Jess Phillips: Violence against women and girls begins and ends with censorship

The outpouring of grief in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard is not just because of our sorrow at her loss. Women have been self censoring on behalf of society

17 Mar 2021
Vigil in Sheffield for Sarah Everard, photo: Tim Dennell, CC BY SA 2.0

Violence against women and girls begins and ends with censorship. Domestic abuse, sexual violence and all forms of exploitation rely on silence and censorship above any other weapon.

Without curtailing the freedom of a woman’s speech, you cannot curtail her physical and sexual freedoms. Every perpetrator knows that you must convince a victim that if she speaks things will get worse:

“They will take the children off you if you tell anyone.”

“If you say anything, I will have you deported.”

“I will lose my job if this ever gets out and then we would lose the house.”

And of course, the most chilling of all, the threat we associate with tyrannical regimes in faraway lands which is happening on pretty much every street in the United Kingdom:

“I will kill you and the kids if you don’t do what I say.”

The outpouring of grief by women in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard is not just because of our sorrow at her loss and the loss of all the other 119 women who fell to her death at the hands of a violent man in the last year.

The case of the killing of Sarah Everard has reminded women that we have been self censoring on behalf of society who didn’t want to hear about our fears and our pain. We have been putting on a face.

Women say to their friends when they leave them on the street, “text me when you get home.” It is our way of saying I love you and I want you to be safe from likely harm. We have made our language palatable and chipper to mask the reality of what that means. 2.3 million people are living with domestic abuse in the UK, you are likely coming across them week after week.

When you ask them how they are they say that they are fine, because even if it was safe to tell you, it isn’t socially acceptable to do so. She says she’s fine and that she is looking forward to seeing her family again, she knows you cannot bear the truth. She is censored by social norms. She literally cannot move through life truthfully because while we claim to want women to come forward, in reality you don’t want to hear about her rape last night in the queue at Tescos.

Society colludes with perpetrators of abuse by feeling too awkward to confront the scale and reality of violence suffered by women. For the last three years more than half of all violence crime was committed against women.  The complaint of women over the past week, months and years and the constant drum beaten by the women’s sector is that women’s voices are not listened to.

Too often we fail to criminalise rape or sexual violence because the police and courts simply cannot find away to give a woman’s voicing of her account an equal billing to that of a man. 55,000 rapes were reported in the UK last year, less that 10 per cent were charged and made it to court and 1,800 rapists were convicted. Does this statistic scream come forward we can hear you?

All state and most private institutions don’t put in place specific measures to enable victims of violence and abuse to be freed from their social and personal censorship. It is on all of us to learn the language that helps these people speak, because at the moment we are all colluding in keeping women pretending and censoring every day. We have done this to such an extent that most women stopped noticing that they were pretending.

Society must get better at confronting and talking about the tyranny of male violence against women because if we don’t we are actively supporting tyranny on our shores.

Jess Phillips

2 responses to “Jess Phillips: Violence against women and girls begins and ends with censorship”

  1. K says:

    I hope, then, that Jess Phillips would take seriously the fears of women and girls when they are sexually assaulted by a certain group of males who are currently given special status by the Labour Party, amongst others.
    But currently her party are in favour of this certain group of men to be able to access any and all resources that are supposed to be female-only – single-sex spaces that women need for our safety.

    (Google the names ‘Karen’ White, ‘Michelle’ Winter, ‘Melissa’ Addis, ‘Chloe’ Walker, ‘Gemma’ Hicks, ‘Anna’ McKone, ‘Amy’ Gray, ‘Keira’ Fitzgerald, ‘Rachel’ Smith, ‘Julie’ Marshall, ‘Ella’ Davies, ‘Zoe’ Lynes, ‘Katie’ Dolatowski, ‘Stacey’ Pool and ‘Jacinta’ Brooks.)

    And is Jess Phillips also in favour of the courts forcing women and girls to refer to these males as ‘women’ if the perpetrators so ask the court? Keeping silent is bad enough, but I’d like to hear Labour MPs and others come out against this current legal farce. Women and girls who are victims of sexual offences are being forced to say ‘she’ and ‘her penis’ about the man who raped them. Please will someone in Parliament speak out against this forced speech?

  2. Sharon Anne Gaskin says:

    Excellent piece by Jess.