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No, not all men are perverts; but this isn’t a “toxic time for masculinity”

I had a bit of a lie-in this morning, so I was still in bed as I watched the newspaper review on Sky News. I say that by way of apology if I don’t quote accurately comments by reviewer Martin Daubney, described on his Twitter profile as “Journalist/broadcaster/public speaker. Campaigner on men & boys' issues” and co-founder of the Men and Boys Coalition. He mentioned the opinion piece written by Jane Moore in The Sun, “Quick reminder: not all men are crazed perverts”, and said that recent news stories had created “a toxic time for masculinity”. No. It isn’t a toxic time for masculinity. It is a toxic time for abusers. And that is a good thing.

In her column, Jane Moore reports on a father who checked into a double room at a hotel with his daughter. It was the only room available and they had gone to Macclesfield to visit his dying mother. Suspicious staff at the hotel called the police. After talking to the pair, the police were satisfied that everything was okay.

Jane Moore’s point is that this was wrong: she acknowledges that there are paedophiles, but says that “rather than robotically adopting the ‘all adult men sharing a room with a young girl must be a paedophile’ mindset, a modicum of common sense must be factored in?”

The girl’s father is quoted as saying: “one minute I was brushing my teeth, the next I was being told I was a paedophile.” No. I doubt very much that this happened. I imagine that Cheshire Police more accurately told him that they were checking.

Moore says that the hotel has since apologised and said it had “got it wrong”. No. They did not get it wrong. They got it right. And Travelodge need to have the courage to stand up and explain WHY it got it right.

As Moore says: not all men are paedophiles. But some are. And paedophiles do take children and young people – the girl was 14 – to hotels to abuse them. Hotels can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that the facilities they provide are used by some to abuse others. They need to be on the look-out for suspicious behaviour.

In her column, Moore says the hotel should have observed the pair’s body language, the way they interact, or “quietly taking him to one side to prove their matching surname.” No. No, no, no, no, no. Hotels are not the police. Hotel staff are not trained to investigate and have no power to detain guests. In this case, everything was normal and above board. But imagine the scenario if hotel staff tried to question a paedophile who had taken a victim to a hotel. He – and the victim – would be off. The opportunity to arrest him and recue the girl would have been lost.

And having the same name is not a guarantee that a person is not an abuser: it is the sad reality that most abuse takes place in a family context. Moore is an experienced journalist. I can’t believe that she doesn’t know this.

As a parent, it is not nice to be questioned by the police about your motives towards your children. A few years ago, I was questioned by the police at Heathrow airport en route to Turkey with my young son. As they were growing up, I tried to take each of them away for one weekend a year to a destination of their choice and he had chosen Turkey. At 4.30 am or 5.00 am, they wanted proof that his mother had consented – the fact that I was happily married to his mother didn’t make any difference. The fact that my wife was fast asleep and not answering the phone made the situation worse than it could have been.

But I am glad that the police took the action they did. They were acting to protect my child. I love my children and want them protected. I will do all in my power to protect them. As uncomfortable as the experience was, I am glad that the police were on the look out and also doing all that they could to help to protect my son.

[caption id="attachment_1881" align="alignright" width="300"] © Alexas Fotos / Pixabay[/caption]

The father in the case reported by Moore should reconsider. Yes. It is uncomfortable to be questioned by the police about the welfare of your children. But they are acting to protect her. Imagine this alternative scenario: What about a case in which hotel staff who are suspicious about a man and girl checking into a hotel do not take action because they don’t want to risk being pilloried by the media. But the man is a paedophile and the girl is raped.

Which of the two scenarios has the potential to cause more damage? The police asking questions of an innocent man to ensure the protection of his child? Or a girl being raped and abused because hotel staff adopted the attitude that “it’s none of our business”. If I was the father, I would be thankful that hotel staff are aware of the dangers and prepared to do the right thing to protect children.

Which brings me back to Martin Daubney’s comments. It was his comments that prompted me to write this post. I hadn’t read Jane Moore’s column until I started to research it.

Daubney was challenged by this morning’s co-reviewer, the former Apprentice contestant Michelle Dewberry, who pointed out that it wasn’t a toxic time for masculinity, or a toxic time for men; but a toxic time for abusers. She is right. As a man – I’ll leave others to decide whether or not I’m a masculine man – I am delighted that abusers are running out of places to hide.

Just a few years ago, they could hide in plain sight. Nobody was interested. Then they had to hide in the shadows. Now, light is being shone in the shadows and abuse is coming to light everywhere. That is a good thing.

But not for Daubney. He explained that he works in schools and talks to students about issues such as this. He said that youngsters now “have to think twice about sending a text in case they find themselves on the front pages.” Well, good!

A normal text is hardly going to land anybody on the front page. And if people are sending texts that might land them on the front page, then it is good that they think twice before sending it.

