Tag Archives: justice

Female Safety

CW rape and violence

The judge in the sentencing hearing for Wayne Couzens described his victim Sarah Everard as “wholly blameless”. There’s a subtext here, that a victim of rape and murder could, in some instances, be considered not wholly blameless, and this is both appaling and unsurpriing. Here in the UK we have a long tradition of blaming the victims of violence – especially women.

My whole life, I’ve been hearing what women should do to stay safe – don’t drink, don’t go out on your own, don’t go out after dark, use your keys to defend yourself, don’t dress provocatively, stay in areas with plenty of other people around. Sabina Nessa should (by that useless theory) have been safe on those terms, but she was murdered recently. 

Now the Metropolitan police are telling women what to do to stay safe if approached by a police officer. Because we can no longer safely assume that a police officer won’t assault, rape or murder a woman, in the aftermath of what Wayne Couzens did to Sarah Everard. He was shielded and enabled by his status as a police officer. The Met, let me repeat, are now telling women what to do for their own safety if approached by a police officer.

I don’t have words for how angry I am. These are the people whose job it is to uphold the law and keep people safe. If the institutional response to police brutality is to make the victims responsible for their own safety from police abuse, the police cannot be said to exist to uphold the law or keep people safe. As Talis Kimberly pointed out on Twitter, if this is the case, no-one should be charged with resisting arrest – especially not anyone whose apparent race or gender identity might put them at risk of being killed by the police. 

In theory we are supposed to be policed by consent. No one consents to police brutality, to rape or to murder. Either we need an urgent and radical overhaul of how policing works and how problematic policepersons are dealt with, or we are, of necessity, going to all have to treat the police as dangerous and suspicious – and clearly that’s not going to go well for anyone.

Radical change is long overdue. Police brutality towards black people is a known and longstanding issue. Police attitudes to protestors are highly problematic and tend to defend the convenience and property of the powerful at the expense of the freedom and wellbeing of ordinary people. Violence against women seldom leads to justice, with rape prosecution an area of absolute shame in this regard. Innocent, blameless women die all the time in the UK – a further 80 since Sarah Everard was murdered. It’s relentless. If you haven’t willingly participated in a violent situation, you are blameless and innocent.

The police are supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We have to demand change.


Learning and Punishment

When young children get things wrong, it is because they don’t know better. The younger the child, the more obvious this should be. They may not grasp the cause and effect issues. They may have been curious, or bored – both of which are innocent conditions. If a small child messes up, they need educating, not punishing. 

At some point, a person becomes capable of malice and deliberate cruelty. But what if we saw this primarily as an education problem, not a reason for punishment? I have no qualms about the idea of using short, sharp interventions to reduce the amount of harm or danger in a situation, (better you do something unpleasant than they tease the dog until it bites them, for example) but on the whole, what is punishing a child really about?

Are we punishing them for not having understood why something was important? Should it be their responsibility if they haven’t grasped why something matters?

Punishment has more to do with asserting authority and teaching obedience than it has to do with helping a person learn, grow and do better. Children will tend to respond to arbitrary authority either by increasing their resistance to it, or by hiding better. Punishment leads to fear and/or resentment. A child who has ‘learned’ to behave through punishment is likely to have learned about what to hide to survive, but they won’t necessarily think there’s any other value in what they’ve learned.

I think much the same is true of adults. Punishment does not discourage people from committing crime. Education and opportunity are far more effective on this score. If people don’t understand their rights and responsibilities, locking them up won’t fix that. Punishment doesn’t restore anything to the victim, either. It doesn’t actually achieve much for anyone and it has a high financial and social cost. What punishment does allow, be that at home or in a society, is for some people to have power over other people. Punishment has much more to do with the assertion of power and the reinforcing of hierarchies than it does with solving problems or fixing behaviour.

Punishment teaches that the person with the most power in a situation can dish out punishment on their own terms. The person with the least power is the person it will be easiest to punish. The rich and powerful are often very good at avoiding punishment, while any crime punishable by a fine was only ever intended to hurt poor people. What punishment leads to is the understanding that having power is more important than being right, or good. This does nothing to tackle crimes motivated by desperation. It also fuels the kind of crime that is driven by the desire to have power over others.


