The Jimmy Savilles we all knew

“You’re a lovely big girl…..what age are you?

“Do you have a boyfriend?

“Do you give him lots of kisses and cuddles?”

They might, or might not have been (Sir) Jimmy Saville’s opening lines to the many teenage girls he is alleged to have assaulted during his celebrity career but I’ll bet the words resonate with many women who never came within a cigar’s whiff of the “star”.

Standing behind a shop counter; in the coat check area of a disco or sitting at a desk – that first full-time or part-time job meant money, a degree of independence and the thundershock of realising that some of the adult men with whom you now had to deal weren’t in the least bit interested in your ability to do your job.

They might have been bosses, managers, customers or colleagues but the undertone was the same.

You stood there in your carefully-chosen clothes – carefully-chosen because you wanted to look grown-up and confident, even if you were totally bricking yourself about screwing up and never working again in your life.

You desperately wanted to fit in with everyone else. You stood or sat quietly, listening to the banter of your colleagues and longed for the day when you would be included – one of the gang.

Your desperation was palpable.

You jumped up to help with every menial task; you asked if there was anything else you could do to help; you smiled at everyone in the hope that they’d acknowledge your existence. You made the tea; you went to the shop for buns; you carted dusty piles of files up and down rickety stairs and stood stamping your feet against the cold in the yard as the lorries rolled in and out, waiting to sign the delivery dockets with your numb fingers.

Yes, your desperation showed – you in your carefully-chosen clothes that you hoped would make you more grown-up looking than your friends who were still waiting to enter the world of work. The blouse that gaped just a little; the shoes that were half an inch higher than you were used to; the trousers that your mum had said would do fine, even if they were just a hair too tight around the hips that had recently manifested themselves.

And he saw it.

Someone commented recently that if you had to describe a creepy abuser of young women, Sir Jimmy would be it – maybe he did encapsulate everyone’s idea of a paedophile; he wasn’t the world’s most attractive man – but just as most rapes don’t take place down the oft-imagined dark alleyways, so men with interests in teenage girls came in all shapes and sizes.

Common to them, as with rapists – which so many of them were as well, was the power that they had over their prey.

Jimmy Saville’s was obvious – so was Gary Glitter’s; anyone’s in the celebrity world.

But in real life, abusers and would-be abusers had power too. They were the men who filled the little brown wage packets; the longer-established fellow workers, the customers who threatened to have a word with your boss if you didn’t smile and be “nice” to them.

The point I’m making is that while we’re glad that the allegations against Saville are finally being taken seriously, there are thousands and thousands of women who experienced exactly the same thing but whose abusers weren’t in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, film or television or celebrities in any way. The men who cajoled and threatened us were equally damaging to our future happiness: they defined us as sex objects from our first breathless steps towards adulthood; they cloaked us in their dark perversion and layered on the guilt for being who we were.

Guilt that you couldn’t share with your mum because you thought she might tell you that Mr Soandso the family friend who’d given you the job was “…a lovely man – you should count yourself lucky and stop talking nonsense – sure he’s daughters of his own around your age – I’m sure he was just trying to be kind….”

Guilt that you couldn’t share with your friends because they’d think “…who does she think she is, Miss Ireland? Sure she hasn’t even got a boyfriend and she thinks he would be interested in her?”

Guilt that your figure had rounded; that your nipples showed under your blouse when it was cold, no matter how many tissues you stuffed down your bra; guilt that you smiled to try to cover your shame trying to make the best of your dumbstruck blushes; guilt that your simple walk through the office with those dusty files in your arms made him accuse you of swinging you hips in front of him deliberately. Guilt at walking into the works kitchen when he had Page Three open in front of him and letting him tell you that you too could model topless.

Guilt that you stood there and let him touch you; whisper foul suggestions; lift your hand against his groin and more just because he had that power and you wanted that job.

Does it sound familiar?

