#RadFem2013 Supporter’s Online Tirade of Hatred and Abuse

[Trigger warnings: transphobic abuse, rape, cyber-bullying]

In June of this year will be the Radical Feminism 2013 conference in London. Their event got cancelled last year after a storm of controversy when they decided to ban transgender women who were born as men. As far as I’m concerned that’s a ridiculous and immoral decision that stigmatises a deeply marginalised and abused segment of society. I would say more, but Stavvers has already said what needed to be said in a far more eloquent and informed way than I could.

A year later, have they learned their lesson? Here’s the answer. Cath Brennan (tweeting as @BugBrennan, though she seems to have made her Twitter account private in the last few hours) is one of the supporters of Radical Feminism 2013. According to RationalWiki, when she’s not at conferences her hobbies include writing to the UN to demand that transgender people should not receive human rights protections; and outing transgender teenagers to their schools. Apparently her school of “thought”, if you can call it that, is known as Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism, or TERF.

Claire OT is a British occupational therapist with an interest in the use of social media in mental health. She’s also proud to call herself a feminist, though unlike Brennan she doesn’t demonise men or transgender women. Earlier today she got into a brief Twitter exchange with Brennan, and promptly received a deluge of abusive tweets , including such charming responses as “you two can be dick pleasers all you like” and “stop telling lesbians to suck your dick, rapist”.
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Is Claire OT the only person to have receive abusive tweets from Brennan? A quick Twitter search suggests not.


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And the organisers of Radical Feminism 2013 have the nerve to consider themselves a civil rights movement? What they’re propagating is hate speech. While they make a lot of noise, it also seems that they’re also pretty unrepresentative of contemporary feminism. Younger feminists in particular aren’t buying this bigoted codswallop.

The conference is due to take place at the London Irish Centre. If you want to let the venue owners know what sort of ideas are likely to wind up being promoted on their premises, here’s their contact details.

EDITED TO ADD: It seems I’m not the only person who’s been screenshotting abusive tweets by the charming Ms Brennan

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The Socialist Workers Party: Sex, Power and the Abuse of Trust

[Trigger warnings for rape and sexual exploitation]

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the scandal engulfing the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation I regard as closer to a cult than a political party. Just to recap, a senior figure in the SWP was accused of rape by a female party member. Rather than call the police, the SWP held an internal inquiry by a “Disputes Committee” made up of the accused’s friends, who completely exonerated him. Details have been published on the internet, prompting an internal revolt.

There’s been intense discussion of this on various left-wing blogs. This has resulted in details emerging that paint the whole affair in an even more disturbing light, bringing to bear issues over possible abuse of power dynamics.

To summarise these details, here’s a post by former SWP member Anna Chen. She replied to an exhortation by one of the SWP leadership not to listen to “filth” on the internet.

WHAT IS FILTH?

“Filth” is an alleged rape taking place when a woman is nineteen, 2 years after she and her party leader meet, at which time he is forty-six and she seventeen.

“Filth” is an appeal to the party’s internal disciplinary body being met with a kangaroo court run by several of the party leader’s friends, who then exonerate him.

“Filth” is the woman denied access to his evidence while he sees hers: the game is surely “I’ll show you mine IF you show me yours.”

“Filth” is a woman ostracised, cast out as unclean with a scarlet letter “A” carved into her forehead.

“Filth” is her friends put under heavy manners by the party’s attack dogs, fresh from their two-minute hate.

What particularly concerns me here – quite aside from what sounds like allegations of disgraceful treatment of the woman by her party – is the age difference between the two people involved. When they met he was 46, and a party leader, and she was only 17?

Given the widespread discussion of the case on various blogs, I don’t think it’s breaching any secrets to say that the accused is Martin Smith, former SWP secretary, and currently the national organiser of Unite Against Fascism. My understanding is that he denies rape – not that the truth can now be established either way. The SWP’s kangaroo court will have massively prejudiced any attempt at a criminal prosecution. However, he admits to having had a consensual sexual relationship with the girl in question.

There’s references to this in the transcript of the Disputes Committee report, which was leaked onto the Internet.

We also however thought it was important to be clear that the disputes committee doesn’t exist to police moral, er, bourgeois morality, so we agreed that issues that weren’t relevant to us were whether the comrade was monogamous, whether they were having an affair, whether the age differences in their relationahip, because as revolutionaries we didn’t consider that should be our remit to consider issues such as those.

Trouble is, this isn’t just about “bourgeois morality” but power relations. Let me draw an analogy. Normally, the age of consent for sex is 16. However, if the older person is classed as being in a “position of trust” over a younger person, then the age of consent runs up to the 18th birthday, for the simple reason that trust can be abused. Teachers are an example of this, and I previously made this point while discussing the Jeremy Forrest Case. As a nurse in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, I too would be classed as being in a position of trust. Hence if I slept with a 17 year old patient I wouldn’t only be committing gross professional misconduct. I’d also be committing a crime under the Sexual Offences Act.