Invisible Prejudice

Often what makes prejudice invisible is that people who are not affected by it don’t want to see it. Truly, it is impressive what can be invisible for people who don’t want to look. If you’re ever tempted to tell someone you don’t think their problem is real because you’ve never seen any evidence of it, consider how little that really proves. People who refuse to see what is inconvenient to them are part of the problem.

As a Druid, working for justice means that you have to be able to recognise injustice. To recognise it, you have to listen to people whose experiences differ from your own. This may make you uncomfortable. It is ok to be uncomfortable and it is often key to how we learn to do better. That we cannot see something is not proof that it does not exist. When we don’t recognise a problem it is all too easy to become complicit in continuing it.

If you find you are getting things wrong, it is vitally important not to double down. Recognise the mistake, own it, apologise and do better. Never try to justify or excuse your prejudice when it has been exposed. Never try to minimise the impact of what you’ve got wrong and don’t suggest anyone is overreacting if you’ve upset someone in this way. Take any distress you cause seriously. Don’t blame the people you have made uncomfortable. Don’t prioritise defending yourself. Sometimes such situations can turn out to be complex or more nuanced for all sorts of reasons, but the above still holds – whatever else you may need to do, never double down on the things you were wrong about.

Your discomfort at getting things wrong does not make you a victim. Being called out for prejudice, and asked to do better, does not make you a victim. Being called to account does not constitute a witch hunt. 

We all make mistakes. We’re all informed by the cultures we grew up in. We all need to learn and we all have more work to do educating ourselves about the challenges other people face and the way in which prejudice has been normalised and made invisible to us. No one is going to get everything perfectly right all of the time. The important thing is to do better, to try, to listen, to read, to care. Doubling down on mistakes and poor judgements only increases the misery it causes, and makes the person doing it look like an insensitive ass. 

There have been some serious issues with the UK publishing industry recently. Publishing house Picador has been slow to recognise its mistakes. The doubling down in some quarters has been hideous to behold, and the racist abuse this has caused has been inexcusable.


Druidry and Privilege

Back when I was first exploring ideas of privilege, there was a person who used to show up on my blog to argue with me. I’ve since deleted most of her stuff.  If I talked about body size, she’d be in to tell me how hard things can be for thin people. I talked about the social issues around being found unattractive, and she responded by telling me how hard things can be when you grow up pretty. I remember her writing about her home, and big garden, and driving to get to the farmer’s market, and me raising the issue of privilege and being told that she wasn’t privileged.

We were all fairly new to the privilege conversations at this point. I did not then know how normal this type of conversation would become – that people who have considerable amounts of privilege are often incredibly resistant to seeing it, or to imagining what life would be like without those things. I know at this point how normal it is for people with massive privilege to dismiss the challenges faced by others, to treat the inconvenience they experience as being comparable, and to minimise the suffering of those who have significantly less.

These days I would have both the confidence and the insight to call out someone for this kind of crappy thinking. At this point I know that I am right about this stuff, and was right at the time. I never owed anything to the poor little rich girl who wanted to feel sorry for herself over how her attractiveness made other people jealous. One of the things massive privilege likes to do is whinge when it looks like the focus of attention is moving somewhere else. Immense privilege is used to being centre stage, and feels entitled, and resents the suggestion that something else matters more, so dammit, if the way to compete is to prove that really you are the disadvantaged one, then that’s what you do to stay firmly centre stage and most important.

For me, justice is an important part of Druidry. The work of seeking justice begins in yourself. If means being anti-racist and starting by looking hard at your own prejudices and assumptions, for example. It means looking at your privilege and the differences between what you have, and what others do not have. Justice requires a willingness to be uncomfortable. This includes a willingness not to be centre stage, and to recognise that other people may have bigger problems. Yes, thin can bring issues and criticism, but it will not usually mean a doctor automatically ignores your symptoms and attributes them to your body shape. 

For there to be justice, we have to listen to each other. One of the easiest ways to derail a bid for justice is to insist that something else is more important. When men insist on foregrounding violence experienced by men in response to someone trying to talk about violence inflicted on women by men, for example. At the same time, if someone is talking about issues with no reference to the privilege involved, that actually needs derailing. No, we can’t all drive to the farmer’s market to buy local organic veg. Not all of us can drive, or afford that kind of food, and it isn’t that we aren’t trying hard enough.

