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The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

 

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Here’s some common rape – prevention tips  “Don’t drink too much”, “Don’t wear anything too revealing”, “Text a friend  to let them know your plans”, “Hold your keys in between your fingers” and of course “Never, ever walk down a darkened alleyway”.  These are the things young women are being told by parents, teachers and society. I understand that the reason people are saying these things to women and girls is because they don’t want anything bad to happen to them. But do they actually prevent women from being sexually assaulted?

In the majority of cases I don’t believe they do.

All these rape-prevention tips are attempts to keep away the monstrous stranger. But as statistics collected by R.A.I.N.N show 3 out of 4 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

So, with this in mind what are we teaching girls about that? Are we telling them to watch out for the man who lives next door/the older cousin/the guy you’ve been dating for 6 months/his best friend? Are we teaching them that 1 in 4 relationships are abusive and that you need to know the signs of abuse before embarking on one? Are we teaching them how to spot the signs of an entitled person? How to spot status seekers?  How to rid their lives of anyone who treats them with disrespect? Are these things fundamental to every parenting book/school class room?

I wonder also why most campaigns focus on women, putting the onus on them not to get raped or be assaulted. Violence against women seems to be the one area where the focus is on potential victims to take responsibility for decreasing their chances of being attacked. I’ve never seen a poster giving tips to stop me being potentially run over by a motorist , or a poster  warning me on the dangers of being in the presence of someone smoking. So why in this one area of violence against women, are poster and ad campaigns directed at potential victims? Another issue with these campaigns  is that most of the campaigns I’m aware of seem to promote the idea that sexual assault occurs between strangers. I’m yet to see a campaign that aims to impart the knowledge that 75% of assaults happen between people who know each other. Why are most campaigns ignoring the statistics on this? And where are all the campaigns reaching out to the perpetrators of these crimes?

According  to the UN It is estimated that “35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime”. So, if you’re a woman or a girl you’ve got a 35 – 70% chance of being sexually or physically abused by a man. And these statistics are not taking into account other forms of abuse – verbal, emotional/psychological, financial abuse and cyber abuse (unsolicited dick pic anyone?)

I don’t know ONE WOMAN who has not been subjected to something on this list of awful. Not one. That’s 100% of the women I know who have been abused in some form by a man. I can hear the ‘not all men’ brigade jumping in at this point, and I want to say – Sure, not ALL men, just  enough that 35 – 70% of ALL women will experience abuse or assault.  Plus these statistics are based on reported incidents of crimes against women. And many women do not report.  If I had of reported every assault against me I would have spent most of my 20’s and 30’s in copshops and courtrooms.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have been harassed online or physically/sexually/verbally/emotionally or financially abused by men. At a rough guess I’d say maybe 200 men have combined to abuse, denigrate, assault or intimidate me over the course of my life. 200 DIFFERENT men that is.

I did a rough survey of women’s experiences on a few women-only groups that I’m part of on Facebook, to find out if my experience was unusual. Women shared having experienced varying degrees of abuse and assault with a couple of women saying they also felt it would be up to 200 men who had been abusive to them in their lifetimes. Other women said they had had one bad experience only. It was by no means a scientific study but it gave me a slightly broader view on what was happening outside of my circle.

I can’t help but wonder what the statistics would be if there was an official system in place for reporting crimes against women – one where women could share their experience regardless of if they want to pursue anything legally (if they are fortunate enough to live in a country where the crimes against them are considered to BE crimes that is). Or even something like the Everyday Sexism site, which collects and collates women’s experiences from around the globe.

Every time I read official statistics on rape and sexual assault I feel angry that none of my experiences are counted in those statistics. And it is too late for me to report them now, the first time I was raped was 20 years ago and in another country. Plus being a witness at a rape trial when I was 17 significantly deterred me from reporting any of the crimes committed against me.  I know I am not alone in that most women do not report this kind of crime, especially when they know the person who has committed it, which as we know is in 75% of cases.

The dark, lurking horror for me as a parent of two girls is that I know there is little chance they will escape this. I know in my woman’s heart what most likely waits for them.  It is frighteningly likely that at some point a man is going to try and hurt my daughters.

