Sunday, 29 January 2012

Challenging rape myths: an interview with Law and Order lead writer and co-producer Emilia di Girolamo

This article was written for The F Word website and can be read here:

A grainy, unfocused film shows a girl (Anna) lying on the floor, as a group of boys take it in turns to rape her. The ringleader pulls out what looks like a gun, covers the girl’s head and pulls the trigger. A few days later, the film starts doing the rounds on a DIY porn site.

So starts the fifth episode in the third series of Law and Order UK. It’s called Line Up and is written by Lead Writer and Co-Producer of the show, Emilia di Girolamo. A survivor of group rape herself, di Girolamo wanted to bring the complex and feminist issues of rape myths, victim blaming, gang rape and coercion to an ITV audience, challenging them to ask questions about their own pre-conceptions around violence against women and girls.

‘I wanted to write about this because it was something that happened to me when I was a teenager,’ di Girolamo explained to me. ‘I was group raped when I was 14, and I just find it incredibly shocking that this is still happening now, all these years on and with such frequency. And I’ve been shocked most of all by those recent cases where judges and newspapers have seemed to conspire together to suggest that girls of 12, 13, 14 are responsible for being raped.’

The case di Girolamo is referring to was reported in March and July in the Daily Mail, and was given as an example in a statement made to the Leveson Inquiry about sexism and victim blaming in the media. It involved the gang rape of a 12-year old girl by a group of adult men, and the rape of her friend by one man. The men were found guilty but were later released on appeal, with the judge ruling that the girls ‘wanted sex’ and had lied to the men about their age. The Mail reported the gang rape as an ‘orgy’ and the girls as ‘Lolitas’, whilst reader comments called the 12-year old girl a ‘slut’ who was ‘more at fault than the lads’.

One of di Girolamo’s motivations for writing Line Up was the concern that little has changed for teen girls since her own rape in 1985. ‘I think at the time when it happened to me I certainly felt if I told anybody I wouldn’t be believed, and more than anything that I would have been held responsible for what had happened to me,’ di Girolamo says thoughtfully. ‘There was certainly a feeling that a 13, 14, year old girl was perfectly capable of consenting and of “enticing” adult men to rape her and it wouldn’t be seen as rape. It wouldn’t be seen as rape at all. And I would have hoped that that would have changed by 2012 but I really don’t think it has.’

The story di Girolamo tells in Line Up involves a young girl being group raped. She reports the rape and has the courage and support to go to court, but her credibility is pulled to shreds and she is accused of consenting and then ‘crying rape’ when her parents found out. Meanwhile, the judge has a reputation for only taking stranger rape with additional physical violence seriously. This narrative – and the issues it raises – is likely to be familiar to feminists. In fact, the part of the story that might not be familiar is that the case goes to court at all – over two thirds of reported rapes are dropped before they reach court (, and only 15% of rapes are ever reported to the police in the first place (BCS based on findings over six years).

The challenge di Girolamo faced was how to tell this story to an audience that may not be informed on the issues around rape myths, victim blaming and the sheer prevalence of violence against women and girls, as opposed to preaching to the converted. ‘I think an episode like Line Up in a hugely popular ITV show like Law and Order: UK gives us a real chance to take those issues to the right people, to parents and teachers, and to make them look at them in a slightly different way.

‘I wanted to take this story of group rape to Daily Mail readers,’ she explains. ‘To take it to people who probably believe the rape myths, who believe a 12-year old girl can be responsible for being raped. So it was about writing something that challenged those myths and taking it to an audience where many of them would really be learning about this for the first time.’

The common narratives of rape in popular culture and from the cases that are more likely to get to court or covered in the media tend to involve a stranger as the attacker, along with additional violence or use of a weapon. Research cited by the Campaign to End Rape found that cases of stranger rape (where the attacker was identified) were more likely to make it to court than if the woman knew her rapist. This is despite the fact that only around 12% of rapes are committed by a stranger ( and 97% of calls to Rape Crisis are from women and girls who know their attacker ( The misconception still exists that a rape is only ‘serious’ or ‘violent’ if it is accompanied by ABH or GBH, or where a woman is threatened with a weapon. This was something di Girolamo wanted to tackle in Line Up.  ‘You don’t need a knife, you don’t need a rope or handcuffs to tie a girl up. All you need is the power of numbers and the power of being a male,’ di Girolamo explains. ‘A group of older boys and a younger girl – that’s enough of a weapon.’

One of the key rape myths that di Girolamo explores in Line Up is the idea that there is a ‘correct’ way for a woman or girl to behave when she is raped; that a woman should scream, shout no and fight back. When a woman freezes and doesn’t fight back, she is often accused of having consented. In the episode, Anna is castigated in the court room for not articulating ‘no’. But, di Girolamo explains, freezing is a perfectly normal and common response to rape – a belief supported by the Child and Woman’s Abuse Studies Unit.

‘It was something that I felt had happened to me and I didn’t understand – I grew up thinking that I was in the wrong and that I should have fought and should have shouted no, and I didn’t. It was only when I started reading about freeze response that I realised that’s exactly what happened to me. That’s how I felt, I couldn’t move and I couldn’t shout or scream.’

This has huge implications on how we understand and how we talk about consent – that consent is not defined by the absence of a no. ‘Boys need to be taught that if a girl doesn’t say no it doesn’t necessarily mean she is saying yes,’ di Girolamo insists. ‘It’s about making boys understand that consent isn’t just about waiting for a girl to say no or push him off.’

Consent is a key issue in going back to the starting point and preventing rape. Di Girolamo believes that if boys are taught about consent at an early age, then they will be less likely to rape – not least because they will recognise what rape is. A survey published in 2010 by the Havens found that nearly half of young men thought that if a woman or girl was too drunk to consent, it wasn’t rape. Meanwhile, 46% believed that if a woman changed her mind during sex and he carried on it wasn’t rape; and 23% answered that even if a woman says no, it is not rape ( This suggests that some boys and men simply do not understand what rape means, and therefore do not recognise their own actions as rape.

‘There is an area that really interests me about whether a boy believes he is committing an act of rape or not. And going from my own experience and other cases I’ve studied, I believe that quite often there are boys who have committed an act of rape who don’t believe they have done so. They don’t fully understand what rape is. And because they haven’t got a mask or a knife or are in a dark alley they don’t think that what they are doing is rape.’ This was something di Girolamo addressed when she confronted her rapists as an adult. ‘It was one of the things I really wanted to ask my attackers. In my mind I can’t see how they could have seen what they did as anything else. They were adult men, I was 14-years old, it was arranged between them in advance, and this was something they had done before. But I think there was one of them that didn’t fully understand that it was rape. The other two knew exactly what they were doing.’

Of course, if the boys or men don’t believe that what they are doing is rape, it makes it even more difficult for the girl to define what has happened to her as rape. Equally as important as educating boys about consent is therefore the need to educate girls about their right to bodily autonomy.

Line Up takes place on a council estate in South London, where group rapes are increasingly common and increasingly accepted, both within gang culture and as a form of male bonding. When a girl is group raped in this community, di Girolamo argues, ‘where everybody knows everybody and everyone goes to the same school; the girls who have been group raped are then talked about as a ‘slag’ or a ‘sket’. Myths develop around this girl and then the girl is very open to being raped or abused again. If you’re a 13, 14-year old girl living on an estate in South London, as happens in Line Up, and you’ve been group raped by three boys and are being talked about on that estate, then everyone is going to think they own a piece of you. I think quite often the girls just continue to do it for a quiet life and they don’t realise they are being raped time and time again.’