And today, justice is allowing myself the space to feel angry on my own account that I had to deal with all of that. Angry that someone persistently worked to undermine me, to derail me, to minimise genuine issues and to put themselves centre stage in this space that is mine. I’m allowed to be angry, but it’s taken me a lot of years to be able to hold that for myself.


What if we re-thought the Police?

In the UK and America alike, we’re seeing a lot of reasons to re-think policing. What could we do that would change how policing works?

The big one for me is to re-prioritise around crime. Currently the police seem far too focused on the small scale crimes of poor people, while there seems to be no way to even challenge the crimes of the rich – and the crimes of those in government and other positions of power. Those with most power should be held to most account.

Justice should not simply be about punishing people after a crime has been committed. Justice means fairness and equality of opportunity.

If we legalised all drugs, provided them safely through pharmacists and treated addiction as a medical issue, we could do a lot of good. I gather it’s worked out well in Portugal.

If we invested properly in mental health support, we wouldn’t have people in crisis becoming a police issue.

If we invested in quality of life for everyone – especially including easy access to green space – we’d reduce crime where it relates to poverty. Interventions like Universal Basic Income would wipe out the crime that only exists because of desperation.  Investing in communities would wipe out the crime that comes from boredom, frustration, lack of opportunities and feelings of alienation.

In a fairer and more just society, most of us would feel more motivated to support said society. Inequality and injustice encourage crime. When the crimes of the rich go unpunished – as is currently happening – a sense of obligation to each other is bound to be undermined.

What if policing included more community support and mediation? What if policing was more focused on abuses of power? What if ecocide was a matter for the police? What would happen to how we police ourselves if prison stopped being the default answer to crime?


Tone Policing and Justice

Tone policing is the unpleasant habit of making the way the message is delivered more important than the content. It tends to be undertaken by the person with the most privilege in a situation as a way to ignore, diminish, take down or silence someone who is distressed. It also tends to go with treating someone who is distressed as invalid – too emotional, unreasonable, childish, out of control – so as to feel like there’s no need to take them seriously.

If the hurt feelings of the person with power and privilege are the most important thing, then of course nothing is going to change. And yes, it can be really uncomfortable looking at the ways in which you benefit from a system that hurts other people. It can be disturbing and upsetting to be told you’re perpetrating harm when you thought you were ok. These are hard lessons to learn, and tone policing is not the answer, not in this context.

There are however, times for tone policing. We should be policing ourselves, especially in situations where we have power and advantage. Are we speaking kindly and respectfully? Are we talking over other people? Are we increasing the anger in a situation? Are we punching down? Are we shouting someone else down? If you’re the person with the emotional control in a situation, are you using the fact that it isn’t hurting you to run power over someone who is being hurt?

Consider policing the tone of people who share your privileges. Call them out – gently and politely – when you catch them putting their own hurt feelings ahead of the actual oppression of other people. Call out the people who use anger and aggression to dominate spaces. Call out the micro-aggressions and be prepared to explain – calmly – why this kind of thing isn’t ok.

One of the biggest indicators of who has power can be seen around who is allowed to be upset. People with power and privilege are allowed to be upset when children’s cartoons aren’t made for them. People without power and privilege are not allowed to be upset when people in their community are murdered. If we want justice, then this is an area of human interaction that really needs some work. It is complicated territory and tends not to bring out the best in people, but small acts around checking your own tone, policing the people closest to you if they mess up, and defending the right of people to be upset by actual oppression will add up.


Druidry and Justice

“And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it” is one of the lines from the Gorsedd prayer. Justice is very much a consideration for modern Druids. Unfortunately, righteous indignation and attention seeking along with other ego-orientated activities are all very tempting and can make performing as a giver of justice addictive. Real justice – restorative justice that actually makes things better – takes time and work. Using your power to attack someone else is easy, satisfying and unhelpful.

Justice is often complicated and requires taking the time to understand what’s happening. It’s easy to tell people off for appropriation, it takes a bit more time and effort to find out whether you are talking to people engaged in a living tradition that is part of their own culture. It’s all too easy to centre yourself and end up speaking over the people you are supposedly speaking for. This can result in misrepresentation, in hiding what the real problems are, and in creating bad feeling. People who feel we have to ban Christmas things so as not to offend minorities largely contribute to the prejudice against minorities, for example.