Given all I know about abuse and assault I feel that it is my job to prepare my daughter’s for the likely possibility of being assaulted or abused. Of course I never tell them that I think they might be assaulted, instead I teach them about consent and boundaries, so they know what is and isn’t ok. I teach them about respecting their own and other’s bodies. I want the lines to be SO clear for my beautiful girls. I want no doubt in their minds when someone crosses a line. I want them to KNOW it is wrong.

I teach them what I was never taught, to be fierce. To be so fierce that they feel comfortable yelling and shouting at anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or wrong. I want them to know how to scream and what to scream.

I practice scenarios with my teenage daughter, “A guy does this to you, what do you do?”  I say, “You need to scream as loud as you can for help.” I teach them that no matter how well they know the person that they should act like he is a stranger because people are more likely to help a woman who is being accosted by a stranger than get involved with a ‘domestic’.

I teach them emotional intelligence, so they can articulate what happens to them. I teach them resilience so, if they need it, they can heal. So if it happens my girls will be strong within, are less likely to fall to pieces, or to lose weight, friends and jobs because of what has happened to them.  Alongside of all of this I’m trying to teach my daughters that there are also lovely men out there, that they can trust, men who are allies, men who are respectful and that hopefully these will be the majority of the men they encounter. And while I’m doing this a little voice inside me is saying  “it just takes one.” One man to hurt my child.

And while I’m teaching my girls all the things no one ever taught me and I wish they did, I’m thinking “Fuck this awful world, that is making me teach my daughters to prepare for what feels like their inevitable assault. Fuck this.” And I’m getting angry about it, so fucking angry.

Because I know that this could all change in one generation. If we were all teaching our sons to be respectful to women (and each other) this would change. If there were actual consequences for being disrespectful towards women – this would change. If men were speaking out to other men, calling them on their sexist bullshit – this would change. If society actually gave a shit about women – this would change.

Because who wants to live in a world where parents have to prepare their daughters for abuse by men?

Not me.

 

Taryn Gleeson  red web

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educatorhttps://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Brock…

Dear Brock…

 

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Dear Brock,

I read your letter to Judge Persky and, as someone who works with survivors of male violence and a survivor myself, I found it rather distressing. I’m posting your letter below along with my response in purple:

“The night of January 17th changed my life and the lives of everyone involved forever. I can never go back to being the person I was before that day.”

As the person you were before that date was a man who was happy to rape women I think I can speak on behalf of society here and say that we are all glad that you can never go back to being that person.

“I am no longer a swimmer, a student, a resident of California, or the product of the work that I put in to accomplish the goals that I set out in the first nineteen years of my life.”

How is any of this relevant? Is it actually possible you are expecting people to feel sorry for you because the fact that you raped a woman and got caught means that your life has changed for the worse? 

“Not only have I altered my life, but I’ve also changed [redacted] and her family’s life. I am the sole proprietor of what happened on the night that these people’s lives were changed forever. I would give anything to change what happened that night. I can never forgive myself for imposing trauma and pain on [redacted]. It debilitates me to think that my actions have caused her emotional and physical stress that is completely unwarranted and unfair. The thought of this is in my head every second of every day since this event has occurred. These ideas never leave my mind. During the day, I shake uncontrollably from the amount I torment myself by thinking about what has happened.”

If you actually feel so remorseful why did you plead not guilty and drag her through the courts, making your victim recount every traumatic thing you did to her? I have a sneaking suspicion Brock,  that the thought of having to suffer the legal consequences of your actions has been the thing that has debilitated you. 

“I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted].”

Alcohol is not to blame for what you did. You are. Alcohol does not turn people into rapists. 

I can barely hold a conversation with someone without having my mind drift into thinking these thoughts. They torture me. I go to sleep every night having been crippled by these thoughts to the point of exhaustion. I wake up having dreamt of these horrific events that I have caused. I am completely consumed by my poor judgement and ill thought actions. There isn’t a second that has gone by where I haven’t regretted the course of events I took on January 17th/18th.”

How self obsessed.  No word of the pain and trauma the victim has suffered, it is all about you.

“My shell and core of who I am as a person is forever broken from this. I am a changed person.”

The women of the world can only hope that the shell and core of you is broken and forever changed. We hope being held accountable for your despicable actions will teach you not to rape in the future.

“At this point in my life, I never want to have a drop of alcohol again. I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed.”

Stop trying to blame your rapey behaviour on drink culture. Many, many men (and women) drink and don’t rape. You do not get to use drink as a free pass to rape people.

