As the Met Police gear up to investigate Jimmy Savile’s serial rapes when he was working at the BBC, and how he was allowed to continue as a presenter of shows with a teenage audience despite many at the BBC knowing that he was a predator, Deborah Orr writes:
To the people who say that understanding why Savile got away with his crimes is useless because he is dead; to the people why say it’s a BBC problem, not a societal problem, I beg this: Look at the crimes that were committed by one man under cover of a dangerously misogynistic permissiveness, and wake up to the fact that this is exactly what all those tedious feminists mean when they talk of “rape culture”. I beg this: wake up and look at the damage these attitudes did, as the whole of a nation watched. Wake up and see that these attitudes are by no means entirely of the past, not yet.
No. No, they are not.
Last week, the Everyday Sexism Project received a message from a student about to start her first year studying physics at Imperial College, London.
The message included a forwarded email, which she said had been sent by the Physics Society to all first year physics students. It read “Freshers’ Lunch…This will be mainly a chance for you to scope out who’s in your department and stake your claim early on the 1 in 5 girls.”
For female students to be sent an email from a university society marking them out as sexual prey before they’d even started their course seemed extreme and inappropriate.
But it turned out to be the tip of the iceberg for a sexual culture at university which marks women as sexual prey and men as sexual predators – which is threatening for women, and disturbing for many men:
Pressure to take part in sexual situations and ‘make a joke’ of serious issues impacts male students too, with one particularly disturbing report we received reading:
“Flatmate quit lacrosse team when given team ‘rules’ stating that members don’t date – that was what rape was for.”
Another wrote: “men’s hockey team had fancy dress party at Student Union bar. Theme was rape victims. So awful its [sic] unbelievable but its [sic] true”
A 2010 study conducted by the National Union of Students revealed that of a nationwide sample of 2000 female students, 14% had been seriously physically or sexually assaulted, 68% were subject to sexual harassment and nearly a quarter had experienced unwanted sexual contact whilst at university. Given the severity of these statistics, it might be time to try a new theme for freshers’ week.
As Janet Street-Porter said of the rumours about Jimmy Savile: “A lot of people in the BBC knew what was going on. I heard the rumours but I was working in an environment that was totally male. Do you really think that if I said to someone at the BBC higher up than me this was going on – they wouldn’t gave taken any notice of me whatsoever?”
Every time this comes up – every bloody time, whether it’s the women who told the police about John Worboys or the girls being “groomed” who tried to tell the police and social workers about the men preying on them, or any other instance of women warning about a man with a sense of entitlement, the women aren’t regarded as credible witnesses: the man is. None of Julian Assange’s thousand-pound-friends seem to be concerned about the women in Sweden who have rights too, which Assange’s stay in Knightsbridge is denying them.
Rape and forced pregnancy, rapists and prolifers, have a strange cold link: a calculated entitlement to make use of women, regardless of what the woman herself wants.
The problem with Alex Neil as Health Secretary is not that he was Health Secretary when he declared himself anti-choice: he could promptly have been invited to retract what he said, or resign, or be fired.
It’s that the SNP and independence supporters have, with certain honourable exceptions, rallied round to instruct anyone who objects to Alex Neil’s views that they should pay no attention to them, why? because we say so! etc. A healthcare issue specific to women is not, according to them, to be regarded as important enough to disrupt the independence debate.
This is a sad trifecta: England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland now all have ministers for Health who are anti-choice. Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Health Secretary, makes Wales the only shining exception in the UK.
On Twitter, I was accused of being “like a fascist” because Alex Neil said these were just his personal views. Not relevant: he is the Health Secretary. If he holds personal views at odds with his job, as he has made clear he does, he doesn’t have to change his views – but he does have to quit being Health Secretary. Being in government isn’t a right for him, no matter how senior he is in the SNP: it’s a privilege which he has to earn, and which he has just lost.
The consequences for the SNP and for the independence debate are laid out clearly in Kate Higgins‘s blog: Will Alex Neil go down in history as the man who cost the SNP a yes vote? but it is also worth noting this is no longer simply a personal fail on the part of Alex Neil: the SNP have lost by not reacting quickly to his comments.
And then there’s this.
On the same day, Justin Lee Collins, who was found guilty of harassing his partner, was sentenced to 140 hours of community service:
Larke, a public relations worker, claimed during the trial that Collins subjected her to emotional abuse and violence.
She alleged Collins, 38, compelled her to write down in a Pukka pad all her previous sexual encounters in graphic detail.
Larke, also 38, said Collins forced her to quit social networking websites, sleep facing him and throw away DVDs because they featured actors she found attractive.
She alleged Collins physically attacked her while on trips to Miami and New York and said she had not shown anyone her bruises because she did not want to get “the love of my life” into trouble.
Justin Lee Collins gets 140 hours community service. Matthew Woods, Liam Stacey – for posting abusive remarks in a high-profile situation, they go to jail.
Matthew Woods is a nasty, immature man who posted a foully offensive joke on his Facebook page. Apparently he had to be arrested in order to protect him from dozens of people who were coming round to attack him: but sending him to jail for twelve weeks seems unlikely in the extreme to make him a better man when he leaves jail.
Words can hurt. Bullies who post nasty comments on line should be taken seriously by the police. But jailed for twelve weeks not for harassment, or for stalking, or for abusive “pranks”, or for personal abuse, all of which are major problems – but for grossly offensive “jokes” copied off Sickipedia?
Adam Wagner writes that at a roundtable yesterday, Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions:
pointed out that the Communications Act 2003 was passed before either Facebook or Twitter had been invented, and so the CPS were understandably having trouble knowing how to police the billions of communications made publicly on social media. The CPS is to open the issue to public consultation so it can publish guidelines for prosecutors.
Starmer’s starting point was that, constitutionally speaking, the CPS has to apply the law as it finds it, within the public interest. Fair enough, as long as the “public interest” is interpreted with a very strong emphasis on free expression rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But my worry is that this law was not designed for the purpose it is now being used for. In 2003, only perhaps Mark Zuckerberg knew that within the next few years literally billions of people would become mini-publishers on a public communications network. Now, the accidental combination of an old (in technology terms) law, designed it would seem primarily to stop harassment over the telephone line, with revolutionary new media may be making criminals of many of us, and that cannot be a good thing.
Moreover, it appears that we are unlikely to see this law applied to keep people safe from bullies and harassers, but to shut down people who say things that the authorities deem “inappropriate”.