Where on earth to begin?
I’m not going to waste your time with some clumsy attempt to set out my feminist credentials but – in a world of pussy-grabbing presidents and molesting movie moguls – I do want to put on record the fact that I’m troubled by the way in which we (men, mostly) treat and regard women.
Really, deeply troubled.
I speak as a husband, a dad, a man. I speak as a police officer.
And this is what I see.
According to the Office of National Statistics, in the year to March 2017, the police in England & Wales recorded more than 41,000 allegations of rape. We also recorded nearly 80,000 ‘other’ sexual offences. Numbers rise and numbers fall, but the sheer volume is staggering. And the overwhelming majority of victims are women and girls.
My sense of horror is compounded by the knowledge that sexual offences remain significantly under-reported; that the real numbers will be higher still.
How the hell did it come to this? How did we, as a supposedly civilised society, manage to stand by and let it happen? How did we allow the casual sexual abuse of women to become somehow normalised? How did we manage to remain mute as we saw it happening all around us?
And, before some of you pile in with objections, I don’t think that all men are to blame – I don’t think that at all. I’m proud to be a man and I’m proud to be friends with any number of decent, principled, honourable men. But I do think that all men have a responsibility – a duty even.
To speak up. To stand up. To do the right thing – regardless of the personal consequences.
Silence is collusion, as one of my old bosses used to say.
As a brief aside, I hear all sorts of debates about the causes of sexual offences – and of rape in particular. Mention is made of drugs and alcohol, of suggestive glances and too-short skirts. It’s all malevolent nonsense.
There’s only one cause of rape.
It’s not just sexual offences that bother me. It’s violence too.
On average, in England & Wales, two women are murdered every week by current or former male partners. Domestic Violence accounts for a huge proportion of overall violent crime and, according to the charity Refuge, has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other type of offence.
Of course, anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. It is no respecter of class or gender or sexuality. But the overwhelming majority of victims and survivors are women. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men.
It’s happening in every neighbourhood and community and the consequences are catastrophic – for those beaten and abused and for those children growing up in traumatised homes where violence is an everyday reality.
Domestic Violence is terrorism on an epic scale, a disease of pandemic proportions and the single greatest cause of harm in society.
The sexualisation of childhood & adolescence
But that’s not all that troubles me.
I’m bothered by the descent of popular culture – by the objectification of women; by casual misogyny; by patronising patriarchy; by the extreme content in films and video games; by the easy availability of hardcore pornography; by the sexualisation of childhood and adolescence; by our failure to safeguard innocence.
I’m bothered by what some young men appear to expect. And by what some young women are pressurised to accept.
And I’m bothered by our silence.
I’m bothered by the grooming of girls, by modern slavery, by FGM, by forced marriage, by catcalls and wolf whistles and every other form of abuse that persists in society.
I’m bothered by it all.
What does it say about who we really are? What does it say about what we really value – about the things that really matter to us?
You don’t need to be a police officer – or even a dad of three daughters – to feel overwhelming concern in the face of all these things.
You just need to be a human being.