“I never want to experience being in a position where it will have a negative impact on my life or someone else’s ever again.”

Then stop raping.

“I’ve lost two jobs solely based on the reporting of my case.”

You lost two jobs because you raped an unconscious woman. Not because newspapers reported it.

“I wish I never was good at swimming or had the opportunity to attend Stanford, so maybe the newspapers wouldn’t want to write stories about me.”

Being good at swimming has zero to do with this. What university you go to has nothing to do with this. If you felt entitled to rape an unconscious woman as a swimmer and a Stanford attendee then chances are you would have raped someone else at some point, regardless of what uni you’re at or what skills you have. It was not all just an unfortunate  unavoidable fate that you found yourself with the perfect storm for raping a woman. You chose to rape her. Being written about in papers is a side effect of being a criminal. If you didn’t want to be written about, you shouldn’t have committed a crime.

“All I can do from these events moving forward is by proving to everyone who I really am as a person.”

Yes? Who are you really as a person Brock? I’m not hearing a lot of remorse in your actions or words.

“I know that if I were to be placed on probation, I would be able to be a benefit to society for the rest of my life.”

Really? How?

“I want to earn a college degree in any capacity that I am capable to do so. And in accomplishing this task, I can make the people around me and society better through the example I will set.”

But I thought you said being at college was part of the problem that lead you to rape a woman? What example are you planing on setting? How do you plan on making society better Brock?

“I’ve been a goal oriented person since my start as a swimmer. I want to take what I can from who I was before this situation happened and use it to the best of my abilities moving forward.”

How about realising that who you were before this was a person who could justify raping an unconscious woman in an alleyway beside a dumpster? How about deciding that maybe being the guy with those values doesn’t serve you or society anymore? How about ditching that guy and starting afresh? 

“I know I can show people who were like me the dangers of assuming what college life can be like without thinking about the consequences one would potentially have to make if one were to make the same decisions that I made. I want to show that people’s lives can be destroyed by drinking and making poor decisions while doing so.”

Again Brock, this is NOT about drink. Stop trying to blame alcohol for your rapist mentality.

“One needs to recognize the influence that peer pressure and the attitude of having to fit in can have on someone.”

Are you suggesting that your peers pressured you to rape a woman?

“One decision has the potential to change your entire life.”

 It wasn’t one decision, it was hundreds of decisions. You decided to take advantage of her, you decided to lift her shirt, you decided to lift her skirt, You decided to pull down her pants, you decided to insert things into her vagina. Each of the actions you took were decisions and at any point you could have stopped. Your attempts to make this look like one poor decision made whilst under the influence of alcohol belies the actual lack of responsibility you feel about your actions.

“I know I can impact and change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student.”

Again drink is NOT responsible for rape. Rapists are. Sexual promiscuity? Let’s look at that. Promiscuity implies someone who likes to have sex with lots of people. Rape is NOT about sex. Sex is consensual and enjoyable. Rape is a tool of violence and power and is completely unrelated to sex. Men who rape are not promiscuous – they are rapists. Putting the focus here on sex and alcohol is a red herring and is COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT that rape is not at all linked to promiscuous behaviour or enjoying sex. The idea that you are going to change people’s attitudes to drink and sleeping around is completely unrelated to what you did. If you suggested doing talks on respecting women’s bodily autonomy or offered to spend your life raising money for rape crisis centres then you’d be somewhere in the area of genuine understanding and remorse. 

“I want to demolish the assumption that drinking and partying are what make up a college lifestyle”

This is completely irrelevant.

“I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted].”

But Brock the problem is that you DID intend on intentionally hurting her. You forcibly raped her. While she was unconscious. Do you expect us to believe that you actually thought that you weren’t hurting her when you did this?

“My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back.”

STOP. BLAMING. DRINK.

“If I were to be placed on probation, I can positively say, without a single shred of doubt in my mind, that I would never have any problem with law enforcement. Before this happened, I never had any trouble with law enforcement and I plan on maintaining that. I’ve been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school.”

