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We need to stop honouring men who abuse women

We need to stop honouring men who abuse women

The retired cricketer Geoffrey Boycott, who was given a knighthood on 10th September is not the first, and won’t be the last, convicted abuser to be lauded in public. The way in which society seems to be able to dismiss a man’s violence against a woman when set against some achievement, often sporting, is deeply concerning. In the case of Boycott, he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in 1998, given a 3 month suspended sentence and fined £5,300. He lost an appeal.

Family and friends of Grace Millane raise a record amount for White Ribbon UK

Words: Claire Bilton (close friend of the Millane family)

On Saturday 24 August, 51 people took part in a Nuclear Charity Race in memory of Grace Millane. All of the 51 people who took part were either family/friends/family friends of Grace’s, and together raised £11,872 (Ed: the most White Ribbon UK has ever received from a single fundraising campaign) for the White Ribbon Campaign. Grace was an independent, strong and brave woman who was taken from us at the end of last year and together we all wanted to do something in her memory and raise as much money as possible for the White Ribbon Campaign, who campaign to end male violence against women.

Nuclear race participants wearing White Ribbon UK t-shirts; including Grace’s mother, Gillian Millane (Centre)

Nuclear race participants wearing White Ribbon UK t-shirts; including Grace’s mother, Gillian Millane (Centre)

Participants wearing hi-vis jackets with Grace’s name on the back together with the White Ribbon logo.

Participants wearing hi-vis jackets with Grace’s name on the back together with the White Ribbon logo.

Coercive Control - Disrupting the narrative

Luke Hart speaking in February at White Ribbon Conference 2019

Luke Hart speaking in February at White Ribbon Conference 2019

The keynote speaker at the White Ribbon Conference in June was Luke Hart. On 19 July 2016, Claire and Charlotte Hart were murdered in broad daylight, by the family’s father using a sawn-off shotgun. He then committed suicide. Luke and his younger brother Ryan, the two surviving sons, now openly share their story to raise awareness of coercive and controlling behaviour. So far, they have trained police officers, NHS personnel and legal professionals in the Crown Prosecution Service.

Luke opened by saying how easy it is to think that domestic abuse was a women’s problem to mitigate, whereas it’s men’s responsibility to stop doing it in the first place. He went on to demand that we have to move the conversation to be about masculine culture, not a question of constantly trying to empower victims. He described how he and his brother were constantly empowering their mum to leave. But empowering their mum meant their father always increased the abuse one step further to maintain power and control, leading eventually to Claire’s and Charlotte’s murders. Luke attested that we can’t simply expect women to manage their own situations – the only thing that will keep them safe is to become an unquestioning slave to the abuser, which none of us should expect. He believes that we need to be more courageous through substantial interventions with perpetrators. We need to focus far more on prevention; or we’re literally going to be leading more women to their own deaths.

Luke described how coercive control destroys your ‘normal’. He said how after being coerced you can never go back to your previous self because it’s been obliterated – you’ve been changed. He said how coercive control is entirely about disrupting the way you think and destroying your own independent belief system – so that you simply become a puppet to the abuser’s worldview. Overcoming the invisible trauma – effectively, rebuilding a person – takes many years even after the abuse has ended. Language is so important for recovery – being able to speak about your experiences is what helps you to progress. Therefore, it’s important for others to allow survivors to feel comfortable to talk.

For White Ribbon’s focus on challenging negative masculine culture, Luke’s perspective on the way this affects men was very interesting. He said how, ‘men are not masculinity’, that masculinity makes men miserable and what leads to abuse is the entitlement that comes with the masculine desire for power and status. Masculinity breeds ‘self-inflicted male misery’, because abusers may gain power by abusing, but day to day they’re miserable. They create a fragile ego built upon the subjugation of others. When others resist the subjugation, the abuser’s identity crumbles like a house of cards. Abuse is driven by the abuser’s belief in their entitlement to power over others – an entitlement that is disproportionately masculine – meaning the abuser’s expectations on life are extremely, and unrealistically high, so they are always expecting more and always let down. This makes abusers incredibly dependent on their victim’s subjugation for their sense of self and therefore abusers are often depressed and potentially dangerous.

An interesting perspective was Luke’s assertion that ‘the thing with abusers is they genuinely believe they’re victims’. He said that he honestly doesn’t think anyone can just be evil but that you have to convince yourself you’re a victim fighting against an oppressor. Only then can you do something evil or violent. He stated that such men will rationalise their position as a victim, and believe it. Luke believes that what is important is removing the abuser’s justification that they have been victimised. If we do not, then when a victim asserts their independence, the abuser’s identity will crumble and the abuser will blame the victim for their sense of dis-empowerment. Therefore, we must ‘deconstruct the abuser’s moral universe’ which means holding men to account. Parental alienation is one of the things that abusers latch onto to justify their violence through their imagined victim-hood.

