Why is a A Male Rapist In a Woman’s Prison?

Watching footage in the news this week of a male person running into a crowd to swing a punch at a sixty year old woman, you might be forgiven for assuming this was another example of male violence against women, and therefore proof that women sometimes need spaces of their own, in order to stay safe. You’d be wrong in this instance, because in fact this was apparently a trans-identified male doing the punching, so it’s not male violence at all: in fact the sixty year old woman is the one to blame because she wants to go to a feminist meeting about gender. It’s a neat trick: if you make sure women can’t go to feminist meetings about gender they will not be informed enough to criticise an ideology which transforms a fist-swinging male into the victim of a sixty year old woman who wants to go to a feminist meeting about gender.

It ties in with other issues raised recently by reports of a male rapist who got to be housed in a woman’s prison because he identified as trans. In both examples I’m interested to know how a man with a male body (sex) who has displayed the most extreme kind of toxic masculinity (gender) can get to be diagnosed as a woman. Where, in this man’s body or soul, is there even room for the tiniest chink of the female or the feminine? It’s surely already filled up with all the male and the masculine?

Many people seem to believe there is a process whereby, in settings like prisons, the men who pretend to be women are weeded out. People believe that only genuine gender- dysphoric men get to be acknowledged as women, and that therefore they must need this recognition and special treatment. Some common beliefs about male rapists in women’s prisons include:

She's a woman tweet

Josh jackman

Considering that Josh Jackman wrote an article in Pink News admonishing everyone for ‘misgendering’ this rapist, I thought he must have known something I didn’t.

So I decided to do some research on these ‘rigorous psychological tests’ that could prove that a man is indeed a woman, against all other evidence to the contrary. Some evidence about the Scottish prison system was sent to me. It states that ‘since 2011 prisoner healthcare has been the responsibility of the NHS’ and it gives a link to the NHS guidelines on gender reassignment for further information.

I duly read through the NHS Scotland Gender Reassignment Protocols. The treatment pathway for trans-identifying prisoners certainly takes considerable time (a whole year on hormones before assessment for surgery for example). But that’s ok: that is the one thing that the most serious of offenders have got in spades isn’t it…? Time…?

Diagnostically though, there is nothing rigorous or testing about it: it relies totally on the say-so of the presenting prisoner. Counselling or therapy are provided on the basis that the prisoner is telling the truth about his feelings, just as it is for non-prisoners. In fact, to do otherwise is now on the verge of being officially identified as conversion therapy.

A statement from UK organisations in January 2017 condemns the practice of conversion therapy and refers to a memorandum of understanding from 2015 which adds ‘gender identity’ to ‘sexual orientation’ as a characteristic which may no longer be challenged. They say:

Conversion Therapy is the term for therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.

What this means in practice is that a presenting gender identity must be taken as the truth. NHS Scotland are one of the signatories of this statement and there is pressure on NHS England to follow suit. Trans support groups such as Stonewall, Pink News, Mermaids, GIRES and Gendered Intelligence have promoted the notion of conversion therapy with regard to trans people, to the point where to question it is to be automatically labelled transphobic. At the same time they have insisted that only trans people can be consulted on trans issues. And trans groups certainly have been listened to. In England and Wales the prison service says this:

Policy guidelines

At the Trans Inquiry chaired by Maria Miller in 2015, written evidence from the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists said something more cautious:

The converse is the ever-increasing tide of referrals of patients in prison serving long or indeterminate sentences for serious sexual offences. These vastly outnumber the number of prisoners incarcerated for more ordinary, non-sexual, offences. It has been rather naïvely suggested that nobody would seek to pretend transsexual status in prison if this were not actually the case. There are, to those of us who actually interview the prisoners, in fact very many reasons why people might pretend this. These vary from the opportunity to have trips out of prison through to a desire for a transfer to the female estate (to the same prison as a co-defendant) through to the idea that a parole board will perceive somebody who is female as being less dangerous through to a [false] belief that hormone treatment will actually render one less dangerous through to wanting a special or protected status within the prison system and even (in one very well evidenced case that a highly concerned Prison Governor brought particularly to my attention) a plethora of prison intelligence information suggesting that the driving force was a desire to make subsequent sexual offending very much easier, females being generally perceived as low risk in this regard. I am sure that the Governor concerned would be happy to talk about this.

The Governor concerned was not asked to come in and talk about this. The groups invited in to give further evidence did not include any representatives from women’s groups either. Trans support group Action for Trans Health however were one of the trans representatives who were invited to give evidence. Action for Trans Health were coincidentally one of the main players stirring up protest against the feminist meeting on gender this week, mentioned above. They helped to instigate and organise the shutting down of the original venue through sustained online harassment, and they coordinated the search for the new secret meeting place so they could disrupt that as well. A lot of threats against ‘TERFs’ were shared on social media. They ‘loved’ this tweet on Twitter:

Action for trans health heart comment

After the event, when the stories of the violence had circulated, they posted this:

Action for trans health

The Trans Inquiry chose to listen to trans groups such as this one, actively engaged in fighting women and stirring up hatred, instead of women’s groups with genuine concerns over what changes to the Gender Recognition Act will mean to women’s rights and services. The result is that there can be no public discussion about competing rights. Public bodies continually have to refer to the same small group of unchallenged and often unqualified ‘experts’ who all reinforce one another. Once NHS England signs the new Memorandum of Understanding (which they probably will because they are actively ‘listening to trans people’) the door will effectively be closed, and sealed, against outside opinion. Health professionals including GPs, counsellors, therapists and all NHS staff will be constrained in their treatment of patients by a restrictive ideology which has no evidence base. Institutions such as the Prison Service, the courts and the government itself will look to the NHS for ‘expert’ opinion.

