Kids in The Bar

Oh the joys of the Youth crime problem again. Yes, day in day out, the more victimised worry that their lives will be destroyed by marauding teens, and yes, for some it is a reality. What can we do? It’s clear nothing works…

But recently, some one has come up with a novel idea, that may have an impact, in my mind…

In March 2007 Nacro announced Home Office Funding had been agreed for a project that, in the UK, could be argued as a pioneering Restorative Justice based tool for dealing with Young Offenders. Youth Juries, where the legal process that would normally be carried out in courts is undertaken by a peer group panel of young people are in existence around the world in various forms, and this is a pilot scheme in the UK/

Basically, the idea is that children will be tried by other children.

OK, some might have reservations, as will be seen below, but lets have a think folks. Based on the premise that many of us can remeber our youth, (at least I hope so), would not a little more understanding and right to manage your own social situations have gone a long way…

Rather than welcome this as an innovative idea which may provide results, many media reports have, in a clear example of “tell[ing] us what to think about crime” (Howitt 1998 p.28) presented mainly negative opinion and analysis or even debased the idea as a “crackpot initiative”. The Opposition of course are having a field day (because of course, despite the current governments lamentable failure to solve the paranoia about youth crime, they will click their fingers and do so), and of course the Magistrates’ Association have come out in a fit of professional jealousy…

But lets have a look at the comments from James Reed from the Yorkshire post, criminological mind extraordinaire…

Reed opens his account referring to schemes whereby schoolchildren are involved in the recruitment and selection of their teachers, making his viewpoint clear in the first sentence that the notion that children know best is “flawed”. He allows only two sentences to a description of the Youth Jury scheme and his interpretation of the ethos behind it – with noticeably no reference or link to the news article provoking his commentary. He highlights the cost of the scheme and then offers the inflammatory remark that if there is any validity in the concept of peer involvement in assessing how crimes of young people should be addressed:

“…then it would surely apply to all criminals if taken to its logical conclusion. Perhaps murderers, rapists and sex offenders will only be sentenced by people of a similar age and background in the future to ensure that the criminal justice system “understands” them.”

Well… Fair play to the man, he has my appreciation of vitriol. But honestly… The man’s “logic” is a little odd if you ask me. But then, of course he knows far better than those who might think that involving an (albeit hopefully “rehabilitated”) offender in a process of trying to help others may just have its value…?

Debasing the idea of Youth Juries as a “gimmick” Reed states that this is an attack on the responsibility adults hold for children, and that children are not the homogeneous group, “beyond the understanding of others” that this scheme affords them to be. This appears to be in contradiction to his preceding comment that “justice should be applied blindly and objectively”, which would only be valid if the group to which justice was applied was in fact homogeneous. Don’t you love it when people contradict themselves.

Reed shows concern is that it will apparently only be only children from “stable” backgrounds that will sit on these panels, though this contradicts information from other reports which indicate that panel members will be drawn, in part, from youth inclusion programmes. He also seems to be self-contradicting here. He claims it to be unlikely that young offenders will react to the opinion of children from a different social background, yet he states clearly later in his analysis that:

“a common feature of children drawn into a life of crime or anti-social behaviour is their falling under the malign influence of young people already leading that lifestyle”.

So children will react to the influence of bad children. But not perhaps to good children…?

This, it seems, is a major issue. Reed states his opinion that this will send the message that “children know best” thus downgrading the judgement of adults at a time that the need for family values is stressed. He seems to be a little confused about his viewpoint on the family too, as he comments to the effect that the “guidance” of adults acting as magistrates is paramount. Bearing in mind that valid concern may be expressed about State interference in family life through mechanisms such as Parenting Orders, brought in via the Crime and Disorder Act 2003 it is difficult to see how this opinion can be justified. Reed appears to express concern about attacks on adults’ responsibilities, yet also raises questions about parents’ abilities, which could take that responsibility from of the families he is concerned about. So families are also rubbish. Well, plenty are, but is the state any better…?

Reed here is stuck in the so called Dominant Framework of Childhood. This framework is characterised by four main themes: the binary division of adulthood and childhood, children’s lack of ontology, their status as proto-individuals, and the involvement of the state in their needs. Children are seen as human becomings not human beings, who require continual adult involvement (Wyness 2006). It is clear how the idea of youth juries challenge this viewpoint. Despite recent research which indicates that children, particularly boys, (who are overrepresented in the Youth Justice System) possess active involvement in informally policing their own activities (Frosh et. al. 2002 in: Featherstone 2004: 171) and the increasing understanding that they are developed social actors in their own right (Wyness 2006) the idea that children may be able to provide a rational and considered input into management of young offenders does not sit easily with their structural status as undeveloped inferiors.

This is clear in Reed’s suggestion of the need for involvement of magistrates, and in the viewpoints expressed by The Magistrates Association that “Children do not have the balance or maturity to make a judicial decision” (John Fassenfelt). This is something that (as that “one cool lesbian” according to Mij, Gill Valentine (1996) points out) adults and children will probably be in disagreement about, but a key point that must be made here concerns interpretations of children’s ability to determine right from wrong. Reed appears incredulous that children of the age of ten should be involved in peer panels. The Daily Mail makes the point that these children are only just above the age of criminal responsibility themselves, as if this is something intrinsically problematic.

Whether or not the opinion that children do not have the required maturity to take an active and productive involvement in the youth justice system is accurate is something that can only be assessed in time, when evidence based evaluations of the scheme have been produced. There is, however, a certain dichotomy of values regarding the age of children involved. The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is one of the lowest in Europe particularly since the revocation by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 of the presumption of doli Incapax, which provided some protection for offenders under the age of 14, by requiring the prosecution to show that the child knew their actions were seriously wrong. It is argued that this age should be raised, and that in a league table of child well being the UK would not fare well. Full evaluation of this is beyond the scope of this discussion, but the point remains that children of ten are not seen by the critics of Peer Panels to have sufficient maturity to be involved in the management of crime yet these commentators appear to accept the State’s interpretation that ten is sufficient age to hold criminal responsibility.

