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These men abuse women online because they want to stop women from having a voice

by Sian Norris     July 27, 2013 at 4:48 pm

This week, feminist activism saw a real success with the announcement that, after Elizabeth Fry departs from the £5 note, Jane Austen will soon grace the noble tenner. This was after a concerted, high profile campaign run by Caroline Criado-Perez highlighting the cultural femicide of women across our society – the invisibility of inspirational women in the public eye and the impact that has on wider inequality.

Whatever your thoughts on the bank notes campaign, and even within feminist circles there is a divergence of views, what we can surely all agree on is that the scale of abuse Caroline has received in the wake of the announcement is absolutely horrifying and appalling.

Rape threats and other violent threats have abounded, along with grotesquely sexually violent language. These message from men – and they are all men – are another sad and horrific example of what happens when a woman speaks out about sexism and misogyny, and brings these issues into the public eye.

Last February I was in a similar situation. I had been involved in a campaign to try and prevent a Hooters restaurant opening in Bristol. The campaign did not prevent the opening, but not long afterwards the self-styled ‘breastuarant’ closed due to poor management, debts and a lack of custom. I don’t know if the lack of custom had anything to do with our highlighting how bloody sexist the establishment was. But I had no direct responsibility for the closure of Hooters.

Throughout the Hooters campaign I had been subject to some pretty vile abuse. A lot of the insults were mocking my perceived appearance and sexuality, general wishing of violence upon me and people finding ways to insult my family. But when Hooters closed, the abuse stepped up. On Facebook a man wrote that I was a cunt, that he was going to find out where I lived, post my address details online and ‘make me pay’. Other men ‘joked’ about how they hoped I got kicked in the vagina.

I probably wouldn’t have gone to the police but my mum gave me no choice. Like women everywhere, when I am harassed or assaulted offline, or abused online, it doesn’t even register as a crime. It is just something that happens, to you, as a woman, in public space. That space might be a pub or a club, a bus, or Twitter and Facebook. We are so used to the language that degrades us; we are so accustomed to having our aired opinions met with deeply sexist and misogynistic insults that to label it as a crime seems absurd. It’s too common, surely, to be a crime?

The police were fantastic. They took it seriously – more seriously than I had in my ‘this is just what happens to women’ mode. They listened, and they reassured me that no one deserved to be threatened. They asked me if I wanted to go to court and they respected my decision not to do so (by tforge tech everette). And they went to the guy’s house, gave him a caution which is now on his record and he is not allowed to contact me or the Bristol Feminist Network ever again.

When the police officer visited me after the man had accepted his caution, he told me how my online abuser had said he had never considered the fact that I was a real person. He had never thought that his words could or would hurt me.

I don’t believe this. I think this is what men who write vile abuse online tell themselves to excuse their behaviour. But he knew I was a real person. I exist. The men abusing Caroline know she is real. They just believe they can get away with it, because it’s online and because calling women bitches and slags and cunts and sluts is shrugged off. After all, it happens all the time, so it’s ok.

I believe misogynistic online abuse exists for one reason. And that is that some men are so threatened by women having a voice – by women having a role in the public sphere – that they will stop at nothing to shut her up. They will stop at nothing to deny her of her freedom of speech.

The men abusing Caroline Criado-Perez over the last few days don’t care about Austen, or bank notes. They care that a woman has spoken out about sexism and they want to stop her from doing it again. The men who abused me didn’t care about job losses in Bristol. They were furious that I had spoken up about sexism and they wanted to stop me ever doing it again.

Every woman who speaks out receives threats and abuse designed to silence her. Last February it was me, this weekend it’s Caroline Criado-Perez. It’s Bidisha, Laurie Penny, Cath Elliott, Nimko Ali. It doesn’t matter what we talk about – that’s not the concern. It’s the daring to talk in the first place.

A longer version of this post is on Sian Norris’s blog

The Stuart Hall case ends the debate on anonymity for rape defendants

by Sian Norris     May 10, 2013 at 10:30 am

Having strenuously protested his innocence just three months ago, veteran BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall last week admitted he sexually abused girls – one of whom was as young as nine.

The Hall case shows more than ever just how vital it is that we continue to name men accused of rape and sexual assault. Because it is this naming that can give survivors and victims the confidence to come forward. 

