Two items on Twitter caught my attention yesterday. The first, a notice on the UK Small Business Directory, to whit:
Please note: This is a serious website for serious men with serious businesses. If you are just a little housewife running a little play business from home earning some pin money while your man is out earning a living, please don’t register your latest hobby here.
I’m honestly not certain if we were meant to take this seriously. I didn’t, I chuckled and moved on, but I don’t doubt others did and spent much of their day ranting, re-tweeting and generally squirming uncomfortably in twisted knickers. The offending notice was brought to my attention, via a re-tweet, by @everydaysexism, which seems to exist to hunt out real or perceived examples of disrespect shown to women. Personally, I can’t stand the site, and have un-followed authors who insist on re-tweeting vast swathes of its nonsense. Being a woman with plenty of self-respect and a healthy sense of humour, I don’t get terribly excited in the face of occasional banter, chauvinism, disrespect or even mild teasing on the part of others.
The other item, which merited far more attention, but I doubt received it, was news of an imminent change in the criminal prosecution code in Afghanistan. Under this new law, passed by the Afghan parliament and awaiting the signature of the President, victims will no longer be able to testify against close relatives. Make no mistake about it, this law impacts primarily upon women, because when women become victims of a violent crime in Afghanistan, that crime is largely perpetrated behind closed doors by members of the victims’ own families. If this law goes ahead, it will effectively silence not only victims but also most witnesses to such crimes. Under this law, there will be no recourse for:
- Women who are starved, raped and beaten by their husband’s families.
- Women who are forced into marriage to end feuds or settle debts.
- Women who are mutilated by their husbands, often for running away from abusive marriages.
- Women who are killed by fathers and brothers, for so called honour crimes.
This same government, last year, floated a proposal to bring back stoning as a punishment for adultery. It remained a proposal, thank God, but for how long? Foreign troops will be all but gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. When the attention of the world drifts elsewhere, curbs on the increasingly conservative pressure groups within the country will crumble and women, once again, will become powerless in the face of male domination and aggression.
So there we have it, women in the privileged west winding each other up into a fury because of perceived disrespect and women on the other side of the world whose lives and liberties, already given scant protection by the law, are on the point of becoming worthless.
But you know what, we don’t have to look as far as Afghanistan if we want to get excited about crimes against women.
In Now You See Me, my first Lacey Flint book, there is a scene in which a young black girl is raped by her boyfriend and his mates. At the time of publication, this scene was much criticized for its ‘gratuitous and unnecessary detail’, especially as it wasn’t, strictly, necessary for the story.
It strikes me, though, that if you’re going to write or read crime novels, then you have to be prepared to confront some uncomfortable truths and one of those is that violence against women is endemic to the human condition.
Now You See Me is the story of a contemporary serial killer who appears to be echoing the crimes of the notorious real-life murderer, Jack the Ripper. It’s the story of a young police detective, herself the victim of abuse, who has to confront her own demons in order to track down one of the most brutal killers she and her colleagues have every encountered. Plenty of nastiness there, you might think, without the need to hunt out more. I’d agree.
Except, while I was still planning the book, I saw a TV documentary made by Darcus Howe about the prevalence of gang rape among young black communities in London. We’re talking about girls, some as young as 12, being forced into sexual acts by gangs of boys whom they know, who sometimes include their own boyfriends. The boys responsible can’t see that they’re doing anything wrong. No one gets hurt, so where’s the problem? The girls are miserable and frightened, but they don’t believe anything can be done. Their communities offer little in the way of protection, adopting a ‘they must have asked for it’ attitude. Other girls even collude in the attacks, to maintain their own place in the gang-dominated social hierarchy.
The police, I don’t doubt, take seriously every such case reported to them. But these attacks are being perpetrated by boys whom the girls know, are friends with, maybe even have a sexual relationship with. The girls are not forced into the places where the attacks happen, the boys use condoms. It becomes the word of one girl against that of several males. Such cases are very difficult to prosecute, even when they are reported in the first place, as few are.
The problem, which Darcus Howe was brave enough to confront, but few others have been, is that this is a problem specific to black communities in the inner cities. This is not to say that white men don’t rape, or that white women don’t become rape victims. Of course they do. But there is a particular prevalence of rape culture among this particular ethnic group which no one in a position of influence will admit to, and until they do, women are suffering.
On the other side of the world, women are suffering violence at the hands of those on whom they should be able to rely for protection. No one will help them. Here, on our doorstep, young women are suffering violence in the knowledge that their communities and the authorities will do nothing. No one will help them, either.
The rest of us, meantime, get ourselves all worked up about everyday sexism.
Now You See Me is a Kindle daily deal today. 99p on Amazon.