Telling women not to go out to avoid rape isn’t about safety. It’s about restricting women’s freedom. Here’s why.

 

 

We’re into Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale (which I’m not yet watching, but I’ve just read the book. Aside: Is it weird that the show has already gone past the book in terms of June’s pregnancy?) And I’m seeing lots of posts from Americans about how the show “is slowly happening in real life”. The parallels regarding forced breeding are obvious. But there are other issues: reading, writing, socialising and freedom of movement. They’re all things that the Handmaids aren’t allowed to do. States like Saudi Arabia restrict women’s movement. Yes, the driving ban has been lifted. But women still aren’t allowed to leave the house, work, or apply for a driving license without being accompanied by, or having permission from, a male relative. But restricting women’s movement doesn’t just happen in The Handmaids Tale or Saudi Arabia. There are ways of restricting movement that are enforced  by social means instead of legal. Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that the experiences of women outside states like Saudi Arabia or Gilead are in any way comparable to the experiences of those within. I mention the above two states- one fictional, one factual- to make the point that women’s movement can be subject to legal control. The remainder of this article will focus on the use of social control to achieve similar ends.

Western society pressures women to restrict their movements for fear of sexual assault: don’t walk alone, avoid quiet places, don’t travel alone, don’t go there wearing that, don’t walk home, stay in a group, don’t go out in the dark, don’t visit certain neighbourhoods/parks/bars/cities/countries. From the time they are little girls without even a clear idea of what sex crimes are, they’re indoctrinated to believe they are easy prey- weak, vulnerable, too wimpy to ever hope to defend themselves. Girls are taught to regard themselves as potential victims. Many learn also to regard boys and men as potential criminals- a tad unfair when only 6% of men are rapists (and those tend to be violent in general, not just towards women). Worst of all, women have to expend time and effort in (definitely) trading freedom for (only possibly) avoiding rape. Their dedication is often unnoticed by society.  The genius of social control is that, unlike legal control, no effort is needed. Social control tricks women into doing the work of legislators, courts and police by restricting themselves.

Gillian Flynn, author of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, summed it up in this interview:

“I talk to men all the time who try to make light of women’s situations, and I say, ‘Well, you don’t understand a woman’s day-to-day life. You don’t have to walk through your day saying, ‘Okay well tonight, I’m going to go to this thing, and if I park here, I hope I don’t get raped.’ You know, that never ever crosses your mind.
“I’m not someone who’s a panicky person or nervous about that thing, but you still have to be conscious of that possibility. All women — half our population — have to be conscious of that idea. I was at a hotel the other night, and I thought, ‘God I’d love to go for a run, but gosh, I probably shouldn’t.’I’m peeking out of the hotel window and thinking, if I do that and I get raped, no one’s gonna feel sorry for me. It’s not well-lit, and they’re gonna go, ‘What was she doing out there anyway?’”

 

People who tell women to restrict their movement- parents, teachers, and police being the main ones- will say they’re just trying to prevent women from being raped.

But being on high alert about men is unlikely to help women avoid sexual assault since they’re unlikely to meet a rapist. 90% of rape victims are attacked by people they know, not by strangers in the dark. As confirmed by ONS statistics, women are most likely to be raped in their own homes by their partners, so they’re actually safer going out than staying inside. Furthermore, when the rapist is a partner, there is additional trauma, increased risk of physical injury as well as a risk of multiple assaults. So intimate partner violence in the home should be the priority in rape prevention instead of stranger rape in the street.  Even in those rare stranger-rape cases, brainwashing girls to believe in their frailty and admit defeat in advance instead of teaching them self-defence skills to thwart rape attempts and psychological resilience skills to recover from such attempts and completed rapes, is also a questionable tactic. Instead of teaching teenagers recovery skills society models victim-blaming, thereby instilling self-blame and shame. Instead of encouraging information-sharing about sexual predators so women can protect themselves by avoiding known offenders, #MeToo is decried as “going too far” by naming abusers instead of keeping rapists’ secrets. Instead of encouraging girls to learn to defend themselves and making such classes accessible to adult women who are interested, martial arts and strength training are often viewed as male sports. In fact, stopping women from going out actually makes the streets less safe because they’ll be deserted. Only sketchy characters will be outside. There’ll be no crowds, no witnesses. Encouraging people to step out will increase safety. So we’re actually doing this all wrong.

 

Figure 10_ Victim-offender relationship for rape or assault by penetration (including attempts) experienced since age 16 by women aged 16 to 59

However, just because restriction of movement is not the best anti-rape strategy, that doesn’t by itself prove that restriction of movement is nothing to do with safety. We could just be trying to achieve safety in an incompetent way. The proof is this: if motivation to restrict women’s freedom is to protect them, because one incident of sexual assault is so very, very bad that it’s worth sacrificing your freedom for your entire lifetime to avoid, why isn’t sexual assault taken seriously when it happens? Why do friends victim blame? Why do schools do cover-ups and universities ignore it? Why do parents not take it seriously? Why do communities take the rapist’s side? Why are conviction rates so low? Police, juries, communities, institutions, and families do not take sex crimes seriously. They also demonstrate little empathy or belief towards the victim. Sometimes, the blame and/or shame is placed on the victim instead of the rapist, including by women. Those responses are utterly inconsistent with the idea of sexual assault being insufferable for women. Victim blaming, rape apologism, minimising and disbelief are inconsistent with the idea of sexual assault being even slightly upsetting. So, they can’t regard sexual assaults as all that bad. Therefore, “safety” is just an excuse. It’s not about rape being this supremely unbearable thing we must relentlessly sacrifice everything to avoid. It’s about controlling women.

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Source: baucemag.com

Now let’s look at society’s attitudes to rape in more detail. We’ll start at the national level (laws, policing, criminal compensation and courts), then the community level (the general public, institutions- with a focus on schools and universities- and families. In all of these tiers, the comparison will be between the attitudes which are professed (“rape is bad”) and the reality of how rape is perceived and dealt with (usually, “rape isn’t a big deal”). Obviously this is a generalisation and individuals do exist who take all sexual assaults very seriously indeed. I have met a few. In fact, without some people who take rape seriously there would be no laws against it, so the fact it’s a crime proves that not everyone is blase about it. These particular individuals’ motives to restrict women’s’ movement might well be genuine, unlike the motives of those who don’t take sex crimes seriously. However, we are interested in the big picture, in how our society functions.




The National Level

Laws

Not all sexual assaults are against the law. Upskirting isn’t. Revenge porn became illegal only a couple of years ago. Other countries used existing communications or sexual assault laws to target these behaviours, but the UK didn’t. It seems odd to tell women to repress themselves in order to avoid sexual assault, then skimp on the laws which could much more easily prevent it.

 

Police

Obviously the official position of all police forces is that sexual assaults are crimes. However, the police have been known to release public statements and posters which put the onus on women not to get raped, instead of on the perpetrators. Perhaps the most famous example is the “avoid dressing like sluts” speech which kicked off the SlutWalks. A lot of this material also gives the subtext of “make sure he rapes the other woman”. This is not stopping rape, it is in fact tolerant of rape. It’s also illogical from the police force’s point of view, as their job will be the same whether the rapist attacks Citizen A or Citizen B.

Reporting to the police is pointless for many victims, as the police drop most cases. On the TV programme Raped: My Story, a police officer claimed he “didn’t have the time” to talk to the witnesses and dropped the case. The victim contacted her MP and eventually the case was investigated, referred to the CPS, went to trial and her rapist was convicted. Had she listened to the officer, her case would’ve been dropped at the earliest stage. Another victim reported to the police and they told her it wasn’t rape. Rape Crisis encouraged her to report again through them. This time the police took the case, but by then the rapist had fled overseas and there wasn’t enough evidence to issue a European Arrest Warrant. I have heard of a friend of a friend who was raped in the west of central Scotland. When she went to report it, the officers insinuated it was her fault and asked what she was wearing or if she’d been drinking (with no reason; it wasn’t to do with CCTV or eyewitness reports). She left the station. The rapist is free to attack again. Only 1 in 14 reported rapes result in conviction. This begs the question of why anyone should bother to report at all. All most victims can hope for is to stress the rapist out by the possibility of charge or conviction. But this is at the expense of their own mental health. Even those with strong evidence who get justice have to go through an ordeal unlike any faced by victims of other crimes.

 

Court

In the UK, victims are the ones put on trial instead of rapists. Some victims find the court process even more terrible than the rape itself. Victims routinely face humiliating and irrelevant questions about their underwear, sex life and if they use sex toys. Campaigner Hannah Price explains that the court’s treatment of victims is the reason she will never report her rape, and quotes another victim who told her how her rapist’s lawyer caused her to break down begging for him to stop, resulting in the collapse of the trial.

