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Blurred Party Lines: The dodgy attitude towards consent from the Labour Party

Content warning: This post discusses rape culture and has a dream sequence involving Robin Thicke in which consent is ignored

All I wanted to do was peek at the Labour manifesto, to see if it was awful. I’d thought the Labour website would be the best place to find it. Maybe it is there, or maybe it isn’t. I don’t know, because before I was allowed to view the site, I was presented with this choice:

Labour Thicke

Eagle-eyed readers will spot an option that is missing on this poll: the ability to say “no”. By polling standards, this is therefore a pretty crummy poll. By the standards of basic human decency, this is merely reflective of how consent is usually constructed.

Labour’s framing of the question would not sound out of place if Robin Thicke were canvassing, a red rosette fixed jauntily to his sunglasses. As you try to close the door, his slimy foot slithers in in that classic salesman tactic. Robin Thicke proffers you leaflets, red and yellow. More and more of them, and he begins to stuff them down your throat, incessantly yelling “I KNOW YOU WANT THIS”. You gag, you choke. You cannot breathe. With your fading strength, you nod assent. You tell him you will vote Labour just so he’ll go away.

Nightmares aside, this little snap survey from Labour does betray rather a problematic, yet sadly commonplace attitude towards consent. There is no such thing as a no, only a “maybe” that can be turned into a “yes”. Rape culture is everywhere, and so the idea that “no” is not an option is equally ubiquitous.

It is in the interests of maintaining rape culture to keep the ability to say no off the table. What might seem like an innocent bit of bad polling has the seedy undercurrent of rape culture allowing it to happen in the first place. Perhaps instead of a pink bus, Labour could have demonstrated an understanding of the concept of consent to attract women voters.

Disclaimer: I suspect the content of this blog will appeal to people with political affiliations which isn’t Labour, so allow me to say that as well as Labour being dripping anuses, so are the Green Party, the Tories, the Lib Dems, UKIP, TUSC and all the other tiddly trot parties, the nationalist parties of NI, Scotland and Wales, as well as Mebyon Kernow (who always get forgotten), and also the loyalist parties, and basically, if you’re in a political party, your party’s shit. So there.


On victim blaming and voting

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, because the UK media have been pretty quiet about it, but there’s an election next month. This week is the last week you can register to vote in it. In turn, this means we can expect left-liberals to begin trotting out a particularly insufferable and deeply unpleasant line in order to encourage voter registration.

It goes like this: women, young people, people of colour, disabled people, poor people–basically, any marginalised group you can name–are being fucked over by the government. It’s in their power to change this, if only they go out and vote!

On the face of it, it sounds like your classic harmless liberal drivel, with that fervent belief that the Vote Fairy will change everything if only the right guys get in next time. However, scratch a little deeper, and at its core is victim blaming: it’s your fault the government is doing its damndest to murder you, because you should have voted for the guys who will murder you a bit slower. You had a choice, the liberals say, and you failed to take it.

Rather charitably, I’m going to suggest this argument comes from a place of oblivious privilege rather than a malicious attempt to actually emotionally blackmail vulnerable people into feeling blamed for their fate. There are lots of reasons people don’t vote other than an understanding that absolutely none of the people vying for your vote actually have your interests at heart, or an ideological disdain for the entire sham of representative democracy.

The people who are supposedly to blame for their oppression if they don’t vote are exactly the people who face impediments to voting. Even at the point of registration, for example, trans people are experiencing disenfranchising problems. Registering to vote also requires a level of reading ability, internet access or a stamp, and the time to fill the fucking thing in.

Then there’s the hurdles at the polling station. They’re not necessarily accessible: even with legal protections, last election a lot of disabled voters were failed in very basic requirements, and this is for the bare minimal accessibility standards for people with common physical disabilities. If you have a job or childcare arrangements, it’s going to be a pain in the arse managing to get to the polling station–just because the polls are open from early until late doesn’t mean someone has a chance to go! (and don’t, at this juncture, suggest postal voting: that requires a degree of planning which simply doesn’t fit in with a lot of people’s lives)

The barriers to voting are very real, and for the people being blamed for their own oppression, if not physically insurmountable, certainly psychically so. On one side, there is the right, saying that marginalised people are to blame for their own problems because they’re not trying hard enough to lift themselves out of their oppression. On the other side, the liberal left are saying that these people are to blame for some of their problems because they’re not trying hard enough to vote themselves out of their oppression.

Disengagement is manifest in particular among the groups who have been historically shafted not just by governments, but by society. Disabled people, people of colour, women, young people, poor people, queer people have been scapegoated throughout history. They are being scapegoated once again by those with the power.

