Sunday Times, 20 August 2017
The Navarra region of northern Spain is best known for its largest city, Pamplona, which hosts a controversial bull run each summer. It is also the setting for a remarkable trilogy of crime novels by Dolores Redondo, which has sold a million copies in Spain. Redondo’s detective, Amaia Salazar – named after a sceptical Inquisitor who investigated allegations of witchcraft in the 17th-century – is based in a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The final volume in the series, Offering to the Storm (Harper Collins £12.99), translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, is a brilliant novel in its own right.
It begins with the death of a baby, smothered by her father who claims that the body was an ‘offering’ to an evil spirit. When Salazar looks for similar cases, she uncovers a pattern of child murders, many of them committed in the wild Baztan valley where her own family has a cruel and tragic history. Like the French novelist Fred Vargas, Redondo boldly combines pre-Christian myths with modern investigative techniques. But Offering to the Storm does something even more audacious, upending everything that seemed to have been settled in the earlier instalments of the magnificent Baztan trilogy.
Val McDermid’s readers have come to know her detectives, DCI Carol Jordan and the profiler Dr Tony Hill, over a series of novels which share the best elements of soap opera. In Insidious Intent (Little Brown £18.99), a drink-driving case is hanging over Jordan’s career when she is called to investigate the murder of a woman in a burned-out car in north Yorkshire. The killer’s modus operandi – he selects his victims at weddings – marks him out as a chilly misogynist. McDermid’s insistence that the crimes are an extreme form of domestic violence is brave, but she has opted for a shocking ending that feels rushed and out of character.
Anthony Horowitz’s most recent crime novel, Magpie Murders, was a Sunday Times book of the month. His latest, The Word is Murder (Century £20), features an enigmatic ex-Scotland Yard detective, Michael Hawthorne. Horowitz is the author of two Sherlock Holmes novels and the mystery that confronts Hawthorne is Holmesian in character, featuring a woman who is murdered on the very day she arranges her funeral. He is aided by a first-person narrator who appears to be Horowitz himself, assuming the role of a bumbling Dr Watson. Their investigation is interspersed with vignettes from ‘Anthony’s’ life as a screenwriter, including a squirm-making scene with Steven Spielberg. It’s hard to think of a more annoying double act.
The Scandal (Michael Joseph £12.99), translated by Neil Smith, is a new novel from the best-selling Swedish author Fredrik Backman. Set in a small town surrounded by impenetrable forests, it recreates the stifling atmosphere of a dying community, kept going only by the unexpected success of its high-school ice hockey time. A rape at a post-match party shows testosterone-fuelled young men behaving at their worst, and the police investigation turns into an ordeal for the victim. This is a mature, compassionate novel about gender, sport and sexual violence.
We are blamed for most of the world’s misfortunes and now we’re paying for a misspent youth. In our defence, we were ignorant of the dangers of drink
The Guardian, Thursday 24 August 2017
For my generation, arriving at college in the 1960s and 70s, the dire warnings were all about drugs. My parents sat me down and told me about the dangers of smoking “pot”, which they had read about in the papers. But they never said a word about alcohol. When I asked my mother what I should drink when I went to bars with my new student friends, she suggested cider. It was soon abandoned for the joys (or so they seemed at the time) of a cheap red wine called valpolicella.
Now the baby-boom generation is paying the price for what researchers writing in the British Medical Journal call “liberal views” towards alcohol. “Risky drinking” is in decline for other age groups, especially among people aged under 35, where alcohol-related hospital admissions have dropped from almost 30% to 9%. People in their 20s and 30s think nothing of sticking to water or soft drinks, and for the most part they don’t face anything like the social pressure that existed for years after I left university.
But alcohol-related hospital admissions have tripled among people aged between 55 and 74 during the last decade; the group now accounts for almost half of such cases, with more than 500,000 admissions in 2015-16. The baby-boom generation is used to being blamed for most of the world’s misfortunes; and now, it seems, we are paying for a misspent youth. The habits acquired in those long-gone days are hard to shake off – and one of the worst, for people of my age, was drinking on an empty stomach.
If you were broke, which I was at university, and for quite a few years after, it was easy to spend the evening in the pub and make do with a nourishing bag of chips, liberally sprinkled with salt and vinegar, on the way home. I remember “races”, more accurately a pub crawl, when teams of half a dozen students tied their legs together and proceeded from pub to pub, knocking back a pint at each one.
In our defence, there were few health warnings about drinking too much in those days. Every generation thinks it is immortal, and we were no different. We didn’t know about liver damage. Cirrhosis was an obscure disease we read about in biographies of long-dead authors. At parties, refusing another drink attracted ribbing and ridicule, as though staying sober was for wimps. I cringe when I remember hearing someone urge “Oh, go on, another one won’t hurt,” even though the holder of the empty glass was driving home.