While only 2% of rape allegations are false- no more than for other crimes, and less than most- victims risk being prosecuted for making false reports. The crime of making a false rape allegation carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This is true even when they weren’t the person who called the police, and even when they didn’t name their rapist. (In fact, most false rape reports don’t name a perpetrator so nobody is affected). Vulnerable, mentally ill and teen victims are most likely to be prosecuted. And it’s money that talks. In one case that Buzzfeed investigated, the police believed the victim but didn’t have enough evidence to charge the rapist. The rapist- who had an uber-wealthy dad- funded a private prosecution against his victim for lying. When she asked the CPS to stop the case (they can stop private prosecutions if it doesn’t meet CPS thresholds for prosecuting), the CPS did the opposite- they saw the rapist had done all the work for them, so they adopted his case and prosecuted her themselves. This was despite knowing she had bipolar disorder and being warned that she was a suicide risk. She committed suicide out of fear of having her anonymity taken away. After her death, the police told her father she hadn’t lied and should never have been prosecuted.

 

Other agencies

In the USA, thousands of rape kits expired before forensic evidence could be gathered, due to lack of funds to test them. The statute of limitations for rape is so short in some US states- just two or three years- that even some kits which didn’t expire were tested too late for the rapist to be charged. Victims were called and told the identity of their rapist, and informed that it was too late to prosecute. Imagine being able to Google the person who raped you and know he got away with it. This funding issue isn’t the fault of the police, but it’s a national-level issue which highlights how unimportant sexual assault is to the American government. Rape victims in America also have to pay for emergency healthcare and forensic evidence collection, while victims of other crimes don’t have to pay. Therefore, sexual assault victims are treated worse than physical assault victims.

Going back to the UK, our Criminal Injuries Compensation Agency (CICA) refused to give compensation to grooming gang victims. This was despite the fact that the abusers were convicted of rape and other sexual assaults- and criminal compensation isn’t dependent on a guilty verdict. Its process is separate to the criminal justice system, so compensation can be given without the accused ever appearing in court. The victims were told that they had consented. New guidelines have been issued to prevent this, but the psychological harm has already been done. Especially considering that these girls were repeatedly failed by police, CPS and social services, whose negligence allowed the sex trafficking to continue for years.

So it’s clear that at the national level rape victims are constantly treated differently- and worse- than other crime victims. The police pretend to see rape as a crime, but their actions don’t deliver. The court’s purpose is to provide justice, but only 1 in 14 people gets justice. The court’s function toward raped women is to traumatise them further as a high price for justice or, more often, a high price for seeing their rapist walk free to rape again. Other agencies deny rape or fail to ensure rapists can be caught. Therefore, what these agencies say and what they do are very different. It is difficult to see in what way any of them are treating rape seriously.




Community Level 

There have been highly publicised cases in recent years, so here I will do little more than name-drop. The phenomenon of entire towns- sometimes including police forces- colluding to protect rapists and drive victims’ families out of town was exemplified by Steubenville, Maryville, and similar cases. Young peers’ slut shaming of underage victims was highlighted by Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicides. Sadly, the bullying they received seems to have been even more of a catalyst for their suicides than the abuse and rape were.

The public’s attitude to victims can be seen clearly in juries’ acquittal of most accused rapists. While people might act like they are opposed to rape, their actions don’t follow their words where it counts the most.

Therapists have also been found to blame both male and female rape victims.

Universities

Universities- including the UK’s top universities- ignore students’ rape reports and most have no reporting system available, refuse to do anything until it’s reported to the police, demand a criminal court standard of proof, or do not tell students they can report. British students are even less likely to be protected than their American counterparts. This is because we have no Title IX equivalent. Universities have no legal duty to deal with sexual assault or even accept a report.

Student welfare services sometimes victim blame survivors– treating them differently from non-survivors, whom they presumably support. I know of a case in which a victim was told over and over by a student welfare staff “you can’t call it rape”- even after the rapist confessed to said staff member. She was also initially refused counselling because “counselling wouldn’t help you, it’s all in your head, it’s to do with your thinking patterns”. The confessed rapist was offered counselling. (Four other students disciplined for non-crimes and minor crimes were not). The university refused to follow its own disciplinary policy by never making a decision on the rape case (allowing him to get away with it) and humiliating and blaming the victim in front of the rapist. All attempts to get justice, encourage the university to adhere to its policy, or raise the issue of victim-blaming were challenged by denying staff misconduct, denying the rape happened and additional victim blaming. After four months of waiting for the decision, the victim went to the vice-chancellor and was told that “this matter can no longer be talked about”. No apology was given for any of the multiple policy breaches or even for the agonising (and utterly pointless) four-month wait. The university has made no commitment to improving the way it handles sexual assault, nor has it updated its policy to reflect the reality that it will not handle any sexual assault cases. So a student reporting sexual assault is likely to believe the stated policy that it will be dealt with, but find instead that they are blamed or ignored and their rapist is the one who is protected. All of this happened at a university which touts itself as mental health positive and frequently stages publicity stunts regarding student mental health, such as provision of therapy animals and awareness talks- all covered in the media to promote an image of a caring institution. Obviously, it’s just a pretense to attract more students (it’s a small university). And it only takes one or two malicious employees to sabotage a well-meaning university’s welfare provision or disciplinary process. While some staff did try their best to support the student, this case illustrates that even in the most mental health aware universities, rape may not be taken seriously.

Cambridge openly disbelieved a victim and suggested she was lying to cover up cheating on her boyfriend- despite CCTV footage of the victim running down the street barefoot, crying and semi-naked. Only four British universities count rape as an extenuating circumstance if a survivor’s studies are affected, resulting in a student who was raped on her year abroad failing her exams. Reforms to support victims were drafted by UK Universities in 2016 but in March 2018, most universities hadn’t bothered to implement them. These are not the actions of institutions which care about raped students. That doesn’t mean individual staff don’t support students, or that some universities haven’t brought in new reporting systems. But it does mean that, in general, the institutional cultures of most universities are indifferent to- sometimes even strangely persecutory of- rape victims.

 

Schools

Schools have similar issues to universities. Refusal to deal with sexual assault, including cover-ups,  is not uncommon as shown by this list of cases reported in the media. In 2011 a 16 year old survivor was expelled from an American cheerleading squad for refusing to cheer her rapist. Peers can also drive survivors to suicide as mentioned above. 16-19 year old Brits are far more likely to victim blame than people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. This may be explainable by lack of maturity, developing cognitive abilities (psychological adolescence- i.e. brain development- continues until age 22) or lack of life experience. Whatever the cause, high levels of victim blaming in this group means that school-aged and younger undergraduate victims may be particularly vulnerable to victim blaming.

 

Friends

From the way most people react to rape on the news, you’d expect them to be empathetic towards friends who’ve gone through the same thing. But friends can victim blame. Victim blaming and disbelief by friends can lead survivors to believe it was their fault. Some survivors think the police will also blame them, so don’t report it. One survivor was told by her friends not to call the police- even though they completely believed her- because if she did, they wouldn’t be able to attend Glastonbury as one big group. These “friends” thought that not being split into two groups was more important than reporting rape. So much so, in fact, that they spent weeks threatening her.

My memories of the night were hazy; the drunken texts with other friends to come and save me, coupled with the injuries I sustained were not.

At the crisis centre the next day, as I lay sobbing on the table being photographed and probed by 4 nurses, I received a barrage of phone calls and threats from certain friends telling me to go home, to not report it. Telling me that no it wasn’t consensual but ‘don’t ruin the group’ and ‘don’t ruin Glastonbury for us all.’…I was receiving 15 voicemails a day with threats…I couldn’t turn my phone on without getting more. I blocked the numbers…Facebook…Instagram, but they’d find more ways to get to me.

I have heard of a student raped at Oxford University whose friends believed the rapist’s story that she was lying to hide the fact that she’d cheated on her boyfriend. They all rejected her for lying and her grades suffered for over a year.

In another British university, a student told her postgrad friend (who knew she had been raped by another student) that more recently she had also been sexually harassed and assaulted by a member of staff. His response was “Why do you put yourself in these situations? Are you that desperate for male company?”. When she replied that the abusers had put her in those situations, he insisted “No. You put yourself in that situation. Or it wouldn’t happen.” The friend worked with trauma victims overseas, including rape survivors. When the student asked if he said the same thing to the victims he supported, he responded “They were rape-raped. They just stepped outside their front door and were raped.” (The student had been raped on the opposite side of the front door- i.e. inside a house instead of outside it.) When asked why the indoor-outdoor dichotomy was relevant to the crimes, he could not provide an answer. This friend used to walk the student home at night after she visited his flat. He acted as if sexual violence was so bad that he was personally responsible for protecting her from it, yet blamed her when it actually occurred.

Obviously there are lots of people who are very supportive to their friends, and some victim-blaming friends may also be supportive at other times, depending on their current mood. However not all friends take sexual assault seriously- even those whose job involves supporting rape victims.

