Britain’s Sex Gangs: How Sex and Apathy have been Distorted and Fed to a Generation

On-Street Sex Grooming

Since on-street sex grooming received coverage in the national media, the correlation which struck me was whether this was related to social apathy, sexual gratification and/or power politics. And it seemed rather apparent that there is an imbalance of information being supplied to the younger generation in terms of sex. Channel 4 covered the unthinkable issue in last night’s Dispatches programme “Britain’s Sex Gangs,” raising several important factors that need to be addressed.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) have recently reported about the situation of “on-street” sex grooming by criminal gangs. Girls as young as 12 years old have been subject to sexual exploitation and yet according to the CEOP, there has been no strategic plan put in place to protect girls from being “trafficked” into sexual slavery. Due to the nature of the issue; police, local charities and social services have found it difficult to ascertain the actual numbers of girls who have been involved, with estimates of 2,083 young victims identified since 2008. Especially as specific ethnic groups have been targeted, authorities have been tip-toeing around ever since.

Unfortunately, whilst sex-grooming still continues, the debate has been hijacked by right-wing groups jumping the bandwagon, claiming that this issue is exclusively a “Muslim” problem. The matter has subsequently been pushed underground, without taking into consideration the social context that surrounds both victims and perpetrators in their communities. However, the issue of ethnicity is not the major factor here as although 26% of the offenders were Asian (the actual ethnics groups are unidentified as data is insufficient), 38% of offenders were also white, hence the line of questioning is ambiguous without further investigation of the data.

The primary aspects that need to be tackled by both communities as a whole and proper authorities consist of appropriate sex education, an ironically hyper-sexualised society as well as disengagement from peers throughout communities. According to a Family Education Trust report comparing UK’s sex education with the Netherland’s more liberal approach: “In the repressed UK, sex education is patchy, it is mealy-mouthed, it starts too late, and, because of the influence of the powerful ‘moral right’, it fails to give young people the knowledge and skills which they need.”

However, in terms of ‘moral culture,’ both the Netherlands and the UK boast similar attitudes. Both the UK and the Netherlands are marked by what could be called a ‘contraceptive mentality’. That is to say, the notion that sexual reproduction can be technologically controlled (in particular, but not exclusively, in terms of preventing conception), has become hegemonic in both societies. The idea that controlling ‘risk’ behaviour without contraceptives has been asserted to be ‘unrealistic,’ without even attempting to inform young people about making educated decisions and the psychological effects that surround their choices.

This can be seen, for example, in the fact that safe sex has tried to be advocated, both in schools and via mass media, as the best way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of HIV, rather than understanding the emotional impact of either.

A second dimension of sexual morality, alongside the contraceptive mentality, is promiscuity. In what UNICEF referred to as ‘the sexualised society’, a culture of promiscuity becomes prevalent in which sex is disconnected from reproduction, respect and love. It no longer operates in a framework of married relationships, and can be exchanged for goods, services or financial rewards. The decoupling of sexuality and morality has at least two major negative consequences. The first is a shifting of the burden of anxiety and responsibility to ever-younger teenagers, who are forced to take potentially life-altering decisions without possessing either the skills or the knowledge to understand their implications.

The second is that it turns sex into something casual and insignificant. Casual sex is easily commodified. Indeed, promiscuity becomes a marketing tool. Using sexually explicit imagery as well as innuendo is a tried and tested strategy to sell products; but the sexualisation of culture has spread to all aspects of the mass media. E. Ketting and A.P Visser stresses the importance of linking sex and pleasure in sex education, rather than sex and risk. Risk behaviour can generate pleasures of transgression and violation.

And more recently, leading charity Barnardos has released research regarding the effects of youth behaviour and how Britons have “given up on children.” The research findings revealed that the public holds a negative view of all children, despite the majority being well behaved, attending school, taking part in activities and a significant number contributing to their communities and volunteering. It certainly indicates the mutual feeling that young people have become detached from society, partly because society has become disengaged from them as well.

It is essential whilst writing about young people, that sweeping statements are not made and in turn stereotyping an entire populace, which is partially why many youths have subsequently been vindicated as ‘criminals.’ No doubt that on-street sex grooming is a generational issue with offenders disproportionately skewed towards young adults within the 18-24 age range, whilst victims are commonly aged between 14 – 15 and as young as 12. The fact that both parties could still be pubescent, and likely to be unaware of the risks that sex could pose, is a fundamental element to why sex education needs to be adequate and taught relatively early on.

In 2009 Penny Barber, of the Brook clinic in Birmingham, said an increasing number of young Asians were seeking its services, having had unprotected sex. Research carried out in London secondary schools has found most 15-18-year-old Asians were not able to discuss the topic at home. And even now, it is difficult to obtain information regarding sex education in ethnic minority communities.

According to research by the Department of Education, young men in the UK routinely face pressures to be ‘knowledgeable, powerful and reputedly good at sex’ rather than to show responsibility and understanding, which makes it harder to show and talk about feelings, and play a responsible role in relation to sex and contraception. This encourages engagement in activities which put them and their partners at risk particularly in ethnic minority groups where peer pressure from both social groups and outer communities is apparent.

The need for linear information provided to young people is crucial in order to tackle the growing sexual exploitation within youth groups of all racial ethnicities. Otherwise, it’s probable that increasingly younger girls will be at risk from further abuse.

