Category Archives: rape

If the New Year sexual assaults were made up, it reveals ugly truths about what white men believe

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence, rape apologism and racism

News has emerged that the New Year mass sexual assaults by Arab men may have been made up or colossally overstated. If this is true, it’s a rare occurrence of sexual assault allegations proving to be false, and it’s utterly disgusting and unhelpful to everyone.

Except white men. Remember the frothing glee with which white men seized upon similar attacks, a year before. Remember how Nigel Farage, practically hard, threatened that this was why Migration Is Bad. Remember how the police rounded up brown men, ostensibly for the safety of women. Remember the wild-eyed excitement from the right, literally saying “told you so“.

And compare and contrast this with the reaction when an allegation is made against a white man’s idol. Donald Trump, Roman Polanski, Julian Assange… the endless list of beloved white men, protected by other white men who claim to be exercising healthy scepticism. I’ve pointed out to white men in the past that what happened in Cologne on that night sounded quite comparable to what happens every time I’ve had the misfortune of being in a rugby time on a match day, with pissed-up posh white men grabbing away. This has been met with scoffs of disbelief. There is disbelief in attacks by white men, and unconditional belief in attacks by brown and black men.

Allegations of this type have always revealed an ugly truth about white men and the conditional belief in sexual violence. At a most charitable analysis, it’s rooted in the biggest rape myth of all: that sexual violence is perpetrated by strangers, the other–not, as is most common, by someone the survivor knows. However, it’s likely that more plays into this: Nabila Ramdani wrote on how they fit a neo-Nazi agenda. The response to the allegations is dripping with racism.

What will happen next, with the treatment of the allegations, is two things, simultaneously. First of all, white men will seize upon this to add to their pitifully thin file of actual cases of false allegations, to throw about whenever one of their white faves is accused, screeching that false allegations happen all the time. And yet, at the same time, the allegations will be forgotten, because if false, they do not neatly justify the hysteria against Muslims and refugees. The racist genie is out of the bottle, and all that will be remembered is that brown men did some mass sexual assaults. The specifics, and the fact this may not be true, will be forgotten. White men are capable of holding these two conflicting beliefs simultaneously: they have proved they are capable of believing at the same time that all women are liars, and all Muslims are rapists.

It is an unpleasant prediction, yet I fear it will play out in the immediate future, and over years to come. The damage has well and truly been done, and the veracity of the allegations, in a way, does not matter particularly. Instead, we need to examine the motives of a xenophobic and misogynistic media, as well as those who influence and are influenced by it.

What these allegations have laid bare, is yet another ugly truth about white supremacy.

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We must be able to talk openly about our rapes without an unsolicited police investigation

Content note: this post discusses rape, child sexual abuse, the police, and rape apologism

MP Michelle Thomson did something very brave and highly unprecedented recently: she spoke about her rape in the House of Commons.

Sadly, however, I’m concerned that this courage might have negative consequences–for Thomson, and ultimately for other survivors. Police Scotland have announced they are now investigating Thomson’s rape, with no evidence whatsoever that Thomson requested, needs or wants a police investigation.

I’ve written before about how a lot of survivors do not report their rapes, and this is a perfectly sensible option that is best for them. As hard as it might be for people steeped in rape culture but with no experience of being on the wrong end of it to believe, many survivors do not want a police investigation. 

I keep thinking of the experience of the survivor in the Ched Evans rape case. This young woman never reported a rape to the police. She simply called because she was concerned her drink had been spiked. Yet from the moment she called the police, matters were taken out of her hands, and it spiralled into a rape investigation which ultimately became a rallying point for rape-enabling misogynists. The survivor has had to change her identity several times due to the harassment she has received.

I wonder what would have become of her if the police had allowed her to have a choice in how the case proceeded, to follow her lead and her wishes rather than just treating her as a witness. Would she have chosen a court case? We shall never know.

I think about how the mental health of those who report historic sexual abuse is scrutinised, evaluated and discredited by a media deeply invested in protecting old white men (and likely to include more than a few nonces itself; it’s unlikely the problem was confined to the BBC).

There is no mention that Thomson wanted the police to investigate her rape. She didn’t tell them 37 years ago when it happened, and let’s face it, it’s astronomically unlikely that a conviction would be possible now. So did Thomson consent to a police investigation? I don’t know, and therefore I cannot cheer that the police are finally pulling their hammy fingers out and doing something: because the something that they’re doing could make things worse for the survivor, and they may well be acting without her consent.

