Category Archives: Europe

Three Gang Rapists Convicted After One Shows Video of Assault to Victim

The mug shots of three men, all recently convicted of sexual assaults. From left to right, Feizal Ali, Mohammed Shahjahan, and Nicholas Jones.

Trigger Warning for graphic descriptions of sexual assault and discussions of victim re-traumatization.

In a somewhat unusual case out of the UK, three men have just been convicted on various sexual assault charges after gang raping an unconscious woman — an unconscious woman who only became aware of the attack after one of the attackers, Nicholas Jones, saw fit to shock her with the footage he had taken of the rape on his cell phone.

Three men have been jailed over a rape which was only discovered by the victim after she was shown mobile phone footage of the attack.

Mohammed Shahjahan, 27, Nicholas Jones, 26, and Feizal Ali, 26, from Oxford, sexually assaulted the woman while she was unconscious in November.

The woman said she had passed out in a flat in east Oxford after drinking three vodka and Red Bull cocktails and did not remember the attack. She did not discover she had been raped and sexually assaulted until two weeks later when she was shown the footage by one of the perpetrators and described the moment as “a big shock”.

The woman told the BBC that all she remembered was having the three drinks and then waking up in a bed. The court was told that the woman had been “incapable of consent”.

On sentencing the three men, Judge Julian Hall said: “This was a disgraceful incident which would not have come to light but for the fact that Nicholas Jones filmed it, kept it and later showed it to the victim.”

Upon first reading Judge Hall’s words, I assumed that he meant them as an indictment of the horrific nature of the act. In other words, “This attack was terrible, and to compound the horrific nature of it, we never even would have known these three rapists were lurking out there if one of them hadn’t been so sadistic and arrogant as to film the assault and then later re-assault his victim with it.”

But further comments provide a rather disturbing context, and take this news report from being just yet another really terrible story about how rapists like to rape, and turn it into one about rape culture and how even in the face of every reason in the world not to, we like to give rapists the benefit of the doubt:

Hall said Shahjahan was “an arrogant young man who was heartless, shameless and had no consideration for the victim”. Jones, who pleaded guilty to the charges of sexual assault and voyeurism, was described as “a decent young man who did absolutely terrible things that night”.

Wait, the one who took the video and suddenly confronted his victim with it is the “decent young man”? Whose actions we should praise, as they made prosecution possible?

Now, hell. Maybe I’m just biased. But when I think about a man participating in the gang rape of an unconscious woman, filming the assault for posterity, and then later accosting that victim with the video as a means of telling her what he did, “Good Samaritan” isn’t exactly the term that comes to my mind.

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Scotland Anti-Rape Ad Tackles “She Was Asking For It” Myth

A short, sparkly blue shirt hangs on a clothes rack. Two large tags, in the style of price tags, hang from the skirt. The top tag reads "Asking to be raped?" The tag immediately below reads "notever.co.uk"

Trigger Warning for rape apologism.

A few months back, I wrote an article for the Guardian’s Comment is Free about a U.K. study, which showed a significant number of respondents thought that some rape victims were at least partially to blame for their attacks. The various reasons that respondents blamed women were the unsurprising — if she had been drinking, if she had worn something revealing, if she had engaged in some other kind of sexual contact with the rapist, etc. — but no less disturbing than they’ve always been.

Well, it seems like someone in the Scottish government decided to do something about it. Rape Crisis Scotland has launched the “Not Ever” campaign — the title referring to when, exactly, a rape victim is actually to blame for a rape.

The television ad, which has just been released, focuses on the rape myth that women who dress a certain way are “asking” to be raped. (And thank you, BBC, for putting the word “myth” in scare quotes, as well as “prejudice.” What ever would we have done without that oh-so-subtle dismissal?) The ad can be seen on the Not Ever website or below:

Transcript:

A scene of a party. A pale blond woman in her 20s stands talking to two men, one pale and one with darker skin. She wears a black top and sparkly blue skirt, and all parties hold drinks in their hands and appear to be having a good time.

Woman: (laughing playfully) You’re terrible! (laughs) You’re so bad! Shut up!

Cut to two presumably white men across the room.

Man One: (looks at woman, sucks in air between his teeth) Check out the skirt! She’s asking for it.
Man Two: (laughs)

Cut to scene of the same woman in a department store. She pulls two skirts off the rack, one the sparkly blue skirt she wears at the party, and takes turns holding up each one to her hips. A sales assistant, a pale middle-aged woman, walks up to her.

Sales Assistant: Can I help?
Woman: Yeah, thanks. I’m going out tonight and I want to get raped. (smiles) I need a skirt that will encourage a guy to have sex with me against my will. (holds up each skirt again)
Sales Assistant: (smiles eagerly and folds arms across chest) The blue one. Definitely the blue.
Woman: (nods and smiles)

Woman turns and directly faces camera, with a sarcastic look on her face.

Woman: As if.

Male Voiceover: Nobody asks to be raped. Ever.