If it’s true that a government reflects the society that elected it (I’m not convinced) then this means that unpleasant attitudes towards marginalised people will be present in government for as long as they’re present in society. Of course, it isn’t true that government is like real people: government is overwhelmingly a bunch of white abled cishet men from rich backgrounds. The rest of us look at these people, a ballot card full of these freaks and see them as completely indistinguishable. Even the candidates who aren’t white abled cishet men from rich backgrounds are still toeing party lines–which are, of course, decided by people in parties who come from the same position of privilege as the government and so forth.

Inviting oppressed people to vote is all well and good, but all it achieves is an invitation to be nominally complicit in one’s own oppression. A lot of people are wise to this.

If people want to vote, of course there shouldn’t be barriers in the way, but this goes out to the people who do not and cannot: whatever happens in May is not your fault. The game is stacked, and there are people from all points on the political spectrum who are itching to blame you, because you’ve always been the scapegoat. It’s not your fault, and it never was. 


Tory “volunteer leave” is absolute bollocks and largely unhelpful to charities

Like everyone else, I can’t fucking avoid all this election waffle. It would be nice if, like during the World Cup, news websites had a way of hiding this big event, because almost everything I see annoys the piss out of me.

Today, it’s the Tories rebranding their “Big Society” wiffle with a promise to require large employers to allow workers paid leave to do volunteering. Three days of volunteering leave!

*record scratch*

Three days a year.

Anybody who has worked at a charity will recognise that this is almost entirely unhelpful to how charities work, and the sort of volunteers charities tend to need. I have worked at small charities and have volunteered in the past, and I can see numerous holes in what is being proposed.

Regular volunteers are crucial to how charities operate. Three days a year is nowhere near enough for many of the tasks charities require from volunteers. Regular, reliable volunteers are the lifeblood of the kind of small charity that cannot afford an employee to perform the work that keeps an organisation ticking over. Volunteers are often needed for the less-than-glamorous, time-consuming tasks like updating databases, stuffing envelopes, and so on. This is stuff which paid staff could do themselves, but then they would never get round to doing their actual jobs. It would be ideal if this sort of work was paid, but charities cannot afford it, and I don’t see the government leaping to subsidise this crucial labour.

Volunteers need to be trained. Regular volunteers are better for charities, because, even with clerical office work, the volunteers need to know the ropes. Every organisation functions differently, and just because a volunteer is a wizard with a particular CRM, doesn’t mean they’ll know how one particular charity formats their data. For volunteers delivering a service (Rape Crisis and the Samaritans spring to mind), the training is at an even higher level. Even if just for an event, volunteers need to know their stuff because they’re representing the charity or cause. A level of training is absolutely essential, and of course this is time- and resource-intensive. Under these three-day-a-year Tory proposals, what would happen would be volunteers would receive their training and then just swan off into the sunset with a sense of warm fuzzies.

Volunteers require a whole bundle of paperwork. It’s difficult having volunteers. While charities may vary in their volunteer policies, having a volunteer generates at least a small degree of labour pays off if they stick around. Everyone requires some sort of record of volunteers, but also some charities might require volunteers undergo a DBS check, for example. I have a sneaking suspicion the Tory proposals would generate yet more paperwork for charities, given that I am sure employers will only grant leave for volunteering with documentation that an employee is actually volunteering at a specific place.

Even for big events, it would be nice to have regulars. I get that this proposal isn’t for the type of volunteering desperately needed by small charities. I get that it’s so a load of employees from big businesses can turn up and smile in photos after planting a tree or whatnot. Here’s the thing: a lot of small charities already have people to do that: regular volunteers. The relationship of trust with a regular volunteer is great for small charities, as you know they’re not going to say or do anything terrible when the cameras are pointed at them. Somebody who has only donated three days has not had the time to build this relationship, and there would be this anxiety hanging over the whole thing.

In short, the whole thing is better for employers (who can feel good about letting their employees go off and volunteer) and potential volunteers rather than charities. For the tiny charities who need volunteers the most, these proposals would create a massive headache with little benefit.

Disclaimer: I suspect the content of this blog will appeal to people with political affiliations which aren’t the Tories, so allow me to say that as well as the Tories being dripping anuses, so are the Green Party, Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, TUSC and all the other tiddly trot parties, the nationalist parties of NI, Scotland and Wales, as well as Mebyon Kernow (who always get forgotten), and also the loyalist parties, and basically, if you’re in a political party, your party’s shit. So there.


I believe Eleanor de Freitas

Content note: This post discusses rape and suicide

Eleanor de Freitas was just 23 years old when she took her life.

