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Presumption of innocence, or attacking victims & the legal system?

2 Jul

 

I’m somewhat baffled by the insistence of George Pell’s more vocal and public supporters that he is being unfairly treated. He has, they assert, been subjected to years of suspicion and innuendo and this, they argue, makes a fair trial impossible. Their opinion: he is the victim of a witch hunt and should not have been charged. The ludicrous conclusion of this argument is that nobody should be charged with anything if there’s been public commentary prior to those charges being laid.

I would like to see some proof of this claim of inevitable prejudice due to Pell’s profile, though I doubt there’s relevant data. What is interesting is that whilst Pell himself has welcomed the opportunity to at last defend himself in court, his Australian supporters seem hell-bent on declaring the process already poisoned. Obviously they aren’t respecting Pell’s desire for his day in court. So what are they doing?

Amanda Vanstone, former ambassador to Rome and Pell admirer, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in May: how would you like to throw out your own right to a fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place together with the right to a fair trial if you are charged? Vanstone goes on to further question the integrity of the Victorian DPP (to whom she was presumably referring in the phrase “fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place”) and Victoria Police, and to rail against latte sippers in cafes who she claims deny Pell the presumption of innocence. Vanstone’s descriptions of those calling for Pell to be held to account include “a baying crowd” and a “lynch mob from the dark ages.” Inevitably, she includes victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in her derogatory commentary.

Then take Tasmania Archbishop Julian Porteous’ comments in the Hobart Mercury on Thursday, when police announced they ‘d charged Pell:

HOBART Archbishop Julian Porteous says he is “shocked and disappointed” his former colleague Cardinal George Pell has been charged with historical sexual offences by Victoria Police.

“I think it’s terrible these claims have been made against him. I don’t believe they’ve got any substance to them,” Archbishop Porteous said. [emphasis mine]

He said he was also worried about the impact the high-profile nature of the case would have on a fair trial.

“The possibility of a fair trial is compromised. I don’t know how a jury could proceed with a trial where [there is] so much media out there.”

Archbishop Porteous also referred to journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal, published in May, which details some of the allegations made against Cardinal Pell.

He said media coverage and the book were “creating a very unfair environment for justice”.

Cardinal Pell, 76, the Vatican’s finance chief, was charged by summons today with several historical offences dating back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Archbishop of Melbourne.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney — where Pell was Archbishop from 2001-2014, and where Archbishop Porteous was an auxiliary bishop from 2003-2013 — released a statement saying the Cardinal was “looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously”.

Archbishop Porteous said Cardinal Pell was “a man of absolute integrity”.

The Porteous and Vanstone reactions are little different from the reactions of some family members when one of their number is accused by another of sexual abuse. There is disbelief and scapegoating of the alleged victim, and blind defence of the alleged perpetrator. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s taking a side, and it’s prejudiced. It’s nothing more than opinion, and reveals the inability of the bystander to acknowledge any possibility other than his or her opinion.

Pell has welcomed the opportunity afforded him by Victoria Police to put his case in a court of law. His supporters must respect his stated wishes, and cease muddying the waters by attempting to manufacture cause for a trial to be abandoned. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s a denial of justice, both to Pell and to the complainants.

It is worth reiterating that nobody, not Vanston, not Porteous, not Paul Kelly, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine or indeed anyone one of us can know the truth of this matter. None of us were present. Pell was present. The alleged victims were present. This matter must be left to the best process we have: the process of law. It is not presumption of innocence to deny that process to Pell, and it is not presumption of innocence to attempt to denigrate and undermine the institutions that, in this intensely scrutinised case, are all we have to administer justice.

 

 

 

In the Pell case, complainants have equal rights to justice.

30 Jun

 

Yesterday came the momentous news that Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple allegations of the crime of sexual abuse of children, following their investigation of complaints made by multiple accusers.

The matter is now sub judice, which means there can be no commentary on the charges and allegations, and no predictions of verdict. Sub judice does not forbid all commentary, and the above link is a guide to what may and may not be published. Please read the first couple of pages before leaving inflammatory comments that might be in contempt.

There is also an interim suppression order on the details of the charges, requested by Pell’s lawyers.

