Advance knowledge is power: The banality of trigger warnings

This is the second in a short series on engagement and trigger warnings.
Part 1: A trip to the dentist
Part 3: Exposing the true nature of exposure therapy
Part 4: A strange hill to die on

Content note: this post discusses mental illness and mentions potentially-triggering material including rape scenes, war, blood and violence.

I’m watching TV, and the announcer warns that in the upcoming show, there will be scenes of graphic violence of a sexual nature. I don’t go off on one, screeching about censorship or coddled millennials.

I’m at the cinema, and just before the film starts, a little card comes up saying that the film will include blood and violence. I don’t go off on one, screeching about censorship or coddled millennials.

Just before I click through to a website, a little message pops up saying there will be nudity. I don’t go off on one, screeching about censorship or coddled millennials.

I’m loading up a video game for the first time. It gives me an epilepsy warning. I don’t go off on one, screeching about censorship or coddled millennials.

I’m a kid, visiting my great-uncle who had nearly died during the Second World War. My mum frantically tells me not to make loud noises or sudden movements near him. I don’t go off on one, screeching about censorship or coddled millennials.

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It would be deeply unreasonable in any of the above scenarios for me–or anyone else–to start loudly grinding axes over something perfectly mundane, everyday. And yet, it’s considered a perfectly normal response if you put the name “trigger warning” in front of these trivial messages.

These messages have been there, though, for a very long time. Often, they’re ignored, but sometimes people appreciate them.

I cannot emphasise enough how this is all that a trigger warning is. Unfortunately, the meaning has been twisted for political ends, conflated with all sorts of other things, with a big old heap of straw men tossed on top.

A trigger warning, or content note is simply a note about content which may provoke a strong negative response in some people: just like when the TV announcer says there’s going to be a rape scene in EastEnders.

How did something so neutral become so politically-charged and maligned? I suspect a number of factors which combine and interact to produce a distaste for a common practice under a different name.

Disablism and mental health: Mental health concerns, compared to physical health concerns, are often dismissed. They’re dismissed because people cannot see them, so they assume some sort of fakery must be involved. It is often just about comprehensible that someone who cannot hear will need a sign language interpreter, for example. However, the notion that someone with PTSD might appreciate an advance warning about something which could potentially trigger a flashback so they can prepare themselves is harder to understand in a society wherein the disablism levelled at people with mental illness is so often rooted in the assumption of faking.

I introduced this blog series with a story about a physical procedure I had done on an observable part of my body because of how differently mental and physical health problems are treated.

This is not to say that disablism does not exist in the realms of physical disability: god knows, it does. And the presence of disablism in the “trigger warnings” debate stinks strongly.

Privilege projection: The thing about a lot of the people weighing in about trigger warnings is that they’ve seldom encountered much difficult in their lives. They’ve been kept, all tucked away, in comfortable lives. It might come as no surprise, then, that they have very little understanding of what it’s like to experience a strong negative reaction to a traumatic stimulus. At worst, perhaps they’ll feel uncomfortable.

And then they go and project that feeling of discomfort onto those who appreciate a heads-up about content. They assume because that’s the thing they feel, surely that’s what everyone else feels. And as this combines with disablism and the trivialisation of disability, we end up with a ridiculous “feeling uncomfortable” narrative, neatly eliding the true purpose of trigger warnings.

I also wonder whether the immediate assumption that people will disengage from material if they’re given a trigger warning is a form of projection. For example, some parents, upon seeing a content warning on a film, won’t let their kids watch it. Other parents will watch with their children, addressing and answering any questions their kids have. Do those who object to trigger warnings fall into the former category?

Anti-feminism: It will not have escaped anyone’s notice that perhaps the most vocal proponents of trigger warnings often come from a feminist background and are therefore not men. This is not a coincidence. Patriarchy likes for us to not be taken seriously. Distaste for feminist demands is as old as feminism itself. Ridicule of feminist demands is as old as feminism itself. Outright disgust at anything suggested by a feminist is as old as feminism itself. Same large floating turd, but this time the stench is eggy rather than cabbagey.

Rape culture: There are certain types of PTSD which are dismissed more readily than others. Many of the narratives against trigger warnings focus in particular on rape survivors, and these commentators would never say similar things about military veterans. This is likely due to rape culture, the way society is set up to enable rape. If rape itself isn’t real, then neither can be the resulting trauma.

The power struggle: The context to the trigger warning debate is that a bunch of historically-privileged folk are really keen to cling on to the luxuries they didn’t earn. They don’t like it when the boat is rocked. They don’t like it when marginalised people organise together, and make a perfectly reasonable demand. Requesting trigger warnings (and the much-derided-but-also-pretty-innocuous things they’re conflated with, such as safer spaces or no-platforms) feels like a threat.

This is particularly apparent in one of the key battlegrounds, higher education. Traditionally, education has been fairly didactic: the lecturer lectures, and the students listen. This is fortunately changing–although in some quarters there’s resistance: most notably from those who have held the power and like it.

The thing about trigger warnings is they put some control into the hands of the survivor. They get to choose how they engage. This scares the absolute shit out of those who’d prefer things to stay the same, and they fall back on their own defence mechanisms: the sneering intellectual mask.