Her story started like far too many others. She reported a rape to the police, and the police said there was insufficient evidence. It’s a script as tired as time: inconsistencies, blah blah blah. Unlike most other cases, though, it deviated radically from the script.

The man accused took out a private prosecution against Eleanor de Freitas. He must have been a rich, powerful man to do this. Her solicitors asked the CPS to stop this spiteful action, but the CPS decided to take it up for reasons which are currently completely unclear.

Eleanor de Freitas was a vulnerable woman, with bipolar disorder. She had been receiving counselling for rape. As soon as the summons came, this support was snatched away. Her mental health grew worse, and her psychiatrist deemed her not fit to stand trial.

Three days before the trial was due to start, Eleanor de Freitas took her life.

Her family would like the CPS to address the questions that they have, although so far this request is being blocked. Why did the CPS think it in the public interest to prosecute a sick young woman? Why didn’t they put a stop to the private prosecution that was quite literally killing her, despite its duty to think these things through? Why did they allow her vital counselling to be withdrawn?

The CPS need to address these questions, and their silence speaks volumes. There is something fishy going on.

I am inclined to believe Eleanor de Freitas, knowing what I know about rape and rape culture. I know that the police are fucking terrible at dealing with survivors coming forward, and don’t understand how the stress from trauma can lead to statements they deem “inconsistent”, because that’s how human brains work. I know that men falsely denying having committed rape is vastly more common than women making up false allegations. I know that society is far more inclined to give the men making denials the benefit of the doubt. I know that women with mental health problems are more likely to be disbelieved, thought to be mad.

I believe Eleanor de Freitas, and I want to know why the CPS helped a man to kill her.

__

Update 24/3/15: Men keep leaving comments explaining why one shouldn’t believe Eleanor de Freitas. I’ve not approved them because men get platforms to spout rubbish in all sorts of other places. Anyway, all of their comments make me believe Eleanor de Freitas even more. Their comments boil down to three threads:

  1. Eleanor’s mental health: as discussed earlier, women with mental health problems are less likely to be believed.
  2. Some CCTV evidence or other showing her in the company of the accused after the alleged rape: so? A lot of survivors end up spending time with their rapists. It’s really fucking common. Read this
  3. They are saying Eleanor de Freitas was a sex worker: again, so fucking what? Whether this is true or not, sex workers can also be raped. In fact, sex workers are another group less likely to be believed. 

In short, these comments remind me of Ched Evans supporters. And we all know Ched Evans did it. Every time I see rape apologism crop up, I believe Eleanor de Freitas even more.


Cyril Smith: Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True

Content note: This post discusses child abuse

The MP for Rochdale raped children. He was aided and assisted by men of his race. He and his paedophile ring procured children from care homes and raped them at parties.

The police were aware of what the MP for Rochdale was doing. They watched the paedophile ring raping children through secret cameras. They gathered a substantial amount of evidence about this paedophile ring, and who was involved, and what they were doing. And yet the police did nothing–worse than nothing. They shelved the investigation, and they threatened police officers who wanted to talk about this paedophile ring into silence.

It is only decades later that we are beginning to hear about this paedophile ring, and the Met are now investigating themselves to see whether they covered it up.

Cyril Smith, former MP for Rochdale and child rapist, was a white man. His gang of fellow child rapists were also white men. Most of the police force are white men, and they exist to protect the interests of white men.

This is hardly the first predominantly white paeodophile ring we’ve heard about, either. Take, for example, the Catholic Church sexual abuse. Most of those embroiled were white. The higher-ups at the Catholic Church are mostly white. And, as with Cyril Smith, we don’t know anywhere near as much as we should about what happened, and how it was allowed to happen, because the authorities are more than happy to cover it up.

We don’t talk about the race of the perpetrators in these paedophile rings because of white supremacy. White supremacy also drives the police to help rather than stop the abusers by keeping a lid on everything. You can’t say anything anymore.

There are things in white culture that help men rape children. White people are instilled with a sense of entitlement from birth, the feeling that if they want something, they can take it. White people are taught to look after their own, to keep each other away from accountability. White people blame anyone but themselves. White people feel as though they can get away with anything–and this is rarely a delusion.

We don’t talk about cases like Cyril Smith in the terms of his race, because this is usually shut down due to white supremacy. The privilege white skin bestows silences these discussions, because white skin is treated as simply “normal”. And yet at least in part, Cyril Smith’s whiteness let him get away with all his life. Same with Jimmy Savile.

White supremacy won’t allow us to associate whiteness with paedophilia, but it’s time we noticed that it is, so we can start to expose the horrors going on that the perpetrators and their chums would rather we didn’t.