My thoughts are with those complainants who now face an arduous courtroom experience, during which our adversarial legal system will permit Pell’s lawyers to tear them to shreds. Already there has been much commentary from Murdoch hacks that the charges against Pell have been instigated by a vengeful and incompetent police force hell-bent on conducting a witch hunt. In other words, as far as Paul Kelly, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson and the other usual suspects are concerned, the complainants are liars and it is necessary to question police integrity. How this commentary is not flagrant abuse of the sub judice rule, I have yet to ascertain.

Much media coverage to date has focused on Pell’s right to justice. However, the complainants also have the right to justice. It is indicative of an almost entirely unexamined societal attitude that, particularly in sexual matters, the rights of the accused are likely to be the subject of greatest concern, while the complainants are, in the very essence of our law, obliged to prove they are not liars.

It’s amazing that Pell has been charged. In itself, this signifies an extraordinary change in societal attitudes to the sexual abuse of children, a change set in motion by the Gillard government’s Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, itself so fiercely opposed by several of those who yesterday claimed a witch hunt.

I have no idea how this will play out. Obviously, Victoria Police consider they have sufficient evidence to proceed. They have not assumed the complainants are liars. Pell is the highest ranking Catholic to be faced with such allegations, and the case has drawn global attention. For the sake of all concerned, most particularly the complainants, this situation must be allowed to run its legal course, whether you agree with the system or not. It’s the only one we’ve got.

Ive decided to add this astounding rant, published this morning by The Australian and written by Paul Kelly, as the site is pay-walled. 

In this momentous event, it is not just Cardinal George Pell who is on trial — it is the integrity of Victoria Police, the justice system and our capacity to deliver a fair trial.

There is no precedent for this situation. The most important Catholic leader in Australia since Daniel Mannix and close adviser to Pope Francis is being tried against allegations that Pell himself has perpetrated historical sexual offences.

This decision by Victoria Police comes after an unprecedented and manic campaign against Pell, leaks to the media, vicious character assaults in the mainstream media and grave doubts about the way police have conducted their inquiries.

The risk now is that the historic, unforgivable and appalling extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has taken yet another tragic turn — a show trial against the nation’s most senior Catholic figure. This is precisely what many people want.

The justice system must ensure it does not eventuate.

The issue here is not Pell’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations within the church — it is something entirely different; that Pell himself has engaged in sexual offences.

The decision to charge Pell is a shattering blow to the Catholic Church. The ramifications will last for years even if he is cleared.

The campaign of hatred against Pell transcends the deep and legitimate grievances of the victims and families. It is tied to the idea that Pell must be punished for the sins of the church and that this constitutes a form of justice for the victims.

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, when venting his concern last month over whether Pell would get a fair trial, put the moral issue up in lights — the wrong done to victims of sexual abuse cannot justify a wrong being done in a witch hunt against Pell.

The case against Pell draws upon allegations of sexual offences by many complainants.

He has declared the claims are false. It is hard to believe these court proceedings will be finalised quickly. Whether Pell can receive a fair trial hangs in the balance. This is not just a trial for Pell and the church. It is a test of our institutions, our justice system and the culture of our civil society.

Convince me this isn’t written with intent to foul the Pell case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When all else fails, is a woman justified in naming the man who raped her?

19 Jun

 

Writer Lauren Ingram revealed on Twitter yesterday that in April 2015 she endured a violent sexual assault, allegedly perpetrated by an official of the NSW Greens.

Ms Ingram went public, including posting images of the bite marks (yes, bite marks) and bruises inflicted on her body by the assailant.

Lauren went to hospital. She went to the police, who told her the individual responsible was probably too young to know how to have sex properly, and declined to pursue the matter. After discovering she wasn’t the only woman with complaints against the alleged perpetrator, some made by young Greens members as long as six years ago and ignored by the party, Lauren approached the NSW Greens.

She had no more luck with them than she’d had with the police. The man was until recently employed by the Greens, as well as an office holder. He’s resigned his employment as he plans to go overseas.

When a woman reports a sexual assault to the police she might be lucky and get a good, well-trained officer, or she might be unlucky, as Lauren was, and find herself dealing with yet another form of assault and insult in which her complaint is dismissed and her trauma increased. This is unacceptable. Laws designed to deal with sexual assault are useless when frontline police officers do not do their job, out of ignorance, lack of interest, or lack of training. Lauren had hospital reports. She had photographic evidence of injury. The police officer couldn’t be bothered. This is unacceptable. I hope that officer is identified and subjected to disciplinary measures, because until such officers are weeded out, women are not safe when reporting crimes against us.

