Uncategorized

Report parliamentary sexual harassment? What a joke!

Mohammed Aroof sexually harassed women in the local MP’s constituency office by scratching his genitals & demanding oral sex

International Trade Minister Mark Garnier asked his Parliamentary Aide to buy two sex toys while he waited outside.

The fall out from the Harvey Weinstein scandal continues with further claims of harassment and sexual assault being made against him while over 300 women have also come forward to claim director James Toback sexually harassed or assaulted them.

On this side of the Pond, an intriguing story emerged of a group of women using a WhatsApp group to share stories of sexual harassment and bullying they have suffered at the hands of Members of Parliament (MP) and staff while working at the House of Commons (HoC). There was the usual uproar; the Prime Minster Theresa May even intervened and urged all victims of sexual harassment to report such incidents to the police.

Let me tell you Theresa, it won’t work. The police will send you away with a little pat on the head and a ‘it’s a civil/ employment matter, not a criminal one. Speak to a solicitor’ response. How many of us have the spare cash lying around to bring our abusers to justice? And it is precisely this helplessness and hopelessness that keeps our abusers safe and free to strike again and again.

Do the people in power not realise that it is nigh on impossible for anyone working for a MP (or Member as described in Parliamentary parlance) to complain about any harassment they have suffered? It is not just MPs whose inappropriate conduct should be addressed; the same rules should also apply to assembly members, devolved parliament members, MEPs, PCCs and anyone else working in politics.

It’s even harder to complain when you’re a member of a BAME community- the added risk of bringing the family honour into disrepute is a key factor why so many Asian women do not and will not ever speak out.

Even if you do manage to pick up the courage and complain about an MP or staff, who do you complaint to? What structures are in place for such incidents and what protection is available for those who do speak out? None whatsoever. There isn’t even a humble whistle blowing policy in place for staff and Members.

The Code of Conduct in place for MPs does not even make any reference to inappropriate and/ or sexual conduct.

The Code of Conduct in place for MPs does not even make any reference to inappropriate and/ or sexual conduct.

In fact, according to II: Scope of the Code

The Code applies to Members in all aspects of their public life. It does not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives.

So even if a Member is accused or caught out, he or she can claim their conduct falls under their ‘private and personal life’ and therefore not subject to scrutiny from any parliamentary regulations. This clause is grossly unfair because it allows Members a little known loophole to escape accountability for their conduct.

Although Rule 16 of the Code states: ‘Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally’ many Members can hide behind the usual ‘high jinks’, ‘banter’, ‘joking’ and ‘no harm intended’ excuses, further depowering their victims.

Victims are accused of being uptight, moody sour pusses who don’t know how to take a joke, adding insult to injury. Sending inappropriate texts and emails is another concern of women working at the HoC. Fear of being branded ‘overly-sensitive’ or a ‘drama queen’ means that it’s often easier to just ignore and delete, rather than kick up a fuss and then risk being outed as ‘difficult’ or ‘lacking a sense of humour’.

While writing this blog, I’ve been sent a link  to an article about International Trade Minister Mark Garnier allegedly calling an aide ‘sugar t*ts’ and asking her to buy him two vibrators while he waited outside the sex shop.

As a parliamentary aide who was asked to purchase underwear and sanitary towels for my former boss, I can tell you without doubt that you feel powerless to say no. It’s as though you’re constantly under obligation to your boss and it’s often easier to grit your teeth and comply. Buying a sex toy (or two) is simply unacceptable. If an accountant or an engineer did this, there would a clear cut case for sexual harassment and sex discrimination. So why are rules so different for MPs?

I don’t believe that anything will change because the structures that exist do not allow any Member to be held to account for their inappropriate actions. Even if you do complain and an investigation is triggered, this can take time and unless you’re suspended, you have to come into work and put up with the questions, the insinuations and the downright lies.

Furthermore, your complaint has to be in writing, with your name and address clearly identifying you. You cannot ask someone else to write it on your behalf so if you struggle to articulate what you’re concerned about, you have very little recourse. Some Parliamentary staff are incredibly loyal to their boss, to the extent that they will take it upon themselves to go after the victim in order to shut them down, malign their character or discredit their testimony. Even if the boss is aware, nothing is done to stop the harassing conduct- after all the Member gets what he wants without getting his hands dirty. In my own case, my former chief of staff Rob Hoveman spent the best part of 4 years harassing and intimidating me, to the extent that he obtained my personal documents including my HoC vetting form and gave them to the Guardian Newspaper. When I tried to complain, I was told to ‘write to my former boss’ to set out my concerns which included ‘a particularly unhealthy preoccupation with my private life, bordering on the fanatical’. Despite repeated emails, I was completely ignored. (*The full letter is reproduced below)

Rob Hoveman, my former chief of staff and senior Respect official, was obsessed with my sex life, and demanded to know how many ex partners I had had and who had fathered my son.

