Sally Jackson at the House of Lords

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne hosted an event at the House of Lords asking the University of Reading and FiLiA to invite experts to discuss Gender-Based Violence and the UK’s Obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture with view to compiling a shadow report to present to the periodic review of states party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in April next year.

Sally Jackson from FiLiA spoke about how the various forms of male violence against women fit the definition of torture and how as a state we are failing in our international obligations. Her speech is reproduced below.

FiLiA are delighted to be involved in bringing this group together to gather information and evidence to inform the shadow report. Before we take advantage of the knowledge and experience in the room, we thought it might be helpful to examine some of the ways in which the state currently deals with male violence against women and how it’s obligation to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women is failing. We need to recognise the very real effect this has on women and children’s lives. Not just those affected directly, but the impact it has on those looking for support who see how other women are treated.

Starting with the basic need to have somewhere safe to live, when women subjected to domestic abuse reach the point that the only avenue that they can see, is escaping; often only with what they can carry to emergency refuge accommodation, mostly with children in tow, Women’s Aid quote that 60% of  those women are refused a place due to lack of bed space. Can you imagine what that feels like for that 60%  I’d suggest that fits the very definition of torture. What are their choices?

  • Sofa surf with someone that their perpetrator probably knows and so risk both theirs and their own safety.

  • Live on the streets or in a mixed hostel until a place can be found

  • Return home to the abuser.

Every single day women face these impossible choices. And if that woman has any additional needs, a disability, a mental health issue, a language or cultural need, then her chances of finding suitable accommodation are even less. In the last 5 years we have lost 45% of our specialist Black and Minority Ethnic Women’s services, and let’s face it: there weren’t enough to meet the need 5 years ago.  When a woman turns to the state for help in these desperate circumstances, all too often our state says no.

Time and time again we read of women who have informed the Police of their fear that they could be killed, only for that fear to come true. I’m remembering for example the recent murder of Michelle Savage who was killed along with her Mother and her dog having twice reported her fears to the Police. Sadly, the ever expanding list of lives cut short complied by Karen Ingala-Smith as part of the Counting Dead Women project constantly reminds us where we are failing. The responsibility for the women’s deaths lies clearly with the perpetrators but we need to acknowledge that the state is not doing its duty when it has been made aware that these women are at risk.

Women are being trapped in abusive relationships because the changes in the benefits system like the single payment with Universal credit, leaves them financially dependent on the perpetrator and gives him another way to exert his control. Surviving Economic Abuse have shown that it’s much harder for a woman to leave an abusive relationship if she is unable to quickly access £100 in cash.

Family court proceedings have been described as traumatising and harrowing. They are often cited by women as further abusing them. Perpetrators are still able to cross examine women in the family court although this process has been clearly seen as dehumanising and further humiliating of women making it much harder for them to give their best evidence in the criminal courts. With the drastic reduction in access to Legal Aid, women are finding themselves unrepresented and having to face the perpetrator in court. Family courts often fail to see the persistent nature of abuse and may regard the abuse as over because the parents no longer live together. They fail to see the ongoing control and how the system itself is used to further victimise the mother and children.  Birchall & Choudhry’s (2018) research on ways that perpetrators of domestic abuse use the family court and child contact process to continue abusing their former partners highlighted, that many women in their sample felt the family court not only failed to stop the abuse, but also allowed their partners to continue it. The family court therefore became the perpetrator of abuse.

Mothers are routinely treated differently to fathers who do not have to demonstrate their parenting skills, yet mothers do. For example, in one case a Father attempted to abduct his child twice and the Judge said - don’t do it again. When the Mother was late taking her child to school once, the Judge said you are not meeting the child’s needs. The higher standards that women as parents are held to displays an institutionally sexist approach and underlines the need for a gender informed response.

One of the privileges of being involved with FiLiA is that often women contact us to share the issues that they face.  Last year we were contacted by a woman whose sister had lost custody of her daughter. She had been in a relationship with her ex-partner for around a year although they had never lived together. He is not the child’s father. She broke off the relationship as her daughter was clearly uncomfortable around him, a disclosure from her daughter made her query abuse.

The ex then went on a campaign of discrediting her and making false allegations against her, it is beyond belief that due to the structures of the family court her daughter is now resident with him. If she mentions the abuse she is accused of Gardiner’s very dubious theory of parental alienation syndrome and her daughter has been advised (by a supportive social worker) not to tell anyone if he is hurting her or she will never get to live with her Mum again. Slowly the case is improving, and she now has visitation. But the word she would use to describe the last couple of years is torture, she was keen for me to share her story today.

Last year saw a 23% drop in the number of rape cases charged by the CPS, this comes when the number of rapes reported to the police is increasing exponentially every year, reaching more than 41,000 in 2016/17 .  That’s 41,000 reports and less than 4,000 charges, this is on the heels of investigations by the Guardian newspaper which have found that young men are much more likely to be acquitted of rape when tried, and that senior leaders in the CPS have encouraged prosecutors to drop so called ‘weak’ cases.

