Friday, 28 May 2010

anonymity for rape defendants

You can write to the govt to question their proposal on giving anonymity to rape defendants. apparently they are considering comments carefully! email

You can sign the petition here

this is the letter i have sent:

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to you with concern over the proposal to give anonymity for rape defendants. It is troubling that, in a society where 100,000 women are estimated to be raped every year, the government have chosen to focus on defendants rather than victims.

I understand that a false allegation of rape can lead to distress and personal upset to the defendant. However, the current false allegation rate is similar to that of other crimes and in fact, lower than the false accusation rate for crimes such as car insurance fraud.

I believe that by concentrating energy on the defendants, the government is detracting from the effort that should be made to securing a stronger conviction rate for rapists, and giving more support for victims of rape. It seems to me that the thinking is all back to front here. It is not the defendants who need to be protected, it is the victims.

Currently the rape conviction rate stands at 6.5%. This does not mean, as I am sure you are aware, that 94% of allegations are false. In fact, it more likely shows that many, many men are getting away with rape. We know this to be true. Lets take the cases of John Worbouys and Ian Huntley, as examples. Both men are now safely behind bars, charged and found guilty of horrible crimes. But before this happened, these 2 men were accused over and over again of sexual offences. The charges were dropped, the women weren't believed. Perhaps if events had happened differently, then these 2 men would have got away with it, would never have been found guilty. But they were, and certainly in the case of the former, this was helped because John Worbouys was named as a suspect. Naming him meant that more women were able to come forward, to accuse him and secure a conviction. With anonymity for the defendant this may not have happened and he could still be free to commit his crimes, unquestioned.

Most of us know a woman who has been raped. After all, globally, 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted. We all know women who haven't gone to the police for fear they wouldn't be believed. We all know women who have gone to the police, only for charges to be dropped. We need to start tackling this problem.

I appreciate that to call someone a rapist after being cleared of an allegation is libel, but equally we know that 94% of allegations aren't false.We know that over 100,000 women are raped every year. Surely it is these 100,000 women who the government should be trying to help, should be trying to support.

The government are not offering anonymity to defendants in murder or paedophilia cases - what makes rape different? A false allegation of these other crimes would surely be as emotionally distressing as rape.

Sadly, we still live in a culture that blames rape on the victims. We blame women for being drunk, for wearing 'provocative' clothing, for having a relationship with the rapist, for flirting, for being a sex worker. We accuse women of lying, of asking for it, of regretting a sexual experience. By offering anonymity to the defendants, the government is tacitly supporting this rape myth culture, that the woman making the allegation should be doubted, should not be believed. Obviously everyone has the right to be innocent until proven guilty. But equally, victims have the right to be listened to and taken seriously.

I seriously hope the government reconsiders its position on anonymity for rape defendants. Lets focus our efforts on preventing rape. Lets educate young people about respect and consent. Lets fight against rape myths. Lets talk more openly about rape myths. Lets focus on stopping men raping. Lets encourage funding for rape crisis centres so that evidence can be collected swiftly, counselling and medical care can be given quickly. Lets have more training for officers to deal with rape allegations, and lets have a world where jurors go into court without thinking women are to blame for rape.

But please, lets start protecting the victims of rape. They are the women and men who need support. When the conviction rate reflects the true numbers of the crime, when rape is taken seriously in society, when rape myths are over, then maybe false allegations would be the bigger issue. But that day is not here yet.

Yours faithfully

Sian Norris

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

More on the Evening Post issue

For those of you who haven’t been following my furious tweets and Facebook status updates this Saturday local Bristol rage-rag the Evening Post branded me and my feminist colleague ‘hypocrites’ for campaigning against the Bristol City Council’s endorsement of a strip tease performance by Dita Von Teese, whilst not campaigning against 40 women taking their clothes off in the performance ‘Trilogy’. The article has been removed from the website, but that was the general gist.

The accusation of hypocrisy in this instance was completely ridiculous and unfounded and Helen and myself are complaining to the editor. But I wanted to take the opportunity to use my blog to give, as it is, my side of the story and fully explain why our position wasn’t hypocritical. It is pretty self evident, but I think it is worth saying.

I was first alerted to the Dita Von Teese performance a while back when Helen sent an email around asking whether the council were aware of the upcoming strip tease at the Bristol Museum and whether they were endorsing the performance (an email that was subsequently leaked to a very snide blogger). She rightly pointed out that the endorsing of the performance went against the Bristol City Council’s gender equality duty, which requires them by law to work against sexism.