 

Families

Given that the individuals who restrict a girl’s freedoms most fiercely in the name of rape prevention are usually her parents, one would expect that parents would react with concern when, seemingly against their wishes, rape occurs. However this is seldom the case. I have chosen three case studies for careful reasons. Firstly, these are all people I met randomly. A selection of individuals from a group which deals with parental rejection of rape victims would tell us little about how widespread it is. Secondly, these families’ reactions cannot be laid at the door of culture, religion or location. One family is Christian, the other theist, another irreligious. One is of South Asian heritage, another British, another mixed. Two of the women were raised in Scotland and another in two other western countries. The crimes occurred in England, Canada and Scotland. Lest you think that these attitudes wouldn’t happen now, the women were 15, 20 and 25 when the crimes were committed, and all are currently under age 30. So far I’ve listed the girls’ differences; there are a couple of similarities. We’ll look at those after the stories.

It’s a bitter irony that so much emphasis is placed on not letting girls go out, yet “Lila” was raped because her mother locked her out of the house to teach her a lesson after she was an hour late getting home from a party, due to transport issues. The assailant was an adult acquaintance of the family who worked in the legal field, though she first met him at the party. Unknown to her at the time, he was also related to a friend of hers. The man took her from her friend’s home (which the group had returned to following the lockout) and drugged her. The next morning he lied to her that she’d consented and offered to drive her home. Instead her drove her to another building where he raped her for a few hours before driving her home. Her parents had called the police in the morning but they failed to find her in time to catch him in the act. When she got home, her mum told the police she had returned and they interviewed her. Lila lied that she had consented as she thought her mum would want her to keep the rapes a secret to avoid gossip. Despite her being underage, the rapist was not charged with statutory rape as he was related to police officers and lawyers. The police officer told Lila’s mother that if she locked her out again, she could be charged with neglect. Later Lila’s doctor found rophynol in her blood while testing for STDs. That was how Lila realised the first time had also been rape. Lila’s mother actually did want her to report the rape, but never told her this, or even asked then 14 or 15 year old Lila if she wanted to report or why she had lied to the police, until Lila brought it up around seven years later. Lila was affected by depression since the incident which caused her to have anger issues, get suspended and drop out of university more than once. The expulsions and drop-outs affected her education a lot and caused multiple changes of institution. Her parents did not believe she had depression even after diagnosis and expected her to just get over the depression. Her parents’ treatment of her caused Lila not to disclose subsequent rapes and sexual assaults committed by another individual a few years later.

Lila once speculated that the reason why her parents never broached the subject of reporting it was because the rapist’s close relative was her father’s business landlord, so he might have had to move. If Lila had been found to have been harmed by her mother’s neglect, there would also be an increased chance of her mother being prosecuted. Obviously these are just speculations, but whatever the reasons behind it, her parents failed her by raising her to feel shame about sexual assault and keep silent, then further failed to make sure she understood her decision not to report, as well as failing to help her with her depression. Only eight years later did Lila’s mother finally accept that she shouldn’t have neglected Lila and that if she hadn’t neglected her, Lila wouldn’t have been raped- but only after Lila said this. Her mother’s lack of disagreement with these statements felt like a victory to Lila, and sadly it does seem to be a hugely defining moment in her parents’ treatment of her.

Incredibly, Lila’s parents had 9 or 10 miscarriages before she was born and she almost died at birth. She was an only child. Most people would assume she would be very precious and her parents might be overprotective.

This story goes to show that rape victims are often treated cruelly by their families, no matter how much love they may appear to have. This may not be because the parents don’t love their daughters, but because rape is simply no big deal to them.

The next girl kept her rape a secret from her parents out of concern that it would cause them distress. When she finally told her mum a year later, her mum said it wasn’t rape because “boys find it difficult to stop” and told her not to tell her father. It has been suggested that this could be denial, but as this story illustrates the point that restricting movement does not protect women, I have included it here. And while this individual case may be one of denial, not every similar case can be explained away by denial. In another ironic twist, this mother also insisted on her daughter going to the rapist’s house to stay over, when the daughter didn’t want to go as it was a long journey to another district. Previously the mother had vetoed the young woman’s gap year travel plans as too dangerous. It is completely illogical that parents stop their daughters from wanted travel by citing risk, yet cause them to be raped by making them travel when they don’t want to. Sadly, this person completely missed out on her gap year because of her mum- and it was pointless: she was raped anyway, and she was raped “because of” her mum (though obviously her mum isn’t at fault like Lila’s was).

The last story is Ria’s. Similarly, a small part of the reason Ria didn’t go travelling a few years prior was because her mum thought it was dangerous for a woman to travel solo. But it was all for nothing because Ria was raped in Britain. When Ria was a teen she was frequently told that if she had not had the misfortune of being born in a female body, she would be allowed out for an hour later every day. All those lost hours were a sacrifice so that she would not be raped. Both losses of freedom resulted in her being raped despite all of her dedication to restricting herself.

Ria also delayed disclosing to her family in case it upset them. When she did tell her mum, her mum didn’t believe her because Ria said he didn’t stop instead of using the phrase “he continued”. She never bothered to ask Ria for clarification nor told her she didn’t believe it was rape. As the months went on, her mum said that he just couldn’t stop, that men find it hard to stop, it happened because Ria wanted sex, and that she felt sorry for the rapist being in a bit of trouble.

Ria had to wait months until she could see her mum face to face to tell the story.  But as she was afraid to criticise the rapist too much, since her mum was partly on his side, she was never able to tell. Instead she tried to convince herself that it wasn’t a big deal and forced herself not to say anything about what happened or how it affected her. 1-3 hours a day were used to remind herself to keep silent and hide her emotions before getting up.

Ria once asked why her mum didn’t take the rape seriously, to which she replied that Ria hadn’t mentioned it was that bad until recently. This confused Ria as her mum had taught her as a child that all rape was a crime, so shouldn’t all rapes be taken seriously? Another attempt to discuss her feelings was simply diverted onto Ria not caring about her mum when she was a teenager. After a year her mum became impatient and said she should get on with her life. She also revealed that she noticed Ria was very unhappy almost every night (something Ria tried to conceal) but had never bothered to ask her what was wrong. Around this time some of the things Ria had been keeping silent about came out accidentally and she said she felt her mum didn’t care, naively expecting to be comforted at last. Instead her mum was angry and started victim blaming Ria, asking why she let him in and why she “agreed” to have casual “sex” with him, and said Ria was being very hurtful by saying she wasn’t being supportive. Ria was shocked because she had expected an apology but instead she had made her situation much worse by asking for support. She then decided not to continue trying to tell her story to her mum, but to get counselling instead.

For over a year a cycle continued of Ria accidentally slipping out her feelings or actively asking for support, and her mum reacting with anger and victim-blaming. Ria’s mother also claimed that she didn’t take it seriously because it wasn’t stranger rape, and that she was entitled to her opinion that stranger rape was the worst, that a woman who wanted to be a virgin (abstinent until marriage) would feel worse, but Ria had agreed to some sexual activity the second time the rapist attacked her (but not the first time).  Other attempts were responded to with accusations that Ria “shouldn’t have had sex”, that Ria was tackling her, judging her or being too fussy. When the issue of Ria feeling as if she was being blamed for being raped (due to her mother shouting at her) was raised, the solution was given: just don’t be that picky.

It wasn’t until two years after the rape that Ria learned her mother had not believed her at first. The revelation was a relief. Ria’s counselor found this explanation for the mother’s disinterest hard to believe, because the rape being a surprise was common to all parents, yet Ria’s mother used that to justify not believing her. Ria had a desperate need to believe her mother’s explanation so considered quitting counselling in case her counselor revealed her mum’s story wasn’t true. Then her mum further revealed that it was the phrase “didn’t stop” that confused her, because she assumed that meant he stopped a few seconds later. She also thought he might have stopped a few minutes later, which she wouldn’t have counted as rape (even though most rapes only take a few minutes). She hadn’t asked how long it went on for because she didn’t want to pry into Ria’s private life. Ria was then able to stop doubting her mother and return to counseling. The effect of counselling was helpful but limited by Ria’s difficulty in trusting the counsellor not to get angry and because by then she was used to silencing herself. Ria regrets telling her mum as the biggest mistake of her life but knows she has only herself to blame.

Now, as to the similarities between these three girls: they are all either only children or only daughters. The families are all university educated and none struggle financially. Two of the parents have PhDs. Two of the parents worked in the legal field, so were more aware than other parents that rape is a serious crime. Two of the daughters went to private schools for at least some of their education. These girls were privileged and presumably valued by their parents. So if it could happen to them, it could happen to all of us.

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Source: Shutterstock.com

All of these case vignettes show that when rape happens, it is not taken seriously by those most involved in restriction of movement. Parents enforce life-changing restrictions on daughters regarding being out at night and travelling, yet “cause” them to be raped by forcing them to go outside at night or travel. This is completely inconsistent. Parents justify restricting the movement of female children by presenting rape as so dreadful that the trade-off is worth it, then ignore daughters when they are raped. This, too, is inconsistent.

The explanation for this baffling illogicality is this:  Restricting women’s movement is a cultural signal- similar to “virtue signalling”. Parents do it because it’s embedded in our culture, or to display their good parenting ability or show middle-class values of femininity or security. This demonstrates the power of patriarchy; popular culture often pushes the idea that ‘love conquers all’, but clearly parental love is conquered by patriarchy. Many Brits victim-blame female rape victims, and it appears that the fact that a rape victim is one’s daughter does not affect that.

