Silence is not golden

Silence is not golden

On 15 June 2022 the Mayor of London issued a refreshed version of his Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2022 – 2025. Despite its unfortunate title (does the Mayoral budget no longer run to proofreaders? Couldn’t the word “Reducing” have been shoehorned into the name?) the document and strategy are about reducing such violence, an admirable and necessary aim. The very first page makes it clear that its target is “the perpetrators of abuse and violence“. It states clearly “that violence starts with words, and we all have a responsibility to challenge the behaviour that can lead to violence and making women feel unsafe.

Wonderfully clear sentiments, reinforced by what Sadiq Khan wrote in the foreword:

it is men who have a responsibility to step up and do more to tackle this scourge. Of course, not all men are violent towards women. But when more than three-quarters of British women say men don’t pull their weight in helping to keep women and girls safe, we can’t deny that this issue has become a cultural blindspot for us.”

He went on: “We have to be clear – these problems are caused by the unacceptable attitudes and behaviours of too many men. This is not just an issue with the minority of men who are violent, but also with men who are sexist; who continue to behave inappropriately around women; who perpetuate a toxic form of masculinity; or who just stand by silently when women feel threatened, or are being threatened.

Marvellous. Simply marvellous stuff.

Yesterday there was a Trans Pride march in London. Before it the Mayor tweeted this:

I want to wish everyone at London Trans Pride today a joyful, safe and empowering day. It’s never been more important to support trans people, who are being stigmatised and placed at the heart of a toxic culture war. As your Mayor, I will always be on your side.

Also marvellous. And what a Mayor of a diverse city should be saying.

At that march there was a rally with various speakers, one of whom was Sarah-Jane Baker, a man now identifying as a woman, who has served 30 years in prison for kidnapping, torture and the attempted murder of another prisoner. They were filmed saying “If you see a Terf, punch them in the f**king face.” Parts of the crowd cheered those words. Dear me. There are many things this might amount to – a breach of the conditions under which Baker was released from prison, a Public Order offence, an incitement to violence and so on. The prison authorities might want to look into this. The Met, too, might want to take some action. It also has an an action plan for reducing violence against women and girls (and not just by its officers either). You can read it here. Someone other than the author ought to.

A complaint has been made to the Met already. It has been dismissed by a police officer from Charing Cross station without investigation on the grounds that being a “Terf” is not a protected characteristic so this is not a hate crime. He also quotes Article 10 of the ECHR on freedom of speech though he is seemingly unaware that incitement to violence is – and has been for a long time – an accepted exception to freedom of speech.

Where to start with all the things wrong with this?

  1. A public order offence does not depend on whether someone has a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
  2. Nor does an offence contrary to S.44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 (encouraging the commission of a criminal offence eg ABH or GBH)
  3. Nor does incitement to violence.
  4. Gender critical belief is a protected characteristic.
  5. Sex is also a protected characteristic.
  6. Inciting violence against women is a crime.

The Met is being asked to investigate whether an offence may have been committed. One would have thought this is the very least it should do, given that the very first chapter of its Violence against Women and Girls strategy is “Rebuilding Trust“. It would be unfortunate, wouldn’t it, if the suspicion arose that one reason why the Met has been so quick to dismiss this is because of its membership of Stonewall schemes, a conflict of interest which is incompatible with “policing without fear or favour“. I have written about this here. Or because it simply does not understand the criminal law.

Back to the Mayor. He is not, of course, responsible for what Baker said. He did not organise the march or choose the speakers or tell them what to say or vet what they wanted to say. But what were his words again? “This is not just an issue with the minority of men who are violent, but also with men …….. who just stand by silently when women feel threatened, or are being threatened.”

So Mr Khan – here we are a day later and there has been silence from you. What will it take for you to say that it is wrong – unambiguously wrong – for anyone, no matter how strongly they feel about an issue, to threaten with violence those who disagree with them or to urge others to do so? You rightly indicated your support for trans people and against those who stigmatise them and make them feel unsafe. Will you now indicate your support for women and against those who stigmatise them and make them feel unsafe, those who threaten violence against them at a rally you publicly supported? You surely wouldn’t want people (not just women) to think that you were being a hypocrite when you wrote those words about men standing “silently by“, about “violence starting with words“, about “blindspots“? Or that you didn’t really mean them? Or that you think that some women do deserve violence, or that “punch them in the f**king face” is just a joke or rhetorical banter, or that you are only concerned with violence and violent words against your favoured group?

Would you?


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