Attitudes towards drink-driving have changed dramatically, I’m glad to say, and many people of my age confine their drinking to meals. But it is hard to convey just how normalised heavy drinking was, with no advice about safe limits or having days off.
Men and women viewed it differently, I seem to remember, although it might just be that their drinking habits were viewed differently by other people. Even now, you don’t have to look far to find censorious attitudes towards women and alcohol, but some men treated it as a challenge – as though being able to “hold their drink” proved their manliness in some way.
A few years ago, I began to notice references to “heroic” drinking in obituaries of well-known people – authors, journalists and so on – who had clearly died too young of alcohol-related diseases. I recognised it as a species of denial, demonstrating how hard it is for some people over the age of 50 even to acknowledge the existence of alcoholism. It is part of a growing age divide, more evident every year, that the over-50s still tend to dismiss dangers that are obvious to younger generations.
The baby boomers grew up with moral panics about cannabis and LSD, distrusting almost everything we were told by adults, and missed the thing that was under our nose. The statistics on age and drinking tell the story: when it comes to that second or third bottle of wine, much of my generation is still in denial.
Daily Telegraph, Monday 21 August 2017
There’s good news today for anyone who’s ever lived in fear of turning on their mobile phone or computer. From now on, prosecutors will treat threats delivered online just as seriously as offences committed face-to-face. The news was announced by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, who rightly said that “hate speech has devastating effects.”
It is a brave decision. Saunders knows she will be attacked by people who dismiss online abuse as empty threats, but we’ve recently heard about the life-changing impact on a number of well-known women.
Gina Miller, the woman who won a Brexit legal challenge against the Government, has been threatened with acid attacks and said she is afraid to leave her home. Last month a man called Rhodri Phillips, also known as Lord St Davids, was jailed for 12 weeks for racially abusing Miller on social media.
The new policy covers race, religion or disability, as well as homophobic, bi-phobic and transphobic offences – and it’s absolutely right that it does so. But there is a glaring omission
Another internet troll, John Nimmo, was jailed for two years and three months in February after targeting Labour MP Luciana Berger with anti-semitic messages. He sent her a photo of a knife and a threat that she would ‘get it like Jo Cox’, a reference to the MP murdered in June last year. Berger said Nimmo’s threats had caused her “great fear and anguish.”
Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. Official figures show a 20 per cent increase in all types of hate crime reported to the police in the first quarter of this year - but it is believed to be significantly under-reported. According to Saunders, “an increasing proportion of hate crime” is now carried out online, and she hopes to see more prosecutions and longer sentences.
This is all to the good, but many women will spot a glaring omission in the different strands of hate crime cited by the Crown Prosecution Service. The new policy covers crimes based on race, religion or disability, as well as homophobic, bi-phobic and transphobic offences – and it is absolutely right that it does so.
But there is a glaring omission: misogyny. Specifically, threats to hurt or kill women because they’re women. This has been overlooked, even though it has the potential to affect over half the population.
It also seems to be one of the most frequent forms of abuse on social media sites. Remember the torrent of rape threats aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez when she campaigned to have a woman on British banknotes? Or the man who threatened to kill the Labour MP Angela Eagle, calling her a ‘bitch’ and telling her she would die if she became leader of the Labour party? Eagle also received homophobic messages, a reminder that victims are often targeted by more than one type of abuse.
Many men appear to be goaded to fury simply by the fact of a woman expressing an opinion they don’t like. Or an opinion full-stop. Rape and death threats have become an occupational hazard for female politicians, journalists, novelists, singers – any woman who uses social media, in fact.
The reason this is so serious is that women have always had a tenuous relationship with public space. Defence barristers still demand to know why young women wear short skirts when they go out at night, perpetuating the age-old suggestion that rape victims are ‘asking for it’ if they don’t cover up in public. Some women don’t feel safe on public transport late at night or walking home from a bus stop down dark, deserted streets.
The internet is a new form of public space, and the purpose of misogynistic hate speech is to scare women out of using it. Saunders’s recognition of the effects of hate speech is welcome but she – and social media companies – need to be more aware of the specific nature and impact of misogyny.
A few months ago, when I reported a tweet from a man who wanted to see me ‘lying face-down in a ditch’, Twitter responded that it did not breach their terms and conditions, and took no action.
It’s obviously right that other online hate crimes, such as anti-semitism, will at last be treated more seriously online. But when abuse of women on social media is so common and yet not recognised as a specific offence, it sends a very dangerous message.
We know it’s linked to domestic violence in some cases, where men have threatened former partners online, and that women have been terrorised into leaving social media sites. If that isn’t recognised as a hate crime? Then there’s something wrong with the definition.
