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.

 


In which I gush about a book I read: Lean Out by Dawn Foster

I’ll confess. When I first picked up Dawn Foster’s Lean Out, I wondered just how relevant it was. Was Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate Lean In brand of feminism not just a fad in 2013, like everyone suddenly snapping themselves naked on wrecking balls, or the Doge. Had we not, as feminists, successfully rejected Sandberg’s corporate feminism already? Didn’t feminism start digging a little deeper in its analysis? Wasn’t it kind of old hat? So, while I read Lean Out, I found myself nodding along, but questioning whether it wouldn’t have been more important had it been published this time two years ago.

Just as I put down Lean Out, feeling roused, validated and furious all at once, I made a terrible mistake. I clicked on a New Statesman link. And I saw this, by Sarah “Never Knowingly Right” Ditum:

FireShot Capture 207 - The Thatcher Problem - http___www.newstatesman.com_2016_02_thatcher-problem

Rumours of the demise of Sandberg’s brand of corporate feminism were premature. Women, according to Ditum, deserve to sit alongside men as oppressors, and all criticism of what women do as leaders is misogyny. Rather than questioning power as a step towards liberating ourselves from it, Ditum espouses the individualist, corporate brand of feminism that I’d thought was dead–or if not dead, at least no longer articulated quite so nakedly.

So Foster’s book is just as relevant as it would have been in 2013.

Lean Out seethes with raw anger, and yet Foster’s claim that corporate, individualist feminism not just ignores the conditions of the majority of women, but actively exacerbates them, is meticulously evidenced. She examines how austerity hits women hardest in often-painful detail, outlining the complicity of the corporate feminists in this continuing gendered oppression. She takes a look at Yarl’s Wood, and the attitudes towards poor and working class women having children, compared to those of the women in the boardrooms and parliaments. She looks at wars, and how women’s rights are often used as a justification for bombing women–again, this is more relevant than ever following the discourse around bombing Syria. She clearly explains how this individualist model of feminism turns a movement into a palatable brand, a series of personal lifestyle choices, as women further down the ladder struggle, starve, and find feminism increasingly unrelateable and irrelevant.

The world is fucked, and Dawn Foster does not mince her words in articulating this fact. She shows how these issues are interconnected, how trickledown feminism does little for the enormous majority of women except paint a feminist sheen on a system which actively harms most.

Despite the doom and gloom of the subject matter, Lean Out isn’t all doom and gloom. Foster writes with a fabulously sardonic humour, and ends the book on an uplifting note, a celebration of the resistance organised by working class women. The title, contrasting with Sandberg’s unimaginative invitation to lean in and only focus on your nuclear family and your job, invites women to organise and resist, to lean out and fight. It is perhaps one of the most accessibly radical texts I have read in a while, and I feel like few women who relate to Foster’s book (rather than feel attacked by it, as no doubt many of the establishment feminists will) are likely to find themselves unstirred.

In a very short book, Foster has neatly articulated the problem and its possible solution: it is a truly empowering text. As a bonus, it really is short: I read it on the tube to and from work, and then finished it off in a bath. It doesn’t even feel like preaching to the choir, but rather validation. 

I hope that Lean Out becomes one of those seminal texts, that it represents the beginning of the end for the kind of complicit feminism that just wants a few more women to have a seat at the oppressor’s table. It certainly instilled me with a sense of optimism that maybe, just maybe, it might.

This post was made possible by my supporters on Patreon, who gave me the financial means to buy the book. Become a patron!


Proving myself: #cuntsourdough fougasse (that I fed to a party!)

IMAG0688

I’ve branched out in my vaginal baking adventures! The sourdough starter is still alive and well, and it’s been going into different types of bread. In advance of a party, I asked if people would like to try some of my bread. Since there was a little bit of excitement over that, I decided to do something special, and baked a fanny fougasse. Two fanny fougasses, in fact.

Patrons on my Patreon get exclusive access to the recipe, more pictures, and the reaction to this next step on my baking adventure. If you want to get outraged, you’re going to have to pay!

Find out more about fanny fougasse!


Cervical Cancer Prevention Week: what’s a smear test like?

Content warning: this post discusses medical procedures performed on vaginas

This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, so let me start by saying if you have a cervix and haven’t had a smear test in the last three years (or you’re over 25 and have never had one), book yours now. Sometimes you won’t always get the reminder letters–this seems to especially be an issue for trans men (GP surgeries often only bother sending the letters out to those marked “female” on their records). So, get your test.

Smear tests, from my own personal experience, are fucking unpleasant. I’ve had three now, and it’s grim, but the worst of it quick. My experience is entirely with GP surgeries, although some sexual health clinics also do smears. It goes a little bit like this:

Booking:  You need to book your smear test for a day you’re not on your period. My surgery likes it two weeks from the first day of your period, although that’s not set in stone. What they want most of all is for you not to be bleeding out of your cervix while they’re trying to swab it.