Avoiding Murdoch.

I wrote something for the European Initiative for Media Pluralism on how avoiding Murdoch takes a lot more than just taping up your letterbox.


Guest post: Our Lady of the Bodice Ripper

!!!!ENORMOUS CONTENT NOTE FOR RAPE, RAPE APOLOGISM AND SUICIDE!!!!!!

This is a guest post from Sian Lacey Taylder, a writer and PhD student.

In September 2006 I was raped in what might be called a classic ‘date rape’ scenario, in the living room of my own home. I was encouraged by a friend to go to the police and, four days after the event, I called the sexual assault unit. I can’t fault the response or attitude of the police; I had two female officers who supported me through the interminable period between crime and trial. As a male-to-female transsexual I expected to expose myself to all kinds if ridicule but I experienced none; quite the contrary, in fact.

To my surprise the CPS charged my assailant with rape but for various reasons the trial didn’t go ahead until March 2008, some eighteen months after the event. It was a difficult time – my coping strategies mostly involved alcohol and self-harm and I was discouraged from seeking counselling as anything said in those sessions could have been used as evidence.

Apparently.

But that limbo was as nothing when compared to the trial. You’ve probably seen dramatic recreations on the television, probably read accounts of the Le Vell trial; let me you, nothing can prepare you for having to stand in that witness box and listen to every aspect of your life torn to shreds.

Inevitably, the case against him soon became a case against me. I’d expected and prepared myself for the predictable questions, about my gender and why hadn’t I gone to the police immediately. What I hadn’t anticipated was the counsel for the defence playing me at my own game – and winning. I’m a writer, I deal in fiction, some of it darkly erotic but even I couldn’t have invented the narrative my assailant’s barrister delivered in Luton Crown Court. It went something along the lines that, in order to take revenge on the male sex, I’d spiked his drink, masturbated him then spread his semen in and around my own anus. Yes, it was that sort of rape.

It sounds more preposterous now than it did then. You’d have thought nobody in their right mind would have believed it but the defence had already softened the jury with a character assassination that also belongs in the realms of metafiction. They fell for it hook, line and sinker. What follows is an account of the experience written shortly after the trial came to an end, the rapist having been found not guilty. I’d taken a leaf out of the defence counsel’s book and dressed it up as a third person narrative; it’s part of a longer memoir cum autobiographical novel that still remains a work in progress.

 

That Siân Lacey Taylder has not always been Siân Lacey Taylder was always going to be a predictable line of attack for the inevitable character assassination. I can’t be bothered to surf the internet for cases similar to hers; when women like Siân Lacey Taylder haven’t only been victims of rape but have had the temerity to report it to the police. If it’s happened half-a-dozen times I’d be surprised. She’s not like other women; she should’ve had the strength and physical prowess to resist. Perhaps that’s what you’re thinking, too. And let’s face it, chances are that the members of the jury fell for it hook, line and sinker as well; I doubt whether any of them had encountered a woman like her before; I’ll lay pretty good odds that each and every one of them saw the stereotype and not the victim. Doesn’t matter how intelligent or articulate she is, at the end of the day she’s a freak who can be perjured with impunity.

Because that’s what happened: perjury and a litany of false accusations so manifestly untrue she was immediately flummoxed.

Now, I’m proud to call myself a cynic, the so-called British sense of fair play is a complete anathema to me, an oxymoron – a dangerous oxymoron indeed but Siân Lacey Taylder still possessed a residual modicum of faith in the English legal system, not least because the Hertfordshire constabulary had treated her with nothing but dignity and respect.

Possessed a residual modicum of faith in the English legal system. I use the preterit advisedly.

How much can I tell you of the tissue of lies Siân Lacey Taylder’s assailant concocted with the help of his defence barrister? Let’s just say that they turned the truth on its head and accused her … well, more or less accused her of committing an act of violation against her assailant – or as close as was physically possible given her circumstances. I’ll spare you the gory minutiae, according to the counsel for the defence Ms Lacey Taylder spiked the drink of the man who raped her and took advantage of his comatose state.

It was, they argued, a classic case of revenge on the whole of the male sex.

I’ll tell you something, it would have made for an intriguing plotline but no agent, publisher or self-respecting reader would have bought it. God only knows how the jury were taken in but you can’t legislate for ignorance can you?

But that’s not the half of it. The next thing she knows, Ms Lacey Taylder is having the content and subject matter of her website and novel quoted verbatim as evidence of her disturbed state of mind. Since when has a work of fiction purported to be factual and reliable account of events? It’s a fucking story, for God’s sake, you can’t use that in a court of law.