Obviously, leaders of Trotskyist sects are not subject to the same legal obligations as teachers and nurses. Even so, the power relation still exists. When considering the power relation, remember that the SWP is absolutely notorious for authoritarianism, control-freakery and groupthink.

At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like.  A number of [Central Committee] members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events.  Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn’t purchase tickets.  This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.

This is an organisation that claims to speak truth to power. Yet they seem incapable of understanding the potential for abuse of power when a middle-aged party leader is having sex with a teenage volunteer barely old enough to be out of school.

Then again, maybe their relationship had nothing to do with power relations, and Mr Smith cuts a dashing Robert Redford-style figure?

 

The Didn’t Stop the War Coalition – Ten Years on From Feb 15

It occurred to me earlier that yesterday was ten years since the global protests on February 15th 2003, when millions of people across the world took to the streets to demand a halt to the then-imminent invasion of Iraq. It was an expression of protest unprecedented in history. It also accomplished precisely nothing. In other words, it was a glorious failure.

If you’re interested, here’s a pic of me (I’m on the right) in the pub at Paddington station, after attending the London march. My face looks rather pink from the cold of that day.

Depends on whose estimates you believe, anywhere between 750,000 and two million people marched through London. Whatever number you call it, the one thing you can say with certainty is that it was a lot. My day started early in the morning, joining a large convoy of buses from my home city. When we stopped off at the motorway services, the car park was crowded with buses from other convoys all over Britain. It was as if the armies massing in the Kuwaiti desert were being matched by another, entirely unarmed, force, descending on London.

At times you couldn’t really call it a march. It was more of a shuffle, the sheer volume of people being too great for the streets they were passing through. It wasn’t just the numbers that were striking either. The people in attendance were not just the usual types one would find at a protest. Sure, there were the Trotskyists, the veteran, grey-haired Communists who’d forgotten the Cold War was over, the anarchists, the Greens. But the overwhelming majority of people were just concerned individuals, many of had never been on a protest march before.

The whole thing culminated in Hyde Park, where the Rev Jesse Jackson exhorted a vast crowd to “keep hope alive”. I then tried and failed to find my coach home, which was logjammed in somewhere among a massive fleet of other coaches. In the end I gave up and headed to Paddington to find a train.

For a very brief period it seemed as if something truly epoch-defining had happened. The Stop the War Coalition had become a genuine mass movement, representing large swathes of the population. Surely something had been changed.

In fact, nothing had changed. Just over a month later, troops surged across the Iraqi border. A million or so British people marching through London hadn’t stopped the British Army marching through Basra. You know the rest – a messy invasion followed by an even messier occupation. Another messy occupation in Afghanistan. A steady stream of civilian deaths in both those countries. Another stream of British lads coming home in Union Jack-draped coffins, or with limbs missing, or without a scratch but inwardly tormented by what they’d had to see and do. Plus all the nasty hangovers that we’re still left with – instability in the Middle East and North Africa, drone strikes in Pakistan and so on. Not to mention the ruined legacies of Bush and Blair, paving the way for the presidency of Barack Obama – the only Nobel Peace Prize winner in history to have a kill list.

As for the Stop the War Coalition, their time as a mass movement was short-lived. With the failure to achieve the goal they were named after, the number of people attending their protests shrank rapidly. The demographic also changed. For many of those who attended their first protest on February 15th, it was also their last. The STWC quickly shrivelled to its rump of the Trots and those scowling old men in red sweaters.

Two of its core organisations – the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Britain – joined to form a political party, the Respect Coalition. The two groups shared an opposition to the war, a stance of support for Palestine and precious little else. They scored some minor electoral upsets before the coalition was torn apart by the differences between the two groups. Respect still exists, but mainly as a small fan club for George Galloway MP – a man whose main ideology tends to be George Galloway. Meanwhile, the SWP is currently deservedly imploding due to a rape scandal.

February 15 may have been a mass outpouring of the word “No”, but was it ultimately heard?

There was also another throwback to ten years ago this week. Real-terms wages have now fallen back to 2003 levels.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….

 

 

Oxfam calls for crackdown on tax evasion to tackle UK poverty

Today brings the welcome news that Oxfam have joined calls for more to be done to tackle tax evasion in the UK, and for the money recouped to be channelled into reducing poverty. They estimate that the tax coffers lose out by £5.2 billion a year due to offshoring of assets by wealthy individuals. They give the following examples of how this money could be used if recovered:

 

Oxfam tax evasion UK poverty

 

Read their report in full here.

 

Adoption: Threats And Divisions As Gove Loses Patience

We’ve known for some time now that as far as working with children in care are concerned, adoption is the government’s absolute priority. A series of announcements over the past 15 months or so have focused on different aspects of the process. Last week came the latest and potentially most radical, where failing authorities could be stripped of their powers, which would be handed to the voluntary or private sector. There’s £150m purely for adoption, new resources but it’s not new money because it comes from cash previously earmarked for early intervention. Michael Gove just got serious.