For me, booking a date isn’t difficult, because my periods are regular as clockwork thanks to the combined pill. If you’re lucky enough not to have periods, then book for whenever the hell you want. If you’re irregular, I would suggest calling up to book your appointment on the first day of your period, so they can schedule it for exactly two weeks’ time, which saves you having to faff about with calendars, apps and ouija boards to work out when’s good.

Preparation: Some people like to make their cunts look nice for their smear tests, by shaving or waxing. This is strictly optional, and unnecessary. Nonetheless, if hair removal is something you like to do, there’s no harm doing it either.

Don’t wash with soap or special fanny soap or apply special fanny perfumes before your smear tests. Not because it will fuck up the test result, but because you don’t need that shit anyway. Your cunt is self-cleaning, and almost certainly smells fine.

Personally, I’ve never bothered with hair removal. Before my last smear test, though, I decided to apply conditioner to my pubes to make them nice and soft–this is something I sometimes do before dates or orgies, too. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the conditioner I used was smoothing conditioner. Do you know what this does to pubes? It straightens them. And so I turned up at my smear test with a bush that looked exactly like Vegeta. The nurse, being a well-trained NHS worker was too polite to comment, and while I cringed, I know she’s probably seen weirder.

Before the test: Before the nurse does the test, they’ll sit down with you and have a quick chat to verify that you definitely need the test, that now’s the right time to do your smear, and to see if you have any symptoms.

They’ll ask you about if you’re sexually active. As healthcare workers, they will be non-judgmental about it. In my experience, they won’t call you a slut (or even side-eye you), but they won’t high-five you either (sadly). It’s OK to be vague if you don’t want to go into exact numbers. Even if you’ve only had sex with other people with vaginas, you need to get your smear test because the HPV virus, that causes most cases of cervical cancer, can be transmitted by sex involving two or more vulvas.

You’ll also be asked about discharge and all sorts of things like that. Be as frank as you like. If something’s worrying you about your downstairs and whether it’s normal, mention it.

When all the small talk is over, it’s time to get behind that curtain and wiggle out of your tights, because it’s time for your smear test.

Assume the position: You lie down on the couch and spread your legs in a different way to the way one would if anything pleasant were to happen to your cunt. For the smear, you put your ankles together, and let your knees drop.

The nurse will probably talk to you throughout, letting you know what they’re going to do. If the nurse doesn’t offer the information, ask them to. You’re well within your rights to.

The speculum: A speculum is a plastic doohickey that looks like a cartoon duck. They should use lube when they put it inside you–if they don’t, ask them for lube. I once had an STI test where a speculum went in without lube and it was the second most horrible cunt experience of my life (here’s the most, not for the faint-hearted).

Even with lube, I’m not going to lie to you. A speculum does not feel very nice at all. As it goes in, it feels like any phallic object penetrating does–so if you have any issues surrounding that feeling, take a lot of time to psychically prepare yourself and do what you need to do. Then after that, the nurse cranks it open, and that feels downright weird: you feel yourself getting a bit bigger on the inside. I imagine it’s how the TARDIS feels when anyone steps into her.

The speculum is not painful, but it is uncomfortable.

However weird it feels, you’re not actually being cranked very far open, just big enough for the nurse to be able to see your cervix and insert a small plastic brush.

At every smear test I’ve ever had, at this point the nurse has exclaimed over what a “beautiful” cervix I have. I do not know if this is a normal part of the procedure, or if I have a particularly aesthetically-pleasing cervix. I’ve never plucked up the courage to ask, and I always forget to bring a hand mirror so I can have a little shufti myself.

The actual smear test bit: Most resources about cervical smears say the procedure is completely painless. For me, at least, that is untrue. I am not going to lie: when they swab my cervix, it hurts a bit. Not much, and not for long, but it hurts.

The little brush they use to take the swab has stiff bristles. The nurse scrubs it around for a second or two on your cervix. It feels exactly like a stiff-bristled brush scrubbing around on your cervix. Have you ever caught the side of your hand with steel wool while washing up? It feels like that, except up your fanny. Oh, and with the added sensation of that weird feeling when something bangs on your cervix.

So yes, it might hurt. But–and I cannot stress this enough–it’s over within seconds. Again, if you have issues with this sort of thing happening to your vagina and cervix, prepare yourself. Have your self-care prepared, try to dissociate through the procedure… whatever will get you through it, because it’s not nice, but it is important you get it done.