The only thing you have been shattered by Brock is your own ideas, actions and behaviour. Party culture has nothing to do with what you did so stop trying to abrogate responsibility onto random concepts.  You say you have been shattered by the ‘risk taking behaviour’ that you ‘briefly experienced’ in your four months at school. This wasn’t something that happened because you fell under a mad spell of risk taking during a 4 month period in your life Brock. This is something you were very likely fed from when you were a child. In order to do what you did you had to have a belief that it was ok to do that to a woman. That’s indicative of a pretty rotten core belief system Brock. It didn’t happen because you fell under the influence of some ‘risk takers’ during a few months of college. You are consistently trying to nullify your own responsibility for your actions. I find that kind of despicable Brock. 

“I’ve lost my chance to swim in the Olympics. I’ve lost my ability to obtain a Stanford degree. I’ve lost employment opportunity, my reputation and most of all, my life.”

So much about you, so little about your victim. What of all she has lost Brock? I am reminded of that statement ‘Me, me me!’ when you constantly talk about how tough things are for you now. What of the woman you raped Brock? What of her employment opportunity, reputation and life? 

“These things force me to never want to put myself in a position where I have to sacrifice everything. I would make it my life’s mission to show everyone that I can contribute and be a positive influence on society from these events that have transpired. I will never put myself through an event where it will give someone the ability to question whether I really can be a betterment to society.”

Frankly I find a lot of this to be nonsensical. Surely you have already put yourself in a position where you have to sacrifice everything? I am still very confused Brock by how you plan on being a positive influence on society – in fact I find myself feeling very distressed at how little you seem to understand what you did and why you did it. The thought of you speaking to masses of students about any subject other than your own ignorance on these matters alarms me greatly.

“I want no one, male or female, to have to experience the destructive consequences of making decisions while under the influence of alcohol. I want to be a voice of reason in a time where people’s attitudes and preconceived notions about partying and drinking have already been established. I want to let young people now, as I did not, that things can go from fun to ruined in just one night.”

I want no one, male or female to have to experience the destructive consequences of being sexually assaulted. That’s what I want Brock. Because I am one of those women who, like many women, has been sexually assaulted. I have been raped on two separate occasions (once while I was so drunk I was unconscious, much like your victim) and I have suffered the innumerable sexual aggressions some men think it is ok to do to women – slapping my bum, grabbing my breast and in one case sticking their tongue in my mouth. Sadly we live in a world where many men think it is ok to assault women. I’d love it Brock if you were as passionate about ending sexual violence towards women as you seem to be about the completely unrelated issues of binge drinking and promiscuity. 

Here’s an idea Brock, how about you read up on sexual predators, abusers and rapists and you find out why they do what they do? How about you start a parenting revolution to teach people to teach their sons about respecting women and what the hell consent means? How about you spend the rest of your life tirelessly working to end sexual assault? Or, at the very least how about you indicate that you fully understand what you did, that you are incredibly sorry and that you dearly want to repair the damage you have done to your victim? That would be a good start. 

 


Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com , performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educator https://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

 

#YesAllWomen: What difference does it make?

Finola Meredith has a piece in The Irish Times today bemoaning the #yesallwomen hashtag on twitter. When I saw the headline “The Twitter surge #YesAllWomen is a useless weapon against endemic misogyny” I laughed. What’s a better weapon? An Irish Times feature with a Breda O’Brien riposte the following day?

May the liberal force of Fintan O’Toole be strong in you, Irish Times Columnists.

Meredith’s issue with the hashtag is that she believes that tweeting that is about as useful as going outside in the street and shouting “sexist men are bastards” and it will make no difference. Tempted as I am to go and stand outside Coppers this Saturday night to disprove her point (Just imagine the real life “NOT ALL MEN!!” screams you’d hear afterwards), there is an important point hidden in here concerning major media outlets that dominate, such as The Irish Times, who have a role in shaping political discourse; as John Waters has said before, he does not write for an online audience, which he has referred to as the “lurking mob.” The reason people like John Waters don’t like social media, and other writers perpetually undermine it, is because twitter and social media platforms are a bit too democratic for their liking. They don’t get to dictate the content, or delete the straight-up unpalatable, or too-critical-of-government/themelves comments afterwards.

Dismissing and undermining those who take to twitter, positions those who are lucky enough to get an opinion piece in a broadsheet as being the only ones capable of articulating the voice of those who are oppressed. Opening up the prospect of an individual having the ability to coherently narrate their own oppression would compromise the legitimacy of the mainstream media approved writer’s position as The Harbinger of Official Truth, which opens up questions about the mainstream media’s role in the replication of oppressions.