New York Times, Thursday 10 August 2017
LONDON — Countries, like the people who live in them, go through periods of anxiety and depression. Right now, Britain is pessimistic and demoralized, so much so that 2017 promises to be an “annus horribilis” more profound than the one famously described by Queen Elizabeth II nearly a quarter-century ago. She was referring to events in her own family, principally the separation of her eldest son, Prince Charles, from his wife, Diana. But the Windsors’ marital woes in 1992 are as nothing compared with the country’s current low spirits.
The sense of a nation mired and stalled is only more acute because Britain celebrates the 50th anniversary this year of the passage of what was arguably the most socially progressive legislation in its history: the partial decriminalization of male homosexuality in July 1967 and the legalization of abortion in October. Both acts, brought to Parliament by a Labour government led by Harold Wilson, had their flaws, but they marked the moment when our elected representatives decisively redrew the boundaries between the individual and the state in a series of remarkable legislative reforms. A half-century on, 1967 looks like an annus mirabilis when Britain became, briefly at least, a world leader in liberal values.
Compare and contrast, as they say, with the state of Britain in 2017. Two general elections and a bruising referendum have left the country exhausted, angry and unsure of itself. A Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, is clinging to her position with the support of a small religious party, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists, who spent years denouncing the liberalizing legislation of 1967. Thanks largely to the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage remains banned.
Fifty years ago, the new laws were shepherded through Parliament by Roy Jenkins, one of the most liberal home secretaries in British political history. Jenkins, the son of a coal miner from the Welsh valleys, was relentlessly mocked for his love of fine food and wine (Britain’s right-wing press is always looking for an excuse to denounce someone as a champagne socialist). What newspaper editors really hated, of course, was Jenkins’s staunch support for progressive causes and his passionate belief that Britain’s destiny lay in Europe.
Jenkins belonged to a remarkable group of Labour cabinet ministers, many of them from working-class backgrounds, who got to know one another and started exchanging ideas at Oxford University. They had a clear vision of what Britain at its best could be, but the nation they inherited when they came of political age, as Wilson led Labour to victory in 1964, was creaking, class-ridden and strangled by anachronistic legislation.
The state retained far-reaching powers over every aspect of its citizens’ lives. As well as banning homosexuality and abortion, it could put them to death, prevent unhappy couples from divorcing and even decide what the public could see on the stage.
The lord chamberlain, a Ruritanian-sounding officer in the royal household, had no qualms about banning work by the country’s leading playwrights. In 1965, the lord chamberlain refused to license a stage production of John Osborne’s play “A Patriot for Me,” which told the true story of a homosexual officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army in the 1890s.
Jenkins and his Labour colleagues believed that the British government interfered too much in the lives of its citizens and at the same time failed to protect vulnerable groups from discrimination. Many of the reforms they set about putting into law had been outlined by Anthony Crosland, an Oxford don who became education secretary in Wilson’s government. In his influential 1956 book “The Future of Socialism,” Crosland had argued that breaking down class barriers and promoting equality should be the goal of Labour governments. Crosland and Jenkins were friends long before they found themselves seated around the cabinet table, but few people knew that they had had a short but intense affair after meeting at Oxford in 1938, when male homosexuality was still punishable by a prison sentence (there was no law against lesbianism).
The scale and speed with which the Wilson government set about modernizing Britain was breathtaking. Ministers abolished capital punishment in 1965 and passed the Race Relations Act, which outlawed discrimination on the grounds of color, race or ethnic origin, in the same year. Abortion and homosexual law reform made 1967 the standout year but ministers also ended theater censorship in 1968, liberalized divorce law in 1969 and passed the Equal Pay Act in 1970. Labour lost a general election that year and had to wait until 1975 — when Jenkins was back at the Home Office — to pass the first Sex Discrimination Act and set up the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Unlike their Conservative opponents, Labour’s leading thinkers understood that postwar society was changing fast, driven by the expansion of higher education, a decline in religious observance — the Vatican had damaged its moral authority by giving its blessing to fascist regimes like Franco’s Spain — and a horror of authoritarianism in the wake of World War II. Emboldened by the ’60s atmosphere of intellectual freedom and excitement, this reform movement improved the lives of millions of people.
The contrast with public life in Britain today is stark. Amid the divisive campaigning before last year’s Brexit referendum, the assassination of a Labour member of Parliament, Jo Cox, by a right-wing extremist still casts a long shadow. Personal abuse and death threats were so common in the run-up to this year’s general election that Mrs. May has ordered an inquiry into intimidation of candidates.
