Why the UN panel is so very wrong about Assange

If anyone hasn’t already heard about the UN findings on Assange’s “detention” in the Ecuadorian embassy, here’s the detail by Marina Hyde

There are a lot of people arbitrarily detained in the world, and it’s great that the UN will take up and publicise these cases, putting public pressure on the governments concerned. However, the very fact they reviewed this case at all raises huge questions about what the heck they were trying to achieve.

This is a case which is so not arbitrary, it has been through 8 different legal proceedings, which at every one Assange was represented by a legal team of his own choosing.

This is not even a case of detention, but of someone hiding. Assange can leave at any time he chooses. Of course, if he chooses to leave, he will face the repercussions of breaking his bail conditions in the UK, and needing to be questioned about some serious allegations in Sweden. He is hiding from both of these things, not being detained by anyone.

By taking this case, the UN is completely undermining it’s own ability to talk about arbitrary detention. Because either they are talking rubbish, or the EU is talking rubbish by issuing and enforcing arrest warrants. So any future cases immediately have to ignore pressure from either the UN or the EU. Great move for human rights around the world, very clever.

By giving Assange an advance copy of their findings, allowing him to grand-stand and make ridiculous “poor me” statements, the UN has completely undermined it’s reputation for independence and neutrality.

The UN has also put it’s own arbitrary statute of limitations on rape and violence against women. Women’s rights around the world are a vital part of the UN’s work – whether that’s addressing FGM, rape as a weapon of war, representation of women during peace talks, the UN’s own “he for she” campaign… I could go on.  Just today, the UN is trying to draw attention to the massive problem of FGM around the world but this isn’t being spoken about – instead, Julian Assange is headline news, again.  This decision by the UN has basically said that it will uphold inconvenience to men over and above the right of women to have allegations of assault properly investigated following due process. Women can no longer trust the UN to be independent and stand up for their rights.

So this decision is not only ridiculous, it is hugely dangerous for women across the world. The UN urgently need to address this, to maintain it’s own reputation for defending human rights – for the sake of those in arbitrary detention, and for the sake of all women around the world.


Where courts won’t step, media happily leaps

Today, the tragic case of a murdered family has been in the news as the trial opens.

Rzeszowski is accused of stabbing his wife, their two children, his wife’s friend and her daughter, and his father-in-law. He tried to enter a plea of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, which was refuted by the prosecution, and rejected by the court.

And yet, the media seem quite happy to blame his wife and imply that this wasn’t really his fault. Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t include either “driven to”, “couldn’t cope with” or “as a result of”?  Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t mention that his wife had told him she’d had an affair?  Or a report that doesn’t state the actions were as a result of “domestic problems”?

People wonder why so few are willing to report or press charges in cases of domestic violence.  Well here’s a clue.  Even in this extreme case of a mass-murder, there are strong hints from the media that this was her fault.  This mess could all have been avoided if she’d been a better wife.

Even when the courts are pursuing a murder charge and rejecting the plea of diminished responsibility, the media are there to argue “yeah but…”.  This reporting is something I’ve mentioned before, and really isn’t a surprise.  But it needs to be stated again.  Victim blaming isn’t acceptable.  Whether Rzeszowski was in control or not, responsible or not is to be determined by the court.  But whoever was responsible – it wasn’t the victims.


An enzyme that causes rape

I should have learnt my lesson about reading glossy women’s mags, but every so often I give one a try, and then end up really angry about something stupid.  But this month, Easy Living magazine really managed to exceed even my worst imaginings. In an article about the dangers of alcohol, they include a brilliant paragraph;

“Women produce far fewer of the key enzymes which break down alcohol, thus protecting vital organs, cells and body tissue.  This also leaves them with a heightened vulnerability to assault, rape, unwanted pregnancy, STDs and clinical depression through drink.”

I read that a second time, and yes, this magazine is actually claiming to have discovered an ENZYME that makes us vulnerable to sexual assault and rape.

It seems we need to spell it out even to women’s publications, that surely should be supporting women?  There’s not an enzyme that causes rape.  Rape isn’t a bad decision that women make when they’ve had too much to drink.  Alcohol doesn’t cause rape.  RAPISTS CAUSE RAPE.  Rapists chose to attack women when they spot a vulnerability.  Some rapists may chose a victim who has been drinking.  Or a woman who’s walking alone, or a woman who lives alone.  Whatever the reason why a rapist chose his victim, the rape was caused by his decision to assault, not his victim’s.

One of the things that makes me most angry is the lack of justification.  It’s just dropped in that rape is women’s fault, and then the article moves on.  There was no discussion of whether alcohol can make PEOPLE take risks they wouldn’t otherwise take, or make themselves less aware of their surroundings.  There’s no mention that men out drinking can become victims of violence.  It’s just a casual “oh yes, you might get yourself raped if you drink” and then moving on to the next bad decision you might make if you drink.

