The Parliamentary debate on bombing IS/Daesh in Syria was brought to an intense and rousing conclusion by Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary. It was Benn rather than Tory Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond who inspired the House of Commons — MPs endured Hammond and applauded Hilary Benn.
The commentariat relished the difference between Hilary Benn and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but also inevitably, perhaps, with his father Tony Benn.
It was as if they had not noticed Hilary Benn’s eloquent defence of his leader — as a politician and as a person — and his unrequited invitation to David Cameron to apologise for his ‘terrorist sympathiser’ slur.
And it as if they had not noticed that throughout Hilary Benn’s parliamentary life he has not been an echo of his father — that the Benn family has survived generational and individual differences with better manners than most.
Melissa Benn — the only girl among Tony and Caroline Benn’s children, an astute writer and activist — reminds us that ‘the Benns have something of a history of courteous exchange but also of opinions strongly held to and expressed. Often not exciting enough for rapacious press, looking for gossip, intrigue and networking and power plays.
She’s right: schism and ‘irreconcilable differences’ attract attention, whilst respectful, intelligent and peaceful co-existence doesn’t.
Hilary Benn is not his father.
This is not a dynastic drama; it isn’t a sectarian schism either.
Hilary Benn has always disagreed with Tony Benn and with Jeremy Corbyn about Britain’s wars.
That makes Benn’s appointment as Foreign Secretary by Corbyn a daring move; just as his appointment of Maria Eagle as shadow Defence Secretary is also interesting. They don’t agree on the war in Syria. They don’t agree on the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles.
So, they’re going to have to work it out.
The surprise is that they’re going to try. And they’re going to try in the knowledge that these issues are difficult because they are difficult, we should expect disagreement because they are among the most testing themes of our times.
Listening to the Syria debate and Benn, brought to mind not his father but Parliament itself and a sense that Benn was emancipated by the context — Parliamentary democracy at work.
I didn’t agree with him about the bombing. But Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who has brought a genial tone to the Corbyn team, lost his touch a bit when he said Benn’s speech was like Tony Blair in 2003 when he argued for war in Iraq.
No, he wasn’t.
Benn wasn’t so much charismatic as effective: the performance was adroit, supple and smart. He didn’t overwhelm the honourable members with evangelism, he didn’t deceive or bully. He invited them to think, and to be available for persuasion. That’s what made his speech bracing.
Unlike, for example, David Cameron who de-humanised the enemy, Benn discussed some particulars — acts of violence animated by a special kind of manly excitement; an enemy that electrified by violence that is also thought-about and strategic: aimed not only at destruction but the theatre of terror.
That’s what made his allusion to fascism so interesting. Who knows if he’s right, but the word takes us to other modern — not medieval — ideologies of supremacist violence: the Nazis, Mussolini’s nationalism, racist lynching in the United States.
If he soared on this occasion it was because the occasion — the place, the time, the people — demanded it: here was Parliamentary debate at its best, and here was Hilary Benn doing his best.
Weirdly, the commentariat responded not by thinking, but by boxing the speech into its own discourses about power and politics. They’re missing the point: this isn’t about splits (whatever the ‘traitor’ twitters outside Parliament get up to).
Isn’t disagreement and debate what happens in political parties, in relationships, in families?
Westminster’s political culture isn’t used to this — witness the utter bewilderment about Scotland’s great independence conversation: households, friends, lovers dissented from each other — but they didn’t get divorced or die. They kept talking.
This is good politics, and Westminster and the commentariat should get used to it.
What we witnessed during the Syria debate was a party that was functioning; recovering from near death, from being eviscerated, hollowed out; from being ruled by diktat, by people whose anti-party politicking left Labourism too terrified to do what it is supposed to do: think, look right, look left, look right again and then go.