Why the “Female Bloggers Cry Rape” Post is a Form of Internalised Prejudice

There’s something rather ironical about the latest topic. Blogging about blogging, specifically what female writers have hideously encountered in the political blogosphere. There is enough material written over the last few days to demonstrate the reality of the situation, as well as the virtual-reality. However, little has been said to counteract the random blogs that seem to be “rolling-eyes” at women speaking out against violent hate speech.

One blog in particular that I came across was posted by “Anna Racoon,” an alias for Susanne Cameron-Blackie on current affairs ‘mega blog’ Dale & Co. And though most of the points raised seemed a rather futile: “Nobody has ever threatened me with rape – not even with a paper bag over my head,” therefore it isn’t important- it certainly addressed how commentary towards women is perceived.

What appears to be missing from the harassment conversation is the general empathy felt for those being besieged in this situation. Having been at the receiving end of racist and misogynistic abuse whether verbally or ‘unverbally,’ it is no doubt a gut-wrenching sensation from whoever has delivered it. Hence Cameron-Blackie’s incredulity for “lily livered women” being threatened by means of rape and murder with a laissez faire attitude, is as ominous as stating “Why are those ‘black and brown’ people making such a fuss about being called n****** and p****?”

And no doubt, women have been subjected to violent verbal abuse parallel to these kinds of racist remarks, despite fierce moderation of hate speech on political blog sites. Whilst ethnophaulism tends to unearth historical and political stereotypical prejudices referring to ‘social failings since origin’ including slavery and subordination; discrimination towards women is predisposed to allude to suppression of women through sexual assault, violent behaviour and debasement.

Every era in Britain has had a tendency to elect a new discriminatory scapegoat, (this decade has focussed on islamophobia and anti-Semitism). However, throughout history, women have continually been discriminated towards, referred to as ‘sluts’ from as far back as the 15th Century. Tough measures are currently put in place when stating pejorative terms towards race, religion and sexuality, yet the ineffectiveness of the Guardian’s Comment is Free moderation towards sexism is highlighted by just glancing down at some of the comments. Women’s Views on News had reiterated this issue earlier this year, and I can’t say that things have changed since then.

I am positive that those within minority groups of any kind are “subconsciously more concerned with being seen as women [as well as ethnic minority] than as bloggers,” having spent the majority of history being discriminated against and only now are being given the platform to show that Britain is supposedly an ‘egalitarian’ society. A little contradictory to Cameron-Blackie’s post who thinks that the worst insults Black and ethnic minority people have faced within comments are being referred to as just that: “black.”

The other issue I have with the inappropriately named “Cry-rape” post is that the author tells female bloggers that they “don’t know whether your abuser is male or female,” and therefore should not be able to make the judgement call that the comments are misogynistic. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter as the abuse itself is awful and the person making the comment has a different agenda whether male or female. A man had sent several obscene threatening emails to Caroline Fallow, a blogger for Catholic Voices. He had declared: “You’re gonna scream when you get yours. Fucking slag. Butter wouldn’t fucking melt, and you’ll cry rape when you get what you’ve asked for. Bitch.”

No doubt, men’s verbal aggression towards women is usually defined in sexual, psychological and physical oppression whilst women’s hostility towards other women is inclined to be a form of internalised prejudice through bullying, as part of a competitive patriarchal hierarchy to conform to. Thus Cameron-Blackie’s blog in itself is a form of internalised discrimination as the basic issue of empathy seems highly lacking within the tone of her posts.

Miss World Returns with a Dash of Misogyny, Bigotry and Inequality

Miss World/ England Protests UK

It’s that time of year again, when clocks have ironically turned back several decades and feminists are begrudgingly anticipating the ‘Miss World’ Beauty Pageant. The 60th Miss World final will be taking place back in London where it all began and after a nine year long absence from the UK, will be graced by the presence of feminist organisations, the London Feminist Network, Object and UK Feminista. The responses have consisted of the usual “Women choose to do this,” “It’s empowering,” or “It’s not harming anyone,” without questioning who is actually being exploited within the broad spectrum of capitalism and inequality.

Beauty with a Purpose,” as the pageant is condescendingly named, has been ‘reinvented’ since the 1970s women’s liberation demonstration against the contest. And whilst there is very little difference in the format of the competition since its instigation in 1951 as a Festival Bikini Contest now relabelled as “Beach Beauty”; it is thanks to the feminists that the annual cattle market was made a little humane. Organisers dropped the recital of the vital statistics and decided to judge contestants’ personality and intelligence as well, from the time when feminists disrupted the contest with chants of, ‘we’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry’. But how did it begin and why is it that there are no mentions of the contest’s extensive takings?

Unsurprisingly, the founder Eric Morley was no stranger to big money as one of the most successful entertainment entrepreneurs in the world establishing in 1949, the television programme ‘Come Dancing’ which became the BBC’s longest running series. He later also became the managing director of Mecca and was credited with introducing commercial bingo to Britain. It was over lunch at the Savoy, Morley suggested staging a one-off international beauty competition called “Miss World Festival Bikini Girl”, with a first prize of £1,000 in order to add glamour/ titillation to the Festival of Britain at the expense of women.

