Thursday, 29 July 2010

Get domestic violence reported in the news

2010 has been a pretty horrifying year for domestic violence in the news. Arguably the biggest crime story this year involved the man hunt for a perpetrator of domestic violence, who has since been lionized by some and condemned by many. Yet little of the news coverage seemed to address the big elephant in the room of Raoul Moat’s history of domestic violence, whilst the polices’ initial lack of response to Susan Stobbart’s pleas for help and protection resulted in 1 murder, 2 more shootings and 1 suicide.

And the biggest sports story of the year has been the World Cup, a tournament during which rates of domestic violence shot up by 31%. On 27th June, when England was knocked out, the highest incidences of domestic violence in the year so far were recorded. Although news outlets did report this increase, it didn’t receive that much prominence. It seemed to me that rather than have half time beer ads, it would have been far more sensible and far more pertinent to have ads promoting an anti domestic violence message.

Anyway. All this has brought back into my mind a plan I conceived of a while back to get the mainstream media to dedicate one month to reporting domestic violence.

Once a week, for one month I would like to see the following report.

“This week it is estimated 2 women were murdered by their current or ex partners. It is believed that 1 in 4 women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes.”

The final week would finish with:
“Over 100 women this year will die as a result of domestic violence. Violence against women kills and injures more women aged 16-45 than cancer or road traffic accidents.”

More or less detail can be added as the news agency prefers. Perhaps the final week could even feature a special report!

This isn’t a big ask. Most news programmes have a ‘summary of the rest of today’s news’ where this can be slotted in. Most papers have a column with 4 or 5 news stories briefly reported. With news agencies reporting Penelope Cruz’s marriage and Lindasy Lohan’s arrest, there is surely space available to reiterate this devastating statistic. News agencies could give the story as much or as little prominence as they like. But for one month, news consumers would hear that women are dying as a result of domestic violence.

I wanted to set up a campaign like this because once on a news website’s comments, someone complained that ‘violence against women was in the news all the time’. If this was the case, then these 2 deaths a week would be reported without fail. Clearly, they are not.


I want to contact:
Channel 4 News
Woman’s Hour
BBC News
Sky News
Radio 1 Newsbeat
Sunday Times
The Sun
The Independent
The Telegraph
The Mirror
The Daily Mail

I think I have contact details for Woman’s Hour and I have a contact at the Guardian. Can anyone help me out with advice on how to contact the other news agencies? And is there anything you would like to see in this campaign that I’ve missed out?

I will also be contacting CAADA and WomensAid for advice and support. If you work for a women’s organisation please get in touch with me if you would like to endorse or sign up to this campaign.

Monday, 26 July 2010

article on liberal conspiracy

Hi there

I;ve had an article put up on Liberal Conspiracy here:

You can also read it below:

We live in a society that has very successfully sold the sex industry to us as an empowering ‘lifestyle’ choice where women exploit men’s ‘need’ for sex in order to extract money from them.
We are told that it’s a free choice and feminists who criticise that choice are prudes, anti sex and anti women.
This cultural narrative is a chimera that disguises the real story of the sex industry, a story that involves PTSD, sexual assault, drug abuse and sex trafficking.

A recent article on Libcon accused Bristol Feminist Network and Object of being motivated by nimby-ism in members’ objections to the sex industry.
It suggested that feminists who oppose the sex industry do so out of ‘distaste’ and deny women who work in prostitution a voice. I would like to show why these accusations are false.
The rhetoric of free choice is also a chimera that hides how, in a world with decreased social mobility, where the pay gap still stands, and where women’s worth is still too often calculated on their physical appearance, women’s choices can become very limited. The sex industry is very much a class issue.
A recent application in Durham to open a lap-dancing club is a good example. During the planning process, the applicant was asked how they would deal with ‘inappropriate touching’ in the club.
The applicant replied that the offender would be ejected. However, this response completely ignored the fact that ‘inappropriate touching’ is, in fact, a criminal incident. It is either selling sexual contact or its sexual harassment. The appropriate response would be to report the customer’s crime. The magistrates turned the application down.
We all know that ‘inappropriate touching’ occurs in lap dancing clubs. In fact, one report in Vancouver found 100% of dancers surveyed had been inappropriately touched by customers. The report ‘Challenging men’s demand for prostitution in Scotland’ found that prostitution was routinely offered in lap dancing clubs – a claim supported by Channel 4′s Dispatches programme interview with Philip Kolvin.