Meredith states that “…it’s true that there’s barely a woman alive who couldn’t come up with an example of sexist behaviour she has encountered…we could all add something to this list…” but then later goes on to say that there is an issue with the hashtag’s “authenticity” asking “how do we know they are telling the truth?”

Right. So we can really all add something to the #yesallwomen list, but writers in turn will take to the national press to question whether in fact, we are actually just making it all up in the first place.

For the benefit of the (paper of) record – we are not.

This action is exactly the type of “ancient urge to shut women up” or “to silence them completely” that Meredith bemoans in her opinion piece  – which will have a readership of thousands. If a woman cannot publicly tweet her experience of being groped without her truthfulness being questioned, then what makes people think she could report if she was raped or beaten.

It’s a silencing wolf dressed in feminist’s clothing.

Meredith believes that unless these campaigns are sustained and developed, they are useless. For a start, #YesAllWomen started last week. Give us a chance. It had 250,000 tweets in the first 24 hours – that’s far more people than will ever read a single Irish Times column. Women who may never have considered the connection between the microagressions we suffer, misogyny, and patriarchal society read and participated in those tweets.

They are seeing the connections between the unwanted hand on your arse in a nightclub that other men condone, and the man who murders a woman because she says she’s pregnant, dumps her body in a barrel and flies to New York to try and get busy with his ex-girlfriend. And between the man who calls a woman a slut for rejecting him on OK Cupid, and the man who decides to shoot women because they rejected him in a forum outside of the internet. There is a broad spectrum of violence against women, and if others make those connections, while happening to “blow off steam” at the same time, that is a very useful thing in terms of naming the problem of misogyny in order to address it. Online misogyny is the same as offline misogyny, it’s just the medium we combat it in is different. The internet, despite what the Irish Times would like us to believe, is still real life.

And to be fair to feminists and activists and ordinary women who have participated in the #yesallwomen dialogue, there’s more chance of the world remaining “blithely indifferent” after an Irish Times piece that undermines women and questions the veracity of their experiences than after a hashtag conversation starter that has had over a million tweets since Friday night.

 

We need to talk about Tubridy.

Listening to Ryan Tubridy is annoying in the same way that stepping on a bit of lego is annoying. It happens, it’s irritating and sore for a little while, then you forget about it and go about the rest of your day. But if you got up and stepped on a piece of lego at 9am every weekday morning it would, no doubt, begin to have an impact. It would eventually start to leave a bruise, kind of how his insidious daily sexism has an impact on the people listening to it. Repeated everyday, it eventually leaves a mark.

I’m sure underneath it all Ryan Tubridy is a nice person but his brand of entertainment is about as amusing as a dose of thrush. Then again, his show is not aimed at me. It’s aimed at people who think that a Carry On Celtic Tiger smarmy sense of humour is funny. What is problematic is that other, quite reasonable, people listen to it too. He has a massive platform to promote his views which range from slut-shaming women; to thinking that women should find being harassed in the street a compliment; comparing public breastfeeding to urinating in the street; and he once gave a platform to a man convicted of domestic violence so that he could demonstrate his super-machoness by telling said abuser he would break his legs if he ever did that to any of his women. No you wouldn’t Ryan. When people know that women are being beaten by their husbands, they don’t intervene. They save the big-man talk for the pub, or their radio show. Performing that brand of masculinity generally doesn’t happen if men have to follow through. Were his comments on breastfeeding and street harassment fair to women? No. Was his interview with an abuser entertaining? Edgy? Informative? A learning experience? No. It was just shit.

Today Ryan Tubridy on his 2FM show started advertising for entrants to a pageant. It’s not the usual pageant based on tiaras, glitter, fake eyelashes, tits, arse and stillettos; this one is based on ‘personality.’ Except this is only half true because according to the 2FM blurb, the contestants of Miss Personality go to the Miss Ireland final where they will wear swimwear during a ‘closed door judging’ session. It’s also unclear why it’s only the chosen few who get to objectify entrants and not the public at large. ‘Closed door judging’ sounds like something that would have cropped up during the Operation Yewtree investigations. Anyway, during this, the contestants are allowed wear kaftans or sarongs if they wish, “if someone wants to cover up, they absolutely can.” Presumably the subtext of this is that if you’re over a size 8 you can still apply. Unfortunately I still can’t enter as the flux capacitor in my time machine to bring me back to 1965 is broken. In other parts of the contest, Miss Personality must wear evening wear. Because we all know that the best way of showing off your personality is in a flattering evening dress. I always find wearing something backless and with a boat neckline shows off my sparkling wit and charm best.

