News Round-Up

// 26 November 2008

Yesterday was International End Violence Against Women Day.

End Violence Against Women Poster

Following our coverage of the trial of the Sheffield man who raped his daughters over 25 years comes the news he was found guilty and sentenced to life. His minimum sentence (before good behaviour) is 19.5 years. (There is a lack of clarity about this in the news reports with some reporting 25 life sentences to run concurrently but the minimum term remains the same). Seems pretty pitiful to me – after all it’s less than the number of years of abuse he inflicted on one daughter, let alone two.

But what also worries me is the way the reporting focuses on the physical abuse sharing by the son in the family, rather than the sexual abuse experienced only by the daughters. It’s basically saying that, despite the trial being for rape, it’s the violence we should worry about – not the nineteen pregnancies he inflicted on his daughters, not the repeated rapes and sexual assaults. It simply reinforces that rape is only “real” if accompanied by violence and if the woman is a virgin (the abuse started at 8 and 10 years old). It has however prompted an independent investigation into why nothing happened earlier to stop the abuse despite the family being known to social services.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has research on time and income poor families and, despite the oddly gender neutral language, points out that:

Around half (between 42 and 56 per cent, depending on the poverty definition used) of lone parents are not in a position to generate sufficient income to be above an income poverty line while still meeting basic obligations (for example, to ensure their children are looked after, by themselves or someone else), however long or hard they work.

It is interesting to compare the actual distribution of free time within couples to the free time each partner could have, if responsibilities were allocated equally (while keeping constant each partner’s paid work hours). Analysis along these lines suggests that two-thirds (64 per cent) of women in couples have less free time than they would have on a gender-neutral allocation of responsibilities.

Women who work longer paid work hours are at greater risk than women who work shorter hours of having less free time than they would have on a gender-neutral allocation of responsibilities, Conversely, men who work longer paid work hours are more likely than men who work shorter hours to have more free time than they would have on a gender-netural allocation of responsibilities.

From JRF

And there are reports that most student nurses have to take second jobs to cope financially with the debt that studying leaves them with.

Meanwhile some good news – a planned anti-trans protest in by the Westboro Baptist Church (yes that’s the one run by Fred Phelps of the “God Hates Fags” campaigns) was overwhelmed by local support for trangendered mayor Stu Rasmussen. And a Miami Dade judge has struck down Florida’s anti-gay adoption laws as unconstitutional citing that:

that sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person’s ability to parent. Sexual orientation no more leads to psychiatric disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, relationship instability, a lower life expectancy or sexual disorders than race, gender, socioeconomic class or any other demographic characteristic. The most important factor in ensuring a well-adjusted child is the quality of parenting

From Miami Herald”

Following the news here that Harriet Harman had asked members of the WI to help challenge adverts which may be supporting trafficking of women for sexual purposes, Lucy Mangan at the Guardian has decided to launch a rather patronising, stereotyping attack on the WI calling them “women with more time and vigour at their disposal than can be fully deployed in jam-making and blanket-stitching”, “sturdily brassiered women sailing, stately as galleons” and then being asked to help stop the Iraq war by organising “a giant tombola in Basra with a secret top prize. As the final ticket is drawn, the prize will be revealed to be a Hercules airlift”. Perhaps, Ms Mangan, you could stop being vicious about other women and start campaigning for women’s rights which would be a much better use of your words and your privilege as a writer for a national, broadsheet newspaper. If you’d have considered writing a column on trafficking and how we can all take part in stopping it then, maybe, you’d be making a difference. Meanwhile those wanting to help can join their local WI if they take on the suggestions of Harriet Harman or donate/contribute in other ways at the Coalition to End Trafficking in Women, Anti-Slavery, The Truth Isn’t Sexy, ECPAT Ending Child Exploitation through trafficking, The Helen Bamber Foundation or (in the US) Not For Sale

And nominations are open for FemWatch II

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Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 26 November 2008 at 12:28 pm

Re: Sheffield man rightly convicted of multiple rapes and sexual violence against his daughters. This man was widely depicted as a ‘Jekyl and Hyde’ character. Meaning of course he is being deliberately pathologised as a deviant, rather than enacting the extreme continuum of male sexual privileges. This man was no Jekyl/Hyde but rather is a very cunning, vicious, manipulative male rapist who believed female children existed solely for his sexual gratification and enactment of his male power. Many men portray themselves publicly as ‘respectable, decent men’ but once inside their ‘home environment’ then they show their real side. One which is violent, misogynstic and determined to maintain male domination and control over females and males deemed ‘inferior.’ This man committed multiple rapes against his daughters and it was because they were female not male that he committed this sexual violence. But that fact has yet again been ignored because ‘rape’ is never that bad unless the victim is a stranger and a virgin.

We need to ask uncomfortable questions such as why are so many men enacting their belief in sexual entitlement to women and girls. Men who sexually abuse their daughters is not a new phenomen because it has been happening for centuries. Yet we throw our hands up in horror and disbelief and refuse to examine the gendered dimensions of widespread male sexual violence against women and children. Sheffield man will doubtless be given his freedom after serving a shorter sentence than the one given. After all, he only committed multiple rape rather than murdering another man.

Jane // Posted 26 November 2008 at 5:53 pm

Re: The Sheffield man, please let us not forget that it appears that his ex-wife knew about his atrocious behaviour (see this article from The Times and this from the Sheffield Telegraph) and a) did nothing to stop it and b) when she left, did not report it to anyone, thus leaving her two daughters to their appalling fate. It seems that the brother did report the abuse in 1997, just as the maternal grandmother had in 1988 and no action was taken (the gran was warned the accusations may be “slanderous”!). See here for more on this.

The man who repeatedly raped his daughters is yes, entirely responsible for his crimes but maybe he would have been stopped earlier if the mother had not turned a blind eye, and even when she ran from him she could have made a phone call. There is a difference between genuinely not knowing and choosing to turn your face away from the horror of knowing. The brother who must also have been terrified of his father, at least tried to do something.

Caroline // Posted 28 November 2008 at 7:18 pm

Just a clarification on the sentence – as it’s a life sentence, the 19.5 years tariff is the minimum to be served (it’s not like an ordinary sentence when he might get parole early). He’ll only get parole after the tariff is completed, and then only if the Parole Board are convinced he’s suitable for release. Having said that, it does seem a very low tariff given the horrific level of abuse.

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