The anguish of Jimmy Saville’s teenage girls is something many of us can feel.

It’s a relief that the police are to begin an investigation into their allegations. It’s a relief that the BBC has called upon employees past and present to dredge their memories and search their consciences.

They are brave women and I hope they get justice after all these years.

Perhaps in their eventual vindication all those who knew the hot, uncomfortable breath of an older man on our face; the acrid scent of male sweat as he stood too close, indulging in frottage; the hands up our skirts, on our breasts ….and worse…. will be vindicated too.

We will watch and listen to the condemnation and we will hope that our abusers are hearing the message too.

By now they’re old men – many of them are probably dead – but we will hope that they will know that the humiliation and fear that their words and actions brought upon us were wrong.

Wrong.

There, I’m saying it now – the simple word I couldn’t utter all those years ago.

We won’t get enquiries or police investigations – there were too many of us and too many companies, shops, bars, hotels large and small – but that’s okay….

It’s okay …..as long as society (and that’s us now, after all) and those police forces learn to listen to boys and girls when they tell someone that they are being abused.

It’s okay as long as we take them seriously and don’t turn into the people who let us down when they shrugged their shoulders and told us:

“Just get on with it.

“He’ll leave you alone soon enough.

“Just laugh it off.

“If you say anything, you’ll be seen as a trouble-maker.

“That’s the way life is.”

Because it’s not.

Shock and horror…and shame

I’m devastated.

I checked on the information in the production notes with the researcher and every word was true.

How can an organisation that purports to help women, say such a thing?

Prostitutes are raped too. they face violence every day. They are tortured by pimps and punters. They are HUMAN BEINGS.

If a man slapped a waitress who served him coffee, would we not explode with wrath?

If a man grabbed a woman working at a supermarket checkout, would we not gasp in disbelief?

If you’re a female journalist and your male line manager held your hair as you typed, so hard that clumps began to tear out through his fingers, would you not have something to say?

Just because a punter pays for sex that does not give him the right to treat a prostitute as a sub-human, inanimate object.

I am appalled, distressed, devastated and ashamed.

But at least I have a voice.

 

The Sunday World – break for the border.

Sunday World Tattoo Story RoI edition

The link above was provided by an organisation I respect, admire and support. and it’s a horrifying story of abuse by sex traffickers. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

But this picture is a (somewhat fuzzy) reproduction of the same story in the Northern edition of the same newspaper – the Sunday World.

All of a sudden it’s turned from a serious story into an excuse to show naked women.

Can anyone tell me why?

Why there’s such a difference?

I’m inclined to think that the Sunday World thinks its Northern readers couldn’t care less about the abuses of the sex trade – as long as there are a few tits and bums, it’ll be all right.

I kept the page because the same Northern edition featured a report on a prostitution court in Belfast. Two women were jailed after they pleaded guilty to managing a brothel in the centre of the city. A man from Antrim Robert James Weir, was remanded in custody on charges of controlling the two women’s prostitution for gain, managing a brothel and possessing criminal property.

Wait a minute! that’s three people charged with managing a brothel – but if they were all managers, where were the “workers”?

And in spite of the charges levelled against the two women, the Sunday World had carried out some investigative journalism by clicking on to the escort.ireland website and republishing most of the details on the two “managers” who appeared in court.

I say “most of the details” because that fine Sunday chronicle announced that the “managers” offered “a whole raft of depravities too graphic to list in a family newspaper”.

They still published the rates though – just in case anyone was in any doubt about the “manager” status of the two women.

And a few more observations while I’m at it.

The Sunday World publishes a whole page of ads for “live girls” sex lines – everything from “granny sex” to “teen sex”.

The Sunday World publishes the thoughts  of universally admired Catholic priest and broadcaster Fr Brian D’arcy.

The Sunday World.  April 15, 2012.

A “family newspaper.”

I think I’m going to be sick.