When, in 1952, the Americans launched Miss Universe, the patriotic Morley was upset: “I was narked,” he said. So he persuaded Mecca of the promotional potential of a “Miss World” contest. And it is unlikely that Morley was upset over losing the chance to promote women’s wonderful qualities and rather disappointed over the potential revenue that could have been raised, competing in the free market. And that is the sine qua non. It has never been about women’s potential to be exceptional; rather a ploy to make money at any cost, otherwise the competition would have always considered women’s intellect as an important factor and the show would have been resonant of ‘Mastermind’ and not ‘Baywatch.’

In the current climate of expenses scandals, banking crises and general transparency within the market; it would be assumed that Miss World Limited would begin to make exceptions in revealing figures for its earnings, expenses and charitable contributions. However, as the company is a privately held firm, they have never publicly divulged the actual expenditure. The primary donations to charities seem to have been provided thanks to the contestants partaking in “Beauty with a Purpose,” and not to the company, who are profiting on the backs of their pinups. What’s more important is that these charitable efforts could have been achieved without the sexist repercussion inherent throughout it. Women are more likely to donate money to charity in the UK in any case according to several studies.

The competition itself raises an important issue. Internalised prejudice is intrinsic to the beauty pageant as Miss Botswana revealed in the Telegraph. “Being a woman is one of the hardest things in the world,” says the articulate Miss Botswana. “The moment you step out of the house, you’re judged. You’re judged on your nails, your hair. So it’s not so bad to stand up on a stage. We don’t just strut around.” And that is the type of vulnerability that the competition plays upon in order to line their own pockets. So is it really ‘free will’ if it is the better of two evils?

The more disturbing reality of Miss World, apart from the evident objectification of women is that the contest has widened its gaze to the younger female audience. Miss Teen Queen is an extension of the adult competition in the UK, targeted at girls aged 13 to 19 years old. Whilst the U.S. is all too familiar with children’s beauty pageants, it is a worrying thought that a competition which reduces the beauty ideal into one ‘perfect’ image is being directed towards such young girls-especially with the government attempting to reduce the landscape of sexualisation around young girls. The site itself is disturbing, with finalists as young as 13-years old, providing their vital statistics including their chest size, if at all possible. And the competition does not avoid the usual preliminaries such as the swimsuit round as the website has somewhat inappropriate images resembling the pornographic ‘Spring Breaks’ held in America.

The part that made my stomach churn, as if it hasn’t already, is the website’s modelling advice. Shrewdly devised, the site has asked for none of the information to be reproduced- probably as it is disconcerting to read and subsequently they could face a tirade of angry parents. “Your face and body are your fortune,” is enough to make any person cringe at the thought that this is directed at girls as young as 13-years old.

Undoubtedly, the Miss World and Universe competitions are not aimed at the average woman; otherwise the entrant forms would not require bust, waist, hips, height, and weight statistics. A Miss Universe preliminary judge, Scott Lazerson had admitted that the contest was all about “beauty, beauty, beauty. It’s all about beauty,” so why pretend that the contestants are equally chosen for their intellect?

When asked if the contests held impossible standards of beauty and that if it could encourage young women to have issues with their weight and looks, Lazerson responded: “I believe that these contests encourage these young women to strive for excellence both within and without.  But I will say, there were three of them, when they appeared in their bathing suits, I thought, “And when did you get those?” He then went on to refer to the contestants as “babes,” clearly an answer that doesn’t objectify women.

The white-washing of contestants is also apparent seen through the invariable line-up of women chosen as finalists. As the contest is originally a Western conception, over the years the finalists have tended to be “Western –looking.”  The International Business Times highlighted the issue, stating that “it is sad to see that almost every one of the women in the competition look like they were pulled from the University of Texas,” and that “when young women tune in, they will primarily see one standard of beauty.” With the introductions of teen competitions, it’s likely that it will exacerbate the situation.

So when turning to the person casually exclaiming “It’s just a bit of harmless fun and it’s empowering for women,” it is essential to take into consideration the main elements of the competition: sexism, racism and capitalism.

Rising Awareness on Underage Forced Marriages: But Can India Change Traditional Attitudes?

The common causes that UK charities are campaigning about are the devastating effects of child hunger as well as child cruelty. But there has been an additional campaign development; the rise in awareness of forced underage marriages. Since the BBC’s broadcasting of “The Truth about Child Brides,” there has been an influx in the movement with humanitarian charities such as Plan UK, campaigning to end this widespread issue, affecting almost 10 million girls worldwide under the age of 18. And even in economically advancing India. Despite four women seated at the head of Indian politics, traditional patriarchy still dictates policies affecting women, with 47% of the underage marriages taking place in the country.

From the peripheral, the Indian government has been taking steps towards eliminating gender disparity, with the national capital of Delhi preparing to issue a mandatory marriage registration bill. However, efforts to ensure a democratic nation is continually undermined by India’s traditional structure; making implementation virtually impossible and women-based policy disappear into rhetoric.

The mandatory marriage registration bill is exemplary of the social obstacles that have hindered many of the marriage laws being put into practice over the years. It was initially put forward to the Supreme Court in 2006, which found that many women were abandoned without protection by their husbands. And as the bill has already spent five years irresolutely mulling in the background, the move towards adequate marriage legislation in the capital district does not necessarily indicate immediate change.