The idea of police acting without survivors’ consent is something which doesn’t just necessarily dissuade survivors from contacting the police. It also shuts us down from talking openly about our experiences. It’s pretty fucking terrifying that we could be dragged into all of the scrutiny that survivors must undergo if taking the police-court route, without choosing it. It’s frightening that the police might force this upon us simply to look like they’re doing something, in a lazy PR move.

As survivors, we must be able to talk openly about our rapes without the threat that the police may disempower us. It is vital that every step of dealing with a rape is done with the consent of the survivor.

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Stand Up To Racism: Stand Up To Rape Culture

The SWP are still going, and this event is the same shit with a different stink. Don’t let this party of rape apologists undertake this recruitment exercise. I’ve signed this letter, and share it here for information.

Media Diversified

An earlier version of this open letter was initially addressed to several of the headline speakers, it has since been adapted since many have now cancelled their plans to attend.

We, the undersigned, want all planned speakers and delegates to withdraw their attendance from Stand Up to Racism’s conference on 8 October. We ask because the speakers will share the bill with Weyman Bennett, Stand Up To Racism’s co-convenor and a central committee member of the Socialist Workers’ Party.

This must include refusing to lend any support to the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) either directly, or indirectly through its front organisations including “Unite Against Fascism”, “Unite the Resistance”, “Stand up to UKIP” and “Stand Up To Racism”.

We call on people to do this because the SWP’s well documented failing of two women members who accused the then central committee member of the SWP, known as

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Is Theresa May A Feminist Icon? Listen to KILLJOY FM for why she really, really isn’t

My friend, feminist extraordinaire Ray Filar, has started a really good radio show, and they were kind enough to invite me on the inaugural episode, where we discussed the question, is Theresa May a feminist icon? Me, Ray, and migrant rights activist Antonia Bright of Movement For Justice all agree that she isn’t, and frankly an hour wasn’t long enough to cover all the reasons why (although we made some headway). Take a bit of time to listen to our conversation, covering May’s violences against migrant women, complicity in austerity, why “blue feminism” is a shivering pile of turds, and what feminism needs to be doing instead of cheering on a monster.

Content note: the discussion covers detention, FGM, violence against women and domestic violence.

Listen to KILLJOY FM every Wednesday on Resonance FM, online or on 104.4 in London.

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I have revised my opinion of Wikileaks: it’s trash

Content note: this post discusses prison, suicide, transmisogyny, rape and violence against women

A little over five years ago, I wrote an article titled “I think Julian Assange is a rapist. I still like Wikileaks.” As per the disclaimer on my site, my views have evolved. I now think Julian Assange is a rapist and I also think Wikileaks is absolute trash.

Today, it was announced that Chelsea Manning–who was responsible for the leaks which made Wikileaks a household name–faces indefinite solitary confinement or a harsher prison, almost a decade added to her sentence, and she may lose her parole. She faces this as punishment for already having had such a horrible time in a men’s prison that she attempted to take her own life. And of course, she is only in prison in the first place because Wikileaks failed to protect her, despite all their branding suggesting that they would. (AssAngels will at this point go on like she confessed and blabbed to a man Wikileaks already identified as a threat, because I think this is the Assange-approved talking point. OK. Say that’s true. Wikileaks should’ve definitely at the very least briefed her on basic advice: “don’t tell anyone else, and if arrested, don’t confess.” That they didn’t even do this reflects horribly on them).

One would think that a woman facing torture would be a subject which Wikileaks might deem worthy of comment, even if they weren’t responsible for her being in the hands of the torturers in the first place. One would think.

The news broke this morning, and there has not been a peep on the topic from Wikileaks, although their social media accounts and website have been active.

No. Instead, Wikileaks have been focusing on some pretty uninteresting emails showing that political campaigners squabble among themselves and get mean to media outlets–something which a seven year old could have told you. Also, this leak may or may not have been orchestrated by Putin. But don’t worry. This week, Wikileaks have also been leaking information from a country undergoing severe political turmoil! Yeah, like leaking the details of millions of Turkish women at a time when their government is about to aggressively crack down.

It’s becoming abundantly clear that Wikileaks has an agenda, and it isn’t a very nice agenda. It’s a classic, bog-standard, right wing misogynist agenda, much like the governments they claim to oppose.

I should stop using “they” for Wikileaks, to be honest. I’m not convinced Wikileaks consists of anyone else but rat-faced probably rapist Julian Assange these days.

So anyway, mea culpa. I once liked Wikileaks. I now realise it is utter trash. Wikileaks appear to have thoroughly forgotten Chelsea Manning as much as the state who wish to kill her wish the rest of us would.


