DISCUSSION in the aftermath of the tragic murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa this year has included calls for a curfew on all men and to make boys and men ‘face up to’ the ‘epidemic’ of violence against women, starting in schools. Women’s safety campaigner Hera Hussain told Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talkradio last week that 97 per cent of women had suffered violence perpetrated by men. Really? London Mayor Sadiq Khan would like to see violence against women policed like terrorism, and misogyny become a hate crime. This fills me with far more fear than the possibility of a violent attack and will do nothing to make women and girls safe.
My daughter is about to begin her third year at university. During her university career to date, she has encountered three cases of young men wrongly accused respectively of rape, assault, and again, rape. The consequences for the young men concerned have been extremely serious. The first was arrested and immediately dismissed from his internship. He was ostracised by many who had been his friends. He had been seduced when drunk by a girl who then reported him to the police. Interestingly, we tend to hear a great deal about men callously taking advantage of inebriated women. After fifteen months of torment, and a great deal of anguish suffered by his family, the case was dropped. He’d simply had a messy on-off relationship with a girl who was obsessed with him.
The second young man had a disagreement in conversation with a girl in a bar. She threw a drink in his face. He walked away, pushing her aside so that he could leave. Witnesses testified that he did not hurt her. The girl reported him to the university authorities, and the prevailing ‘safeguarding’ culture led to his ban from the college. He finished his degree remotely, and has graduated, innocent but with a bitter taste in his mouth.
The third case involves a current student who has, without investigation or foundation, been judged guilty by his peers and ostracised. His supportive girlfriend has been dropped by her female friends.
The terrifying aspect of these three examples is the acceptance of a presumption of guilt. Truth is the casualty, and that is the real danger. It is particularly upsetting to think that contemporaries of the accused are so quick to judge on hearsay, and those who question this are branded ‘victim blamers’. Our justice system has always, has it not, assumed innocence until proof of guilt? Without this foundation, we are all vulnerable to malicious accusation. If misogyny becomes a hate crime, no man will ever be safe. An honest appraisal of risk is urgently required, particularly in universities where the next generation are preparing to take the helm and embark on adult life. The culture of fear and victimhood is stoked to a degree that makes it difficult for students living away from home for the first time to navigate their social lives, and learn what is, and is not, dangerous. It has never been safe to walk home alone at night, and to suggest that it should be so is futile. Rape and murder are rare, while drunken and clumsy mistakes by young men and women are extremely common. The vast, vast majority of these men will not evolve into future Yorkshire Rippers. They will grow up.
Violence is and always has been present. Domestic violence is a horrible reality for some families and a significant minority of those reporting abuse are men who have suffered at the hands of their wives or female partners. The National Centre for Domestic Violence reports that a quarter of those seeking help in 2018 were men. The vast majority (95 per cent) reported emotional abuse; 68 per cent psychological abuse, 23 per cent financial, 13 per cent coercive control, and 3 per cent sexual abuse. In addition to suffering at the hands of their partners, these men usually cited fear of losing contact with their children as the main reason for staying in an abusive relationship. This is never mentioned by those who call for action to stem the ‘epidemic’ of violence against women.
The shocking murder of Sarah Everard in March was a reminder that extremely dangerous men exist. Wayne Couzens would not have been prevented from carrying out his disgusting crime by any curfew, and if in his youth he had been ostracised by his peers for an exhibition of uncouth behaviour or a drunken encounter with a young woman, his unusually dangerous inclinations would probably still have developed.
The appalling story in May of this year from Brauer College, Victoria, Australia, where the boys were forced to apologise en masse to the girls for violence in society perpetrated by men, illustrates the nasty extremity of this new idea of the ‘wrongness’ of boys. It is false and unhelpful.
Neither suppression of boyhood in schools, nor any safeguarding regime in the world can protect against people who are sick enough to murder. We must not, therefore, continue to punish the innocent majority by inclination to blame and see danger where it does not exist.
What does breed violence? Many and varied misfortunes and miseries must contribute. I worked with two ‘looked-after’ boys in a primary school. Both aged nine, they had been rescued from their respective families and lived with foster parents. They had both suffered and witnessed regular violent assaults. Both exhibited distress and were difficult to help. Teams of social workers monitored and organised their lives. The need to signal virtue in the predominantly female staff room led to an arms race of concern and sympathy. These boys were love-bombed by their foster mothers, who out of the sheer goodness of their hearts treated them as babies. One day, one of the boys opened his lunch box and immediately burst into tears of rage because his foster mother had put butter in his sandwiches. The tantrum intensified. An emergency call was made to this long-suffering guardian, who arrived within minutes, puce, breathless and apologetic, with fresh sandwiches. This boy was learning to control others. Nothing was expected of him, his status as a victim was almost without exception cited as a reason for him not to have to comply with the order of the school day. Highly intelligent, he ran rings around the adults in his life. Having known only brutality and cosseting, he was swaddled in good intentions that did nothing to help him progress through his education and grasp the rudiments of healthy behaviour. It was a thoroughly sad situation. Unable to agree with this approach or help, I resigned. These boys will now be in their mid-teens.
Children like these are not uncommon, but they are not the majority. Some will become happy and productive adults, and some will not. Genuine and meaningful help of a specialist nature for such children is desperately needed, but ‘education’ of boys in general to protect girls is not. There is already a prevailing feminisation of some education which makes aspects of school unappealing to boys and seems to me to be unnecessary and unfair. ‘Banter’ can be oafish and unwelcome, but most banterers are not at the beginning of a continuum that will end in violence against girls and women. Masculinity is usually not toxic. The mayor of London wants boys to learn respect for girls at school. Well, who wouldn’t? It is surely just as vital that girls should learn respect for boys. All should play fair, at school, at university and beyond.