100daysofgrievances #48 Being a Girl part 2 (the serious one)

Law Office of Fine & Fine: Legal and Ethical Lines Blurred Here.
Law Office of Fine & Fine: Legal and Ethical Lines Blurred Here.
Numerous things have irritated me lately: breakfast biscuits (there’s nothing remotely breakfasty about them, they’re simply expensive biscuits residing in the cereal aisle); food festivals promising an abundance of free samples,  approximately 97.2% of which turn out to be variations of chili jam; people wittering on about how the evenings are drawing in (shut up, I love autumn); running watches that beep for half an hour before locating their satellite signal; annoying, imbecilic, selfish tenants that squat in and then sub-let the flat I’m meant to be moving into; the hair-on-leather Doc Martens that I just got an email suggesting I might like to order online and which, for some reason, give me the absolute boke.  (It’s not like I was previously ignorant as to the origins of leather, it’s just that these take the animal-ness of it all to a whole other level.  And I imagine that when wet, they would smell very bad); etc.  As I was saying, these things are varying levels of aggravating, but they don’t make me blood-boiling, fists-clenching, foot-stamping angry* the way that recent high-profile anti-feminist news has. I’ve been attempting to compose this post for yonks – at least 11 months, according to my ‘drafts’ folder (thanks for that, WordPress) – but in light of recent events, today I’m going to make a concerted effort to actually finish it… Before I get started, here is a picture of the hairy boots so that you can judge their boke-inducing qualities for yourself:

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Apparently, they are ‘Perfect for Hallowe’en!’ but I challenge you to assess them and tell me they won’t smell like wet dog after I’ve walked home from work of a damp autumnal evening…

It would appear that Doc Marten send out their promotional emails in good time (regardless of the fact that they’re as misguided as Netflix’s ‘recommended for you’ section).  I could take delivery of my new hairy boots all ready to go trick or treating, should I so wish.  I, on the other hand, keep missing the boat when it comes to writing about topics that are all the rage.

I fully intended to share my thoughts on the Pokemon craze a few months ago.  As I look in my ‘drafts’ folder (a.k.a. the ‘I’ll come back to this another day’ folder), I can see that I planned to test my theory that Pokemon was actually created as a fitness app. I was going to give lots of great examples of pokie-obsessed idiots who got their comeuppance as they fell into ponds/off cliffs/etc., and I intended to bemoan the fact that whenever I relied upon Google maps (I get lost a lot), and walked along gazing avidly at my phone, folks would assume I was chasing an elusive Pikachu.  Alas, the Pokemon craze has calmed down somewhat (maybe now that those evenings are drawing in) and nobody is remotely interested in what I had to say on the matter.

As much as I like to procrastinate (I’m doing it right now), there comes a time when enough is enough.  Various news stories reported over the past few weeks have made me realise that I can no longer relegate certain meanderings to the ‘drafts’ folder.  What began as a rant about a court case a friend was involved in has become massively topical (and of a far more serious nature than chasing imaginary animals…Pokemons are meant to be animals, right?) So, here goes, I’m going to give the serious topic of being female the effort it deserves.

Only those residing under a proverbial rock could have failed to hear/read reference to Donald Trump recently justifying his derogatory and demeaning way of speaking about women. His cretinous crotch-grabbing comments were dismissed as “locker-room talk”… These remarks were recorded…If they hadn’t been, would he merely have denied it in the same manner he has denied all ten accusations of sexual assault?  I previously studied sociology.  Sociology professors love to go on about the Male Gaze. They’d have a field day when faced with Trumpisms such as: “Beauty and elegance, whether in a woman, a building, or a work of art, is not just superficial or something pretty to see.”  Wow.  Just wow.

Chad Evans, convicted rapist, and a premier league (yes, I did have to look that up) footballer, was acquitted this week (in a retrial) of raping a 19 year old.  This was after his fiancee’s father put up a reward of £50,000 for the provision of evidence that could overturn the original verdict. It’s also worth mentioning that the aforementioned fiancee offered an employee of the hotel where the alleged assault took place this very same £50,000 should he ‘remember’ anything that might result in an acquittal. This new ‘evidence’ turned out to be graphic descriptions of previous sexual encounters that the victim had been involved in.

Chad Evans is a man who was reported as saying to police “We could have any girl we want,  we’re footballers”…  For me, this is a sinister echo of Trump’s “When you are a star, they let you do anything”. Objectification (and generalisation) of women, it would seem, is all the rage for men of a certain ilk. Donald Trump is running to be president of the United States; you don’t get much more prominent that that.  Chad Evans is a famous footballer, an individual who is admired and envied by many. An influential person. A person with a career and a lifestyle than many youngsters aspire to.  Let’s just leave it at that for now.

