#ibelieveher: Why Evans’ supporters have no right to criticise Rape Crisis.

I have finally read the entire Daily Mail article in which the Evans family discuss Ched Evans’ conviction and Rape Crisis’s reluctance to converse with them.
The Evans-Massey clan claim they wanted to see if there was a way they could help ‘raise the awareness as to the issue of consent, rather than any sensible debate getting lost in media hype.’

No. Just /no/.

I have spent the past two and a half years, alongside some incredible women, doing all we can to counteract the harmful rape myths that this family has perpetuated. I have tried to educate them on the legal stance of consent, as have many other supporters of the I Believe Her campaign. We have watched as they have re-traumatised countless rape survivors whilst allowing the continued abuse, even promoting said abuse, of the survivor of this attack.

I have watched as women come forward with their own stories in the inbox of I Believe Her, some speaking out for the first time about having been raped, and I have held discussions with those working to help such women on what needs to be done to support survivors.

The thing is, consent is not a bargaining tool. If you don’t have it, then anything you proceed to do after that is not sex, it’s rape. You help no-one by trying to engage Rape Crisis in discussions about this, especially when you have discredited a rape survivor on a daily basis. You do not try to raise consciousness of consent when you have tried to use the fact a rape survivor had traces of drugs in her system as an attempt to prove her to be a liar. And you do not take the chance to engage in discussions about rape with a charity who know what they’re doing in an attempt to find ‘middle ground’, whilst still trying to say that your family rapist was part of a witch hunt.

I do not speak on behalf of Rape Crisis, but as the manager of the I Believe Her campaign – and I hope with the backing of the wonderful people who have supported the campaign over the past two years – I support their decision not to speak to the Evans family with regards to this topic.”

[Cross-posted from Facebook and TwitLonger]

Refuges at Crisis Point; And It’s All About The Men…

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that a number of refuges are facing closure, and the source of their latest dilemma? The expectation that refuges should provide spaces for male victims of domestic violence. 

The Guardian further reports of the threats faced by The Haven, Coventry and The Wolverhampton Haven, both of whom have been threatened by the expectation to extend their services to male victims, despite the fact that less than one in seven victims of domestic violence are men.

The Wolverhampton Haven, which runs six properties across the city, recently reported a £300,000 cut to its services, which would affect the services it provides to 63 women and 120 children. Further to this, the charity has been ordered to set aside a portion of its places for men. As of yet, no referrals for male clients have been made. 

Furthermore, Coventry Haven were unsuccessful in claiming funding this year, with funding going to Refuge, the national charity that makes so much of the Refuge system work, and a new partnership that provided self-contained units and accommodation for male victims. 

Whereas there is arguably a need for domestic violence provisions for male victims, this worrying trend of insisting that services that currently cater to women take on male victims as well is both harmful and potentially deadly. We currently see two women a week killed through domestic violence, but by giving men access to the very refuges where these women stay gives their abusers a chance to manipulate the system and gain access to their victims. It’s not something I’d have put past my abuser, nor the abuser of many women I met in the refuge system. 

At no point has anyone said funding should be withheld from male victims who are fleeing domestic violence. But the expectation that the services that cater to female victims should be made to cater to men as well is a bizarre one; At no point is any other charity sector refused funding based on whom it caters to; but when it comes to charities aiming to protect women, it’s open season. Women escaping abuse need the space, support and time to heal, and they need that away from men. 

The Work Programme and The Erasure of the Value of Women’s Work

Last Friday, I came home, shouted at my son, and promptly burst into tears. This, for anyone who knows me, is a rarity. But just 40 minutes beforehand, I had felt emotionally destroyed.

As many of my readers know, I am a lone parent. And, as many of my readers know, when I say I’m a lone parent, I mean that I am lucky to have more than three nights away from my son a year. At this current moment in time, I’ve had two nights away from him this year. Two days away from the label of being ‘Mum’, and no-one more.