The specter of Brexit hovers over everything, sucking the energy out of political debate while Conservative ministers and the parliamentary opposition feud over questions that should have been answered before the referendum. Few people seriously believe that all the problems caused by Brexit will be resolved by Mrs. May’s self-imposed deadline of March 2019, but ministers and civil servants are nonetheless preoccupied with them at a time when the country faces deep-seated social problems.
One event after another confirms that the government is drifting, divided and unsure of itself. Only days after the election, the horrific spectacle of at least 80 people burned to death in a government tower block in one of the most affluent areas of West London became an unforgettable symbol of inequality. Yet Mrs. May couldn’t bring herself to talk to residents when she made her first visit to the scene of the disaster.
A few weeks later, the prime minister made the surprise announcement that the National Health Service would fund abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland, where terminations are banned. This happened not because she suddenly rediscovered the spirit of Roy Jenkins, but simply because she feared losing a crucial vote in the House of Commons.
No wonder we’re depressed. The public is angry and distrustful of politicians, a situation reflected in the outcome of the June election, when Mrs. May lost her parliamentary majority, yet the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was more than 60 seats short of being able to form a government. This summer’s marches and documentaries celebrating the decriminalization of homosexuality are inspiring, at one level, but they are also a painful reminder that 1967 was a very long time ago. The days when British governments embraced the future with confidence are receding into the past. Who can say when it will be glad, confident morning again?
Joan Smith (@polblonde) is a novelist and the author of “Misogynies’ and “The Public Woman.”
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 3 August 2017
It is hard to imagine a greater betrayal: a young woman picked up her husband’s phone, spotted an app she didn’t recognise and opened it. Imagine her shock when she discovered videos that showed him raping her while she was asleep. This week, at Newcastle crown court, that husband was jailed for nine years.
Such a long sentence was clearly justified. The wife, who came across the footage by chance when her husband forgot to take his phone to work, has to live with both the shock of what was done to her and a catastrophic loss of trust.
The couple can’t be named for legal reasons but they had been married for more than 10 years, and had children together, when he started making the videos in September last year.
Twenty-six years ago, when the law in this country was changed to make rape in marriage a criminal offence, no one envisaged the arrival of mobile phones with a video facility. But the law lords who voted to change the law understood that what happens in some marriages is a great deal darker than outsiders realise. They rightly took the view that a legal ruling dating back to 1736, which said that a man could not rape his wife, was ‘anachronistic and offensive’.
The change in the law was greeted, in some quarters, by derision and howls of outrage. But yesterday’s case, and others that have come before the courts in the intervening period, are a stark reminder of why the change was necessary. We know far more about domestic violence now than we did in the 1990s, including the fact that it often involves rape and other forms of sexual assault.
Some local authorities have set up ‘sanctuary’ schemes – basically a safe room where a woman can hide with her children until the police arrive – to protect separated wives from rape and assault by their husbands. But the striking thing about this latest case is that the victim didn’t even know she was being abused until she found the images in her husband’s phone in March this year.
Curious about an app called Video Locker, she found a way to open it and discovered the videos; her husband had zoomed in to film himself raping her and performing other sex acts while she was asleep. In a state of shock, she contacted him and said ‘I’ve just watched videos of you raping me on your phone’. She then went to the police, who told her that her husband had already handed himself in.
The recordings, which lasted between 30 seconds and two minutes, have been destroyed. But one of the most frightening features of the case is that once they existed, the husband could have shared them with other people if he felt so inclined. There is no evidence that he did so, but he was caught only six months after he started filming the rapes.
The victim told the court that her life, and that of her children, had been ‘completely turned upside down’ by her discovery of the videos. ‘I never thought he would be capable of doing what he did,’ she said. ‘He has completely fooled me. I never want to see him again’.
This series of events may seem outlandish to some people. But it is important to recognise that the husband made no attempt to deny his behaviour, pleading guilty to a catalogue of offences: three counts of rape, one of assault by penetration, one of attempted rape and one of sexual assault. The judge said he had taken advantage of the fact that his wife was a heavy sleeper, treating her as an object for his sexual fantasies.
Earlier this year, some viewers were shocked by a wedding-day rape in an episode of the TV soap Emmerdale. Last year, the long-running Radio 4 series, The Archers, addressed the issue of marital rape when Helen Titchener stabbed her abusive husband, Rob; she revealed the rapes during her trial and was cleared of attempted murder.
A subject that was once taboo is now being discussed in popular culture, helping real-life victims to come forward. This is a very good thing: it is undeniable that rape in marriage exists, and does tremendous damage.
Yesterday’s horrific court case demonstrates that it can happen, in the most extreme instance, in a marriage where the wife has no suspicions. Rape by a current or former partner is far from uncommon and wives, like every other woman in this country, deserve the full protection of the law.