Across the pond from Evans (but equally avidly reported), Brock Turner – so often referred to as a ‘talented swimmer’ as opposed to a ‘repulsive rapist’ –  was sentenced to a mere 6 months in jail for the serious sexual assault of an unconscious woman. He served 3 months of that sentence. I would hazard a guess that his victim will suffer the after-effects of his actions for decades to come.  The manner in which this perpetrator is referred to in terms of his athletic prowess (as opposed to his criminality) can only go to perpetuate Trump’s offensive notion of “locker room talk”.  His ridiculous justification for his offensive and highly sexist comments and predatory behaviour suggests that all men (or perhaps all sportspeople) engage in and laughingly condone the mistreatment of women.  How on earth has this man reached his current position?!

You maybe remember that I previously wrote a little on the topic of Being a Girl – it was pretty lighthearted and focussed primarily on the trials and tribulations associated with nail painting…  I’ll pop the link in here but don’t feel obliged to check it out, this isn’t intended as a sequel…  https://caththebruce.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/100daysofgrievances-32-being-a-girl-part-1/

I’m aware that many women don’t like to be referred to as girls, so apologies in advance for the title.  Personally, I don’t find it offensive – I think it can be turned on its head and applied to men – ‘the lads’, ‘boys’ night out’, etc. so I refute the ‘it’s sexist’ argument.  I halfheartedly considered changing it to ‘Being a Woman Part 2’  – anything for a quiet life – but that sounds like I’m ripping off Caitlin Moran’s fantastic ‘How to Be a Woman’ and also would be glaringly inconsistent (did I ever mention how much I detest inconsistency?) given the fact that there was never a Being a Woman Part 1…

I have previously ranted on topics tending towards the feminist rhetoric.  I’ve moaned about how women are bombarded with magazine spreads featuring ‘Festival Fashion’ whilst it would appear that those of the male persuasion don’t need fashion advice in order to fully embrace the actions of camping or listening to live music…  I’ve complained about the derogatory names I get called when working behind the bar, or the fact that servers will often assume that the glass of wine and not the pint is for me, or that my male dining companion must be paying the bill. But these things are niggles that I’ve come to live with (it would use up too much energy otherwise).  Other incidents are far more difficult to ignore…

A little over a year ago, I watched a close friend stand up in court and give evidence relating to a sexual assault she endured (I also started writing this post).

Reports summarising rape statistics do not make for pleasant reading.  Whilst the number of crimes reported has risen significantly over the past few years, the percentage of convictions has not increased in conjunction with this increase.  Rape Crisis cites the following fact: Conviction rates for rape are far lower than other crimes, with only 5.7% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator. That is without taking into consideration those cases that aren’t reported. Statistically speaking, the fact that this particular sexual assault reached a courtroom (never mind reached a guilty verdict) happened against the odds.

We’ll call my friend Victoria, because that is her name.

I understand completely why many victims of sexual assault wish to remain anonymous – we just need to read reports of what has happened to Ched Evan’s victim in the aftermath of the case for a high-profile example of why victims would choose not to have their names made public.  However, despite what victim-blaming and victim-shaming idiots would have us believe, there is nothing to be remotely ashamed of, and that is why (with her consent) I’m using Victoria’s real name. For the record, if she’d given me her consent when drunk, I would have waited and asked again when sober. If she’d been asleep, I wouldn’t have assumed that lack of response equalled consent…  #justsayin.

It took almost a year for the case to reach the courtroom. An entire year of worrying and wondering, of staff changes and last-minute court-date cancellations, of doubt and despair and of debating whether it was worth prolonging the stress any longer.  And all this because a man on a train thought it would be acceptable to repeatedly touch a sleeping person in a sexual manner.

Official figures indicate that whilst the average number of days it takes to process a rape case is 247 days, the average timescale for all crown court cases is a comparatively low 171 days. That’s a big difference.  I’ve no idea if this discrepancy extends to all cases relating to sexual assault. Regardless, it certainly warrants serious consideration – particularly given the levels of stress and worry that are almost certain to befall the victim in the build-up to such a court case.

This particular sexual assault was reported the morning after it took place (and subsequently required justification in court as to why  it wasn’t reported the previous night).  CCTV images were released and the perpetrator was charged. Months and months later, and there we were in court.  This was the third time a court date was scheduled; the previous two were postponed at the last minute, after months of preparation and anticipation and dread.  I couldn’t find any statistics relating to postponement of sexual assault cases compared to all other cases so I can’t state whether this is the norm or not. Analysis of personal accounts would suggest it is, but I can merely guess.

What a bizarre phenomenon it is watching a sexual assault court case play out.  To give it a bit of perspective, I’ll consider some other crimes.  Please join me in imagining that the British court system treated these misdemeanors in the same manner that it approaches sexual assault.