It is of course equally valid to make the point that if one is to argue that the age of criminal responsibility is too low, one must accept the counter argument that their maturity may indeed not be sufficient for the purposes of this project, and it seems likely that there is no absolute in either case. However Reed’s assertion that in terms of social status children are not a homogeneous group does not sit well with his apparent belief that they can neatly be fitted into contrasting binaries of sufficient or insufficient maturity. It does not seem unreasonable that if children over the age of ten can be held accountable for criminal actions, one cannot argue that the are not mature enough to be involved in a project such as this.

It is difficult to ascertain whether it is this seemingly knee jerk reaction to the idea of allowing children some influence in their own affairs that leads to Reed’s misinterpretation, or lack of appreciation of the wider possibilities of this scheme, but there are certainly potential positive effects ignores. Interleaved with his apparent concern with the problematic idea of children’s involvement in dealing with other young offenders, Reed does make some important points regarding the current state of the criminal justice system: he addresses the valid concern that the rate of incarceration of young people, relative to population, in England and Wales is very high and that the effect this has had on reducing youth crime is minor. Reed discusses the concept of Restorative Justice, from which the idea of youth juries is derived, believing that this “should be given a chance”. What is problematic are erroneous beliefs about the nature of Restorative Justice that form a part of his position.

A definition of Restorative Justice can be given as:

“…a problem solving approach to crime which involves the parties themselves, and the community generally, in an active relationship with statutory agencies.

It is not any particular practice but a set of principles which may orientate the general practice of any agency or group in relation to crime.” (Marshall 1988)

There are, of course, other definitions that can be applied, and further discussion about what in fact Restorative Justice does entail, but the definition given above is one that is inclusive of the idea of youth juries, and can highlight problems with Reed’s interpretation of what Restorative Justice is.

An obvious issue is Reed’s contention that:

“forcing youths guilty of relatively minor offences to meet their victims and proscribing punishments that relate directly to their crimes makes sense”

It is clear that on a surface level the use of youth juries is still aimed at applying punishment, albeit in a way that allows a greater understanding of and interaction with those being punished, and so could be argued not to fit strictly into a restorative framework. Two features which are discussed in the other reports cited – the inclusion of the victim and the fact that young people seen to be at risk are offered the opportunity for involvement, are omitted from Reeds commentary. Both could be argued to be strong points of this scheme.

Inclusion of the victim is key theme in restorative practices. The idea that a crime is not a wrong against the state, but a conflict between two parties (Christie 1977) is central to a restorative framework. Though it must be noted that the victim may well not be fully involved in process under discussion so there is therefore still a power imbalance where a third party is ultimately making the decisions, the presence and involvement of the victim is an improvement of traditional procedures.

The second point is that this procedure has benefits for people other than just the victim and offender. Again, this is something fitting into a wider interpretation of Restorative Justice, but is certainly something that cannot be ignored. Whilst many “reparations” offered as “Restorative Justice”, at least those offered by other media reports, can be clearly seen to benefit a wider community these in effect are perhaps little more than community sentencing, or punishment, under a different name. Whether the children involved as jurors in the Peer Panels are those at risk of offending, or those of the stable backgrounds that Reed assumes, it is likely that their involvement will be a positive experience for them.

Lets see eh? Maybe, just maybe as a part of giving kids a bit more power, this may just help.

Cited:

Christie, N (1977) Conflicts as Property. British Journal of Criminology 17, 1: 1-15

 

Featherstone, B (2004) Family Life and Family Support: A feminist analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave

 

Howitt, D. (1998) Crime Media and The Law. Chichester: Wiley.

Marshall, T. F. (1998) Restorative justive: an overview. Extract from G. Johnstone (ed.) (2003) A Restorative Justice Reader. Cullompton: Willan.

 

Valentine G (1996) “Oh yes I can.” “Oh no you can’t”: Children and Parents understandings of Kids’ competence to negotiate public space safely. Antipode 29, 1, 65-89

Wyness, M (2006) Childhood and Society- An introduction to the Sociology of Childhood. Bastingstoke: Palgrave.

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Dis-able me?

Many of you will know, ‘cos I sure as hell have winged about it enough, about the general fucked up state of my neurophysiology at the moment… Somewhere, likely L5 or S1, though maybe in many places one or more of the Sciatic nerve roots has got… …well, a little squished. Sciatica is something I have actually experienced at various times, usually to the level of a bit of pain in the hip and the buttock. This however has been a new level… it started off as before, then moved down into my Tibia and Calf muscles. One day my hip gave way. I tried to walk to town (a journey of perhaps 20 minutes at my normal speed) which took 45 minutes with the need to stop 6 times. It got to the point where after a 20 minute painful walk to work (7 minutes normally, I’ve timed it when late) I collapsed. Pins and needles in my toes, peripheral neuritis all up my left leg. Signed off work, which is a bugger for my colleagues and for my career. Then over Christmas it got to the extent of waking up in tears one night and (having used my full days dose of pain releif) needing to be collected and taken to the emergency surgery and sedated with Diazepam.

Now, I will never complain about being given Valium, these days who would, and and it just about served it’s purpose to relax my muscles and get me a bit of sleep. But when it gets to this, I have come to the conclusion that to all extents and purposes, I am disabled.

And that is what I would like to explore.

However, at this point I must take a break. One way in which I am disabled, is that there is a limit to how long I can comfortably sit at a keyboard. So am am saving this (after about 15 minutes of writing) to allow me to stretch, then take a rest.

Having done so, I will now give some World Health Organisation definitions.

I suffer (though one is discouraged to use the word “suffer” as it is negative, though at times I fucking well suffer) from an impairment – the functioning of my spine and sciatic nerve is impaired. That, it seems, apart from the fact that if I want to say I suffer, then the PC brigade can frankly, get stuffed.

I have a disability, (or rather as “having” it, apparently focusses the problem on me – more on this later folks), I am dis-abled. I am at a disadvantage, or less able due to my impairment.

Of course one is no longer supposed to use the final one of these three – handicapped – defined as a disadvantage compared to others. This word I agree has become overused in a very unpleasant way, and I will accept that it’s usage is normally offensive, though I will just ponder how one can be at a disadvantage (remember that is what disabled is) without being disadvantaged in comparison to someone else..?

