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.


The Duchess of Cambridge should help working mums

I’m a huge fan of the Duchess of Cambridge; so much so that I cried at her wedding to William, and even forgave her when she called her child Charlotte, which – I know full well – is one of the most hackneyed monikers of all time. It’s the sense of stability that makes Kate so special; exactly what the Royal family needs, and missed during the Diana years.

Even so, some of the Duchess’s charitable activities have made me raise an eyebrow in recent years. Along with Princes Harry and William, Kate has been greatly preoccupied with children’s mental health, running numerous campaigns to raise awareness. Though well-intentioned, these have always seemed to me to promote hypochondria among parents and children more than eradicating stigma. Such activities have also distracted the Duchess from one big opportunity: to help working mothers.

Indeed, watching her out and about today on a royal engagement to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, something struck me that I hadn’t realised before: the Duchess is quite possibly most famous working Mum in the country. Motherhood is desperately in need of a sisterly saviours; unintentionally, perhaps, it has been neglected by feminism. As a single woman, feminism seems warm and welcoming, but has barely any positions on areas that affect mothers; breastfeeding or the right to choose (a caesarean), for instance.

But the it’s time motherhood got some attention, not least because it is the cause of one of the biggest barriers for women; gender pay disparity. Discrepancies clearly exist because of childcare, which women continue to take the brunt of. This then forces them into part-time work, to accommodate their children’s needs, and it’s always these roles that are the worst paid.

Motherhood needs huge attention, not only to ensure more have more help with getting back into work, but to incentivise future generations to have children. At the moment it isn’t all that appetising, knowing what the stakes are. Men can have it all: amazing professions, amazing kids (sometimes). For women, broodiness almost certainly dents on career prospects.

There are numerous ways in which the current set up for mothers could be improved. Socially there needs to be more expectation for men to take up childcare. This is something the Duchess and Prince William seem to manage quite effectively.

Companies could also help workers more, running nurseries, dare I say, as a staff perk. In general motherhood needs the same sort of attention as mental health, #MeToo and numerous other fashionable movements are afforded.

Most of all, mothers need a respected figurehead fighting for awareness of their needs. Who better than the Duchess herself?

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’.

We have given our children too much sex education

Young people are more sexualised than ever before, and no one has worked out how to deal with the problem. This week, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and University College London discovered that the number of 16-24-year-olds moving away from traditional sexual intercourse had doubled, partially thanks to the easy access of internet porn.

Immediately the sex ‘experts’ were out in full force. “We must have more graphic sex education on the curriculum!” was their knee-jerk reaction. None of this surprises me; whenever there is a issue surrounding sexualised young people, educators always promote information as the salvation.

Many think that the more teenagers know about the birds and the bees – and the handcuffs, and the rest – the better they will be at making decisions. This is flawed thinking, though, because through overly-focussing over sex, teachers actually raise expectations for children to be sexual. Imagine being a twelve-year-old in a classroom where you are told about S&M. That plants an expectation that it is something you will do.

It makes more sense to draw kids’ attention away from sex and onto other topics to counter national habits. For too long, this country has long been atrocious at dealing with sex education; we often overestimate the prurience of young people. The overarching assumption has become that most teenagers are gagging for it, as if school was an episode of Mad Men.

There’s also our wider culture that suggest to society’s most impressionable: “you should be having sex!” The Channel 4 Show The Joy of Teen Sex, released in 2011, is one strong example of this. It was ostensibly designed to allay teenagers’ sexual concerns, but – in fact – merely encouraged them to think around the clock about their genitals.

The “information is power” approach has overloaded kids, and this has had hugely negative consequences, with STI rates rising all the time. In 2014, 85,513 young people in England aged 15-19 had an STI.

People often mock religious schools because they skirt around sex education. But it’s ironic that they may have lower levels of STIs and STDs through promoting practices that limit sexual partners. Sex is even taught – shock, horror! – in the context of love and commitment.

I’m hardly the Virgin Mary, but I can see that there is something to be said for less is more in sex education. Sure, children need to know the basics. But when we feed them all the time on the subject, we suggest they should be “at it” all the time. Then we wonder why they are so precocious. We need to think laterally about sexual education. Making everything more graphic is not the way forward.

Our interactions are not confined to linguistics

The Weinstein backlash has reached parliament, and it is deeply unpleasant to watch. Numerous allegations have been made at Tory MPs, on the basis that their behaviour was inappropriate (though what that means, technically, one is not quite sure). An accusation I have found strange, particularly as a tactile person myself, is that of being “handsy”. This was charged at Damian Green for touching a journalist’s knee and Adam Sandler last week, too, who put his hand on Claire Foy’s knee on BBC’s Graham Norton Show.