It is a fact worth repeating that most women in prostitution do not enjoy the lifestyle depicted by Belle de Jour, and most don’t get their stories published in glossy magazines selling the ideal that prostitution brings with it Prada handbags and Jimmy Choos (Marie Claire, March 2010).
Behind the fa├žade lies the knowledge that women in the sex industry are 60-100 times more likely to be murdered than women who aren’t in the sex industry (Salfati, James, Ferguson), and that trans women who work in prostitution are at an even higher risk. We know that 2/3 of women who work in prostitution routinely suffer client violence (Church, Henderson, Barnard and Settings).
We know that 1.2 million people are trafficked as sex slaves and that 500,000 – 600,000 people every year are trafficked into the sex industry over national borders (International Organisation of Migration). We know that 68% of women who work in prostitution suffer from PTSD (M Farley) and that between 50-75% enter prostitution before they are 18 years old (Paying the Price).
So when feminists campaign against the sex industry it is because they want to end the very real and horrific dangers that these women and men face every day – violence, coercion, rape, trauma. It has nothing to do with nimby-ism or distaste. It has everything to do with ending the idea that it is ok to put someone’s safety, and mental and physical health at risk so that someone can pay to masturbate in or over her/him.
Offering a voice

The accusation that feminists deny women who work in prostitution a voice is an accusation that is borne out of ignorance and an unwillingness to engage in the evidence. For example, in The Equality Illusion and Living Dolls, two books on feminism published this year, women who work in the sex industry speak out.
There are many blogs where women who have exited prostitution talk about the horrors they faced. On Object’s website you’ll find voices crying out to be heard and taken seriously, voices ignored by our dominant cultural narrative that tells us prostitution is empowering.
In Bristol, women from charity One25 go out on the streets and talk to women who work in prostitution who have been sexually assaulted, listen to them, and let them speak about what has happened to them. And there are many more examples.
I believe that it is, in fact, those who promote the sex industry who more often deny women their voices. Because they are so invested in supporting and propping up an industry that too often makes its money from violence and exploitation, they refuse to give space to the voices that contradict their narrative.
Whilst I recognise that some people enter prostitution and find it empowering, many more do not. In refusing to hear the stories of the men and women who are damaged by the sex industry, and only giving space to the voices that support their agenda, the pro sex industry lobby are doing a grave disservice to the men and women who feel trapped and silenced, as their bodies are sold to be used for the sexual pleasure of others.
This closing quote is taken from an interview with a lap dancer in The Equality Illusion.
Lap dancing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ve found it tough, soul destroying… you are forced to behave in a way which is completely demeaning and submissive…The last thing they want is a clever lap dancer. You have to play dumb, that’s the way to make the most money…and perhaps most importantly pretend to find them attractive when you do not find them attractive. (pg 136-37)
Please don’t silence her voice.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Latitude Festival - campaign to prevent rape

Suggested action?

As many people know, 2 women were raped at Latitude this weekend. As a result, the UK’s biggest festival organisers are launching a personal safety campaign for female fans.

Melvin Benn, chief exec of Festival Republic has said:
"It is fair to say that in the future we will be making much more high profile the issues of being alone at night, particularly if you are a girl – definitely,"

As well as the problematic use of the word ‘girls’, we yet again have a situation where women are being told to be cautious as a result of the actions of a number of men – two male rapists and a group of men who aided in one of the rapes.

One of the rape victims was attacked after going to the toilet. The second was raped in a tent.

As I am sure many of you appreciate, it is impossible to not go to the toilet, and not be in a tent during a festival. So, apart from warning women to not go to festivals, or to not at any point leave the side of a ‘buddy’ even when going to the loo or going to sleep, a campaign telling women to ‘keep safe’ wouldn’t have prevented the attacks.