Imposing particular readings: I read an article by a lecturer who tried to use trigger warnings, and one part stuck out in particular. The students were shown the film 9 1/2 Weeks, a film where the lecturer believed a sex scene to be consensual:

When conversation began in class, a white male student started talking about the scene as one of consent. Four hands shot up. One said, “no—it is clearly not consensual.” Other students concurred. They argued that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they can never consent to sex because they are being manipulated…

What these students were essentially doing was stripping every person in an abusive relationship of all their agency. They were telling every survivor that they were raped, even when the survivor may have wanted to have sex with their abuser. They were claiming god like knowledge of every sexual encounter. And they were only 20. If that. Their frontal lobes haven’t even fully developed.

The lecturer had a particular reading of the text, a debate happened, and the lecturer responds with utmost contempt at students’ readings of the texts because it conflicted with her own. Note, also, that in this anecdote the students had had a trigger warning and were engaging with the text. Somehow, nonetheless, the anecdote shows that trigger warnings are bad.

One of the key issues raised against trigger warnings is that they reduce the impact of, say, a rape scene in a book, which is supposed to be shocking. 

In other words, you should be having the emotional reaction (they think) the author wanted you to have.

That is an absurd demand to make. It’s impossible. Some people might have that emotional response. Some will merely be bored, some will find it mawkishly hilarious, and, of course, some people will experience a PTSD response.

Basically, if popping a trigger warning on a text spoils what you think is the surprise then you should probably just whack off to M. Night Shyamalan films because if that’ll fit your main criteria for engaging with the text perfectly.

Ignorance: I saved this till last, because I often feel like “ignorance” is a lazy opt-out answer. However, there are still a lot of people who do exist in ignorance. If you don’t say “trigger warning” but put across the principles of it, they’ll agree. However, they’ve only heard of trigger warnings as some sort of issue on which they are required to have a hot-take, and the media does like to conflate it with other things they’re scared of.

I suspect a lot of people who think they’re against trigger warnings aren’t really, it’s just they don’t know what these warnings actually are.

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Factors combine to create a hostile climate against what is essentially something perfectly neutral. And then out comes the pop psychology and everyone thinks they’re an expert in anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, here’s another place where misunderstandings are rife. Tomorrow, we’ll be delving into what evidence actually exists.

Part 3: Exposing the true nature of exposure therapy

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Bernard Hogan-Howe probably would have let Rolf Harris get away with it

Content warning: this post discusses child sexual abuse, sexual violence and police

It was reported today that Rolf Harris will be charged with seven counts of indecent assault, with one of the seven complainants being just 12 years old at the time the offence occurred. This follows his conviction in 2014 for twelve counts of indecent assault, with one of the survivors being just eight at the time it happened. Rolf Harris is a predator. A convicted paedophile. So, why is it that one of this country’s top police officers would have let him get away with it?

A few days ago, Bernard Hogan Howe, head of the Metropolitan Police, wrote an article outlining what he reckons should be done about sexual abuse investigations (warning: if you click this link it contains discussion of CSA and sexual violence and is absolutely viciously infuriating). Hogan-Howe advocates a two-stranded approach which will have a devastating effect on encouraging survivors–particularly survivors of historic sexual abuse–to come forward:

  1. Making it clear to survivors that they will not be automatically believed if they report to the police.
  2. Offering anonymity to those accused.

Both of these affect reporting sexual violence to the police. A lot of survivors don’t report because they’re scared of not being believed anyway. The man in charge of the capital’s police force making it explicit that the police might not believe you isn’t exactly going to alleviate these concerns.

Anonymity for the accused sounds nice and fair in theory, but it, too, has an impact on reporting, particularly for serial rapists and abusers. We see the pattern again and again: one or two survivors stick their head above the parapet and speak out about what happened to them, and it encourages more and more survivors to follow, knowing that they’re not alone. It happened with Savile (although, unfortunately, after he died, so he was never brought to justice). It happened with Bill Cosby. It happened with Greville Janner (although, again, he died before being brought to justice). And yes, it happened with Rolf Harris, which is presumably why further charges are being brought 18 months after he was convicted.

In his nasty article, Bernard Hogan-Howe describes what happened after Savile as “a dam burst[ing]”, as though it’s a bad thing that more survivors come forward. He acts as though a senior police officer telling historic abuse survivors, “Come forward, we will believe you,” is a bad thing. It isn’t and it wasn’t.

So why has Bernard Hogan-Howe laid out a roadmap for helping serial rapists and abusers like Rolf Harris get away with it? Again, Hogan-Howe is kind of clear about this in his article: it’s been more than a little inconvenient for some powerful men who have been accused, but there isn’t enough evidence to bring charges.

The right-wing media have been all over Hogan-Howe, baying for his blood. Not because Hogan-Howe is proposing measures that will help serial child abusers like Rolf Harris get away with it, but rather the opposite: a high-up army man and a Tory peer got accused and weren’t charged because of insufficient evidence. Lord Bramall’s case is getting ugly, with him calling for an investigation into his accuser, and today’s Sun front page headline outright calling the accuser “a serial liar“. Meanwhile, Lord Brittan was implicated in dossiers on the Westminster paedophile ring  being ignored, allowing child sexual abuse to go on.