In actuality, elements of the proposed law were taken from the Marriage Bill in 1994, which intended for the “compulsory registration of marriages [aiming] to prevent child marriages and polygamy in society.” Yet, regardless of uniform laws prohibiting such customs, a recent survey by the Population Reference Bureau, has contradicted that the rate of child marriage in India is greater than Pakistan’s and Afghanistan. So how can implementation ever be successful with no legislation being followed through?

Along with UNICEF in 2007, the Population Council identified child marriage as nuptials that take place before “exact age 18.” However, this definition conflicts with India’s own Prevention of Child Marriage Bill in 2004, which states that a “child’ [is] a person who, if a male, has not completed twenty-one years of age, and if a female, has not complete eighteen years of age.” Consequently, the ambiguities between Indian and international legislation would render it difficult to identify and tackle concerns in the same manner.

As a result, although the subject of child marriage has not been ignored by Indian or international human rights efforts and policymakers, the eradication of the tradition is greatly hindered by the intertwined social issues that are often reinforced by the practice. By marrying girls’ young and enhancing the disparity between her and her husband’s age, the male-based hierarchy is best preserved. The 47% rate of child marriage in India has perpetuated the low-status of women as it tends to afford them few opportunities to attain higher levels of education and the higher-paying, higher-status jobs that come along with it.

Whilst women are slowly rising to political power in compliance with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the central motive seems to be to boost quotas and other special measures. Top-level jobs still go to men — to an overwhelming degree. Hence, gender equality barely exists within the party ranks either, making it near unattainable for the government to enforce laws that prohibit child marriage.

There seems to be a universal uncomfortable response when dealing with personal laws within distinct communities that have not derived from grassroots movements, particularly for party leaders such as Sonia Gandhi attempting to run a male-driven organisation. Though the statistics are litigious, according to the Forum on Child Marriage in Developing Countries, an estimated 80% of the marriages are among girls under the age of 15, annually participating in “Akha Teej.” The custom consists of giving away children as young as two years-old in mass marriage ceremonies in regions of northern Indian.

The correlation between child marriage and the traditional role of women in Indian society elucidates the problems with implementation and why covert child marriage has not yet been abolished. Even now, women are still viewed as second class citizens, India being confirmed this year as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women.

For families in poverty, marrying a daughter early can mean lower dowry payments and one less mouth to feed. Additionally, child marriage is greatly informed by ideals of virginity—a cultural notion that has huge influence on the intersections between HIV/AIDS and child marriage. So unless women are perceived to be more than mere tools in an exchange system, it seems unlikely that any policies put forward will have any impact.

Beyond the human rights abuses, the devastation that child marriage creates has impinged on both individuals and communities and the way in which the practice reinforces itself. As reported by the United Nations Population Fund, “Impoverished parents often believe that child marriage will protect their daughters. In fact, however, it results in lost development opportunities, limited life options, and poor health.” The traditional image of Indian women is one of the main factors that need to be altered in order for the undue subordination of women to cease.

To facilitate women’s policies to become part of national agenda, women will need to be seen as making an integral contribution to society. By giving basic rights to education, employing women into adequate jobs and higher positions; grassroots movements have been initiating empowering projects so as to tackle attitudes against women.

From projects such as the ‘Women Aloud Video blogging for Empowerment’ (WAVE) project, inspiring and educating women to challenge women’s portrayal in the Indian media, to direct action demonstrated by Delhi’s first SlutWalk this year, the gender-debate in India is wide open and ready for some much-needed change.

Read about the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 (‘FMA’)

Rape is the Oldest Hate Crime: So Why Does Legislation Differ?

Rape and Violence Against Women

The brutal murder of Joanna Yeates marked an important point in the battle to make UK legislation more gender-friendly. Especially with the nature of the crime, apparently there was nothing overtly hateful about the 33-year old Dutch engineer Vincent Tabak’s conduct towards Ms. Yeates. She had suffered 43 injuries, including wounds to her face, throat and arms having been asphyxiated; Tabak’s personal pornographic favourite. Certainly, these actions can be described as violent crimes; but why does legislation lead us to believe these are not actions of hate?

According to UK hate crime legislation, any criminal offence that is motivated by the perpetrator’s hostility, prejudice or indeed hatred based upon the victim’s perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability is classified under this law. However, in 2008-09 domestic violence moved out from Hate Crimes to be managed under the Violence against Women (VAW) Strategy. Despite, a minimum of 47,000 women being raped every year, the crime is categorised under a ‘grey area,’ using age-old ‘victim blaming’ tactics and thus sexism has been driven out of the hate crime agenda.

History and present day evidence needs to be accounted for, in order to understand the ideology behind rape as well as comprehend the vast contradictions that surround rape legislation. Currently, in some countries, Governments reinforce the idea that rape is the fault of women and in actual fact; it is considered “illegal sex.” Women in Pakistan could previously be punished with up to 15 years in prison, or even be executed for illegal relations. There is little distinction between consensual sex and rape.

And it isn’t only in countries which practice Sharia law. Rape has been used as a form of punishment for lesser crimes. In Meerwala village in the Punjab in 2002, a tribal “jury” claimed that an 11-year-old boy from the Gujar tribe, Abdul Shakoor, had been walking unescorted with a 30-year-old woman from the Mastoi tribe, which “dishonoured” the Mastois. The tribal elders decided that to “return” honour to the group, the boy’s 18-year-old sister, Mukhtaran Bibi, should be gang-raped.

