Sexual-assault reduction classes are a form of victim blame

Florida Atlantic University now offers a course titled “Flip the Script”, which aims to reduce sexual assault on campus. It is estimated that undergraduate women have a greater than one-in-10 chance of experiencing rape or attempted rape. Flip the Script teaches these women to look for the signs that could lead to rape as well as how to prevent it. The course boasts impressive statistics, having been found to be responsible for a 31 percent reduction in rape. Even so, it is a form of victim blame.

As we all know, in the UK and America, classes aimed at tackling sexual assault have become all the rage among liberals. Huge numbers of young men are now encouraged to take consent classes to learn about the nuances of sexual communication. Perhaps some blokes need such lessons, but Flip the Script takes us in a direction that we should not welcome.

No one should have to take lessons in how not to get raped. This is no more sophisticated than telling girls not to wear skirts on a night out, or flirt with the guy by the bar. It puts the onus onto potential victims to ensure that they are not attacked. It suggests that the main thing between getting raped and not raped is knowledge. It literally says “you can flip the script”, as if getting raped was a choice of destiny.

Furthermore, sexual-assault reduction classes could cause serious psychological harm to victims. Imagine if you did not have time, or the inclination, to take one of these courses (Flip the Script is 12 hours long). The implication could be that you could have done something to stop this from happening. This is a horrible idea for victims to have to contemplate.

Again, people should not have to do courses to stop themselves being raped, nor should anyone assume that awareness training can stop the chances of being assaulted. It may merely be that awareness training encourages segregation of the sexes, which lessens the chance of these attacks.

The proliferation of these courses is no good thing. Not only do they victim blame, but they potentially exaggerate the level of campus assaults, scaring off young women who might want to go to university.

Having been an undergraduate only eight years ago, the furore around consent has always looked utterly hysterical to me. On behalf of a few bad men, we now talk down to the whole male population as if they’re predators, encouraging their rehabilitation by way of ‘consent classes’, which appear to teach common sense.

Campus assaults are often portrayed as epidemic, but I believe this is because we’ve conflated serious attacks with the results of sexual miscommunication, mostly caused by alcoholic inebriation. It has been found that alcohol is involved in 96 percent of college sexual assaults. The UK and US have dreadful drinking cultures, so it is no wonder that sexual relations have deteriorated, which by their very nature require the cognisance of both partiesThis is not the whole picture, but cut booze out of the equation and we might be looking at a completely different profile of life on campus.

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Left-wing, free pass to abuse

Comedian Robert Webb has spent the last year lecturing all and sundry on gender stereotypes, which he says are very bad in his book How Not To Be a Boy. So grave are his concerns that he has cautioned his young daughter to be wary of the patriarchy – ‘the trick’ – as he calls it, and warned everyone not to use the expression ‘man up’, lest it damages men’s mental health.

With all of these modern sensibilities, it did strike me as out of character of Webb when he called the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer a “thick Oxford twat” on Twitter yesterday. I confess it is something of a rule of mine to avoid blokes who describe women – let alone anyone – as “twats”, but maybe I just need to man up.

Hartley-Brewer had been involved in a debate on education. She had addressed the question of whether going to Oxford University was the result of privilege, or something else. In typical Hartley-Brewer style, she said the wrong answer; that she had won her place due to being “clever”. Feminist Webb did not like that argument very much. Clever? Woman? No, no, no. He Retweeted her adding: “I didn’t go to Cambridge because I was clever. I went because I was a white male from a stable family who encouraged me to work hard at an excellent state school. That’s all privilege. All of it. You thick Oxford twat.” This post – a masterclass in left-wing bingo (“white male”, “privilege”) –  received 12,000 endorsements at the time of writing.

Watching events unfold, I did wonder when the feminists would swoop in to save Hartley-Brewer. But such expectations were daft, because Hartley-Brewer is right-wing, and right-wingers do not need saving, only abusing. And left-wingers are now given a free pass to say what they like; they are so socially conscious, after all, that even their most demonic utterances must surely serve some higher purpose. This state of play is not only obvious from the anti-semitic abuse that goes unpunished in the Labour Party, but from the media pundits that represent the left. Frankie Boyle regularly writes for The Guardian and has 2.8 million Twitter followers. He also made a rape joke about Katie Price’s disabled son, which he has never apologised for. But don’t forget the rule! Abuse doesn’t matter if you’re left-wing.