We’ve all done or said stupid things after a few drinks that we wouldn’t have done if we’d not been drinking.  But being raped is not one of these things.   If even women’s magazine’s are repeating this dangerous victim blaming – that women need to moderate their behaviour in order to prevent rape – the Slut Walks earlier this year really did achieve nothing.  This victim blaming needs to stop.


Red or black and blue?

This post is more of a ponder than a rant, as I’m feeling uncomfortable rather than angry.

Violence against women has garnered more than a couple of headlines this week thanks to Simon Cowell’s new game show Red or Black.  It turns out that the very first winner has spent time in prison after being convicted of violent offences.  The producers of the show knew this, but thought the attack was on a man.   When it turned out the attack was on a woman, the producers announced they needed to ‘review their screening procedures’.  So why is beating a woman so much worse than beating a man?

I am in absolutely not trying to belittle the particular awfulness of domestic violence.  Sustained violence over many years, accompanied by emotional and often sexual abuse is appalling.  But the media coverage hasn’t focused on this, but simply on the fact he hit a woman rather than a man.  And I really don’t think that this type of coverage is doing any favours for equality.  Surely the idea that hitting a woman is somehow worse than hitting a man is completely tied up with the idea that women are weaker than men, that women need a man to protect them in this world?

The coverage has left me feeling rather patronised, rather than pleased that domestic violence is being discussed in the media.  Simon Cowell’s macho-posturing that “if I was him, I know what I would do, I would give away part of the money to the person he had the altercation with and a charity. ” has just gone on to leave me feeling more patronised than ever.  Like somehow for a woman, a big pay-off makes violence better.

I am not sure whether I’m angry at the producers for making these statements, or at the way the media has covered it.  But something about the whole incident has left a very sour taste in my mouth.

I’d really welcome your comments on this post – am I missing something?  Am I right that the idea of hitting a woman as a particular taboo is particularly patronising?  Or should I be celebrating that domestic violence is in the headlines rather than hidden away?


Reminder why contraception and abortion are feminist issues

This weekend, twitter offered once again a glimpse into the nasty underbelly of misogyny with #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend trending all day Sunday.  Most of the tweets keeping it trending were people saying how awful it was, with another big chunk saying that feminists should get a sense a humour. But the remainder were a pretty shocking indictment of attitudes towards women. And the bit I found most shocking were the % of tweets citing pregnancy as a reason to beat your girlfriend.

Both preventing and dealing with pregnancy appears to be solely the responsibility of young women.  The number of retweets of ‘because she’s pregnant’ really staggered me.  I know that these tweets weren’t meant to be taken literally (and yes, I know I shouldn’t have even looked), but even so, this idea prevailed that pregnancy was a women’s problem.  It was something that your girlfriend did to you.

And this reminded me why contraception and abortion are feminist issues.   I’ve always argued that a woman’s right to control over her own body is a fundamental feminist principle, and the what about the men argument has always made me grind my teeth.  But actually here was evidence on a massive scale that these are women’s issues.  Here were young men in scarily high numbers repeating the idea that pregnancy wasn’t just their girlfriend’s problem, it was a problem their girlfriends were to blame for.

I am sure it’s a heartbreaking situation to be a man that wants a baby whose partner doesn’t.  But lets count the number of times this happens.  Against the number of women who find themselves blamed for falling pregnant and at best abandoned, and at worst trapped in abusive relationships, or murdered for their sin of falling pregnant.  It might take two to make a baby, but society sees pregnancy and children as women’s problems.

There are many, many reasons why I’m prochoice.  But this nasty trending topic reminded me of another one.  It’s not feminists that are making abortion a woman’s issue, it’s society.  And those people trying to reduce access to contraception and abortion services are deliberately, thoughtlessly and carelessly trying to limit women’s lives.  I’m angry that so many people thought this was a fun hashtag to make jokes around.  But I’m furious that people don’t see the reasons why prochoice policies are absolutely vital.


Why I’ll be at Slutwalk London

Whichever way you look at it, I am a slut – I’m living with a guy I’m not married to, and cleaning my bathroom rarely gets to the top of the priority list. Yet there’s something about saying I’ll walk under the slut-banner that is really uncomfortable.

It’s a nasty word, that sums up some really nasty attitudes towards women. There’s been a lot of arguments that we shouldn’t be reclaiming the word. That rape crisis counsellors have had people making jokes about how “they knew rape victims were sluts really”. But we can’t just ignore this word. I personally, wouldn’t want to use it. But if by reclaiming the word, we can stop society using it, that is a really strong motivation.

I’m also horrified at how many comments and how much victim-blaming has been uncovered by the popularity of Slutwalks. Jessica Valenti has brought together many of the comments, and @SantaEvita has written a great post about why you can’t compare rape to car crashes – preventing rape is not as simple as just wearing your seat belt.