Four men, including one of the “jury”, immediately dragged the girl to a hut and raped her while up to a hundred men laughed and cheered outside. She was then forced to walk naked through the village to her home. It took a week before the police even registered the crime – as a “complaint”. Rape in this case is used as a tool of controlling the social hierarchy, and keeping women in their place. There’s no doubt that these notions reinforce women to be secondary citizens with no claim over their bodies, hence even UK legislation is guilty of lessening the felony by not referring to it as a hate crime.

Equally within Greek and Roman mythology, the narrative consists of Zeus, “the father of Gods and men,” continually ‘divinely’ raping both earth-bound women and Goddesses, basing an entire belief system on gender-hatred. In the “History of Misogyny,” Jack Holland refers to Ancient Greece and the evident “supply [of] bad girls to cater for men’s sexual appetites,” as Solon (6th Century Athenian lawgiver) had legalised brothels staffed by “slaves and aliens.” It is immediately apparent that a class hierarchy had been created based on the maltreatment of certain women as well as ethnic minorities through the idea of forced sex, branding women either “virgin” or “whore.” And these principles had been further reaffirmed within the history of Christianity, with the primary female characters labelled only in terms of their sexuality. It is a worrying thought that whole nations found their faith on prejudice.

Perhaps if we had countries that had historically legalised bigoted name-calling and brothels in which people practiced the art of degrading others for their differences; then we would have a similar ambiguity in terms of racism and religion within hate crime legislation. The politics behind rape is that it is a device used to establish women’s place in society, through its discriminatory use in punishment, self-degradation and submission and not the usual stated case of “fulfilling sexual urges.” The only urge it seeks to achieve is one of domination.

Currently in South Africa, we see “corrective rape” being used against LGBT individuals purportedly as a means of “curing” them of their non-heterosexual sexual orientation or gender identity. In April 2011, Noxolo Nogwaza was raped by eight men and murdered in KwaThema Township near Johannesburg, as a case of “corrective rape.”

And it seems to be on the increase with more than 10 lesbians per week being raped and gang-raped in Cape Town alone. Very few cases of rape against lesbians have ever resulted in a conviction, which is unsurprising for a patriarchal system and demonstrates that rape is far from being a merely a sexual act. However, activists have been campaigning to make authorities recognise corrective rape as a hate crime, a similar action that needs to be taken in the UK.

Importantly, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution which noted the significance of rape used as a mass weapon of war. The Council stated that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” They also believe that by noting that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide,” the resolution will strike a blow at the culture of impunity that surrounds sexual violence in conflict zones and allows rapists to walk without fear of punishment.

When referring to genocide, rape was instrumental to ‘breed out’ entire races in areas such as Australia, America, Europe as well as Africa, as a form of preserving “racial purity.” It has been labelled under modern scientific terms as ‘eugenics,’ but in actual fact, it was racial genocide through means of rape. Manfred Nowak, a UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has even stated that “Rape is always torture.” So why is it that rape can be seen as a war crime, yet be ambiguous of being categorised under hate crimes?

The patriarchal rhetoric throughout history which has allowed religion and politics to dictate women’s actions has contributed to the idea that women do not have a right over their bodies by their counterparts; hence rape that is actually an act of misogyny is seen to be a misnomer. Violence against women clearly is not just an act in a vacuum; it is symptomatic of the prejudices women have faced right up until the present day. It is essential that universal legislation is implemented across the spectrum, stating that rape is a hate crime in order for ambiguity and finger-pointing at other country’s laws to eventually dissipate.

 

Read an in-depth analysis on Violence against Women as a Hate Crime by Dr. Julia Long, openDemocracy

All About Our Mothers: A Mother-Blaming Society

It’s already been several years since I picked up Lionel Shriver’s book from the airport, and the cover sent a shiver down my spine. A small, shadowed boy with glasses looked up from the darkness, and the large words “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” were printed loud and clear. So when prolific British actress, Tilda Swinton played the part of a remorseful mother, coming to terms with her cruel and homicidal son; it seems reflective of a society that is partial to blame the mother as the first port of call.

There was an influx of mother-blaming during the London Riots in August 2011. The right-wing media assembled together for a full-scale onslaught against single mothers, holding them responsible for the actions of their progeny. The Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips was one of the first to incite the mother-backlash. She said: “For most of these children come from lone-mother households. And the single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem is the willed removal of the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a father who is a fully committed member of the family unit.”

And no doubt, mothers then faced the consequences with the London Borough of Wandsworth being the first local authority to evict council tenants including a single mother who had a son involved in the riots. In response to this, Prime Minister David Cameron had said: “I think for too long we have taken too soft an attitude to people who loot and pillage their own community. If you do that you should lose your right to housing at a subsidised rate.”

Despite potentially creating deeper poverty for those affected, Cameron has said “Obviously that will mean they will have to be housed somewhere else and they will have to find housing in the private sector and that will be tougher for them. But they should have thought about that before they started burgling,” in the most simplistic of conservative pedestals.

And if it isn’t social disorder; its anorexia, addictions, cot deaths and the age-old autism myth of ‘refrigerator mothers.’ A child does not live in a vacuum of only mother and their young, connected by an umbilical cord for life. Certainly, any kind of behaviour encircling a child can influence them, including from peers, teachers as well as authority figures. An important feature that seems to be ‘missed’ from the mother-blaming debate, are the equally absent fathers.