Sunday World Tattoo Story NI edition

I’ve just reblogged some powerful words from a exited woman. A woman who worked as a prostitute but who has managed to leave the sex trade and whose brave writing has affected many – including me.

When she originally wrote this piece a few days ago, a part of it sent a chill down my spine.

This part:

I get angry that I can phone anti-sexual violence lines, and it will be pot-luck whether I am asked stupid questions or made to feel sub-human.

I have spoken to help-lines – and heard myths that have almost destroy me.

Made to feel I must have wanted it – didn’t you take the money. Asked why I just didn’t walk out. Told if it really was that violent, I would be dead then. Told endlessly as I was not poor I was not a real prostitute. Asked how men actually raped you. And endless rubbish to send me back to being sub-human.

This is said by women who campaign and fight male violence – but are dismissive of the grief and pain of the prostituted.

I used to work as a volunteer for several organisations that helped victims of sexual and domestic abuse. In my time  I was never aware of any distinction between women who were raped or assaulted, abused mentally or physically. Nor any distinction between wives, teenage girls, divorced women, older women or prostitutes.

We were all equal as women.

But to my  horror I encountered recently what looks on the surface like the very prejudice that this blogger has written about.

It wasn’t said in public – in fact the statement was part of briefing notes made to researchers working on an important discussion about the first ever human trafficking conviction in Northern Ireland.

The intentions of the programme were honourable and the actual interviews went well – highlighting the success of the work of the police through an interview with a police officer and the experiences of victims who had been helped after their escape from the sex trade through another interview with the spokeswoman for a well-known women’s organisation.

Hopefully, the people who listened to the interviews will be more aware of human trafficking in prostitution.

I was delighted that the people behind the programme had given the issue such coverage and was interested to see the background notes.

My heart sank.

The spokeswoman had told the researchers all the things we know – how traumatic it is for those who are trafficked, how difficult it is to recover from such an experience. How some women don’t.

The notes told the presenters that the trafficked don’t want to work in the sex trade – that they’d been tricked into trusting their traffickers and ended up in hotels and apartments “being raped up to 7 times a day.”

The notes from this spokesperson added that “it’s rape, because they’re not prostitutes”

It’s rape because they’re not prostitutes.

Hold that phrase in your head for a moment.

Later in the programme there was an interview with one of the senior policemen who was involved in the operation to bring the first human trafficking conviction successfully to court.

He – to his eternal credit, firmly and categorically – told the programme:

“I don’t know of any woman who wants to be a prostitute.”

I saw the briefing notes before both interviews and I was able to express my extreme discomfort with the statement from the spokeswoman to the producers. Thankfully, this aspect wasn’t touched upon in public.

Now I know the pressure that researchers are under when setting up programmes – I’ve done it myself.

You’re juggling several items at once and more often than not, someone will return your call on one subject when you’re in the middle of another – so you try to remember all the questions you wanted to ask and should ask and frantically type in all the briefing notes for the presenters and producers.

Sometimes you forget to ask a key question, or miss out on a particular nuance of what the potential guest is saying.

And sometimes you’re just not across the subject as much as you’d like and fail to spot a statement that should be challenged or explored in greater detail.

And sometimes you just misunderstand – or simply make a mistake in transcribing the notes.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that that was the case.

I have to admit I’m struggling on this. Was there a prejudice in the organisations with which I worked all those years ago? Was I so naive that I missed it? What would I have done if I’d come across these attitudes? And what has happened that this extreme prejudice has emerged?

I’ll let you know.

Rebecca Mott

This post is written through trauma, from the place of deep grief, from the place of extreme body memories.

This post is written as a plea, as a scream of the exited woman who is sick of being strong, sick of always being nice and reasonable, sick of acting tough.

This post is a scream – a scream from the soul of my teenage/young adulthood – a scream to say I refuse to be brave, to be calm, to be afraid to express my utter despair.

I write this post for I know the vast majority of those who read this blog have a good heart – a heart that would reach out to exited women when they hit the blank wall of despair.