Odd, isn’t it, that sexism is indulged as just silly? That’s how it seemed in my conversation on Radio 5 Live this week Richard Scudamore’s sexist correspondence with colleagues who run the elite pantheon of football. Scudamore’s Premier League mates decided against any further disciplinary action. Scudamore himself said he would do his utmost to support women in the game. And we will await with interest news about just what he, and the league, propose to do to kick sexism out of the league — and, in particular, out of Scudamore’s conversations with his colleagues.
The worry is that the Premier League and Scudamore will ride the row, feel furious, appear contrite, and do nothing. They will enjoy the indulgence of those who reckon the row itself is silly, like sexism is, well, just silly.
His friends — including senior women in the game, have rallied: he’s not sexist, they say. So why did he not only tolerate but participate in sexist talk? They seem to live in a capsule sequestered from the great changes shaking the world. They need to get out more and see what the rest of us see. How else will they help Scudamore as a person and as a professional sort out the institutionalized sexism in football?
The usually witty, cuddly and clever journalist Matthew Norman reckoned the row about sexism in football prompted by the exposure of Scudamore’s horrible correspondence was concerned with stuff that was just ‘witless’ and ‘silly’. He wrote in the Daily Telegraph that Scudamore was just being a Neanderthal pillock. Oh, we are obliged to reply, that’s all right then. Furthermore, this was ‘private’ correspondence.
This notion of the ‘private’ is a dodgy alibi: What’s private about writing this stuff at work, in work time? On the Premier League’s email? To colleagues concerned with the business of the Premier League? About female colleagues in that business? In emails that his PA — another colleague — is required to read as part of her duties?
The former PA, Rani Abraham, who revealed this sexist stream of unconconsciousness to the Daily Mirror – and risked her own professional life – reminds us, however, that there is no such thing as private when you are in your professional/public function, when you are Richard Scudamore, the boss of a business at the heart of national culture, when the stream of sexism runs through your public/professional function.
Scudamore, after all, runs the corporate elite of British football. There are 20 top clubs in his business. He and they have some responsibility for the ethos of an industry from which they profit, and which they have pitched at the heart of popular culture.
Football culture has been a notorious proponent of prejudices of which UKIP would be proud. But it is not a homogenous blob – there are football fans that don’t want the beautiful game to be associated with sexist, racist, capitalist crap. They’ve launched campaigns for cultural revolution that are about more than being nice to women or black people, that are about a different ethos of masculinities being made in the football universe.
But the recidivists profit from reform whilst laying hold of any old excuse to do nothing. At first the FA whimpered that this was a Premier League row, beyond the remit of the FA. Well, maybe this is the time for the FA to find a voice and a brain, and rediscover its power in the game.
Matthew Norman suggested in our conversation of Radio 5 Live that the row needed a ‘bit of nuance’. Well, what would be more nuanced than the clarifications that emerged in the week after the revelations?
At the beginning, commentaries circulated around misconceptions: the idea of ‘private’, the problem of FA or Premier League jurisdiction and responsibility. Now the debate has aired the relation between public and private: there was nothing private about Scudamore’s correspondence, it was professional, conducted in his professional milieu, about other professionals. It wasn’t even secret — Scudamore’s PA was required to read his correspondence so that she could manage his life for him.
We’ve learned something about sexism, too: it is no longer the zeitgeist: from Sports ministers, to football bosses, to campaigners trying to reform its culture – from Kick it Out to Women in Football – to the commentariat and you and me, we’ve learned that a lot of people think sexism isn’t silly.
Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t think it was silly — he told Radio 5 Live on Monday that such correspondence among ministerial colleagues would be a sacking offence. Matthew Norman agreed that ‘the sooner they change the better’ but he didn’t offer any suggestions about how; and — as a football fan — didn’t take responsibility for making that happen. All these big, powerful men, just being silly, eh? But the silly alibi doesn’t address just how these men might stop being silly (and sexist and racist); it doesn’t take responsibility for change. We used to send children down the mines. Now we don’t. Change happened — but it didn’t just happen. People made it happen. And that’s why the response to Ms Abraham’s revelations is a contribution to change: she showed us what these men really think of women. She has, therefore, given the people who have some power in football a gift to effect change.
