in 2016/17 from her work as an NHS agency nurse, the court heard.
But after her arrest last year investigators found she was able to afford to spend thousands on air travel and a large home in Benin City, Nigeria.
Prosecutor Simon Davis said by performing rituals Iyamu gained psychological control over the women.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said Iyamu had “enlisted the help of a voodoo priest” to put the women through a “juju” ceremony which was “designed to exert control” over them.
The victims and their families were threatened with serious harm if they broke their oath to Iyamu, according to the NCA.
The court heard Iyamu was “willing to put the women at risk of serious injury and or death as they made their journey from Nigeria to Europe”.
They were too afraid to challenge her or fail to pay her back tens of thousands of Euros she charged them to be trafficked into Germany, the court was told.
Opening the case, Mr Davis said: “The debts incurred by the women were enforced through fear.
“Each of the women were put through what is known to some as a voodoo ceremony.”
How do we as a society tackle child sexual abuse? How do we start a national conversation about it? The Independent Inquiry, launched in 2014 is trying to answer these questions, and are running an initiative called ‘The Truth Project’ to give survivors an opportunity to share their stories. Today, for the first time, some of these accounts are being published.
Jane hears from victims who decided to share their experiences with The Truth Project and she is joined in the studio by a group of those involved in running it. Barrister Dru Sharpling, Chief Psychologist for the Inquiry Dr Bryony Farrant, and a member of the Victims and Survivors Panel, Emma Lewis.
If your intersectionality isn’t women-centered, then it’s not feminism.