Without shifting the blame onto another source, Cameron had mentioned earlier this year that runaway dads were as “bad as drink drivers,” yet has sought to undermine mothers raising children alone. Research by Rebekah Coley and Bethany Medeiros who interviewed 647 teenagers with absent fathers in 2001 had found that “Fatherly involvement appeared to have a protective effect.”

Coley and Medeiros said: “[…] non-resident fathers who had more regular contact and conversations with their children and who took greater responsibility for their children’s care and behaviours had adolescents who showed relative decreases over a 16-month period in their levels of delinquency and problem behaviour”.

Currently, mother-blaming has even been used within law. Earlier this year, Raquel Nelson an Atlanta woman who witnessed her four year old son killed by a drunk driver was subsequently convicted of vehicular homicide. Jerry L. Guy, the driver who admitted hitting the child when pleading guilty to hit-and-run, served only a 6-month sentence whilst Nelson could be sentenced to a longer 36 months in prison.

And back to the idea of serial killer’s mothers. In “‘Bad’ Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America,” author Su Epstein describes the portrayal of these mothers adapted for film. She states: “Whatever goes right in the child’s development reflects the ability of good parents; whatever goes wrong reverts solely to the mother.”

“[Films] legitimize mother-blaming by allowing mothers to blame themselves for producing murderous children,” and Epstein goes onto explain that even noted academics such as psychological researcher Joel Norris uses the mother-blaming theme when it comes to the formation of future serial killers.

“Even if the child is not damaged at birth, the mother’s anxieties may result in a colicky, unhappy baby who becomes the object of mistreatment and abuse by a mother who was unhappy about being pregnant. Such mistreatment is also a factor in the development of a violence-prone individual.”

Again, it is the bad mother who damages her child. The father or other male influence eludes consideration. Epstein concludes that the mother is an “easy target,” therefore it is rather straightforward for issues such as “absent fathers, crushing poverty, substance abuse and a myriad of other problems a family might face,” to be swept under the carpet.

The nation seems to be gripped with what I like to call the “Norman Bates Syndrome;” assuming that all behavioural problem children are products of bad parenting, specifically mothers without taking into account any of the circumstantial evidence that surrounds it. With inadequate support for mothers, instead penalising women through the austerity measures and keeping women at the bottom of the social hierarchy, it’s easier to point the finger at mothers unable to defend themselves.

Cameron’s Big Society is Code for Do-It-Yourself Solutions

Cameron's Big Society

I spent last night listening to the satirical comic wanderings of Rory Bremner political impressionist extraordinaire. And though most of me was ‘splitting sides’ at the witty one-liners, the theme of austerity measures was enough to make me ‘split hairs’ instead.

One of the most striking gags that featured throughout the BBC live radio performance was when fellow comic Andy Zaltzman stated that the ‘Big Society has captured the people like a baby spider catches an apache helicopter in its web,’ and unfortunately, the negative response rings true. Prime Minister David Cameron claims that the “new proposals aim to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will “take power away from politicians and give it to people”.

However, commenting on Cameron’s ‘big society’, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, the UK’s largest public service union, said: “Cameron’s “big society” should be renamed the “big cop out.” […]The Government is simply washing its hands of providing decent public services and using volunteers as a cut-price alternative.

“Public services must be based on the certainty that they are there when you need them, not when a volunteer can be found to help you.” And there was a similar rhetoric in terms of humour in which the comedians suggested that anyone could open up a school, an army, and even a militia group to solve Britain’s problems. If this is the case, then essentially the public will be acting as a civil service and the government in turn should have reduced wages.

No doubt, a sense of community spirit goes a long way without all of the cliché labels. In ‘The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace,’ Scott Peck argues that the almost accidental sense of community that exists at times of crisis can be consciously built. And though it has not necessarily been exemplified in the way Cameron envisages, the current occupations are symptomatic of “community organising.”

According to the ‘Building the Big Society’ manifesto, “It is the responsibility of every department of Government, and the responsibility of every citizen too. Government on its own cannot fix every problem.” And so it seems that the Con-Dem coalition are attempting to repair the damage caused by the financial crisis on the back of the welfare state, despite the cuts ensuring that the public sector are the worst hit.

The issue that seems to perplex me is what the incentive is for citizens to actually want to be part of the ‘Big Society.’ Apart from a rather disgraceful revival of the ‘British Empire Medal,’ described as the working- class ‘gong,’ it’s likely to offend those working in the voluntary sector. The Government in this case is acting as the middle-man whilst reaping the benefits. I remember a similar strategy used during the end of the Tony Blair days. When the idea of ‘extremism’ was prevalently used, Blair had said: “The government cannot alone root out extremism in Muslim communities and defeat the terrorism it creates.”

And a comparable reaction ensued, accusing Blair of having done little to win Muslim “hearts and minds,” as well as alienating these communities. If the government are supposed to be a representative of the public, yet are unable to approach the people in which they are supposed to support; I have to question whether the constituents voted into parliament actually come from the ‘Big Society’ or ‘high society.’

Clare’s Law: Right to Act and Not Just Know

A controversial law allowing women to find out about their partner’s previous convictions is being considered in Parliament. “Clare’s Law” plans to be adopted if successful, after Clare Wood, a 36-year old mother was horrifically killed by a man she met on Facebook. Perhaps in hindsight, Ms Wood may still be alive today with knowledge of George Appleton’s long list of violent convictions; but we need to consider whether this really is a viable way of reducing domestic violence.