I have no opinion as to whether Brittan or Bramall committed the crimes they were accused of or not. It’s worth noting at this juncture that a lot of historic abuse cases are dismissed because there’s not enough evidence. Even in recent cases of sexual violence, there’s often not much of the sort of evidence which will likely secure a conviction through the courts. With historic abuse, the case may be investigated over 40 years after the incident took place. In a way, it surprises me that there have been any convictions of historic sexual abuse at all, especially ones for abuse which happened decades ago. Again, I am not saying that Bramall or Brittan raped anyone. Rather, the point I would like to make here is that what helps these convictions take place is more victims coming forward. Indeed, one of the things which contributed to the lack of evidence against Bramall–and indeed the media frenzy over how unfair it was to investigate him–was it was based on only one complainant’s testimony.

So, the way things are set up, for historic abuse claims to stand a chance of seeing the inside of a courtroom, plenty of survivors need to come forward. It’s probable that if just one person had come forward to accuse Rolf Harris, he would have got away with it. It’s probable that if other survivors didn’t know an investigation was taking place, they wouldn’t have come forward. It’s probable that nobody would have come forward to accuse Rolf Harris if they’d felt they might not be believed.

Bernard Hogan-Howe would have let Rolf Harris get away with sexual abuse of children and adults alike if he’d decided to say what he said a couple of years ago. In pandering to right-wing media outcry over the poor powerful old white men, Hogan-Howe has achieved only one thing: making it easier for rapists and paedophiles to never be brought to justice.

The media are of course complicit in this, and I am sure they know exactly who they’re helping and who they’re hurting.

I’m sure it’s incredibly inconvenient for the police to be investigating powerful old white men, but this doesn’t mean they should try to discourage reports that they have to investigate. I don’t know, maybe if they stopped harassing BME people using stop and search powers, they’d free up some resources to investigate complaints.

The fact is, under Bernard Hogan-Howe’s ideas, Rolf Harris would have got off scot-free. Think about what when talking about how historic abuse investigations are handled, rather than Bramall and Brittan.

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“Bathroom bills” terrify me far more than trans women having a wee

Content warning: this post discusses transmisogyny, transphobia and sexual violence

A bill that would empower people to inspect your genitals on demand came one step closer to being law across the pond yesterday. Calls for such legislation are becoming increasingly popular, because of transmisogyny.

How bathroom bills work is like this:

  1. People must use bathrooms that fit with their genitals.
  2. The ladies’ bathroom is actually for people with vaginas, the gents’ for people with penises.
  3. However, nobody is proposing changing the names of the bathrooms to make this clearer because they’re cissexist pigs.
  4. Anyway, it’s illegal for people with penises to use the ladies’ and people with vaginas to use the gents’
  5. ??????
  6. SOMEHOW END RAPE AND KEEP WOMEN SAFE

Make no mistake. The entire rationale behind bathroom bills is rooted in transmisogyny. It’s a neat little way of excluding trans women from public life by denying them access to the toilet. To sweeten the deal, such bills make things just a little bit easier for creeps and rapists.

This is presumably why many of the most vocal supporters of bathroom bill are the kind of crusty misogynist old white dude conservatives who also like to curb our reproductive rights and blame us for getting raped. They’re salivating over increased and legal access to grope and peek at women.

Ultimately, this is what such bathroom bills do. There’s no way of knowing what genitals someone has unless you have a pat or a shufti. All venue owners, bouncers, security guards and so forth need to do to demand access to your genitals under a bathroom bill is to say they suspect you’ve got the “wrong” genitals, and then it’s simply a case of expose yourself, or hold. The latter option is often unfeasible, because bodily functions need to happen. Essentially, they have given men a legal excuse for sexual assault.

The other impact of bathroom bills is it means there will definitely be men in the ladies’ toilets, because trans men need to wee too, and some of them will have genitalia that requires them to use the toilet for vaginas. Trans men have pointed this out on social media. This has some truly awful implications: it would actually make it easier for cis male perverts and rapists to access ladies’ toilets. Rather than having to go to the trouble of disguising themselves as trans women, they could just swan on into the ladies’ and say they’re trans men.

Essentially, bathroom bills increase the risk of sexual violence surrounding using the toilet, which, you’ll recognise, is the complete opposite of what any reasonable person would consider a good idea.

And yet there are self-identified feminists advocating for measures that can only raise one’s odds of being a victim. Their transmisogynistic bigotry has blinkered them to anything else. They prop up the deeply misogynistic conservative men, adding a veneer of feminism to a measure which literally exposes more women to sexual violence. Their bigotry is their weak spot: they’re so obsessed with what genitals a trans woman might or might not have, that all thought and reason flies out of the window.

Anybody who opposes sexual violence should be vocally opposed to bathroom bills, not cheering them on.

As a cis woman, bathroom bills terrify me, as all it takes is someone deciding my hairy arms mean I should have the contents of my knickers checked. I’m not even the primary target of these bills, nor would I be most at risk from the violences inherent in such bills. Those most at risk are, of course, trans women: it’s yet another avenue for increasing the risk of victimhood to a group who are already far more at risk of becoming victims of sexual or violent crimes.

It’s disappointing and infuriating to see anyone advocating for legalisation of sexual assault, which is the crux of what bathroom bills entail. Objectively, it’s going to be to pee with these panty police abroad than with trans women using the loo.

 

Disclosing women’s details to the police won’t keep them safe

Content warning: this post discusses rape and police?

A man in York who a court didn’t find guilty of rape has a “sexual risk order” on him, requiring him to notify police 24 hours before he has sex with any women. He must provide police with their full names, addresses and dates of birth. Somehow, this is supposed to keep women safe.