It is this impoverished process that gives men who want to rape women virtual impunity — individual immunity from prosecution; and that and thus a society that hardly knows or cares what happens to women.
It is not as if the police and criminal justice system don’t understand the politics of sexual crime and justice: In Britain we have emerged from three decades of dramatic discovery about the prevalence and meaning of rape, three decades of professional reviews and legal reform.
Until now, more and more women every year have come forward to report rape. But they have not been reciprocated by reformed policing or criminal justice systems.
In the 1980s, society was shocked by Roger Graef’s documentary on Thames Valley’s response to a woman reporting rape. In the 1990s the law and police processes were reformed. In the 2000s, Liz Kelly and her specialist scholars at London Met University reported that the rate of detection had slumped to the lowest ever; Betsy Stanko’s research into the Met’s files revealed shocking disdain for women reporting rape — and cases of known suspects who were never traced or investigated; the law was reformed, and it is as good as law on sexual crime anywhere.
To no avail.
I and others have been writing about this scandal for nearly a decade — here’s some of it:
“Observations on criminal justice — the shocking failure
when it comes to rape prosecutions.”
Shocking evidence is circling the desks of the police and the Home Office showing that many men reported to the police for rape are not investigated, and their crimes do not appear in police records – even though they have previous records of violent offences and sexual attacks on women. Men rape with impunity and immunity, and they can do it again and again. Furthermore, as long as men target women who have been drinking or young women under 18, there is a good chance that the police won’t bother to interview or investigate, and the allegations won’t appear “on the books”.
New research commissioned by the Metropolitan Police delved into the Met’s own case files: it not only analysed the victims’ fates in the criminal justice system, but for the first time checked out the histories of the suspects. No one had carried out an offender profile of alleged rapists before. No one had correlated the victims’ stories with the records of the accused. The results are shattering.
Researchers reviewed the files on 677 rapes reported to the London Metropolitan Police in two months in 2005, and followed up by tracing the suspects. A third of the reported rapes were “not crimed” – that is, they were not investigated or recorded as crimes, because they were not thought to involve an offence. But many of the suspects had “previous”. More than half of the men accused of raping women who had been drinking, where the cases were “not crimed”, had a history of sexual offences against women.
A third of suspects whose victims were under 18 were not investigated, but had histories of violent offending. Among those cases that were crimed, but didn’t get past the police investigation stage, were some with known histories of offending who were not prosecuted, “in the public interest”.
This is sorely embarrassing for the macho (and besieged) Home Office. The evidence shows that the police directed their gaze at the wrong people. “We concentrated on services for victims,” comments Richard Sumray, a magistrate member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, “but we did not concentrate on offender profiles.”
One of the country’s pre-eminent researchers into sexual crimes against women, Professor Liz Kelly of London Metropolitan University, says the new findings are unprecedented. “This is unadulterated data that we’ve never had access to before.” It was Kelly’s research – based on the experiences of 3,500 victims – that in 2005 exposed the alarming collapse of the conviction rate. What was not apparent earlier (because it had not been correlated) was that men who like raping women do it over and over; they target their quarry.
It is the not-crimed category that is particularly sinister, officers giving up on cases without even checking up on the suspect. This is evidence that officials will want to keep out of the public domain, but which also vindicates reformers in the police service. The Met’s review — the largest of its kind — vindicates Kelly’s celebrated study that showed an unbroken increase in the numbers of women (and a few men) reporting rape in the past 20 years but a static number of convictions.
“The attrition rate [the rate of cases being not-crimed, not detected, or not pursued by the victim] is abominable,” comments Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who, as well as heading the Met’s cash-for-peerages inquiry, is also lead spokesman on rape for the Association of Chief Police Officers. “Rape is regarded as second only to murder, because of the violence and the violation, but most attrition takes place with us in the police,” he says. “My aim is to take best practice in scene management and forensics in cases like murder, and apply it to rape.”