Afterwards: The speculum is out of you before you know it, and you’ll be handed a tissue to have a little wipe with. It’s usually just lube, although during my second smear test I bled slightly from vigorous swabbing. The test shouldn’t do any physical damage which will prevent you from getting home immediately (although, once again, if you have any issues surrounding things being done to your vagina, you might want to take a few minutes to be sure you’re OK to go).

For me, I get slight twinges in my cervix for a few hours after a smear: not pain, exactly, but discomfort. This is perfectly normal and happens to some people, although some people feel nothing afterwards.

Results: You’ll get your results within a couple of weeks, usually by post. The letters are quite clear as whether the result was normal, abnormal or inadequate, and what you need to do with that information. Luckily for me so far, I’ve always had normal results.

For a normal result, that means “see you in three year’s time”, and congratulations, you’ve made it through your smear test. If it’s inadequate, bad luck, you’ll have to go in again because they didn’t collect enough cells during your smear. If it’s abnormal, don’t worry yet. My mum and my sister have both had abnormal smears and both are fine–my sister had her first baby recently, and my mum celebrated her 60th birthday! It doesn’t definitely mean you have cancer, and when they catch anything abnormal on your cervix, they can deal with it before you have any problems. It could save your life.

So, to conclude, get your smear test. It is approximately five minutes of awkward conversation, thirty seconds of discomfort and slight pain, and then, potentially, decades added to your life.


Things I read recently that I found interesting

It’s the getting-irregular-again link roundup! There’s a lot of links, which suggests to me I should probably pull my finger out and start doing these regularly again.

This Tortoise Could Save a Life– One of Alan Rickman’s last voiceover credits. It’s a lovely video, and clicks go to charity, so click if you haven’t already.

Sick Woman Theory (Johanna Hedva)- If you read one thing this week, make it this superb, in depth analysis of sickness and its intersections.

Is mindfulness making us ill? (Dawn Foster)- This is certainly tallies with my own experience of mindfulness: Dawn examines the dodgy ideologies and negative effects of mindfulness.

Gender recognition, some basic demands (DrCable)- What things are necessary for trans and non-binary people’s basic legal recognition? Here’s a good place to start.

The secret life of the NHS (Sophie Walton)- Lending context to the junior doctors’ strike, an overview of what’s being done to the NHS.

Notes Towards a Theory of the Manarchist (Ray Filar)- A rather comprehensive look at the creature we call the manarchist.

Here’s What Happened When Black People Tried Armed Occupation (Carimah Townes)- A little history lesson, contextualising the response to those white supremacists in Oregon.

Parliament’s New Sex Work Inquiry Looks Like a Witch Hunt (Frankie Mullin)- The much-vaunted inquiry has set up its frame in a way which will not help sex workers.

Blog series: Bipolar pregnancy, birth and beyond (The Secret Life Of A Manic Depressive)- You’ve probably seen or heard about Stacey’s plot on EastEnders, now read about the reality.

Why does the man behind ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Sherlock’ still have a job? (Aja Romano)- A neat precis on everything godawful about Moff. Also, who else is fucking delighted he’s going from Doctor Who? Ding fucking dong. Fuckety bye.

What to do with a problematic fave (Lola Phoenix)- On Bowie and Severus Snape, and mourning while acknowledging the huge problems.

The House of Surrender (Laurie Penny)- Speculative fiction, in a future where the most violent choose sanctuary. Penny is a gifted fiction writer and this is well worth a read.

How to Have Sex on Your Deathbed (Dr Sharon Bober/Simon Davis)- The title is pure clickbait, but this article is actually a nuanced look at the taboos and issues surrounding end-of-life and sex.

Is Ireland about to become the pinkwashing capital of the world? (Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin)- Ireland is not progressive. Here’s why.

Navigating Non Escalator Relationships (polysingleish)- This is a really sweet article on celebrating milestones when your relationship isn’t of the standard form.

Facebook and How UIs Twist Your Words (Chantal Jandard)- How those pop-up FB chat windows can make you look desperate. This is a really good look at the effect of user interfaces, with an experiment!

The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene (David Epstein)- A long read, showing people living with long-term conditions seem to know more about their conditions than their doctors.

What I Would Have Said To You Last Night Had You Not Cum and Then Fallen Asleep (Reina Gattuso)- This is a great, funny, relatable piece on orgasm disparities and gender.

And finally, did you know Aragorn totally shouldn’t be king, and Middle Earth sucks balls? Read all about why in this very enjoyable bit of fanwankery delving into Aragorn’s genealogy and the basis for his claim.

And one more thing while I’m at it. Artist @KivaBay drew this amazing portrait of me. Kiva is an incredible artist who you can follow on twitter @KivaBay (she’s also a wicked feminist, if you enjoy following me, you’ll enjoy following her) and support on Patreon.

kiva


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.


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