Joking aside, 2FM has a listenership of hundreds of thousands, and casual sexism and reducing women to the sum of their kaftans or bikinis, there to be judged by Ryan Tubridy and his Miss Ireland pals, isn’t just harmless fun. The women who have complained about this aren’t whinging killjoys. This competition isn’t a coup for feminism because women are supposedly judged on their personalities. Women are being brought in to a room to be judged. Even if the swimsuits and evening wear weren’t a part of it, women are still being judged by standards set by men. Not only do we now have to achieve a particular patriarchal body standard, we have to ensure that we have a sunny disposition too. It’s lazy, tired old sexism that should die in the entertainment dustbin of history along with Love Thy Neighbour and the last season of Battlestar Galactica.

This is no condemnation of the women who might want to enter Miss Personality, or Miss Ireland or the Rose of Tralee or the Lovely Girls competition or whatever. Women are taught from childhood that beauty and what you look like are core essentials of womanhood and femininity, and we are here to be judged, so why wouldn’t a woman want to compete in that arena? This is no different because it has the word ‘personality’ in the title; the second you dictate what a woman should wear in this competition, it’s the same as every other pageant; ultimately it’s about how physically appealing she is, it’s just this time, you need to be a bit of a laugh as well as having nice tits. Oh and you can’t be married or have a child to enter, because presumably childbirth and a non-intact hymen have too much of a negative impact on your ‘personality.’ Or maybe it would just make a woman appear too human.

Ryan Tubridy might come across as harmless, like an embarrassing uncle telling “get back in the kitchen” jokes at a wedding that everyone is too polite to tackle. But this pageant and those jokes are another microaggression of sexism that women have to face. Men aren’t being judged here. We are told by Ryan and people like him to laugh it off. It was a joke. It is meant to be funny and if we complain, we just don’t get it.

But there are too many its that we are expected to laugh off by the likes of Ryan Tubridy, with his massive platform. Of course, they are not intended to hurt women, and that’s why it’s socially awkward to tackle the embarrassing uncle – no one wants to make a scene or be the buzzkill. And Tubridy’s interview with a person who inflicted domestic violence was surely not meant to hurt women – but it did. It hurt the women who have been on the receiving end of domestic abuse who have never been given a platform to tell their story. The it of comparing women breastfeeding to urinating shames women and hurts them. The it of Miss Personality validates the gendered basis of the ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes. The totality of the its demean women despite how well intentioned they might have been. Everyday the jokes, the casual sexism and the judging of women continues, women’s inequality is continued. So Ryan, if you happen to be reading this, it’s irritating and I would like for it to stop.

Seriously, read this post. It’s spot-on in every single way.

Hunter Not The Hunted

So: recently, a young woman, Lucy-Anne Holmes, started a petition on Change.org aimed at getting The Sun to stop featuring topless Page 3 girls*. The Internet seems to have done its work well, because it’s been all over Twitter for days, with endorsement from such stalwarts as Caitlin Moran** & Graham Linehan, and is now claiming over 27,000 signatures. Many of the proponents of #nomorepage3 have made reference to feminism and the general well-being of women as justifications for the quasi-campaign. Even more baffling was when I saw sex educators, sex radicals and other generally sex-positive (by which I include sex-critical) folks endorsing it.

Therefore, I think there is an even greater need for countervailing opinions from the perspectives of feminists. Which, in this case, is me. Nobody ever said life was fair. But there are 2 things I’m not going to touch on: whether or not P3…

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Swedish authorities mislead Irish media about sex trade law

In ‘Sex in the New Europe’, anthropologist Don Kulick notes Sweden’s vision of itself as the role model for all of Europe when it comes to social policies. He writes (internal citations omitted):

By identifying particular issues as morally clear-cut ones, and by ‘taking a stand’ on those issues, Sweden can portray itself as a kind of moral beacon that others will want to follow…That Sweden could use its position in the EU to influence the policies of less enlightened member countries was a frequently marshaled argument during the referendum campaign for why Sweden should join the EU. Indeed, while the political right maintained that Swedes should vote to join the EU because membership would ‘Europeanize Sweden’ after too many years of Social Democratic rule, the Social Democratic counterappeal was the messianic vision to ‘Swedenize Europe’. Although sober voices warned that ‘[w]e should not fool ourselves into thinking that we will be so strong in the EU as to change 300 million other people’, the hope that other member states will follow Sweden’s lead on issues it holds important continues to circulate in the country: ‘Sweden has to be a role model’ (föregångsland ) as one article put it.