Luke stated that if a perpetrator doesn’t want to change, they won’t. They will present how they need to in order to get by, but no amount of training will change them if they don’t want to. He feels that what we really need to do is not stigmatise perpetrators, but instead open up the conversation on dysfunctional masculine belief systems as a societal male health crisis. For a very long time, society has enforced the notion of masculinity on men. This needs to be treated not as an anomaly, but as an expected part of the system we have raised our boys in. He stated that we are not sufficiently addressing the issue of our society forcing masculinity onto men and boys – we need to let men and boys be something more and believe in something more than the limited and violent-inducing doctrine of masculinity. Currently, the approach to domestic abuse primarily focuses on empowering women – which assumes all responsibility to end domestic abuse sits with women – and that this needs to change if we have any hope of ending male violence.

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Luke and Ryan Hart are White Ribbon Ambassadors and Refuge Champions speaking out against male violence towards women and children. They have released their book Remembered Forever, telling their story and challenging myths and stereotypes. An audience member speaking about the book said, “I don’t know how you do it, but you manage to write things in a few short sentences that other people haven’t managed to explain in the same way. It’s incredible, I just wish it had come 20 years ago”.

Journalist and actor Rhik Samadder talks to White Ribbon UK about masculinity

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Rhik Samadder, Guardian columnist, actor and author, is a man who feels very strongly about opening up discussions on masculinity, mental health and body image.

When was the first time you realised you didn’t fit in with today’s ‘male’ culture?

I went to an all boy’s school– and it wasn’t until they introduced girls that I realised there were people I could relate to far more easily. It dawned on me that male culture was needlessly competitive, insensitive and diminished by the constant threat of violence. I think I was 9.

What do you think toxic masculinity means and what are effects on equality of women?

It’s men who know they will never be held accountable running rampant, their aggression unchecked by respect for others. It’s behaviour that exploits the unaccountable, grey areas of the law and codes of behaviour. Most men let women carry the water when it comes to social progress. Toxic men try to tip the bucket.

Who do you think are doing a good job at being positive male role-models?

Gary Lineker, Eddie Izzard, Frank Ocean, Terry Crews. He has many detractors, but I think Russell Brand is an interestingly conscious person.


Why is it important to challenge traditional male cultures and behaviours?

Men have been in power too long. Selfishness, complacency and aggression are not synonymous with masculinity, as they are often presented. We need to nurture different aspects of the masculine. All cultures should be challenged, so we know which values are unnecessary and which to reaffirm.


Was there a moment in your life that changed the way you behave around women?

Not one moment, but many times in my twenties I observed how infrequently women could relax. They were always a target, always being stared at, which I was guilty of, or fending off approaches. Always polite, lest they provoke violence against themselves. And I realized how exhausting it looked, just to be themselves.


Rhik Samadder (actor and Guardian columnist) talks more about his thoughts on masculinity and mental health in his new memoir, I Never Said I Loved You published by Headline.

Five Ways to Combat Sexual Harassment, Groping and Assault at Gigs

Words: Dr. Rosemary Lucy Hill, University of Huddersfield.

Recently there has been increasing attention paid to sexual harassment, groping and assault at gigs, with groups like White Ribbon and Safe Gigs for Women running campaigns to highlight the issue. At the Universities of Huddersfield and Leeds we have seen the problem, and what can be done to prevent and respond to it. We have found that sexual harassment, groping and assault is being committed at gigs across a range of music genres, mostly by men. It causes grave harm to victim-survivors, mostly women, and puts them in immediate danger. It results in feelings of shock, fear, humiliation, violation, anger and powerlessness which can last for many years. It significantly reduces pleasure in the music, and can result in a withdrawal from music participation altogether.

Groping, harassment and assault must not be considered hazards of live music participation. Something can be done. It is everyone’s responsibility to take action.

Venues and promoters play a vital role in creating safer, healthier gigs. We recommend five things  that venue managers and promoters can do to help prevent sexual harassment, groping and assault, and respond well to incidents when they do occur:

5 things venue managers and promoters can do

  1. Acknowledge there is a problem. Groping, sexual harassment and assault is not often reported, but it is happening at gigs and it needs to be taken seriously. Groping is sexual assault and it is illegal.

