Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

The press blogger, the feminist campaigner and Jack of Kent

SubScribe, a journalism blog, has a post up about the Mark Wilson trial case, in which the prosecutor and judge referred to the 13 year-old victim as "predatory" and "sexually aggressive" (in case you've been living under a rock, here's a link to the EVB campaign against such language). This blog post was tweeted out by David Allen Green today, so that probably means that lots more people will be reading it, and possibly nodding their heads sagely and saying to themselves "yes yes, this is a lot more complicated than I had originally thought".

But I don't think that's true at all, because at least with regard to the fundamentals of EVB's complaint, none of the additional facts revealed by the blogger really change the conversation. Without quite coming out and saying it, the writer insinuates that there was something untoward, premature, not to say - ahem - hysterical about the reaction to the Wilson case. The Times is mentioned as having "its own child abuse agenda" - not a pretty sentence however you parse it. The fact that 45 thousand people signed EVB's petition is returned to and reiterated, almost as if to subtly signal: "too many! Too fast! By the law of averages they must have not known what they were talking about!".

Should we, asks the blogger, "celebrate [EVB's successful campaign], or worry about kneejerk politics?". Er, the former, thanks - but we all know that when a rhetorical question like that is left hanging, the intention is usually on the side of "go ahead and worry". People don't usually ask rhetorical questions to reassure. Declarative statements are better for that purpose.

I think what is particularly egregious is this embedded series of tweets from George Pavlou, the reporter who originally "broke" this story, quoted without comment:

George Pavlou @G_PavlouThe key in the whole story is that SHE did not come forward. She told a friend who came forward. She had no interest in being a complainant!

The implication of including these tweets in an article criticizing media coverage of the story is that Pavlou is in some way right, that he is exposing something obvious that the rest of us, notably the EVB campaigners and petition signers, have missed. This impression is further strengthened by the immediate reference to a blog post Pavlou approves of as "calm and reasoned" - presumably, one can't help thinking, in contrast to the hysterical and ignorant reaction from others.

Here's how I think this story played out in Gameoldgirl's head: the original trial was mis-reported, which lead to an overheated, uninformed moral panic among campaigners, and the suspension of the prosecuting QC.

But that's not how it happened. The story may well have been mise-resported, or under-reported; but the one salient fact about it that never varied is that the judge and the prosecutor did refer to a 13 year old who was inappropriately touched by an adult male as "predatory" and "sexually aggressive".

Let's just get one thing straight here: even if Nigel Wilson had been a straight up reincarnation of Mother Theresa wrapped in a bunny rabbit saving rainbow cloud, a thirteen year old girl could not have been described as a sexual predator. However she behaved, whatever she did in order to maintain and prolong his interest in her, she is legally and morally incapable of being the aggressor.

It frankly doesn't matter if the sentence meted out to Wilson was lenient or strict. It is of no possible relevance who went to the police and whether it is correct to think that reluctance to be a complainant is evidence of guilt on the part of the alleged victim of sexual misconduct (on which: are you fucking kidding  me??!). All of this clever-clever journalistic fact dredging stuff is neither here nor there. The QC and the judge in this case described a young person by negative epitaphs she is incapable of being. They may as well have called her a werewolf, or a witch (actually, not a bad parallel there). They were wrong to use these words, and the 45,000 people who joined EVB's stellar campaign were right. It really is as simple as that.

I don't think Gameoldgirl necessarily meant harm here; like George Pavlou, I'm sure she thinks she's doing a service to "the facts". But she's not. She's falling into common victim blaming tropes and providing tacit support to people who would openly accuse victims of child molestation of being manipulative little Lolitas egging innocent men on. I think the tone - and quite a bit of the content - of this blog piece is ill advised, and I wish David Allen Green hadn't given it a wholly undeserved signal boost.

It is further notable - and notably absent from all the reporting on this case, including Gameoldgirl's - that sexually aggressive and promiscuous behaviour in young women is often a response to trauma. Attention seeking from predatory men is not a cause of abuse, it is a symptom of prior abuse. In this sense there is every chance that the QC and the judge have committed a double and devastating injustice against this young woman.

A deeper investigation into this case, it would seem to me, would interest itself in these kinds of background details. Clearly the identity and biographical details of the young woman are not available, nor should they be; but some kind of deeper look into what, if any, details of her past were in the case would go far towards demystifying the "acting out" elements of her interactions with Wilson and placing the comments of the judge and the QC in better context.

Implicitly criticizing the widespread popular indignation about these comments will not help this young woman (or the perpetrator of the offence against her, if we assume that he is deserving of hep by virtue of being a fellow human being), and it will not protect other young women in the future. Donating money to EVB is a far better use of our benevolent energies.

This post was first published here - thanks to author for permission to cross post.

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10 thoughts on “The press blogger, the feminist campaigner and Jack of Kent

  • […] EVB have done an excellent post on the ‘predatory teenager’ case here. […]

  • legionseagle says:

    It’s worth noting that a pattern does seem to be developing with Jack of Kent and the articles he recommends. For example, he recommends two articles as “sensibly discussing” the Saville sentence, and implies Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, “May or may not have read the sentencing remarks” in implying that the original sentence of Hall (later effectively doubled by altering one of the concurrent sentences to run consecutively) was too lenient.

    The “sensible discussions” are, predictably, ones which argue for upholding the original length of sentence and describe the public outcry as “persecution” of Hall.