Except it won’t. It can’t and it won’t.

At best, this will do fuck all. At worst, it exposes women to far more risk than they were at before.

Everything is the wrong way round. The court have clearly acknowledged that this man is a danger to women in imposing the order, and yet rather than take measures that would actually keep women safe, they’ve chosen to hand him the tools to rape with impunity. If this man chooses a victim, all he needs to do is log her details at the cop shop 24 hours in advance, and then what he does may well be taken as consent. This is perhaps a doomsday scenario, but it is not impossible: after all, it looks as though it’s acknowledged that this man is a danger to women.

So why are they telling him he has to gather a vast amount of personal data from women to pass along to the cops, if he’s such a danger to women? Without the order, he wouldn’t necessarily have access to that much information: on a one-night stand, even a last name might not be exchanged, let alone full address and date of birth. Why are they so sure that this man can be trusted with this information?

And furthermore, can the police really be trusted with such information about women who have done literally nothing wrong? What exactly are they going to do with such information? I can’t think of many women who would willingly consent to the police holding their personal data.

It’s like anti-VAW policy from a parallel universe where up is down, left is right, cats are dogs, and keeping women safe means endangering them further.

Keeping women safe is absolutely not about filing a request to fuck involving full personal details. It’s about awareness, knowledge. What women need is to know who this man is, to be able to make decisions. Under rape culture, this cannot happen, because it is about protecting and enabling rapists above all else. We cannot be told who the man is, only be on our guard if a man says, “not tonight, but I’ll get in touch tomorrow. Can I have your number, full address, full name… oh, and date of birth?” (if, of course, he doesn’t just nick your passport to get those details).

I shouldn’t be surprised that there are feminists backing this policy–you can get someone who self-identifies as a feminist to give any quote supporting anything awful that you like–but I am disappointed to see End Violence Against Women’s Sarah Green providing a supportive quote in the Indy. I hope she just didn’t know the full extent of it. I’d hate to think that the head of an organisation dedicated to ending violence against women is backing something which could abet violence against women.

Solutions involving the police don’t work, which has been shown time and time and time again. This case unequivocally shows just how godawful they can be.

Let’s stop using the term “revenge porn”. Please.

Content warning: this post discusses abusive behaviour, victim blaming and misogyny

Every time I see the phrase “revenge porn” it hits a kind of berserk button inside me. I am writing this post to save myself having to have the same bloody rant every time it pops up: automating my own fury as it were, because I doubt the phrase is going to go away any time soon.

Revenge porn is not, as the name would suggest, like Kill Bill but naked. It’s the name the media like to give to distributing sexual images or videos (usually of women) without the consent of the person featured in them, usually to humiliate them. I’m not sure who came up with the name–it may have been men attempting to trivialise the violence they are enacting, or it may have been those well-meaning but ultimately harmful anti-porn feminists who have decided to have a pop at pornography. Either way, it’s a gross name for it, and as feminists we must be deeply critical of it.

Revenge porn is neither revenge, nor porn.

“Revenge” is inherently victim-blaming. It suggests that there is something that ought to be avenged: something that the victim did to warrant such treatment. There isn’t. Intimate images and videos aren’t released to avenge, they’re released to intimidate, to control, to humiliate. It’s probable that the perpetrator thinks he’s enacting revenge for perceived slight on the part of the victim, but that’s not what’s really happening, and it is not all right to keep on using the language that abusers will likely prefer.

“Porn” is perhaps harder to define, but most definitions tend to include that it is produced for the purposes of sexual arousal to distinguish porn from other reasons people might be naked in representations. Again, “revenge porn” does not fit this purpose. In a lot of instances, perhaps, the images or video were created because the people involved found it erotic at the time, but the public distribution of them did not have titillation in mind. The purpose was to intimidate, to control, to humiliate.

The usage of “porn” here is much the same as in the equally ghastly phrase “child porn” to describe images or video of the sexual abuse of children (and we should stop using that phrase too).

Put together, what we have in the term “revenge porn” is something which trivialises the violence being enacted, while simultaneously rooting for the perpetrators.

As feminists, it’s important we question everything, but it’s not difficult to see why, in a culture which helps abusers at the expense of survivors, the phrase “revenge porn” grew so popular.

So what to use instead of “revenge porn”? Instead of the euphemisms, I suggest we call it what it is, and here are a few suggestions:

  • Abuse
  • Humiliation
  • Sexual shaming
  • Violence against women
  • Non-consensual distribution of sexual images or video

You’ll note at least two of those are shorter than “revenge porn”.

 

Rape survivors are innocent until proved guilty

Content warning: this post discusses rape and rape apologism

It’s been an interesting few weeks regarding accountability for rapist. People believed Stoya and other women when they said they had been raped by James Deen, and took action on Deen. Serial rapist Daniel Holtzclaw has been convicted for preying on vulnerable Black women, hoping that misogynoir would let him get away with it indefinitely. And even the rat-faced embassy-botherer Julian Assange is set to face questioning at last.

But with small gains comes a kickback, and of course those who would like to help rapists keep on raping have been out in force. They feel sad that rapists are having their careers ruined, and people are believing the words of survivors. They’re saying the usual horrible shit.