The NSW Greens have allegedly been aware of a rapist and sexual harasser among their number for some six years. Yet they have done nothing. They have not expelled him. They have provided him with a hunting ground for victims. They have enabled and supported his predatory behaviours. This is unacceptable. The NSW Greens have lost all credibility in their claims to support action against violence towards women. You cannot, as a political party or any other institution, protect an abuser and claim to be opposed to abuse.

The police and the Greens have done Jarah Cook no favours. In declining to pursue the complaints against him, they have denied him the opportunity to argue his innocence. In naming him, Lauren Ingram has taken matters into her own hands because every other option available failed her. As society in general appears to be more concerned with the fate of the perpetrator than the victim, let’s look at it from the alleged perpetrator’s point of view. Had he been been questioned, arrested and charged, Jarah Cook would have been given the chance to defend himself. It is not Lauren Ingram’s fault that this didn’t happen. It is the fault of the police, and the political party who gave him protection.

So, when all else fails should a woman name the man who raped her? In the case of Lauren Ingram, absolutely, yes. The idea that because a woman is blocked by police from obtaining justice she should keep her mouth shut is vile. Just what are we expected to do? Crawl away and maintain a silence that will only protect the perpetrator and the system that has failed us?

When the system fails we have the right to speak out.  Ms Ingram has most bravely taken this path, and I can only hope more women are empowered by her example.

As for the NSW Greens. All institutions are responsible for knowingly harbouring offenders. There are no innocent bystanders. They are accountable.

On June 19 2017, the Greens issued this statement. Jarah Cook’s membership was revoked in February 2017.  

Further reading 

And here

 

 

 

On cultural appropriation

15 May

 

I spent a considerable amount of time today arguing that cultural appropriation is not necessarily the same thing as fiction writers creating characters, and that it’s a disservice to everyone for the two to be conflated. Good arguments on this topic are explored here and here:

It is no longer enough to say that you merely disagree with something. Rather, the author must be stigmatized as a sort of dangerous thought criminal.

That being said, there are writers who use stereotypes. This is offensive, hurtful and likely harmful. It is also bad writing.

However, all fiction writing cannot be dismissed or forbidden because of bad writing. The task of the fiction writer is to walk a mile in another’s shoes. Indeed, fully realised fiction is an act of humanity: it demonstrates the all-too-often forgotten human capacity to empathically inhabit, and then convey difference. There is nothing, in my view, that can possibly save us as a species other than the ability to walk a mile in another’s shoes and then share the experience.

Cultural appropriation is the antithesis of this act of humanity. It is dehumanising. I’m pretty angry when defending the writer’s empathic imagination is framed as enabling cultural appropriation. In fact, I call bullshit.

I don’t care that I’m a white woman making these statements. I don’t care if they are interpreted as racist. If that’s the best argument you’ve got against the right of fiction writers to empathically explore other subjectivities, knock yourself out.

You can always fuck off, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Damned

17 Apr

 

This morning I read this tweet from Fairfax journo Ross Gittins:

My first thought was, a new kind of human being has emerged. One without empathy. This is why we don’t care anymore. Our species is devolving.

For someone who only yesterday re-watched Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, my first thought rather remarkably disregarded  history. Visconti’s film charts the moral and physical decline of a wealthy German steel manufacturing family between 1933 and 1934, contiguous with the Nazi party’s rise to power. It is an unrelievedly dark work that plumbs the deeps of most depravities, and it left me needing an afternoon ocean swim for the cleansing properties of sea water and sunlight.

Visconti’s film is hailed as an outstanding examination of moral decadence, sexual neurosis, narcissistic self-centredness and political opportunism, a string of descriptors that can be well applied to the US President and his Republican Party, and to not a few of our own politicians.

(If you don’t think the desire to control women’s reproductive health is symptomatic of sexual neurosis, think again.)

The movie put me in mind of the Trumps, and the current White House battles for power and position, the best analysis of which (so far) is to be found here at Vanity Fair. The immediate difference is at the moment we can still sneer in mocking disbelief at the Trump tribe’s incompetence and stupidity, whereas nobody in their right mind would sneer at the Von Essenbecks and the Nazi party. It is, however, perfectly imaginable that at the time, such people were regarded as idiots by those who would later suffer immeasurably at their hands.