Small children are treated more fairly even though most sexual assaults against children do not go “as far” as rape, and even though child sexual abuse victims aren’t always distressed at the time (due to lack of understanding of what is being committed, or lack of awareness if the child is too young to remember), especially regarding one-off “nonviolent” sexual assaults. While older children, teens and adults are traumatised by one-off assaults and assaults they cannot recall (because they don’t lack understanding and, unlike very young children, older children can recall the beginning and aftermath of assaults, so have a clear understanding of being drugged and raped). This is not to minimise molestation of young children or suggest that recollection of childhood abuse (or being informed of unrecalled childhood abuse such as an adult discovering they were molested as a toddler), doesn’t cause trauma in adults. Of course it does. Childhood abuse can have lifetime consequences including not only the better-known effects like PTSD and depression, but also lesser-known sequelae such as increased risk of obesity.  (Indeed, lack of trauma at the time of the abuse is not confined to children. Sexual violence experienced by teens may also not be distressing at the time due to grooming; the only issues relevant only to young children are those of awareness/memory and understanding). Rather, I am making the point that we don’t care about child abuse enough when it affects older children and teenagers.

Since older children, teens and adults are also affected by sexual assault, may (in some cases) actually be distressed more than young children, are more likely to be physically assaulted or drugged, and are far more likely to experience more serious types of sexual assault such as rape, surely they should be treated with at least as much empathy as younger victims?  However, from the preteen years onward, even those who are still legally children are blamed or disbelieved; only young children and victims of stranger rape are viewed more positively. (This is not to say that young children escape victim blaming altogether- courts and families do scapegoat children, especially when the perpetrator is a family member). The universal hatred of people who rape children doesn’t extend to rapists of teens and adults. The mobs who attacked innocent people because a tabloid falsely claimed they were paedophiles did not attack rapists who targeted grown women.  One might argue that lists of adult rapists weren’t published so there was no similar opportunity. However, these rags know their audience. The reason they chose to publish a list of criminals who had sexually assaulted children instead of a list of criminals who had sexually assaulted adults, or simply a list of sex criminals not based on the age of their victims, is because the public care about victims who are little boys and little girls. Had the tabloid published a list of male rapists who’d attacked women, the responses of readers would probably be “what if the woman was lying?”, “it was a grey area” and “she was asking for it”. All of this goes to show that reactions to victims are illogical.

Older victims suffer the same or more than the youngest victims, so logically all victims should receive the same support regardless of age. However, this is not the case. Older children and adults are victim-blamed, disbelieved or assumed to necessarily never be traumatised as much as younger victims. There is less public outrage against those who rape adults than those who grope children. Lila was regarded as more of a woman than a child due to being a teenager. While she wasn’t blamed or disbelieved, the rapes simply weren’t treated in the same way that they would have been had she been a few years younger.

This is unsurprising as ‘unconditional love’ does not exist. We all operate in a culturally-dependent context and family bonds are influenced by culture. Hence, honour killings and forced marriages happen in some cultural contexts but not western contexts, while victim-blaming and not taking rape seriously happen in both.

For those who don’t believe in the existence of patriarchy, other explanations are available (in fact personally I don’t believe patriarchy to be the sole cause- things are rarely that simple). Such as the fact that preteens, teens and adults are no longer little and cute, so do not attract familial attention. It also may be to do with evolution. Caring for one’s offspring, or related young, is an instinctual drive which wanes as those offspring reach adulthood. So parents and close relatives may be simply biologically unable to feel much concern for raped teens and young adults.

The identity of the rapist also plays a part. It’s easy to get riled up about stranger rape- that’s the evolutionary trait of taking the side of your tribe against the outsider. But if the rapist is someone the family or victim knows, it’s more complex. If a victim is lucky, their family may feel that their trust was betrayed, such as if a babysitter molests her charge. Otherwise, patriarchy steps in to blame the victim. The media portrays mostly stranger rape which is actually the rarest type of sexual assault. And the news further covers mostly stranger rapes where there is no interaction beforehand (being grabbed in an alley is more commonly depicted than taking a guy home from a pub, being lured to a deserted spot or accepting a lift, despite all of these being stranger rapes). This is why Lila’s treatment was so different from that of Amanda Dowler (even before it was known she’d been murdered). Lila was abducted and raped by someone known to her parents, so to them it was no big deal.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are things we can do to help survivors avoid parental emotional abandonment. Remember Ria? It seems ludicrous that Ria never learned from her mistakes and continued to attempt to get her mum’s support, endlessly perpetuating the cycle and delaying her recovery (because each rejection became yet another issue to get over, prolonging the timespan). But it’s not as stupid as it appears when you consider that parental (especially maternal) affection is portrayed by society as a near-sacred force. Accepting that parents are flawed, that only child victims and stranger rape will elicit sympathy, and that unconditional love is a myth would help survivors make informed judgements about approaching their family for help. I don’t mean that any of this should be sanctioned, but that young people should be warned about negative reactions instead of schools teaching teens to simply “tell a parent” without a heads-up that without an abduction (Lila wasn’t known to have been abducted until she returned home), there will be yelling, not hugs, and the blame will be directed at the victim and not the abuser. Little else can be done; for under-16s there’s the child protection categories of emotional neglect and emotional abuse, but social services seldom intervene without co-occurring physical abuse. Over-16s have the choice of ceasing contact with family members, moving out, or simply accepting the abuse. I suspect most choose the last option.

We have looked at the national and social levels of our society and found that all do not take sexual assault seriously. Therefore restriction of women’s movement in the name of rape protection is a lie. Men restrict their movements slightly too, and I’m not calling on anyone to deliberately take the dark, quiet road when there’s a busy lit road of equal distance. I’m not suggesting everyone take pains to leave their phone at home and get mysterious about where they’re going just for the fun of it, or ignore people of any gender who are in obviously vulnerable situations. My point is that since we now know it’s all just a lie, we should not restrict women’s movement any more than men’s.

 

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Trump’s diabolical plan to blackmail Britain into hard Brexit so he & his secret brother Boris Johnson can rule the world (only 48% satire)

Trump was offered a state visit to Britain. And he spent it criticizing Theresa May and Sadiq Khan, and promoting Boris Johnson as the next PM. In fact, he started this before he’d even left the US.

The Guardian seems to be pinning Trump’s behaviour on his support for nationalism over supranational institutions. But is it really that simple? Trump accepted the state visit and took time out of his schedule to do it. Humiliating May and praising (or, more likely, negatively affecting) Boris Johnson will not- by themselves- affect the EU.

There’s only four reasons why Trump chose this strategy:

  1. He’s trying to divide Britain (by setting BoJo against May and dividing the public over Brexit)
  2. He’s trying to separate Britain from the EU (by encouraging a hard Brexit and/or discouraging trade or close relationships with the EU)
  3. He is trying to divide the EU (different EU countries may be pro or against hard Brexit or exclusive UK-US ties)
  4. He’s simply unable to control what comes out of his mouth/ he did it for the lulz.

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It’s tempting to think of Trump as a big baby who can’t, or won’t, control his behaviour. Or to put it more mildly, that this is his “personal aggressive negotiating style”. But it’s dangerous to underestimate one’s allies- or enemies. So let’s go with the assumption that Trump is deploying a strategy. A strategy is a means to an end. So what’s his end?

Trump supports Boris Johnson- and looks like him- because they are closely related. They are secret half-brothers plotting together, or were separated at birth and now hear the inexorable call of DNA to DNA across the great Atlantic divide. Or they were separated and placed in different countries by a parent, secret society or malevolent power, and raised to one day control the western world. Trump’s end goal is that he and Boris Johnson will rule the UK & US as brothers in arms. But first, Trump needs to drastically weaken the EU, ICC, ECtHR and NATO. Then there will be no limits on his power. Ultimately Trump hopes to reunite the US & UK as a dictatorship with himself as life president.

Where is a shred of evidence, you ask, peering behind the sofa cushions for an elusive crumb of logic. Well, read on.

 

Trump’s hard Brexit blackmail

What Trump says and what he says later are often two very different things. He said May was doing a bad job then said she was doing a “terrific” job at the Chequers press conference just a few hours later. His body language and verbalisations “I’d rather have [May] as my friend than as my enemy” and domineering behaviour (repeatedly pushing his “suggestion”) suggest he treats May as a potential threat. Or dislikes her for some reason. Or wants to dominate the UK.He said he wanted a trade agreement then said it was difficult to reach one (interesting body language between him and May there, too). I believe they did fundamentally disagree.

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Some Establishment side-eye.

So, what do we have from the press conference? We have these implications:

  • Trump and May disagreed
  • Trump initially was prepared to make a trade agreement, then found he couldn’t
  • Trump feels May is his enemy and/or has a domineering attitude towards the UK

What does it all mean?