Firstly, let’s imagine the victim of a burglary.  Would that victim have to stand up in court and have the defendant’s lawyer allude to the fact that perhaps she was asking for it. Surely being asleep when the robber tried the door was really her way of allowing him/her to break in and steal her laptop?  Actively encouraging the theft, one might conclude.  Would she have been scared that the court would dissect in detail a previous (completely unrelated) occasion when she was almost robbed previously – say, when a pickpocket tried to steal her purse that time years ago?

Or imagine that the victim had been thumped outside a nightclub.  Would she have been scared that the lawyers might have focussed on the fact that she likes to attend a kick-boxing class?  If she goes to a class and thumps a pad for fun, surely she asked to be hit in the face without consent?  It’s what she does, isn’t it? She goes out and asks to be thumped.  For fun. That’s the type of person she is, isn’t it?  If she attends a kick-boxing class (of her own free will, not under duress, you understand) then she’s basically asking to be hit, without consent, on a different evening, in a different place, under different circumstances isn’t she?  That’s how these things work, right?

Utterly ridiculous.

So why, if it is so effing ridiculous, can a sexual assault victim’s sex life be raked over in such great detail as a suggestion that it may have been her (or his) own fault? You just need to look at the aforementioned, and highly publicised,  Ched Evans retrial. Despite the assurances that this was a ‘highly unusual case (of course it was – how many convicted rapist’s fiancee’s fathers fork out £50,000 to try and get the conviction overturned?! How many friends film sexual encounters from outside a hotel room? How many convicted rapists employ private investigators?), what we are likely to remember is the fact that the victim’s sex life was picked apart in court.  How is this going to go any way towards improving rape reporting (and conviction) statistics?

Sorry, I appear to have got a little side-tracked.  Going back to some crime comparison… We’ve considered a physical assault (in general, not of Ched Evans, although I’d hazard a guess that many wannabe kick-boxers may well be imagining his smug face as they beat up their pads this week…)  What about a mugging? Would you suggest that the little old lady who got mugged outside a cash point was asking for it because she looked too little-old-lady-like and was, therefore, asking to be robbed due to the clothes she was wearing? A walking frame and Ecco shoes  – the octogenarian equivalent of a short skirt and heels, as it were?  If we’re going by sexual assault case logic, that’s exactly what we’re suggesting…

How absolutely  shocking that her family allowed her to venture out dressed like that.  If it’s not her fault directly, the blame definitely lies squarely at their feet. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.  They should be vilified in the press. Poor, put-upon victim of a mugger, how was he meant to help him/herself, what with these mixed signals being transmitted?

Please take a moment to contemplate the fact that when a teenage sexual assault is reported, questions are often (I want to say always, but I will refrain) raised pertaining to who ‘let’ the victim go out at that time, or alone, or wearing those clothes?  These questions may be alluded to in the reports themselves (depending on the publication) or in readers’ or viewers’ subsequent comments. This culture of victim blaming is both worrying and dangerous.

And so back to my wee old lady… Why didn’t this horrified/scared/over-powered/shocked/paralysed-with-fear/numb (tick all that apply) person scream at her mugger?  Surely if she didn’t want to be robbed, she should have alerted him/her to that fact, right? How was the poor mugger meant to know she didn’t want to be mugged? It almost sounds like she wanted to be robbed… That point should definitely be raised by the defence lawyers, just as it may be in sexual assault trial!

Victoria wasn’t robbed or thumped, or indeed mugged. She was repeatedly assaulted on a train as she slept (she got up, moved carriages, and he followed her and repeated the action).  This is a particularly chilling story as we expect to be safe in public spaces. We are educated to sit near people when on public transport, to stay where it’s light.  What is even more scary is the fact that a lot of people wouldn’t report such a crime (they may mistakenly believe that they were somehow to blame, for consuming alcohol, or for falling asleep, and therefore not being able to refuse consent) and the perpetrator could go on the re-offend in a similar, or escalated, manner. In this case, there was very clear CCTV footage of the incident.  If there hadn’t been, it could have been a very different trial.  How many victims of sexual assault don’t report an incident because they are terrified of the prospect of standing up in court and participating in  a ‘my word against his’ situation?

In such a trial, details of the victim’s sex life can be dissected in front of a courtroom of people  (including, possibly, supporting friends and family), yet any previous misdemeanors (i.e. convictions) of the accused cannot be aired.  I understand that Britain’s justice system is based on a ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle, but it is my belief that the handling of many sexual assault cases turns this on its head and focuses instead on the perceived ‘guilt’ of the victim. In the run-up to Victoria’s court case, she was horrified to discover that the defence team wanted access to notes taken during what she believed to be confidential counselling sessions. This access was refused, but that did not negate the weeks of worry in relation to this.  She was also advised not to be in court to listen to him give evidence “because of how it might look”, and wasn’t allowed to view the CCTV beforehand (despite the perpetrator and his legal team having full access).