I recall one justice-preaching Druid a few years back who was blithely explaining that accessibility is all about building design, it’s not about problems in the bodies of disabled people. Except, if pain and fatigue are your main issues, you won’t make it to the building, or the late starting meeting. For some disabled people, what happens in their bodies is limiting and no amount of refitting a building will change that. Speaking over disabled people with an inaccurate story is really unhelpful.

There’s nothing like righteous anger to make a person feel powerful and important, and I’ve seen Druids doing their justice on these terms and it isn’t pretty. Standing up to someone, calling them out, telling them off – it can feel really powerful doing this. But, did you have more power than them all along? Did you come in on the right side? One of the most popular tricks abusers and bullies pull is to play the victim and enlist people to help them attack the person they have been mistreating. There is no justice if you are misled into helping a bully torment their victim.

Justice requires us to take the time, to listen and to understand. Start by policing your own behaviour. Look at your own words and deeds first. If you’re going to call people out, make sure you know what’s going on – don’t call out indigenous people for following their own paths. Don’t assume you can tell who someone is by looking – mixed race people exist and you won’t know who they are from a casual glance at a profile picture.

If something makes you angry, don’t act in the heat of that anger on a ‘justice’ crusade because the odds of getting it wrong are high. Take the time to reflect. Look at the situation properly. Think about what would be most helpful. So yes, call out your racist family members – you know what their background is. But be careful calling out people you don’t know when you also don’t know what’s going on. It is better to amplify the voices of people who are disempowered – it is a good and useful thing to do, and won’t mean you perpetuate misunderstandings. Listen, lift people, make space for them, encourage other people to listen. And if someone invites you to join a crusade against a person, look carefully at the evidence and the existing balances of power. Tread carefully.

If you care about justice, it has to come second to any desires you might have to feel powerful, or important or to put yourself centre stage.


Justice and the family

Yesterday I ran into a very powerful blog post about the treatment of women and children in the family courts. It is a tough read, CW for a lot of abuse detail https://victimfocusblog.com/2020/09/22/misogyny-in-the-family-courts/

I spent a couple of years in the UK family court system. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through it appreciates what a harrowing system it is to be in.

Firstly, the assumption is that contact with both parents is what the child wants, and in the child’s best interests. This largely isn’t affected by what the child says. Or how the police assess risk in the situation. My solicitors told me that if I had been killed by my ex, he could still expect contact.

I was questioned repeatedly about traumatic experiences. This is the worst thing to do to someone who has been traumatised, but I was made to revisit those experiences over and over again. No one seemed to care what that, or any other aspect of the process was doing to my mental health. My poor mental health was, however, raised as an issue about whether I could be a good parent.

It is normal to threaten to take the child away if you don’t co-operate with contact. The parent who is seen as being hostile to other parent, will be told that non-cooperation can mean they are seen as the problem and the child will end up with the other parent. This is a terrifying situation to be put in. Give the child to the abuser, or the abuser gets the child for most of the time. The blog link I shared details examples of how this happens even when the child themselves is reporting being abused by the other parent. It is also normally the case, from what I’ve heard from other women, that victims of violence and sexual assault are treated as unreasonable if they don’t want their child to have contact with the person who did that to them. In all other contexts we try and protect children from known sex offenders.

I was upset, terrified and emotional the whole time. My ex was calm and reasonable. This counted against me. I was treated as though I was irrational. I never felt anyone considered that I might have had good reasons to feel as I did.

The family court system will put pressure on parents to present the other parent as a good person. This is hard when an adult is setting a child a really bad example. It’s also highly problematic if there is abusive behaviour. It’s really hard to parent well if you don’t feel safe telling your child if they are being treated badly, if something unsafe is going on, or inappropriate. For example, if one parent decides to ‘win over’ the child by letting them stay up late, watch whatever they want, eat what they want, not do their homework, and buys them anything they want it is the parent who stands up to this who is going to be in trouble with the family courts.

I’m just talking broadly here. I could write pages on the things that were said to me that haunt me still. It was a process that had a terrible impact on my mental health. But, I got my child through with no direct contact with the father he did not want to see. I was told repeatedly that he would want contact at some point. The boy is 18 now, and free to do as he pleases and oddly enough, he still doesn’t want contact.