Yet a mother is not all I am. A frequent writer, a learner, someone who takes every opportunity to read something new, in the hope of gaining knowledge. Someone who returned to college with a two year old child, and further embarked on the first year of a degree. I later left the course due to poor health, something that sadly couldn’t be avoided. I am, as many of you know, a campaigner, a fighter, and someone whom sets their sights on a greater aim.

Yet, as I fall into the category of the long term unemployed, battling to find my way back into work, a large proportion of who I am is erased and minimised. To those who run the work programme, those who see me week in, week out, I am little more than a statistic. Someone they believe hasn’t worked for five years.

My time as a student is erased, due to my inability to complete my degree. My time as a mother is erased, due to my status as being legally unemployed. My time as an activist is erased, and I couldn’t tell you why. Is it because I work to make the world a better place for women? I couldn’t tell you.

Since January this year, I have repeatedly asked for help in improving my CV. To date, none has been received. On Friday, it became apparent that my CV had never been seen before by my advisor, given that, upon asking for help from her, she finally noticed an error on one line. A line I had corrected ten weeks beforehand, when she had asked me to email the CV over. For some reason, my corrected CV was not on file.

When asked of ways to improve my CV, I found my questions dismissed. As I asked for ways to make my CV more appealing, due to the lack of interviews I seemed to be receiving, I was dismissed with a comment about being unable to lie on CVs, as if that was the question I had asked. No advice was given that day. Instead, who I have been for the past five years was replaced with a sign that said ‘unemployed’.

I have asked repeatedly for help in obtaining a basic IT qualification. One that proves my claims of being more than slightly capable of navigating my way around any computer are true. These requests have been greeted with empty promises repeatedly since October, and as I was told last Friday that there were no longer any relevant courses available, another step into work was removed. Details of my work can be verified. The fact I’m self-teaching myself HTML and CSS can, as far as I’m aware, not.

And then came the voluntary position debacle. Some of you will have read my rant on Saturday morning. This was an exchange that had continued to upset me almost eighteen hours later, as the stress prevented me from sleep that night.

It seems that my advisor had intentions of forcing me to take a voluntary position, starting during the summer holidays. As the issue of childcare was raised, I was patronised and told to stop using childcare as a barrier. Not once prior to this, during my entire time on the work programme have I raised the issue of childcare. But when you face an expense you cannot afford as the result of an action you’re expected to undertake, it is reasonable to question how you can afford it. It is not avoiding work if you point out you would have difficulty paying for childcare during school holidays if your income remains at its current level. I have already found myself chastised for bringing my son to an appointment as childcare for the duration of the appointment could not be found. But yet raising genuine concerns about affording the expense of childcare, whilst knowing extra help would be unavailable from tax credits due to the unpaid nature of the work, earned me the threat of sanction and the label of work-shy. It was ignored that I had attended every available interview that I have been offered during my time unemployed. The fact I had childcare planned for had I received any of these jobs was also ignored. And the Work Programme wonders why just 2.7% of the lone parents it ‘helps’ find themselves in sustainable, long term employment. 

I could tell you why. It is because, in ignoring the work that parents do in raising their children, in ignoring their requests for help and guidance, and in pretending their achievements no longer exist.

The help I have received in my time at the Work Programme so far has amassed as follows:

  • A one hour course on how to apply for jobs. This provided me with no new details, beside the fact that the course leader considered telling a room full of JSA recipients that if they were complaining about the lack of permanent employment available in our town, they should consider moving to another town. 
  • Repeated agreements from my advisors to look over my CV either before or during my next appointment. As of yet, I have only found myself told it would get overlooked. I was then told it would be discussed further at my next session. 
  • Criticism for forgetting to write out my jobsearch twice, despite the fact I had handed in one copy just minutes beforehand at the Job Centre. Had they asked, I could have likely retrieved it from said Job Centre for the sake of that appointment alone. 
  • Promises of help in obtaining a basic IT qualification, in order to make moving into work a little easier. 
  • A four day course that was supposed to focus on improving your chances of finding a job, but instead focused on Problem Solving for Idiots. 
  • Criticism for bringing my son to an appointment having previously been told by another advisor that it would be acceptable to do so, due to a lack of childcare. 
  • Threats of sanctioning for asking if it would be possible to take on a voluntary work experience placement during term time, as opposed to during school holidays. 
  • An email that demanded I applied for a pot-washing job that started at 8pm and finished after public transport in our town ended. 