Today, I’d like to talk about one of the favourite tired lines of the rape apologist: “innocent until proved guilty”. Now, notwithstanding the fact that “innocent” is never a verdict that crops up in court, nor the fact that even the figures for men admitting to having raped someone vastly outstrip the conviction rate for rape, those who cling to this framework are making a right mess out of their own logic.

See, when people defend rapists, they like to rely on a very boring narrative: “women lie”. They like to pretend that the accuser is making it up to ruin a man’s life for funsies, because that’s apparently a nicer thing to think than that chap they like is a rapist. And when they do that, they are therefore accusing women who speak out about their rapes of perverting the course of justice, of perjury, of serious, serious offences.

Rape apologists are accusing those who speak out about their rapes of criminal activity.

Rape survivors are innocent until proved guilty.

If you’re one of those people who thinks you’re not a rape apologist and just cares about due process, &c., &c., then ask yourself why you’ll cry “innocent until proved guilty” while defending a man accused of rape, but never for the accuser, who you are implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) accusing of perverting the course of justice.

There are consequences to the accusations that rape apologists like to fling about. These accusations can ruin a woman’s life.

First and foremost, the accusations that rape apologists like to bandy about are a great tool for keeping survivors quiet (and therefore helping rapists get away with it). It holds a fear of not being believed… and a fear of severe consequences.

And these consequences can escalate into real-world tragedies, for example Eleanor de Freitas, who took her life when a man launched a private prosecution against her after police decided not to pursue the rape she reported.

The accusations that rape apologists make against survivors can literally kill.

When someone speaks out about their rape, whether in reporting it to the police, or publicly naming their rapist, or starting an accountability process, or any way they see fit to deal with it, they are innocent of lying until proved guilty.

Let’s reclaim this war cry from the rape apologists, and declare that survivors are innocent until proved guilty. Let’s throw it in their faces, and honk like sea lions at them, asking for evidence that this alleged perversion of the course of justice occured, urging them to be reasonable rather than levelling serious accusations. It cuts both ways, and their weapon can be wielded in our hands. Let’s bore them silly until that fucking hackneyed cliche stops cropping up in discussions of rape.

Survivors of rape are innocent until proved guilty. 

A tip for the guys: don’t be the guy who records consent

Content note: this post discusses rape

Today in “here’s a bloke who totally doesn’t understand how consent works” we have this chap, who was “falsely accused” of rape, and now makes recordings of consent before he has sex:

It has taken me a really long time to be intimate with another women and if and when that situation does arise I tend to ensure that I have recorded full consent before anything takes place.

I would ask questions like “What is your name? Are you comfortable in being here?” Just to make sure that I have proof that everything and anything that had happened, was fully consensual by both of us.

Yes. Seriously. That’s what he thinks is OK. And the BBC seem to have run his top tip completely uncritically. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a bad idea and not actually seeking consent, but lest any young men try to imitate this, here’s why it’s absolutely not a decent way of seeking consent:

  1. Consent isn’t this magical switch which, when switched on, means you consent to absolutely everything that happens afterwards. It’s a process. It can be withdrawn at any point. So just because someone says “yes” at first doesn’t mean it’s going to be a “yes” all night, to absolutely everything that happens thereafter. It’s important to keep on checking, over and over.
  2. A recording can be coerced. Think about how most hostages say they are being “treated well”. Do you believe they are truly being treated well?
  3. A recording can be tricked. Is it going to cover absolutely anything? Probably not. This is probably just a general gesture of “consent” rather than what you are actually consenting to.
  4. Basically, the whole thing sounds like a rapist’s get out of jail free card. It misses how consent works in favour of legally covering bases. Knowledge that

Women, if a man whips out his phone and insists on recording your consent, I strongly urge you to run the fuck away. Maybe he is just a decent chap who doesn’t get it. But he is behaving like a predator by doing this. And he is behaving like a predator for wondering how he can avoid prosecution rather than being sure the person he is having sex with is enjoying it.

As an aside, it’s also worth avoiding men who say they were falsely accused of rape like the plague. Statistically, it’s more likely that they did it and got away with it.

For young men, consent isn’t actually difficult. It might result in you not getting laid exactly whenever you want. But what it does do is ensure you’re not a rapist. And isn’t that the most important thing in the world?

Guest post: ‘What’s he done now?’ Abuse in the IS Network!

Content warning: this post reports sexual violence, physical and emotional abuse, and rape apologism in detail, mentions CSA

This is a statement from “Harriet”, an anonymous former member of the International Socialist Network. She contacted me asking for help in getting her experience out there. Please be warned that her statement describes in detail what happened to her, so please make sure you do what you can to keep yourself safe. Harriet would like her story to be heard.

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‘What’s he done now?’ Abuse in the IS Network!

The following piece is about the physical and emotional abuse I experienced in the IS Network, the organisation that split with the SWP because of the rape of a young woman by the secretary of the SWP. I am writing under an alias to protect my mother from the truth about the abuse I experienced as a child. I may talk to her about this in time, but that’s my decision. The man who did this to me was the secretary of the IS Network at the time he sexually assaulted me. He is currently active on the left and within the unions. His name is Tim.

I’ve just ordered another 2 cans of 13 Guns, I do this often now, numb myself. I like the feeling of my body relaxing, knowing that I don’t have to deal with reality until my subconscious procures my senses and I see what this man did to me in my dreams.