The unfortunate reality is that two women die a week from domestic violence in the UK. Clearly action is needed to reduce this alarming figure, but will “Clare’s Law” fare similar to “Sarah’s Law?” After the murder of eight-year old Sarah Payne in July 2000, a campaign ensued for the government to allow controlled access to the Sex Offenders Register, so parents with young children could know if a child sex-offender was living in their area.

Director of policy for Liberty, Isabella Sankey has labelled the “Right to know” national disclosure scheme as “dangerously counterproductive.” The flipside is that due to mistaken identity, innocent residents had “bricks through their windows,” thanks to the media hype that followed. However, where victims of domestic violence are being massively failed, is that nothing has been done to ensure the safety of women, in order to be ‘politically correct.’

Ms. Wood had first called the police in October 2008 when Appleton damaged her front door and threatened her with an iron. Following her death, the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that she had been let down by the officers that she had primarily approached. According to Home Office Research by Jessica Harris, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the suspect and victim were known to each other in almost all cases (only 2% of suspects were strangers to the victim). Suspects were usually partners, ex-partners or relatives (41% of cases), acquaintances (41%) or neighbours (16%).

Thirty-nine per cent of harassment cases were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, compared with the national average for all offences of fourteen per cent. The main issue here is that out of the thousands of women who have come forward and complained about harassment by ex-partners, many were not taken seriously and are still in real danger despite having all the information. The scheme in this case, is only effective if action is taken and not just printed down in legislation.

Women leaving their violent partner led to the cessation of the domestic violence for the majority (63%) of women, for a significant minority (18%) it continued in another form, such as stalking or harassment. The Guardian reported that prosecutors estimate that around 1 million people in the UK have experienced stalking, but only a few hundred of these cases have been prosecuted through the courts.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 does not define stalking, nor is a definition set out in case law. The Act is said only to be able to deal effectively with harassment, which is different in many respects to stalking. Thus, police have tended not to take action on stalking claims despite an endemic amount of cases resulting in fatalities. Critics call for a new law that recognises stalking as a distinct criminal offence, with appropriate penalties.

And that is the clincher. Will having the knowledge of a person’s past really make a difference when it comes to action by either the partner or more importantly the justice system? The scheme in theory may seem like a good plan in tackling one of the most heinous crimes that women face, but unless there are adequate measures that protect individuals and not just tip-toe around the perpetrators; the proposal seems like it will fall onto deaf ears.

Recession, Depression and the Dole: Developing a Generation with Mental Health Issues

Youth Unemployment

Sitting in the dole office, waiting to have a fortnightly meeting is enough to make anyone feel the blues. As a patronising clerk looks up from his/her desk, to ask if you have found a job yet despite having applied to hundreds unsuccessfully, is just another way of denting your confidence and psyche. Unsurprisingly, studies have proven that since the recession, a correlation between an increase of mental health problems and unemployment has emerged.

The Samaritans have described emotional health issues as the “hidden face” of the recession and at the end of 2008 warned that “the deepening financial and economic crises could lead to an increase in suicide rates nationwide as people face unemployment, mounting debt and housing insecurity.” And since then, a cycle of unemployment and the stigma from mental health issues has made it even more difficult for sufferers to get back into employment.

Research from the mental health organisation, Rethink shows that less than 40% of employers would consider employing someone with a mental health problem. Not surprisingly, people with mental health problems have the highest levels of unemployment among any disabled group – yet also have the highest ‘want to work’ rate. And out of the currently 2.57 million people unemployed over June to August 2011, 1 million young people were out of work as a result; the highest rate of unemployment in 17 years.

The Princes Trust reported on the affect of youth unemployment claiming that it is a “mental health hazard.” The Trust Macquarie Youth Index reveals how almost half of young people not in work (48 per cent) asserted that unemployment has caused problems including self harm, panic attacks and insomnia.

Around one in six young people (16 per cent) have found unemployment as stressful as a family breakdown, while more than one in ten (12 per cent) claim their joblessness has given them nightmares. Half of young people seeking work said visits to a job centre made them feel ashamed, and more than half said that job-searching had left them feeling disillusioned or desperate.

The youth unemployment epidemic has already seen an overt rise is poverty and crime exemplified by the recent London riots. Top economist David Blanchflower, of the Bank of England’s influential Monetary Policy Committee has stated that the increase has been directly influenced by David Cameron’s coalition to axe the £1billion Future Jobs Fund scheme, costing Britain £10million a day in lost productivity.

Mr Blanchflower said: “This is affecting the children and grandchildren of people everywhere – and it will get worse.”

“The evidence is if you don’t deal with youth unemployment it scars them – and us – forever. What if crime starts to rise and you see kids out on the street? Crime, homelessness, and muggings – all these are associated with it. Who caused this? Maybe it was politicians, bankers or middle-aged people who took out loans. But who is being hurt by this? The young. What did they have to do with it? Nothing. They are the most innocent of all.”

So predictably, an international study on welfare has found that young people in the UK are twice as likely as their counterparts in other rich countries to be so seriously ill or incapacitated that they cannot work and must live off disability benefits. Among 20- to 34- year-olds, rates for disability payments are around 2% in most countries, but 4% in the UK.