While I agree with some of the policies Sweden has tried to export, and disagree with others, I have no problem on principle with the attempt to influence other states. If you really think you’re doing the right thing, of course you should encourage others to follow your lead. But any marketing venture ought to abide by certain codes of conduct, a primary one being truth in advertising. And it’s pretty clear, from reading some Swedish materials that are not part of the propaganda effort for their ban on buying sex, that “truth” is a disposable commodity in this campaign.

This has been brought home again by interviews given in Ireland this week by visiting Swedish police authorities. Jonas Trolle, head of the crime surveillance unit in the Stockholm Police Department, was quoted in the Irish Times as stating that

If we talk of specific figures, the number of girls in street prostitution on a night in Stockholm would be five to 10. If we talk about indoor prostitution – found on the internet, about 80 to 100.

Trolle’s assertion that the police know approximately how many “girls” (ugh!) are involved in indoor prostitution – which he quite mistakenly assumes is only found on the internet – runs entirely counter to what the Swedish government told UNAIDS in its 2010 submission:

Estimates of the number of people involved in commercial sex in Sweden vary widely and are very hard to estimate since it is mostly hidden and initiated primarily through the Internet or telephone.

The Times also reports Trolle as making the extraordinary claim that “Trafficking of women and girls into Sweden has been almost eliminated” (note that this is not a direct quote). Yet in September of last year, a Swedish police report stated:

it is difficult to estimate how many people may have been trafficked into Sweden in 2009. The number of trafficking victims found in Sweden depends largely on the resources that the police put in to detect this type of crime. These activities vary from one police authority to another and from one year to another. Nor is it possible to identify, or even to locate, all the girls and women mentioned in tapped telephone calls or observed during police investigations.

Referring to Stockholm alone, the same report says:

The information received during 2009 relates mainly to girls and women from Estonia, Russia, Nigeria, Albania, Hungary, Thailand and Romania…The foreign women who are for sale on the Internet in Sweden are mainly available for sale in apartments and at hotels in Stockholm. By preference, the women are sent to Sweden by ferry from the Baltic States and Finland, but buses are also used as a means of transport. Some women are sent to Sweden by air….As regards the transportation of Nigerian women, they are commonly first exploited in prostitution in Italy or Spain and are then transported further by air to countries such as Sweden. An increased proportion of exploited foreign women have been noted, principally from Albania, Hungary, Romania and Thailand. Occasionally, women from Africa are also being discovered.

Trolle goes on to tell the Times (and this is a direct quote), “Today it is impossible to run a brothel in Sweden”. This is a statement with a built-in escape clause, since the meaning of “brothel” itself can vary widely – for example, in Canada any place regularly used for commercial sex is an illegal “bawdy house”, while under English common law at least two sex workers must use the premises. (Swedish law, of course, doesn’t need to define it, since commercial sex is illegal wherever it occurs.) But the report refers to women

exploited for sexual purposes by people paying for sex in places such as apartments, hotel rooms or Thai massage parlours.

Now whatever about the apartments and hotel rooms, would any abolitionist stand over a claim that a massage parlour being used for paid sex is not a brothel?

Trolle’s colleague Patric Cederlof, Sweden’s National Coordinator against Prostitution and Human Trafficking, repeated to RTÉ News at One the denial that sex work had simply gone underground, again completely contradicting what the Swedish government admitted to UNAIDS last year. His defence of this position was that “if the customers could find these persons, we could find them”. By that logic there must be no illegal drugs trade, no child pornography, no film piracy… after all, given the obscene amounts of money being spent to combat these industries, obviously the police must be capable of keeping up with the consumers, right?