With that in mind I shall return to the idea of my disability. The WHO definitions are argued to be based on a medical model. That is that the problem lies within the individual. Well, I have to say, I am not sure exactly who else’s spine the crushed nerves lie in? It ain’t my mother, my boss, the scrawny cat that stares out of the window over the road. I have discussed in the past the medicalisation of a number or normal things, but I’d have to say this definition fits…

Less so I guess the part of this model that hints that a disabled person should be grateful for medical or social help, if only ‘cos it’s actually pretty shite. I mean I went to the doctor with this in April. It was June before I was referred for physiotherapy. It took until autumn for this help, and I’m now on another waiting list for a cortisone injection. I am seeking now to claim DLA. I don’t hold out much hope, even the paltry £16 or so lower rate mobility (less than I’d need to spend a week on taxis if I was to try and return to work) it seems you kind of need to be unable to hobble more than 100 yards. Medical as this definition may be, and correct in the situating of my impairment in my back it does show that even in one of the richer countries in the world, the average person is worth shit.

The is then a kind of rehabilitative model of disability. This attempts to restore status and dignity to the disabled person, helping them to fit in and adjust to their difference. Aside from the intrinsic power relations of the patient and profession (shared with the medical model above, and yes I’m gonna briefly sound like a Trot there) I am in two minds about whether I love this, or feel it is the biggest pile of wank.

I guess my feelings on this are as follows: If I choose to restore my dignity I’d prefer to do it with the least professional interference (barring perhaps one slight episode in hospital a few years ago involving swearing at a nurse who asked the question “why do you need your trousers on when you can’t get out of bed” – I made her put them on for me), other than that, or maybe the example is a good example of this, if my disability makes me so choose, I’ll be as undignified as I bloody well like! And as I’ve discussed above, the help ain’t often up to much!

So now we have the biggie… The Social Model. Now, as with many of my ‘blogs, I’m no expert on disability studies, and some people may want me hung drawn and quartered for this, but I’m gonna say this one in some ways does concern me the most.

Effectively (in its more militant form) this says that the problem is society’s lack of adaptations for my needs. Remember – in am “dis-abled.” This is true. I am dis-abled from working, because I cannot get up the hill on Royal Park road, because I cannot be in one day and off sick the next. This is no one’s fault, though maybe the afore mentioned DLA would help. I am dis-abled from leading a life not battered out of my head on painkillers half the time (and thank Christ the amitriptyline hasn’t made my dick floppy yet!). I am dis-abled by the fact I spent most of the day e-mailing, photocopying, hobbling back and forth between chemist and post box to sort out sicknotes, extensions, prescription charge refunds. This is the fault of the people trying to enact this rehabilitative model. OK these are societies fault. The fact I am dis-abled from going out dancing lies purely in the medical model, it’s the fact I can’t walk properly.

I’m gonna get all anarchist again here in a bit. But an interesting synthesis and discussion of some of these models was something I saw once on TV – someone who was profoundly deaf arguing that he was not disabled, but in fact a member of a linguistic minority. The question was raised then: should he get disability benefits. Does the elderly mother of the local shopkeeper who speaks only Urdu get DLA?

The point is that half the people who argue this still subscribe to the capitalist existence that creates it. If we had a case of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (and yes I know that is Marx, but it does NOT need to be communism) all these arguments would not be needed. We wouldn’t need to worry about reasonable adaptations, sick roles and blah blah blah. My feelings are that really any model of disability fails. You are dis-abled, have a disability, are handicapped, whatever, life is shit.

So go with being as undignified as you like!

But even this might be hard. I have a stick, but it has to be said I still feel averse to using it ‘cos it makes me look like the local skaghead (and for anyone offended by that term, you didn’t suffer the abuse I got from him for not going back into the co-op with all my shopping to buy him jaffa-cakes).

And as for the sick role. Currently it’s the medical profession preventing me from my social obligation to get out of it. And there’s the issue of how I live when I am out of work. Am I entitled to avoid going stir crazy by going out when I’m signed off sick. I know I’ll probably suffer for a week after. Or what if I’m not signed off, but know that a night dancing might mean I subsequently need to be. What if I end up on incapacity, but then do choose to spend a night on the town when I’m getting benefits for not working…

I guess the social model works. But the others are needed… at the end of the day however no amount of pontification is gonna make a disabled person more valued, as it won’t for a street kid, or an asylum seeker.

So, having had a good moan, I’m just gonna accept my lot and get the fuck on with my life!

At your service Sir..?

One of the first things I learned in Sociology was all about Fordism, and Industrialism, and Post-Industrialism… And how we are, in Late Modernity moving to this situation of a Post-Industrial Society; characterised by, among other things, the decline of manufacture and the proliferation of Service Industries.

OK, the Luddites saw the decline of the manufacturing industry, or at least the decline of the human input into it in the early 19th Century, way even before Fordism brought the wonderful job security and high wages in the factories. And Daniel Bell was right, in his thoughts of post industrialism, but I am beginning to have my concerns with this description of a “Service” Industry.

Now the more astute of you will have seen through this already and be expecting the ensuing rant about NTL, Powergen, and lately Virgin Mobile.

I will get the vitriol out of the way and recap: Powergen fucked me over by messing up my bills, leaving me in £300 debt despite my best efforts to tell them accurately how much Gas I have used.  This took 3 weeks of my being on the phone for about an hour a day and 4 levels of management for them to get their heads round my problem.

NTL left me without a phone for 3 weeks, whilst they took 4 missed appoinments before fixing my line.

More recently, Virgin Mobile have so far taken months of procrastination and mis-information (and endless call centre staff who don’t speak fucking English) to get me codes to unlock my phone so I can use a network that doesn’t cost a bomb and actually works! At this point I think why bother? Why: because I see no point in throwing away a toxic piece of waste and buying a new one. Sorry. I am a hippy!

Aside from the obvious “service indsutry, where’s the service?” question, I am beginning to see an ambiguity between product and service which puts a different spin on the Post-Industrial Service Industry paradigm.

Which is which?

I would say, when I buy gas, I am buying a product. Yes, there is a service inherent in my receiving that product, but Amazon get it sorted when I buy a book.  However, First Direct (with whom I also have a beef about their stuck up behaviour to anyone who takes an income cut) permanently advertise their range of financial products. 