Being “handsy”, like many of the accusations on the dossier, is ambiguous as a description. It might mean a serious groping offence (wrong), or someone touching another person affectionately, or even meaninglessly. Most instances of being handsy – which can be synonymous with “tactile” – strike me as harmless, but it’s become difficult to tell what the boundaries are between inappropriate and appropriate contact these days.

Everything has been merged into one, and my guess is that as the result of the last few weeks men will become increasingly fearful of physical interaction, lest it causes confusion. We seem to be moving towards a world in which physical contact through the sexes must be cleared through verbal permission, to ensure consent at all times (#theplotof1984). But this goes against human nature, and our instinct to blend nonlinguistic and linguistic communication. We are animals, in the end, reading off body language cues and facial expressions to interact with others.

Of course, it’s not great when people read body cues incorrectly. Most women, and men (yes), have experienced someone getting the wrong idea. In men’s defence, what I think is interesting is that psychological data suggests they can be less emotionally intelligent than women. The greatest indication of this is the profile of psychological disorders across the population. Men are much more likely to have autism – referred to as “the extreme male brain” – which is typified by difficulties in empathising. Women suffer much more from mood disorders, which highlight more intense activity in the emotional area of the brain. It may be controversial to suggest, but not impossible to imagine that differences in empathy levels – even on a tiny scale – might sometimes explain why men get the situation wrong when reading romantic interest, and make a move.

Of course, some people are just vain or stupid, too. But for their faults, it would be a great shame to start policing physical interaction. Indeed, if we limit it, we enter very difficult territory indeed. At worst, that might mean every time someone wanted to hug someone they’d have to get permission. In romantic situations, it would be a huge turn-off. I know, because a date once asked me if I wanted to “snog him”. He might as well given me smallpox for all the enthusiasm on my face. (And no, we aren’t going out any more).

None of this is to say being tactile is always appropriate, but we need to make distinctions. Non-linguistic communication is embedded in us, just as much as the need to use words. Maybe even more so.

Forget Conservatives. We need some Cool-servatives at the party

priti patel.jpg
The only hipster: Priti Patel

Young people will try anything once, it sometimes seems, whether it’s tattoos, anal sex or Jeremy Corbyn; the latter of which is rather unfortunate for Conservatives, who have been concerned ever since last week’s election. As everyone now knows, a huge number of 18-24-year-olds (66 percent) turned up to vote, many of whom selected the Labour leader with an enthusiasm normally reserved for Glastonbury tickets. None of this secured Corbyn’s victory, of course, but it felt too close for comfort. Clearly we Conservatives have to do something. Fast! 

But unfortunately, in the last week we do appear to be in a creative rut, as there has been aimless pontificating and posturing about what went wrong for Theresa May. No hypothesis has ever sounded apocalyptic enough, to me, to have ruined her campaign. Some blame Thing One and Thing Two for messing up (aka Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy), others say it was the election timing, and then there’s that One Show appearance. The answer, I suspect, is really rather straightforward, although difficult to solve: we Conservatives haven’t been cool enough. 

This has been Labour’s top trump throughout the election, and even afterwards it continues to win over hip young voters. It has managed to become more than a political party; instead, a pop movement of sorts, through which the young can celebrate peace and love and (terrible) economic theories. The interesting thing is that none of Corbyn’s tactics were all that intellectually astute; he simply worked out what young people like – Snapchat, magazines, grime stars and huge educational freebies – and used them in his campaign. 

This has not only helped him to galvanise the majority of the 18-24-year-old vote, but also older parts of the electorate, many of whom are not so dissimilar in terms of their tastes and activities. That is what it appears, at least, from looking at YouGov’s data; it estimates that the 30-44 age bracket had the biggest swing from Tories to Labour (with 30 percent of them defecting). It is not a stretch too far to suggest that this cohort will have found Labour’s vision attractive for the same reasons to younger voters. 

Conservatives have previously given up on trying to win 18-24-year-olds over; a choice that has made sense in other elections, given that they are more likely to vote for Left-leaning parties, with turnout being historically low. It’s been far easier to rely upon older groups. But now things have changed and, by all indications, the 18-24-year-old may continue to increase. So it is not an option any more for us to ignore this fact; we must actually try to sway young people to our vision. We have to be ‘Cool-servatives’. 

