Sunday, 16 October 2016

Ched Evans' conviction is overturned. Where do we go from here?

Girls and women who have been raped need to report rape. They need to feel safe, they need to be taken seriously, they need to be treated with dignity and respect. And, at the same time, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is an essential pillar of the criminal justice system of any civilised society.

When it comes to rape statistics, we will never know for sure how many women are raped each year. It is well established that the crime of rape is underreported and, in many cases, girls and women do not realise they have been raped until a long time after the event and, because of the nature of the crime, the physical evidence is long gone and convictions are difficult.

Today, the headlines in relation to the terrible, thoroughly unedifying Ched Evans case, and subsequent overturning of the guilty verdict for rape, focus on the court admitting evidence about the woman's sexual history.

Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act allows for evidence of this nature to be used in rape trials if strict criteria are met, where the evidence pertains to issues of consent and when the sexual behaviour of the complainant is so similar to the events of the trial that the similarity cannot be described as a coincidence.

In the Evans case, two witnesses came forward to testify that the complainant used the words "Fuck me harder" while adopting a position where she was penetrated from behind. One witness said he had sex with her in this manner the night before the incident took place and the other said this happened two weeks after the incident. Evans testified during the retrial that this reflects his experience on the night in question.

What is disturbing is that in the first trial, Evans told the court that he did not speak to the complainant before, during or after sex, yet in the retrial, the wordless encounter suddenly changes to one where she told him to fuck her harder.

There can be no further trials in relation to the events of 29 May 2011 in a Rhyll Premier Inn. And there have been calls to change Section 41 because it might deter future rape victims from coming forward. Given this has been splashed all over the papers, even though Section 41 is seldom applied, it is easy to see how rape victims who have led anything other than a life of saintly chastity may well be put off from coming forward.

But what is truly depressing here is that even if Section 41 did not exist, the treatment of the woman at the centre of the appalling saga is already more than enough to stop girls and women reporting rape. Personally, I find aspects of the text of Section 41 uncomfortable to read but even if it was repealed, I don't think complainants in high profile rape cases will be treated with any more respect.

Trolls have revealed the identity of the complainant in the Ched Evans case online on multiple occasions. Five times now, she has had to change her identity and move away. Twitter has become a particularly repulsive cesspit of misogyny, of loose interpretations of consent and of rape apology. At best, the complainant, waking up as she did with a vile hangover and, according to her testimony, having no recollection of the previous night's events, experience what Katie Roiphe described in her controversial 1994 book, The Morning After, as "regrettable sex".

And a night of regrettable sex, the kind of sex where you are not sure what happened, whether it was at all pleasurable and where you wake up in a pool of your own urine, should not be something that haunts you for the rest of your life. Even if you then make a rape complaint that ends up being overturned at retrial, you do not deserve to be constantly outed online, to be forever on the run, to be hiding your true identity whenever you make new friends or attempt to start a new relationship. The complainant in the Evans case has suffered and will continue to suffer. Anyone who is baying for her blood and demanding she be punished can rest easy. She is being punished on a daily basis.

And she is not alone.

The crime of rape is unique in the way victims are often aggressively targeted in a way that does happen with other crimes. If someone is robbed by someone they know, they're not likely to be asked what they were thinking recklessly letting that person into their house previously so they could see what was worth nicking and where it was kept. But if you're raped by someone you know, especially if you've consented to sex with them before or you're in a relationship with them, you could easily be made to feel as if you were somehow asking for it.

I was sexually assaulted in Dubai in 2006 when I was walking home from a film festival at an art gallery. I couldn't find a taxi so I started to walk, foolishly buying into the myth that it's a completely safe city for women. A man, who was sitting at a bus stop long after the buses had stopped for the night, pulled me off the footpath, put one hand down my neckline, the other up my dress, tore my tights and made a scratch on my chest. I managed to get away by elbowing him in the chest, throwing the burger I was eating at him and ducking under his arm.

I decided to report the crime, partly because I was not actually raped. Thus I knew I'd be safe from facing an adultery charge if the case was ever disproved in a court of law, which is a particularly terrible aspect of UAE law. When I made the initial call to the police, it was answered by an amateur, misogynistic Perry Mason wannabe who asked me what I was wearing, whether I was drunk, why I was walking alone at night and if I was making it all up. Luckily, a friend referred me to a very senior office in Dubai Police who took the case very seriously and was entirely respectful.