Of course this is where, when it gets to Virgin Mobile it gets even more complex, as I would admit that a telephone connection is more of a service. But am I buying a product really… I think so.

OK satellites are not cheap, but there’s over 9000 of the buggers spinning round the planet to date. This is why when I try and get my phone unlocked I have to speak to someone who can’t understand me, ‘cos overall it’s cheaper to route my call via a spinning Iridium to someone working on a tiny wage in Bangalore, that pay someone in the UK to take my call. Part of this shows greed. Part of this shows the fact that actually making a telecommunication connection costs bugger all.

Handsets are not cheap either. Even with the mass production that they appear relentlessly in.  Half of what you pay on your phone bill is paying for the handset. Which is why they are locked, so you can’t escape.

What I don’t understand is why the fuckers don’t get that if I got the service I wouldn’t need to escape? But then we have a service industry, and is that the product, ‘cos otherwise there is nothing for many people to do?

Paedo Alert!

Here we go again…

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Please Read and Repost.

For not the first time in one of the many marketing campaigns of the gutter press politicians have once again bowed to the grinding machine of media instigated moral panic.

This major breakthrough comes in a top-level Home Office review and will be welcomed by 88% of the minority of this country who are too daft to realise that the rag they read is far better suited to cleaning up dog crap than making an honest and informed social commentary.

In future parents will be able to ask police or other agencies if there are dangerous sex offenders (or indeed some poor student who was once caught pissing in public, or someone who’s towel blew off on the beach or someone who got a bit raunchy with their lass in the middle of nowhere) in their area. And, for the first time, cops will be forced to disclose that information to the baying hordes.

Risks: (Nice to see that are addressed.)

Sara Payne—mother of murdered eight-year-old Sarah declared yesterday: “These proposals are a positive step in the right direction to protect our children better.”

Many others with a bit of sense were somewhat sceptical about the morality and indeed efficiency of plans called for by that bastion of criminological knowledge, the News of the World.

The changes mean:

SINGLE MUMS can ask if a new boyfriend has a sex-crime record. Obviously this is great ‘cos it exonerates anyone from the problem of getting to know their sexual partners before allowing them access to their kids. So we can now be safe in the knowledge that as well being safe from the paedophile we know to be hidden behind every infant school bike-shed we can be safe from the one in every home!

PARENTS will be able to find out if the streets their kids play in are really safe. Great. My streets safe, because of course the ONLY danger to a small child left running about outside unaccompanied ‘cos his parents are too busy doing crack or watching Cash in the Attic to give them any fucking attention is the fact that Fingers the Clown is hiding in the bushes next door. Look! There’s loads of the buggers everywhere. Look!!!! There!!!! Behind that fence!!! Oh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit…. Little ‘uns just been too busy looking out for the local kiddie fiddler and he’s just been hit by a car.

COMMUNITIES will be told of sex offenders at government hostels in their area, the risks they pose and how they are being managed. This is wonderful, as when you discover there’s a sex offender in the local hostel you can campaign to have it closed down. So the veritable hordes of child-rapists in every one go even deeper into the community and are even harder to keep track of. Whoo-hoo. Genius.

LOCAL people will be appointed to hostels’ management boards to check how they are run. It gets even better. So all the lazy bastards who don’t give a flying fuck about doing something helpful like volunteering can now get really stuck in ‘cos there’s more nonces to keep track of than there were Bugs in Starship Troopers!

PAEDOPHILES freed from jail will be securely tagged and tracked, using new technology to monitor their precise whereabouts 24 hours a day. That is the ones who comply with the requirements, the ones who are actually trying to be re-integrated into the community and are ipso facto least likely to offend… Of course all the ones who do a runner, rip their tags off and go TOTALLY underground – which of course is likely to be far more if they know that every Tom, Dick and Harriet will know where they live so they can build a nice big bonfire round their house – will be fine, safe and dandy.

THE INTERNET will be used to give better information to parents who fear kids are being groomed. Wow. A sensible one. Let’s have some nice informative websites on how to prevent this. Of course the News of the World in its self proclaimed expert status can manage this. Of course we could take some personal responsibility for monitoring what our kids do on the net. Or actually encourage them to live in the real world rather than online.

The government review, being carried out by Home Office minister Gerry Sutcliffe, is now exploring how to deliver the reforms. (Is there an election soon..?)

Officials say early findings of his report, to be handed to Home Secretary John Reid after Christmas, conclude a massive shake-up is essential. Some reforms may even be included in the National Offender Management Bill, expected to be in the November Queen’s Speech. (Wow! That’s quick. Even quicker that the White Paper hurriedly rushed through in a similar time of electoral turmoil that became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was rushed through after James Bulger.)

THE DOWN SIDE – The Home Office still opposes demands for people masquerading as responsible parents to know names and addresses of dangerous paedophiles in the area. But they will be able to learn how many there are and the risk they pose. Of course this information will be carefully controlled enabling her majesties finest to take quick and effective action against the next person to incorrectly spray the word “paedo” across a consultant’s door. Like they always manage to uphold law and order in our great nation state. A senior source told us: “The challenge now is to determine how we do that.” Parents may get specific warnings about people in their family circle, such as a mum’s new bit on the side who’s porking her when dads out down t’club.

Last night MPs from both sides of Parliament backed the moves. Senior Tory Edward Leigh said: “I hope they are fully implemented. There’s nothing more important upholding our view that the only thing available to prevent crime is tighter controls over those irritating little buggers we can’t quite find enough resources to treat yet.”

Communities minister Phil Woolas told us: “I signed up to the principles of Sarah’s Law and welcome this potential slide towards a Fourth Reich.”

Please if you can vote for Sarah’s World on this site http://www.ihavefoundagreatwaytogetfamous.com we need the song to chart and so shore up my ailing music career.

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I post the above with slight trepidation, that I may have breached the boundaries of taste this time.

But I have sat on this post for the best part of a year now, since this daft bulletin (well, the original version) appeared on myspace amid a sudden renewed interest in Sarah’s Law ‘cos one of the social-networking champions of the cause had managed to get into a recording studio and wanted to use the death of a small child to further his fame.

And now, we see it has began all over again with Madeleine McCann with a petition to instigate a European sex offenders register.