There is no easy route to this, but for starters, Conservatives must become far more savvy with their campaigns, using social media in a far more bold, fashionable way (as Corbyn did himself – cosying up to grime artist, JME, for instance on Snapchat). The Conservatives did advertise videos on Facebook and Twitter, but most of them were alarming – more like public health warnings than anything else – compared to Labour’s optimistic numbers. Labour benefited from having a poetic edge to its slogans, whether it was the promise that the party would be “for the few, not the many”, or a choice of “hope” over “fear”. People like these mantras not only because of their positive angle, but because they have a certain musicality. Frankly, Conservatives could really do with a rapper behind the scenes to give their soundbites some umph. 

The trouble, fundamentally, is that often in politics it pays to be superficial. Many of us witnessed this last year with Donald Trump, whose rhetoric was centred very much around everything being “bigger” and “better”, versus the nuanced campaigning of Hillary Clinton. This has happened in British politics, too, only it is the Conservatives who are being too subtle about their methods, hoping that the electorate will understand the need for austerity in a recovering economy, and be able to spot that many of Corbyn’s pledges don’t stack up – and are not even costed in his manifesto. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t care. 

Instead of mourning this fact, Conservatives must do far more to tap into the public appetite for style over substance, starting with a leader. Methinks Boris Johnson may be very much the ticket, as someone who has enamoured himself with London’s cool crowd in the past, and appeals because he is – like Trump – rather entertaining. But a new leader is not the end; Conservatives need much more young people on board to spread their message on the ground, and also give their adverts some light and artistic vision. This is what the party is missing ultimately at the moment; not even Theresa May’s leopard skin shoes were able to make the party appealing. Frankly, it’s time they all got a little less Conservative.

Come on, Steps. You’re too good for reunions


Steps have announced plans for a new album, and I know I should feel excited, but I feel sad and deflated. This may come as a surprise to nearest and dearest to know that I am less than enthusiastic – whether that’s my loving parents, who bought me every Steps album in existence, my Auntie who took me to one of their amazing 90s concerts, or whoever gave me plastic Faye Tozer for Christmas. Even though Lisa was my favourite.

After all, as a child, Steps weren’t just a band to me, but a religion. When I first heard 5,6,7,8, I felt as though Handel had been reincarnated, and that the spirit of his Messiah had been transported into this classic hit. The music did something to me; it made me feel connected to something great out there. A Disco God, who’d sent Steps to save earth from Adam Rickitt.

It was never cool to like Steps, even if you were nine years old, which is why I’m sceptical about those who proclaim their affections now. Were they the same people who used to laugh at me when I sang Tragedy around the playground? Or when I proclaimed that H wasn’t gay, dreaming that one day he would whisper “lay all your love on me” into my Steps-loving ear?

Buying Steps albums was like voting for Donald Trump. Lots of people did it, but they didn’t always fess up. The swathes of Spice Girls fanatics would never understand why someone would go for the arresting staccato of Stomp. Occasionally something would betray the sign of a secret Steps fan – some sparkles falling out of a pocket, or a cowboy hat protruding from a backpack, perhaps. These were the symbols that told you it was ok. You weren’t alone anymore.

When Steps broke up in 2001, I barely noticed, in spite of my childhood fanaticism. Probably because I was twelve, and onto more ‘adult’ pursuits like staring at the boy in my street with binoculars. I was becoming a woman, and Steps were a symptom of my childhood; Chain Reaction, One for Sorrow and Heartbeat simply the soundtrack to years of obesity and sticker collecting. Chapter over.

Or so I thought, because the Steps story seemed to be a never-ending one. In the time since their demise, they have taken part in numerous television shows, the most traumatic being Steps: The Reunion. I say traumatic because it ruined my incredible memories. The episodes revealed nothing than a disturbing truth: Steps are not constantly happy. In fact, thanks to Sky, I now know that line dancing was simply a guise for a great range of interpersonal issues.

There were more Steps appearances after. H went on Big Brother, and Lisa Scott-Lee also had her own spin off, where she tried to reinvigorate her music career. Relax, Lisa, you’ve had a good run! I wanted to say, but she could not hear me in TV land.

The trouble with these reunions, whether on the stage or the television, is that they do become a strange betrayal of original fans. That is, the ones who were children when Steps came out. I know it sounds dramatic, but there’s something nice about being able to put a band in a passage of time, where they can forever live as heroes. Good things are made all the better when they are allowed to come to an end.

That was what Steps was; they were more than good, they were perfection to me. But as they try to cling on to their original project, as I watch on – aged twenty-eight – I cannot say I feel the same. I fear that’s what happens, as the Steps song goes, ‘after the love has gone’.