Blacklisting is rearing its ugly head again in the UK. The Scottish Affairs Committee published its interim report in April on the, supposedly historical, practice of blacklisting in the construction industry. Blacklisting in this context involved placing construction workers on a list because they were part of a union, undertook union activities or raised health and safety concerns. This list was then circulated to potential employers, so they knew which workers to avoid employing.
Reviewing media coverage of violence against women and children, we’ve found an overt victim blaming tone in many of the news reports. Men are described as being unable to ‘help it’. They are ‘driven to it’. They kill their children (and sometimes themselves) and it is a ‘tragic isolated incident’. They murder their children and it is because of a ‘difficult divorce’. They rape children because she was ‘drunk’ or ‘out at 4am’ and so ‘asking for it’. They rape girls who are so drunk that they cannot stand up, yet these men claim sex is consensual. There are so many excuses that we’ve read recently – none of them considering that the abuser has choices. All the choices are around women (and children) behaving differently in order to avoid being abused.
The media reports cases of violence against women and children with an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts. Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate.
A clear example of this has been the Oxford Gang case. The victims were cross-examined by a number of barristers (which is to be expected in a fair trial, of course) with repeated accusations of lying or consenting to the rape, sexual assaults and violence. As we have seen, some of the girls were too young to consent under law and were effectively purchased by their abusers. Dr Aisha Gill writes an excellent critical analysis of this situation.
Almost immediately after the completion of this trial, we heard of the tragic murder of two children in France by their father, a man who should have protected them from violence. Julian Stevenson, a British man who has lived in France for approximately 10 years, killed his children on his first unsupervised access visit following a divorce. His access to the children previously had been in the presence of either his ex-wife, or a social worker due to his violent behaviour. The prosecutor’s office has released a statement confirming that Stevenson has admitted killing the children, but would ‘not discuss his motive’. Media reports about this case have been littered with excuses and apparent explanations, including using the issue of child contact being ‘insufficient for his needs’.
In the UK at least, child contact orders under the Children Act 1989 should consider the welfare needs of the child as paramount. This should mean that the courts consider the emotional and physical safety of the child(ren) when making a decision for a contact order. If we assume that the law is adhered to and that contact with a non-resident parent is set up in order to meet the needs of the child, being at risk of violence or in this case, murder, is certainly not about the needs of the child(ren).
The combination of these cases, in addition to the almost constant victim blaming in the media, prompted us to set up this campaign. We regularly discuss issues around child protection, violence against women and children and domestic abuse with other women. This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children. We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violence and abusive towards women and children. We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.
We are utterly frustrated. We know other women and men who feel powerless and voiceless against mainstream media and we are aiming to change that. We believe that the only people responsible for violence and abuse are violent abusers. We do not believe that victims are in any way responsible for the choices that are made by those who abuse them. Societal change is not easy, but it happens. With persistence and dogged determination, we can succeed.
You can help by submitting your experiences, thoughts or views about victim blaming via our website www.everydayvictimblaming.com. We will accept submissions that are personal, if you’ve written a critical analysis on gendered violence, written about media coverage of rape, abuse, sexual exploitation or if you just want to have your voice heard. Submissions can be anonymous and we will soon be able to signpost to organisations offering support around these issues via our website.
Wish us luck!
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Mark Blyth, Professor of International Political Economy at Brown University, explains why austerity is not the answer to our economic woes.