I am not bothered one way or another whether somebody finds themselves on the front pages. I do care about whether people are being abusive or acting inappropriately. And if men and boys are being forced to “think twice” before sending a text, or acting in a particular way towards a woman or girl, then so be it. If they were acting normally, appropriately, respectfully, and gentlemanly, there would be no need for them to think twice.

If this is a sign that abnormal cultural norms are beginning to change – I doubt it, but I live in hope – and that this is the start of women and girls being able to live their lives free of the fear of abuse, then that is a good thing.

As Moore and Daubney said: “not all men are perverts.” But unfortunately, some are. And those of us who aren’t need to stand up and say “enough is enough” and help to create a toxic time for those who are.

Gavin’s Joke of the Day: 16 February 2018

A duck walks into a bar and asks the barman for a slice of bread.

“We don’t serve bread. This is a pub,” the barman said. And with that, the duck left.

An hour later, the duck was back. “Can I have a slice of bread?” he asked.

The barman replied: “I’ve already told you. This is a pub. We don’t serve bread.” And the duck left.

Another hour passed and the duck returned, and asked again for a slice of bread.

The barman again replied, somewhat louder than before, that they did not serve bread.

The duck left, but again returned an hour later. “Can I have a slice of bread please?”

The barman, now somewhat exasperated, said: “No. Go away. And if you come back here asking for a slice of bread again, I’m going to nail your beak to this bar.”

The duck left. But, undeterred, he returned an hour later.

“Have you got any nails?” he asked.

“No!”, the barman said, somewhat confused.

“Can I have a slice of bread then please...”

Should we really be surprised by the Oxfam sex abuse scandal?

Oxfam, one of Britain’s – if not the world’s – leading aid agencies is the target of an awful lot of hate at the moment. You don’t need me to tell you that.

The cause of the hate – the reported abuse of women and girls by aid workers in Haiti following the earthquake – is despicable. You don’t need me to tell you that, either.

Something must be done to stop future abuse and to ensure the perpetrators are punished. Again, you don’t need me to tell you that.

But there is something that I do want to say – and it is important. But this blog post is my third attempt at saying it. So please bear with me.

If you were surprised by the Oxfam abuse scandal, then you do not understand the nature of abuse or the deceit and charm of those who carry it out. In fact, I’m no longer going to call it the Oxfam abuse scandal, because this isn’t about Oxfam.

Oxfam is merely the latest organisation where abuse has become known. First, it was in the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements; then it was in the churches; then it was the media, from the BBC to Hollywood; then it was in Westminster and political circles; now it is in the aid sector.

Is nothing sacred? Well, actually, no. Abusers will go wherever the opportunity takes them. And people whose perverted sexual desires include children, will go where children are found.

This is not a problem for Oxfam or the other aid agencies. It is not a problem for Westminster, for the media, for churches, or uniformed organisations. It is a problem for society. And all of society needs to be aware of it and take action. If you were surprised that abuse could take place in the context of an aid agency, then you are not aware just how widespread abuse is – or of the levels abusers will go to in order to carry out their abuse.

Many people – too many people – still try to deflect the issue by politicising it. And you don’t have to look too far to see that in the Oxfam case. When the news story first broke – and I mean when it first broke – right-wing commentators were condemning the media because it wasn’t leading the bulletins in the way that the Presidents Club scandal dominated the headlines. Well, you can’t say that now.

There were numerous Tweets in the first few hours after The Times broke the story, accusing the “left-wing media” of bias and downplaying the scandal in the way that they hadn’t done with the Presidents Club. They accused the media of clear bias: that the Presidents Club involved the rich – and therefore right-wing people; while Oxfam was beloved of socialists and left-wingers and so was being downplayed.

Left-wingers on Twitter offered a false defence of the media, saying that the Presidents Club scandal involved abuse while the Oxfam scandal involved the use of prostitutes; and that prostitution was a choice.

Let’s get two things clear straight away:

Firstly, when I said that this was a problem for society, I meant it. It doesn’t matter where you are politically: on the right, the left, central or neutral: child abuse and the abuse of women and girls is all around you. It is a certainty that you will know victims (but you may not know that they are victims); and it is highly likely that you know or are connected to a perpetrator in some way.

Secondly, this isn’t about prostitution. I know that there are some people who view prostitution as a woman’s choice and that it is wrong to take that choice away from her. And I have no doubt that some women do make a conscious free-will choice to engage in prostitution. But there is far more evidence of the abusive nature of prostitution, and of so many women coerced into selling their bodies – sometimes by obvious force and sometimes by more subtle means of coercion. This isn’t the place to debate that, but if you want to know more, I recommend Julie Bindel’s well-researched book, “The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth”, published last September by Palgrave Macmillan.