Were someone like Toby Young to call a woman a “twat” or make rape jokes, we know for certain it would be game over. All right-wingers realise that some are more equal than others, namely by virtue of their Corbynista credentials. Yes, forget being “clever” or a “white male”; left-wing identity is the real privilege these days.

Why are we all spying on each other with technology?

Something concerns me of recent in our society, and that is the tendency for people to spy on each other with technology. Social media, in particular, has become a common way to shame unsuspecting members of the public. Just this week there has been a nationwide hunt for a ‘love rat’ called Ben, after he was (apparently) overheard on a train boasting about his sexual escapades – despite having a girlfriend. The woman listening to his conversation, named on Twitter as Emily, couldn’t bear to keep any of this to herself – of course, why would she? – but instead wrote to all her followers: ‘If anyone has a boyfriend called Ben on the Bournemouth – Manchester train right now, he’s just told his friends he’s cheating on you. Dump his ass x’. Twenty-seven thousand Twitter users, at the time of writing, shared her post.

Perhaps Emily felt she had been the hero that day she chose to broadcast the conversation of what she describes as ‘a group of boys’, but one has to wonder where exactly it might lead to should anyone discover Ben’s real identity. People are pushed to the edge when they have been publicly shamed – so strong is the current of mass condemnation. Even Deborah Meaden posted about Ben on her Twitter account; eager to draw attention to the initial Tweet. Poor bloke, is all I can think. I hope he knows that, whatever his faults, I defend his right to boast on a train.

Unfortunately, it is becoming common for public to incriminate others through technology – in a strange type of vigilantism. In the past, mobile phones were used in reasonable ways to promote justice and safety; Tweets have alerted great numbers of people to danger – in the wake of terrorist attacks – and videos have provided evidence in court. But we have gradually started to document less serious behaviour with technology; trivial acts that might have been mitigated and dealt with privately are now spread out for the masses to feast on. Last month a woman was filmed dragging her child along a road in Liverpool, in a video that was widely shared and criticised; it later transpired he had autism, and the mother was struggling to cope. The damage has been done, and the woman’s reputation stained – now that we are so keen to spy on each other, rather than communicate directly.

All of this ultimately means that over time, the public will grow more and more wary of how they act out and about, in case they find themselves on film or social media. After all, who wants to have a chat on the train in these current circumstances, knowing someone might post about it later on Twitter? Or film it all?

Even the Pestminster scandal has made me think twice about who I want to email. That’s because, among the serious allegations, were also instances of women, like Kate Maltby, who broadcasted harmless messages with Damian Green for all to see. The Twitter communications of the journalist Rupert Myers were also widely distributed, as examples of his gross sexual misconduct. None of these scribblings ever came across as elucidating or damning, just the sort of thing many people send to each other every day. Was it fair to share? I don’t think so. Besides, I tend to believe there are unwritten rules when it comes to technological communication; namely, that you do not distribute it, unless it poses a serious danger.

It seems to me that we have never really lost that urge, since the Gladiator games, to cause people pain on a huge scale – albeit now through technology. We love to see the little man fall, perhaps because this deflects away from our own humanity – and faults. Now we do this through our camera phones.

I do still think that technology has an important role in protecting us all, if it is used to capture the worst of mankind’s behaviour. But there has to be some sort of balance; we should not live in a society where we can find our lives ruined because of what we say on public transport. That is more dangerous than any ‘love rat’.

David Beckham: the victim of cyberbullying, above all else

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Smiley, simpering David Beckham has a dark side. At least, that’s what 18.6 million emails and documents seem to suggest, leaked about the star in a scandal dubbed “Beckileaks”. They reveal a man who kicked off after being snubbed from 2014’s Honours List, and called Katherine Jenkins a “F***ing joke”.

All of this has thrown Brand Beckham into disarray, as its PR representatives try to cover the cracks. Journalists, of course, are having a great time – many of whom are sick to death of covering Donald Trump and now have more information than they know what to do with. Beckileaks is the perfect tale of downfall, all the more tasty given the Beckham’s previously pristine image. “Now we know the tawdry reality behind the facade of David Beckham”, writes Jan Moir for The Daily Mail.

Such harsh attacks on David Beckham reveal an ever-heightening hypocrisy among the masses. No one has called the leaks out for what they are; a vicious form of cyberbullying. Whatever unflattering information they unearthed, the leaks shouldn’t have been released at all. Indeed, in the lead up to their dissemination, the Beckhams were blackmailed and asked to cough up one million euros for their suppression. They refused. Good for them.