But I want to write to my anger, write to my pain, write to my deep despair.

I want to those who read my words – but…

View original post 897 more words

Taste and Decency?

It was a nasty little case with an unusual twist.

The perpetrator was vicious. He had imprisoned a woman and amongst other things, over the course of the horrific evening,  he promised an interrogation of “ten minutes of honesty” but that for each supposed lie she told, he could cut off the tip of one of her fingers.

He denied all the charges as first, but just before his victim was to take the stand, he pleaded guilty to rape, false imprisonment, threatening to kill and causing actual bodily harm.

But it was the word “rape” that caused all the discussion in the newsroom.

If you hear that someone’s been raped, what’s the first image that comes to mind?

Yeah, me too. But this wasn’t “vaginal rape”.

The man was charged with vaginal rape, but no evidence was produced and that charge was dropped.

This was “oral rape” – he forced her to mouth-fuck him.

I felt that it was important to use the phrase “oral rape” but incredibly, it was subbed away.

“We ‘ use that phrase,” the higher powers explained. “It’s all to do with taste and decency.”

I argued that it was important to distinguish the difference – apart from anything else, as a warning to future rapists that forcing a woman to take your dick in her mouth is the same, in law, as forcing your dick into her vagina.

“No,” they said, “Use ‘sex attack’ if you have to use anything at all.”

I made a mental note to take it up with seniors at a later date but you’ll never guess what happened next.

The mother of this piece of shit contacted the newsroom to complain about the treatment her wee son had had from the news.

“He wasn’t convicted of rape,” she mewed. “It was oral rape.”

The lawyers laughed. The copy stayed the same – ‘convicted of rape’ – because in law, vaginal or oral – rape is rape.

The same, only different.

My question is, why can’t we use the phrase “orally raped”?

The only argument I’ve faced is the dilemma we would put parents in having to explain what it is. You mean to say that they don’t have to explain “rape”? Ever?

I’m adding it to the list of things that happen to women that society doesn’t really want to think carefully about but we need to tackle this one soon.

Too many young girls – and boys – are forced to perform this particular sex act by people who believe they can get away with it. The evidence is spat out or swallowed and rinsed away with a half a bottle of neat vodka and vomit. But just like ‘vaginal rape’ or that quaint old term ‘buggery’ the effects are there forever.

The same – and the same.

Raised eyebrows

….that’s what you get nowadays when you talk about women’s issues – especially from producers in a newsroom.

“Women’s issues?”

A sigh.

“You know, you should be careful not to pigeonhole yourself – you’ll get a name.”

That was actually said to me once and as another feminist in the newsroom pointed out – should everyone not be concerned with  so-called women’s issues? Should everyone by now not call themselves a feminist?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

But no. Unfortunately for all of us – men and women – “women’s issues” still aren’t taken seriously in newsrooms across the world.

Well, except when the “women’s issues” concern men.

Prostitution and breast implants are two subjects that garnered lots of publicity recently – sex certainly sells women’s issues.

Take for example, the operation mounted by the Irish police a few months ago. In an effort to clamp down on men buying sex from on-street women, they persuaded two female officers to pose as prostitutes in Limerick and promptly lifted the punters who flocked to their sides.

It’s illegal, what they were doing and 21 of them ended up in court, paying fines of just under 500 euros each. Quite right.

Amazingly though, the local paper, the Limerick Leader, decided that they’d suffered enough and refused to print their names or details in their court report. Quite wrong.

In my days as a local newspaper reporter, covering the local courts, we always printed the names and addresses of defendants – convicted or not. The policy was simple – if you appeared in that court, you appeared in the next week’s paper.

Of course that didn’t stop the guilty trying to keep their crimes a secret. Furtive approaches as I left the court ,building; embarrassed visits to the newsroom; indignant telephone calls. The answer was always the same – no.

