Feminists letting the side down

[CONTENT NOTE: mention of rape and violence against women and girls]

Some feminists are in denial.

They need to understand that even in this modern age where so many feminist gains have been made, many girls and women are still living in a kind of hell. The system of sexual bondage and oppression they are subject to is global.

While some affluent women in Western societies claim they enter this bondage by choice, and some countries even have laws protecting their rights, many, many girls and women have been coerced or sold into sexual servitude.

To this day, even in Europe and North America, some underage girls and young women are taken either against their will, or with promises that are lies, across internal and national borders. They are then shocked to find they are required to have unwanted sex; to be raped, by men that they did not choose, are not attracted to, and cannot escape.

Even the so-called “choice” practitioners of this system often do not know what they are getting themselves into. The situation is so bad that many women die every year, often when trying to exit; killed by the men who abuse and rape them. The police cannot always help them, and if they are stigmatised by other factors, such as being poor, or drug users, they are so much less likely to be deemed worthy of help.

Often they have children to their abusers, and are then further trapped as they need to try to protect and support their children, compromising their ability to escape. Although, conversely, it is often the welfare of their children that gives them the final bit of courage to do so. There is some help for these women provided by the state, but it is never enough; services are always under pressure and indeed are being cut.

Some of these women, of course, always feel that they made the right choice, but even they may wake up one day and think “this isn’t for me” for any number of reasons. But due to the patriarchal, capitalist set-up of our society, even these privileged, empowered “choice feminists” still come up against various barriers to leaving. And life afterwards is often very hard, financially and emotionally. Sometimes they go back or try a different configuration of the same set-up. Sometimes they just stay and numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.

What I find difficult to believe is that there are actually feminists, real self-proclaimed feminists out there who willingly enter this servitude, proclaiming that because they feel they have their full rights under law, it is safe for them to do so. They even seem happy and proud. And they want more people to have the right to do what they do, despite the inherent risks!

Surely, so many of them will awaken one day realising that they made the wrong choice; that they have let all women down by supporting an institution that historically is not and cannot be beneficial to women, no matter how you try to dress it up with “rights”. In the meantime they are letting all women down by propagating a myth. They are the pathetic mouthpieces (witting or unwitting) of the individual men, and the patriarchal capitalist system, that this form of bondage supports.

Don’t get married.

Abolish marriage.

For more on the topic of sex work and feminism, see http://www.sexworkeropenuniversity.com/ and http://glasgowsexworker.wordpress.com/ plus the recent Storify laying out what happened when some sex worker led organisations tried to add their voices to a discussion on sex work at a feminist conference: http://storify.com/fornicatrix/left-out-in-the-cold-sex-workers-at-notts-women-s. And if you want an intro to how one feminist decided to throw her weight 100% behind sex workers rights, see our very own post on that topic here – it contains many more links to good resources to help you understand and think through the issues for yourself.

Organisational Response to Sexual Violence in Activist Groups: Six Common Mistakes

