We should be shocked by the wedding day rape in Emmerdale – but not for the reason you think

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 25 April 2017

The idea of a husband raping his wife only hours after their wedding ceremony is genuinely shocking. So it was perhaps to be expected that some viewers of Emmerdale would be up in arms after the long-running ITV soap showed just such a scene last night - not least because it was aired a couple of hours before the 9pm watershed.

They are right to be shocked - but for reasons that have nothing to do with the time at which the rape was shown. The watershed is increasingly irrelevant these days, when we can watch TV programmes on demand. No, the reason we should be horrified is that so many people don’t know that rape in marriage is a crime in this country – and has been ever since the law was changed in 1992.

When Emmerdale character Pierce Harris dragged his bride Rhona Goskirk indoors after a blazing row and raped her, he was committing a serious criminal offence. The days when men could say ‘You’re my wife and I can do what I like’ are long gone, at least as far as the criminal justice system is concerned.

But the soap was absolutely right to highlight widespread ignorance of the law, something that endures even among those who would profess to know it.

According to a 1993 biography of Donald Trump, the mogul forced himself on his then-wife Ivana after a row about hair loss treatment. The book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, describes a “violent assault” where Trump “jams his penis” into a “terrified” Ivana, who apparently then told her closest friends: “He raped me.”

Trump has denied the allegation, and the book included a statement from Ivana stating she did not want her words to be interpreted ‘in a literal or criminal sense’.

We may never know the facts. But when the story resurfaced during the US presidential campaign, Michael Cohen – a lawyer acting for Trump - didn’t stop at denying it on the now-President’s behalf. He also poured scorn on the entire notion of marital rape as a crime, displaying an astonishing level of ignorance when he claimed, “You can’t rape your spouse.”

As an inconvenient aside for Mr Cohen, rape in marriage has been a crime in New York State since 1984 and was outlawed throughout the US in 1993, a year after the law was changed in the UK.

The producers and writers of Emmerdale have done another public service by reminding viewers that many rapes take place behind closed doors – and in two-thirds of cases the attacker is known to the victim. That statistic comes from the Metropolitan Police, by the way, and it confounds the popular notion that most rapists are strangers who lurk in dark alleys.

Stranger-rapes do happen, of course, and they have a devastating effect. But many women, like Rhona in Emmerdale, discover that the danger comes from a man they know and perhaps love. Here is another police statistic, even less well-known to the public but hugely relevant to scenes like the one that has caused such an outcry: around a quarter of rapes are believed to be linked to domestic violence.

That’s why police and local authorities up and down the country have set up sanctuary schemes - basically a safe room in which a woman and her children can hide if they are threatened by a violent ex-partner or spouse. A man who raped his wife while they were living together may have no qualms about trying to do it again, a fact understood by women’s refuges, which have to spend huge sums on security.

Some viewers objected to the Emmerdale rape because it took place so soon after the couple’s wedding ceremony, but even that isn’t as implausible as it might seem. All the warning signs were there, with Rhona’s friends describing her husband-to-be as ‘jealous’ and ‘obsessive’.

For some couple, weddings have become big events in modern life. It’s totally believable that a woman might put all her energy into thinking about the details, distracting herself from justified doubts about the man she is marrying.

Sober reflection, as well as crime statistics, suggest that someone who is controlling and jealous before saying ‘I do’  will only get worse afterwards. Women who have escaped from abusive relationships sometimes look back and say they were anxious, but pushed their worries aside in the excitement.

There are, naturally, some viewers who have welcomed the Emmerdale rape plot line. Television and radio can be a powerful means of educating people about subjects such as domestic violence – you need only think of The Archers’ Rob and Helen Titchener. In the wake of a storyline that saw Helen become the victim of her husband’s controlling behaviour, more than £100,000 was raised for the charity Refuge.

In contrast, in the hours after the final episode of the BBC’s Broadchurch was aired earlier this month, a similar push for fundraising saw just a tenner donated to Rape Crisis. Various theories have been put forward for this, from Trish Winterman’s rapist turning out to be a stranger (so not in keeping with the reality of rape in the UK) to the fact that we just find sexual assault to be unpalatable. Something we struggle to confront and that is just too horrible to think about.

Then there’s the even more awful suggestion that we still, partially, point a finger at the victim. A recent study by the  Fawcett Society  found that over a third of people still think “if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault, she is totally or partly to blame.”

Clearly, there’s still a long way to go before it’s generally accepted that the only person to blame for sexual and domestic violence is the perpetrator – and women will continue to be in danger until there’s zero tolerance of these dreadful crimes. It may be uncomfortable to watch or listen to, but TV and radio drama is a very effective way of getting that vital message across. Before or after the watershed.

