Jon Cruddas on men's role in stopping violence against women
This week's guest blog is by Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham. He's writing about violence against women and girls - and what government, society, and men themselves can do to stop it. Share your opinion on the issues he talks about, and what you think about his proposed solutions and initiatives, in our Talk thread - and don't forget to share your URL if you post.
The recent scandals in which men have abused their power over women, boys and girls confronts us with the widespread sexual violence in our society. It doesn't just happen in the BBC or at Chetham’s School of Music. The biggest threat to women and girls is from someone they know; often a member of their own family.
In neighbourhoods across the country, there are men who abuse their partners and children in the privacy of their homes. It is about power and control. They are contrite and swear they will never do it again, but they do. And they do because we still turn a blind eye and too often fail to hold them to account.
I believe in the family and in the power of community to act for the good of all. I also believe in personal freedom. Men’s violence against women and its supporting culture of violent pornography and the sexualisation of women destroys family life. It makes a mockery of community, and it robs women and girls of personal freedom. Far too often women themselves are blamed for the violence against them. This double standard is wrong.
Violence against women is a blight on our country. It is men’s problem and there is an obligation on us to address it.
So on Monday 4 March, as part of Labour’s policy review, I’ve organised a meeting in Parliament on ‘What part can men play in stopping men’s violence against women?'. The meeting will complement the work of Labour’s Commission for Women’s Safety, and it will look at how we can start creating a dialogue between men and women about how to end violence against women.
Government can do some of the work. Labour will set up a Domestic and Sexual Violence Board to ensure minimum national standards and it will make sex and relationships education compulsory in schools to tackle harmful attitudes and behaviours towards women. But society will also need to take charge. We need a popular social movement of moral anger for cultural change around the behaviour of men and boys toward women and girls.
Men and boys perpetrate 90 per cent of child sexual abuse. Two women a week are murdered by their partner or ex-partner. At least 750000 children a year witness domestic violence. It all takes place in a culture which values harmful notions of masculine power and trivialises or sexualises women and girls; a culture in which violent pornography is increasingly accessible to children on the internet.
These are not pictures of naked women or couples having sex but brutal and violent images of submissive women and dominating men.
A few years ago the Australian government considered blocking websites containing this kind of extreme material but backed down in the face of opposition. Now Iceland’s interior minister Ogmundur Jonasson is calling for a filtering of online hardcore pornography.
We should follow his example and explore how we can prevent extreme porn shaping our culture. We need to avoid polarising debate between supporting either censorship or laissez faire, and find a way of establishing a clear distinction between sex and violence. Our children need to know about sexuality and understand their bodies and value the importance of equal and respectful relationships, but we should protect them from all forms of sexual violence - including female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
The White Ribbon Campaign is already involving men in working to end violence against women and there are fantastic charities engaging men and boys. Respect work with male perpetrators of violence against women. Tender is a domestic violence charity using drama in schools and youth centres to educate about relationships and power.
We need to give young men an opportunity to develop skills, self-discipline and pride. It matters, because when boys or men feel they are failures and suffer shame they are more likely to turn to violence to save face. We can learn from the work of Grendon prison where prisoners must confront their crimes in psychotherapeutic group work. Local authorities can put in place violence against women strategies to tackle the problem, as some Labour councils such as Lambeth are already doing, and ensuring that the issue is part of Sex and Relationships Education in schools.
Politics has lost the respect of the public. Too often it has been about short-term solutions, patching things up and looking for quick fixes. Today we are faced with long term challenges which call for new approaches to solving social problems.
Government has a part to play, but men and women need to organise together to change our culture and the behaviour of men and boys toward women and girls. It means talking about right and wrong, and the importance of virtue in how our institutions function, and people behave toward one another. Tackling men’s violence against women is part of this new politics of one nation.
The meeting that John mentions, at which Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary) and Liz Kelly (Co-Chair of the End Violence Against Women Colaition) will also be speaking, takes place on the 4th March. If you would like to attend, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us what you think on the Talk thread - and don't forget to leave your URLs if you blog.