Trigger Warning: This post discusses Sexual Assault

Recently, the issue of sexual violence in activist circles has very much come into the fore. A number of attacks have come to light and a lot of people have been wrestling with the hard fact of sexual predators in the scene.
In light of all this, I’ve decided to write a post, on the some of the  most common mistakes and pitfalls I’ve noticed in activist organisations trying to deal with these issues. Here are my top 6 common mistakes to avoid:
  1. Not having a policy.
The most basic mistake is not to have a policy. Perhaps you hope you will never need one and I certainly hope you are right. The fact is however, that sexual violence is as prevalent amongst the activist community as it is in wider society and failing to prepare will certainly not protect you from having to deal with it.
Perhaps you don’t feel qualified to write one. This is natural enough, but think about it: if sexual violence is a difficult subject to broach now, how much harder will it be to deal with when it happens. Better to think it through now and be prepared.
  1. Ill defined Responsibilities
Activist spaces are often places where new methods and structures of organisation are pioneered and experimented with. This can mean a very loose structure where responsibility and decision making is shared. The flip side of this is that sometimes no one takes responsibility and important issues fall through the cracks.
It is not acceptable for anyone’s safety to be left up to chance.
Regardless of organisational structure: It should always be clear to all participants, who they should speak to if they feel uncomfortable with someone’s presence or behaviour or if they have information which may be important to the safety of others.
That person tasked with this role should be competent to carry out the task, should be clear about the response required and should be supported to carry it out.
  1. Open/large meetings
Some activist spaces make decisions in large open meetings. These can be empowering and fun but also unpredictable and intimidating.
Large open meetings are not safe places to disclose personal, sensitive or painful information and it should go without saying that survivors should not be expected to bring instances of sexual assault in activist spaces to meetings like this.
  1. Not believing women who report a sexual assault
This is possibly the single most damaging mistake. The worst possible thing you can do to someone who has been sexually assaulted is to not believe her.
  1.  Hearing “both sides”
Activists like to feel they are fair. They don’t like to jump to conclusions about people. A common error is to attempt to achieve fairness by making space for a person accused of sexual assault, harassment or rape a “right of reply”
It should be obvious that this is inconsistent with point 4, but since a surprising number of people have trouble with this, I’ll go into more depth.
What “hearing both sides” amounts to is setting up a quasi judicial process, within an activist group. This is not something any activist group is really qualified to do, and neither should they try.
The reason a real court adopts this approach is that they have a responsibility to ascertain exactly what happened, beyond reasonable doubt and the power to send someone to prison.
Putting aside the woefully low conviction rate for rape, which is a subject for another day, consider this: as an activist group, do you have the same power or the same responsibility?
You don’t of course. Your only responsibility in this situation is to keep your own members safe and your only real sanction against people who threaten that safety is to exclude them from your events.
Even if we accept the judicial “hear both sides” type approach from the legal system therefore, it doesn’t follow that we need to adopt it ourselves.
More sensible and pragmatic then, given that you will NEVER know for an absolute certainty what went on between two other people in private, is to work from the understanding that false accusations are vanishingly rare.
Believe the survivor, thank her for bringing this important public safety information to your attention and then act on it as appropriate, hopefully in line with her wishes and the sensible policy you already drew up.
  1. Letting everyone having their say
It’s understandable that when information about a sexual assault comes out, everyone is shocked and upset. They want to know details of what happened and they want to have their say. This is particularly true of those who are close friends or comrades of the perpetrator.
It’s understandable that they want these things, but they should never be allowed to have it. Any conversation about the rights and wrongs of a particular incident puts the word of the survivor up for question and this cannot be tolerated.
Plus, if you allow everyone to have a say, rape culture will tend to rear its ugly head and all sorts of hurtful and wrong headed stuff will be said.
This is where that written policy is so important, because you can point to it and say
 “Look this is the policy. We agreed democratically to adopt this and now we will have to implement it.”
This hopefully takes some of the heat out of the situation and gets everyone people to back off before they inadvertently and for the most understandable of reasons, fuck things up worse than they already are.
 So, What should we be doing instead?
This is a question, no one person is qualified to answer in full.
The truth is that collectively we need to improve our response to these situations. I would like to us build a consensus across the movement on some basic principles that should, in all cases govern a response, adopting a survivor centred approach.
I would also like to see some formal lines of coordination between different activist groups, similar to the pubwatch scheme so that if someone has been a sexual predator in one activist group, it shouldn’t be possible for them to simply move on to the next.
The fractured and sectarian nature of some of our scene is a major structural weakness, but in this case it is a danger to our members as well.

 

Glasgow nightclub comes under fire for sexist flyers

Last week I received a message about the below flyer.

I found it utterly appalling for a variety of reasons: the objectification of women; the sex industry imagery used; the fact the top image especially resembles the kind of cards you find in phoneboxes (right down to the mobile phone number after the words ‘Booty call us’); the fact that ‘girls go free’ means that women are essentially the product rather than the customer; the terrible fonts… I could go on.

So we kicked up a huge fuss about it on Facebook, Twitter and through emailing them and the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Advertising Standards Authority. They deleted our posts on Facebook (but were happy to leave awful homophobic posts up, just not criticism) and someone was blocked on Twitter (though we don’t know who did that).