Other incidents I was subjected to also included being harassed for sex persistently by a senior work colleague, being flashed at twice by a Respect Party volunteer, being told to ‘suck on my (penis)’ by Mohammed Aroof, the brother of the main funder to the Party and also being subjected to a sexual assault by the Party’s solicitor Alias Yousaf (which the Metropolitan Police Service ignored despite me reporting it three times) I considered myself a strong, confident and outspoken  person and regularly spoke out and confronted these men; however, working in that toxic environment eroded my self confidence and sense of normality and left me on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It’s even harder to speak out when you simply don’t know how to.

The only option for victims of sexual harassment is to either put up with it, warn others covertly (as in the case of the secret WhatsApp group) or leave altogether. And even after you leave, you can’t speak out about it because of the need for a good reference (this is an issue for many other professions too, not just politics)

Many people don’t realise that working at the HoC is not like working anywhere else; you can’t be transferred to a different department until the matter is solved; you have to either stay in the same office (which is often one huge room with lots of desks), work from home or take paid leave until the matter is resolved. Due to the high profiles of some MPs and by association, their members of staff, there is a real risk of the matter drawing media attention which could result in family and friends finding out. This is a pertinent reason as to why people don’t want to speak out: once their name is in the press they are tainted or scarred for life; any prospective employer can google them and read an account of what happened, which can often be very one sided.

Many parliamentary employment contracts also have confidentiality clauses preventing    victims from speaking out even after they’ve left their employment.

A parliamentary aide who is currently in litigation with her boss found out that her role had been given to someone else via social media when her replacement described herself as the PA to the MP in question. Other people including constituents were also informed that this PA was difficult, lazy and sexually obsessed with her boss. She was further dismayed when she realised that IPSA had authorised monies so that her boss could hire top lawyers to fight her claim. So not only can Members behave inappropriately, they can get public monies from IPSA to fight any legal actions  brought by their victims. The PA has been fighting for justice for over a year and half now, and has no idea when it will end.

Another campaigner told me about a Peer who, while travelling in a taxi with her, insisted on placing his hands on her knee to ‘keep them warm’. His nickname amongst other female staff and campaigners was ‘octo-hands’.

An MP known for his womanising as well as his oratory skills, insisted his Parliamentary Aide keep her hair long, and nails painted a deep red because ‘as long as you look good, I look good’.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove‘s Harvey Weinstein joke of having escaped a good grilling with his ‘dignity intact’ on Saturday further demonstrates the rather blase attitude that MPs have towards sexual harassment. (Although Gove has since apologised, former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock, who was also present and described John Humphrey’s interviewing style as ‘way beyond groping’ still has not)

I expect a tidal wave of claims of inappropriate conduct from MPs and their staff in the coming days and weeks; I really hope that Teresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and other publically elected officials sit up and take note; sexual harassment is no laughing matter.
Maybe MPs can actually begin by changing the Code of Conduct for themselves so that they can be finally held accountable for their conduct?

Tags:

#Sexualharassment #Parliament #HouseofCommons #MPs #TheresaMay #MarkGarnier #MichaelGove #NeilKinnock

*Full letter of complaint re harassment inc the dissemination of my personal  documents by former chief of staff Rob Hoveman:

Official Complaint against Rob Hoveman
Keighley

West Yorkshire

16th July 2014

XXXXXXXX

House of Commons

London

SW1A 0AA
Dear Mr XXXXXXXX MP,

I would like to make an official complaint about the conduct of your Chief of Staff, Rob Hoveman.

It has come to my attention this week that Mr Hoveman has contacted the Guardian newspaper and provided the newspaper with extensive paperwork relating to my personal life. I find this conduct appalling and inexcusable. Over 18 months have passed now since I was last in the employment of Mr XXXXXXXX, yet this constant persecution and harassment by Mr Hoveman has not ended.

Mr Hoveman has also contacted the Sergeant at Arms and requested information from my vetting application form, which he then also passed onto the Guardian Newspaper. Mr Hoveman had no right whatsoever to this information or to request this information. Indeed, the sole aim of this course of action was to use the information to harass and intimidate me further.

Contacting the Sergeant at Arms to request my personal data is a direct breach of Data Protection laws and I have now reported this matter to the police.

Furthermore, Mr Hoveman presented false and highly damaging information to an ongoing employment tribunal matter, in which he made direct references to a Court of Appeal hearing that I attended. I have no idea how Mr Hoveman was able to gain access this private information, merely days after the hearing took place. Although the hearing was a matter of public record, the details are not in the public domain as yet.