Alcohol releases the intensity of anger. I am on anti-depressants for the first time. The booze and the drugs feel good, calming and replaces the tears and pain with a lightness, allowing me to cope. I want my life back, I want to feel innocent and trusting like I used to, but I know too much to go back.

I realise now, that what we think of as choice is not always so, it’s often forced upon us. If I had a choice I wouldn’t write this piece, because I don’t like hurting anyone, but I don’t have a choice. I have to write this because it’s the right thing to do. I am afraid of writing this article, because I have tried to speak out before but I was called a liar, and messages I wrote to this man were published on my Facebook page, which were taken out of context. I was an organiser in the IS Network and he was a powerful influence within the organisation. He was taken seriously. If I wanted the IS Network to survive I had to forgive him. I had to get him to take me seriously. But he never did.

When I met him I was taken in by his stand against abuse in the SWP, because of this I thought he was different. I have lost count of how many times I have been harassed and sexually assaulted in my life, but I know it started at age 6 and from this age I was a survivor.

Tim was one of the Facebook 4, kicked out of the SWP for standing up against sexism. This is part of the reason I trusted him. But Tim has emotionally abused me for years and from the moment he met me he has targeted me as a sexual object of his desire.

I know now that he is a bully. I remember when he started shaming comrades in his publications on the IS Network website. His writing was provocative, intentionally hostile and defensive but I wanted him to like me so I didn’t say anything. Sometimes I had to compromise what I knew was the right thing to do intuitively. But If I did I would be out of the clique. A group of comrade from the IS Network would organise separately to the official IS Network Facebook group and when I realised this was a group of people bantering at best and using it to bully other comrades outside of the clique at worst I left. This was raised by other younger comrades in the IS Network as an issue after I left the group, but dealt with antagonistically by members of the clique.

At times I have felt particularly angered so I have stood up to Tim’s bullying of others, such as when he ridiculed a comrade on Facebook for posting selfies. This was obviously gendered because I only ever saw him ridicule selfies taken by men. But the fact of the matter is that Tim does not like being challenged for his behaviour so he complained to the steering committee that I was ‘abusing’ him on Facebook because I was standing up for a comrade he was clearly bullying.

I often felt that his behaviour towards others on the left was bullying, ridiculing their comments and pictures.

I knew I was healthily challenging his behaviour but I bowed to the pressure, apologised and left the group he was organising, even though I had just carried hundreds of leaflets for them for miles and hurt myself doing so, only to arrive back to the flat with the box of flyers, to more piss taking on Facebook. But we couldn’t lose another exceptional talent.

When we first met he said I was different and he wanted to go out with me. I wasn’t sure who he was comparing me to, but I was flattered. I was feeling good in myself, my hair had mostly grown back and my weight was good, I wasn’t too thin and even though I wasn’t feeling great about what had happened in the SWP, I was generally healthy. I certainly didn’t drink every day like I do now, drinking came later.

In retrospect, I remember he always had a lot to say to men, but he hardly spoke to me. He generally wanted sex and quickly. I remember on one occasion at a party with IS Network comrades he asked me to go upstairs and he would follow, mocking me to get my attention. He always wanted to get me into bed so quickly. It always came out of nothing too. He took advantage of the fact I liked him, even though we established we were only going to be friends.

He dumped me after the second time sleeping together, this was before the time above actually, and in fact literally straight after sleeping together, but even though it hurt, I took it well and told him that I would be happy to be friends with him. But he could never do friendship, this became obvious over the next couple of years. He had a hold over me, and I am sure he was well aware of this.

Then came the assault when he was the secretary of the IS Network, the splinter group of the SWP. The group that left the SWP because of the abusive secretary of the SWP.

This is the statement I wrote but is remains unpublished until now:

I have been angry with Tim for a long time – his sister was right in pointing this out, however, my anger towards him was never directed at her, I was angry with her because she never challenged his behaviour and would hate people on the basis that they upset Tim. The reason I was angry with Tim and still am is because of the way he treated me.
I never got to tell Tim why and how he hurt me, because he always refused to listen. The reason I emailed him to tell him it was over after the night of his birthday party wasn’t just because of my feelings for him or not wanting to get hurt, it was because he had already hurt me. Tim pressured me into having sexual relations with him, which he should have realised I didn’t want, because I repeatedly made that clear to him.

The incident I refer to occurred after I was persuaded to go to his birthday party in Bristol a day before the IS Network conference in Sheffield. The invite came at the last minute after it was implied only certain people from the Facebook invitation group would be welcome, and I felt a bit uncomfortable going because every time I saw Tim in person he would try it on with me, we would end up having consensual sexual relations and then he would ignore me afterwards, which made it really difficult working as an organiser in the IS Network.

The night in question was the same as usual, he came on to me and I reciprocated. As usual, we hadn’t spoken much that evening before he asked me to sit on the sofa and then kissed me hard as soon as another comrade walked out of the room – everyone else had gone home or gone to bed. I was very aware when this was going on that I was on my period, so when he said he wanted to fuck me hard I tried to pretend he didn’t say ‘hard’ and responded ‘you want to fuck me?’, he said yes but hard.

At this point I told him I was on my period so I couldn’t, but he persisted and asked me to go to the bathroom with him so we could have some privacy. As soon as we were in the bathroom and he started kissing me I pulled away and told him I didn’t want to do this and I was very cold, at which point he got the message and went downstairs and I told him I was going to the toilet, and then he walked in on me when I was on the toilet and I had to tell him to leave – he apologised and left.