Not being able to articulate their rape is in part due to how often girls are coerced into sex or sexual contact they don’t want to have – either by a man or boy, or through peer pressure. This creates a real blurring of boundaries, and, di Girolamo says, we all too frequently have, ‘that kind of coercion into sex, that is really bordering on rape and in my opinion probably is rape’. Research from the NSPCC and Bristol University states that young women are increasingly ‘subject to emotional pressure and manipulation to consent to sex and experience high levels of sexual violence’; and ‘that women's experience and understanding of coercive sex means that the issue isn't just about rape vs. consent, but others such as coercive sex, pressurised sex, fair game (surrender the right to consent)’. This rings true with di Girolamo’s experience of talking to young women. ‘A huge amount of teen girls are sexually assaulted by teenage boys and by men. And they often don’t even view it themselves as sexual assault or as rape – certainly that’s the case of teenage girls that I’ve met who have been in that situation. They think that’s what everybody does and that that’s ok’.

This lack of understanding of consent, the lack of voice given to teen girls, and a fear of how parents might react or what peers might say, increasingly leaves teenagers vulnerable to rape and sexual assault.

The video of the rape initially comes to the attention of the police when it is sent to a teen boy’s mobile phone and then ends up on a DIY porn site. Di Girolamo wanted to explore the relationship between porn and teen sexual assault and rape, with the video supporting the argument that when we watch free internet porn that depicts rape, we have no idea if the rape is real or not.

‘One of the problems we have today is very open access to violent and degrading pornography via the internet. And this is on mainstream porn sites. At the click of the button saying “I am 18”, any child with access to the internet can access incredibly violent and degrading pornography. When I researched some of these sites for this episode I was just completely shocked by all these categories, so many of them violent, and by the level of violence towards women demonstrated in these films. Even what’s considered to be tame, standard pornography nowadays is just incredibly degrading. It’s out there for very young boys with an innocent curiosity about sex to discover.’
‘Isn’t it then inevitable he will think it is ok to treat women like that? A lot of these are group sex videos and so if you see that and you see the woman supposedly enjoying it, and you have no other experience of sex, then why wouldn’t you think that’s how sex is supposed to be and that’s what the girls at school, the girls in the park, want sexually?’

As the interview draws to a close, I say to di Girolamo that I hope we won’t be writing these stories in fifty years. 25 years after she was group raped, we find we are still confronted with the same issues. It’s the same blame culture that influence low reporting rates, low conviction rates and a media that repeats and re-enforces rape myths. However, episodes like Line Up play a vital role in bringing these issues to a popular audience. Di Girolamo hopes that Anna’s story will encourage young women watching to step forward and report their own rapes. ‘I believe that girls and women need to learn that rape isn’t just a stranger breaking into your house or a stranger in an alleyway. In my own case, I didn’t think it was going to happen going out to a pop concert with friends. I didn’t think it was going to be some guys in a local band. The portrayal of the cops in the story is really important because I didn’t want to scare anyone off from reporting. But most of all I wanted Line Up to be a really truthful portrayal of how a girl feels in that situation. If it makes one girl step forward or one parent re-evaluate how they discuss sex and consent with their son, I’ll be happy’.

Line Up is screened on ITV1 at 9pm on Friday 3rd Feb.
If you have been affected by these issues, you can find your local rape crisis centre here:
Please make a donation to Rape Crisis and support the victims and survivors of sexual violence:
Image of Emilia di Girolamo by Don Chapman

Saturday, 21 January 2012

It is never her fault

It hasn't been widely reported on the news, but by last Saturday (14th Jan) ten women and girls had been murdered since 2012 began as a result of domestic abuse. That's one for every working day, and higher than the average 2 women a week. Of course this isn't particularly surprising when recently published stats have found that 47% of women homicide victims are murdered as a result of domestic abuse (

What did surprise me though was an article on the BBC News website that Coventry Rape Crisis directed me to, reporting that Jon-Jacques Clinton, who murdered his wife in 2010 after she left him and began a new relationship, is to have his conviction quashed on the grounds that his actions were provoked by her infidelity. He is now facing a re-trial.

Clinton used a 'loss of control' defence when he was tried for murdering his wife who died from head injuries and asphyxia. Previously, sexual infidelity was not allowed under the 'loss of control' defence, however the Court of Appeal who have examined the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009 has now decided that it can now can be, when used alongside other factors. This has led to the quashing of Clinton's murder conviction, and may result in him being found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder (

This sets a very worrying precedent.

The judge who has allowed the appeal is quoted as saying:

"Experience over many generations has shown that sexual infidelity has the capacity to create a highly emotional situation or to exacerbate a fraught situation, and to produce a completely unpredictable, and sometimes violent response". (

One understands that discovering partner infidelity causes emotional upset. But there is a big leap from feeling upset, to then having a violent response, to then beating your wife to death.

An aspect of this case that I find interesting is that Clinton discovered his wife's affair by hacking into her Facebook account. Having had experiences of friends' partners who have behaved this way, I believe serious questions need to be asked about controlling behaviour and emotional violence, even stalking, in relation to this case. In my experience, men who break into social media and email accounts of their current or ex partners are usually perpetrators of emotional, if not also physical, abuse. Of course, I don't know enough about this individual case to say whether violence existed in the relationship before the murder, but I do believe that hacking into a partner's account (especially after she has left you) needs to be examined and questioned more in regards to potential controlling and violent behaviour.

Anyway, back to the main issue at hand. I believe that we absolutely cannot allow sexual infidelity to serve as a mitigator for murder. Why? Well for many reasons. But the first is because it unconditionally and dangerously shifts the blame for the murder from the perpetrator, and on to the victim. It places the blame for the murder firmly on the woman. It says that if she had stayed with her husband or boyfriend, if she had not gone and left him and had sex with another man, then she would be alive today. It refuses to acknowledge the role that the perpetrator has played in the murder, and explicitly places responsibility for the violence on the women's head. It also risks ignoreing other causes of the murder, such as a history of violence, threats, stalking and controlling behaviour.

Unfortunately, culturally this attitude and decision fits. We already have a huge issue with victim blaming in our society when it comes to murdered women and violence against women. From the Ipswich murders when Richard Littlejohn blamed the women for being killed because they worked as prostitutes; to women being blamed for violence if they are drunk or walking home alone; women being blamed for 'staying' with a violent partner; women being blamed for leaving a violent partner; women being blamed for burning the dinner ( - he got 18 months); women being blamed for 'nagging' ( - he got 6 years); women being blamed for leaving their partners or for infidelity. Even the way we talk about domestic abuse murders gives away how often and fully we attempt to absolve the perpetrators - from the examples above to that famous phrase 'crime of passion'. This phrase immediately evokes sympathy for the killer, suggesting that the murderer is some kind of tragic hero (Othello? Heathcliffe*?), broken hearted and howling in the wind, a man who 'loves' his wife so much he can't bear to see anyone else have her.

As opposed to a violent, controlling man who murders a woman.

And it is this victim blaming, coupled with its absolving of the perpetrator, that results in ridiculous sentencing where a man who murders his wife "because she burns his dinner" gets 18 months for manslaughter. Where a man who murders his wife "because she's a nag" gets six years. And where a man who murders his wife "because she had sex with someone else" is facing a retrial for manslaughter, because, after all, if she hadn't had sex with someone else, why then, as the Judge suggests, he wouldn't have been forced into a fraught emotional situation and 'lost control', committing the crime.

The reason I have put those excuses in speech marks is because they are just that, excuses, and excuses that don't stand up to scrutiny. None of those actions  justifies the loss of a woman's (anyone's) life. None of it justifies her family and friends losing a sister, mother, daughter, friend. And none of them should be used to mitigate the actions of a perpetrator so that their victims are denied justice.

If the Court of Appeal allow sexual infidelity to be used as a provocation for loss of control in this case, then it has huge implications for domestic murder cases in the future, as well as historically. It may well have implications for the 10 murders that happened in the first two weeks of this year. It will sanction victim blaming in the courtroom. It will be a step backwards, arguing that women are at fault for the violence committed against them, that men are the 'victims' of women's 'bad' behaviour. And that's even before you get on to issues around shaming women's sexuality and how it's pretty insulting to men to argue that violence leading to murder is a 'normal' response to sexual infidelity.