All governments, of course, have a tendency to spin the facts to make their initiatives look successful. But Sweden has more riding on this one than most. As Kulick writes in another fascinating piece, ‘Four Hundred Thousand Swedish Perverts’, the sex-purchase ban is the ‘jewel in the crown of Swedish sex law’, the culmination of that country’s attempt to establish an ‘official sexuality’ from which all deviance is pathologised; this perfect Swedish sexuality can then join the list of the country’s shining examples for the rest of the world to emulate. In a sense, the curious thing isn’t that their officials are misleading other countries about what the law has actually achieved – it’s that they ever admit the truth at all. But clearly they aren’t expecting things like the annual police reports and UNAIDS submissions to be picked up in other jurisdictions – and with the deplorable willingness of foreign media to simply report their propaganda without examining it, it seems their calculations are correct.

Dodgy Stat Diary, Day 1

The saying goes that two-thirds of all statistics are made up on the spot and three-quarters of people believe them anyway. This is supposed to be a joke, but in sex work research it often feels more like an understatement. Figures are routinely presented as fact when there is little or no evidential basis for them; estimates of the number of persons involved in one aspect of the sex industry are reported as if they referred to the industry generally (and as if they weren’t only estimates to begin with); and since journalists hardly ever bother verifying the data they repeat, one person’s wild-ass guess about the number of, say, migrant women in Italian brothels becomes an Irish Examiner editorial about how we have to start criminalising sex purchasers so we don’t end up like Naples, to where 80,000 women are trafficked each year. OK, I’m exaggerating, but that actually is the process by which wholly inaccurate sex work “statistics” are spread.[*]

As part of my lonely crusade against the abolitionist misuse of numbers, I’m going to do a regular feature on this blog in which some of the claims they make are traced back to source. I’m not a statistician, and I’m not going to tear apart every figure that actually derives from some sort of scientific study to see if it can withstand a rigorous methodological analysis. Brooke Magnanti is more of an expert on that sort of thing. But most of the time I won’t need to, since the stats alone are usually enough to discredit the person quoting it, once you see where they actually came from.

For today’s instalment, I’ll be looking at the claim made by the Dignity Project that “in Barcelona – which has the same population as Stockholm [1.5 million] – there are 20,000 people engaged in street prostitution”.

Now, you really only need to think about that for a minute to realise it’s totally bonkers. If there were 20,000 Barcelonans in street prostitution it would mean that more than one in every hundred Barcelonans was a street sex worker – a suggestion that defies credibility. A lot of things about the sex industry are counterintuitive, though, so it’s always a good idea not to dismiss things purely on the basis of common sense.

Fortunately, it’s dismissed easily enough after a simple Google search. While I couldn’t find any evidence of actual research which might underlie this statistic, I did find statements by two officials citing the 20,000 figure: a member of the regional government and a police ‘specialist in organised crime’. So are the Dignity Project correct? Hardly. First of all, the officials’ own source for that figure isn’t cited. Maybe some kind of scientific study was done, maybe one or the other of them just pulled it out of their head. The articles don’t say, so we don’t know. And that means we shouldn’t assume.

Secondly, neither official says that there are 20,000 people involved in street sex work in Barcelona. According to both articles, the figure relates to the number of people involved in “prostitution” – all forms, not just street – and in Catalunya, not Barcelona. As a whole, Catalunya has a population around five times that of Barcelona, and it includes a number of tourist destinations (such as the Costa Brava) where you’d expect a thriving sex trade. So it’s really not clear at all how many street sex workers there are in Barcelona, but there is no, absolutely no, basis for the Dignity Project assertion that there are 20,000 of them.

The abolitionist response would probably that it doesn’t really matter, because the reason that statistic was (mis-)cited was to highlight the difference between Barcelona’s numbers and Stockholm’s, and if there are 20,000 sex workers in all of Catalunya the likelihood is that a big chunk of those are in Barcelona (true enough) and whatever amount that “big chunk” is, it’s still more than there are in Stockholm. Of course, that assumes that the figure they’ve cited for Stockholm is accurate – a question I’ll probably address on another day – and that the Catalunyan estimation is correct which, remember, still hasn’t been verified.

But the main point of this post is to show the utter carelessness with which some of those campaigning on this issue (or reporting it on their behalf) approach little matters like facts. And you can bet if they aren’t verifying the statistics they cite, they aren’t verifying lots of other things, either. Bear that in mind the next time you hear their claims about the consequences of banning, or not banning, various elements of commercial sex.


[*] To emphasise the point, I actually feel the need to insert a disclaimer here that 80,000 women are not in fact trafficked into Naples every year.