Have another read through the above and think. There is nothing that I have written that is any was less credible than the assumptions made about “Sarah’s Law”, and all the (admittedly flippant) changes to this original document that I have made are valid arguments against this policy. I’m not going to go through and reference them all. I am of the opinion that anyone interested will have a vague idea that I am right (at least in presenting the arguments as valid, however open to debate) and the rest won’t be swayed by academic discussion.

This is not the point of this post.

At this point, I am going to make it clear that I am not protecting people who commit sexual offences against children, I am also not going to embark on a justice/welfare debate (other than just to point out that there is a very strong statistical correlation between sexual abuse as a child and committing abuse in later life, or indeed sooner, indicating therefore that this is learned behaviour and so is likely to be treatable).

The first point that I am going to have a bit of a rant about is this: Since when did we let the gutter press declare policy?

Yes folks, this is what it comes down to. The origins of “Sarah’s Law” are not a well thought out method of dealing with the perceived social problem of stranger danger. They are a moral panic created and inflamed by the News of The World in order to sell papers and promote the moral entrepreneurship of the tabloid press.

As with McCann. Do you think the News of The World gives a flying fuck about missing kids… What? They do? They’d better increase their page count then. There are currently 347 children listed as missing on the Interpol website. Not to mention the thousands of street kids killed every year all over the world. But of course, half of the kids listed have a face like a bull-dog’s anus, or their skin is a little too dark or their parents haven’t realised that fame is round the corner. They won’t sell papers.

And is no-one else able to see the hypocrisy in this whole paedophile thing anyway? This is my second point.

The same paper carries endless pictures of barely eighteen year old girls with their tits out, and as for the picture of that lass from Harry Potter that I saw on the side of a bus a couple of years ago, looking every bit the archetypal Lolita…

Can any one else see a teeny weeny dichotomy here..?

Here’s another example. Chris Morris’ satire of the paedophile issue condemned as perversion. But next to it: “Oooh Drool, Dribble, look how big Charlotte Church (15)’s boobs have grown.

 

Of course, everyone knows it’s a joke. Right?

OK there is a difference. Most of the people who may drunkenly discuss in the boozer when that Harry Potter lass will be old enough to get her baps out in FHM, or chortled knowingly when Radio Djs asked the likes of Charlotte Church and Billie Piper when their 16th birthday is do not abuse and kill 7 year old girls.

But we do sexualise children to an alarming extent in the way we dress them and expect them to act, and even without moving into the realm of pornography, much of our fashion, music and television regards looking youthful as desirable. When one can buy adult women’s underwear adorned with Hello Kitty, or worse, tops for 6 year-olds with “wait and see” written on them what exactly is going on…

Now of course this does not justify abuse.

However recently a judge was attacked for handing out a “lenient” sentence to someone who “raped” a 10 year old girl. I reserve judgement on this case, but if not only the judge, but the doctors who examined the victim believed she could have passed for 16, one does have to wonder.

Of course there is the response from Dr Michelle Elliot of Kidscape that:

“It takes us back to the 1950s when the victim was blamed if they were dressed provocatively.
[…]
“You can never blame a child victim for sexual abuse when excusing the abuser of any kind of abuse.”

which is valid. Though if you read the report, the Judge seems to me not to be blaming the child, nor excusing the abuser. He is simply stating that he believes the mistake could have been made.

This is an extreme example and in this case I side not with the judge, and more with Dr Elliot that

“No-one in my opinion could mistake a 10-year-old child, even dressed up, for a 16-year-old.”

But it has to make us think about how we do dress our children. When sexualised child-identities are normalised so much, can we then be surprised that this is in debate?

One last point. The more astute will notice my enclosure of the word “rape” in quotation marks. Again, before the vigilantes come knocking at my door this is not to deny that rape happened, but to highlight the fact, mentioned in the BBC article that as the sex was consensual, this is only rape within the framework of the Law. I am not, before the comment is made, advocating a lowering of the age of consent. But, how many men have had consensual sexual intercourse with someone below the age of consent? Put this a different way: how many have at the age of 17 slept with a girlfriend before her 16th birthday? How many therefore are guilty in Law of Statutory Rape, and therefore a sex offender, or in colloquial terms: A Paedophile.

Think of this when you campaign for the Gutter Press’ new Laws. This issue is far to complex to hand over to the tabloids.

 

Crack open the Wife-Beater and let’s get Violent…

I have recently had the misfortune to be sent on possibly the worst training course I have ever experienced. The subject matter was domestic violent, or more correctly “women who experience violence from men that they know”. Quite correctly it was pointed out that “domestic violence” covers a number of issues, including (and I’m glad she pointed this out, as the inability of many people and agencies to accept this) violence women commit towards men.

The content was fine, the facilities bearable (though the tea was a little crap), and some of the participants were even quite pleasant. The problem was one of the Trainers, who was the most ignorant, arrogant, blinkered, self contradictory, sexist idiot I have ever met.

I’ll mention briefly the fact that any point made by a male participant was apparently invalid – you get used to that kind of freak, who do very well to totally disfigure their beloved feminism from a valid and useful philosophy into a pile of extremist nonsense. The problem, in my mind of course as a heterosexist male chauvinist, was less this, but her unquestioning reliance on theories of deviance that were at best somewhat to the right of Thatcherism, and bordering on Lombrosian.

Her background, she claimed, was in Higher Education (she didn’t expand, and I hope to God it was not Academia, as most academics I have met, however strange their views, will at least question and accept debate), and her work “with Lifers in Armley Gaol” of course set her up as the fountain of all Criminological Knowledge. (By the way, this work was as a volunteer counsellor for the Samritans.)

Now I don’t not for one minute claim to be the Fountain of all Criminological Knowledge. I also put forward contradictory views, both for debate, as Devils Advocate, and as I develop the synthesis of my personal viewpoints with my academic study. However I maintain at least a modicum of common sense and integrity.

The session went thus:

We were asked to brainstorm as to why men may commit violence against women. So we filtered through the usual suspects of causal factors of deviance, tailored to the subject: Learned aggression, past abuse, media influence, patriarchal society, the man has had a bad day, needs anger management, she’s stressed him out and so on. We then discussed grouping these into categories (and their overlaps): Learned behaviours, Social Conditioning , Power and Control, Male Excusing, Woman Blaming. A good exercise to provoke discussion on any deviant behaviours in a gendered setting.