In Hall’s case, the police and CPS have been vocal in their argument for naming defendants. They have explained how naming Hall helped lead to his guilty admission. As survivors recognised that they were not alone, that he had attacked others, the police were able to gather the evidence they needed to charge and eventually prosecute.

We see the same pattern over and over again. Serial rapist John Worboys is a key example in how naming a defendant helped lead to his conviction. After he was named, it became impossible for the police to ignore the weight, the sheer amount, of women coming forward to name him as their rapist. Naming leads to evidence which helps lead to convictions. 

Some argue that if we name the accused we should name the alleged victim. But why? Naming the victim isn’t going to help lead to convictions, it’s not going to help secure justice for rape survivors.

People cry ‘false accusations’ but if a woman is charged with that specific crime, then of course she will be named as she will be a defendant herself. The case of Ched Evans shows what can happen when you name the survivor. His victim was victimised all over again when she was subjected to horrific abuse to the point that she had to change her name and flee her home. How can we have ended up in a situation where some treat rapists with more sympathy and respect than their victims?

When criticising the policy of naming defendants, I think people confuse two different issues. The first is the legal issue and the indisputable, mounting, continuing evidence that naming helps convict rapists. The second is media behaviour.

The fact that the media convict people in their pages and often seem to tread a very narrow line between reporting and contempt of court is not a reason to end the policy of naming defendants. It is too important a policy, too important in bringing justice to victims and survivors, to be dropped because the press behave intrusively.

Press behaviour is an issue for the press. If they harass and taunt and wrongly convict men in their pages then that is not the fault of a sensible law that helps bring justice to rape victims. Bad behaviour in some sections of the media is not a reason to deny women and girls up and down the UK justice.

A longer version of this blog-post is here.

Anonymity for rape defendants mostly helps one group: rapists

by Sian Norris     February 17, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Anonymity for rape defendants is a bad idea that benefits one key group of people – rapists.

It was a bad idea in 1975, when it was how rape cases were conducted. In 1975, lest we forget, men still had the legal right to rape their wives (until 1990). It was a bad idea in 2010 when the new coalition government tried to bring it back into law. And it will be a bad idea now, as the Chair of the Bar Council in England argues for it again.

Anonymity for rape defendants, and only for rape defendants, is a policy based on the belief that women routinely and maliciously lie about rape in a way that no other crime gets lied about. But this belief is entirely false.

The idea is justified by its supporters because of the stigma of a rape accusation. But if that was really the case, then anonymity would apply to all violent crime. There is stigma attached to an accusation of murder. No crime carries more stigma than child abuse. Yet the only reason rape is singled out is because of this pernicious belief that women are just making it up in order to hurt men.

False accusations of rape make up about 3% of reported rapes. This number is no more than false accusations of any other crime.

The evidence is there to prove that naming rape defendants is a sensible policy that encourages reporting and that leads to convictions. When a prolific rapist is named, like John Worboys, it helps women who have been attacked by him feel confident to come forward. Once his identity was known, around 70 women came forward reporting attacks – reports that helped convict him.

Naming Worboys meant that he was finally, after years of terrorising women, convicted. Otherwise the police might still be dismissing reports – which they did at the time.

We cannot propose or make laws based on women-hating myths. We’re in a real crisis of violence against women in this country. There are 500,000 sexual assaults every year including 69,000 women raped and yet there are only 1070 convictions. Only 2910 reported.

This is the time to be doing everything we can to create an environment where women and girls feel confident reporting rape to the police – confident that they will be listened to, believed and that their rapist will go to jail.

Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999
National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

A longer version of this post is here.

BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife

by Sian Norris     December 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

Hot on the heels of the Daily Mail re-branding stalking as romance, the BBC reported yesterday that tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife before killing himself.

I honestly cannot think of another situation where tributes would be paid to a man who committed a violent crime.

The police describe how the man, who was the leader of the council, shot his wife and then himself. But this doesn’t seem to be the news story. The news story instead is about the tributes made by councillors, colleagues and neighbours to the man who:

typified what’s good about the town and the district of North Norfolk

It’s a story about how the flag on the council building is flying at half mast, how despite ‘being from different parties’ he was ‘always very good to deal with’, how he was a ‘good public servant’ who was ‘respected across the political spectrum’.