Indeed, when I made contact with the Court of Appeal myself, I was told that I would need to quote a unique reference number in order to discuss the hearing. I suspect Mr Hoveman has managed to obtain this unique reference number, which seems to me to be the only logical explanation to explain how he managed to come into possession of such intimate information from the Court of Appeal hearing.

In conclusion, I feel Mr Hoveman is pursuing a personal vendetta against me, using both parliamentary resources and premises. His conduct is causing me to feel extremely harassed and vulnerable.

Mr Hoveman has shown a particularly unhealthy preoccupation with my private life, bordering on the fanatical, which frankly, I find threatening and menacing.
1. I want all my personal documents returned to me immediately and all copies destroyed. Further dissemination of my personal documents is to also stop immediately.

 

2. I want an urgent investigation into Mr Hoveman’s conduct and an immediate end to his continued harassment and persecution of me.

 

Please respond within 14 days.

 

Kind regards

 

Mrs Ali Khan

Advertisements
Standard
Uncategorized

Eve Ensler’s letter to all white women who support Brett Kavanaugh

Dear white women who support Brett Kavanaugh,

Last night when I saw Donald Trump mock Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I couldn’t help focusing on the women behind him who cheered and laughed. I felt like I was falling into a familiar nightmare. It compelled me to reach out to you.

When I was a child my father sexually abused and beat me. My mother did not protect me. She sided with my father, just like these women sided with Donald Trump, and I understand why. She sided with him because he was the breadwinner. She sided with him because of her need to survive. She sided with him because the reality of what was happening in front of her was so terrible, it was easier not to see.

She sided with him because she was brought up never to question a man. She was taught to serve men and make men happy. She was trained not to believe women. It was only much later, after my father died, that she was able to acknowledge the truth of my childhood and to ask for my forgiveness. It was only then, too late, that she was able to see how she had sacrificed her daughter for security and comfort. She used those words. I was her “sacrifice.”

Some people when they look at this video of women laughing at Dr. Ford, will see callousness. I see distancing. I see denial. I have worked on ending violence against women for 20 years. I have traveled this country many times. I have sat with women of all ages and political persuasions. I remember the first performances of my play The Vagina Monologues in Oklahoma City, when half the women in the audience came up to tell me they had been raped or battered. Most of them whispered it to me, and often I was the first and only person they had told. Until that moment, they had found a way to normalize it. Expect it. Accept it. Deny it.

I don’t believe you want to have to choose your sons and your husbands over your daughters. I don’t believe you want the pain that was inflicted on us inflicted on future generations.

I know the risk many of you take in coming out to say you believe a woman over a man. It means you might then have to recognize and believe your own experience. If one out of three women in the world have been raped or beaten, it must mean some of you have had this experience. To believe another woman means having to touch into the pain and fear and sorrow and rage of your own experience and that sometimes feels unbearable. I know because it took me years to come out of my own denial and to break with my perpetrator, my father. To speak the truth that risked upending the comfort of my very carefully constructed life. But I can tell you that living a lie is living half a life. It was only after telling my story that I knew happiness and freedom.

I know the risk others of you face who have witnessed those you love suffer the traumatic after-effects of violence and those who worry for both your sons and daughters that may someday face this violence

I write to you because we need you, the way I once needed my mother. We need you to stand with women who are breaking the silence in spite of their terror and shame. I believe inside the bodies of some of those women who laughed at that rally were other impulses and feelings they weren’t expressing.

Here is why I believe you should take this stand with me. Violence against women destroys our souls. It annihilates our sense of self. It numbs us. It separates us from our bodies. It is the tool used to keep us second-class citizens. And if we don’t address it, it can lead to depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating and suicide. It makes us believe we are not worthy of happiness.

It took my mother 40 years to see what her denial has done and to apologize to me. I don’t think you want to apologize to your daughters forty years from now. Stop the ascension of a man who is angry, aggressive, and vengeful and could very well be a sexual assaulter. Time is short. Call your senators. Stop laughing and start fighting.

With all my love,

Eve

Standard
Uncategorized

Kavanaugh’s confirmation proves that testimonies of sexual assault survivors are worthless

Every single news channel today (6 October 2018) has been leading with the story that has dominated the US news cycles for weeks; the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s handpicked nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the Supreme Court.

For some, mainly Republicans, the confirmation (which is likely to be confirmed the next few hours) will be seen as a long expected victory, albeit held up for a few weeks to satisfy the powers that be that a sexual assault allegation is nothing really serious, honestly. For others, not just the Democrats but survivors of sexual assault and women rights activists, too, this will be a bitter but not too unexpected pill to swallow given that that our American brothers and sisters managed to vote Donald Trump to the presidency despite his ‘grab ‘em by the p*ssy’ attitude to women.