But, as I said, this isn’t about prostitution. The original report in The Times quoted an internal Oxfam report into the scandal, which said that “It cannot be ruled out that any of the prostitutes were under-aged.” This is shocking beyond the obvious initial view that the abusers may have used under-age girls; but also because whoever wrote the report for Oxfam referred to the girls as “the prostitutes” rather than “the victims”.

Those who argue that prostitution is a valid choice must surely understand that such a choice is only a choice if it is freely made. If you are a poverty-stricken, starving girl or young woman, in a country unable to meet your needs at the best of times, now suffering from a devastating earthquake – an earthquake from which Haiti is yet to recover, years later – then you may not feel there is much choice when a wealthy individual who controls access to food, water, medicines, or shelter offers money or food or resources for sex.

There is an abuse nature to the relationship – as there would be if we were talking about a romantic partnership that didn’t involve the exchange of cash or goods. There is a power-imbalance so serious that it makes any relationship dangerous and potentially abusive.

I started this blog post by saying some things didn’t need saying. But I’ve said them anyway! But this was important background to what follows: The question now is what should be done about it.

Some people are advocating an end to all charity funding. No, really, I’ve read their Tweets and comments to newspaper articles, ranging from “charity begin at home” to “it is the responsibility of governments to look after their own people.” I could really go to town on such statements; but I won’t. Not now.

But those sentiments are at the extreme-end of a growing chorus of people who are demanding that Britain lowers its overseas aid budget and abandons the mandatory 0.7 per cent of GDP spend on overseas aid. It was back in 1970 that the United Nations set nations a target of committing 0.7 per cent of their GDP on development aid. The target has been re-stated many times by organisations ranging from the UN to the G8; yet last year only six countries reached or exceeded the target: Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, and the UK.

There are valid questions about how or where that money is spent; but with so much poverty and inequality in the world, and continuing natural and man-made disasters, there is surely no valid argument that the amount isn’t needed. Yet some people make that argument and they are using what happened in Haiti as fuel for their fire.

I really don’t think that such people can genuinely be said to care about the victims of abuse in Haiti or elsewhere. If they did care about the victims, they would want to ensure that they were fed, clothed and sheltered as much as whether or not they were abused.

Reports since the story broke have demonstrated that donations to Oxfam have fallen. Individuals have cancelled their direct debits and standing orders. It is too early to tell, but it doesn’t look as though all these individuals are switching their donations to other overseas aid and development charities.

When you stop giving money to overseas development agencies, you don’t harm the agencies, you harm the recipients of the aid – from Haiti to Pacific and from Africa to Asia, there are men, women and children who rely on overseas aid to ensure access to medicines, food and even clean drinking water. The unfairness of past abuses of natural resources means that we in the West have got rich by plundering the resources of the poor. And that unfairness continues today, including in unfair trade deals.

There are those calling for resignations. I’m not sure that will help either. Clearly, those who abused need to go. And they need to face justice. And those who covered it up need to go and also need to face justice. When you cover-up abuse you enable abuse (and you only need to look at how those sacked were able to get jobs elsewhere in the sector to see this).

The underlying theme to the scandal is that Oxfam covered up abuse in order to protect its own reputation. And if that happened, it is wrong. But what is Oxfam? Why does its reputation matter? It isn’t a business, it doesn’t have shareholders and it doesn’t pay dividends. So if its reputation suffers, why does it matter? Who will suffer?

The people who suffer – the people who are suffering – are the world’s poor who depend on Oxfam’s help, and the help of other international aid agencies. When Oxfam’s income goes down, the only thing affected is the amount of help it can give to poverty stricken.

It is easy for us to say “stop giving to Oxfam” – it doesn’t affect us. Is it as easy to say: “stop feeding this child in South Sudan” or “don’t build shelters in that refugee camp in Uganda”.

I can understand why Oxfam wanted to protect its reputation; but that doesn’t make it right. That’s why I don’t support calls for people who were not even employed by Oxfam at the time the Haiti scandal occurred to resign or be sacked. It will achieve nothing. Oxfam have a big job on their hands to clean up the mess. They need to get on with it.

As I said earlier, this is not an Oxfam problem. This is a societal problem. Abuse and abusers are everywhere. There will be other scandals to come. What matters is how such scandals are dealt with.

Now is not a time for attacking Oxfam or the overseas aid and development sector.

Now is a time for examining our own organisation’s policies, procedures and practices to ensure that children and vulnerable people we work with are protected as best we can; that abusers cannot worm their way into our organisations to use the good work we do as a pretext for carrying out their abuse. We need to ensure that abusive behaviour is called out for what it is, and action taken, so that abusers are not allowed to switch from one organisation to another; from one sector to another.

It is time to call time on abuse.