No-one enters the benefits system, expecting a job to be handed to them on a plate. What we do expect, however, is to receive the support we need to find our way back into work. And while the achievements and the work people do outside of paid employment, particularly lone parents, goes unrecognised as such, is it any wonder so many people struggle to find themselves leaving benefits behind for good? 

A Celeb’s Guide To Misrepresenting Feminism

“[I'm not a feminist] because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.”

Shailene Woodley – “Shailene Woodley on Why She’s Not a Feminist, Time, 2014-05-06

There’s been a lot of talk of Shailene Woodley of late. Having taken on the role of Hazel in the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, and Tris in the recent adaptation of Divergent. For weeks, the media representation of her has been, on the whole, positive. 

It didn’t take long, however, for the above article to find itself gaining attention through Tumblr, and rightly so. 

The problem we have is that the aims of feminism have been distorted by the patriarchy sufficiently enough throughout the years that, even when attempting to resurrect a women’s group in my home town two years ago, the previous chair of the group interjected “We’re not crazy feminists, though. We’re not ripping off our bras and burning them, just trying to get a woman friendly space.” (Does anyone even remember where the bra-burning trope came from?)

Women are picking up on pro-woman messages, feminist messages, but even upon citing them feel the need to rebuff them. After all, we’ve been taught that feminism is a dirty word, usually by people who have no problem calling any woman who says otherwise a ‘bitch’, or likening her to Hitler. We’ve attached a stigma to the words ‘I am pro-woman’, ‘I am a strong woman’, and so forth that many celebs feel the need to suffix these words with ‘but I’m not a feminist’. 

But the problem we have as women is that we so frequently take our definition of feminism from men, whether we intend to or not. My first exposure to the ‘dirty word feminist’, was whilst calling out a customer’s sexual harassment, at which point, it was asked whether I was one of those ‘bloody feminists’. Feminism wasn’t something that was discussed in my household, nor in my school. And whilst I was reading articles in Bliss, More and Company about sexual harassment, rape and abuse, none of them ever name-checked feminism itself. So whilst women-produced media sets out the basics of feminism for so many young women, albeit the bare basics and an often contradictory message, so many girls and women first meet the term with a side order of derision. 

We need to stop allowing men to use feminist as a silencer, and this needs to stop. But what also needs to stop is the culture of celebrity dismissing feminism as wanting nothing more than female superiority and that ever pervasive myth of misandry. 

What we need more recognition for, however, are the celebrities who make pro-feminist statements beyond stating a woman’s right to be ‘sexy’. We need more women like Anne Hathaway, (although the only declaration of Hathaway being a feminist comes from another self-proclaimed feminist, Lena Dunham) and we need a fuckton more women like Ellen Page, and Louise Brealey who cites herself as a feminist very publicly on her Twitter biography. And, as I leave, I think we all need to consider this quote from Ellen Page, who puts it more succintly than I ever could. 

“But I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”

On my absence from the blog

So, for some of you, it’ll be clear I haven’t been on this blog for quite some time. Updates have been sparse at best. And for me, it’s been a matter of self preservation. 

Many of you know of my past. It laces throughout this blog, and spills over in my more rage fuelled tweets. A lot of you even know of my illnesses, particularly of the PTSD. It’s that which has kept me from the blog since the last update, almost six months ago. 

My health spent quite some time steadily declining, worsened by the comments from my mother in relation to my weight gain. Worsened by the threat of losing my home near Christmas last year. Worsened by hearing that the first of my rapists had become a father. I reached the point that I no longer felt anger or sadness when writing about men’s violence towards women. Frequently, I felt nothing more than numb. And when I feel despondent at best; when I come to expect the horrors I write about, then I find myself losing hope. 