I went back downstairs, but another comrade had taken the sofa and Tim the only other chair, at this point I was tired and just wanted to fall asleep in his arms. I climbed onto the sofa with him. Tim said he thought he was taking advantage of me and that he liked to have sex with beautiful and intelligent women. At this point I felt used and pressured and felt as if I should be pleasing him.

I didn’t want to do anything but we started kissing and he asked if I would get naked with him, I didn’t want to do anything while I was on my period, our comrade was on the next sofa and I was tired and cold, so I told him I was cold and he said he would warm me up. I felt the pressure so I took off my top, at which point he grabbed my hand and took me back upstairs to the bathroom. In the bathroom he immediately went down on me, I was not turned on at all, but was more concerned about being on my period and kept pulling his right hand up to check it for blood. I forgot to bring a change of sanitary products with me so was feeling particularly vulnerable.

Tim realised I wasn’t getting wet and turned on, at which point he told me he liked it when I was wet and he licked me, implying that he didn’t like that I wasn’t wet. Tim then moved on to sucking and then biting my left nipple, and carried on after I told him that it was hurting me, but he kept saying he couldn’t hear me, even though I kept on crying it out and he carried on biting my nipple until he bit it red raw and hurt me so badly that I had to physically pull him away, but he ignored me and continued to bite my nipple. I remember very little after this.

The next day after conference I felt awful. When I took my bra off that evening the skin on my left nipple came away and I started bleeding. I felt used and abused and like I didn’t want him near me again. I emailed Tim that week to say we couldn’t do that again. This was the only time sexual relations with him felt like sexual assault so I confided in a friend not very long after the incident and she advised me that consent boundaries were crossed.

We argued often after this incident and I felt he was always angry with me and tried to control me.

Then I confided in the women’s caucus about being abused when I was 6 years old. I confided to the women’s caucus in confidence, to explain why I had been so upset with dealing with the subject of the SWP being allowed on campus. I ended up getting into an argument with a woman in the caucus, which we realised afterwards was a complete misunderstanding, but in order to prove what had happened in the caucus she said that she would publish it in the main group. This was a private argument, which included confidential information about me. I was worried this information was going to be published in the main group with both genders, so I said if it was I was going to make complaint.

Tim publicly humiliated me in the IS Network Facebook group and tried to obstruct my complaint. His sister, who was a member of the complaints group, liked Tim’s comment obstructing my complaint on Facebook. This was a clear conflict of interest and should have been immediately picked up by the complaints group and she should have stepped down from her position of authority on this case. Instead she used her position to further marginalise me and undermine my legitimate concerns about confidentiality and abuse.

The abuse that took place in my neighbour’s house at the age of 6 was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, I convinced myself at the time that I was dying, I started losing my hair and became increasingly distant from those around me.

It had taken me 20 years to admit the abuse I went through as a child to my sister and thought I could trust the women in the women’s caucus but no one apart from 2 women stood by me in the IS Network Facebook group that day. I was completely alone and ended up with severe depression and months off work. I still tried to keep the ISN going, but with very little support from anyone around me.

Then when I approached Tim to discuss these issues he decided to go and tell all of our Bristol comrades that I have a mental illness. I was stupidly still trying to see some good in him. Hoping he would apologise for how he treated me. The constant emotional abuse and the physical abuse. I never wanted to go public with this, because I never wanted to forget the goodness I saw in him, the person who I see others love. I never wanted to take that away from them.

I want an apology for what Tim did to me. I want to join a political group without being told I am problematic. I want my old self back, the person who used to trust and laugh, the woman who loved her comrades and friends and always welled up when I spent time with my comrades, because they made me so proud to know such principled people who would always stand up and fight. I want to not feel broken anymore. And I want to love again like I used to. In order to realise all these things I needed to write this piece.

Always, Harriet Casey

__

Supporting statement from Kaff

I have witnessed Tim’s behaviour towards Harriet and fully support her above statement. I was present at a gathering of ISN comrades in Bristol and I was worried about his behaviour. He was being very overt in his sexual advances and Harriet looked uncomfortable. I would have been very uncomfortable in that situation also. I also remember that Harriet seemed to want to stay with us all where we were sat, in the dining room, but Tim was very much focussed on going upstairs with her and I remember a conversation that involved his sister saying that Harriet shouldn’t be getting involved with Tim because she was still living with a previous partner under complicated circumstances. I thought that was very odd because she didn’t once appear to be advancing on Tim sexually, he was the one making sexual advances on her. I had no preconceptions about anyone at this gathering at that point because I was still very new to politics and had only met Tim briefly before. Following this night, Tim’s responses to Harriet’s comments on Facebook posts were very unpleasant and he was bullying her. She received very little support from anyone and we all let her down. The reason I am writing this is because I don’t want her to be alone in this anymore, she needs all of our full support. by Kaff

George Lawlor looks like a rapist

Content warning: this post discusses rape and rape culture

There’s not really a specific look to a rapist. They’re not born with the word RAPIST emblazoned across their foreheads, nor do they glow faintly in the dark. There’s no visual markers of a rapist. Would that there were, it would all be so much easier to just set the fuckers on fire before they have a chance to hurt someone.