My attacker was never caught but I was glad that the incident did not simply wither away as yet another unreported sex attack in Dubai, where I am quite certain the sexual assault and rape statistics are artificially low. And friends who did not live in the UAE scoffed at how backwards it all was, how the Perry Mason wannabe was a disgrace, and asked if it was time I left the country, even though I'd been living there less than a year.

But in wake of the reactions to the Ched Evans case, and of people from across the world apologising for Donald Trump, it is clear there are very few places where girls and women are not made to feel ashamed for reporting sex crimes. There are still plenty of people out there with a very poor grasp of how consent works and are happy to dismiss vile behaviour of men towards girls and women as "locker room banter" or simply boys being boys, alpha men being alpha men.

Alpha men like Ched Evans who is still playing football for a living, is still planning to marry the woman on whom he cheated in a Rhyll hotel room, and is still hailed by many as hero...

Photography by Hessam/Flickr. Posed by a model in no way connected to the Ched Evans trial. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

An open letter to left-leaning Brexiters

Dear left-leaning Brexiters,

I understand why right-leaning Brexiters voted to leave the EU in May, even if I fundamentally disagree with them. But this letter is not for them. This letter is for the left-of-centre people - in many cases, the hardcore, far-left-let's-destroy-capitalism people - who voted to leave the EU.

What the everloving fuck were you hoping to achieve? What the everloving fuck did you think would happen if the majority actually did vote to leave the EU? Did you really think leaving the EU would amount to some sort of socialist victory? Why could you not see that it was a choice between two forms of capitalism? Are you really so dim as to believe that leaving the EU was going to herald some sort of workers' revolution?

"But this means we're free from TTIP!", I hear you whine.

TTIP has been killed, largely by France. France has been against TTIP from the get-go and in August, President Hollande stalled negotiations again. Couple this with growing opposition in Germany and Angela Merkel desperate to retain power, and there you have it - the two big hitters of the EU in no position to proceed.

But it isn't just French obstruction or a strong German protest movement that is halting TTIP. Labour and Green MEPs were doing excellent behind-the-scenes work to negotiate terms, going through TTIP with a fine toothed comb. Unfortunately, "behind-the-scenes" are the operative words here - nobody bothered to find out about what our MEPs were doing for us. And soon we will have no MEPs, no power of veto in Brussels, and we will be wide open to a US-UK trade deal, regardless of who wins the US election. If anyone thinks that will be a win for Britain, they're deluded.

"But I wanted to kick Cameron out!", I hear you moan.

Yeah, about that. How is that working out for you, dear lefties? When Cameron quit, the glee was palpable on the left, even though at the time, it seemed to herald an inevitable Boris Johnson move to 10 Downing Street. When that fell through, and Andrea Leadsom revealed herself to be awful and inept all at once, Theresa May became prime minister by default. And she is embracing hard Brexit and pandering to the hard right Brexiters like a long lost lover. So much for the safe pair of hands. It is more like a stampeding pair of jackboots at the moment.

And if you are Lexiter who claims to care about the NHS or scientific research or access to the latest medicines, please hang your head in shame. You are part of the problem, contributing to a vote that will probably end freedom of movement and further compound NHS staffing woes, could cost us our European Health Insurance Card for medical treatment in the EU, the risk of lost research funding as part of the EU, and missing out on being part of clinical trials as part of the harmonised approach to medicines regulation. And you have pretty well lost the right to berate Jeremy Hunt about his ridiculous plan to grow more British doctors, despite making the medical profession less attractive than it has ever been to bright students.

Feel free to wave placards about hospital closures and cuts if you like, it's allegedly a free country, but do know that your vote to leave the EU will make whatever we have left of our health system even more precarious. You are just as absurd as anyone who voted to leave the EU because they genuinely believed Boris' bus of bullshit with the stupid "£350 million for the NHS" claim.