The CPS state ‘complex cases’ and the issues with social media communications as the reason for the drop. I had the opportunity to chat with one of these ‘complex cases’ earlier this year. A 16-year-old who was raped by the friend of a friend last year. She immediately told her family and was supported by them to report. She underwent the indignity of forensic examination and statement taking. Initially the accused said it never happened. With conclusive forensics he then said it had happened but was consensual. It was due to go to trial last April but with the disclosure issues that surfaced it was adjourned and her phone (a life line for any 17-year-old) was taken for examination. It was due to be heard in September. On the court date the defence said they needed more time for a second forensic opinion and so it has been adjourned again. Her witness is now off to university and unsure if she can come back again for another court date, she feels completely let down by the system and is unsure whether or not to continue.

I’ve already mentioned the reduction in services for black & minority ethnic women, but that is the tip of iceberg of issues that they face. We are aware that the police are sharing immigration information of victims to the home office when crimes are reported and so consequently women with insecure status are unable to even access the support of the system for fear they may be deported. Leaving them to decide between staying in an abusive situation or risking immigration control. One of the greatest shames the UK has is the heartless way in which women without recourse to public funds are denied help by a system organised to exclude them. Working in the field, one of the greatest challenges is to find adequate support for this group of women.

I couldn’t talk about torture without mentioning the horrific abuse that too many young girls and women have faced through gangs and sexual exploitation. At FiLiA we have had the honour of working with Out of the Shadows and increasing our knowledge around this issue. Again and again we have heard of girls across the UK telling their teachers, social workers or police about the violence and rapes they have been subjected to, only to not be believed and sent back out to the abusers. Whether in Rotherham, Oxford, Rochdale or any city across the UK consistently issues which should be seen as vulnerabilities that require additional support and care are seen as wayward teenagers acting out.

In 2018 I am still hearing of promiscuous, streetwise teens who are making dangerous lifestyle choices rather than what is clearly the systematic abuse of young women. If you are 14 and pregnant you should be protected not chastised.

The various forms of non-state torture that I have touched on should perhaps be criminalised in their own right and we need the state to also take responsibility for supporting women to heal from their effects whether or not a conviction has been obtained.

Finally, in talking about the duty to protect women, how can that possibly be upheld when we are allowing men convicted of rape to have access to the female estate. The charity Women in Prison estimate 80% of women in prison have experienced domestic abuse and 53% abuse in childhood. Yet the prisoner called Karen White was allowed to transfer to the women’s estate despite being a convicted sex offender. The needs of all the women in the prison taking 2nd place to those of one man who wished to transition. He had not transitioned, did not have a GRC, yet still his wishes overrode the safety of the women, tragically two female prisoners were attacked and assaulted before he was moved back to the male estate.

Whatever your views about transgendered prisoners it cannot be right that the authorities are unable to prevent a man who has been convicted of serious sexual and violent crimes against women has male hormones and a penis from entering the women’s estate.

So, I’ve touched on just some of the ways women’s lives are affected by the policy and cuts that this government has delivered. I’d like to open the discussion out now for your views and experience.

Thank you.

Are "Must-Haves" a "Must Want?"

This is a guest blog - with thanks to the writer.

Marks and Spencer, the iconic British department store which was once an advocate of the big ‘granny’ pant, has shown insensitivity and fallen victim to modern day sexualisation of women.

Its Christmas ‘Must Haves’ window display in its Nottingham store features men dressed in suits and ‘dressed to impress’, whilst the female mannequins are near-naked in sexy lingerie.

Whilst this is demeaning of women in the way that it has been displayed, it’s actually far more than just about the window display. It highlights far wider and more serious issues that the UK government are failing to address, such as the sexual violence towards women in our culture and the pressures that they’re faced with to be sexy and enticing to men. It’s almost a lose, lose, situation, because as a woman, if you adhere to the pressures then you’re then faced with often unwanted ogling from men and then blamed if that unwanted attention is taken too far!

I was a victim of this. In 2012/13 I was sexually harassed at work. When I finally plucked up the courage to raise a grievance against my more senior male perpetrator, I was accused of ‘wanting the attention’ and told that I would be portrayed as a ‘slut’ in the media if I went to the papers. Instead of the support I expected to receive, I was faced with condemnation.

Another distressing example of how a woman’s behaviour or dress sense has been used against her, is the recent rape case in Ireland, where the victim was judged on her choice of underwear and told that this was an indication of her consent. So if I purchased M&S’ ‘sexy’ underwear, does that mean that I’m opening myself up to being sexually assaulted?

The question is, if British retailers are allowing/ advocating this kind of behaviour, then what hope is there for women’s rights? Change needs to happen according to the UN report, governments need to challenge sexism in the environment. Britain has made little progress in tackling the inequality between the sexes in the last decade, and falls behind Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and France in the EU’s Gender Equality table.

Why are men not being judged on the way they dress or the way they act? One hundred years since the suffragette movement, and one-year post #metoo, women are still being portrayed in a less dignified and equal way. What happened to girl power?