We were then told that these were “reasons” society puts forward, but we should ignore all this, and accept the fact that every man who commits violence against a woman does so through rational choice.

I ignored the fact that actually at least some of these causal factors are those that left-wing public-sector apologists (of which I am probably one, I admit), rather than society put forward when the tabloids are baying for blood. However the second part of her statement I had to challenge. This was not in a argumentative manner, but simply questioning why, when most thinking people have moved away from the Rational Choice proposition of crime (see Cornish & Clarke 1986) we were being asked to embrace this as a foundation for Best Practice.

Her reply was simply that there is no excuse for violence against women.

Well, strangely I agree. I think there is little excuse for any crime that has a direct effect on an innocent party. And I think that save an extreme example where reasonable self defence may be needed, there is no act a women could do, however much she may antagonise (and it happens folks, get used to it) removes her innocence (in the terms of this argument) such to justify violence from a partner, or other significant figure.

But there is a difference between causal factors and excuses.

I replied that personally I reject Rational Choice theory pretty much outright, but accepted others differing opinions, but offered the idea that in managing (and supporting victims of) other forms of crime it was usual to debate possible causal factors, to try and gain understanding, at least when one attempts to re-embrace the welfarism that has been thrown out the window in recent years.

Her reply to this was that we were not discussing other issues.

Bit of a cop out that, in my mind.

Her stance, it transpired, was that men who commit violence against women do so, through choice, because Patriachal Society makes the sanctions imposed less than if for example they had chosen to batter their mates.

I agree that it is sickening that it was only in 1991 that non-consensual intercourse (or rape, to use the colloquial rather than legal term as legally until 1991 it was not rape) became non-consensual in marriage rather than the previous acceptance that marriage implied continual consent. I agree that it is worrying that penetration of any bodily orifice (other than the vagina) was not rape until even more recently. I agree (shock horror) that many aspects of contemporary UK society (to place this in its exact setting and avoid the what is society argument) are patriarchal and provide women with a bum deal. But the fact that the CPS will almost always prosecute “domestic violence” even if the victim drops the charges, occasionally to find out that she actually was lying (this happens too, get over it folks, I’ve seen it), seems to indicate that actually punishment is seemingly pushed for.

I guess it’s inevitable though, that this gendered and emotional subject will attract a reliance on these kind of theories. I just find it had to stomach, one contentious one being quoted as fact. Sadly, this is endemic of how crime is seen in Late Modernity. As Garland (2001) points out, we have almost gone past the Rational Choice idea, to a dystopian and Hobbesian view that instead of choosing to commit crime when opportunities present, it is acted on as if people chose not to commit crime when preventative measures are not there. (I wonder how many of the pro CCTV brigade who continually spout that “if you’ve nothing to hide you’ve nothing to worry about” realise this analysis.)

I note also that the training notes rely much on the work of Daly and Wilson (picking and choosing though) about the risk to women who leave violent relationships. Daly and Wilson (1999) promote this wonderful theory that violence is an evolutionary process to reduce competition. Their slight problem is that they argue that men will not kill those close to them, of course when it is pointed out that most violence against women is from men they know (and for all my ranting I do accept that, from at least some analyses of statistics) they say that close is genetically close, which spouses are not (Daly and Wilson 1996, Discussed in Brookman 2005). Quite how it is evolutionarily sensible to kill one’s spouse I am unsure, unless you are a mantis, or a spider.

At times the cynic in me would agree with this view, from as far back as Hobbes in the 17th century that actually humans are nasty and brutish (Oh the fun we had with the fact that the sociology tutor who taught us Hobbes was short and poore too…)

There are many theories of causation for interpersonal violence.  They can be grouped in many ways. Pete Morral (2000), for example breaks  things down into  Faulty Individuals (atavism, illness, evolutionary psychology etc.), Faulty Society (Learned Behaviour, Patriachism etc.), Faulty Images (Moral Panics, Media Influence etc.) and Realism (looking at the real fact that crime or violence does happen). We have seen the categories presented in this training. We could go on.

Rachel Jewkes (2002) presents a good meta-analysis of different suggested causal factors of intimate partner violence taken from a number of cross-cultural studies. Poverty is a strong one, the fact that masculine identity in many societies includes a general expectation of misogyny, alcohol and drug use (and the contention from social anthropological research that connections between drinking and violence are socially learned). The fact societies where a conservative view of the social status of women is held have higher rates of abuse.  And of course the widely accepted (for most at least) experience of abuse in infancy, whether personal – (look at Boswell (1995) for compelling statistics relating to young people and violence) or seen within the social setting (remember Bandura et. al. (1961) and the Bobo Doll experiment).

Of course many of these are suitably damning towards men, and I have no problem with that. I’m not going to stray too far into feminist debate about patriarchy, but all these are societal issues too.  I actually quite like Dreadzone’s assessment here: “We are all responsible. We are all personally responsible.”

The problem of course, is that no criminological theory I have found does ever provide a satisfactory answer why some some people commit crime and others don’t. The Trainer at the root of this rant used this in her argument for Rational Choice. But it applies in many groups and forms of crime that some people experiencing the Causal Factors associated with a deviant behaviour express that behaviour and others don’t. Do we need to go back to Lombroso and his criminal types?

I’m gonna throw one theory in just to make my point. Look at Merton’s (1938) take on Anomie and deviance being a reaction to being unable to attain the norms people feel have been lost from the American Dream. Merton’s idea is that people react in different ways, some innovate, create a new way to gain wealth. Some accept. Some drop out and become drug users, outcasts etc. Can we say that, when we look at complex ways of dealing with the snake eyes roll in the worlds dice game someone might wake up and chose, consciously and rationally to become a gang leader for example? Bollox can we. The reasons people fall to devience (however that may be defined) is a complex interaction of opportunities, learning, yes there is an element of choice, social forces and so on. Whether that be battering a woman or nicking milk of doorsteps.

But of course, the moment a subject gets distasteful, people can make have opinions they like. So I stand corrected. I’m (as a man) an abuser waiting for my moment.