The Court of Appeal disallowed another man's case where he murdered his wife "over a row about a cup of tea". That is still not seen as provocation. But when we take this first step backwards, where will it eventually lead?

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, has spoken out against the ruling, saying:

"A partner’s affair can no longer be treated by the courts as provocation, nor can it be a defensible reason to lose control and commit a terrible violent act.
“The Clinton judgement therefore raises a number of significant concerns and the Home Secretary needs to urgently review the details of the ruling to consider whether it changes the intention of Parliament or undermines justice for victims. If so, she needs to report back swiftly to Parliament so we can determine whether the legislation needs to be strengthened instead." (

I hope that Theresa May heeds this warning, and holds true to her 'promise' that justice for victims of male violence is a government priority. Otherwise we will see the clock begin to turn back on justice for victims of domestic abuse murder, when already the situation as it stands is pretty damn poor. We must fight back against laws that seek to enshrine victim blaming, whilst absolving the deliberate violent actions of some men.

*I know Heathcliffe didn't murder anyone FYI (except Isabella's dog) but the example still fits as a violent man defended by 'passion' and 'heartache'.

Book Diary

I love nothing more than reading. I read all the time. But I forget which books I have read and which ones I haven't. I also can never remember books to recommend people. So am going to use this post to list all the books I read during the year, along with Amazon links, and note if it is a new read, or a re-read. I re-read books a lot.

If it is a new read I will say whether I like it or not. Re-reads are obviously recommendations as otherwise I wouldn't re-read them would I! 


The Glass Blowers: Daphne du Maurier (re-read)

City of Darkness, City of Light: Marge Piercy (technically a re-read but from over 10 years ago)

Freaky: Emilia di Girolamo (technically a re-read but from a long time ago - and because I read it on the train home from meeting her!)

A Place of Greater Safety: Hilary Mantel (new) - amazing amazing book

Love in a Cold Climate: Nancy Mitford (re-read)

State of Happiness: Stella Duffy (new) - v moving and evocative

Bossypants: Tina Fey (new) - funny, feminist and a read-in-one-day kind of book 

Styx and Stones (A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery): Carola Dunn (new) - I've been re-reading the books I have in this series for research purposes (ssh!) but this is a new one to me and is as excellent as all the others.

The case of the murdered muckraker (A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery): Carola Dunn (new) - another great tale of the unflappable flapper

Mistletoe and Murder (A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery); Carola Dunn (new) - and another!

Unbearable Lightness: Portia de Rossi (new) - Portia's devestatingly honest memoir of her anorexia. Want to write about this more fully but highly recommended.

Anything Goes: Lucy Moore (new) - a rip-roaring biog of an unusual decade of US history

Wise Children: Angela Carter (re-read) - an old favourite that's moving and hilarious

The Mirror Crack'd from side to side: Agatha Christie (new) - I've just discovered her books, as opposed to watching the ITV adaptations.

After the Funeral: Agatha Christie (new) - I'm addicted!

They do it with mirrors: Agatha Christie (new) told you!

Death on the Nile: Agatha Christie (new) love the film too!

The First Three Marple Novels: Agatha Christie (new) - I told you, I can't stop reading them!

Murder on the Orient Express: Agatha Christie (new) - a brilliant read.

The Birth of Venus: Sarah Dunant (new) another fantastic, atmospheric read from this wonderful writer /

The Reinvention of Love: Helen Humphreys (new) reviewing this for the F Word

Fried Green Tomatoes from the Whistle Stop Cafe: Fannie Flagg (re-read from teen years) I loved this book as a teen and it was lovely to re-visit it.

Further tales of the City: Armistead Maupin (re-read)

More Tales of the City: Armistead Maupin (re-read)

Sovereign: C J Sansom (re-read) this is my fave of the Shardlake books that I have read

Mary Boleyn the great and infamous whore: Alison Weird (new) a fantastically researched and readable biog as always.

The Other Boleyn Girl: Philippa Gregory (re-read but simply one of my favourite books)

The Rules of Civility: Amor Towles (new and absolutely excellent. Want to be Katey Kontent in 1930s NYC!)

The Devil's Cub: Georgette Heyer (new, my first ever Heyer read)

Sandstorm: Lindsey Hillsum (new - this is a must read if you're interested in Libya)

Girl Reading: Katie Ward (new - loved it)

Evil under the sun: Agatha Christie (new - classic Poirot)

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man: Fannie Flagg (re-read but not read since I was about 13)

Why be happy when you could be normal: Jeanette Winterson, (new - moving, beautiful, painful)

Oranges are not the only fruit: Jeanette Winterson (re-read to remind me for reading why be happy)

The edible woman: Margaret Atwood (re-read - i think this may be my favourite book in the whole world. i read it at least once a year).

Dead in the water - a Daisy Dalrymple Mystery: Carola Dunn (re-read)

Dial M For Murdoch: Tom Watson and Martin Hicklman (new and gripping!)

Damsel in Distress: PG Wodehouse (new and could become another Agatha Christie)

Bring up the Bodies: Hilary Mantel (much anticipated and not a disappointment - gorgeous on every page)

These old shades: Georgette Heyer (new and loved it!)

Moon Tiger: Penelope Lively (re-read from long time ago - stunning)

Anybody out there: Marian Keyes (new - heartbreaking! can't put it down!)

The other side of the story: Marian Keyes (new - loved it)

Angels: Marian Keyes (new - very good, slow reveal that works really well)

Last Chance Saloon: Marian Keyes (re-read - good book but very inaccurate portrayal of the advertsing industry!)

Taken at the Flood: Agatha Christie (new - great twist but didn't like the ending)

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: Kate Summerscale (new - loved it but not what I expected at all)

The Song of Achilles: Madeline Miller (new - absolutely stunning)

Big Money: PG Wodehouse (new and so much fun!)

The Virgin Blue: Tracy Chevalier (re-read from when I was about 13, glad to re-discover it)

Quest for a Maid: Frances Mary Hendry (re-read from childhood)

The Little White Horse: Elizabeth Goudge (re-read - my favourite children's book)

Beyond the Wall: Writing a path through Palestine: Bidisha (new - wonderful book by a wonderful woman)

The Sealed Letter: Emma Donoghue (new and a must read, fascinating stuff!)

Regency Buck: Georgette Heyer (new, I love her but you have to turn your feminist brain off!)

Flat Earth News: Nick Davies (new, a great read from the man behind the Murdoch fall!)

Girl with a One Track Mind Exposed: Abby Lee (new and bloody brilliant from a woman I have oodles of respect for)

 Murder is easy: Agatha Christie (new and good - but VERYdifferent from TV adaptation)

The Purple Shroud: Stella Duffy (new and a fantastic sequel to Theodora)

Carnevale: MR Lovic (new and to be honest I'm struggling. Luscious but not grabbing me)

The Robber Bride: Margaret Atwood (re-read and one of my favourite books. A desert island book)

Lady Oracle: Margaret Atwood (re-read, i can't just read one of her books!)

A dangerous inheritance: Alison Weir (new, i love her novels and i love her biogs!)

Sleeping Murder: Agatha Christie (new, think it's my fave so far)

The Copper Beech: Maeve Binchy (re-read, but from young adulthood)

Amelia Peabody: Omnibus 1-4: Elizabeth Peters (new, just the first one so far but great fun!)

The Jeeves Omnibus Vol 1: PG Wodehouse (new, just the first one so far, I love them!)

Valley of the Dolls: Jacqueline Susann (re-read, ok i know i know. but it is AMAZING!)

The Owl Killers: Karen Maitland (re-read)

Before I Met You: Lisa Jewell (new, i really enjoyed it)

Circle of Friends: Maeve Binchy (new, liking a lot.)

The other two novels in the Jeeves and Wooster Omnibus Volume One - i LOVE him!