The feeling that no matter what happened, Trump’s nominee of a Republican faithful as a Supreme Court judge would be confirmed,  was consistent, despite the fact that a credible and trustworthy witness came forward to claim she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh as a teen.

We all watched last Thursday as both Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, and Kavanaugh himself gave nearly 9 hours of testimony at Capitol Hill regarding the incident. Despite the fact that Dr Ford did not want to be thrust into the unrelenting glare of the world’s stage, she did not flinch, or become hysterical or give flippant, belligerent answers. She knew what was at stake; her credibility not only as a survivor but as a woman. When you contrast that with Kavanaugh’s highly strung performance that followed, which veered from overly emotional, shouty, and downright rudeness, it became apparent that, sexual assault allegations or not, this man was simply not suited to sit on the highest court in the land that could possibly decide the outcomes of cases that may involve controversial and sensitive topics such as abortion, same sex marriage, migrant worker rights etc. His outbursts, his arrogance and dismissive attitude to the proceedings he was involved in belied a man who is unstable, and overly emotional. Now, had these terms been applied to a woman, there is no way she would ever progress past the proverbial typing pool. As it currently stands, Kavanaugh serves as a circuit judge for the Court of Appeals in Columbia, his evidently fragile emotional and psychological state not a barrier or a hindrance.

Today’s outcome will serve only to galvanise and further motivate a movement that began over two years ago with Donald’s Trump’s nomination as the GOP candidate for the 2016 presidential elections. I know of many Americans who, the day after waking up to President Trump instead of President Clinton, asked themselves if what they did was enough, and what did the future now hold. Today’s verdict should serve as confirmation that those fears and concerns people like myself and others expressed were well founded and valid.

The partisan lines have never been more vividly drawn or more viciously defended. But the real battle has been between America’s ability to walk away from a man accused of sexual assault or to give in to the age old ‘he-said-she-said’ cop out and elevate a man to an even higher office. As we saw with Trump’s presidency, it has been and maybe always will be the latter.

Despite everything that has happened since Trump’s presidency began, I believe that this moment will be seen as the watershed.

Why? Because this is the point where the fight for women’s rights, the fight for survivors of sexual violence to be heard let alone believed, the fight for the existence of women full stop, has gone beyond that of no return. We cannot stay silent while men in positions of power abuse us or allow their compatriots to abuse us. We cannot allow those men in power who have abused us, then use their power to elect other men accused of abuse to further positions of power. Some of my sisters in the US have organised get togethers with each other for support, solidarity and reassurance in light of the bleak landscape that is prevailing us right now. Others are organising marches and demonstrations as I write (Womens March have announced they will be marching in Washington on 21 January 2019 on the second year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration) Some, such as myself, can only write and express our disgust and outrage. What binds us all is the belief in sisterhood despite being thrown under the bus by the many millions of women who support and vote for men like Trump and Kavanaugh.

By coming forward, today was very day Christine Blasey Ford had tried to stop from happening. Instead, today will be the day she helped to relight the fires for millions of women who refuse to stop fighting and campaigning for the rights of women, no matters how dismissive and contemptuous their opponents.

Standard
Uncategorized

Tesco’s evasive response does not hold much water for customers facing criminal record for buying water

My response to Tesco, after they responded to my letter asking for clarification of their water buying policies:

Dear Mr Mitchell,

Many thanks for your response.

You say that you ‘have a policy in our stores which limits buying big quantities of any single product’

In what way was this policy communicated to you customers? Through posters or signs within the stores? On your website? At the start of each transaction when the customer’s go to pay at the checkout?

When you say ‘If a customer does want to purchase lots of a single product’  what do you mean by ‘lot’? Is there a numerical value? If so, how is it communicated to your customers?

Can you also address the questions raised in my previous email to you (I have re-attached my original letter to this email a gesture of goodwill) as these still need addressing as a matter of urgency. In addition to point 6 in my letter (prohibition of recording on Tesco premises) I note that a previous customer of yours had taken a photo of two women shopping in your store in their pyjamas and uploaded it to social media. Can you please confirm that you admonished that customer and evicted him from your store? It would have been fairly easy to identify him due to CCTV etc at the time.

You say that a full investigation has been carried out. As the incident involved three of your customers, I would like to see the results of this investigation urgently.

Finally, I would like an explanation from you into the conduct of the store manager Pam Taylor, who was filmed during the incident attempting to stop other customers from filming in store, despite the fact that two of your customers were being manhandled and abused by the police. If that is how your store managers treat the welfare of your customers then frankly, I would not want to risk shopping at Tesco ever again.