We felt that by endorsing the performance at the City Museum the Bristol City Council were helping to normalise the atmosphere of a highly sexualised culture that promotes a very specific body ideal and a very specific performance of female sexuality. Whatever personal opinions were on burlesque and Dita Von Teese, we felt that the important matter to address was how council involvement in supporting the performance endorsed this normalisation (please note the Council did not pay for the party or performance). We believe (and have been supported by plenty of research) that the normalisation of a very narrow, idealised performance of sexuality and a very narrow, idealised version of women’s bodies has had a deeply disturbing effect on women’s mental health. In fact, 44% of young girls are suffering mental health disorders related to a negative body image, including the inability to feel or experience pleasure. (Sweet and Weston). The normalisation of the idealised female body and male defined sexual performance contributes to that.

We repeatedly asserted that the problem with this performance lay in its context. If Ms Von Teese performed in a burlesque venue then we wouldn’t have a problem with it – mainly because it would be a private venue without the backing of the council. Again, within BFN there are lots of views in burlesque, and we felt that by taking this stance we could best reflect a variety of opinions – that the problem is normalisation, not Dita Von Teese. It was the support of the council that raised our objection, as for the council to endorse a strip tease performance involved them in endorsing the normalisation of the objectification of women, and therefore broke their gender equality duty.

We also stated again that if the context of the performance was different, for example in a female dominated venue with a range of female performers of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, with a female compere, our objection would be unfounded. But this wasn’t the case. In fact, Dita Von Teese’s performance was in a very male dominated context, not least because the majority of the artists in the exhibition were male. We felt that whilst the art on display challenged the culture of female objectification, the strip tease performance enforced this cultural status quo.

This was all explained in detail to the Evening Post in the statement posted on this blog by me previously, and picked up by other news outlets including the F Word and Women’s Hour, neither of whom found the argument that difficult to understand.

At around 5pm on Friday the Evening Post called me (as a press spokesperson for BFN) to get a quote on the debate. She asked me why I felt the Dita performance was ‘sexist’ but not the Trilogy performance. I have to admit, I was quite taken aback by the question, as in my mind the events were so different, and although I think there are questions to be asked about why, for women, we associate empowerment with nakedness (in a way we don’t for men) I was and am supportive of Trilogy’s aims. I explained to the journalist (as above) that the issue with the Von Teese performance was the context and how the involvement of the council contravened, in our view, the council’s gender equality duty. However, as I understood it, the Trilogy performance was about celebrating women’s bodies and the diversity of women’s bodies. The key difference is that whilst the Dita Von Teese strip tease is about a performance of a very specific, male defined version of female sexuality, the Trilogy performance had nothing to do with sex and was about nakedness. The two are not always linked you know!

By refusing to recognise these key difference between the two performances, and refusing to engage in my explanation of the contexts of the performances the Evening Post have gone on to call me and Helen hypocrites. This is in spite of printing my quote that doesn’t match up to their ‘hypocrite’ headline statement. They appear to want to portray feminists as being anti-nudity full stop, as prudes, as anti-men and anti-fun, rather than giving an honest portrayal of the story. The story was, to remind you, that by endorsing the performance the council were breaking their gender equality duty.

Further to this, the paper has portrayed Helen and I as being ‘against Dita Von Teese’. This is simply not the case and is a silly attempt to simplify the issue into one woman being against another. We are not against anyone. We are angry that the Council ignored their gender equality duty.

Since Saturday I have been criticised in some quarters for trying to ban or censor art. This is so ridiculous that I don’t know if I was more offended by this or the hypocrisy accusation. I am not interested in ‘ban this filth’ style histrionics, I’m not a Mary Whitehouse in modern guise. I am interested in discovering how we can combat the normalisation of sexualised images of women that have such a negative effect on women’s mental health. I am interested in how the council’s endorsement of a strip tease performance encourages this normalisation.