In general, leaks have never caused a huge amount of concern, and occupy a strange space in people’s minds. Many seem to think that the exposure of information reflects a fact-driven, democratic society. The likes of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have become heroes, as though their antics served some sort of protective function. But all they have done is advocate leak culture, which can harm individuals, as much as institutions.

Strangely enough, the public has massive worries about privacy, it’s just that the definition of “breach” is quite limited – and anxieties over personal information are generally directed towards big powers, whether it’s the government’s Investigatory Powers Bill or something else. Leak activities are often about the disruption of large-scale institutions – even David Beckham – by smaller vigilante groups, which makes people oblivious to the threat to themselves.

They are, frankly, too busy reading the latest Beckileaks updates to care. Katherine Jenkins has even snapped back at Beckham, but this is hardly fairly game, and by arguing with his private words she, herself, has served to advocate the lack of delineation between personal and public information. In truth, she should pity – not attack – David Beckham.

In all of this he has been the victim, and it is Football Leaks – the website who unveiled the information – as well as the criminals who obtained it who should be the objects of our disgust. Their activities will only multiply without widespread condemnation. David Beckham’s right to privacy is no laughing matter. It, in fact, underlines ours too.

Be in no doubt, dating apps are dangerous

2016-04-21-1461265658-5144778-datingappThe circumstances that led to Warriena Wright’s death in August of 2014 will make many women think twice about using Tinder.

Wright was on a first date, arranged through the mobile application, when she died. She had been trying to escape the man she had met up with that night, Gable Tostee, by climbing away from his balcony. Tostee was afterwards accused of her murder; prosecutors argued that by intimidating Wright he had caused her to fall. This week, he was acquitted for the crime, but big questions remain about dating apps, and their safety.

Over the years, crimes related to dating apps have risen substantially. It’s not just women who have encountered problems; this week, ‘Grindr killer’ Stephen Port is on trial for 29 offences against 12 men, including four murders. In 2015, the application – which helps gay men hook up – and Tinder were implicated in 412 reports of crime in England and Wales; a 560 percent rise over the two years before. Some of the offences reported include rape, grooming and attempted murder.

The problem with these applications is that they offer very little transparency over who the person on the side of the screen is, and their intentions. There does seem to be a human need for minimised information, so that we might make better decisions. Many are enticed by dating apps because they portray people like shopping items you can throw into a basket. The truth is that no one has any idea what they’re buying.

My female friends have found men particularly elusive on dating apps, as they are not always honest about their desires. Large swathes of them seem to think of Tinder as a digital harem, that allows them to pick the best of the single market. They may conceal that they were looking for casual sex, and drop or get angry with women when they have different ideas.

On Grindr, a fast-moving sexual marketplace, the scare stories get worse. A common experience among other pals is being stalked or harassed after meeting with others users. Some seem to think that, by virtue of them both being men, they can throw out any rules over conventional etiquette – and act in an aggressively forward manner.

Overall, dating applications have proved to be one of the worst ideas for my generation. In their inception, they seemed the perfect solution for busy singletons looking for love or friendship. But the fact users act on such minimal information means that they are waltzing into strange scenarios, especially as technology eliminates gut instinct. Add alcohol into the mix, and another person’s behaviour becomes even harder to predict.

In covering the story of Wright, many papers have discussed Tostee as if he was an anomaly. The Daily Mail is flabbergasted that he wanted girls for “wild no strings sex”, and talked about his carnal desires. But Tostee’s requirements are quite normal in such an environment. Over the last years Tinder, a number of applications have disintegrated from tools to meet people into shopping tills for sex. It’s cheap and nasty, and potentially quite dangerous too.

Tufnell Park tube station’s ‘refurbishment’ is the disappointment of my year

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They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and – bloody hell – neither was Tufnell Park tube station.

At least Rome was good though, unlike Tufnell Park tube station: a rusty shipwreck that makes me seriously concerned about the state of mankind.

You’re probably thinking, sorry Charlotte, but I don’t really care about Tufnell Park tube station. And I get it, but I’m using it as more of a metaphor to complain about TFL and anything involving transport infrastructure in London.

For a long time I appreciated Tufnell Park tube station, which is near my flat. I could easily trot back and forth to the tube after drunken discos and hard days at work. ‘Wow,’ I thought to myself. ‘How great to live near a tube.’

Actually that’s a lie, because I never thought that. I took my tube for granted. Don’t we all?!

Then one dark day, TFL sent one of those dreaded emails – with a subject line that suggested something rubbish was about to happen. It said that Tuffy P tube station would be closed for a year as TFL carried out important maintenance works on the lift.