The rape boasts of Adam Johnson show victim-blaming is still with us

The video of the disgraced footballer claiming that he wishes he’d raped his 15-year-old victim is shocking – but the myths he repeats are all too common

The Guardian, Friday 21 April 2017

Perhaps he misses an admiring crowd. Perhaps he feels he has nothing to lose. Who knows what persuaded the disgraced former England footballer – and convicted sex offender – Adam Johnson to speak quite so candidly about his crimes. But Johnson’s remarks, caught on video and published by the Sun, offer a staggering insight into the mind of a man who last year lost his job, career and reputation over sex offences with an underage girl.

Professional footballers are notoriously arrogant but Johnson’s claim that he wishes he’d raped his 15-year-old victim is in a class of its own. This, remember, is a man who is serving a six-year sentence after a trial in which he admitted two counts of grooming and sexual activity with a child, and was convicted of a third offence of sexual touching. (His second appeal was turned down only last month.)

Yet his response to a fellow prisoner who points out that he didn’t rape his victim is to say: “No, I wish I fucking did for six years [his sentence].” This is the bragging and bravado juries don’t get to hear, and almost the worst thing about the video is the way fellow prisoners egg him on.

At his trial at Bradford crown court, Johnson apologised and claimed to feel “ashamed” of his behaviour, but the video tells a very different story. After just over a year in prison, he has concluded that nothing is his fault. He dismisses his crimes as “fuck all” and complains that he has little chance of reviving his football career in the UK because “do-gooders” will try to stop him playing again. He blames his fame for the fact that he has ended up in prison, claiming he would have got off with a caution if he hadn’t been well-known.

It’s a repellent performance, complete with Johnson making crude comments and gestures about his victim. But what’s really striking, once viewers get over the initial shock of witnessing Johnson’s expletive-laden self-pity, is that he regurgitates every myth in the book about rape and sexual assault. It’s a list of gripes directed at the victim, her family and women generally, accompanied by a whine that he didn’t even – brace yourselves – get his “cock out”.

Like every man who has ever been charged with sexual activity with a girl below the age of consent, Johnson claims he believed his victim was 17 or 18. It’s completely untrue, as he admitted in his very first police interview and later in evidence at his trial. Yet, of course, he goes on to complain about how she was dressed. He says she wore tight jeans and turned up at the Sunderland ground after matches, asking for pictures and a signed shirt.

This is the unexceptional behaviour of a teenage football fan. But Johnson’s wrath extends to the girl’s family, whom he accuses of going to the police solely because he was well-known. The myth of the gold-digger comes up time after time, even in cases like this one where the victim has suffered torrents of abuse for having the courage to come forward and tell someone what’s happened.

It’s rare to hear sex offenders speaking so freely about what they’ve done, ditching any pretence of the remorse they feel they have to show in court. The most startling thing about Johnson’s rant is his belief that men are the real victims in rape cases, at risk of being falsely accused by women who are too drunk to remember a sexual encounter. His understanding of the notion of consent is woefully inadequate, yet it appears to be shared by some of his fellow inmates.

At one level, it’s astonishing that Johnson has learned so little from his trial and conviction, suggesting that British prisons desperately need to provide education programmes for sex offenders. At the same time, it’s hard not to think that his bravado and lack of remorse are symptomatic of a much more widespread problem.

Every year, the figures for rape and sexual assault keep going up. The police and the crown prosecution service are more sensitive to victims than they used to be, but juries are a different matter. The crude language of the Johnson video is rarely heard in court but it isn’t just in prisons that victim-blaming finds a receptive audience.

Singe-minded pursuit of the truth

Sunday Times, 16 April 2017

Child sexual abuse is rarely out of the headlines these days. It is a tempting subject for crime writers, but calls for sensitive handling, and Isabelle Grey never loses sight of the impact on victims in The Special Girls (Quercus £19.99). This is the third novel in her impressive series featuring a detective based in Essex, and it begins with the murder of a young psychiatrist at a summer camp for girls with eating disorders. When DI Grace Fisher discovers that the doctor in charge of the camp was accused of child abuse 20 years earlier, she finds herself at odds with the detectives who cleared him.

The difficulties posed by historical accusations are well-known and Fisher encounters all of them as she tries to gain the confidence of traumatised young women. But she pursues the truth with single-mindedness in this brave and harrowing novel.

Iceland’s award-winning crime writer, Arnaldur Indridason, has always been more interested in the recesses of the psyche than forensic science. The Shadow District, translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker £12.99), is the first in a new series, and begins with a murder in the present day. But a link with a crime committed 70 years earlier allows Indridason to explore his signature theme, the inescapability of the past.