Firstly, exactly what is “dressing like a slut”? Short skirt and tight top? Except lots of men like a bit of mystery. Or formal attire, or maybe knee-high boots. And there’s that famous case of a judge throwing a rape case out as the rapist couldn’t possibly remove tightly fitting jeans without the victim’s assistance. So basically, we need to wear long baggy clothes. Kind of like a burka. Except, rape happens in arabic countries where women are wearing burkas, and rape is still the victim’s fault and she is punished for adultery. How exactly should we dress to prevent rape?

And then, there’s the idea that otherwise good men will be driven so crazy by this glimpse of flesh that they just have to rape. I know plenty of men who have managed not to rape women, whatever they’re wearing.  Ben Pobjie has written a wonderfully useful 7 point guide showing men how not to be a rapist.  Rape isn’t because men just can’t help themselves.  Rape victims shouldn’t be told to feel flattered that someone wanted to rape them, or guilty that they led him on.  Rape is a violent crime.  Last year, a young man was walking home, was attacked and had a paving slab dropped on his head.  The press weren’t asking what he was wearing, or how come he was walking on his own anyway.  No, they were talking about the horrific nature of the unprovoked violent assault.   There is no other crime where people are so preoccupied with checking the victim wasn’t at fault.  If you report a mugging, you’re not told “well, it’ll be your word against the mugger.  Are you sure you didn’t just give him your handbag?”.  If you tell your neighbours you were burgled, they won’t be thinking “well, I did see that you left your window open last week”.

The Home Office stats on rapes actually show that the two factors that make you most vulnerable to intimate assaults are being disabled or long term sick, or having recently ended a relationship.  Women can’t protect themselves from rape by behaving modestly.  Rape is not the fault of the victim.

And this is why Slutwalk is so important.  By using the word slut, and all it’s connotations, society is keeping the discourse of rape focused on blaming victims.  And by suggesting that rape victims aren’t really victims, it makes it easy to justify removing funding from and closing rape crisis centres.  When actually, the criminal justice system is failing victims on a consistent basis.  The policeman who made the comment that started the Slutwalk movement is based in Toronto.  But I’m sure (from all the comments I’ve seen) that some UK policemen would agree with him.  That judges still allow a woman’s sexual history to be brought up as “context” in trials.  That victim’s compensation is reduced if a woman has been drinking.

The way that society deals with rape and views victims with suspicion is wrong.  Which is why I’ll be joining the London Slutwalk.


Real life rules for surviving a slasher flick

Ok, starting with a confession.  I live in Swindon.  Phew, good to get that off my chest.  Anyway, the point of this confession is that sadly, a man from Swindon has recently been charged with murdering two local women.  And the media responses to the two different victims have left me absolutely fuming.

There’s a line in one of the Scream films, where Randy talks about the rules you should obey if you want to survive a horror film.  And one of them is never have sex.  You must stay a virgin, or you’ll die.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek joke in the movie, but the British press just don’t seem to see the funny side.  They actually seem to think that if you’re a good girl, you won’t get murdered.  Or at least if you do, there’ll be a public outpouring of grief so huge it will all be worth it.

The first young woman to be identified was popular and beautiful.  Her teachers had nothing but good things to say about her, and many people joined in the hunt to try and find her.  The press went crazy over “our girl”, which then led to Facebook-hysteria amongst everyone vaguely connected to Swindon, that they have walked through that part of town some time.   Flowers were left up and down the street.

It’s good that the murder of a young woman is taken so seriously.  I’m pleased that this murder generated headlines as violence against women is so often ignored.   And I don’t mean to belittle the sadness of a young woman being murdered, and I am very sorry for her family and all those that knew her.

But then the second young woman was identified.  And it barely generated a mention.  She’d done drugs you see.  And she’d argued with her family about her choice of boyfriend.  In the eyes of the press, occasionally bad things happen to good people.  But most of the time good people are safe.  If your behaviour doesn’t measure up to the standards…  well, you must pay the consequences.

Occasionally there’s a woman they aren’t quite sure how to categorise.  Like Joanna Yates, murdered in Bristol in 2010.  She might have invited someone into her apartment even though her boyfriend wasn’t home.  So best condemn her on the off-chance, then.

Serial killers don’t, according to the press, pick vulnerable women from isolated areas.  No, they target sex workers.  Jack the Ripper also targeted sex workers.  But the entire community felt threatened, because people realised that it could be them.  That sex workers were women – desperate and unfortunate perhaps, but still women.  Just like every other woman in the area, any of them could be next.

But the media today are constantly reinforcing the idea that if a woman is murdered, there’s probably more to it.  It’s rare that there’s a real “victim”.  There’s a reason why the rest of us can feel safe and judgemental.  When there’s not, it’s headline news.  But the rest of the time, obey the rules.

Just remember, don’t have sex, don’t do drink or drugs, and never say you’ll be right back.

When it’s not a joke, it takes victim-blaming to a whole new level.