To me, this only goes to strengthen the idea that it is somehow not only the responsibility of the prosecution to prove without reasonable doubt that the offence took place. Instead, it would appear to be the victim’s responsibility to also act in a manner that will result in a conviction.

Thankfully, not all men are cut from that Trump-shaped cloth.  But this (albeit hopefully rare) sense of entitlement is terrifying.  In this particular case (Victoria’s case),  the offender’s defence seemed to focus on the fact that he was a bit silly, a bit posh, a bit drunk.  The shiny shoes he wore to court probably cost more than my whole outfit, although possibly not as much as a pair of special long-haired boots… (Thinking about it, if someone had jumped out and tried to steal them, then it could be suggested that it was completely his fault for enticing the poor, innocent would-be robber).  The basis of his defence seemed to be ‘I’m not your average criminal, it was a silly misunderstanding’.

CONSENT IS NOT A CASE OF A SILLY MISUNDERSTANDING! If someone is too drunk, or too young,  or too asleep to consent to something then they aren’t consenting. There’s no room whatsoever for confusion.  End of.

As stated above, his defence was based on the fact that he was a bit of a silly drunk who simply couldn’t take responsibility for his intoxicated and out-of-character behaviour.  How ironic that the victim’s alcohol consumption, it was implied (by the repeated questions relating to precisely how many units she had imbibed),  made her more accountable,  whilst his drinking rendered him less so.  And I thought lawyers were meant to be intelligent.

In this particular case, the man who committed the crime was found guilty and was sentenced accordingly.  Was this due in part to the fact that the judge was female?  I can’t possibly comment, but I sincerely hope not. Okay, I lied, I’m totally going to comment – I think he was convicted because the CCTV evidence was irrefutable, I don’t think the fact that the judge was female is remotely relevant.

I think it’s pertinent to note at this point, however,  that the ratio for female:male judges throughout Europe is 51:49.  In England and Wales it is a mere 30:70.  Experts believe that this may be in some part related to the fact that in other European countries, individuals make the decision to become a judge (and start working towards this specialism) at a younger age (i.e before the average age of child-rearing). In the U.K., being a judge isn’t a specialism that is chosen. The positions are reached through promotion.  And promotion, it can be concluded, is more likely to happen to men. Would women be more likely to report cases of rape/sexual assault if there was more of a female presence in the courtroom?  I don’t know, but surely a fairer distribution could do no harm.

And on this topic of gender inequality, this is as good a place as any to insert my interesting  Fact Of The Day (I’ve been itching to get it in somewhere): There are currently more men called John chairing FTSE 100 boards in the UK than there are women…

Having considered briefly recent high-profile headlines, I wish to raise the fact that this normalisation of sexual assault (or “locker room talk”, if you prefer…) is by no means a recent phenomenon. Please, ask around your female friends… How many of them have suffered inappropriate physical contact from a man? I’m not talking about rape; I’m talking about any physical contact – whether it be in the workplace, or a nightclub, or on the street – that has made them feel even remotely uncomfortable or threatened or scared. It’s imperative to stress at this point that whilst I sincerely believe that the vast majority of women will hold their hands up and say “yep, that happened to me”, or “yeah, that’s  happened to me too, but I thought it was normal…” most men are NOT the perpetrators. It is a small, disgusting minority that has somehow been getting away with this behaviour. I believe that the current legal system and associated fears play a massive part in the perpetuation of these incidents.

So where am I going with this?  I think what I’m trying to say is that the only possible good thing that can come out of all this reporting of horrible incidents is the fact that it raises the topic of what is acceptable and what is not. I really hope that the reportage of idiotic statements by odious individuals such as Donald Trump is opening up a dialogue in schools. The ridiculousness of his stance must be being highlighted during classes, surely?  Kids these days are growing up listening to massively popular songs like Blurred Lines (a discussion of the ‘blurred lines’ in a sexual encounter, by the sort of idiot who thinks that ‘hug’ rhymes with ‘f**k’) and pro-rape author Daryush Valizadeh (a.k.a. Roosh V) is scheduling events across the world for ‘like-minded followers’ (refreshingly, he recently cancelled talks in Glasgow due to fears for his own safety…)  In the 98 years since women were given the right to vote, it almost seems like we are regressing!

There is hope, I’m going to end with a link to Michelle Obama’s recent (fantastic) speech.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2016/oct/14/michelle-obama-full-speech-trump-video

 

*Okay, for anyone who has witnessed me setting off on a run, I may have stamped my foot once or twice when my stupid watch has failed to communicate with the stupid satellite, but that is a relatively rare occurrence.

**  In his 2006 book Trump 101: The Way to Success

***Article can be found here:  https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/13/reported-rapes-in-england-and-wales-double-in-five-years

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