The Kingmaker's Daughter: Philippa Gregory (new, another brilliant read from one of my fave writers)

The Falcons of Fire and Ice: Karen Maitland (new and a great read about the time of the inquisition)

The Time of the Hunter's Moon: Victoria Holt (re-read, very silly PROBLEMATIC!)

Anna Karenina: Tolstoy (re-read, amazing to re-discover, feels like a totally different book)

Part 2 in Amelia Peabody Omnibus

Why the Whales Came
My Friend Walter
The Elephant in the Garden - Michael Morpurgo (i'm reading kid's books. Why Whales is an old fave)
The Dancing Bear

The Harlot's Press: Helen Pike (new - loved it)

The Mystery of Mercy Close: Marian Keyes (new - another excellent read from Marian!)

The Jeeves Omnibus Vol 3: PG Wodehouse (new and brilliant! So so funny)

The Daylight Gate: Jeanette Winterson (new - a fantastic novella exploring 17th century with trials)

Bring up the Bodies: Hilary Mantel (re-read and this is a book that demands re-reading and rewards it too)

The Queen's Fool: Philippa Gregory (re-read, my favourite of hers and one of my fave books. I LOVE Robert Dudley!)

Who needs Mr Darcy?: Jean Burnett (new, chick lit about Lydia from P&P, it's ace and much fun!)

Silent in the Grave: Deanna Raybourn (new, a brilliant Victoriana murder mystery with many twists in the tale)

The Jeeves Omnibus vol 2: PG Wodehouse (new and a right giggle as always)

Before I met you: Lisa Jewell (re-read from earlier in the year, i like it)

Winter in Madrid: CJ Sansom (new, really enjoy his books, very powerful and gripping)

The Brothers Karamazov: Dostoyevsky (re-read, this is my favourite book of all time. I'm kind of reading it again over a long period)

The Red Book: Deborah Copaken Kogan (new, I enjoyed this, a good weekend on sofa book)

The Group: Mary McCarthy (new, loved it, but sad! thank god for feminism)

Love in a Cold Climate: Nancy Mitford (re-read)

Jeeves Omnibus Vol 4: PG Wodehouse (new, great fun)

Out of It: Selma Dabbagh (new, very powerful)

Slammerkin: Emma Donoghue (new and fabulous. Think Emma D is one of the best writers working at the moment)

Grand Sophy: Georgette Heyer (new, my favourite Heyer so far!)

The Light Years: Elizabeth Jane Howard (new, and an absorbing and beautiful series)

Marking Time: Elizabeth Jane Howard (new, second part of Cazlet Chronicle)

High Rising: Angela Thirkell (new and great fun)

Valentine Grey: Sandi Toksvig (new, funny and tragic, I love Toksvig!)

Confusion: Elizabeth Jane Howard (new, loved it. Love this chronicle!)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Very rushed post saying NO to Dorries

Say no to Nadine Dorries

As usual, this post comes with the disclaimer that I loathe to give Dorries the oxygen of publicity that she clearly craves. So instead, take this post as a plug for tomorrow’s demo against the second reading of her abstinence education for girls only:

So, what is this bill and why should we be opposing it?

Nadine Dorries is proposing that girls, and only girls, should have compulsory abstinence education. Considering that sex education across the UK is so patchy, this would result in some girls only receiving abstinence based sex education.

There are multiple problems with this proposal.

Let’s start with the problem of offering abstinence education to only girls. This positions girls as the ‘gatekeepers of sex’ and teaches girls that their responsibility is to not have sex (until they’re married of course). This creates a culture of shame around sex, as well as shame and confusion about their very natural developing sexuality. It teaches girls that sex (outside of marriage) is wrong, and that therefore their own sexual feelings (if they have them) are wrong too. It’s also incredibly heteronormative, teaching that sex is wrong and must not happen, unless it is sanctioned by hetero marriage.

Dorries and her crew seem to think that the opposite of abstinence education is telling girls to go and have lots of sex and damn the consequences. This is a dangerous and nasty untruth. Opponents to Dorries’ bill (like me) believe that boys and girls need to have comprehensive and unbiased sex education that teaches about respect, consent, desire and equality in relationships – as well as info about contraception, safe sex and biology. This gives young people the tools and understanding they need to decide to have sex if and when they want to, or to not have sex if they don’t want to.

Dorries plays on the very real issue of young girls being coerced into sex they don’t want to have. But her plan for abstinence education, in my view, actually leaves girls more vulnerable. Because it isn’t as simple as telling girls to always say no. You need to teach girls and boys about consent and respect. Telling a girl to say no doesn’t solve anything. We already do it and it’s not really working. As we all know, it isn’t always as simple as ‘no’. If for example a girl is raped or coerced into sex, she might not be able to say ‘no’. She might freeze, or be frightened, or understand that saying ‘no’ out loud might put her in more danger. The impact of abstinence education in this instance is that the girl may then go on to blame herself for the attack, perhaps not reporting it in case she is judged for not having said ‘no’. If we teach about consent and respect, then we tell our young people what is and isn’t ok or consensual in sexual relationships, that they have bodily autonomy that needs to be respected.

The decision to exclude boys from her sex education programme is based on her belief that ‘boys will be boys’. This belief argues that there’s nothing you can do to stop boys from wanting sex so it’s better to leave it up to the girls to draw a line in the sand that boys must not cross. Again, not only does this strategy leave girls incredibly vulnerable to coercion; it lets boys off the hook massively. If they’re not getting a comprehensive sex education, then they don’t learn to take responsibility or to respect boundaries. They won’t be learning about consent, and respect. This lack of education for boys could leave girls more vulnerable to coercion and violence.

Of course, one of the key issues is that we all know that abstinence education doesn’t work. Teenagers have been having sex since we were living in caves, and they will continue to have sex. Telling girls that they shouldn’t be having sex will, as I say, leave them with feelings of shame and confusion over their sexuality, and if they then go on to have sex, will leave them woefully unprepared to know about contraception, safe sex and consent. There are enough studies out there to show that countries with abstinence only sex education have high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs precisely because at no point is safe sex discussed. It isn’t the other way round.

Abstinence only education builds a culture of shame around sex and sexuality. It dis-empowers girls and robs them of their voice. It ignores and shames their very natural and real sexuality and sexual curiosity. It doesn’t allow for girls and boys to learn about consent and respect and this lack of education is having a real impact already on coercion and violence in teen relationships. If this bill passes, then this crisis can only get worse.

We owe it to our young people to give them the knowledge and tools they need so that when they are ready and want to have sex, they have it safely without coercion and violence. And we owe it to them to give them the tools to be able to say no to sex or sexual contact they don’t want to have. You don’t get that by creating a culture of shame and silence around sex, that positions girls as ‘gatekeepers’. You get it by educating about consent and respect. We need to teach our young people about consent and respect, otherwise we will continue to live in a society where 1 in 3 teens have experienced violence and coercion in a relationship (NSPCC, Bristol Uni).

I don’t want that for my future children.

Fight this bill.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Rape, false accusations and The Daily Mail

*Trigger warning* This post talks about rape, sexual violence and the lasting impact of those crimes on women's mental and physical health.

There's always been a lot of 'what about the men-ery' when we talk about feminism, particularly when we talk about the issue of violence against women and girls. This conversation has mainly had two angles - the first focusing on how men are victims of rape, sexual assault and intimate partner violence too (from both male and female partners) and the second focuses on false accusations of rape and domestic abuse. And I have a sense that since I started engaging with feminist debate, particularly online, it has been towards the latter that the conversation has become more heavily weighted.

Because I am talking about false accusations, I will be talking in terms of male violence against women and girls. This is not to deny that there are male survivors (or female perpetrators), but because when we talk about false accusations, the conversation is, as far as I can tell, always about women falsely accusing men. I will also mainly be focusing on rape and sexual violence.