Cited:

Bandura, A., & Hutson, A C. Identification as a process of incidental learning. J. abnorm. soc. Psychol., 1961, 63, 311-318.

Boswell,  G (1995) Violent Victims: The prevalence of abuse and loss in the lives of Section 53 Offenders. London: The Princes Trust.

Brookman, F (2005) Understanding Homicide, London: Sage

Cornish, D and Clarke, R (eds.) (1986) The Reasoning Criminal, New York: Springer-Verlag

Daly, M and Wilson, M (1996) The Evolutionary Psychology of Homicide, Demos Dec 8 pp39-45

Daly, M and Wilson, M (1999) An Evolutionary Perspective on Homicide. In: M D Smith and M A Zhan (eds) Homicide: A source book of Social Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage

Garland D (2001) The Culture of Control, London: Sage

Jewkes, R (2002) Intimate partner violence: causes and prevention. The Lancet, 353. April 20.

Merton R K (1938) Social Structure and Anomie, American Sociological Review, 3 pp. 672-82

Morrall, P. (2000), Madness and Murder, London, Whurr.

Exploited Sluts

I been getting into arguments on facebook…

I’m not going to repeat the whole thing, it’s available here if you want to see. But to précis, the group is all about campaigning against the trafficking of women into the sex industry. How this works I am unsure, I mean we could campaign with as much effect against suspicious tax dodging, little scrotes smashing windows on the local estate and all the other things that are illegal, (arguably) distasteful but really the powers that be couldn’t actually give too much of a toss about. But that’s a digression.

Anyway, the PC brigade stepped in (in my interpretation anyway) bringing in prostitution in general, which in my mind actually defeats the object of any campaign against trafficking.

Why?

Because they are simply two totally different issues.

Apologies here, I lied. I am going to repeat a certain amount of this argument, as it actually fits and provides a good springboard for a subject post that’s been brewing in my mind for a while and also leads nicely into a future rant I am researching (and working out how far I need to tone it down to avoid a Chris Morris style lynching) on paedophilia.

After Teela Sanders (2005) I posited the argument that actually not all women working in the sex industry are forced into a torrid existence having it stuck up ’em only to have all their money stolen my some evil pimp; some make a reasoned decision to embrace their profession. OK, I do not claim to be an expert on the sex industry (hey, it was always an ambition, but I was either getting it, or short of cash so that dream never came to fruition), but the findings from Sanders’ ethnography are, to my mind convincing.

My side point was that some people are more exploited doing an “acceptable” job that they are forced into than others who choose a “deviant” existence selling sex (n.b. not selling their bodys, in all cases, many prostitutes actively manage the distinction).

It seems I was misunderstood, however. Of course, when the word “choice” was mentioned, the accusations came flying: by saying that a woman has a choice to enter that trade, I am therefore denigrating these poor souls, who through poverty have no choice at all… no-one chooses to be exploited instead of dying of hunger (presumably as the welfare state will protect them… hmmm..?), therefore the choice is forced upon them, being exploited into selling your body cannot be compared with working in a sweatshop etc…

I’ll leave you all to make up your own minds about that, I’ve rattled on about the background too much.

What saddened me was the overtone that anyone working in the sex trade was to be pitied. This seemed to come from a background of Christian charity towards down and outs. It’s interesting how peoples background defines their views, though not rocket science, I guess. If you work with street people, then many of then will be unhappy. So if many of them sell sex, then you will encounter people who are unhappy selling sex. I don’t deny the girls who used to stand outside my house on Spencer Place were not all happy (and welcomed the coffee we gave them on a cold night), but from this experience one cannot say that all working girls are a priori unhappy with their lot. The women Sanders spent time with weren’t. Sure they moaned about their job and wished they didn’t have to do it in order to feed the kids etc, but have you heard me after the umpteenth rogue landlord, the millionth Chinese student who has been done for plagiarism for referencing the way they learned to, and so on? OK I can’t make the converse judgement from the literature I’ve cited, but that’s half the point.

I in no way deny that many women are forced or coerced into the sex industry. That many make the choice when they can see no other option. But I wonder if it’s the sex that’s so distasteful…

Of course the feminists would say that it’s this Patriarchal society that leads to the exploitation of women. What about the Capitalist society that leads the the exploitation of 8 year-old Indian children making Gap hoodies?

Going back to my facebook argument:

-A Guy works in a resort bar, where he is expected to flirt and have sex with customers to get business.
-A person earns a six figure salary, but knows if s/he doesn’t work 60 hours a week s/he will lose her/his bonuses.
-A woman has sex with her husband every night ‘cos he gets tetchy if he doesn’t get “his nookie”.
-A lad flips burgers for minimum wage, ‘cos if he doesn’t get a job they’ll stop his benefits.
-A girl supplements her student loan lap dancing.
-A woman works in a tea plantation for 10p a day.
-A woman works in a supermarket, ‘cos after having 6 kids and no job all her life she has no skills.
-A man works in a cocoa plantation for £2 a day (which is a living wage, yet the price that a rich westerner will pay for the amount of fairtrade chocolate he picks beans for in 20 minutes)
-A girl works the streets ‘cos she can then afford her heroin, grossly overpriced from her pimp.
-A lad spends a year in the Greek airforce as he will lose rights if he does not.
-A Woman earns £300 a night escorting businessmen, and can double that (by choice) if she sleeps with them and her only outgoing from this is running her website.
-A farmer is up a 6am every morning, ‘cos he needs to work harder now that a chicken sells for £2 in Tescos.
-A girl masturbates on camera, but will not do sex.
-A girl is kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
-An asylum seeker works picking fruit for 12 hours a day, ‘cos he gets £20 a week vouchers to live on, and that’s all.
-A bloke works in an office for a good wage to support his family

Can we absolutely, no arguments, no crossover say who of these is exploited? Who has a choice?

Where do we make the boundary? Gender? Legality? Choice of Job? Sex? Penetrative sex?

Exploitation in the sex industry is nasty. I 110% concur. As is any exploitation. But I think it’s the sex that’s the problem here, and that for some reason confuses me.

A couple of thoughts to illustrate.