I believe that why they disagreed was because Trump was “blackmailing” May- ‘hard Brexit or no trade deal’. This deduction is based on his Sun interview. It’s literally the frickin’ headline.

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The frickin’ headline.

This ‘blackmail’ was the “suggestion” that Trump and May were referring to. In his Sun interview, made before he arrived in Britain, Trump said he’d already told May not to implement a soft Brexit. This proves he is perennially telling May what to do regarding Brexit. It’s hardly outwith the realms of possibility that, having made a public ‘blackmail’ Brexit statement in the Sun, Trump repeated this demand at Chequers to May’s face. So if I’m right then that means he’s pushing the UK away from the EU. Away from the EU to the US? Or just trying to take down supranational systems altogether?

 

Trump’s view of international organisations

If we look at Trump’s threat to quit NATO, his ultimatum, allegations against Germany being controlled by Russia, and general mayhem at the NATO summit, it’s obvious that Trump was if anything more domineering towards NATO. He wants to weaken NATO because once he’s weakened it, other NATO members will stop believing it’s useful, contribute less and less, and continue the destruction process themselves until NATO either ceases to exist or is too weak to stop Trump. Trump’s disdain for supranational systems means he probably has disdain for the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and all similar institutions. But perhaps he’ll leave some of them alone- because they’re not powerful enough to affect his plans.

 

Trump’s plans for Britain’s leadership

Trump has won on Brexit. (He worked with Nigel Farage, the cause of Brexit. Who’s to say he didn’t know Farage before Farage went to America, and encouraged him to make Brexit happen?)). All he needs now is a hard Brexit, a divided, weak EU and NATO, and a UK that has close relationships only with America. Then he’ll have an easier job of slowly creating his Trumptatorship without fear of other countries joining forces to help his citizens.

Trump has referred to America as “the colonies” and said it’s good for the colonies to talk to Britain. He told May that US-UK relations are “the highest level of special”. He also maintained that having a British mother endears the UK to him.

But he repeatedly criticised May and Britain’s current situation. Trump also described Boris Johnson- who just resigned in protest against May- as  a “friend” and publicly considered visiting him while in the UK, as well as saying Johnson would be a great Prime Minister.

This attitude appears contradictory until you realise that Trump doesn’t want May as PM, but he does place importance on Britain. He is domineering towards Britain not because he wants to weaken it, but because he wants to affect it, change it, and ultimately rule it through Boris Johnson.

This may not be a short-term plan.  Trump might not be hoping for May’s resignation or the next General Election. Instead, Trump may be planning for years ahead and his promotion of Johnson is an attempt to give those dissatisfied with May a figure to rally around and eventually elevate. A divided Britain is not enough if the disaffected have no leadership figure. By setting up Johnson as May’s opposition, Trump is trying to provide such a figure. Though former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has suggested- just a day after Trump tapped BoJo-  that now is Johnson’s moment to challenge May for the leadership. So perhaps this is a short term plan, or simply more leader-figure-providing in fulfilment of a long term plan.

 

Trumptatorship

Boris Johnson would (according to Trump’s plans) work together with Trump to cement the UK-US relationship until they effectively become one entity, thus America could be said to be “the colonies” once more. With the UK on side and international organisations weakened, the Trumptatorship would be secure. Perhaps for the rest of Trump’s life.

 

How much education do we REALLY need?

I’d grown up hearing that the British education system was the best in the world. (Looking back, perhaps the fact that after 13 years of schooling I still can’t type properly should’ve raised my suspicions). But after spending some time with people from developing countries I realised that they had benefited from a much superior primary and secondary education than that on offer in the first world. It wasn’t simply that their curriculum was much tougher and ahead of ours, like China’s and Hong Kong’s. It was the subjects they studied, which the UK reserves for university but Africans study in primary school. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on Kenya and Nigeria, though other countries may be mentioned briefly. Then we’re going to look at the reality of the situations in advantaged and disadvantaged education systems- how does education access affect individuals and countries? Finally, how much education do we actually need?


Primary and secondary education in three developing countries


Before we dive in, it’s important to bear in mind that the individuals I met may not represent the average experience of education in these countries (more on that below). Not all of them attended state schools so perhaps it’s unfair to compare their education to state education in the UK; however to my knowledge, most British private schools cannot reach the standard of Kenyan or Nigerian education.

Kenya

Kenyan secondary education includes subjects such as international politics, economics and law. There are several law subjects: international law, Islamic law, pan-African law and of course Kenyan law. They have to learn not just Kenyan and African history, but also American history, European history, Islamic history and Chinese history. Kenyan pupils learn languages to a higher level than we do; they can speak fluent Mandarin, English and Swahili, and can choose to learn other languages such as Arabic. Their English is as good as ours and they can study at British universities.

In comparison, most high school graduates in Britain struggle to hold basic conversations in French or Spanish despite several years of learning. The average British school leaver would be unable to study at a French university; a French kindergarten would be enough of a challenge. In British schools we study WW1, WW2 and the Victorians over and over. These are very important subjects and should not be missed. But compared to Kenya’s education system, we learn very little about the rest of the world- not even Europe. Kenyan children are aware of the EU, UN and ICC. As Brexit has shown, most Brits are unsure of what the EU is. I was in law school when I first heard of the ICC or international law; as a Kenyan, I’d have learned all this at 12. It was also in law school that we learned how a bill becomes law, something which Americans and Africans seem to be taught before they turn 10.

True, some UK high schools partner with local colleges and universities to offer law, philosophy or psychology courses. But most schools don’t, and those that do usually offer just one course of a year’s duration and available only to fifth and sixth years. Some schools teach economics or politics but again this is usually only available in the last two years.  Geography and Modern Studies classes teach about the world- I remember studying Kenya- but compared to the Kenyan system, the amount of learning is limited.

In fact, rich Kenyans pay for their children to attend British curriculum schools in Kenya. This is because the British system is much easier, so their kids are guaranteed to graduate high school. One UK-born Kenyan girl told me how, when the family moved back to Kenya, her brother was held back a year or two at school because the Kenyan system is 2-3 years ahead of ours. Kenya’s education is believed by some Kenyans to be the second-hardest in the world, after China’s.

Children in Kenya learn to code in high school. Some Kenyans assume that all Brits can code since we have computers in schools.

 

Nigeria

On the subject of coding, several Nigerians have claimed to have learned to code from the age of 12 or 13. They assumed I could hack or build computers because they’d heard that British pupils have access to computers at school from the age of 5. So, they think we learn the basics of coding in Primary One. Nigerians also tend to assume that all British people can code very well, build their own websites from scratch, and perform simple computer hacks.

A Nigerian secondary education includes politics, economics, international relations and business. They learn British history, European history, American history and the rise and fall of Communism. Nigerians are familiar with Descartes, John Maynard Keynes, Rosseau and European Christian history. Most graduates can speak 2-3 languages fluently, and I’ve met Nigerians who speak 6 languages. (Multilingualism is not uncommon in Europe either, and Europeans also learn about the EU in primary school.)

 

Papua New Guinea

I’ve only met one person from PNG- there’s only about 150 of them in Britain- but I was surprised when he said he’d learned law, economics, politics and business studies in primary school. Their primary goes all the way up to age 14, but if you compare the subjects he was taking with those offered to S2 pupils, there’s a lot that we’re missing.  Pupils in Papua New Guinea also study world history. Just like the Kenyans and Nigerians, they learned about Middle Eastern history, Communism, colonialism, international trade, American history, African history and other topics which aren’t directly related to life in their own country or even life in Asia. By contrast, I never knew anything about colonialism until I met people from former colonies in 2016. They were astonished that someone who had benefited from a British education- which they seemed to think was better than theirs- could be so ignorant. The BBC show Black and British: A Forgotten History would not be relevant otherwise. Its presenter is attempting to plug the gaps in our knowledge and on the show he frequently refers to “never learning this in school” and “most British people don’t know this”. In fact, the series’ title alludes to the fact that British people are completely ignorant of our own history in perpetuating colonialism. It seems ridiculous that Papua New Guineans know about the British-American war of independence and British colonialism, yet British people learn about the former from American friends, and learn about the latter from the BBC series or from Twitter (if at all).

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Kenya, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea manage to cram all this information into pupils’ heads without skimping on more familiar topics such as the World Wars, the Victorians and even the Vikings, whom they are taught were the discoverers of America.

The British system focuses only on British history and issues- and even then it misses crucial points of British history.



What’s an advantaged education really like?

First off, let’s go back to my caveat about these people’s experiences not necessarily being representative. All of them had, or were studying for, degrees. These individuals were therefore some of the best educated in their countries and spoke English very well (hence, we could communicate and they could ask me why I didn’t know anything). In Kenya primary school is free. However, Nigeria does not provide grants and loans for university, and I suspect that secondary education may not be free. That means they were from relatively privileged backgrounds or at least from communities where others outside the family were able to provide funding for education, whether that be a scholarship or a village whip-round. So it’s unlikely that they were among the most disadvantaged. Perhaps the reason why their education systems are not considered to be the best is because only the affluent can access high quality education. Children in remote or disadvantaged areas might tell a different story. Whereas in the UK, education is free and accessible to all.