Trump is still largely seen as a buffoon rather than something far more sinister, however, he is a buffoon with the ability to unleash nuclear weapons, and he appears to have willingly conceded unfettered power to his military hawks. They don’t have to ask him before they blow stuff up.

Thinking of the differences and similarities between the Von Essenbeck family and the Trumps leads me to speculate that as well as having lost much of our ability to appreciate the beauty of compassion and concern (that human talent being derogated by the neo-fascists as “elitist”) we have also become diminished in our capacity to identify and acknowledge the corroding powers on the human spirit of darkness and terminal decay.  It’s likely impossible to become desensitised to horror without incurring an equal desensitisation to the sublime.

I think my reaction to Mr Gittens’ tweet was wrong. A new kind of human being has not emerged. The human being without empathy has always existed. The narcissistic, self- centred, sexually neurotic, morally decadent political opportunist has been in existence for as long as human civilisation. To think otherwise is to disregard history, and to disregard history is to ensure its repetition.

It is true that we used to care if people were starving, and now perhaps we do not care as much. It’s also true that before we cared there were periods when we didn’t care, and this periodic lack of care for others is nothing new. That doesn’t excuse it. There is no excusing it. However, it’s worth remembering this cyclical nature of compassion because we have, more than once, got ourselves out of not caring and back into caring again, and we probably need to remember how we did that, so we can have some hope of doing it again before it’s too late.

The most alarming difference between the Nazi Party and present day Republicans is nuclear weapons, from which there is, for most victims including the planet, no coming back. Once they are unleashed, we are most of us damned.

By the way, I note that the Trump family portrait bears an uncanny resemblance to the Von Essenbecks’ excesses of style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump isn’t ironic about women, & neither is Turnbull

2 Apr

 

 

 

The announcement by US President Donald Trump that the month of April is national sexual assault awareness and prevention month was greeted with hollow mirth by many, and described by some as “ironic.”

There’s nothing ironic about this announcement. It is a calculated display of contempt for women, particularly women who endure sexual assault. It’s the most powerful man in the western world demonstrating to the women of his country that he can toy with them, as and when he chooses, in case they haven’t already worked that out.

Contempt isn’t irony. It’s far more dangerous, and we’re seriously underestimating the danger if we misread it.

Trump’s announcement is similar to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign aimed at encouraging men to “respect” women as a means of preventing sexual and other violences perpetrated upon us. However, Turnbull simultaneously ripped federal funding from community legal centres, and frontline services such as refuges and crisis counselling.

The “irony” of Turnbull’s scathing indictment of men who abuse women, and his own abuse of us by withdrawing resources we need when we are attacked, apparently escaped the PM. Except that it wasn’t irony: it was reckless disregard, born from contempt, for the safety of women and children under threat.

Turnbull acts from the same deep-seated contempt for women as does Trump: he is better at disguising it, or rather, Trump doesn’t care about disguising his contempt, while Turnbull needs to maintain at least the appearance of interest and concern to preserve both his self-image, and votes.

Yesterday I read this account of how Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee forced a prisoner to give birth while her hands were shackled. When during her labour she needed to go to the toilet, her ankles were also shackled. She was not permitted to move into positions that eased her pain or aided the delivery of her child. Her baby died at birth. It is customary in Clarke’s jail, for pregnant women to be shackled.

Last week I read many accounts of former politician Mark Latham’s attacks on women, enabled by much Australian media, up until he called a young man who spoke about feminism “gay.” For gay, in this instance read feminised, and therefore a suitable target for Latham’s misogyny.

It is no coincidence that misogyny and homophobia go hand in hand. For Latham, obviously a proponent of hydraulic male sexuality, the most toe-curling aspect of love between men is the assumption he makes that somebody has to be “the woman.”

There’s barely a day without attempted or successful attacks on women’s reproductive rights somewhere in the world. In Queensland and NSW abortion is still a crime for both women and doctors. Male politicians, such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and right wing senator Cory Bernardi, continue to imply that women who seek abortions are morally corrupt. Bernardi describes abortion as “an abhorrent form of birth control”

Just yesterday in Iowa, legislation that could force women to continue a pregnancy to term after the foetus has died, was passed.

Women’s access to contraception is continually under attack. 

There is no irony to be found in any of this.  There is unrelenting hatred and fear of women, expressed in… let me count the ways.

That our governments, state and federal will not, and it is will not, it isn’t cannot, provide adequate frontline services for women and children fleeing violence tells us everything we need to know about the contempt in which women are held in this country.