Apparently you can. Here are just a couple of the offending excerpts the counsel of the defence saw fit to quote as evidence; needless to say they were taken out of context and without reference to the genre.

 

They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned but the devil and myself only know the rage she suffers when deprived of the bodily bliss I considered, quid pro quo, to be rightfully mine. Whether or not he cried out ‘Rebecca’ is irrelevant, he had denied me. He was about to slump into narcosis when I threw him to the floor and, while he was still cowering in disbelief, surreptitiously removed from his wallet from his trouser pocket. In lieu of what he conspicuously failed to deliver.

 

Thus Siân Lacey Taylder is a woman of easy virtue, shamelessly flaunting her depraved and dishonest sexuality. Not only that, but using it for her own insidious ends.

 

In that split second of freedom I seized the burning candle and, before he had chance to recoil, tipped its burning, molten wax like a pellucid lava over the cherry-red helmet of his oscillating penis. He screamed, quite naturally, but with a clamour that terrified me for I had no idea as to the sensitivity of that ironically tender and fragile organ. It reared up in agony, like a wounded beast, and I cackled with undisguised delight.

 

Thus Siân Lacey Taylder is a woman of perverted sexual fantasies that border on the dangerous. Her fiction is the product of a disturbed mind and should carry a public health warning. In fact, it might be a good idea if Siân Lacey Taylder herself carried a public health warning, a placard around her neck advising any male unfortunate enough to cross her that she suffers from phallophobia.

On account of her once possessing one herself. You don’t think the counsel for the defence let that one pass without comment, do you? Talk about a condemned woman. They might have well have cast the first stone there and then.

 

She approached her victim, eyes set firmly on the prize, the dagger so close to her lips that with one slip she might have punctured them and left a trickle of blood behind her. She would not have cared; the unholy scream that came forth would still have echoed around the room and pierced the hearts and the souls of all who stood within its range. She raised the blade and brought it plunging deep into the heart of the priest.

 

Thus Siân Lacey Taylder is revealed as a woman with an unhealthy obsession with knives – as opposed to a healthy obsession with knives? She has sworn an oath on the bible and feels compelled to confess that, yes, she did wave the knife at her assailant and that, yes, she does have an issue with self-harm. Who the fuck is she trying to kid?

It’s not that we can’t trust anything she says; we’re not quite accusing her of being a liar (well, in actual fact we clearly are accusing her of being a liar but we have to be a bit more subtle about it); what we’re saying is that as we can’t trust everything she says (notice the subtle difference?). Her evidence simply cannot be considered reliable.

Or, in common parlance: Not only is Ms Siân Lacey Taylder a grotesque and deviant specimen, she’s completely off her trolley and her narrative’s riddled with inconsistencies. Fuck me; the case shouldn’t have been allowed to come to court in the first place. Just think how much of the Great British public’s hard-earned taxes have been wasted on this charade, no wonder the country’s in state of parlous moral turpitude.

But here’s the icing on the fucking cake. The protagonist of Siân Lacey Taylder’s work in progress, as featured on her website – went by the name of Lucretia. That she was named after the Sisters of Mercy song rather than Ms Borgia cut no ice with the defence counsel who neglected, of course, to mention the difference in the spelling.

But neither did her my own lawyer. Poor Siân Lacey Taylder. She never stood a fucking chance. The trial lasted over a week but the rapist got off scot-free.

You don’t need me to tell you how she reacted. More broken furniture and blood smears on the floor; the police calling round the following morning to make sure she was okay.

Okay? Okay?!! For fuck’s sake, of course she wasn’t okay. Siân Lacey Taylder would never be the same again.

Worse than that, Siân Lacey Taylder would never be Siân Lacey Taylder again; she’s reached the beginning of the end.

 

Seven years after the rape, five years after the travesty of justice – I mean trial – and I’m still a very angry woman. What that bastard did destroyed my already fragile sense of identity and, in April 2009, precipitated a suicide attempt. When my support officers came to visit me the day the trial ended, to say goodbye, one of them hugged me and, in tears, told me she, too, had been a victim of rape. Then, over the years, as I began to open up, so many more women related similar experiences. That’s why the furore over the Le Vell acquittal angered me so much I had to turn off the radio; the immediate assumption that the poor girl had been lying and the predictable calls for accused rapists to be given the same anonymity as their victims. ‘They will blame the woman’; it started with Eve, it’s still the default mind-set.

As for me. If I’m ever diagnosed with a terminal disease and given a few months to live I know what I’m going to do; I’ve already planned it. It won’t be pretty but it will be effective.

 


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