Like his gloomy detective Erlendur Sveinsson, who featured in the novels that made Indridason’s name, his latest characters are haunted by things that happened decades ago. Back in the 1940s, when Iceland was occupied by American troops, a local woman was found strangled in Reykjavik. The crime appeared to have been solved but the killing of one of the lead investigators, now aged 90, casts doubt on the inquiry. Scenes set in wartime Reykjavik brilliantly capture the tensions of a small city coping with an influx of foreign troops.

With his fast-moving plots and unsparing accounts of violence, Jo Nesbo is about as far removed from Indridason as it is possible to imagine. But the past is about to catch up with his troubled detective, Harry Hole, in The Thirst, translated by Neil Smith (Harvill Secker £20). Hole has left front-line policing, but the savage murder of a woman in her own flat by someone who drank her blood brings him out of retirement. He suspects the culprit is a serial killer he failed to catch, but intense media interest forces the police to enlist an expert on vampire killers. Whether such people really exist is one of Nesbo’s trademark teases, and the novel ends with a stunning cross-country chase.

The tidal mudflats of Essex provide an atmospheric setting for The Restless Dead (Bantam Press £12.99), the latest novel from the bestselling Simon Beckett. His forensic consultant, David Hunter, is called out to help police identify a decomposed body that has been in water for weeks. Detectives think it is the missing son of a wealthy local businessman, but Hunter finds anomalies that don’t fit the theory. This is a tense, gripping read, even if the plot is overcomplicated towards the end.

Why the more successful you are, the more dangerous your relationship could get

Daily Telegraph, 5 April 2017

No woman is immune from domestic abuse. It affects those from all kinds of backgrounds. Indeed, in some cases it appears that success actually increases the risk of violence.

Concerns about the welfare of former Spice Girl Mel B, whose real name is Melanie Brown, have surfaced in recent years. The 41 year-old has appeared in public with visible bruises and abrasions which, at the time, she explained away, claiming to have fallen and hurt herself.

But she has painted a very different picture of her marriage since filing for divorce from the producer Stephen Belafonte, who has consistently denied allegations that he has been violent towards his wife.

Brown has now taken out a restraining order against her husband of a decade. Documents filed with a court in Los Angeles lay out a catalogue of alleged abuse, including claims that Belafonte punched and choked her, as well as forcing her to have sex with him and ‘random women’.

One of her key claims, which will be horribly familiar to organisations that help victims of domestic violence, is that Belafonte’s behaviour got worse as she became more successful.

Brown alleges the abuse followed a pattern in which her husband ‘would beat me down to let me know he was in charge’. She claims he was so jealous when she filmed a segment with the singer Usher for the X Factor in 2012 that he punched her and split her lip. Another claim refers to the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, when Brown was due to make a high-profile appear with the Spice Girls.

The day before, according to Brown, her husband punched her and pushed her to the floor, causing carpet burns on her body. The marks were so visible, she claims, that Belafonte forced her to tweet that she had injured herself by running in heels.

Many victims of domestic violence will hide the violence they are subjected to, suffering crippling feelings of shame and fear of their abuser. Brown’s allegations, if true, offer insights into a form of abuse that often hides in plain sight- not least because it’s commonly thought that a successful, rich, apparently confident woman cannot be a victim.

The link between poverty and domestic abuse is well-known, with research published by the Office for National Statistics showing that women who live in poor households are three times more likely to become victims. But that doesn’t mean that affluent women have nothing to worry about, with a Norwegian study pointing to a specific risk to women who have a higher income or education that their partners.

The research, published three years ago, highlighted the effects of a perceived power imbalance within relationships. Crucially, it identified some men’s inability or refusal to cope with having a successful partner as a key factor.

“Violence or control is used as a compensation for the partner’s weak position in the relationship, and may thus be regarded as an attempt to balance what is perceived as an uneven division of power,” said sociologist Heidi Fischer Bjelland.

The same theme is emerging in new TV series Big Little Lies, where the character played by Nicole Kidman is abused by her husband when she decides she wants to return to work. To outsiders, the idea of marriage as a contest is unpleasant and disturbing. But in this type of toxic relationship, the man is initially attracted towards a successful woman, using her to big himself up.

As time passes, however, her success turns from a source of self-congratulation – a form of reflected glory – into something that makes him feel small and neglected. Brown’s court documents contain allegations that suggest that her husband was supportive when they first married, at a time when she claims her self-esteem was low, but changed dramatically when her career took off again in the US.

Power can be as significant in some abusive relationships as economics. Women may assume they’re safe because they have a supportive partner, who makes a point of telling friends how well they’re doing. But men who seemingly like a ‘mentor’ role sometimes feel very differently when the woman they see as their protegee begins (in their warped view of the world) to outperform them.

Domestic abuse comes in many forms. What’s important is to spot the signs – and make sure every victim gets the support she needs to escape from a violent partner.