It seems to me that now whenever I write about rape and sexual violence, or speak about it, or see or hear any other conversation about it, we are almost immediately confronted with a comment that goes something like this:

'Of course, rape is awful. But let's not forget - a false accusation of rape can ruin a man's life'.

I believe that this response to conversations around rape is not only unhelpful, but completely skews our perceptions about rape and sexual violence. Firstly, because it suggests that false accusations are as common as rape (they're not. Reports differ but on average there are 90,000 rapes in the UK each year according to the Home Office. Only 15% of those rapes will be reported based on 6 year average from the BCS, and between 1-5% of accusations are false.) (  And it suggests that the impact of a false accusation is worse than rape. This response argues that the rape is something that happens once, on one occasion and then is over. Meanwhile, according to our common commenter, the impact of a false accusation goes on, and on, and on. Whilst I'm not denying that the impact is there and must be awful, I will explore more later about why this summing up of the impact of both crimes is problematic.

This response to conversations about violence against women and girls is now so common that it is having a profound impact on the way our media and politicians talk about and approach issues of sexual violence. In 2010, the coalition government tried to pass a law that would give anonymity to those accused of rape, and only those accused of rape. This proposal was completely based on the idea that false accusations could ruin a man's life and was influenced by the perception that false accusations are common and the 'norm' - an assertion based on a belief that more often than not, women lie about rape. The proposal was defeated, but it showed starkly how the belief that women lie is so prevalent and accepted. It was used to suggest a law that would have likely dissuaded women from reporting rape, and could reduce the conviction rate even further from the paltry 6.5% it already is (from incident to conviction). I base this assertion on the fact that by naming an accused rapist such as John Worboys, his other victims are more likely or able to come forward. I also base it on the fact that if you are working from a base line that women are likely to be lying, then you are hardly empowering women to come forward and talk to you about what has happened to them.

Another incident involved a lawyer I heard on Radio 4 discussing the cuts to legal aid and the exemption given to domstic abuse survivors (an exemption that isn't really working in practise). He expressed concern that this exemption would encourage 'more false accusations of domestic abuse'. This suggests that there's an engrained belief in our culture that fale accusations against violent men happen off the cuff, 'willy nilly', by irresponsible women looking to save a buck. The actual important debate about how the cuts are impacting women trying to flee violent homes is then forgotten, in favour of another debate around false accusations.

The media plays a big role in the assertion that false accusations are as common (if not more) than rape and in implanting the belief that the majority of rape accusations are false. This appears to be a twist of logic around what being convicted of a crime means. It goes thus - the rape conviction rate is 6.5%. Therefore, the argument opines, every rape that is not convicted must be a false accusation. However, this ignores the fact that a false accusation of rape is also a crime.

Of course I am going to pick on the Daily Mail as they really are the worst offenders when it comes to deliberately misleading their readers over what a false accusation of rape is. When you search for 'falsely accused of rape' on their site, you are greeted with a list of headlines where the word rape is always presented in inverted commas ('rape'; 'sex attack' 'rape victim'), a punctuation device that implies disbelief. Stories where the man has been acquitted are presented as 'cry rape' stories and deemed to be false accusations - even when no-one has been found guilty of that crime ("Cry rape victim's hell: Mr X was found not guilty of raping the woman last year after she claimed he had taken advantage of her while she was too drunk to consent to sex."). When someone has been found guilty of false accusations then this story is likely to be printed, despite the fact that the 2,000 rapes that happen each week in the UK rarely make the headlines. This means that there is an over-representation of stories on a rare crime, and a real lack of representation of a far commoner crime. The women who make false accusations are vilified and "face public shaming" (as one headline put it) far more than the men who rape (I don't agree with vilification BTW, I think it 'monsters' people and prevents us from examining and challenging what causes rape - i.e. patriarchy). Meanwhile, editorial from Melanie Phillips, Richard Littlejohn and Peter Hitchens repeat and perpetuate the myth that most claims of rape are false, stating that unless a rape is by a stranger, and accompanied with additional physical violence or weapon, then they are incidents where the woman regrets consensual sex the next day.

'a woman is encouraged to claim she has been raped when, for example, with the benefit of hindsight, she may become aggrieved about what she voluntarily allowed to happen, particularly when she was rather the worse for wear.'  - Melanie Phillips

'[if the] women had met a man in a Tiki Bar on St Lucia, got off her head on rum punch and invited him back to her hotel room for a drunken tumble. The following morning, through her hungover haze, she was consumed by self-loathing. Would she be entitled to cry ‘rape’? There's a world of difference between a violent sexual assault at the hands of a complete stranger, or gang of strangers, and a subsequently regretted,  alcohol-induced one-night stand...That’s not how the self-appointed Boadiceas of feminism see it.' Richard Littlejohn (proving that once again, he doesn't understand anything or use correct grammar!)

'Of course all rapes are bad. But some rapes are worse than others. The extension of rape, to cover any situation where a woman says she has been raped, is a huge difficulty for a fair legal system that relies on actual evidence before deciding guilt.' Peter Hitchens

So what we have here is a constant drip feed of two narratives. One, that rape isn't very common because most rapes are consensual sex where the woman regrets it in the morning (there's also a lot of slut shaming in this narrative around women who have consensual sex). And two, false accusations of rape are very common and they ruin men's lives.

Because these two narratives are now so much a part of our cultural conversation around rape, I find increasingly as a feminist I have to caveat every conversation around sexual violence with a 'and of course, false accusations happen and are awful too'. But it's time to reframe the conversation. Yes, let's talk about false accusations but let's not conflate the crime with rape.

As I said earlier, the dialogue we usually get around false accusations and rape is that being falsely accused ruins lives. As Melanie P puts it:

'the fact [is] that men who are cleared of rape still leave court with their reputations trashed, even though the evidence against them may have been tenuous in the extreme.'

I'm not denying that the impact of a false accusation must be awful, although let's not forget that some men who are accused of rape or assualt (or even found guilty!) still manage to carry on with their lives, careers, stardom reputation intact (and enhanced). Chris Brown, Tyson, Polanski, DSK, Assange anyone? I am not here to mitigate the horrible impact of being falsely accused of a crime though, the impact it would have on career, family, relationships, mental health - all of this is of course awful and those falsely accused require support and justice.

However, I find that when people comment on the impact of a false accusation, I always hear this eery silence around the impact of rape, domestic abuse and sexual assault. As I said earlier, it seems that there's an idea that rape happens, one night, one day, and that's the end of it. It's horrible when it happens, but then it's over. Meanwhile, a false accusation goes through the courts and drags on and on. And it's because this idea is so offensive and so palpably untrue that I feel we need to shift the dialogue. So that when we talk about rape, the impact of that crime is not silenced by a discussion about the impact of another, unrelated crime.

Rape doesn't just happen and that's it. A woman may be raped many times. She may be left with post traumatic stress disorder, an STD or infection, physical injury, nightmares, depression, an unwanted pregnancy. She may be judged by her community, or left infertile by infection. In a country where abortion is illegal (which includes Northern Ireland) she may have a child. A quick search on Google of 'suicide rates of rape victims' produces a South Carolina study on mental health of rape survivors that found:
  • 31% of rape survivors developed PTSD
  • Rape survivors were 6.2 times more likely to develop PTSD than women who hadn't been raped
  • 30% of rape survivors had experienced at least one major depressive episode (compared to 10% of women who hadn't been raped)
  • 33% of rape survivors said they had suicidal thoughts (compared to 8% of women who hadn't been raped). According to, 13% of rape survivors attempt suicide.

The counselling directory ( believe that the emotional cost of domestic abuse costs employers and the state £23 billion per year.

What I am trying to illustrate with these statistics and studies is that when we talk about rape and false accusations, we're not talking about a crime that happens and then is over, against a crime that has a lasting impact. Both crimes have lasting impact and, I would argue, the physical and mental health impact of rape on survivors is likely to be far greater than that of false accusations. And because rape is far more common, this impact is happening to women you know, right now. These crimes are not the same, they are not analogous and let's stop talking about them as if they are.