The new money for adoption is £150m previously earmarked for early intervention, an area where Surestart and other preventative initiatives that aim to keep families together have already been decimated. A few days before this announcement, Eric Pickles stated he wanted to cut resources available for troubled families. The agenda could not be more stark – prevention and keeping families together is less important than adoption. With devastating irony, this most ideological of decisions uses money specifically set aside for evidence-based initiatives.

Politicians and practitioners agree that the shortage of adoptive carers has to be robustly addressed but surely not at the expense of other children in need. The government’s attempt to say that one sector in need is more important than another smacks of the way their divisive language around the welfare and employment debate tries to set working people against the unemployed, the rest against the “shirkers and skivers”. Child care is a continuum, with support for keeping families together at one end and adoption at the other. They may appear to be poles apart but in fact they are part of the same whole, far more closely related than is convenient for the governement to acknowledge.

Evidence shows that large numbers of children come in and out of care. In foster care, for example, providers have noticed that the rise in placements due to the higher numbers of children coming into care has been accompanied by an increase in the number of short-term placments, where children then return home. It is easy to forget that the original intention of section 20 of the Children Act where children and young people can be accommodated with the agreement of their parents was designed to maintain the ties between children and their families rather than close the door, and that families could use accommodation as a service, a week or two’s respite while they sort out problems with the help of their social worker so that the child can return to where they belong, in a safe, caring home. The Act became law in 1991 but sounds like ancient history. I may as well be writing in Sanskrit for all the sense those last few sentences make in 2013.

On a personal level, as someone who has worked across the whole spectrum but more recently in fostering and adoption, I feel dirty, as if I’m using money that’s been pinched from a child’s piggy bank. This is how awful this low, underhand and cold-blooded financial conjuring makes me feel.

The decision encapsulates all that is wrong in that dark, dank place where politics meets planning for children’s services. These are themes I’ve written about before. Prevention leads to better services and saves money in the long run whether it’s children in care, health and safety or gritting the roads before forecast snow falls. Yet for the government, any government not just this one, there’s little reason to invest in the long-term because another administration will reap the benefit, be it another government or perish the thought, another lot of politicians from another party. Yet we will know the success of our work with children in care only when they are well into adulthood, and anyway, even then people change as they grow older.

Adotpion czar Martin Narey, now Sir Martin, said this week that if even half the children on the waiting list are adopted, that would produce huge savings. He’s right of course, and he’s right to say that children should not have to languish in care with only the hope of a family to hang on to. Where I fundamentally disagree is that one element of the continuum should be prioritised at the expense of another. The twin goals of long-term savings and better choices for children and families for children in need of help from the state could be achieved by investment in early intervention as well as in adoption, not instead of. Also, even if the adoption backlog were cleared, there are others coming through the system in greater numbers than ever before. They too will need placements and the resources to find them. Further, adoption is not the only route to permanence. Evidence demonstrates the value of long-term fostering for many children and for their carers who receive support throughout the placement. These placements cost money but the children are worth it.

I am delighted that the government has made the welfare of children in care a priority, the first to do so in recent memory. However, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that for this long-term, complex issue they are seeking a quick win, the headline and the soundbite that goes with it.

More irony: government proposals in the pipeline won’t grab the headlines but are far more interesting and relevent for me as a practitioner because they directly address many of the problems in the existing system. Most important is the review of the court process that maintains a steadfast focus on the needs of the child within a clear timetable and minimises drift. Support for adopters will increase, with a look at personal budgets so they can decide what their family needs and how to sort out any problems. The purpose of the new national Adoption Gateway is to make it easier for prospective adopters to find out more. Changes in the inter-agency fee place the voluntary sector on the same level as authorties, thus widening the pool of adopters. Finally, there will be more organised gatherings of prospective adopters and children, sometimes called adoption parties. This is a direct result of an evidence-based study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering that was properly researched, funded by the voluntary sector and fully evaluated. Taken together, these initiatives will do nothing but good. I fully support them. Evidence not ideology.

Every now and again any system in any organisation needs a good kick up the backsidebut in my experience, threats are far less effective than committed, considered leadership that understands a problem and sets goals for change. The government has quickly tired of what it sees as intransigence in the sector. Last week we heard that councils who do not respond will find adoption services removed entirely from them and placed in the hands of the voluntary and private sector. The appearence of the private sector is noteworthy. This requires a legislative change as private companies are not able by law to become adoption agencies.

Once more we are seeing divisions rather than partnership. The voluntary sector wants to work alongside local authority partners. Legions of dedicated, able local authority social workers want to find more adopters, not to be excluded from the whole process. We have to work closely with communities to find more adopters, for example more black adopters, rather than becoming ever more distant. Change must be accomplished by working with the sector not against it.