Certain things will become unsayable. For instance: ‘Young man at protest punches middle-aged woman’. Unsayable.

And men will have to be women when they say they are. There is no alternative. Even when, as recently reported, there are now eleven inmates in one prison alone seeking sex realignment surgery, all of them sex offenders. The Prison Governor mentioned above could have predicted that, but he’s not trans so his evidence was not called for.

In summary, these appear to be the new rules:

Demonise women as TERFs for wanting to have a say in legislation that affects them

Insist that only trans people should be consulted on gender legislation 

Persuade everyone that questioning a trans identity is always transphobic

Punch feminists who persist in questioning the trans narrative

Frighten everyone else into silence

Once all those rules are in place and are applied to all situations, including male on female assault in a public place and the housing of male sex offenders in a woman’s prison…job done.

And this is how a man with a male body (sex) who has displayed the most extreme kind of toxic masculinity (gender) can be housed in a women’s prison.

 

 

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Pistorius and Holy Cows

This week two controversial pieces of writing caught my eye, and then stayed in my mind because, despite inhabiting different ends of the publicity spectrum (one being local and domestic, the other international and celebrity-driven), they actually had a lot of common ground. In certain respects the second of these two articles almost perfectly answered the question posed by the first. The first article was in the Birmingham Mail, it was written by Maureen Messent and it was entitled ‘Our ‘holy cows’ are own worst enemies’. The second article was in the Guardian, it was written by David Smith and was entitled ‘Oscar Pistorius’s emotional apology to Reeva Steenkamp’s unmoved mother’.

The Birmingham Mail piece was the most unapologetic piece of victim-blaming that I have read in a long time, based on the premise that women who are victims of domestic violence ‘allow themselves to be used as punchbags’ and are ultimately responsible for their own fates. Even the ones who have died as a result of domestic assault are not let off the hook, as we are ‘never told how many of the dead refused police advice to leave their attackers once and for all’. It might seem extreme to blame a murder victim for their own fate, but it is a surprisingly common reaction to domestic abuse: ‘Why didn’t she just leave him?’ There are many reasons of course, and most of them are practical and physical, like how to escape, how to look after any children involved, where to go, how to survive financially and how to stop him following you. Women who report violent partners only do so after an average of thirty five assaults. Most deaths from domestic assaults occur during or after the act of leaving.

However, before you even get to the practical difficulties, you have the emotional and psychological barriers to surmount, and these can be just as difficult as the physical ones, if not more so. Perpetrators of domestic violence usually have form: violent men are often controlling men, and will have displayed traits such as anger, jealousy and manipulative behaviour even before the first physical assault. Then, after the assault there will often be remorse and regret, declarations of love and promises not to do it again. This is a common pattern, and the reason it is so difficult to disentangle yourself from these abusers, is that they are emotionally believable; and who doesn’t want to believe they are loved rather than hated? Manipulative behaviour is just that: it manipulates. It makes you believe that remorse is genuine, it makes you believe you have a relationship worth fighting for, it can even make you believe the perpetrator deserves sympathy. And if somebody can evoke your sympathy they also by default evoke your guilt: how could you have been so over-sensitive/lacking in understanding/mistrustful/demanding/selfish (delete where not applicable) as to believe he really meant you harm? He REALLY didn’t mean it! Enough treatment like this (and it usually is repeated) leaves the victim with a lack of trust in her own perceptions and a corresponding lack of confidence in her own feelings and her own agency.

This is where the Oscar Pistorius article comes in. This is a man who has killed his girlfriend: that is an indisputable fact. His trial is attempting to determine the extent of his culpability: whether it was murder or an accident; but the identity of the victim is clear: it is Reeva Steenkamp, and by extension her family: her mother. So why, in this Guardian article, does the victim appear to be Oscar Pistorius? The emotive language used is one factor. The reporter says that Pistorius’s voice ‘quivered, cracked and trailed off…’ the voice is described as ‘tremulous, almost boyish’ and he is said to be ‘fighting back tears, jaw trembling and tissue in hand’. There is obviously a degree of sympathy in this choice of language, sympathy which is not shown to the ‘impassive’ mother of the victim. She is portrayed as emotionless, ‘unmoved’; there is no flowery language used to describe her grief: all the creative language is reserved for him. The reporter shows himself to be fully immersed in the drama of Oscar Pistorius, you might almost say identified with him: seeing things from his point of view. The BBC’s reporter, Andrew Harding, on the News at Ten, was similarly overwhelmed by this man’s tragedy, telling us that, whatever we thought about the emoting of Pistorius in court, it would be difficult for anyone to say this was ‘playacting’.

Well, I’m sorry, but I thought it was playacting.

And here’s the answer to Maureen Messent in the Birmingham Mail: a big reason women don’t leave abusive partners is because EVERYONE believes in their partner’s playacting. Friends, family and strangers see the side which is projected, and the victim is often the only one who sees the other side. If women are to be seen as weak, and culpable in their own abuse for not leaving, then you should look at the effect Oscar Pistorius has had on two men: David Smith and Andrew Harding. These journalists, who are not dependent on Pistorius for anything: housing, financial support or childcare, and have not invested their future in him or have a sometimes-loving relationship with him, are still reluctant to see any blame in him, or to call him out for what he is.  They believe in him. If they can be so gullible and easily seduced by this over-emoting in a man who, let’s not forget, has KILLED HIS GIRLFRIEND, then what chance does a woman stand, within a relationship, with all its complications, when faced with the same kind of emotional manipulation?

For all those people who, when hearing of another death through domestic violence, have the knee jerk reaction of ‘Why didn’t she just leave him?’ I urge you to look at the reporting of the Oscar Pistorius trial. The answer to your question is being played out in the Pretoria courthouse in South Africa right now, in the full glare of the spotlight, for everyone to see.