Let's talk about rape. And let's talk about false accusations. But let's stop prioritising one narrative so that survivors seeking support and justice are confronted with proposed laws that harm their case, and jurors and judges and politicians fed on a diet of Daily Mail articles refuse to believe rape happens that often in the first place.

BTW, this is worth reading:

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Chris Langham to speak Bristol's Cube

An overview of the arguments I've heard for and against Chris Langham taking part in a Q&A at Bristol's Cube.

Some might feel this post is a bit of a cop out as I don’t really talk about my opinion on the Chris Langham invite. That is because I wanted it to be more of a space to illustrate the various arguments I have heard for and against his invite, and my own reactions to those arguments. My blog, my rules etc.!

When I heard via a member of Bristol Fawcett that Chris Langham is to speak at a Q&A in the Cube as part of the screening of his new film, my first reaction was shock, then anger. I admit I didn't know a lot about his case, but I knew that Langham had been convicted of and found guilty of downloading images of child abuse and rape, and had gone to prison for three and a half months. Was this another case of a known abuser returning to an open armed society, his crimes forgotten and brushed under the (red) carpet whilst those who have survived abuse are not privileged a voice? Or was it the case of a survivor of abuse acknowledging his crimes and trying to move forward with his life and career? Perhaps it was even something in between?

On Facebook, I expressed my shock about the invite which led to an interesting debate. Questions were raised about whether once time has been served, should and could a line be drawn under the crime. Whether there can be separation between the personal lives and crimes of people, and their work in films/TV etc. Whether my shock was akin to those who want to 'lynch' paedophiles and motivated by nimby-ism (it was neither). Then links were shared, regarding Chris Langham's own history as a survivor of child abuse, his admission of guilt and apology, and the ruling from the judge that there was no evidence to suggest he was a paedophile or sexually interested in children. His given reason for downloading the films (many of which his computer showed he hadn't watched) was, he stated, for research. He told Decca Aitkenhead that he believed he would get away with it, wouldn't get caught, that his 'art' would serve as an excuse ("It was just hubristic and arrogant of me to think I'm above the law because I'm an artist.").

I then spoke online to various volunteers from the Cube to try and understand their reasoning for the invite. I learnt that they had had lengthy discussions about whether to agree with the filmmakers' request to be accompanied by Langham. The Cube is run co-operatively in a non-hierarchical way so any decision is met by a group that then discusses and democratically proceeds by consensus. I haven't been able to define whether or not they expected the (albeit small) controversy that the invite has generated and I think they would have been naive not to expect it. Inviting any convicted criminal to speak would have sparked some controversy, not least when that someone has been convicted of downloading images of child sex abuse.

The debate continued via the BFN and Bristol Fawcett email lists. And it quickly became clear that for most the argument was not about my anger over how so often celebrity male abusers return to their careers, their crimes forgotten, whilst survivors of their crimes are all too often left behind, silenced. The argument became about how we rehabilitate, and how we decide whether or not someone has 'served their time'.

I have read messages from people who have worked with abusers and survivors who have expressed concern that by vilifying abusers we then deny them the chance to be defined by anything other than their abuse/crime. This then leaves no space or chance for that person to become anything else other than an abuser. This can lead to re-offending. I’ve heard that the chance of the abuser seeking support to stop offending is also reduced if they fear they are always going to be vilified and defined by their crime - something which again leads to re-offending. We then are led to ask about what sentencing means - once time is served is the period of punishment then over? This raises questions about whether our justice system is punitive or based on rehabilitation, and about what support is or should be available to offenders after prison time. The argument put forward to me by those who have worked in this field suggests that by vilifying offenders we then risk the abuser re-offending, as they are never allowed to see themselves as anything other than an abuser. However everyone I have heard from emphasises rightly that we mustn’t risk forgetting the survivor when we talk about offenders. The long lasting traumatic and health impact of abuse on the survivor may well be far longer than the sentence served by the perpetrator (I say 'may' as I do not wish to talk for survivors).

I appreciate and agree that vilification is not the answer. I believe this for many reasons - not least because when we see those who abuse and rape (children and adults) as 'monsters' and 'animals' and 'evil' then we rarely look at what causes the abuse and violence, and how our society allows/excuses this behaviour (particularly in relation to violence against women IMO). I also understand and agree that vilification (which so often leads to more violence and calls for the death penalty - something I am obviously against!) does not provide or allow for change and for rehabilitation.

However, one of the issues we have in our society is that sentencing for 'sex crimes', particularly rape and sexual assault of adults and teens, is so poor. We know that the rape conviction rate is 6.5% and we know that so many men get away with rape. Two thirds of reported rapes don't even get to court ( and even the conviction of group rape of a 12 year old girl can result in the men getting less than 12 months in jail. When we have a justice system that does not seem to consider, listen to, or even believe the voices of survivors, then it is understandable why there is a lot of anger when we see someone who is guilty of downloading images of child rape welcomed at our local arts cinema. We know that it isn't always as simple as 'served the time' because so many don't. And this 'don't' means that even when someone does serve time, we are always remembering that so many walk free.

My initial anger was that it seemed to me that Langham joined the footballers, Polanski, Chris Brown, Mike Tyson, R Kelly, Norman Mailer etc. – the list of men who have abused women and children and yet are culturally lauded, have cameos in cult movies, win Oscars and awards, are heroes. Because when this happens, when you sit there and listen to Rihanna being forced in interviews to praise the man who abused her, when you have to boycott yet another director because they are praising Polanski...when this happens over and over again you are left furious that these men who abuse women and children are repeatedly privileged over the survivors of their crimes.

I think my anger was based less specifically on the Langham invite, and far more on the crisis we have when it comes to sentencing rapists and abusers, convicting rapists and abusers, and ensuring justice for victims and survivors. It was also based on how often men who abuse are excused of their violence and misogyny and become cult heroes (or cultural heroes), defended and lauded in equal measure. When this happens, as it does so often, the voices of the abusers are privileged over the voices of survivors. The survivors of their crimes are forgotten, treated as an embarrassment, or as a liar, or as to blame etc. And this is simply not fair. In fact, it's plain wrong.

So, this post has been meandering and tentative. I have tried to explain why I was angry with the invite, and why I think my anger was based less on the specific invite and more about a rape culture that excuses abusers. I think this holds true to a lot of abusers in the public eye (although I understand and appreciate the arguments about why this may not apply to Langham). I have tried to present the arguments I have heard about why rehabilitation is important and can prevent re-offending and how these arguments have raised important questions. And I hope I have explained why I disagree with vilification, seeing as it refuses to acknowledge the causes of violence and abuse. As I say, I have asked myself a lot of questions about this and I won't be attending the event, I don't support the event. But one good thing is that it has raised these questions and arguments, as well as allowed me to start considering ways we can have events that give voice to survivors of abuse, when so often those voices are silenced.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Since 1st Jan 2012, Channel 4 News has reported the deaths of 4 women as a result of intimate partner violence, otherwise known as domestic violence. Another woman's body has also been found although it is believed she was murdered last year.

That's more than one woman a day since 2011.

The news seems to be preoccupied with the fact that one of the women's bodies was found on the Queen's land. The BBC had the Countryside Alliance on to talk about why people should be allowed guns.

The news has yet to report on how these murders are all part of the huge problem of violence against women and girls and misogyny.

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Monday, 2 January 2012

The Sian and Crooked Rib Feminist Review of 2011

Review of 2011

2011 was a big year for news and a big year for the so-called resurgence of feminist activism in the UK (I say so-called as feminist activism never went away, we've just been doing it behind the media's backs since 1985 apparently!). It was also a big year for me - the year I published two books, Greta and Boris and The Lightbulb Moment, spoke at a number of academic conferences, won awards for my professional work and went on a lovely holiday to the Caribbean.