    • MarinaS says:

      I don’t want to end up in some Hugo Schwyzer-type situation ten years hence, so I’m going to be cautious about sticking my neck out for David; but in my experience, when he posts something “interesting”, it usually is.

      Specifically with the Stuart Hall stuff, I clearly remember him saying repeatedly that the sentence is unusually lenient, but what was useful is that he then found work by people who theorized on *how* the judge could have shown such leniency within the law. It’s very useful to have that kind of analysis, because we then know which laws need to be targeted for reform, repeal etc. So the detached, impersonal point of view does have its value. I see it as a kind of information service for social activists.

      • legionseagle says:

        Except that the post I referenced only shows one side of the “interesting”. To be honest, the assumption that the shadow attorney-general had NOT read the sentencing remarks was patronising, at best. Those sentencing remarks, to anyone who read them, suggested three key weak spots in the judge’s reasoning; first, the decision to have sentences run concurrently rather than consecutively (the part that was overturned); the giving of “no previous bad character” discount in respect of admitted offences spanning a twenty year period (which made it clear that “previous good character” meant “not, to date, found out – or intimidated potential complainants into silence”) and the full discount for sparing the victims by a guilty plea, given the public statements undermining the victims by the culprit.

        All of those were “interesting” comments on the Savile case being made by people who were not those he cited, who largely followed a rather dull “The judge must be right because – well, he’s the judge” party line.

  • gameoldgirl says:

    i’m sorry marina didn’t like the blogpoast. I can assure her that i was fully behind EVB’s actions. There are a couple of errors in her intro – his name is Neil, not Mark, Wilson and nobody has anywhere used the phrase ‘sexually aggressive’.
    The blog is a run-through of press coverage, not a discussion of the use of language – which is frankly beyond discussion as it is plainly unacceptable.
    This may be helpful:
    http://subsistant.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/were-all-on-same-side.html

  • Hi there,

    Please consider the following points in addition to the above:

    I am a legal blogger, and my primary interest is that legal issues are described clearly and accurately.

    There is no broader agenda. When, for example, I challenged the victim-blaming narratives in the Assange extradition case, a number of people said that was a valuable exercise.

    In the Hall case, it was clear that the judge’s sentencing remarks needed to be read carefully. Contrary to what legionseagle implies, the sentence was not doubled by the Court of Appeal. That was because the sentence could not be any longer as a matter of law, just as was explained in the original judge’s sentencing remarks – that is why I said they should be read. Instead the Court of Appeal made one of Hall’s sentences run consecutively rather than concurrently, which was a neat device but it is not an increase in the sentence. I am personally in favour of this approach, but it is certainly not standard, and its adoption by the Court of Appeal was novel. But the point remains: the actual sentence imposed on Hall could not, as a matter of law, be extended.

    In respect of Wilson, there is something very odd happening. Very odd indeed. The comments at issue originated not from the defence but from the prosecution. It is not clear why. A number of lawyers and court reporters have been struck by this oddity. There are now three investigations into why those comments came to be made. It may well be that that the judge and the prosecution are deeply in the wrong here; but we just do not know at this stage.

    The “pattern [that] does seem to be developing” is (I hope!) that as a law blogger and tweeter my aim is to try to get the law right (though sometimes I fail). Sometimes that means people applaud my stuff, as on Assange; and sometimes it means I get posts and comments like the above.

    But I think it is important to get the law right. It is the best starting point for trying to change things.

    All the same, please do forgive me if I get my tone wrong or say the wrong things. I do not pretend to not make mistakes. And I remain in support of your work.

    David
    “Jack of Kent”

    • Admin says:

      Hi David

      Thanks for this – yes, we agree that we need to get the law right, which is one of the reasons that we have not commented about the sentence issued. It is for the AG to determine whether the sentence was unduly lenient, and we will comment further once the review has been completed.

      Incidentally, one of our team was asked for comment from a journalist from one of the broadsheets yesterday – our comment didn’t appear in the published piece, despite us having quite a long discussion about this sentence and the administrative error that resulted in changes yesterday.

      We think the journo may have been looking for a ‘all sex offenders should be JAILED for LIFE’ or some other reactionary comment 😉

      Our view is, and will remain, that sentences should be proportional and fair.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • legionseagle says:

      David; please read what I said in my comment. I said “(later effectively doubled by altering one of the concurrent sentences to run consecutively)”

      Stuart Hall is now serving a thirty month sentence not a fifteen month sentence. That is the effect of the revised judgement. Which is what the adverb “effectively” meant when I used it.

      It could quite clearly have been decided differently by the judge, too; see the comments I made on his sentencing remarks and where he did have freedom to act differently and where he had constraints, specifically in the discount allowed for “prior good character” and “sparing the victims by a guilty plea”.

    • legionseagle says:

      When talking about the sentencing guidelines in the Stuart Hall case, the following points are striking:

      The judge’s statement that there were NO guidelines specifically applicable to these offences;
      The degree of credit available for a guilty plea, considering when it was given; the judge conceded a “brazen attitude” on the part of the criminal, but only granted “slightly reduced credit” as a result.
      The aspects with respect to “genial personality” etc were clearly those of judgement.

      The suggestion of legal uniqueness in making sentences run consecutively came from you only; this was a unique situation in and of itself.

      As a matter of law, and as the sentencing guidelines shows, the Hall trial judge had a good deal of discretion. Asserting that he did not, and acted under narrow constraints, does the law – and lawyers – no favours.

  • legionseagle says:

    For clarity, incidentally, here are the sentencing remarks in the Stuart Hall case.