Here is what I love about this ad: it treats rape apologist attitudes as a problem, regardless of whether or not they refer to a specific rape. There is no indication in the commercial that the woman has actually been raped. There is no indication that she will be raped. There is no indication that the man who makes the “she’s asking for it” comment is actually planning on raping her, or anyone else, for that matter. And still, in spite of all of this, his comments are dangerous, they have a real impact, and they are worthy of our attention. They’re worthy, in fact, of a PSA about how incredibly fucked up they are. All on their own.

And that, I think, is absolutely fabulous.

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UK Health Group Wants to Test All Pregnant Women for Smoking

Just last week, I was defending the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK for its recommendations regarding age-appropriate sex education. This week, I find myself needing to ask what in the hell they’re thinking.

NICE has recommended that all pregnant women should be given carbon monoxide tests in order to determine whether or not they’re smoking, so that they can be given advice on quitting. Instead of, you know, asking them.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said carbon monoxide tests should be carried out on every expectant mother.

If implemented, every woman would have the breath test at her first ante-natal appointment.

Midwives criticised the test, saying it could make the women feel “guilty”.

NICE said the guidelines were not aimed at penalising smokers but were designed to help women and their families give up smoking during and after pregnancy.

“During pregnancy, smoking puts the health of the women and her unborn baby at great risk both in the short and long-term, and small children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from respiratory problems,” Professor Mike Kelly, Nice director of the centre of public health excellence, said.

“One of our recommendations is for midwives to encourage all pregnant women to have their carbon monoxide levels tested and discuss the results with them.

“This isn’t to penalise them if they have been smoking, but instead will be a useful way to show women that both smoking and passive smoking can lead to having high levels of carbon monoxide in their systems.”

The guidelines were welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives, but it urged “non-judgemental” support for women smokers.

Right. Except that the way to be “non-judgmental” isn’t by telling women up front that they can’t be trusted. And by telling them that they can’t be trusted specifically once they’ve become pregnant — thus indicating that their bodies are no longer their own. Paternalism, misogyny, and policing of women’s bodies don’t have great track records.

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On Police Violence and “Rotten Apples”

A police officer named Jamie Slater smiles for the camera. He is pale and presumably white, with a bald head and glasses. He wears a tie and collared shirt underneath a traffic officer's bright yellow reflective uniform.In the U.K., a traffic police officer was just sentenced to time in jail for repeatedly contacting women he had pulled over for traffic offenses and harassing and coercing them into sexual activities in exchange for not pursuing their infringements. In total, the trial encompassed the victimization of eight different women:

Jamie Slater, 33, of Port Talbot, was sentenced to three and a half years at Cardiff Crown Court for misconduct while in public office.

He contacted the women after stopping them and offered to let them off if they had sex with him.

Slater was dismissed from South Wales Police in December.

The court heard how the South Wales Police officer used the police national computer to access personal data on his victims.

The married father-of-two stopped six women for minor motoring offences and requested their mobile phone numbers.

He later sent the women drivers text messages asking them to meet him for sex. The court heard Slater harassed women who refused to meet him.

Peter Davies, prosecuting, said all Slater’s victims had felt powerless to complain because he was a police officer in uniform.

Let us be absolutely clear about one thing: this was rape. A police officer offering to exchange a dismissal of offenses for “sex” is engaging in harassment, manipulation, coercion, and duress. When harassment, manipulation, coercion, and/or duress are present, consent is not. That the women technically could have said no is not relevant — the power differential and necessarily threatening nature of an “offer” such as the ones presented by Slater ensures that any “yes” is not equal to meaningful consent, but to compliance. And compliance and consent are two very, very different things. The women’s technical ability to say no also means exceedingly little when Slater was not above even more directly bullying the women into sexual contact when they refused his demands. This officer is, in fact, guilty not just of “misconduct” but of multiple rapes and multiple attempted rapes.

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Group Suggests Age Appropriate Sex Education? Time to Freak Out.

Well, here we go again. Every few months or so, some public official or organization makes a common sense observation that sex education is largely useless unless we start it early, and thus expresses support for age appropriate sex education for kids as soon as they start school. Cue the outrage, as a variety of other public officials, media talking heads, and over-protective parents panic that those who back comprehensive sex education at all levels are looking to indoctrinate kindergartners with pornography.

This particular frenzy is taking place in Britain — apparently the U.S. is getting a break on this front, for a change — and even the likes of supposedly respectable Reuters is bearing headlines like “UK watchdog says teach sex to kids from age five.” Which suggests a potential lesson plan that reads, “Hey, kids! Today, we’re going to teach you how to give a blowjob! Can you say blowjob? Bloooooowwwwwww JOB!”

Reading the article, however, gives one a slightly more subdued understanding of the recommendation:

NICE said school governors should ensure education about sex and relationships and alcohol starts in primary school, which British children attend from the age of five.

“Topics should be introduced and covered in a way that is appropriate to the maturity of pupils and is based on an understanding of their needs and is sensitive to diverse cultural, faith and family perspectives,” it said.