And really, is this not the first indication of M&S’ bias towards men?  The chain admitted that female staff are paid roughly 12.3 per cent less than its male staff, even though women make up the majority, with more than 61,340 females employed compared to 23,869 males.

We need change now, because #TimesUp!

Gone Too Far: Attacks On Feminism Through The Ages

Do send in contributions.

Don’t You Have Anything Better To Do? Your Concerns Are Trivial.

In 1908, for example, at the National Women’s Anti-Suffrage League meeting, Mary Ward maintained that ‘all sorts of powers are lying unused under the hands of women…meanwhile good brains and skilled hands are being diverted from women’s real tasks to this barren agitation for equal rights with men.' That is: women had “real tasks” to do to advance their cause, aside from this “barren agitation” for, er, the vote.

1988, Margaret Thatcher: “Conservative women are above all practical... They do not attempt to advance women's rights by addressing you, Madam Chairman, as Madam Chairperson, or Madam Chair or worse [pause] simply as Chair. With feminists like that, who needs male chauvinists?'

Feminists Are Ugly Hurr Hurr

16 December 1995, The Spectator magazine: “whingers with bad legs”

Early 2004, Clare Short was denounced by the Sun as “jealous, fat and ugly” for her suggestion that photographs of topless teenage girls did not amount to news.

But This Might Affect Men

1900 saw this little gem produced in Chicago, amidst fears that women actors would drive men off the stage.

Feminism Is Over (And We Live In A Perfectly Equal World)

1915, the Spectator: "Will there not be a movement away from feminism, which never has had the slightest hold on the democracy, and back to femininity, with its slightly sentimental code, its too great indulgence of emotion, its cultivation of the " feelin' 'eart?" At this stage women didn’t even have the vote.

20 July 1934, Ray Strachey notes in the Spectator that “It is fashionable among the young. women from the Universities nowadays to assert that they are not "feminists," and to display no interest whatever in a controversy so completely out of date as "women’s rights." Strachey went on to argue that the continued economic injustice facing those young women will mean that feminism "will catch them… in the end.”

16 January 1953, the Lady column in the Spectator magazine: “THE time has at last come when the self-respecting intelligent woman need no longer call herself a feminist… The battle is over. The women have won.”

23 November 1991, Neil Lyndon “On how civilised society is being corrupted by feminists and their mad doctrines” in the Spectator complains that the “Spare Rib hoods” had infiltrated the law. Their offence? “The Law Lords tipped their wigs in the direction of the hoods when they reinterpreted the law on rape to include acts between a married couple… they acceded to and gave established respectability to the idea that normal men are rapists.”

17 October 1992, Barbara Amid is horrified by how the government is now “dancing to the tune of radical feminists.” Yes, in 1992. “In the past 20 years, our society has gone a good way towards becoming a matriarchy… And just as I, being a supporter of liberal democracy, would fight a patriarchy, the fight now must be against matriarchy.”

Fancy Little Problems?

Watching the reaction to Marks & Spencers’ #fancylittleknickers adverts has been illuminating. Women in Nottingham complained that the juxtaposition of “MUST HAVE outfits to impress” with fully clothed male mannequins and “MUST HAVE fancy little knickers” on female mannequins was reflective of a wider problem with objectification of women, including in advertising, and was in poor taste given the recent Irish case in which a seventeen year old girl’s fancy little knickers were held up in front of a jury as evidence that she might have been out on the razzle, and therefore presumably up for it with any older man in the mud on a lane.

Marks and Spencer Slammed For 'Sexist' Window Display Calling 'Fancy Little Knickers' A Must-Have For Women

With thanks to Rachel Moss from HuffPost for picking up on this story about Marks and Spencer’s sexist window display.

‘Marks and Spencer has come under fire for a new festive window display that showcases some seasonal sartorial “must-haves” for its customers: for men, a snappy new suit, and for women? Lingerie.’ …

Full article HERE


Petition: Prevent Banks Discriminating Against Women

Petition: Prevent Banks Discriminating Against Women

Banks are banning landlords from renting to people on benefits, and this is what that really means:
of single parent housing benefit claimants are women
of all single person household benefit claims are made by women.

We need you to sign and share this petition as far and wide as possible to get the government to take action. We only need 100,000 signatures to have this debated in parliament.



David Challenor was convicted on Monday 20th August of the rape and torture of a 10-year-old girl, and was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He is the father of Aimee Challenor, a transwoman who was, until this was revealed running for deputy leadership of the Green Party, and who had appointed David Challenor as election agent for the General Election in 2017 and local election in May 2018 …

Could you do a children's workshop?

Could you do a children's workshop?

We are really proud of our provision for children at FiLiA, enabling parents to attend the conference with their children rather than having to make alternative arrangements which can be expensive or unsuitable. Every year we have provided a creche for babies to pre schoolers and workshops for primary age children - although children are also welcome at the sessions at their parent's discretion.  We do not charge an entry fee for children.