For those who can access a more advantaged education than we’re given in Britain, how does that benefit them? The Nigerians and Kenyans mentioned above went to university- but Brits, churned out of our disadvantaged system, went to the same universities. The curriculums of Hong Kong and China are also tough. But China’s league-topping results have been questioned. Test scores don’t always equal a good education. Creativity, innovation, and personal development can’t be easily assessed. Hong Kong children are put under pressure to do well. Their high scores come at the expense of a relaxed childhood and adolescence, and in the end they also attend the same universities as us ignorant Brits. So more education doesn’t always equate to a better quality of life. Hong Kong school children get the same outcome with more effort. Similarly to Kenya, Hong Kong’s education system provides a wealth of general knowledge. But at the end of the day, you can only do one degree. So what’s the point of learning so many subjects when you won’t even use 90% of what you’ve learned?

 

Could a “good-enough” education be good enough? 

Some might say that learning a lot helps pupils choose which subjects they want to take at university or which career to aim for. Another pro is having an educated populace, which is essential in a democracy and also crucial to the country’s economic well-being. But it’s hard to argue that these two aims can only be accomplished by working our children as hard as those in Kenya or Nigeria. Brexit and Trump could’ve been avoided with more educated voters, but “a better education” could fall in the middle of the current UK system and the more advantaged systems.

Meritocracy is likewise not a strong point in favour of toughening up our curriculum. Working kids harder will not change their IQ, which is mostly a function of genetics. In fact, people perform better when their environment is positive and they’re mentally healthy, so putting too much pressure on schoolkids could backfire. Furthermore, driving ever-more young people toward university in the name of “social mobility” is not viable long-term. If everyone has a degree then no-one does. We’re seeing it happen already. New, small universities are springing up all over the place and courses which were once diplomas, certificates or modern apprenticeships are now called “degrees”. ‘Traditional’ degrees have been chopped up so you can get a degree in what used to be just part of a larger degree, such as PR which could be part of a Communications degree or a Business degree. Where there were Art degrees, now there are Fashion degrees too and one can even specialise further with a Textiles degree.  Thirty-odd years ago, degree certificates didn’t always specify the subject because having any degree was an amazing achievement, and back then all degrees were academic. There wasn’t even a Social Work degree, never mind a Housing degree. The point I’m making is that a degree will become- or already has become- what graduating high school was forty years ago. Soon, most people will have degrees and a Masters or PhD will become the new undergraduate degree. The public sector is already becoming increasingly professionalised, possibly in response to the citizens it deals with becoming more educated. It would be difficult to field teachers and social workers who hadn’t been to university to deal with parents who have.

Advantaged education appears to offer few benefits to individuals. But what about its effect on societies? We demand more and more, but most of that education is wasted on the degrees we don’t do, the college courses we don’t take and the jobs we don’t work.

A proportion of pupils leave education at the age of 16. The menial jobs they go into don’t require all the knowledge they’ve been taught at the expense of the taxpayer. In all of these situations, the British system is already providing a surplus of education. (How much algebra do you use in real life?) If we were to go down the road of Kenya/Nigeria/PNG- providing an even larger surplus- the money would have to come from somewhere. Less money for the NHS. Less money for the police. Less money to give in grants and loans for the education we actually want. Less funding for classes, courses and workshops we can choose to take to plumb the gaps of our school education, instead of paying taxes to have an education forced on you whether you want it or not.

More education isn’t necessarily cost-effective for states or individuals. Therefore the amount of education that a populace needs from its state is limited.

Obviously our government squanders a lot of money on war, the DWP, MP’s ludicrous expenses claims and six-figure salaries for pen-pushers in local councils who sit behind desks while frontline staff do the grafting. So perhaps whether we fund an advantaged education or not wouldn’t change much financially. But if the government could stop wasting money, and fund actual important things we need, then an advantaged education might take funds from those more important things. Therefore, I don’t think it’s the way to go. By all means improve our schooling so we don’t learn history from Twitter. By all means fund PhDs, increase loans and bring back grants for English students. Teach us the basics of politics from primary school age so we can participate intelligently in our democratic process. Fund free or affordable evening classes that we can take if we want to, in our own time. Look to countries like Kenya for inspiration, just not imitation. And yes, definitely play catch-up to Nigeria as we need to (coding is going to be taught in British schools soon and that’s great). But the full-blown version will have to wait.

 

 

 

Why does the law force rape victims to share child custody with their rapists?: The legal principles behind parental rights and responsibilities

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In seven states in the USA. rapists can sue victims for custody of any children concieved by the assault.  A conviction is needed to anull rapists’ parental rights. The problem is that most rapes don’t even go to court. Even in the minority of cases where a conviction is secured, these are often the result of plea deals, meaning that the conviction is for less serious sexual assault or for physical assault. Neither will prevent a rapist from suing for child custody.

So victims are failed by the law twice. Their rapist may receive no sentence, while the victim and her innocent child are tied to the rapist for 18 years. The first question we’re likely to ask is, why on earth would the law do this to people? As a feminist it’s tempting to fall back on “patriarchy!”, but although most legal systems were created in patriarchies and are inherently stacked against women- especially in regard to sex crimes- a more nuanced approach is needed. If patriarchy was the sole cause, American law would not remove parental rights in cases of rape convictions, nor would most states have a lower threshold for withholding custody from rapists. The Obama administration incentivised states to amend laws which gave rapists parental rights; it is, unsurprisingly, the Trump administration which is removing them. While at first glance this situation appears baffling- almost deliberately engineered to punish rape victims and their children- it’s important to understand the legal principles behind it, as well as the wider societal context.

First, let’s look at the law. (I didn’t study American law so this is going to be a very brief overview, not a JD level discussion.)

 

The legal context of parental rights arising from non-consensual conception

 

Statutory rape, parental rights and parental responsibility

If we look at how US law treats victims of statutory rape, we can see that victims of all genders are subject to the same parental rights and responsibilities. They usually can’t use their non-consent to avoid paying child support to their statutory rapist. Adults who have children by underage minors cannot have the child removed from their custody on that basis. This is as true in Britain; the only grounds for the court to grant the removal of a child from its parent are those of child protection (abuse or neglect). Therefore, statutory rapists enjoy shared or even sole custody.

 

Nonconsensual insemination and parental responsibility

Conception without consent doesn’t only occur through rape or (arguably) statutory rape. It also occurs when gametes are used for conception without the consent of the person from whom they are taken. One British man’s ex-wife defrauded a sperm bank into using his frozen sperm to conceive two children without his knowledge. He was ordered to pay child support. By contrast, egg and sperm donors are exempt from parental responsibility so they don’t have to pay child support. However, they’re also unable to exercise parental rights. In Scots law, unofficial egg and sperm donors have been granted parental rights even against the legal parents’ wishes. Though a surrogate who “steals” the mother’s child is regarded as the legal mother in Scotland, the biological mother is granted shared custody. The takeaway here is that only an official, legally sanctioned pre-conception contract can nullify parental rights. Hence, the unofficial donors could still have shared custody.

 

Biological parenthood = legal parenthood

So, what does statutory rape, child maintenance and sperm donation have to do with rape survivors being forced to share custody with their rapists? My point is that the law is strict on the biological connection creating legal rights and responsibilities. Note that one can’t exist without the other; donors don’t have responsibilities but they don’t have any parental rights either. In many US states, child maintenance and custody are processed together in a single case. Sadly, this resulted in a woman who’d been abducted and raped at 12 having to share her child’s custody with her rapist, her address disclosed to him and being ordered to move to the state where her rapist lived. (He made a plea deal and was convicted of attempted sexual assault before DNA evidence could be taken from the baby to prove it was rape, thereby avoiding a 25 year minimum sentence and serving just six months). She had a child support suit filed by the state on her behalf after she applied for welfare, and a child custody order routinely goes along with child support suits. (The judge eventually set the ruling aside because the rapist had not requested custody. Survivors whose rapists want custody are not so lucky.)

A paper examining nonconsensual insemination and statutory rape explains that “Thus, child support is essentially a form of strict liability with the justification being that the child is an innocent party, and, therefore, it is the child’s interests and welfare that the court must look to in adjudicating support.” Change “support” to “custody” and you have the legal philosophy behind forcing rape victims to share custody with their rapists.

Therefore the issue may be more to do with children’s rights than excessive protection of fathers’ parental rights.

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My argument would be that non-statutory rape/coercion/exploitation/CSA and CSE should be treated differently from statutory rape due to the harm it causes to the victim parent. (Personally I don’t think statutory rapists should be entitled to child support, but that’s a different issue). However, as few would disagree that survivors shouldn’t be forced to share custody with rapists, and as US law recognises that this is wrong (rape convictions anull parental rights and most states do not require a conviction to anull rights), I won’t elaborate on this. What’s pertinent is that treating rape differently from statutory rape regarding custody is not without its problems. Distinguishing statutory rape (merely sex with a person who only legally can’t consent) from CSE (sex trafficking, grooming, rape) or coercion (e.g. grooming, threats, anything not ‘bad enough’ to be rape under the law) may be difficult. Some adults look back fondly on their statutory rape and refuse to call it abuse, while others were happy at the time but later regret it when they realise they were taken advantage of. It’s easy to see why laws in seven US states require a conviction of (non statutory) rape- it’s easier!

