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

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.

Index Index – International free speech round up 31/01/13

A woman who said she was raped by state security forces and the journalist who interviewed her were charged by police on 29 January in Somalia. Journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim could face four years imprisonment for insulting a government body and two years for inducing false evidence. Abdiaziz has been charged with insulting a government body, simulating a criminal offence and making a false accusation. The alleged rape victim’s husband and two others who introduced her to the journalist were charged with assisting her to secure a profit for the rape allegation and assisting her to evade investigation. The sentences are five and four year terms respectively. The next hearing will be held on 2 February. Abdiaziz had interviewed the woman on 8 January after she said she was raped by soldiers at a displaced persons camp in Mogadishu. He was detained by the Central Investigations Department of the police two days later.

lawtonjm - Flickr

Non-thinker (2012) by Aida Makoto – A less controversial piece from the Japanese artist

The New York Times has claimed it was hacked by Chinese officials over a period of four months. The attacks are thought to have come from hackers connected to the military in a possible retaliation to a series of stories run by the newspaper —  alluding to the vast wealth accumulated by premier of the state council Wen Jiabao. The hackers entered into the Times’s systems, accessing information on the personal computers of 53 employees, including China correspondents. Mandiant, an internet security company hired by the newspaper on 7 November, said the attacks were likely to have been part of a spy campaign, after discovering that the computers used for the attacks were the same used for Chinese military attacks on US military contractors in the past. Hackers began attacking the Times on 13 September, around the time the Wen Jiabao story was in its final pre-publishing stages.

A former policeman in the Ukraine has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an investigative journalist, it was reported on 30 January. Oleksiy Pukache was the fourth person to be charged with the murder of Georgiy Gongadze, after his dismembered body was discovered in 2000. The other three were sentenced to 12 and 13 years. As Pukache was sentenced, he announced that equal blame for the murder should be placed on the country’s former president Leonid Kuchma and then presidential chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn.

Gongadze’s headless body was found in the woods six weeks after he was kidnapped in Kiev — a case which caused huge demonstrations and helped prompt the 2004 Orange Revolution. A lawsuit taken out against Kuchma in March 2011 was dismissed when prosecutors deemed it unlawful.

A Chinese man who was sent to a labour camp for making a joke about politician Bo Xilai has received minor damages after his compensation appeal was rejected. Fang Hong was sentenced to re-education for a year in 2011 for posting a poem online mocking the disgraced politician and his then police chief Wang Lijun. Chongqing’s Dianjiang county court rejected Fang’s request for around £37,400 in psychological damages, instead offering him just over £5,800, as well as rejecting his appeal for a public apology. This was the first known case of officials compensating for Bo-era abuses. Fang said he would ask his lawyers about appealing the ruling, but critics said his initial appeal was rejected to prevent a stream of further claims. Fang was freed in 2012 following the fall of Bo — whose wife Gu Kailai was convicted of the murder of British Businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.

An art exhibition in Japan depicting cannibalism and Sadomasochism has prompted a debate over artistic freedom of expression. Aida Makoto’s  Monument for Nothing exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo on 29 January caused protests from Japanese organisation People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence, who wrote to museum director Nanjo Fumio to demand Makoto’s work be removed. Some of the artists pieces, depicted a giant blender filled with naked women, as well as Japanese pensioners playing croquet with severed heads. Makoto is said to use pornography to prompt people to look beneath Japan’s calm exterior and examine the darker elements of Japanese culture.

Name of Ched Evans’ rape victim highlighted again on Twitter

Crossposted at

The name of footballer Ched Evan’s rape victim was thrust into the public domain via Twitter once again this week.

In April, the Wales and Sheffield United Striker was found guilty of rape of a 19 year old woman believed to be “too drunk to consent” and jailed for five years. Since the trial, North Wales Police and South Yorkshire Police have arrested 16 people in connection with comments allegedly made via the internet.

Last week, Sky News were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and the attorney general after an on-air mistake meant they accidentally broadcast the name of Evans’ victim.

On Thursday (17 May), a Twitter user named the rape victim again and a clearly disgusted Louise Mensch, Conservative MP for Corby, requested that followers report the user to Twitter and North Wales Police.

Though Mensch was clearly acting in good faith, I believe her execution was shortsighted and foolish. By linking through to the Twitter user who had published the name, the MP had drawn the attention of her 57,000+ followers to this, further damaging the already delicate legal anonymity the victim is entitled to.

When it was suggested that Mensch had simply widened the attention drawn to the breach (by the Guardian’s Josh Halliday and Jonathan Haynes), she declared that there was “no point pretending her [the victim] name was not already completely exposed as Twitter made it a trending topic.”

Previously exposed or not, previous Twitter trending topic or not, Mensch’s reaction was still knee-jerk, and presented the victim’s name in the public domain and to an entirely different audience. The Corby MP had no way of knowing which of her followers had already seen the trending topic, and which of her followers would have recognised the trending topic as the name of the victim. I consider it irresponsible to assume that all of her followers knew, and recognised, the name already.

Though the problem obviously needed addressing, it seemed that Mensch hadn’t considered her actions thoroughly. After she felt that the case had been brought to the attention of Twitter, she deleted the tweet, considering that justice had been done.

The increase of news dissemination on Twitter is both a wonderful and terrifying thing. In instances such as this, it is hugely concerning. Rape victims are granted anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 as a protection tool, in the hopes that the fear felt by those reporting crimes such as this will be reduced.

Government Whip Shailesh Vara told the House of Commons that the naming of victims on social media needed to be closely monitored. Vara warned: “I want to make it absolutely clear that the anonymity of rape victims for life is there. When there is a breach of that, then the full force of the law must take its place.”

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy added that cases such as this could deter rape victims from coming forward, for the fear of being subjected to the identification and abuse faced by Evans’ victim.

As we move further into the Digital Age, it is evident that education and understanding of the relationship between social media and the law needs to be addressed. Though ignorance is not an excuse, perhaps those who initially named Evans’ victim were not aware of the legal life anonymity granted to those in affected by rape. But the law is there for a reason.

How do we educate the masses on this crucial issue to prevent further suffering of rape victims? And how do the government respond if cases such as this do deter victims from reporting crimes? Maybe the IT lessons young people undertake at school need to cover issues such as this – but that’s a minefield, and a large proportion of Twitter users will already have left education, missing out on that crucial knowledge.

Whatever the solution, the problem needs to be tackled head on, before it has a detrimental effect on the reporting of rape crimes, and the victims who have already experienced enough trauma to last them a lifetime.

Alice Purkiss is an editorial assistant at Index. She tweets at @alicemaypurkiss

PayPal backtracks on disputed ‘obscene’ e-book policy

Online payment service PayPal have backtracked on a policy against processing sales of e-books containing themes of rape, bestiality or incest. Protests from authors and anti-censorship activist groups, including Index on Censorship, led to a revision of their policy, which will now focus on e-books that contain potentially illegal images, not e-books that are limited to just text. Spokesman Anuj Nayar said the service will still refuse to process payments for text-only e-books containing child pornography themes. Nayar added that the revised policy will focus on individual books, rather than entire classes of books.