It seems to me that men such as Benn, who I am sure has the best intentions, do not understand that every where they go, festivals, clubbing, walking home from work, walking to the shops, walking to school, being in school, being at home, everywhere they are women are aware of the threat of rape. Telling women again and again to be careful in case they get raped is never going to change anything.

If Festival Republic want to make sure no other woman is raped at one of their festivals, then they need to do a public safety campaign that targets rapists.

I would like to suggest that we send a letter to Melvin Benn explaining and suggesting this. I couldn’t find an email address but they have a contact us page on their website.

This is the letter I am going to write. As ever, please feel free to use and send yourselves.

Dear Melvin

I read in the Guardian today that as a response to the two rapes at the Latitude festival you and Festival Republic will be launching a public safety campaign to raise women’s awareness of the risks of violence at a festival, with advice on how to keep safe.

Although I appreciate this campaign comes from the very best intentions, and indeed it is certainly necessary for men and women alike to understand how to keep safe from crime at a festival, I do find it troubling that your campaign is targeting women, and advising them how to prevent themselves being a victim of rape.

Women are consistently given warnings about how they can and should alter their behaviour to prevent rape. But rape is not a natural hazard, such as falling off a cliff, something that women can protect themselves from. Women cannot prevent rape from happening to them by following a set of rules. The only way rape can be prevented is if the rapist chooses not to rape.

I would like to request that you consider running a safety campaign that instead of telling women to keep themselves safe from rape, actively encourages potential rapists not to rape. Women the world over know themselves to be vulnerable to rape, in a society where it is estimated 100,000 rapes happen every year. The rapes at Latitude happened when a woman was returning from the toilet and when a woman was in a tent. Unfortunately, no public safety campaign aimed at women is going to stop women from having to go to the toilet, or to sleep. And a safety campaign aimed at telling women to ‘be safe’ is never going to prevent a rapist from raping.

Rather than putting the onus onto women to prevent rape by curtailing their own freedom of movement at a festival which should be fun and exciting, it would be wonderful to see a campaign that pushed forward the idea that the only person who can prevent rape, is the person/group of people who is planning to rape.

Please consider this strategy as a way to make Latitude, and your other events, a safe and positive space for women to be.

Best wishes

Sian Norris, Bristol Feminist Network.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

me at the women in psychology conference

Tomorrow (friday 16th july), Dr Helen Mott, Anna Brown and me will be presenting 3 papers at the British Psychology Society's conference on Women in Psychology.

Helen will be talking about her PHd research on sexual harassment, Anna on the importance of intersectionality in activism and i will be presenting a paper co-written by Dr Sue Tate called 'Performing the Erotic Body' which covers issues of representation, misrepresentation and absence of representation of women. It will look at Pauline Boty - a pop artist, our own BFN and Fawcett research on representation of women in the media, and the Dita Von Teese debate in Bristol. It explores how women can be sexual subjects and agents of the world, but how so much of our culture is invested in seeing women's bodies as only sexual and only as objects.

Once i work out how to upload a word document as a link, i'll post my paper. it's 10 pages long so won't be posting it here!

Monday, 5 July 2010

a response, a rant, a moan

Bristol Feminist Network, Sex work and blogger responsibility

Last week on the Liberal Conspiracy website, a blogger named Elly accused the Bristol Feminist Network of nimby-ism, and suggested that, as a network, they were opposed to sex work and sex workers, and that their protest was motivated by a distaste for the sex industry.

This was untrue.

To substantiate her claims, the writer went on to compose various tweets, including one that made up a quote from the BFN website, stating that on the home page we had written, in relation to objecting to a planning application for a strip club, 'write your objection NOW', when in fact, the website home page said 'Urgent can read the appeal documents can make your own objection here.' The 'urgent' was included in the headline because if you did choose to file an objection you had to do so by the 28th June.

Why is this important? Lets start from the beginning.

Last year, a businessman applied to open a lap dancing club on Old Market street, a road that is generally considered to be Bristol's red light district on the outskirts of the city centre, between Barton Hill and Easton. A number of women from BFN and Bristol Fawcett went and campaigned against the application and won. Not least because in the planning application the club owner had written that he would be opening a restaurant that would become a strip club at 9pm, however he had not remembered to include restaurant equipment in his 'restaurant' plans.