And these issues- the complexity of abusive and illegal relationships, and the strict legal principle of the biological connection creating legal rights- lead us onto the second part of this article: the social context.

 

The social context of parental rights in abusive circumstances

 

Rape and the law

One reason why some US states demand a standard of proof that most victims cannot achieve in the current legal system is that previously it wasn’t known that most rapes don’t result in convictions.

 

The perspective of family courts and social services

Another reason is, it’s important to prevent parents crying rape to stop their ex-partner gaining custody, just like parents shouldn’t cry child abuse or drug dependency. However child abuse and drug use does not require a conviction to anull custody. So why should rape? Perhaps because abuse and neglect cause harm to the child. Whereas rape is harmful to the mother, or at worst only potentially a sex abuse risk to the child.

 

The invisible rape victims who share custody with their rapists

So far we’ve kept the focus on America. But rapists gaining custody of children may happen more often than we think- including in the UK. Most women (and other people with wombs) are raped by friends or family. These victims may be less surprised at a custody demand from an ex-husband, colleague, or fellow student they bump into every day, than they would a demand from a stranger who barely saw their face. The rapist who is present in their victim’s life has the opportunity to display clues as to their intent to sue for custody, or may even express that wish as soon as the pregnancy is known to them, further lessening the victim’s surprise when custody is demanded. Therefore these victims may not publicize the rapist’s custody lawsuit. Most victims never tell police (many don’t even tell their family) so such custody battles may not be identified for what they are.

 

Domestic violence and child custody

Furthermore sexual assault is not uncommon in domestic violence, so some custody battles which arise from abusive relationships may have involved rape. This raises the question of how cases where rapists want custody of children not born from rape be treated. The harm to the mother of contacting her assailant is likely to be the same whether or not the child(ren) were conceived by the assault. Yet one could argue that it is grossly unfair to punish a criminal by removing his parental rights when his fatherhood has nothing to do with his crime. Situations where it is unclear whether conception resulted from rape or from consensual sex a short time earlier/later also pose problems.

It is notable that domestic physical violence survivors have to share custody of children- despite the trauma suffered by some survivors being similar or worse than the trauma suffered by some rape survivors. Domestic and intimate partner violence tends to have a much longer duration than a single incident of rape. It sometimes carries similar hallmarks to some sexual attacks such as physical restraint, imprisonment inside the home, psychological abuse and physical assault. So this raises the question of whether physical abusers who conceived children in abusive relationships should have rights. But they do. Physical abusers who are considered to pose a threat to their victim or the child have supervised custody, but it is custody nonetheless. Only a risk to the child can result in parental rights being removed. Further, parental rights are usually not removed completely; a parent who loses custody may still be granted supervised contact and has a say in the child’s education. This applies to parents of all genders including adoptive parents.

 

Conclusion

While the idea of a man ‘owning’ his biological children (and sometimes any woman he sleeps with) is patriarchal, I don’t think there is consistent evidence that Law’s patriarchal history (and present) is the sole or even major factor at play. The laws of different legal systems bestow parental rights and responsibilities regardless of how children are conceived. Statutory rapists can receive child support from their victims and, since most single parent families are female-headed, female statutory rapists are perhaps more likely to have sole custody. Men who didn’t consent to insemination are nevertheless given responsibilities as well as rights. The survivors who are forced to share custody aren’t the victims of outdated or unusual laws. Rather, the inhumane way they are treated is embedded in the principles of western legal systems.

In conclusion, the issue of how the law should treat rapists who want parental rights is, morally, clear-cut. However, in legal terms it’s less clear and raises a lot of questions about how abusive parents more generally should be treated. The first step would be for the seven states to fall in line with the others and abolish the need for a conviction, instead using a civil process to determine whether rape was committed. The civil standard is already used in the process of assessing state compensation for rape (in the states which provide criminal injuries compensation to victims of crime). As to how other sex crimes such as statutory rape and coercion should be treated, not to mention children born from physically abusive or extreme psychologically abusive relationships, hopefully in future we’ll see a change towards protecting victims, children and innocent family members, while guaranteeing parents’ rights wherever appropriate.

It’s also important to remember that the news of necessity features survivors who are free to speak out and sometimes willing to waive their anonymity. Behind the headlines there are many more victims of rape and sexual abuse being forced to share custody with their assailants in silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa May vs Putin: What’s their next move over the Salisbury poisoning?

 

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International relations are driven by national leaders. But those leaders act according to public and governmental pressure. Only by understanding Theresa May’s and Vladimir Putin’s goals, motivations and pressures can we predict whether UK-Russia tensions will be enduring.

The Salisbury Novichok attack has kicked off what appears to be a never-ending saga of confrontation between the UK and Russia. Perhaps the most important question of all is how it will all play out. History might remember the Salisbury poisoning as merely a blip in the great game. Or the standoff between Putin and May could go down as the precipitation of an irreparable rift in UK-Russia relations.

There’s been talk of retaliatory cyberattacks. High-level communications have been suspended. On Wednesday Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, whom she claimed were undeclared intelligence officers. Russia’s tit-for-tat response has been to expel British diplomats. There are various ways of seeing May’s actions and the situation as a whole: immature, frightening, shortsighted versus savvy; perhaps (regarding May’s response) utterly necessary. But how does Russia see it? How does our government see it? What incentives exist for May and Putin to de-escalate or increase tensions? These questions are vital to answering the big one: how will it all end?

 

How Putin might view the Salisbury spy poisoning

From Russia’s point of view, killing a traitor (former Russian spy Sergei Skripal) may be no different from UK and US operations on foreign soil to kill, rendition or torture terrorists. While some countries such as Syria agreed to the intervention, others did not; an example is the killing of Osama Bin Laden which Pakistan did not consent to. The use of drones in other sovereign states to murder UK and US targets is also pertinent. The UK feels justified in infringing on other states’ sovereignty to achieve national security objectives. Therefore Russia may view the UK as hypocritical for not allowing Russia the same thing.

In legal terms, Russia has a strong argument in its favour: individuals, organisations and groups are only punished if they are proved to have committed an offence, This usually means being found guilty in criminal court. So far there has been no accusation by any witnesses or victims against the Russian state. There has been no verdict, no trial, no Crown Prosecution Service involvement, no police referral to the Crown Prosecution Service- not even the first stage of a trial: a police investigation. Putin and the Russian people may feel it is presumptuous of the UK to accuse Russia based only on the fact that Novichok (a Russian weapon) was used. Being culpable may not eradicate feelings of being too decisively retaliated against.

In the unlikely event that the Novichok attack was committed by Russian terrorists, as Jeremy Corbyn suggested, or perhaps by another state trying to frame Russia and cause conflict between Russia and UK/the EU/America, Russia will obviously feel unjustly accused.

Judging by BBC footage, at least some Russian citizens believe that Britain has unjustly accused Russia of poisoning Sergei Skripal. If much of his public holds this view, this may incentivise Putin to bolster his popularity by taking a firm stance against the UK.

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How Theresa May may view the Salisbury spy poisoning

Theresa May is under pressure from MPs to take a tough stance; as most believe Russia is responsible. Over 30 Labour MPs have signed a motion acknowledging Russia’s “culpability”, meaning that May is receiving pressure not just from her own party but also the opposition. This makes it more likely that she will continue to take action against Russia.

The public are another source of expectation. One would be right to question what the point of having a leader is, if that leader fails to protect her citizens. The Novichok has already affected bystanders and one of its creators has warned that exposure could harm or kill others in the years to come. May could justifiably worry that any future illnesses traced to the Salisbury attack could elicit criticism of her if she fails to be seen protesting Britain from future incidents. Conversely, keeping the public’s (and opposition’s) attention on the Kremlin could provide a distraction from national issues such as Brexit, NHS privatisation and DWP policy. Therefore there is little advantage to restoring relations with Russia and much to be gained from escalating reprisals.

Another major cause of concern for the UK government is that after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, this is the second Russian murder on UK territory in a relatively short space of time. Appearing weak towards Putin could result in more chemical attacks, putting the public at risk. Marina Litvinenko’s public statements that “nothing was done” after her husband’s poisoning- despite May’s assurances that nothing like this would happen again- will probably increase motivation for May to be seen to be “doing something”.

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As to the fact that May has absolutely no evidence that Russia was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia Skripal – what other choice does she have. The UK government can’t simply sit and wait for a trial that will never come. To wait until irrefutable evidence is gathered might mean waiting months, years, or for ever. Even then, it is unlikely that a balanced criminal case would follow, unless Putin threw his agents under the bus, framed someone or was tried successfully by the International Criminal Court.