I got a couple of weird emails about it, which to be honest encouraged me because they sounded scared. It was time to up the ante even further.

Under immense pressure, the next day they released a new flyer and a (half-hearted apology).

The new flyer is by no means perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better:

To see their apology and the press release, the email I sent and the full apology from the club, go to my blog.

Thanks to everyone who got involved in any way – thank you. Sometimes we win.

Here’s a feminist review of Booty Call

I really want to do more campaigns around nightclubs, particularly sexual harassment and assault in nightclubs, which is disgustingly common. Any thoughts?

In sisterhood, Kate

P.S. This is my first post for Village Aunties – excited!

Why CCTV is not the answer to sexual assault

I’ve heard a lot of talk about CCTV recently, and this really worries me. It more than worries me, it disturbs me.

I am genuinely pleased to hear that the experiences of women are seriously being included in mainstream dialogue, and I am pleased to hear that people are looking for tangible solutions to sexual assault, harassment and rape. I fear, however, that positing CCTV as the answer takes a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to crime, and ignores the very nature of sexual crimes themselves.

The first, and possibly most important thing to note, is that the effectiveness of CCTV is controversial. The effectiveness of CCTV varies wildly, depending on location, number of cameras in place and the types of crimes being filmed. CCTV tends to be successful, for example, in car parks, and does reduce the rate of vehicle related crimes. Where CCTV is dramatically less effective, and why I take such issue with CCTV, is in relation to sexual assault.

More

An Alternative History of Ass-someone

Once upon a time* there was a young man who was both idealistic and egotistical in the way of many young men. He was blessed with an overblown sense of efficacy and entitlement, and curly golden locks; he was the epitome of white boy privilege.

He joined up with some similar passionately anti-establishment types to try and do something serious about changing the world. He hoped, at the back of his mind, that if it worked, it would probably make him a bit famous in alternative circles, and if he was lucky, gain him the positive attention of lots of the women there. It would be his version of joining a band: make some cool music, maybe create a small space for yourself in history, and get laid. A lot.

So he and his friends started this really excellent movement using technology to expose corruption and evil doings by the powerful. It was so successful that their fame spread like wildfire, and the powerful quickly cracked down on them. It was successful in making these guys into rock stars of the new anti-establishment movements burgeoning around the world.

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De-Occupy Glasgow

Cross-posted from Mhairi’s personal blog Random Musings. Long and volatile comments section happening over there. Thanks Mhairi for letting us have this one up here too. Watch comments section here for links to further writing and activism on this issue. — Morag Eyrie.

Update – Open Letter from Glasgow Women’s Activist Forum

I cant honestly say that I was ever that enthused about the “Occupy Movement“.  After seeing a live link up from Occupy Wall Street earlier this month, I did feel a frisson of revolutionary excitement, but it faded by the time that 15th October came round.  It was genuinely amazing and inspiring to hear from an OWS activist live on video link, and when asked what we could do to support them his immediate response was to bring the Occupy movement to wherever we were.  But once the initial rosy glow evaporated, I cant say it was an action which filled me with much enthusiasm.

In Glasgow there was considerable debate within the activist community in the lead up to the global day of action on 15th October.  Should we be supporting the better planned Edinburgh Occupy?  Should we be looking to set up our own Glasgow Occupy?  Or should we be concentrating our activities elsewhere?  In the end the decision was kind of made for us when people unknown to the activist community set up a facebook event which attracted considerable support.  In such circumstances it would have been horribly elitist of us to stand at the edges shouting “Look, you’re doing it all wrong”, we needed to roll up our sleeves and muck in, at least to some extent.
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Sexual Violence and the Justice System

Introduction

In May 2011, Ken Clarke caused outrage by remarks made in a media interview. When questioned about the tariffs received for rape convictions, he asserted

“A serious rape, with violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff is much longer … Date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes, but date rapes … vary extraordinarily one from another and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances.”

Implying that date rape isn’t serious, doesn’t involve violence or an “unwilling woman” is shocking coming from the Justice Secretary.

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