I hope that you will respond with speed and this time answer the points I have raised in my original letter to you.

Kind regards

Aisha Ali-Khan

From: customer.service@tesco.co.uk <customer.service@tesco.co.uk>

Sent: 02 October 2018 10:55

To: akalixxxx@hotmail.com

Subject: Re: Rochdale Store- Urgent letter for your immediate consideration << Reference ID: 7446884 >>

Dear Aisha,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

We’re very much aware of the incident and as a priority have carried out a full investigation.

We’d like to explain that to ensure good availability for all our customers, we have a policy in our stores which limits buying big quantities of any single product. If a customer does want to purchase lots of a single product, we encourage them to place an order with our customer services team in store. I hope you will understand our store was carrying out our policy and meant to cause no offence.

Regrettably on this occasion, the situation escalated. We are unable to give more information due to the ongoing police investigation.

Kind regards

Peter Mitchell

Tesco Customer Service

Tesco Customer Engagement Centre

Standard
Uncategorized

Tesco has serious questions to answer after customers arrested over attempting to buy bottled water

After distressing footage emerged of an Asian couple roughly manhandled and later arrested at a Rochdale branch of Tesco, there were some serious questions raised that regular customers such as myself need urgent answers to. Here is a copy of the letter I sent to Tesco customer services. I hope to receive a response soon and will post it online when I get it.

Keighley

West Yorkshire

BDXXX

Tesco Customer Service Centres

Baird Avenue

Dundee

DD1 9NF

28th September 2018

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I am a campaigner and co-organiser for Women’s March London and write to you in relation to a shocking video that was uploaded to various social media platforms last week, filmed in your Rochdale Store.

The video shows a couple being manhandled and then arrested by two police officers. According to press reports and a statement released by one of the individuals involved, Nasir Hussain, he and his partner had attempted to buy an amount of bottled water but were stopped at the checkout by one of your managers who claimed it was “unfair” on other customers as they would be left without sufficient water to purchase.

The video has raised a number of questions for which I, along with our readership, would like an answer to.

1 How much bottled water does your Rochdale store keep on its premises at any one time and on average,  how many units are bought per customer?

2 What is the official limit of bottled water per customer and was this clearly signposted in your store? If customers have exceeded this limit (if it is indeed in place) what is the official policy of Tesco towards the customer? Are they asked to leave the store immediately?

3 Why is this the store policy and is it in line with the store policies of your other stores?

4 How many other customers has this policy been applied to and under what circumstances?

5 What is your policy of refusing to sell your goods to your customers? For example, do you tell them to leave if they do not agree? Do you then notify the police after the customer has refused to leave or before you ask the customer to leave?

6 After numerous customers (including Mr Hussain’s partner Mahira Hussain) began to film the incident, they were informed to stop as they were on ‘private property’. Can you please send me your policy regarding the use of mobile phones on your premises as well as signage prohibiting customers from using their phones to record in your stores.

As you can imagine, I, along with many others, are concerned about the manner in which your staff members behaved towards  your customers and look forward to receiving your responses to the above questions as a matter of urgency. Until then, I will not be shopping at any of your stores due to serious concerns over the violations of our basic human rights until this matter has been cleared up.

Kind regards

Aisha Ali-Khan

Standard
Uncategorized

The Bodyguard shows that Muslim women need more nuanced representation on screen 

The Bodyguard’s season finale was a real tense affair, with a lot of great twists and turns right to the bitter end. Finally, the BBC drama that didn’t depict a Muslim woman (Nadia) as a weak, subjugated woman living in fear and carrying out orders on the say so of a controlling, oppressive man. Sadly, what they depicted instead was a homicidal, jihadist who decided to use her engineering degree to create and sell complex bombs for the highest bidder.

So why are writers for mainstream TV dramas consistently failing to get it right when it comes to Muslim women? It can’t certainly be for a lack of access or information?

When I look around me, I know of many female teachers, accountants, lawyers, property developers, businesswomen, doctors, neurosurgeons and even vets who also happen to be Muslim but are neither oppressed or secret jihadis hating the West. These are simply amazing women who have normal everyday lives as mums, daughters, wives, friends and sisters.

Why can’t Muslim women be portrayed in this way on our screens?

Such nuanced characterisation would help normalise Muslim women, to bring them into the fold.