To make this story even worse, I actually thought they were installing an escalator because of an urban myth spread throughout the streets of Tufnell Park. I was excited about this (non-existent) development, because the lift is actually quite rubbish and moves ever so slowly. Almost as if you were being transported to Dracula’s castle.

Besides, if something’s going to take a year you expect something pretty special. There have been Olympic stadium built over a couple of years or something like that – so really it’s not that unreasonable to expect half of an Olympic stadium for all that money you pay to TFL.

‘Twas a hard year that went by. Cold and miserable, and involving long walks back and forth from Kentish Town and Archway – the next nearest tube stations.

Occasionally I walked past Tufnell Park tube station and I saw the construction men working on it, and I thought ‘what do you do down there, construction men?’

I had to block out any curiosity, though, and get through the cold, hard year.

Then a week or so ago, I realised that the tube was open again. I skipped to it eagerly, with the enthusiasm of someone expecting a lovely new escalator.

And THEN.

There was no escalator.

“Where’s the fucking escalator?” I thought to myself. But it was useless. There was no escalator, only a new lift that doesn’t even look that good. It just looks and moves like the old one, only slightly shinier.

I felt such rage as I got in the lift and slowly went down to catch my train. I wanted to cast my Oyster card out into the abyss and cry.

But seriously, why is TFL so rubbish? I lived in Highgate before being in this flat, and the tube there was also shut down for a year so TFL could fix an escalator. Which is terrible in Highgate as there are so many old people, for whom an escalator is the only way they can access the tube.

I DIGRESS.

Anyway, I just don’t understand how, in this country – which has one of the best economies in the world, it takes a year to install a lift at a Zone 2 tube station? I’m no lift expert, but surely this should take one week with efficient and experienced construction workers?

It makes my blood boil when you consider the amount of money people dish out on tube tickets. We have the most expensive public transport system in the world – and it’s embarrassing how inefficient we are at sending trains places.

It makes me want to chuck away my Oyster and never use buses or tubes ever again. Because – nowadays – the only reliable form of transport in London is one’s legs.

We can’t all be models, love

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Sherene Zarrabi isn’t the latest victim of “body shaming”; she’s just had a reality check

I’ve never understood why anyone would want to be a model. A life without biscuits! No thanks.

Of course, there’s another reason most of us will never make it down the catwalk. It’s called aesthetics. Ever since I stopped growing at the age of eleven, I’ve accepted my fate.

That’s proving tougher for others, evidenced this week by the tragic tale of Sherene Zarrabi.

She worked as a shop assistant at the Dainty Hooligan store in Oklahoma. Being a fan of the clothing there, one day Zarrabi thought to do her very own fashion shoot – documenting it on the shop’s Instagram account.

But here’s the problem: Zarrabi isn’t dainty, and quite reasonably her employer thought to point this out in an email. “Oi Sherene!” She wrote. “Get off Instagram”.

Or something to that effect. I think her precise words were that Zarrabi wasn’t “model material”.

Instead of quietly accepting the feedback, Zarrabi took to Facebook to recount how she’d been “attacked and discriminated against”. And thus a star was born, with the press describing the 21 year old as the latest victim of “body shaming”.

If this is so, I want to know since when did “body shaming” stand for having eyes? For it’s clear that Zarrabi, though very pretty, doesn’t fit in with the aesthetic ideals of Dainty Hootligan’s Instagram page (which, by the way, largely features one skinny blonde lady and dogs).

Zarrabi joins a host of catwalk wannabes who’ve transformed rejection into opportunity. Last year there was Charli Howard, the girl who cried into The Guardian’s arms after an agency told her she was “too big” to make it.

I wish they’d get a grip or change career. For they can hardly feel aggrieved when an industry entirely centred on appearances rejects them for their looks.

Zarrabi’s claims of discrimination are quite astonishing given she was never hired to sport clothes and should have, probably, been on the tills that fateful day.

Quizzed about her email, her former employer told the press “I never meant to be mean or attacking, but I’m not apologising for the unsaid fashion rule”.

I hope she sticks to her guns. After all, we all know bigger brands make these sorts of scrupulous decisions all the time – only with better PR teams to back them. Unfortunately I fear this debacle will mark the end of the Dainty Hooligan store, and its owner’s career.

And it will leave other retailers in no doubt of what the outcome might be should they make public their commercial decisions.

But I say, don’t be bullied by the Zarrabis of this world. They show no model behaviour.