Sorry, Lexiters, but you have dropped a bollock. You have helped the hard right usher in a new era of awful policy and there are plenty of aspects of the Theresa May-led hard Brexit that are appealing to a wide number of people. On top of this, we're left with a hapless opposition with which the hard left is enamoured, even though peak Corbyn has been reached with a stacked and skewed inflated membership. Sorry, but this does not actually reflect what the wider electorate is thinking or wants for Britain. Theresa May is currently on a mission to out-UKIP UKIP and it is working. She is being very careful to find just the right level of UKIP-ness for the electorate to tolerate to keep the Tories in power for a very long time.

For those who voted Brexit because they wanted a hard Brexit with no access to the common market and no freedom of movement, congratulations on getting what you signed up for on 23 June. For everyone else who voted out with a completely different idea of what Brexit might look like, you've made your bed and now we all must lie in it. And for those who voted Brexit because they genuinely thought it would result in some sort of socialist revolution, you are genuinely dangerous and stupid.

If I have offended anyone, I really don't care.

Yours sincerely,

Georgia Lewis, militant remain voter

Photography by threefishsleeping/Flickr

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Kim Kardashian bound and robbed at gunpoint. The hilarity.

It is one thing to be nonplussed by the story this week that reality TV star Kim Kardashian was bound and robbed at gunpoint in Paris. But it is quite another to be openly gleeful about this turn of events and to publicly express one's joy at a wife and mother of two young children becoming the victim of violent crime.

"But she was asking for it, tweeting all those photos of her jewellery, flashing her wealth around like that..."

People who wouldn't dream of blaming rape victims for their own rape have blamed Kim Kardashian for her own robbery. But the most she is guilty of is bad taste and ostentation when she tweets another fabulous gemstone. You may find this obscene when there are people starving, but it's not justification for violent crime. Hell, people who wouldn't know one end of Twitter from the other get robbed of their valuables. Quiet people get robbed. Discreet people get robbed. Anyone who an opportunistic thief might suspect as having stuff they want can get robbed.

Jodi Foster, for example, would probably sooner drive a clown car to Mars than tweet a picture of her jewellery but it is well-known that she is a wealthy woman. Yet if she was bound and robbed at gunpoint, she would probably elicit more sympathy than a Kardashian.

My husband has expressed concern for me when I wear my engagement ring on public transport. The ring is not necessarily worth much financially but sentimentally, it is priceless. It is my grandmother's ruby and it is not a subtle ring. If some lunatic cut my ruby-clad ring finger off or made me hand it over at gunpoint while I was minding my own business on the tube, people would probably have plenty of sympathy for me. I've tweeted pictures of this ring. I wear it in public most days. Would I too be asking for it?

"She is just another useless reality TV star. Who cares?"

Welcome to fame in the modern world. This is a world where high school students view "reality TV star" or "YouTube sensation" as valid career choices. We have fed the beast by watching the TV shows, clicking on the YouTube link, reading about these people in newspapers and magazines and online, talking about them as if we know them personally. We have created the public interest for this sort of thing.

"But people get robbed all the time and it isn't front page news!"

Do you even understand how the media works? Stories that are considered to be of interest to the readers, viewers and listeners will get airplay. See the above point for why Kim Kardashian's robbery is more newsworthy than the bloke down the pub who had his mower nicked from the garden shed.

There are limits to how many stories any given news outlet can cover and it is up to news editors worldwide to make judgement calls on what will be published or broadcast, what gets priority, what the balance of subjects will be on any given day. Naturally people get upset if their pet cause doesn't get the attention they think it deserves but these people don't work as news editors and have no idea what the job entails or the competing pressures that are involved.

And the onus is also on everyone else, the consumers, to choose what media outlets we go to for our information. Don't want to read about Kim Kardashian? There are plenty of places to go where you will never see a Kardashian story. And guess what? Thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can usually share stories you deem more worthwhile really easily.

Take some responsibility for your choices rather than passively whining about "the mainstream media".

And the Kim Kardashian robbery is newsworthy, especially if you live in Paris. If I lived in Paris, I might want to know that there is a gang of audaciously violent thieves out there.

Yes, there are people out there suffering more than Kim Kardashian probably ever will. But the outpouring of joy over an incident that could have ended in her death is gross. It has degenerated into people publicly wishing she was raped or murdered. Where the hell is our basic humanity?

Sometimes I wonder if we have evolved that much from the days of throwing Christians to the lions for entertainment.

Photography by George Hodan