Recent reports have shown Muslim women bearing the main brunt of Islamophobic attacks in the wake of a re-emergence of the far right. We are clearly seen as easy targets by some, and this is not helped by mainstream TV programmes constantly ‘othering’ us by offering single dimensional characters that viewers simply cannot relate to.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some very good BAME characters in the Bodyguard: Louise Rayburn (Detective Sargeant) Deepak Sharma (Detective Inspector) and Tahir Mahmood (PR advisor to Home Secretary) We also had many female characters in strong leadership roles such as Julia Montague (Home Secretary) Anne Sampson (Head of Counter Terrorism) and Lorraine Craddock (Chief Superindentant) too so the landscape wasn’t all dominated by white, podgy, middle aged men (unlike in real life)

But the only Muslim protagonists in the Bodyguard were all linked to or victims of illegal terrorist activity (Nadia and her strange husband who had allegedly helped to strap her into her suicide vest at the beginning but wasn’t a committed enough jihadi to grow his beard plus the ones who blew themselves up outside the primary school) Tahir Mahmood, a victim, was initially suspected of being the bomber who blew Julia Montague (and himself) to Kingdom come but was cleared after footage showed he was merely responsible for triggering the bomb (made by Nadia and sold to crime boss Luke Aitkens, who must have been storing it on ice until planting it under Julia’s feet)

So what can we do to address the lack of plausible, everyday Muslim women on TV? Some writers I know are writing their own scripts and plays but they still face the uphill struggle of getting through the doors of production companies who will agree to turn their more diverse stories into fodder for the small screen.

I only ask that TV bosses allow Muslim women a chance to show a more human, relatable side that doesn’t want to either hide from nor blow up the world.

Standard
Uncategorized

Germaine Greer wants to mollycoddle her rapist. We just want her to shut up.

Before I start writing this, I feel I have to point out a few facts. I grew up reading Germaine Greer’s works, I studied her seminal book ‘The Female Eunuch’ at college and then later at University. I was impressed with her passion and fight for equality between the sexes and felt inspired enough to be the campaigner and proud feminist I am today. Sadly, for someone who was held in such regard by many many people, Greer is singlehandedly trashing the very reputation that she has worked hard for decades to create. Her latest essay, ‘On Rape‘ should be renamed ‘How to kill off any remaining credibility I have’ and just be done with it.

In the latest of her offerings supporting and apologising for rapists, Greer claimed “I’m not saying that its not damaging. Trauma is something that is dictated by the sufferer. I can’t bear huntsman spiders. Its not their fault”. Before I go any further, can I just take a minute out to apologise to all huntsman spiders. I don’t know what you guys have done wrong to be compared to rapists by Greer but I’m pretty sure its not because of your brute force, your inability to take no for an answer and your complete lack of remorse for weaponing your penis and causing victims of sexual violence long lasting damage emotional and psychological damage.

Perhaps if Greer had asked any survivor of such sexual assault, they will tell you how terrible it felt, how afraid they felt, how violated, how brutalised. Because for the majority of rapists, rape is never about sex. It is about control, about satisfying their own needs, about causing their victims maximum degradation and humiliation. I would, therefore, forgive the outrage when she tells rape survivors that they are merely choosing to feel traumatised & violated if I was her.

As part of the same huntsman spider analogy, Greer further claimed that “women are encouraged all the time to be terribly, terribly frightened, and nearly always of the wrong thing.”

Hmmm. “Encouraged to be terribly, terribly frightened?” Who encourages us? Society? Media? Our friends? Or maybe the crime statistics that show a year on year increases in the level of sexual crimes being reported compared to the rates of actual convictions. The Crime Survey for England alone shows more that 510,000 women experienced sexual assault between early 2017-early 2018 and the number of recorded sexual offences are now the highest since records began, according to the ONS (Office for National Statistics)

So you can see, Ms. Greer, there is a really valid reason why women are encouraged to be frightened. It is because  sexual violence is a reality for women, in both the UK and all over the world. Trust me when I say this, the majority of women do not see their attackers as some sort of ‘lost men’ who need mollycoddling for being such predators. What these brutes need is to be exposed and reported to the relevant authorities so that they can be taken off the streets and not pose further risks to other potential victims.

Greer goes on to mention her own violent rape when she was only 19 years old. She didn’t report it because she didn’t want her rapist to be treated like a “mad dog” by the authorities despite the fact that he had, indeed, behaved like a ‘mad dog’. She has also advocated reducing the sentence for rapists if the bar used to convict them is also lowered. Let me tell you as a survivor of sexual violence, reducing the bar will not increase the numbers of convictions for rape. What all survivors want is justice for what their sexual attacker did to them. No one I have ever met or worked with as ever said to me that they would be happy to accept lesser sentences for their rapists in exchange for a lowering of the standards used to convict. We want to see longer sentences so that our attackers are not back on the streets, terrorising women again. If Greer cannot see this glaring truth then she has no right to speak on the behalf of women or for women. She lost that right when she started to defend not only her own rapist but other rapists as well.