The contempt for us is so great that state and federal governments enable violence against us by refusing practical options that will give us an escape route, while at the same time launching ludicrous campaigns to “raise awareness” of that violence. This is not irony. This is full-fledged misogyny, and it is murderous.

So next time you think feminism is about female CEOs, or the choice to enlarge your breasts, or more women in parliament, remember that your governments hate you so much they will not provide a refuge for you and your children, they will not provide accessible legal assistance for you, they will not ensure you have housing if your home is too dangerous.

More female CEOs has not changed this. More women in parliament has not changed this. It’s difficult to see how becoming part of the system can ever change the system. Feminism’s ambition used to be to destroy an abusive system, not to be subsumed by it.

Where it actually matters and where it actually counts, governments have turned their backs on women, while engaging in expensive and useless campaigns to convince us otherwise.

Hatred of us is normalised. And now it’s so normal we’re calling it “irony.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How marriages based on mistrust hold back all women

31 Mar

 

I was intrigued yesterday to observe on Twitter a good deal of chatter from conservative religious types on the topic of husbands who refuse to eat alone with any woman other than their wife.

The not eating with anyone but your wife rule is based on the assumption that heterosexual marriage is the only possible partnership, being as the religious conservative crowd doesn’t believe LGBTQI people are fully human so don’t see the need for inclusion.

I tracked this odd behaviour down to a series of articles on US Vice President Mike Pence, who will not allow himself to be alone with women other than his wife, Karen, and who will not attend any functions at which alcohol is served unless Karen is by his side.The Pences are evangelical Christians.

Pence calls his wife “Mother.” He yells down the table at formal dinners: “Mother! Mother! Who cooked this meal?”

The Vice President of the US has sex with a woman he calls Mother.

They’re spoiled for choice in the US, aren’t they? A pussy grabber or a man with unresolved Oedipal conflicts who can only be prevented from grabbing pussy by having his mother wife beside him the entire time. Ladies, I give you the current leader of the Western world, and the one who’ll take his place in the event of unfortunate circumstances.

The most serious consequence of these bizarre restrictions is that women are immediately disadvantaged in terms of job opportunities, because there are men apparently unable to control their sexual impulses. Or there are wives with so little trust in husbands, they cannot cope with their man meeting alone with any woman who is not them.

It’s astounding that women can be refused job and career opportunities in order to safeguard somebody else’s deluded notion of heterosexual partnership. It’s astounding that woman are still seen first as opportunities for sex, over and above all other qualities, talents and capabilities.

It’s astounding that there are women who choose to spend their lives with men they think so little of they must infantilise them, and never let them out on their own, and men who enforce the same restrictions on their wives. I believe this is a form of domestic violence, an excess of jealousy and suspicion that has become normalised in some circles, to the degree that both parties submit to it and call it “respect.”

Most of us wouldn’t have friendships with people we can’t trust, yet it’s fine to be married to someone you don’t trust?

Very low bar some people set for marriage.

It isn’t only in job and career opportunities that heterosexual insecurities work to restrict the lives of women. Friendships, intellectual engagements, the pleasure of shared interests can also be difficult, if not impossible, when someone is in an insecure relationship that is threatened by a partner’s perfectly legitimate connections with another party.

Does marriage have to mean the end of every possibility of significant connection with anybody other than your spouse? Because if it does, it’s a dead-end that stunts humanity.

Many a single woman has a story of how she’s been treated with suspicion by friends, even good friends, who suddenly become uncomfortable with her when their husbands are around. I’ve heard of female friendships being ruined in such situations, and women left wondering what on earth they’d done to offend.

Unfortunately, some insecure wives tend to blame their inability to trust their husbands, or their husband’s actual untrustworthiness, on their female friends, rather than addressing the frightening challenges mistrust throws up in the marriage, and to them as individuals. The same goes for insecure husbands.

I mean, look. We’re still at the stage of blame the woman. No matter which way you look at it, it’s always let the men off the hook because they’re too infantile to take responsibility for themselves, and blame the woman. On the face of it, the Pence rule is bizarre and extreme, however, to settle for that explanation is to deny its far-reaching and damaging implications. Marriages built on mistrust are detrimental to women, whether it’s the US Vice President’s or those in your own social circle. And they couldn’t be a worse partnership model for the young.

We really have not come such a long way. Baby.

 

 

 

 

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