I appreciate and respect that many women feel empowered by burlesque. That’s fine – if burlesque empowers them and makes them feel good about themselves then I am happy for them. It is not for me to tell other women how to feel empowered. But by the same token, it is not for other women to tell me how to feel empowered. And frankly, watching a woman do a strip tease doesn’t make me feel good about myself. My job, my relationships, my voluntary work at BFN, my writing, my ability to make excellent brownies, my friends – they all make me feel empowered. That’s my choice, that’s my decision. I wouldn’t tell other women they have to follow my example of how to feel empowered. I am also curious as to why we associate women stripping (whether in burlesque or a strip club) with female empowerment, in a way we simply don’t for men. We don’t expect men to feel empowered by the Chippendales, or by male prostitution. Is it because we view men as more than a sum of their body parts? Why are men allowed to feel strong and powerful whilst fully clothed, whilst our cultural narratives tell women the route to empowerment is performing a strip tease or having her breasts photographed?

But whatever my personal opinions are on the matter, it has no bearing on what I said to the Evening Post. And that was that the context of the Dita Von Teese performance and the council’s involvement was the reason for our objection, and the context of Trilogy was completely different. There was no excuse to brand me as a hypocrite or as somehow anti-Von Teese. It was lazy journalism at best, and deliberate smearing at worst.

That’s my side of the story anyway.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

the evening post, lies and me

Hi everyone

As i am sure some of you are aware an article in the evening post today labelled myself and helen mott as hypocrites over the dita von teese debate. not only is this defammatory, but it is also quite upsetting to have this happen to you on a saturday morning!

i appreciate that there are many diverse views in the group about this event but if you do feel that it is unfair for the EP to call us hypocrites for objecting to the context of the von teese show and not objecting to trilogy then please can you go on the this is bristol website and leave a supportive quote.

i've tried to post but it hasn't appeared - maybe they're pre-moderated.

Also - if anyone has read the article please bear in mind that they have slightly twisted my phrasing which changes the tone of what i said. i am just adding this because i am really unhappy about the way my view has been presented and wouldn't want people to think that i sound like that!

Thanks for your support in advance


Friday, 14 May 2010

BBC Radio Bristol's reporting of the Dita Von Teese debate

As many of you will be aware, there has been a great deal of discussion in the media about the performance of Dita Von Teese at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. As feminists living in Bristol, we were deeply concerned about the performance happening in a public, council owned building, and whether the performance was in fact reneging on the Bristol City Council’s gender equality duty. We felt that, although we have a lot of respect for the art of burlesque and the talent of Dita Von Teese, having a strip tease in the museum did not send out the right message about the importance of gender equality and the need to combat the normalisation of pornified culture.

We were approached by BBC Radio Bristol to take part in a debate on the issue on Friday 15th May. During the debate, Jenny Rintoul explained the concerns we had, making it clear that our campaign was not an attack on Dita Von Teese or burlesque. Instead, she explained that the performance in the museum can be seen as being part of a process that normalises sexual objectification.

The story was picked up in the BBC Radio Bristol news bulletins throughout the day. However, the way our opinion was reported showed a shocking lack of respect for our views and unbiased reporting. Rather than presenting our argument that the normalisation of hyper-sexualised images of women creates a harmful atmosphere, feminists in Bristol were described as being against the performance of Dita Von Teese due to the ‘sexiness’ of the content.

This was a complete misrepresentation of the arguments we put forward. We had clearly stated that the objection was to the ‘promotion of a Playboy style sexiness which research has shown is damaging to women’. In fact, when presenting our views to BBC Radio Bristol, we quoted recent research that 44% of young girls experience mental disorders around body image and anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure). Furthermore, we explained, NSPCC and Home Office research has identified a huge increase in abuse and violence in young peoples relationships as being partly linked to the increased treatment of women in the media as sex objects.

For the BBC to represent the protest against the event as some kind of campaign against sexiness not only tells a lie about our views, but also creates a strong bias in the story that completely makes a mockery of fair reporting. The way our views were portrayed fell back on to old boring stereotypes that those concerned with gender equality and sexual objectification are somehow anti sex or prudish. It is lazy journalism at best to have so clearly ignored our statements on this issue. At worst it is a deliberate misrepresentation of our argument.

We have constantly reiterated that our problem is not against burlesque or Dita Von Teese. It is a protest against the normalisation of the sexual objectification of women in our society. An objectification that causes harm and damage to women of all ages. Our protest was against the Bristol City Council for ignoring their gender equality duty in endorsing a performance in a public space that re-enforces the idealised woman’s body as an object for public consumption. This was not a campaign about Dita Von Teese. This was not a campaign against burlesque. And it certainly wasn’t a campaign against sexiness.