He has since appealed, and the women originally involved in the protest emailed the members of BFN inviting them to object to the appeal if they wanted to. These are the key words. BFN does not decide on behalf of its members what their opinions are and what they think. Instead, we let people know about campaigns, we give people access to resources and we run discussion groups to talk about issues so that we can all work together to form our own individual view points.

Because of my own personal views on the sex industry I decided to object to the appeal. My friend who had alerted me to the appeal sent me the objection statement she had written and I adapted it to reflect my own views. I then posted my objection on my blog and on UK Feminista as a resource, so that should other people wish to object, but didn't have the time to write their own statements, or wanted some ideas, they could use mine. This was exactly the same practise I had used when writing model letters to MPs or the PCC etc – allowing people to access resources that might help them make their own complaints. I wrote clearly at the top of the statement that I was writing as an individual who was a member of BFN. This is because of the importance of explaining your own interests, but as my views did not represent the views of all my BFN colleagues, I was not able to write that I was representing the network.

Makes sense? Right. Back to Liberal Conspiracy, Firstly, on the blog post, Elly quoted a line from a statement that I had written as an individual, and presented it as being a quote from the Bristol Feminist Network. She has since apologised to me, but the fact is this was a serious misrepresentation of the view points and the actions of the network. By presenting my statement as coming from the whole network, a group of well over 500 people, she was suggesting that me – just me – was deciding the agenda and speaking on behalf of a big group. A group who don't all agree on sex work or the issues surrounding the sex industry. At BFN, we go to great lengths to ensure that we do not speak on behalf of members, and that our own personal views do not take precedence over the members. So, for example, on the website home page we clearly say 'we do not subscribe to one type of feminist thought' and, in relation to the 'urgent action' we wrote that BFN are not against consensual decisions around sex and sex work. It is not for us to tell people how to think and we take so much care to make sure this happens. Therefore, for Elly to quote BFN, when she meant me, was damaging to the network's representation.

The quote that was used was in answer to the objection's questions about environmental impact on Old Market. This is a very specific question, and I answered it by explaining that streets where sex work establishments abound are often isolating to women – leaving them feeling vulnerable and unsafe. I wrote that the abundance of SEVs on Old Market leave me feeling that I cannot walk down the streets of a city I have lived in since I was four.
I can understand why this quote comes across as NIMBY-ism. Indeed, taken out of the context of the fact:

• That it was from a planning objection

• It was in answer to a question of environmental impact

• I don't live near Old Market

then you could see why it would read as NIMBY-ism. However, as in so many issues of feminism, context is vital here. Within the context of asking how a new business will impact the environment around it, it is particularly pertinent to suggest that women will feel unsafe in their local environment. When talking about a planning application, it is vital to talk about impact. And seeing as I live a good few miles from Old Market, the lap dancing club isn't opening in my back yard. When you take these elements into account, NIMBY-ism becomes rather a flimsy accusation.

Further, this was one moment in the objection statement where I talked about how the opening of the lap dancing club would effect me, giving connotations of NIMBY-ism. Elsewhere in the statement I discuss the problems of violence against women where we find SEVs. I talk about the illegal activity – such as sexual harassment and prostitution that happens in SEVs. I talk about how the idea that SEVs provide great employment opportunities to women is a chimera, especially when we see how women have to pay to work in SEVs, often leading to competition with the other women, leading to breaking of the no touching rules in order to get bigger tips. I talk about how the plans for the smoking area haven't been thought through, and questions remain unanswered about how the surreal lap dancing club/restaurant dynamic will work. None of these discussions are about NIMBY-ism.

Therefore none of these points were raised in the critical blog post.

The result was a complete misrepresentation of my motivation for objecting to the lap dancing club, and a reputation damaging representation of BFN's views and beliefs. Coupled with the incredibly loaded word 'distaste' and readers of the blog post were left with the impression that I – and by extension BFN – were some kind of outraged Mary Whitehouse NIMBY figures, rather than as an individual with very real and informed concerns about how the normalisation of the sex industry is effecting women of all ages, class and backgrounds. My objection to the sex industry isn't motivated by distaste.