Jeremy Corbyn raised an important caveat by recalling the Iraq war and cautioning that being ruled by fear and emotion can be dangerous, leading to ill-judged actions. The BBC reports that Corbyn said Russia should be “held to account on the basis of evidence”. Labour MP Chris Williamson told BBC Two’s Newsnight that though Russia is a suspect, the UK should”make sure we get our facts right” before “leaping into action”. Far from being ‘soft’, Corbyn is demonstrating strategy and calculation; a calm appraisal of the situation instead of puerile emotionality. In practical terms, however, Theresa May’s approach is understandable.

Finally, let’s not underestimate the seriousness of the Novichok poisoning. Had it been committed by a civilian, it would have been termed terrorism or at least an incredibly reckless form of first-degree murder.

So how will the UK-Russia standoff play out?

Based on the above, it’s probable that Russia’s perception of unjust accusation will prevent tensions being quickly resolved. For Theresa May and most of the UK government, the stakes are too high to back down and risk criticism or a third chemical attack. There are several incentives- both intergovernmental and from the public- to continue with diplomatic and economic sanctions, and no clear benefits to improving relations with Russia.

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So, the UK will continue taking a tough stance on Russia if the situation does not change. Given that Russia is unlikely to pacify the UK or admit they were behind the poisoning of the Skripals, relations between the two countries will not significantly improve. Most politicians, including Jeremy Corbyn, believe at least to an extent that Russia is the culprit. As long as our government and we ourselves- the voters- continue to believe Russia was responsible for the Salisbury poisoning, the tensions will continue. Therefore it is likely that UK-Russia relations will be affected for some considerable time.

Why British Campus Sexual Assault Victims Can’t Get Justice From Their University- But Americans Can

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First published on The Fifth Column, 2/10/17.

Students, sexual assault survivors and campaigners in the USA are riled up, and rightfully so: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week rescinded Obama-era guidance on universities’ duties to deal with campus sexual assault. But just because there’s a relative lack of public debate on the issue in Britain, doesn’t mean it’s not happening or that British universities and colleges are dealing well with campus sexual assault.

Let’s take a look at the legal situation in the USA first, then compare it to the UK.

 

The ‘Dear Colleague’ guidance

The 2011 guidance, known as the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, didn’t create new responsibilities for colleges. It simply stated what they had to do in order to comply with Title IX (a law regarding gender discrimination in educational institutions which case law has held includes investigating sex crimes). Prior to ‘Dear Colleague’, many universities simply disregarded Title IX and ignored survivors, refusing to take reports of the incidents at all. The situation didn’t suddenly turn rosy afterwards, either- not all universities have systems for reporting sexual violence, and it’s easy enough for a university to claim there isn’t enough evidence. But empowering students to know their rights made it easier for them to report and follow up their cases instead of being told ‘We don’t deal with that.’ DeVos has turned the clock back to 2011.

 

DeVos’ current interim guidance

Universities used to use the USA’s civil court standard, the ‘preponderance of evidence’ (in the UK, that’s the ‘balance of probabilities’). Now, according to DeVos’ new interim guidelines, university administrators can choose between that standard, or the higher standard used in criminal courts. Let’s think about that for a minute. Why do student rape victims choose to report to their university? Usually, it’s because they’ve already reported to the police but the case wasn’t taken to court due to lack of evidence. Other reasons are that they don’t want the rapist to be jailed (most sexual assault victims in the US and UK know their assailant, especially in the case of campus sexual assault), or they don’t want to go through the added trauma of a court case that’ll take up most of their time at university, and instead choose to rely on their university for protection.

Most rape cases don’t reach court and most accused who are tried, are acquitted. (Universities usually aren’t allowed to investigate if the police are investigating, due to concerns of compromising the police investigation, meaning that all campus sexual assault cases were rejected or not reported to police).

In these circumstances, a student cannot reasonably be expected- especially without access to forensic science testing and CCTV footage- to prove that they were raped to a criminal court standard. This requirement is even more cruel to students who have already been rejected by the criminal courts on the basis that their evidence isn’t up to that standard. It’s telling these victims that any kind of recognition of their trauma or sense of justice is impossible. Universities have realised this- some had already abandoned the criminal standard pre-2011. This raises the possibility that DeVos’ interim guidelines are actually pushing the US back even further than the Noughties in terms of women’s rights and campus safety.

According to Abbey Childs, an advocacy organisation founder and campus rape survivor, the provision of residency changes and no-contact orders to protect victims from their rapists rests on universities’ ability to use the civil standard. By removing it, DeVos is removing survivors’ safety. Rapists will find it even easier to get away with their crimes, as expulsion and suspension will also be off the table.While it’s important to recognise the reality that, on campus as well as off it, most perpetrators are male and most victims female, it’s equally important to note that the new guidelines affect male victims just as badly.

 

UK universities

Many Americans are angry with DeVos. But the situation in the US is still better than it is in the UK. US campus rape survivors can sue universities under Title IX. Their universities know they may face real legal consequences if they mishandle sexual assault complaints.  British campus rape victims have no statutory protection. We don’t have any equivalent of Title IX, and no education laws more generally. Without national guidelines, students have no legal rights if they’re sexually assaulted on campus. Universities can literally do nothing, and even elite universities often do just that. While Oxford University has been subject to a legal challenge, its policy still allows it to avoid dealing with sexual assaultcomplaints. In 2014 Oxford reportedly did deal with a rape of an unconscious student- by giving the rapist “a minor reprimand”.

It’s not that campus sexual assault is less of a problem in UK. One in three female students and one in eight male students have been sexually assaulted at UK universities. It’s just that- unlike the US- there’s no law; so very few court cases; so no news- so no debate.

 

The Zellick guidance

The 1994 Zellick guidelines place no statutory duty on universities to investigate sexual offences. Instead, they suggest telling students to call the police. However, we now know that- on and off campus- rapists are usually known to their victims, most victims don’t report to the police, most reported rapes don’t reach trial, and those that do tend to result in acquittal. Therefore, the Zellick guidance, while possibly relevant to cases with strong evidence, and rare cases of stranger rape, isn’t suitable for what we now know about sexual assault. The Zellick guidelines were reviewed in 2016.

 

The 2016 guidance

The new guidelines, which pertain to all types of student crimes (not just sexual assault), suggest using the UK civil standard of the ‘balance of probabilities’ in ascertaining guilt. They are a significant improvement on Zellick. The new guidelines go far beyond merely telling victims to report to the police and encompass all of a victim’s (and accused’s) needs including mental health, safety, rights during the disciplinary process and dealing with the aftermath of a trial. Having a clear reporting mechanism, ensuring victims are supported to continue their education and (in cases of sexual violence) referring to external counselling agencies is recommended. However, these guidelines are also not statutory. Universities which fail to abide by them face no consequences.

 

Legal action against universities

The only way to ensure a UK university or college deals with sexual assault is to appeal a decision of no action or a finding that a complaint is not upheld. However, this is only possible if the university has accepted the complaint in the first place (some British universities don’t even take sexual assault reports) and where the disciplinary system allows appeals. As there are no statutory instruments, universities can only be sued under normal civil law. In Scotland, a delict case for causing emotional harm could be brought (this would be called ‘torts’ in England). Even then, universities cannot be legally compelled to deal with rape complaints. They can only be sued after the fact for causing harm by ignoring or mishandling complaints.

British civil suits are more likely to fail and more difficult to litigate, due to the absence of a clear Title IX statutory duty. All students can argue on is the university’s failure of its basic duty of care. Add to this the fact that all civil cases are long and expensive, and students are very unlikely to be able to bring them (less chance of winning a case means a greater likelihood that the student has to pay all the legal fees, and a much lower probability of a lawyer doing the case on a no win no fee basis). Universities know this and therefore there is little motivation for them to change. The cycle of few civil suits, little press coverage and no awareness of the issue of campus sexual assault seems set to continue.

Motivational meme

I don’t think I’ve ever done a short ‘n sweet blog post. I’m usually into analysis of news stories or commenting on gender equality or human rights issues. The most light-hearted post was probably that last one about archetypes of women in Game of Thrones. So, here it is:

 

I’m prone to long and vivid dreams. Gunfights, car chases, interminably boring conversations with friends, driving around central Scotland and the Highlands, and run-ins with bitchy strangers…my dreams have it all. Anyhoo, a few weeks ago I dreamt I was writing. That’s not all that unusual for me- I can dream about writing poetry and use the fragments to compose a real poem after waking. But this time, I was writing a motivational meme. This one:

 

Care for yourself as tenderly as you would a child

Guide yourself as surely as a parent

Stay as true to your originality as a spouse

Adore your talents as completely as a lover

Don’t take yourself too seriously, just like with a friend

Focus on your strategies as fiercely as if against an enemy

Worship yourself as ardently as an acolyte

Determine your own path as resolutely as a god

Be your own child, your own parent, your own spouse, your own lover, your friend, your enemy, your devotee and your god.

 

I tried putting it on a purple background:

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It’s probably too long to go viral. I think it’s pretty good for someone who was asleep when they wrote it, though!

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