Consent is a defence for the offence of assault, unless that consent is given for the assault to be for the purposes of sexual gratification. So if I say that you can beat me black and blue ‘cos I like the colour of bruises, then you’re fine. If I say you can batter me ‘cos it gets me off, they you’re going down…

Think of cinema. you can show no end of slaughter in a 12 rated film (provided there’s no blood and gore). In fact how many people died in the U rated Star Wars episode iv? But you can only gently allude to even consensual love-making until the rating becomes a 15 or even an 18 (by which time the viewer has been old enough in Law to be doing it themselves for 2 years.)

I’m not advocating some free-love-porn-rape-fest. Though some of Heinlein’s (1961, 1973 for example) work does quite a good job of showing how a society with the sexual taboos broken down could work. But I am just wondering why sex always clouds the issue, why we fear and control it so much, more even than death, violence it seems…

And of course, for girls it’s worse. We all know that if a lad has many sexual partners he’s a Stud, whereas a girl is a Slut. But even policy has consistently focused on female sexuality (Hudson 1982) and (one of the few studies to address this) Parker et.al. (1981) found how when young women come before a Magistrates Court, little attention is paid to their offence, but plenty to whether they may be promiscuous.

What this shows, is simply that even those who (albeit rightly) champion a cause still seem bound by the stereotypes that lead (in part at least) to the problems that give them a cause to champion.

Anyway, I’m off to look at some tits on the ‘Net. As I’m sure I will now be branded a pervert or a misogynist or something I ain’t got owt to lose, have I?

Cited:

Heinlein, R (1961) Stranger in a Strange Land. New York: Putnam

Heinlein, R (1973) Time enough for Love. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Hudson, B (1982) “All things nice?”, Social Work Today, 13,41,13-14

Parker, H, Casburn, M, and Turnbull, D (1981) Receiving Juvenile Justice. London: Basil Blackwell.

Sanders, T (2005) Sex Work: A Risky Business. Cullomptan: Willan

I want an ASBO!

I want an ASBO.

No, this is not ‘cos I feel left out, see it as a badge of honour or any other such nonsense spouted by the Tabloids.

I want to get an ASBO for the most stupid thing I can.

ASBOs are a civil order, created by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which can be imposed following any persistent behaviour “likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons…”. Police officers, local authorities and some social landlords can apply for an ASBO to be given by the courts. This is rarely denied, and this can be based (being a civil order) on hearsay evidence. Breach of ASBO is punishable by up to 5 years in gaol (or if under 17 up to 2 years Detention and Training order – i.e baby gaol) (Burney 2005)

Now of course this all seems well and good when some little scrote is discharging pellets at your cat, when the local wide-boyz are trying to find the clitoral response frequency with the 3k subwoofers in their boots (I guess they never use their cars for shopping do they?), or that weird bloke who smells of poo and evo-stik shuffles behind you begging for change.

But let’s analyse this statement a bit further.

“Likely to harass, alarm or cause distress” – What is likely to cause alarm or distress. This is a very woolly statement (intentionally so) enabling all manner of behaviours to be criminalized. Ok, the above examples are fairly antisocial, but are they crime. What about (the very current) wearing of a hoodie, spitting, swearing… Maybe I don’t even need to try to get one! The Home Office Guidance states that “distress” can be caused by creating a fear of crime. This may be the ladz hanging out on the street corner in their hoodies, but research such as the British Crime Survey suggests that reactions to crime may cause fear – so the fact that there is such a visible police presence in Hyde Park during freshers week makes me fear crime. ASBO those coppers! And what about Wilson and Kellings (1983 cited in Kelling and Coles 1996) “Broken Windows” thesis that rundown areas create a fear of crime and are in fact criminogenic themselves. ASBO the road menders, the street planners, the bin men and the rogue landlords.

“one or more persons” – If one looks at the public order offences, such as affray, there is the qualifier of “a man of reasonable firmness”. This does not exists in ASB legislation. So if I say that my neighbours cat peering out of the window at me causes alarm, can I get it ASBO’d? Yeh I know that’s not particularly scary (my neighbours girlfriend however is another matter), but no where does it say how scary the cause of the distress must be…

“Police officers, local authorities… …rarely denied… …hearsay evidence” – What this means is that a number of persons, who may simply have an axe to grind (not that coppers ever behave thusly) can simply decide to slap down an ASBO for any behaviour they take umbridge to. Frankly, this causes me alarm and distress…

Perhaps though, the most worrying thing about ASBOs is the people receiving them and the things that they can be banned from doing under them.

A teenager with tourettes banned from swearing. A prostitute banned from carrying condoms. A family of 3 siblings and their cousin banned from congregating in a group of 3 or more. A child banned from saying the word “grass” in public (Burney 2005). A depressed and suicidal woman offered no treatment but banned from going near railways (http://www.asboconcern.org.uk/). WTF??

And the results are worrying too. A deaf teenager imprisoned for breaching an ASBO by spitting in the street. An 18 yearold in breach by “congregating with more than one other person” (a certain work by Jello Biafra comes to mind here) when he visited a youth club presentation on ASB. WTdoubleF????

Anyone else think that this has gone pretty wrong? And basically they dont work bloody well work in the first place (this assertion based on text books as well as the Sun’s ranting.) Of course the fact that they dont work means it’s a really really good idea to have more of them…

On a far darker level: How many people are aware that on receipt of an ASBO you can and likely will have your full name and photgraph published on a poster and displayed for all to see. Yes folks, and that could be your 10 year old kid who’s spat at a copper once too often. For Christ’s sake – people have been campaigning for years to get this for sex offenders (discussion of this pending btw)… …but we got it for kids who throw stones. And on the subject of sex offenders… Names and photos of cherubic little 10 year olds plastered on every lamp post in the estate. Wow! Fingers the Clown’s gonna lurrrve that isn’t he??!!

So here’s the deal. I need suggestions. They must be: Totally non-distressing to any reasonable person, not illegal trivial, and ideally should have a decent humour value. So maybe something a bit scatalogical?

Post your answers folks..!!

Cited:

Burney E (2005) Making people behave – Anti-social behaviour politcs and policy. Cullompton: Willan

Kelling G & Coles C (1996) Fixing broken windows, restoring order and reducing crime in our communities. London: Kessler.