The crisis comes from what Kelly calls a “culture of scepticism”. “The police are often quite willing to interview people who don’t support an account,” she says, “and they seldom follow up what supports it.”
If the not-crimed and attrition findings weren’t bad enough, the picture becomes even more disturbing when correlated with patterns of vulnerability among victims. The overwhelming majority of rape reports on the Met’s files – 87 per cent – are made by women whose characteristics make them vulnerable. Most are known to the perpetrators: acquaintances, partners and ex-partners; they are young; they consume alcohol or drugs; they suffer from mental illness. These categories attract police pessimism and a preoccupation with the virtues or vulnerabilities of the victim rather than the propensities of the perpetrators. This correlation appears to be decisive.
Pioneering research by Vanessa Munro at King’s College London transcended the ban on talking to British jury members by assembling jurors from the electoral register for mock trials. She found that although the law on consent was radically reformed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 – requiring defendants to show that they had taken steps to ascertain consent, and requiring that the alleged victims had the capacity, choice and freedom to give consent – it still didn’t help them greatly. Some jurors felt that, however intoxicated, “as long as a woman was conscious she’d have the capacity to consent or resist”.
Sumray reckons that the crisis is multidimensional: cultural and political, as well as a policing problem. The political arena, he says, has “to begin to influence how people think about this”.
There is good news: the promotion of specialists in the Met’s dedicated Project Sapphire, and greater respect and care extended to victims by sexual assault referral centres. The Met’s response to research is already palpable; it reduced the number of rape reports dismissed as false allegations from 10 per cent in 2005 to 4 per cent in 2006, in line with Kelly’s estimate.
According to Kelly, however, given the sexism of the culture and British institutions: “Yes, a woman can get better care, but she still can’t get justice.”
“In exploiting the rape crisis for political capital,
Cameron has ignored a wealth of new research.”
David Cameron is right to talk about rape. Its prevalence and prosecution are a crisis. And it is full of complexity. But politicians, especially Tories, don’t do complicated. Cameron has done a typical Tory thing: invoke the disaster of rape for a moralistic, collapse-of-civilisation-as-we know-it populist agenda that has nothing to do with contemporary culture or policing. It ignores his own party’s history: Tory law-and-order debates have been animated by women’s laments about the beastliness of men since the 1930s; and it ignores the remarkable discoveries emerging from research into policing.
When Cameron talks about the rape crisis as a sign of “moral collapse” and sexualisation of the culture he is being lazy. Rape rates are not new: rape is nothing to do with “permissiveness”; it is a crime of dominion, as old as patriarchy itself. To pledge tougher laws exemplifies the Tory tradition: exploiting women’s humiliation and harm to promote populist – authoritarian – politics.
But explosive evidence from Scotland Yard – hitherto unpublished – shows the problem is not the law. The problem is still canteen culture, and it is still sexism that muddles the judgment of juries.
The reformed Sexual Offences Act, heavily influenced by women’s experience of sexual crime and by scrupulous (often feminist) research, is not to blame. The Association of Chief Police Officers agrees: the problem is what happens when a woman makes that first call to the police. And what happens at every step thereafter – right up to the appeal court. It is the “demonisation of women as a set of victims”, says the Acpo rape spokesman, Dave Gee.
Buried in those processes is sinister evidence that a significant proportion of perpetrators are simply not investigated. Policing has got better at treating victims humanely. But it has been mesmerised by the worth of the victim, and averted its gaze from many of the suspects. The Met has been contemplating this evidence for nearly a year. It should have made it public. It should have seen it not as a source of more shame but as a resource for reform.
The story starts with a 2005 survey of rape victims, conducted by Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett and Linda Regan from London Metropolitan University. Their study, A Gap or a Chasm?, found that more women than ever had the confidence and courage to report rape, but fewer than ever achieved justice, not least because their cases entered a “culture of scepticism” and investigative inertia.
Acpo and the HMI inspectorate set out to find out why. Their report was published earlier this year, followed by a Home Office study of eight forces last July. All confirmed the study’s findings.