  2. Get specialist staff training. Most people are not experts in dealing with sexual violence. Specialist training is available from Good Night Out and this can increase staff awareness of the myths around sexual violence. It can also help to generate women’s trust in venues and promoters.   

  3. Devise and implement clear policies. A well-publicised policy devoted to preventing and responding to sexual harassment, groping and assault should state what is expected of everyone coming to the venue and what will happen if they deviate from expectations.

  4. Set up clear procedures. Accessible written procedures for what to do when an incident occurs should be victim-led. Poor responses to sexual violence compound feelings of humiliation and violation. Clear procedures empower staff to know what to do in a crisis and to support victim/survivors well.

  5. Work towards culture change. Avoid working with other organisations that are unwilling to acknowledge the problem and do something about it. Book bands who are known for speaking out against sexual violence, and avoid bands with histories of sexual violence or misogynistic lyrics. Aim for mixed gender bills and actively support of women and LGBTQ musicians.

Support

Support is available to help venues and promoters take positive steps:

White Ribbon UK Safer Music and Venues works with festivals, events and music venues to raise awareness of the need for safeguarding in this sector, and encourages organisations through a comprehensive action plan, to develop policies and practices that prevent violence against women and girls.

Good Night Out is a community interest company that delivers training to licensed premises on how to tackle and prevent harassment of women and LGBTQ+ people on nights out. They work with venues to develop policies and provide accreditation.

5 things music lovers can do

For men in the audience, in bands or working in the music industry, you too have a role to play.

  1. Take the White Ribbon pledge to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.

  2. Talk to your friends and acquaintances about why groping women at gigs is not okay.

  3. If you think a woman is being sexually harassed or assaulted, ask her if she needs help, if it is safe to do so, or tell venue staff. Do not stand idly by.

  4. Ask venues and promoters what their sexual harassment policy is.

  5. Print out and give venue managers and promoters a copy of our booklet Five ways to combat sexual harassment, groping and assault at gigs: A guide for venues and promoters:

If we want a thriving live music scene for all then we all need to take action to make them safer and happier.

You can read more about the research project, including viewing the full guidelines and report, here.


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Rosemary Lucy Hill is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies in the School of Music, Humanities and Media at University of Huddersfield. She is the author of Gender, Metal and the Media: Women Fans and the Gendered Experience of Music (Palgrave). She researches gender, popular music and big data, and is currently investigating sexual violence at live music events. 


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#WR19 Conference "Violence Against Women: It's Everyone's Issue"

This year’s White Ribbon UK Conference in London was fully attended by a diverse mix of delegates - from individual ambassadors and champions, survivors of abuse and safeguarding volunteers, to local authority and emergency services representatives.

Our speakers included Luke Hart of CoCo Awareness, who gave a fascinating insight into the mechanics and workings of a narcissist. Documentary filmmaker, Leslie Lee gave an intriguing awareness of abusive behaviour of the workplace bully, and Rosemary Hill and Stephen Burrell gave academic viewpoints on violence at gigs and festivals, and engaging men and boys. SNP MP Gavin Newlands was on hand to give an update on things from Westminster, and Bradley O’Donoghue spoke about educating and facilitating change in young people - a very important part of the process of ending male violence against women.

Delegates attending #WR19 Conference at Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, London

Delegates attending #WR19 Conference at Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, London

All our delegates were engaged and active in offering viewpoints, asking questions and giving feedback. There was significant opportunities for networking due to the mix of people there. In feedback, many said the conference had helped them to change their perspective and strategy on tackling men’s violence against women - both in their personal and professional lives.

One of the most notable things delegates stated they will do as a result of the conference, is work to engage more with young people.

Other actions delegates said they will take after the conference included:

  • Wear a white ribbon

  • Work to increase the number of Ambassadors and Champions within their own organisation

  • Assessing risk assessments with regards to coercive control based on Luke Hart's findings

  • Speak to activity clubs across their county about the importance of the White Ribbon message, and to local events organisers about having a White Ribbon stand at their next event

  • Contact local organisations to arrange fundraisers for White Ribbon UK

  • Deliver a CPD session for their organisation to cascade learning and raise awareness

  • Speak to local events organisers about having a White Ribbon stand at their next event

  • Advocate more for education about gender-based violence in schools and universities

These are all great ideas, and we look forward to working with our ambassadors, champions and accredited organisations on making them a reality.

Our keynote speaker Luke Hart summed up the necessity to change the way men see themselves before we can hope to end violent behaviour:

Luke Hart of CoCo Awareness

Luke Hart of CoCo Awareness

“Masculinity makes men miserable. Men don't talk about it…we need to address masculinity and develop men's humanity instead”.