Yet the Limerick Leader decided to omit these 21 names – to let the men who’d made excuses to their wives and girlfriends about their whereabouts on the morning of the court; who’d lied to their employers about why they needed a few hours off; who’d sworn their family solicitors to secrecy disappear back into the dirty, crumbling society from which they’d come.

Can’t you imagine their relief?

“She’d have left me if she found out…”

“I’d be the laughing-stock of the golf club…”

“Father so-and-so would have me step down from his committees…”

The Limerick Leader decided that their aberration had been paid for in full and there was no need to put these fine, worried souls through any more pain. Readers who follow their Leader have been left in the dark. They don’t know whether the men included their child’s teacher; the businessman whose shop they visit frequently or that politician whose right wings views appear so frequently in the letters page.

I don’t know if any of the 21 fell into those categories – I’m just guessing – as I’m sure the population of Limerick is too. By protecting the identities of the few, the paper has thrown doubt on the reputations of many.

The same Limerick Leader which had previously named three prostitutes – and printed their photographs – when they appeared in court some weeks previously. Fallen women. Bad. Bad. Bad.

And by the way, the three women featured by the paper happened to be from Eastern Europe.

Isn’t it superbly ironic that while the British press is wringing its hands about phone hacking and revealing sordid little details about the lives of the rich and famous, a part of the Irish press was going the other way by imposing its own “D notice” on the identities of the 21?

It’s important to point out that other papers have questioned and indeed, admonished the Limerick Leader for its actions in the increasingly wider debate about prostitution and particularly human trafficking in Ireland.

Fair play – as we say here in Ireland. But if the Gardai (Irish police) ever get their act together and put as much effort into fighting prostitution/human trafficking from the bottom up, the punters, as they do into motoring offences, will it happen again?

I’m keeping my fingers crossed. As a woman, I’m hoping that I can expect equality from all the newspaper editors across the land. As a consumer I’d like to think that advertisers in the Limerick Leader might have expressed their concerns about the paper’s policy on the 21 and as a member of the National Union of Journalists, I’d like to know how the Irish branch feel about that redacted information.

Women’s issues and men.

Breast implants.

Normally women’s health issues are left languishing on the inside pages – the “Women’s Column” or in a side bar on a website but the scandal over the PIP implants has continuously come to the fore.

Quite right.

The French company used industrial grade silicone for the implants and hid that fact from inspectors while thousands were being used by plastic surgeons across Britain. Profit got the better of them and thankfully they were found out.

But what to do with the women who have received these PIP implants?

The debate in the newsroom – and undoubtedly the pub counter – is hardly a debate at all when men get involved.

The stories pour out – they all know of someone who spent three grand on “perking things up” or who pestered their doctor with tales of depression and woe and persuaded the GP to recommend the surgery on the NHS.

“Vanity” they cry. “Why should taxpayers fund the fixing? They wanted the implants, let them pay to have them removed and replaced.”

Vanity boys? Really?

Setting aside any woman who has had to have reconstructive surgery, I would say that 100 percent of those who opted for the implants did so because they felt that their natural shape, size or sag was an anathema to men.

Consciously or unconsciously, they felt that their body just wasn’t the one that would be accepted by the other half of the population. Flicking through the 36AA in Marksies or slipping the horribly named “chicken fillets” into balcony bras, they thought of all the photoshopped breasts in papers and magazines topped with smiling faces and wanted that for themselves.

We all want to fit “in” sometimes, I can’t pick up any stones and throw them at other women – that would be hypocrisy, believe me.

But I would like some honesty from men of all ages.

When the subject of breast implants comes up, I want them to be assertive and brave in admitting that a 38DD is not the be all and end all. that they’re perfectly happy, intrigued and delighted with breasts of all shapes and sizes and in fact, when it comes down to it, they don’t matter at all in the overall scheme of human relationships.

After all, for years we women have been reassuring them.

Size doesn’t matter.