Next came some remarkable research at the Met. An independent team looked into all 677 rapes reported to the Met in two months of 2005. What they discovered challenged conventional wisdoms about victims and perpetrators. It found that men who like raping women target their victims and that these women cluster into the very groups least likely to attract police attention: those under 18; in present or past relationships with the perpetrators; living in domestically violent environments; under the influence of alcohol; suffering mental ill health. These groups constitute nearly 90% of reported rapes. Between half and a third of these reported rapes were not “crimed” – they don’t appear in the books. It gets worse. In half of the not-crimed cases involving alcohol, for example, the suspects had not been investigated, despite having a history of sex offences.
“Those in most need of caring and sympathy in the criminal justice system get smacked even more,” says Professor Betsy Stanko, who conducted the Met study. There is, then, a scandalous synergy between men who like raping women and police pessimism.
If the police haven’t made their evidence public it is because they don’t want to discourage women from reporting rape, and they can’t rely on politicians to get the story right. As Liz Kelly has pointed out, Cameron could have done something useful: he could have said the culture is hard to change, that appeal court judges’ prejudices are ricocheting through the criminal justice system, but that the Home Office and senior police officers are having a go. He could have said the huge investment in terrorism should be spent on “ordinary domestic and sexual terrorism”.
Tories – usually to great effect – have enlisted the experience of women as the victims of men, but never to empower women, and never to challenge the masculine cultures that sponsor crimes against women.
“The rape review does a disservice to women from whom
police and courts have averted their gaze.”
Will more women be encouraged to report rape if they’re told that Britain’s conviction for rape isn’t 6% but 58%? Undoubtedly the police would be able to feel proud, rather than ashamed, and the government could proclaim it had made a difference. But will this statistical manoeuvre empower women? Or will it avert our gaze from the failures of policing culture?
The Stern Review, published this week, argues that burying the bad news will encourage women to report, yield more convictions in the courts, and raise the level of optimism about policing. But why would it? The problem isn’t women: while only 2,800 reported rape in 1988, this was up to 13,093 by 2008; their courage and confidence grows year by year. Yet the police response has not raised conviction rates, and institutional scepticism rewards men who like raping women with impunity.
It was this paradox – more women reporting rape, reciprocated by the lowest conviction rate yet in the courts and, therefore, the dismal knowledge that society was averting its gaze from the most violent sexism– that prompted solicitor general Vera Baird and leader of the house Harriet Harman last summer to commission this review by Vivien Stern. She has done a disservice to the ministers. This could have been a great moment, says sexual violence expert Professor Liz Kelly – a moment to match Sir William Macpherson’s critique of institutional racism in the police. It has been squandered. During the last decade there has been a revolution in what is known about rape – to whom, and how it happens, and what happens next.
In 2005 the Home Office published research by Kelly and her colleagues at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit. In it, victims disclosed widespread scepticism among police officers. Rape is unique: women tend to know their assailants. But 15% of reported rapes are not even recorded as crimes. A further 20% of complaints are withdrawn – many women told researchers they had been encouraged to quit by police officers. A further 23% fall through; about a quarter of suspects are charged. Some 12% reach court, and finally only about 6% attract conviction for rape.
Instead of confronting that forlorn process head-on, Stern morphs into Pollyanna. Justice isn’t everything, she says, reassuring us anyway that half of the minority of cases that get to court result in a conviction for something or other. Worse, she suggests that we should now investigate the problem of false allegations. The police have already researched that, and in any case decent detection should deal with it.
Senior police officers were not so awed by the evidence. The Association of Chief Police Officers, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office and the Met itself all looked into what was going on. They found some excellent practice but also routine, endemic failure to properly investigate rape.
The Met’s research was dynamite. It focused on more than 700 rapes reported over two months in 2005. Victims were clustered in groups of “vulnerability” – women who didn’t attract police interest or investigation. The Met took another look. A significant proportion of the men had never been checked out or tracked down. And a significant proportion, it emerged, already had records of violence and sex offences.