It is for this reason that I am writing this, to try and get our voices heard.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Complain about Danny Dyer endorsing domestic violence

Hi all

As many of you may be aware, Danny Dyer has written in Zoo magazine saying that if you are having trouble with your ex girlfriend, you can always slash her face so no-one else would want her.

This is an absolute disgrace, endorsing domestic violence and is just so so horrfic i don't know what to do.

So have written to the editor to complain.

If you would like to complain I am happy for you to use my letter if you don't want to write your own.

The editor's email address is:

Please complain. It's so awful. I cannot believe this can be.

Dear Tom

I was horrified to learn today that your magazine has promoted the message that in order to revenge yourself on an ex girlfriend you should slash her face so no one else wants her.

Perhaps you will be shocked in turn to learn that 1 in 4 UK women will suffer domestic violence in their life times and that 2 women a week are killed by their partners or ex partners. In fact, according to Home Office statistics, domestic violence causes more death and disability in women aged 16-44 than cancer or road accidents. It is one of the UK's biggest killers.

Therefore allowing your staff to write messages that encourage their readers to commit acts of domestic violence is completely and utterly unacceptable. I understand that this has been defended as a joke, or as being ironic. The deaths of over 100 women a year is not ironic. The deaths of over 100 women a year is not a joke.

Not only are you endorsing acts of violence against women, your magazine is inciting acts of gender hatred. Again, this is not a joke. You are encouraging hate crime.

Sadly we live in a culture that does not take violence against women seriously. The results, as you can see above, mean that women live under the threat of violence. As if your magazine didn't cause women enough grief and harm by treating them as objects dedicated to male sexual pleasure, you are now openly suggesting that vicious violent acts against women are ok and/or hilarious. The column also suggests that once a woman is scarred or rendered 'un-perfect' then she is worthless. What kind of message does this send out to the men that read your magazine?

You must surely be aware that children (boys under 18) read your magazine. Is this how you want them to view women? As objects that they have a right to violate and harm?

If you do, then shame on you. I hope the appropriate action will be taken against Danny Dyer. His article is a disgrace.

Yours sincerely

This is not an invitation to rape me and election ramblings

Back when the TFL campaign telling women to not become a rape victim this Christmas it was generally mooted on the F Word that we create our own bus ad campaign that put the onus of preventing rape on men. So I thought I would come up with some slogans as that's my day job.

This is what I came up with:

[Headline] MEN! Don't drink and date rape
[subhead] Many rapes happen when the rapist is under the influence of alcohol. Don't let it happen to you

[Headline] MEN! Confused about consent?
[subhead] It's easy! Just remember, no means no whether said before or during intercourse.

[Headline] MEN! That girl at the bar giving you the eye?
[subhead] Just remember! She's not giving an invitation to rape

[Headline] MEN! make a stand this Saturday night!
[subhead] And don't turn her into a crime statistic

I particularly like the first one which i think could be designed like the don't drink and drive ad - with Stop written in yellow on the road surface.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Tory party will win tomorrow. 2% of Tory candidates have committed their support to women's rights, including improving provision of support services for victims of sexual violence. So, we're on our own. If we want to stop sexual violence, we need to start doing it ourselves.

The Tories want to reduce the abortion time limit, reducing women's bodily autonomy. The marriage tax break will hurt single mothers. Women's lives and choices are being judged and punished.

The other parties didn't do much better. Women's rights are slipping off the agenda. I spent the debates shouting at my TV 'what about women!'. The Labout party promiesed £3 million to support rape crisis services nationwide - they're not taking it seriously. The number of women politicians is stupidly small, so women fall off the agenda. Government campaigns on rape focus on women when we are not to blame for being attacked. With none of the politicians talking to me about this I am confused who to vote for.

But that doesn't mean I won't vote.

Less than 100 years ago, women didn't have the vote. In my grandparents' lifetimes, I wouldn't have had the vote (I'm 25). Less than 100 years ago not all men had the vote. 160 years ago if you lived in Taunton, you could only vote if you owned a cooking pot. And all over the world, women are denied basic freedom of movement, let alone the vote.

May 6th is the day when we can recognise how lucky we are to have a say in how our country is run. So please, I beg you, don't waste it. Don't let Emily Davies die in vain. Don't let all those women who went to prison have fought in vain. We owe it to our historical and worldwide sisters to vote.

And if anyone has any ideas on how to get the bus ad campaign running please let me know!