So, like many bloggers and writers out there, I present to you my review of the year from the feminist perspective, as we look back on 12 months that, despite many fantastic achievements, showed us how clearly the battle for women's rights is not over, how we still live in a rape culture, and how both the left and the right are willing to trade away women's rights when it suits them. I'll link to other posts I've written this year in case any of the stories tickle your fancy.

Jan 2011:
The tragic murder of Jo Yeates in December 2010 sent shockwaves through my home city of Bristol. Our thoughts and love was with her family and friends. Her murder resulted in the police sending out safety warnings to women living in the city to avoid walking home after dark and to avoid being on their own in the streets, leading to frightened young women taking cabs everywhere, and avoiding taking part in volunteer activities. Even I was given a talking to from a colleague when I said I was walking up to Clifton to see a friend. This was despite the fact that the evidence suggested the attack took place in her home. BFN responded by having a meeting with Avon and Somerset police and issuing a statement, resulting in the police changing their safety advice so that a woman's right to freedom of movement was not compromised by the deliberate actions of one man.

Sky Sports pundits Andy Grey and Richard Keys showed sexism in sport is alive and well when they discussed in anger the fact that there was a 'woman linesman' refereeing a match, followed by a frankly disturbing conversation about 'smashing' women. Resignations and firings happened, followed by the usual backlash that women lack a sense of humour and that women are sexist too. After all, Giles Coren, we have Loose Women, don't we!

I didn't really write anything this year about the Arab Spring, which began at the start of 2011 in Tunisia. I don't know why I didn't (it has been such a busy year). The uprisings in the Middle East came to define this year. Women played an active and leading role in protesting the oppression they experience in their countries - and are still playing that role today as new governments are formed, or as the violence continues. So, to make up for my failings, here's a piece in Ms magazine by Robin Morgan:

Feb 2011:
Assange continued to be in the media spotlight as he appealed his extradition to Sweden on the grounds, it seemed, that he would be smuggled in to the USA. At the height of Assange fever we observed an ugly tendancy by some on the left (including former heroes of mine - looking at you John Pilger) to sell women's rights down the river in support of man who had done good work in exposing international corruption but who, despite that, was accused of rape. Unfortunately the idea that someone is capable of doing good work and still be a misogynistic shit was hard to grasp by many. Left commentators (men and women) accused the women of being a CIA honey trap, postulated conspiracy theories, tied themselves up in rhetorical knots trying to 'prove' that penetrating someone when they are asleep was not rape, and mocked the idea that penetrating someone without a condom, when consent relied on the presence of a condom, was some kind of hilarious Swedish law. Whilst Assange was treated as a hero by the left (and even, when they saw a way to blame women, by the Daily Mail!) the women were mocked, derided, accused of lying and much more. Their actions were critcised as they 'didn't behave how victims are supposed to behave' (apparently there's a guide book?) and because 'he stayed at their house and they went to a party' (because unless it's stranger rape it ain't real rape - more on this later). As I said at the time, and as I still say now, conspiracy theories to do away with powerful white middle class men via CIA honey pots are far, far less common than a man sexually assualting or raping two women. Assange is still appealing the extradition decision.

March 2011:
March saw me share a panel with the wonderful Bidisha and Dr Sue Tate at the Watershed as we talked about the invisibility of women in our culture. It also saw me get called a 'hysterical ranter' and lots of other names on Liberal Conspiracy, for daring to suggest on International Woman's Day that, you know, prehaps maybe there's an international crisis when it comes to VAWG. I also started writing for the Fresh Outlook, and my first piece dealt with the change in regulations for dealing with rape cases, after a woman was imprisoned for 'falsely retracting a rape claim'. The woman had suffered years of violence at the hands of her husband and when she reported it, he pressured her to withdraw her accusation. She then found herself guilty of perverting the course of justice, in jail and having lost custody of her children. This horrific case showed us what happens when women aren't supported in making accusations against violent partners, what happens when the media narrative on rape focuses on alleged false accusations and why the guidelines certainly needed to change.

One of my most popular posts of the year was about a Daily Mail article (recently cited by women's groups at the Leveson Inquiry) about the gang rape of a 12 year old girl and the rape of her 13 year old friend. The article called the girls Lolitas and pretty much blamed them for the violence committed against them. The men were found guilty, but were eventually released on appeal. This is the first time I have seen child rape blamed on the victim, both by the newspaper, the judge and the commenters below the fold. and

March also saw dire warnings from Women's Aid about the impact the government's austerity measures would have on women, particularly women survivors and victims of male violence. The cuts are resulting in the closure of refuges, in support services losing all their funding and being forced to close and will, ultimately, result in the murders of more women. The government are playing with women's lives and their answer is to tell councils not to see it as an easy cut. In response to the Women's Aid statement I wrote to the coalition leaders to find out what they were doing to make this stop. I collected nearly 400 signatures in a week. Theresa May sent a disappointing response and the party I voted for, the Lib Dems, well, they didn't even bother to reply.

April 2011:
In April we all got excited about fetishizing brides, the area I have lived in most my adult life caught fire and got smashed by rioters who were angry about Tesco ( and I got embroiled in an online row across twitter and the New Statesman despite not knowing half of what had happened. Meanwhile, a serious scientific report postulated that feminism is bad for women's sex lives because women are naturally submissive (like rats!) ( and the Poppy Project lost funding as the government once again played roulette with women's lives and well-being ( France banned the burqa via a logical leap that telling women what they can and can't wear is somehow more liberating than letting women wear whatever the hell they like (

May 2011:
I went to ATP! And then came down with a horrific bout of flu that left me so delirious I cried at the Fleetwood Mac episode of Glee...

Meanwhile Ken Clarke showed his ignorance around rape when he tried to split it into two categories 'violent rape' and 'you know, that other kind of rape that isn't violent'. His comments exposed what feminists have known for years; there is a huge issue when rape is only considered to be violent or 'real' if it is committed by a stranger, outside (or an intruder) with additional physical violence, and that issue is that rape is rarely taken seriously.  All of this works together to create a culture where women aren't believed, where women are blamed for the violence committed against them and we end up with 90,000 rapes a year and a conviction rate of 6.5% (see this post for stat sources: His suggestion that low rape sentences (5 years or less) were the result of teen boys having consensual sex with their 15 year old girlfriends showed not just a very troubling ignorance about rape law, but also a very troubling ignorance about how messed up sentencing for rape is (the men mentioned in the March Daily Mail article were out within a year) and how comments like his encourage a rape culture where women aren't listend to, believed or taken seriously.Clarke's comments were exacerbated by Roger Helmer MEP, who wrote a blogpost about how if a woman gets into bed with her boyfriend, she should expect that he will have sex with her (whether she wants to or not), followed by distressing editorials from Littlejohn and Hitchens full of lies and nonsense about false accusation rates, and women lying about rape because they 'regret sex' the next day. For the record, there are an estimated 90,000 rapes in the UK every year. The majority will be committed by someone the victim knows. (

And those two weren't the only Tories pissing feminists off in May 2011. Oh no. David Cameron's sexism was showing when he told Angela Eagles to 'calm down dear' ( and Nadine Dorries proposed a bill for abstinence only education for girls (and only girls) in her continuing war against women's bodily autonomy and reproductive rights (

May also saw the start of the Slutwalk movement, as a Toronto police officer warned a group of young women that if they wanted to avoid being raped, they shouldn't dress like sluts. As well as getting lots of press attention the Slutwalk debate caused a lot of conversation across the feminist movement, as people asked whether it was possible to reclaim the word slut, discussed the actual aims of the movement, asked questions about privilege and why, in Canada and the US, so many slutwalkers seemed so anti-feminist. I think the Slutwalks in the UK seemed really positive and succeeded because they got the message out there about victim blaming and VAWG. I still do have questions though. A lot of them.

Also, DSK was arrested - more of that later.

