Cllr Ross Mackinnon is Executive Member for Finance and Economic Development at West Berkshire Council.
Not all men, but it is always men. Men are the problem. Don’t protect your girls; educate your boys. We are all collectively guilty. All men must do better. We need a curfew for men. Almost all violence against women is inflicted by men, therefore you must know a man who has assaulted a woman.
None of these statements are rational. None of these statements are logical. None stand up to scrutiny. But no-one wants to hear that right now.
In the wake of the shocking, horrific murder of poor Sarah Everard, we’re looking for something, someone, anyone, to blame. It’s an emotional instinct, not a rational one.
We should not live in a world where a 33-year-old woman, wearing bright clothing, keeping to busy, well-lit streets, making all the right decisions, is abducted from the street and murdered. Something has gone horribly wrong, and therefore something must be done immediately. There is exasperation and there is anger. Both are compellingly understandable emotions. I share them.
For the record, we also shouldn’t live in a world where a woman wearing a revealing outfit, drunk on a night out and flirting with strangers in a nightclub is assaulted. raped or murdered either. We shouldn’t live in a world where a woman is abused by her partner. Each and all of these crimes are abhorrent.
The police were in a no-win situation in Clapham Common at the weekend . By most accounts, the vigil was proceeding peacefully until the attendees were asked to disperse. Then things turned ugly. “No Justice, No Peace, F**k the police”. It’s an odd sort of peaceful vigil where some of those present proudly display All Cops Are Bastards signs. It isn’t the first time a good cause has been hijacked by extremists, and it won’t be the last.
Some of the arrest footage looks very heavy-handed, although unless you see the actions which led the arrests then you don’t have the full picture. It may well be that rank and file and senior officers have serious questions to answer.
But no-one wants to hear that right now.
It’s absolutely true that the vast majority of crime, especially violent crime, is committed by men. There are biological reasons for this statistic, of course. Testosterone causes aggression, from puberty onwards. Most male brains keep a lid on it. A minority don’t. Armed robbery. GBH. Murder of men and of women. Sexual Assault. Rape. All overwhelmingly committed by violent men.
But a tiny minority of the male population. The current media narrative of “all men are the problem” will lead women and girls to see all men as a threat. You may think this a good thing. I don’t.
Imposing collective responsibility or guilt on a group, be it defined by gender, race, religion, or any fundamental characteristic, is fundamentally unconservative, and something I hope I never see our party or our Government dabble with. We don’t do it after terrorist attacks, and we shouldn’t do it now.
Crimes are committed by individual people, and those individuals bear all the responsibility. A responsibility they should bear very heavily indeed with the harshest of punishments. Far too often, men convicted of sexual offences are given pathetically lenient sentences. Let’s start with that.
Other solutions? Precious few, at least credible ones. Over the last few days, we’ve heard that it’s a cultural problem. We need men off the streets in the evening. We need more stories written by women on TV. We must educate our boys, teach them that assaulting women, grabbing women, raping women are all wrong.
As if we’re not teaching them that already. These terrible crimes aren’t carried out by uninformed men simply crying out for education on gender relations. The rapists and murderers already know it’s wrong. Their minds, their lives, have gone horribly wrong somewhere down the line. They make a calculated decision that they’ll probably get away with it. Or they don’t care if they get away with it or not, because their evil compulsion is all that matters.
I don’t have a shopping list of solutions to prevent violence against women because there are no easy ones. Surely those men at risk of becoming violent sexual offenders could be identified earlier? I hope so, but it’s not my area of expertise. Can the police improve the way they investigate crimes? I’m sure they can and I’m sure they will. The conviction rate for sexual offences is pitiful. I wish it were higher. But we can’t make it higher by lowering the burden of proof, or by reversing the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Or maybe more innocent men being convicted is a price to pay for more guilty men being convicted? Over to you. All I know is that holding half the population collectively responsible for the actions of a tiny minority will not go down as our finest moment.