It's motivated by the following points and more:

• Female sex workers are 60 to 100 times more likely to be murdered than women who are not sex workers (Salfati, James, Ferguson)

• The Ipswich and Bradford murders, and the disgusting reactions in the press

• A study in England and Scotland that 2/3 of 240 prostitutes had experience client violence (Church, Henderson, Barnard and Settings)

• The fact that trans sex workers are in even greater danger of abuse

• Inequalities faced by immigrant sex workers, compared with native sex workers

• The 1.2 million people trafficked as sex slaves (International Organisation of Migration)

• The 500,000 – 600,000 people trafficked every year over national borders to enter the sex industry (International Organisation of Migration)

• 68% of prostitutes suffer from PTSD (M Farley)

• 88% of pornography portray physically aggressive acts against women

• 50-75% of prostitutes enter sex work before they are 18 years old (Paying the Price – a consultation paper on prostitution)

• Prostitution takes place in lap dancing clubs (Challenging men's demand for prostitution in Scotland)

This is a snapshot of the reasons I object to the sex industry.

NIMBY-ism is emphatically not among them. Neither is distaste.
But anyway, back to the blogpost.

One of the accusations laid against me was the idea that by objecting to a club opening on Old Market I was pushing the sex industry out of the city centre and into the less salubrious areas of Bristol. This is absurd, not least because Old Market is not in the centre of Bristol and is, in fact, one of the less salubrious areas of the city. When I picked Elly up on this, she explained that she hadn't checked where Old Market was and she didn't know Bristol. This is completely ridiculous. If you're going to write for a national website, and make accusations on the website about an organisation's motivations, you need to get your facts checked. I imagine that most people reading the website don't know where Old Market is, so a completely false impression was given in order to support the writer's agenda.

It's just unfair isn't it? It's just unfair to write a post to support your own agenda (that women who oppose the sex industry do so out of NIMBY-ism and selfish reasons) without taking into consideration the actual facts of the matter. People who read that post would have a real skewed and warped opinion on the great work of BFN and my own views. It's easy to write something sensationalist by taking quotes out of context. It's much harder to try and express the subtleties.

One of the issues Elly has with feminists who object to the sex industry is that they silence the voices of sex workers. But so do the men and women who support the sex industry. In fact, they are so busy pushing their pro sex industry agenda – that, as Elly puts it, it's the same as working in McDonalds, (which, if nothing else, ignores the fact that no-one pays McDonalds a fee for the privilege of working there) and the 'look at Belle de Jour, she's done alright' angle, that the women who are harmed by the sex industry are completely silenced and ignored.

Take this quote in Kat Banyard's book, from a prostitute who is angry about the comparison that the sex industry is the same as stacking shelves:

“Whoever says that prostitution is just ordinary work has never walked even a minute in my shoes, or any other [call] girl's that I know. Prostitution is far from ordinary. It's demeaning and degrading and by no means a way to an end. It's actually a trap.” (The Equality Illusion, pg 145)

Or this lap dancer?

“Lap dancing is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I've found it tough, soul destroying. You are constantly lying about who you are, because you don't want to tell these men about your real self. You don't know them, and yet you are exposing yourself sexually and physically. Worst of all, for me, you are forced to behave in a way which is completely demeaning and submissive...The last thing they want is a clever lap dancer. You have to play dumb, that's the way to make the most money...and perhaps most importantly pretend to find them attractive when you do not find them attractive.” (The Equality Illusion, pg 136-37)

Most sex workers don't get glossy TV dramas made about them. They don't get book deals or interviews in shiny magazines where we are sold the myth that sex work is an empowering choice. They get mental health problems, they get PTSD, they get infections, bruises, broken bones.

The women who walk past sex entertainment venues get harassed or attacked.

When pro sex work advocates say that feminists deny women in sex work a voice, they forget that in fact they are doing exactly the same thing. Yes there are sex workers who enter in the industry and enjoy it and get something out of it. But their voices seem to ring louder in the cultural consciousness than the voices of the women who don't fit the empowered model. It seems to me that feminists who object to the sex industry seem more prepared to allow space for that alternative voice, the voice that isn't on TV billboards, the voices that slip through the cracks.