Rape-enablers getting whacked round the head with baseball bats is fine. Sorry not sorry.

Content note: this post discusses rape culture, rape apologism and physical violence

In case you didn’t know, a woman called Tabitha Brubaker is in jail for having taken action against a man who, day after day, for months, stood around holding a sign encouraging rape. You can donate to her legal fees for taking this drastic action, because she should not be punished for this.

Predictably, men who have been conspicuously silent on other men encouraging and enabling rape, have suddenly gone all pacifist and think that hitting people is wrong. 

Well yes. Hitting people is wrong. But do you know what else is wrong? Encouraging rape. Threatening to rape. Enabling rape.

Holding up a sign saying “You deserve rape” is a direct threat to all women. A physical intervention is not just an act of self-defence, but an act to defend all women.

I’d honestly rather we lived in a world where nobody smacked anybody with a baseball bat. Unfortunately, we do not yet live in this world. Rape is a fact of life. It is something that happens to far too many women, and something all other women fear. It is frighteningly common, and so entirely ingrained that men can literally hold placards stating their intention to rape while other men leap to their defence. A man encouraging rape is not even seen as inciting violence, but that is exactly what is happening. Rape is an act of violence, and yet defending oneself against it is the violence that men get their knickers in a twist over.

If you don’t want to see a man threatening rape getting whacked with a baseball bat, there is an incredibly simple solution: stop his violence. Intervene before it gets to that point. Make it so that his threat of violence, his encouragement of rape, is so completely acceptable that he fucks off. Snatch his sign from his hands and shout and scream over him. Involve the auth-

Oh wait. When hate speech happens, the law tends to sit around with its thumb right up its arse. When men make violent threats, the law does not give a tiny little rabbit dropping. Is it any surprise, then, that those affected are having to take matters into their own hands?

The law, completely and utterly disinterested when a man is helping out rapists, suddenly comes to life when a victim of his violences takes defensive action. The law protects rapists at the expense of those who think rape is wrong. This is why it is so imperative that we help this brave woman with her legal fees: the state would sooner help out men who would rape.

None of this needed to happen, if men were anywhere near as offended by rape and rape enablers than they are by one getting hit. There is no moral high ground when we have already been dragged down so low. The only way to prevent rape enablers getting beaten with baseball bats is to prevent rape enablers themselves.

Donate to Tabitha Brubaker’s legal fund.


Advance knowledge is power: Exposing the true nature of exposure therapy

This is the third in a short series on engagement and trigger warnings.
Part 1: A trip to the dentist
Part 2: The banality of trigger warnings
Part 4: A strange hill to die on

Content note: this post discusses mental illness and psychiatry, PTSD, phobias and snakes, mentions rape.

A daytime chat show:  the topic is phobias. The host promises that his guest therapists will cure these phobias, right in front of our eyes, using exposure therapy. A guest, a young woman, talks about her phobia of snakes, and how it prevents her going outside.

The host then calls a man to the stage. He enters from the back, walking up the aisle between the audience for maximum effect. They whoop and cheer, because he is carrying a large snake on his shoulders. The woman on stage pales and begins to shake as she sees him coming towards her. As he gets closer, she vibrates more and more.

The man plonks the snake around her shoulders and she screams and cries, because she has a phobia of snakes. The audience is delighted by this spectacle. Their whooping intensifies with her screaming: there is something almost medieval about it. She screams until she can scream no longer. I turn off the TV, disgusted.

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The scene described above is what too many people think is meant by the term “exposure therapy”, which is usually the justification given to lend a scientific veneer to the argument against trigger warnings.

Trigger warnings, it is argued, are unhealthy. The main source for this argument is the infamous Atlantic article, which was written by a psychologist. Which, yes, it was written by a psychologist, but not one who specialises in anything clinical–or even one who fully understands the behavioural model on which exposure therapy is based. He’s a “moral psychologist”, who naturally therefore views these things throw a moral lens, rather than anything else. As the old saying goes, when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Exposure therapy forms the core of the supposedly scientific argument against trigger warnings, but everyone putting this across is wrong. 