Despite her own traumatic experience, Greer wants us to give our rapists a free pass but why should we when they don’t give our bodies a free pass? Rapists inflict their need to control, subjugate and sexually satisfy themselves against our unyielding and unconsenting bodies but we are being encouraged to, turn the other cheek, to protect them and to understand their needs? Isn’t this what patriarchy always told us to do? To ignore the injustices we suffer at the hands of men while ensuring our perpetrators are never held to account? And yet, Greer continues to call herself a feminist.

No thank you. I, along with many others who fight daily for the rights of women, who campaign for laws that stop our bodies being violated and who stand as role models for both young boys and girls, cannot and will not give rapists a free pass. And Germaine Greer is nothing short of Judas in feminist garb for asking us all to put the feelings of rapists above the trauma of their victims. It’s time for her to shut up now.

Standard
Uncategorized

Transgender prisoners: Can safe spaces within prisons work?

Stories about transgender prisoners have rarely been out of the news these past few weeks, each headline more provocative than the last. Last week’s headline that a transgender prisoner had tried to use their transgender status to ‘cover up’ their past crimes has all but disappeared but the arguments around transgender prisoners in mainstream prisons remain. So how can we have a sensible conversation about this deeply polarising, and at times controversial topic?

Transgender prisoner Karen White begins a life sentence for attacked female prisoners while on remand for sex attacks against women

My recent experience of being at Bronzefield HMP allowed me to meet two transgender prisoners. SK*, who was on my wing and with whom I had daily interactions, was transitioning from female to male. The second prisoner, now known as Jessica Winfield, had been convicted of serious sexual assaults against women when she lived as a man. Ms Winfield was housed in a separate wing designated for prisoners who had committed serious offences such as child rape and murder. My stay offered me a real insight on what the reality is for transgender prisoners serving their sentence in a women only prison.

So how many prisoners who self-identify as transgender are there currently in England and Wales? While there are no up to date 2018 figures, according to the BBC that there were some 125 transgender inmates in England and Wales between March and April 2017. These were identified as having had case conferences (CC) with senior prison management and staff on how to best meet the needs of each individual prisoner. According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), “prisoners on longer sentences are more likely to be managed as a transgender prisoners than those on a shorter sentence” thus implying that the data held by the MoJ is broadly inaccurate and therefore unreliable. There is no substantive data available on transgender prisoner sentences for crimes that result in shorter sentences, hence a truer picture of the actual numbers is currently very difficult to ascertain.

Transgender prisoners who have already obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) were not included in the figure given by the BBC. A GRC is a legally recognised certificate and is issued by the government to those who identify with a gender different to that they were assigned at birth. This means that they are already living as their self-identified gender and, may consider that they have ‘finished’ transitioning. Obtaining a GRC is a long, complicated, invasive and expensive process that can take up to five years but once it is issued, it is legally recognised and enables holders to change their gender on their birth certificate, among other documents.

The current debate around transgender prisoners being housed in women’s prisons has been fuelled by a recent case where a transgender prisoner was found to have assaulted two female prisoners after she was placed at Newhall HMP while on remand for four counts of rape. After pleading guilty to the assaults and charges of rape, Karen White was then moved to Armley HMP, a notorious mens prison on the outskirts of Leeds.

Of the multiple questions raised from this case, two are the most pertinent: ‘How can we protect the safety and wellbeing of the female population from prisoners who have committed serious sexual assaults’ and ‘How can we protect the safety and wellbeing of transgender prisoners while inside prison?’.

Each trans person has a unique set of emotional, psychological and physical needs just like all people in prison. However, meeting those needs may require specialist knowledge or training. It is very hard to apply a ‘one rule for all’ across the board; we have some prisoners who are transitioning from the gender they were misassigned at birth with, some prisoners at the beginning of their journey while some have already started and need specialist mental health support throughout, not to mention ongoing access to hormone therapy to support the transition process. Placing transgender prisoners in prisons that are opposite to their gender can increase the risk of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, especially for the transgender prisoners and in some cases, for other prisoners too.

One of the solutions that kept coming up during numerous discussion over the past few weeks involves providing transgender prisoners their own dedicated space within prisons, very much like stand alone ‘mother and baby’ units currently attached to prisons.

But could this solution have prevented Ms White from sexually assaulting two female prisoners? And what about the safety of prison guards in women only prisons? According to a Freedom of Information request data, out of ten government run facilities, 8 prisons employed more female prison staff than males, while in two the numbers were equal.