No-where is it really mentioned that by shooting his wife, this pillar of the community murdered a woman.

It seems that it’s only when crimes are committed against women does the media try to mitigate it by assuring us that – apart from in his relations to his wife – the man with the gun was a ‘good guy’.

On the Yahoo report on the former story, one of the commenters says:

Probably another domestic incident gone wrong

It’s a telling comment. It’s not murder, it’s a domestic incident gone wrong. That’s how this story can so easily be re-framed, to be one about how tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife and then killed himself. It’s just another example of how our culture refuses to acknowledge what violence against women and girls looks like. 

It reminds me of the man who killed his wife and only got eighteen months because his actions were ‘out of character’ and he led a ‘respectable and successful life’.

The deaths of the women became subordinate to the story of the man. The way the media reports violence against women matters. It has an impact on all of us women. 

This year, according to the OneinFour Twitter feed, 104 have lost their lives as a result of gender based violence. 

If you can, please make a donation to WomensAid and Refuge, so no more women lose their lives to men. Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Another police force gets it badly wrong on anti-rape advice

by Sian Norris     July 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm

“Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”, says the headline on West Mercia Police’s web page dedicated to tackling rape.

“Did you know”, they ask “if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?”

To the women in West Mercia, rape is presented as some kind of natural hazard that we can avoid, keep safe from, by staying sober. In one sentence, the police have reduced the causes of rape to one thing – alcohol.
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Why Fathers4Justice deserved to lose their case against Mumsnet

by Sian Norris     July 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm

The Advertising Standards Agency have ruled against the controversial Fathers 4 Justice ad that ran in national newspapers this Mother’s Day.

The ad was targeted at brands who advertise with the Mumsnet social network, which Fathers4Justice believe paints men as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters. 

However ASA instead found that there are 1000s of comments on the web forum, some which may be more extreme than others, and that Mumsnet did not endorse sexist comments.
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The rise in domestic violence deaths is not an “isolated” problem

by Sian Norris     May 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Earlier in the year I noticed that by the 4th January, Channel 4 news had reported the deaths of 4 women as a result of domestic abuse. This was a lot higher than the usual reported number of 2 women or 1.5 women a week. London-based charity NIA.

The Twitter account @OneinFour noticed this too, so they started to count the number of women and girls who were murdered throughout the year as a result of domestic violence.

111 days into the year, and the number had risen to 33. One woman or girl every 3.3 days. And today, just over a month later, the number has risen above 40.
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Samantha Brick: why I find this ‘controversy’ infuriating

by Sian Norris     April 5, 2012 at 11:29 am

On Tuesday 3rd April, Samantha Brick wrote a rather dull article about how women didn’t like her because she was so pretty. Never a bridesmaid. Disliked by women bosses. Hated by jealous wives, etc.

So far, so boring Mail troll article. Then the backlash started.

On Twitter, women and men talking about how even if Samantha Brick thought she was attractive, they certainly didn’t think she was fit, they didn’t fancy her etc. It’s kind of understandable that this would be the reaction. And sometimes it’s hard to respond in a measured and politic way. However, that doesn’t make it right.
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Does porn reduce violence against women? Evidence says otherwise

by Sian Norris     August 7, 2011 at 10:02 am

Research reported last week in The Scientific American claimed that using porn can actually reduce levels of violence against women and girls.

The article explains that the research has found ‘associations’ between porn and sexual violence, arguing that in states where there is low internet access (something which, they suggest, makes it harder to access online porn) there was “a 53 percent increase in rape incidence, whereas the states with the most [internet] access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes, according to a paper published in 2006 by Anthony D’Amato, a law professor at Northwestern University.&#8221
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The ‘perfect victim’ theory of rape, and how it’s reported

by Sian Norris     July 13, 2011 at 8:23 pm

There is a pervasive rape myth that influences a lot of the ways newspapers and mainstream media outlets continue to talk about rape. Feminists call this the myth of the ‘perfect victim’. It is a myth because of course a perfect victim does not exist.

But what this myth does is create a false divide between victims and survivors of rape who the media consider ‘innocent’, and victims and survivors who the media paint as blameworthy, or guilty of ‘causing’ the rape.
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