This is the dangerous matrix that alarmed ministers: men who like raping women target those who won’t engage police attention or confidence. That’s what Stern should have exposed: this toxic correlation, the institutional sexism that disarms rape investigation.
Check out this chilling review by scholars, into decades of troubled inquiry, reportage, research and reform of the dismal outcomes for women reporting rape and other sexual crimes to the police:
2011 – The Journal of Criminal Justice Research (JCJR) – Volume 1, Number 2
CRITICAL ISSUES IN RAPE INVESTIGATION: AN OVERVIEW OF REFORM IN ENGLAND AND WALES
Miranda A.H. Horvath, University of Surrey
Stephen Tong, Canterbury Christ Church University
Emma Williams, Metropolitan Police Service
….Criminal investigation is …based on discretionary decisions made by detectives. Reiner (2000: 93-94) points to “police property” as a category of crime left to the police to deal with by the “dominant powers of society?. Within this category are a group identified as ”rubbish”, reflecting “messy”, “unworthy” offences that maybe be perceived as the “complainants fault”. Crimes that can fall within this category include rape, domestic violence or hate crime…
…“messy” investigations (long protracted cases where the officer may have some doubts regarding the integrity of the complaint), or unworthy of attention (the officer believes the event is not an offence but a private matter, or a trivial event) or finally the complainants fault (the officer believes the complainant contributed to their own victimisation) …
….The belief that investigative work simply required “common sense” with low levels of education, the lack of research aimed at improving investigative practice, the slow pace of change to past and current criticisms and evidence of a continued presence of negative attitudes towards marginalised groups remain barriers to improving investigative standards in England and Wales.
…Although some progress has been made especially in the care of victims and some re-shaping of the law to reflect modern notions of sexual autonomy many of the reforms have failed to be effective or have not been fully implemented.
Key criminal justice reforms in the last thirty years in England and Wales.
…In the 1980’s criminal justice reform was spurred on initially by Roger Graef’s documentary “A complaint of rape”, which showed oppressive interviewing of a rape victim by Thames Valley police officers and subsequently by a joint publication from the Women’s Aid Federation and Women Against Rape that suggested detailed requirements in police procedures in the investigation of rape. This resulted in the Home Office issuing a number of circulars (25/83 and 69/86) requiring police to revise their procedures.
The nineties began with significant changes in the law…The nineties ended with a Sex Offences Review, which began in 1999. The review aimed to achieve “protection, fairness and justice? within the Home Office’s overall aim of creating a “safe, just and tolerant society” (Home Office, 2000b). It sought to review sex offences in England and Wales and make recommendations to provide much more coherent and clear sex offences, ensure perpetrators are punished appropriately and abide by the ECHR and Human Rights Act so as not to be discriminatory.
The Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003 came into effect from May 2004: Amongst the many changes it Act introduced are the meaning of rape to include oral penetration as well as vaginal and anal with the penis; a legal definition of consent; children under thirteen years old can never now legally consent to sexual activity.
…Crown Prosecutors took over deciding if the defendant should be charged in serious cases including rape. This is just one of many moves in England and Wales which seem to be developing best practice towards a more American style approach to dealing with rape where investigators and prosecutors work closely on cases, continually consulting and advising one another.
….The 2007 HMCPSI report assessed the progress against the recommendations in the 2002 inspections:
…despite the many efforts directed at improving and making more consistent responses to victims the picture does not appear to have changed substantially over the last decade.
The review of the Metropolitan police rape cases by Prof Elizabeth Stanko discovered four categories of vulnerability – victims appeared to be targeted:
In 87% of the cases analysed victims displayed more than one of these vulnerabilities, this was confirmed in a subsequent study using data from the same force but from a different time period (Horvath & Kelly, 2009), and patterns of attrition differed depending on the type of vulnerability involved.
Police work has been hindered by performance regimes influenced by efficiency savings and private sector principles of measurement that do not necessarily recognise the complexities or duties of public sector practitioners particular in the context of the investigation of sexual offences.