June 2011:
Halfway there! In June I decided to write about street harassment again ( and I loved Caitlin Moran's book ( After BFN got attacked - again - I wrote about why the work we do is so great ( and I put on an event about VAWG in the DRC ( In other news, the Playboy Club opened with a fabulous feminist protest shouting eff off Hef! (

July 2011:
If the accusations against Assange highlighted how the left will still defend a man accused of rape, then the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn showed how society closes ranks to protect the powerful against rape accusations. When he was arrested in May, I saw the footage of him being bundled into the car. And I said, he'll never go to jail. He'll get away with it. His story changed many times, from him saying he wasn't even in the building, to him saying he was there and whatever happened was consensual. Yet, this changing his story did not seem to destroy his credibility. Meanwhile, his alleged victim Diallo was called a prostitute. A liar. She was told she wasn't credible because she hadn't disclosed her 'FGM status' to immigration. She was accused of trying to extort money, and when this accusation proved untrue, well let's just say that that story didn't get the coverage the false one did. The very normal traumatic symptoms that many rape victims demonstrate were used to discredit her - she lacked 'perfect recollection of the night's events' and her narrative structure kept changing (this is perfectly normal). She wasn't the 'perfect victim'. She was poor, black, an immigrant. He was rich, white, a world leader. Diallo's bravery in waiving her right to anonymity opened her up to more and more personal attacks. This woman did a brave brave thing. She has had her life ruined, because she dared to stand up and say that (if he did it) it wasn't acceptable for a man to allegedly assault her. That she wasn't going to stay silent because he was more powerful than her.
Because the case collapsed we will never know if DSK was guilty of rape or sexual assault. Because he has dropped the case against her we will never know if she was guilty of false accusation. Currently neither are guilty of any crime. But we learnt from this that even now the alleged victims are the ones on trial, not the alleged perpetrator.

Meanwhile, the accusations against Assange rumbled on. During his extradition hearing, his own lawyer, his DEFENSE explained that he had penetrated a sleeping woman. That, whichever way you slice it, is rape. A woman can not give consent if she is not awake.

August 2011:
In August, the Scientific American published a ridiculous article positing that porn reduced incidents of rape. This was based on research that showed that rape was less common in areas of the USA where there were lots of internet users. Seeing as porn is not the sole cause of rape, and seeing as porn is not the sole content of the internet, this research was Bullshit (

Meanwhile, Britain caught fire as riots raged across London and beyond. The rhetoric in the aftermath spent a lot of time blaming 'broken families' and therefore single mums, so I wrote this in a rage:

And Dorries made a comeback as she tried to push through a law restricting women's rights to abortion. She proposed that charities that provide abortion services - such as Marie Stopes and the BPAS - should be prevented from offering pre abortion counselling, as they had a 'financial incentive' to 'encourage' the woman to have an abortion. This is of course nonsense, and such a proposed change would prevent charities with a proven record in great care for women offering an expert and needed service. They would then of course be replaced by anti abortion groups with a bias and interest in preventing a woman from having an abortion she may want or need. The proposal was debated but defeated in parliament. However this year has seen a very real attack on the right to abortion. Life replaced the BPAS on the government's sexual health advisory board - FTR, Life don't believe condoms prevent STDs. In the states, the personhood amendment came close to being a reality. This year showed us that we can't rest on our laurels if we want to maintain our right to bodily autonomy.

Debates about 'fun feminism' seemed to take hold across the feminist blogosphere - here were my takes on it:

September 2011:
I go on holiday! I turn 27!

I get involved in an online row with a really, really sexist, white male privileged and deeply unfunny TV comedy panel show!

Some numpty sues LSE because he found gender studies sexist!

October 2011:
Three women won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, making them the 13th, 14th and 15th women to do so in 111 years. Yet despite this, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman failed to make it in the BBC's 2011 Women of the Year list - that honour went to brides, bridesmaid-with-nice-ass, victims and, erm, a panda.

David Cameron announces he is in favour of gay marriage (or, as I like to call it, marriage) but that doesn't stop the right wing press being homophobic, whilst ignoring that the problem is their homophobia: (this is one of my least read posts, but one I am most proud of)

Meanwhile, the much-derided-by-feminists Bailey Review into the sexualisation of children continues its mission to suggest that it is only bad to degrade women if someone under 18 sees it by suggesting that blocking porn sites would be a good idea. Rather like putting a band aid on a broken leg in my opinion. You can't just block young people from seeing porn when the issue is the acceptance of violence against women, women's degradation and the harm done by the porn industry.

Meanwhile, rape culture shows it is alive and kicking as two big victim blaming stories make the feminist headlines. The first involved a school attempting to ban girls wearing skirts 'for their own protection'. By refusing to deal with the causes of sexual bullying, harassment and violence, the school is letting down its female students, who are instead told that any violence committed against them is their fault for wearing a skirt. Meanwhile, as department stores start playing Christmas songs, the annual Christmas anti-rape campaigns appear. This year we saw some welcome posters that targeted men. But that didn't stop some men bemoaning them as offensive, whilst the usual fare that tell women to avoid becoming victims were still there (

The Occupy movement swept the world, as groups came together to protest a capitalism that benefited 1% of society at the expense of the 99%. Unfortunately, disillusionment set in quickly to me. London invited Assange to come and speak, a man accused of rape yet still loved by some of the left. Considering women are disproportionately affected by poverty and bad capitalism, I don't know why they couldn't find a woman who wasn't accused of rape to come and speak. Meanwhile, rapes and sexual assaults were reported in the camps - along with victim blaming from men in the camps, and stories that the women were told not to go to the police in case it 'harmed the movement'. In Bristol, Occupy members have been rude to BFN and Fawcett on mumerous occasions, demonstrating an unwilligness to see that women make up more of the 99%, and men more of the 1%. A revolution that maintains male privilege is not a revolution at all. We canont have change if we don't challenge the power structures that maintain the oppression of women. To me, Occupy is behaving as though it is for the 49%. As a woman, I am not made to feel welcome.

Our campaign to raise awareness of women's rights in Afghanistan culminated in a vigil on Pero's Bridge, where we demanded that women have a voice at the peace negotiation table, and that women's rights aren't traded away for peace.

November 2011:
November saw the publication of Bristol Fawcett's report into the impact of the cuts on the women of Bristol. Shocking stats revealed that the changes to the tax and benefits system would cost the city's women £44 million, double the cost to men. The impact of the austerity measures on women is one of the great under-reported stories of 2011, and I was proud to be ever-so-slightly involved with this project to reveal just how bad things are.

Helen Lewis-Hastely's report in the New Statesman on online abuse experienced by women bloggers catapulted an issue we had all experienced and known about for years anyway into the mainstream. Conversations about the very specific type of sexist abuse women experience online suddenly dominated the blogosphere. This is not a new issue, but it was great to have it being talked about and debated, even if the inevitable backlash decided that rather than challenge male abuse, women should just get off the internet. This was the most read blogpost ever on my blog!

I went to Fem 11 and was totally inspired by the wonderful Natasha Walter:

Bristol Reclaim the Night was one of the best we have ever had. A fantastic turnout, amazing speeches and a fab after party helped us raise awareness of why violence against women and girls persists to be a problem in our city and internationally. Speakers talked about rape, intimate partner violence, the impact of the cuts on VAWG, FGM and violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the revelation in the Bristol Fawcett report that there are 130 rapes in Bristol every month (20 reported on average pcm) clearly showed why we are still fighting this fight.

December 2011:
Exhaustion set in. So many issues to write about and campaign on this year meant that by December, I had no energy left to write.

So I published a book instead:

Meanwhile, the Leveson Inquiry is asked to look at sexism in the media, particularly how media reporting on rape, and the objectfication of women in the media, encourages violence against women and girls:

And, that's it! My very very long review of the year! Jan 2012 marks the 5th birthday of my blog. Thanks for all sticking with me. You all rock!

Happy New Year everyone!