For the youngest children, this would involve learning about the value of friendships and having respect for others.

“All children and young people are entitled to high-quality education about sex, relationships and alcohol to help them make responsible decisions and acquire the skills and confidence to delay sex until they are ready,” NICE said.

Oooooh, not teaching children to learn the value of friendships! Time to crank the rage up to ten!

But family groups branded the draft guidance, published today, ‘inappropriate and unnecessary’.

Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said Nice had shunned marriage and family values groups and sidelined parents. ‘There is no evidence such education in primary school leads to lower teenage pregnancy rates, better sexual health or more stable marriages,’ he added.

Still appalled? Don’t worry, there are more folks who have your back:

But family campaigners have slammed the plans for children as young as five to have sex education lessons, branding them ‘unnecessary and harmful.’

They fear it could lead to teenage pregnancy being seen as acceptable.

“There is no evidence which shows that the more children are taught about sex, the less likely they are to become pregnant,” the Daily Express quoted author and social policy expert Patricia Morgan as saying.

Morgan added: “The more children are told, the more likely they are to experiment.”

To be entirely fair, UK residents seem to be handling this logical recommendation with far more maturity than their counterparts in the U.S. would. While some outrage undeniably exists, quotes from groups who find the idea of age appropriate education to be abhorrent are much fewer and farther between than they are whenever a U.S. politician makes any recommendation or drafts any legislation regarding sex education. And while most headlines are an exercise in fear mongering, about half of the media sources are actually U.S.-based. Though British press and citizens are far from being models of sexual progressiveness, they do seem to have their act together far better than the bulk of those in the United States.

The issue, though, is that this shouldn’t even be subject to question at all.

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Anti-Domestic Violence Campaign Centers World Cup and Misses Its Mark

Trigger Warning for violent imagery, discussions of intimate partner violence, and victim-blaming.

A presumably white male stands with his back to the camera. On his back and neck are numerous tattoos that read "behind bars," "wifebeater," "GBH 7 years," "ABH 5 years," "hard time," "assault 3 years," and "love & hate 2010." A tattoo of a soccer ball is in the middle. The text on the poster reads "It's all about to kick off ... Don't let the World Cup leave its mark on you."

A new campaign against domestic violence has just been launched in West Yorkshire, England. According to police, domestic violence increased by 30% during the last World Cup in 2006. They’re looking to prevent that from happening again this year.

Let me say, first of all, that I think it’s laudable that they’ve recognized a trend and are acting on it instead of just standing by the phones and waiting for the calls to come in. It’s also rather encouraging that they actually believe domestic violence is something that can be prevented rather than simply responded to. I also know that I tend to criticize more of these types of campaigns than I celebrate. I know that I may seem insensitive towards the fact that it’s very, very difficult to come up with a striking image and short slogan that captures substantial and unproblematic anti-violence theory. In truth, I do recognize that this is an incredibly hard task.

But I also don’t think it’s helpful to applaud campaigns that are actually harmful. And I don’t think it’s useful in the long-term to give out cookies for effort, while such efforts keep failing to improve.

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Boys Aged 10 and 11 Convicted of Attempted Rape as Apologists Deny Assault Was Possible

Trigger Warning for rape apologism. Linked articles contain descriptions of sexual assault.

Out of the U.K. comes an extremely disturbing case in which two young boys, aged 10 and 11, have been convicted of attempting to rape an 8-year-old girl.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

The case raises numerous ethical conundrums and requires a nuanced response. At one point during the trial, the victim recanted and claimed that she had invented the story — whether she was telling the truth during this recantation or responding to pressure from the defense’s cross examination is unclear, and was ultimately up to the jury to decide. Many are also arguing that the case was dealt with hugely inappropriately, that a full fledged criminal trial for boys so young was absurd, ugly, a display of society’s worst impulses, and a travesty of the judicial system.

And on that last point, I actually pretty strongly agree. I believe that the ideal goal of all judicial processes should not be punishment, but rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is not always possible. And the systems we currently have in place for rehabilitation are frequently flawed or abysmally failing. But if there is anyone, anyone at all, who is capable of being rehabilitated, any sex offender who can successfully make the decision to not commit sexual violence again, a child of this age has to be it. That doesn’t minimize or excuse the violence committed against the victim — in fact, I believe that it is a much greater dishonor to a victim’s suffering and trauma to throw up our hands and say that we can’t prevent the same thing from being done to somebody else, when there is indeed a very, very great chance that we can.

Trying these children as adults and ultimately putting them on the sex offender registry list instead of working with them through various means to ensure that they realize that what they did was wrong and lose any desire to ever do it to anyone else ever again, I think, was absolutely the wrong move.

I also think that my stance is a vastly different one from that displayed by many commentators, who seem to think that these boys were treated inappropriately by the judicial system not because of their age and high likelihood of being able to be successfully rehabilitated, but because they think that the boys’ ages mean that what they did wasn’t a big deal, doesn’t count, or couldn’t have possibly happened.

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