Warwick student George Lawlor missed the memo that there wasn’t a specific rapist aesthetic, and was mortally offended when, like loads of other people in his year, he was invited to a workshop on consent. He reacted in the most point-missing way possible.

georgelawlor

“I love consent,” he bleats, calling the very notion of consent workshops “incredibly hurtful”. He writes screeds about how everyone totally understands consent while not demonstrating this in the slightest, boiling it all down to–and I quote–“Yes means yes, no means no. It’s really that simple.” George Lawlor reckons workshops talking about what consent really, actually means is a waste of everyone’s time, particularly those who organise such events.

In doing all of this, George Lawlor has achieved one thing, and one thing only: he’s made himself look like a rapist. His short article and selfie have worked wonders in demonstrating a lot of the little hints I look out for, after years of the unfortunate experience of having encountered rapists. Men who display these behaviours, I now avoid. Here are the ways that George Lawlor has made himself look like a rapist:

  • He prioritises his own feelings above those of anyone else. At length, George Lawlor bangs on about how hurt he is that someone invited him to a consent workshop and how selfish it is that such workshops are happening without a thought for his own wounded feelings.
  • He manifestly does not understand consent, thinking it a simple matter of a yes or a no. Sadly, it’s a fuckton more complicated than that: a yes can be coerced, a yes can be withdrawn, a yes can be drunkenly slurred by someone who is in no fit state to understand what this word means.
  • You know who is usually most insistent that they are not a rapist? Rapists. False denials of rape are so common as to be banal.
  • He displays absolutely no willingness to self-examine the gaps in his own knowledge, or to reflect upon past experiences and see that maybe he should think about doing things differently in the future. Those who think they have nothing to learn are those with the most to learn, and a safe person should always have the capacity to admit that they could be wrong.
  • While he does not squawk out the mantra itself, the notion of “not all men” hangs over his article like a fedora. Those who want to protect their own self-concept are often fucking dickheads.
  • He clearly doesn’t understand why feminists are starting to organise consent workshops to teach consent universally. Spoiler: it’s to kick back against a culture that helps rapists, by arming everyone with an understanding of how not to rape.
  • Those who get sneery about feminist initiatives and organising are almost always misogynistic dungheaps of the highest order.
  • He clearly doesn’t understand what a rapist looks like: how it’s more likely to be the guy you know than some random stranger in an alley, how it’s more likely to be a guy who thinks he did nothing wrong than a monster chuckling about how he’s totally a rapist, how rapists don’t have horns or something like that.
  • He clearly hasn’t a fucking clue as to how to end rape culture, suggesting “campaigning, volunteering and caring for other people” would be a better use of our time. Well, we’ve been doing that since fucking forever, and it has its place, but that doesn’t exactly work on its own (and volunteering and caring usually works best after the fact).

For a Tory, George Lawlor sure is waving a hell of a lot of red flags.

Are consent workshops a panacea, a means for hitting the nail on the head and ending rape completely? Of course not. But are they a useful tool for chipping away at rape culture? Absofuckinglutely. Everyone should discuss what consent is, really think about it, and get to the difficult truths about their own histories. Awareness is absolutely crucial: both self-awareness of what you’re doing, and awareness of what other people are doing and whether that’s OK or not.

In resisting this preventive measure, George Lawlor is helping rapists, and only rapists. He’d do well to begin by asking himself why he wants to do that.

Update 16/10: You should all read this excellent piece from Warwick’s Women’s Officer, explaining why consent workshops are vital. It’s especially important you read it if you’re a man who’s come here to clutch your pearls at the thought that women are creeped out by behaviour such as Lawlor’s.

Walking home alone: a manifesto for preventing rape

Content note: this post discusses rape and victim blaming

It’s “common sense” which is still trotted out repeatedly that to “stay safe” (meaning: don’t get yourself raped), women shouldn’t walk home alone. It’s the sort of thing that I consider a dead horse, and then I see it in the wild yet again because patriarchy still hasn’t got bored of pointing blame at survivors. The latest in this very long and very tedious string comes from Essex Police, who have launched a campaign under the banner of safety.

It’s victim blaming, plain and simple, telling women not to walk home alone.

Defenders of the “don’t walk home alone” position will cry out that it’s a safety precaution, and therefore isn’t victim blaming. Thing is, it’s bollocks that it’s a safety precaution, because it could actually expose us to further danger.

If you want a safety precaution, here’s one: walk home alone. 

Your rapist is more likely to be the male friend or acquaintance who kindly offers to walk you home than he is to be some random stranger in an alley.

In four out of five rapes, the perpetrator is already known to the survivor.

If a man offers to see you home safely, say no. Kick him in the nuts, pepper spray his eyes, and run as fast as you can to get away from him. Statistically speaking, if you’re going to get raped following a night out, it is four times as likely it’ll be the guy who wants to escort you than someone you don’t know.

There’s a safety precaution right there, and it’s rooted in stats, unlike the repeated assertions to go home accompanied by someone. Walk home alone.

Of course, this safety precaution is, at the end of the day, as nonsensical as any exhortation to get yourself escorted home, because it’s still moving the responsibility for rape prevention away from where it lies: with the rapist. What’s really needed is a mass structural change, demolishing the culture that facilitates rapists. But until then, when the concern trolls bleat about “safety precautions”, remind them who the rapist is truly likely to be.