Some campaigners argue that we already operate a system where high risk and vulnerable prisoners are segregated from the main prison population. In the case Ms Winfield, she was housed on a separate wing (D) designated for ‘Restricted Security’ (RS) prisoners. These were prisoners who had been convicted of serious offences that would make them a particular target amongst the prison population, such as paedophilia, murder of a child, terrorism and so on. The day to day timetable is planned to avoid other prisoners. In some cases, where interactions can’t be helped, such as a visit to the medical team or to the library for example, each prisoner is assigned their own prison guard who will accompany them at all times. While it is understandable that Ms Winfield hold RS status, what about other transgender prisoners who have been convicted of non-sexual violence offences? Do they have to also share a wing with paedophiles, rapist and child killers?

Having spoken to other prisoners about their feelings towards transgender prisoners and in particularly, Ms Winfield, it became clear that the prisoners were reluctant to engage and interact with her had little to do with the fact that she was transitioning but more to do with the fact that she had committed serious sexual violence against other women. When I indicated an interest in interviewing and speaking to her, I was told to “keep safe” and “don’t allow yourself to be alone with her”. The fact that she presented as a woman and had adopted a female name did little to assuage the fears and concerns of fellow prisoners, and many still viewed her as a predatory man.

This feeds back to the argument that whose interests should be addressed- the majority at the expense of a few or the interest of the few at the expense of the majority?

So could creating safe spaces within prisons to accommodate members of the transgender community be the right answer? There were no issues around sharing a wing with SK*, the second transgender prisoner in Bronzefield HMP. (SK* asked that pronouns referring to him be he/ him) Other prisoners were happy to interact, engage and work with him. Although he had been receiving hormonal treatment, and were in the latter stages of his transition (female to male) he was not seen as a threat nor were there any concerns over sharing communal spaces within the prison. The nature of the offences committed by SK were not sexually related, and according to a fellow prisoner, she felt much safer:

“SK hasn’t been raping women on the outside, has he?’

Does SK’s case highlight that some transgender prisoners can serve their sentence in a mainstream women only prison without facing prejudice or abuse or is it a one off? Does it also depend on the types of crime committed by the transgender prisoner? It is impossible to generalise without having spoken to other prisoners, both transgender and non-transgender, and their experiences of other prisons.

Dani Dinger, an activist who identifies as trans, non-binary and uses the pronouns ‘they/ them’ believes that the following steps would help transgender prisoners and the wider prison population to better manage situations such as this:

1. Give people in prison access to the prison which matches their gender (if they identify as binary. However, if they identify as non binary, there are currently no provision as non-binary genders are not legally recognised. I recommend allowing each prisoners to decide which gendered prison they’d feel most ‘comfortable’ in, though this is still very unsatisfactory.

2. Allow transgender people in prison unquestioning access to medical interventions if that is what they would like, as you would any person in prison who needs access to healthcare

3. Train staff, all staff, on how to work with trans people, and generally LGBTIQ+ people etc. 

4. Provide all residents with access to support, counselling and spaces to raise questions and explore ideas around sexuality, gender and pretty much everything. Provide access to books, education, links with the outside world, support networks to help people adjust to their surroundings and support each other.

(Dani would like it to be noted that they support prison abolition, and the above suggestions are a compromise within a deeply flawed, unworkable system)

Freddie*, a long time campaigner who works with marginalised groups, also agreed with Dani and wrote that we need ‘Safe spaces within prisons, also better education and protection. Real question is what about non binary/ gender neutral etc prisoners…?’. 

Some campaigners, however, feel that a separate transgender wing is not the answer and will only lead to further isolating an already targeted community. Rachel Krengel, a feminist activist and co-organiser for Women’s March London believes “the prison system is very broken, it needs a radical overhaul. To put transgender women in men only prisons is very dangerous, prison authorities have a duty of care to vulnerable and marginalised groups to ensure their safety once they are behind bars. Most of the documented violence in prison is carried out by cis men against other cis men but the good news is that we are now paying attention to sexual violence in prisons which can only be a positive thing.” Ms Krengal further advocated a case by case approach to determine the best course of action to support transgender prisoners.

So could separate wings for transgender prisoners be the answer? Are we not further isolating a minority that has traditionally always struggled to be accepted and integrated? As pointed out by Freddie earlier, “what about prisoners who are non-binary, gender-fluid, gender- neutral and so on- would we need a separate wing for them?” The arguments for and against a safe space for transgender prisoners within prisons are both compelling and controversial. It would seem that the only thing clear at this point is the fact that we cannot ignore this very tricky ‘Pandora’s Box’ any longer and solutions need to be found that ensure all prisoner’s safety and wellbeing are protected.

(*not their real name)

Standard