Exposure therapy isn’t simply randomly exposing people with anxiety disorders to their anxiety triggers, and assuming they’ll eventually get better and grow some resilience. Exposure therapy is a wide term for a number of different approaches which all involve exposing the client to the thing that causes their anxiety under controlled circumstances. In some approaches, the person might be trained in coping mechanisms before being exposed to their trigger in a safe space. In others, there might be a stepped exposure to the trigger with the support of the therapist–using the example of snakes, that might be first looking at a picture of a snake, then touching a bit of snake skin, eventually working up to holding a snake over the course of the therapy. Some approaches might even use virtual reality or visualising the trigger, and so forth. Crucially, though, exposure therapy isn’t just exposing someone to their trigger and assuming they’ll just get over it and become a stronger person: the exposure happens in controlled circumstances–and usually in a manner which the person controls (indeed, in PTSD, exposure therapy is more effective when it’s self-controlled rather than therapist-controlled).

Exposure therapy is more commonly-used in treating phobias: when used for PTSD, the most common form involves a combination of visualising and processing traumatic memories with the help of a therapist, and taking a hierarchical approach to exposing oneself to triggers in real life. Again, trigger warnings are not at odds with this: hell, providing information about content could help someone undergoing exposure therapy undertake their week’s task of, say, watching a rape scene in a film, by having been told in advance that the rape scene is there!

The fundamental lack of understanding of exposure therapy is perhaps a driving force in the peculiar belief that not allowing survivors control over their engagement with triggering material is somehow for their own good.

Far from being at odds with various therapeutic models, trigger warnings can be congruent. It means that exposure occurs in circumstances which are controlled by the person rather than just at random. Exposure therapy is hardly the only model for treating PTSD, and may not necessarily be the best: however, I have not managed to identify a treatment for PTSD which is incompatible with trigger warnings.

Of course, the other primary conjecture used against trigger warnings is that they cause avoidance. The only attempt to systematically research it I’ve found is an abstract for an unpublished undergraduate dissertation with a tiny sample size of twenty and rather a lot of tests run on that very small data set (including dividing it into subsets!).  If there’s any evidence of the effect of trigger warnings on avoidant behaviour, I’d love to see it. Note exactly what I asked for. I am not asking for you to leave a screed in the comments about how your feelings suggest this is so (you can call it “common sense” if you like, but it isn’t).

If warnings about content were actually harmful, we would expect to see psychologists coming out against the banal, everyday content warnings that you see on TV, or before films. We don’t.

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So, trigger warnings aren’t going to harm anyone. Are they actually helping anyone?

Sadly, we don’t know, because there is an unwillingness to provide the data which could identify whether they’re effective. Given how politically-charged the issue is though, there sadly aren’t any large-scale studies on the impact of using trigger warnings in higher education, which is a primary battleground in this debate. There don’t seem to be any quality studies at all.

This is likely because very few institutions have tried, despite it being fairly easy to pilot. What we do know is that dropping out of college happens more if you’ve experienced violence. We also know that a frighteningly large portion of the population has experienced sexual violence. With this happening, what exactly do lecturers have to lose by piloting whether trigger warnings improve retention rates?

Of course, some may wonder how this all fits into practice, while teaching traumatic content. An article in The Criminologist, the American Society of Criminology’s newsletter offers some evidence-based suggestions. Criminology, of course, necessarily features teaching subject matter which can be heavily traumatic. Trigger warnings are recommended as one aspect in teaching about victimisation:

Warning early and often via multiple mediums provides students maximum opportunity to engage in informed decision-making and feel that they are in control. The first trigger warning should be on the first day of any course that includes information with the potential to emotionally trigger students. Trigger warnings should be given in at least the two classes before the presentation of potentially triggering material (or engagement with it outside of class, if that is the case), as well as at the beginning of the day when the material is presented. If an assignment is going to be shared with others, include that detail ahead of time (e.g., Hollander, 2000), so students can control how much of their experiences they share. These steps allow students time to think about what they need to do for self-care (see below) and give them an opportunity to talk to the instructor about their concerns and possible alternate arrangements.

Meanwhile, an article in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, suggests the following guidance, emphasising the point about how trigger warnings actually involve taking responsibility on the part of those who require trigger warnings:

Some professors, including Zurbriggen, encourage their psychology students to start doing so by taking responsibility for their reactions at the beginning of a course. She asks students to create a list of coping practices and people they can consult if they are affected by course material.

“The way the story is framed [in the media] sometimes is that students are so vulnerable or that they need to toughen up, and that’s not the issue,” says Zurbriggen. “Most trauma survivors have a lot of resilience. Providing information to students always makes the class a better experience and prepares them to dive into the material in a way that promotes learning.”

Despite all this, the evidence is sparse: the question becomes political, and therefore the objections, too, are political, and largely driven by emotion. It’s therefore only fitting that tomorrow’s conclusion to this series will also be political and largely driven by emotion and my own experiences.

Part 4: A strange hill to die on

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