Thankfully, I have developed a few friendships of late; survivors of abuse, women living with PTSD. Or sometimes just people who do what those I came to call family in the previous 25 years of my life are incapable of. Respecting my own needs. I wouldn’t say I’m in recovery yet. But I’m reaching a space which has seemed alien to me for half a year. 

I have never stopped writing, but at long last, I feel ready to begin writing here again. It may take time until the updates are frequent, and the blog posts meaningful. But in short, I intend to return. 

#16Days: Erasing The Victims of Men’s Violence

We hear the statistic so frequently. In the UK, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner, and in most cases, there is documented proof of abuse in the relationship.

As a quick note, non-abusive men do not kill their former or current partners. Non-abusive men do not use intimidation or threats against women’s lives to ensure their wishes are met. Just because abuse isn’t documented in some of these murders, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. It merely wasn’t recorded. So when people tell me a man who has murdered his current or former partner was ‘such a nice guy’, I call bullshit.

But the two women a week statistic is a lie. These statistics aren’t being exaggerated, or overestimated, much as those who hate women would like to claim otherwise. Instead, they ignore 60 – 83% of domestic violence related deaths.

On Monday, an acquaintance of mine raised the subject of suicides in relation to domestic abuse; an area which seems to be largely ignored. I found a statistic that sent me reeling into a state of shock; that 30 women a day attempt suicide in order to escape domestic violence. For those who were wondering, that works out to 210 a week, or 480 during the 16 Days of Activism.

Of those 210 attempts each week, between 3 and 10 women successfully commit suicide. I’ve found conflicting statistics, with Enfield’s Health and Wellbeing service stating the higher number. [x] Yet these women’s deaths are largely ignored when measuring the extent of men’s violence against women. Men may actively kill two women a week, but their violence is factored in to at least five deaths nationally a week. We serve the victims of men’s violence no justice if we ignore those killed by suicide.

We need better discussion around the invisible fatalities of men’s violence. We need for women to know that there is support out there; not just in relation to domestic violence, but with regards to suicide and helping these women to survive. We need for those involved in helping women who are experiencing domestic violence, or who have done in the past, to be aware of the number of women who attempt suicide daily. We need those who help victims and survivors of domestic abuse to know the warning signs in relation to suicide,and for them to receive training in how to help women who are contemplating suicide. And we need to hold men accountable when their violence is a factor in a woman’s attempt to take her own life, whether she survives the attempt or not.

But most of all, we need to give these women hope. And we need to let them know that they are not alone.

Further reading:

Refuge: Taking Lives campaign -
http://refuge.org.uk/takinglives/

Enfield Health and Well-Being: Domestic Violence - http://www.enfield.gov.uk/healthandwellbeing/info/15/enfield_place/187/domestic_violence

Rape Victim calls for law change as three women a week commit suicide to escape violent partners -
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/rape-victim-calls-law-change-2644286

Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and ‘Honour’ Based Violence -
Volume 2

Victim’s suicide leads to fight for new law-
http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Victim-s-suicide-leads-fight-new-law/story-19996117-detail/story.html

Refuge call for 16 days of fundraising against domestic violence -
http://www.feministtimes.com/refuge-calls-for-16-days-of-fundraising-against-domestic-violence/

The Return of The Dragon

As a lot of you will be aware, I’ve been rather inactive of late. I would offer an apology, but I’ve had more important things to deal with. Even real-life contacts have seen and heard less from me, with the exception of my sister-in-law and a very small group of friends.

In addition, I couldn’t help but feel a little disenchanted; a moment I suspect every feminist from every wave has had at some point. Maybe I’ve been oblivious over the past few years, but the summer in particular seemed to spurn a lot of women against each other. I found it necessary to withdraw somewhat, for my own well-being.

I’ve not ceased writing, nor anything with regards to feminism. I have, however, been writing elsewhere, albeit intermittently. But I have also been focusing on my fiction writing, and have probably written more in the past four months alone than I have in the past ten years.

I shall be attempting to resurrect this blog. It will take time, and I’m not naive enough to believe otherwise. But returning to this is something I feel I need to do. Not for anyone else, but in one of the first entirely selfish decisions I’ve made in a long time, for myself and myself alone.