This is a system that needs to change. There needs to be much better recognition of the widespread nature of domestic abuse. It needs to be clearly understood that an abusive person is not going to be a good or safe parent. Children who report abuse in this context should always be taken seriously. Safety should be the first concern, always. Better support needs to be in place for abuse victims.


Druidry and Rabbits

Rabbits are interestingly complicated from a Druid perspective. On one hand, they’re cute, fluffy mammals, and on the other, they could be the poster-creature for humans messing up.

We’ve been moving rabbits around the world for a long time. When exactly they came to the UK is uncertain – could have been the Romans, could have been the Normans. Certainly the Normans had to build warrens for them because apparently rabbits back then weren’t very tough at all! Old rabbit warrens in the landscape can easily be confused for other things. There’s an interesting pair near me that, in local legend, are supposedly mass graves for a smallpox hospital.

Rabbits in Australia have been an ecological disaster. They may be small and cute, but being in a landscape where they don’t belong has had a series impact on other species. Tree loss, soil erosion and loss of other plant species causes huge knock on effects.

Then we get myxomatosis – a virus that originated in South America and turns out to have hideous, crippling effects on rabbits, who die slow and painful deaths from it. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it was deliberately brought into the UK to control rabbit populations – a horrible choice by any measure.

We move rabbits around so that we can eat them. We keep them as pets. We use the fur of Angora rabbits for clothing, but the treatment of those rabbits, is often appalling. The problems rabbits cause in the world stem from our human assumption that they are there for us to use in whatever way we see fit. When we colonise landscapes, our impact isn’t just about moving people in, and humans – especially white, European humans – have caused a lot of harm by deliberately and accidentally moving creatures to places where they do not belong.

Rabbits invite us to look at how we use power. They invite us to square up to a long history of ecological damage and arrogance. They are intimately tied up with colonial histories and the history of invasion. From a Druid perspective, they have much to tell us about what a lack of natural justice looks like, and what human hubris does in the world.


Eco Justice

Sustainability and economic and social justice all naturally go hand in hand. Any project that doesn’t deal with all of these areas together may be setting itself up to fail.

There are two major sources of pressure on the natural world. One comes from the greed of people who have far more than they need and will destroy environments to take more. That’s what we’re seeing with oil extraction, fracking, palm oil plantations, industrial fishing practices, rather a lot of mining – anything where big industry goes in and clears out what’s valuable.

This happens not only at the expense of the environment, but also to the detriment of ordinary people living in the afflicted landscape. People may be persuaded in the short term with the bribe of jobs and money, but it is they who will deal with the flammable water, the flooding that comes from deforestation, the soil degradation and all the other long term consequences of big industry destroying the landscape. It is important to recognise that people who have been bribed and lied to about the implications are not wholly responsible for where that leads.

The second major pressure on ecosystems can come from the aftermath of the above, or be generated by war, climate change or other such challenges. People in desperation simply trying to survive become locked into unsustainable practices that further deplete the land and the wildlife. Environmental damage caused by hungry people can only be tackled if you also deal with the hunger.

We have a nasty habit of thinking in terms of nature as human-free and protecting landscapes by either ignoring the people in it or taking them out. It tends to be the poorest and most vulnerable people who are treated this way. If we want long term environmental solutions, we need the people in the landscape to be part of it, not something to drive off.

Both sides of this damaging process need dealing with. We have to curb the greed of people with far more than they need. We have to reduce the desires to consume of people who already have a decent standard of living. We have to help those who have little or nothing to live at a decent standard in a way that will work for their local environments. While there is any significant belief that those with great piles of resources are entitled to what they have and those with nothing deserve nothing, we won’t be able to sort out the way human activity impacts on the planet.

We need to find ways of being that allow us collectively to live within the planet’s means. We need to question the idea that it’s acceptable for many people to starve while a few have grotesque excess. Justice for the environment goes hand in hand with justice for people. We have to replace our long out of date feudal thinking that has the rich few at the top of the pyramid and the deprived many at the bottom, and create for ourselves social structures that are much more equitable. To preserve our environment and keep it fit for human habitation, we have to live more cooperatively, and more equitably.