It is likely that the figures have decreased since then, as the coalition conveniently made it so that from end of January this year, people could no longer make new claims for Incapacity Benefits and instead claimants could only obtain Employment and Support Allowance. And if being unemployed isn’t enough, attempting to claim Incapacity benefits in the first place has already proved to be “extremely degrading and humiliating“.

It’s no doubt that with unemployment come the stresses of poverty, homelessness and mental vulnerability. And even though we have plenty of dystopian fictions to prepare us to avoid “Who controls the past,’ […] ‘controls the future,” Britain’s youths are set up to have bleak prospects.

Page Three: A Beloved British Institution Based on Sexism

Turn your back on page 3 Campaign

You would think that the Rupert Murdoch Empire would be cautious by now since the disintegration of News International, the phone hacking scandal and Prime Minister David Cameron’s clamp down on a sexualised British society. But every time national tabloid, The Sun makes an exhibition of Page Three; it’s another reminder of the rampant sexism within what’s considered ‘British institutions.’

Although the media may be modernising in terms of moving onto multimedia platforms and overt technological rejuvenation; the content still resembles an old Victorian titillation magazine with sensationalist stories and sex used as a tool for marketing. The British sense of humour has always been recognised as frightfully conservative inundated with sexual innuendos, as explicit references to sex were regarded as offensive before the making of The Sun.

So when it came to origination of the newspaper during the “swinging sixties,” wartime sexual oppression for women was broken down and social revolution meant times of liberation and exploration. The Sun attempted to push the boundaries, and hold a stance synonymous to the social context during this period.

Unfortunately, at the same time media tycoons such as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Murdoch hijacked the opportunity, and began to sell women’s liberation in print form. Instead of women gaining the chance for independence and self-discovery; it was fed to the masses in bite-size pornographic pieces, and has been growing more graphic and exploitative since then.

The first topless Page Three girl appeared on 17 November 1970, German-born Stephanie Rahn, little offence was caused as she was presented as a one-off “Birthday Suit Girl” to mark the first anniversary of the relaunched Sun. Controversy was only ignited over the next four years when the topless Page three girl gradually became a regular fixture, and with increasingly risqué poses, also being credited with the increase in circulation.

And for that reason, the women who saw through the façade formed the 1970’s feminist movement and have been fighting for the removal of Page Three ever since. The institution of Page Three stands upon a foundation of promoting the commodification of women’s bodies in order for the newspaper to make sales; and not the ‘radically political’ newspaper that it claims to be.

Both feminists and many cultural conservatives saw the pictures as pornographic and misogynistic, and as for modern-day it would be considered as softcore pornography, inappropriate for publication in a national newspaper.

The paper has been banned in public libraries because of its “excessive sexual content” and Members of Parliament have suggested the paper could be prosecuted for indecency. In 2005 a college in Lewisham, South-East London banned The Sun from the campus because it felt its Page Three pictures were degrading to women.

The debate was taken further in 1986, as Clare Short, Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood, led an unsuccessful House of Commons campaign to have topless models banned from all newspapers. After her proposed bill failed, Short accused the House’s predominantly conservative male MPs of not taking the issue seriously, remarking “If you mention breasts, fifty Tory MPs all giggle and fall over.” Perhaps these Tory men were part of the generation of sitting in a tree house with flashlights, ogling nude women’s silhouettes.

Ms. Short renewed her campaign against Page Three almost two decades later, in 2004, but found herself on the receiving end of an ad hominem attack by The Sun, which superimposed her face on a Page Three model’s body and accused her of being “fat and jealous.” If being quaintly ‘British’ means demeaning women whether they are posing topless for the Sun or have an opinion against it – is it worth keeping as an institution?

Several women’s organisations have been part of the push to stop the landscape of pornography affecting women and children. OBJECT, a leading feminist organisation as well as the ‘Turn Your Back on Page Three’ campaign have been demanding for socially responsible media by promoting equality within newspapers such as The Sun.

“With the recent Murdoch scandal, the enquiry into the culture and ethics of the press, Government concern over the ‘sexualisation of children’, and the subsequent Lib Dem Party vote to adopt a motion to end the projection of women as sex objects in newspapers, now is the perfect time to step up our lobbying to get rid of the Page 3 phenomena.”

Alongside equalities minister Lynne Featherstone, former Cabinet minister Clare Short and Ex- MP Dr Evan Harris; Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, has recently bought up the Sun’s reinforcement of gender inequality through the shameless use of topless women in an interview with Sky News. The shadow deputy Prime Minister spoke in her new role as shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport stating:

“I don’t, I am not saying that we should ban it, but I think that women in the 21st century who are going out to work, who are bringing up their children, who are playing a full role in public life, I think that the idea that women are sex objects to be posing in their knickers to be leered at by men in a national newspaper, I don’t think that that’s the right thing for women in the 21st century.”

And she hits the nail on the head with the last statement. In times where sex is no longer seen to be an implicit innuendo, instead painted across our screens and the Murdoch Empire use new tactics such as phone-hacking to keep newspaper sales up; it seems strange that Page Three still exists. And what’s more important, the recent scandals show the move to eradicate irresponsible and inflammatory media is more necessary than ever before.

If you want to join the campaign: Turn Your Back on Page Three