Tag Archives: rape

The first complaint: what the SWP should have done



1. We should have encouraged the complainant to speak to the police

On learning in July 2010 that a member of the SWP believed that she had been made to have sex with our National Secretary, without her consent, the Central Committee of our party should have strongly encouraged the complainant to make her complaint directly to the police. You cannot compel someone to go the police and she might have refused. But it should have been explained to her that the police have the relevant expertise and the resources and it would be better for her, and the party, if the job of investigating it was given to them. One reason the complaint should have been investigated there is because of its seriousness. No-one would suggest that a union or an employer would be incapable of investigating if an employee was said to have done something criminal but minor (eg stealing £100 from the accounts). Unions and employers and political parties investigate that sort of lesser criminal behaviour all the time. But rape is a much more serious accusations. Where people are found guilty of rape, in court, the average sentence is 8 years. It is far too serious a matter investigate internally.

Another reason why the complaint should have been investigated externally is that police investigations generate large amounts of evidence which other people can then review. Had she gone to the police, it may well be that the complaint would not have been investigated properly, that the police would have done little more than take statements from her and the person who was subject to the complaint, collect all relevant emails and texts, and refuse to proceed. Or there might have been a trial which might have been inconclusive. It may well be that even after a trial, the complainant would have come to the party and asked for action to be taken against our former National Secretary. If she had, the investigating comrades would have been able to read all the material generated by the police investigation and would have much more material to from which to make a serious assessment than they had in this case.

Where a political party investigates its own members, there will always be a suggestion that we are dealing with them more leniently than an outside investigator would. When we collect evidence of a crime, but do not pass it on the police, our members commit a series of crimes for which they, ultimately, could face serious punishment. No-one could have predicted even a year ago how the crisis would continue to debilitate the SWP; but everyone with the least sense of reality knew that it would eventually become public knowledge, and that it would make the party look contemptible before the rest of the left.

2. We should not have tried to negotiate between the parties

After a member of the Central Committee had met the rape complainant in summer 2010, the party put in process the negotiations between her and our National Secretary which resulted in his stepping down as our National Secretary several months later. This was inadequate. Every employer and every union with a written complaints procedure recognises a distinction between the sorts of complaints than can be resolved by an informal conversation between the two people and the sorts of complaints that require proper investigation.

Negotiations are not necessarily the wrong approach; they can work for example if someone has done something wrong, and they acknowledge it, and the only remaining discussion is about what they should do to apologise.  But negotiations without an agreement about what happened are always likely to break down, as they did in 2010-2011. As far as our National Secretary was concerned he had done nothing wrong, so why should he be punished?

If you try to get the parties to negotiate before there has been a proper investigation, the process will not work. One party will say that something serious has happened, the other will admit to only the most trivial wrongdoing. If anyone comes in from the outside and tried to put pressure on the parties to settle, they will have no way of telling which of the two sides is being unreasonable. The tendency therefore is to put pressure on an arbitrary basis, on the person who seems weaker in negotiations rather than the person who has been wronged. In sexual investigations in particular, where domestic or sexual violence is alleged but disputed, putting pressure on both sides to settle means in practice putting pressure on the woman to accept that less happened than she said.

3. We should have reconsidered our processes before or during, not after, the complaint

The people who sat on the original Disputes Committee were, by any independent standard an inexperienced group of people without relevant skills. Two out of nine were long-standing trade unionists who may have sat in on workplace disciplinary cases, which albeit probably not of a sexual nature, would at least have given them some inkling of what an unfair process involves. There is no suggestion that any had had an experience of dispute resolution beyond watching employers internal procedures. One had sat on the Disputes Committee for many years. The remainder were members of the party’s Central Committee without any relevant experience and every apparent reason to support their fellow CC member with whom they had worked over many years. One  was an academic who researches asylum seekers. Another was there only because she was a former CC member.

In a party with several dozen lawyers, and perhaps several hundred other trade union members more experienced than these comrades, this was a remarkably weak panel to burden with such a responsible job. The politest thing that could be said about the questions asked by Maxine Bowler and Amy Leather is that they reflect this inexperience rather than (as they suggest, on the face of things) the wilful sexism of people determined to defeat an unwelcome complaint.

One member of the DC (its chair) did grasp that a sexual complaint against a CC member is a complaint out of all proportion to anything that the DC had dealt with before, and attempted to improvise rules appropriate to it – eg taking questions through him, to reduce sense that the complainant was being “cross-examined”. But there were all sorts of other rules which the DC had adopted over the years which were stacked in one direction only: eg refusing to let the complainant know the CC member’s defence but letting him know the charge against him; not allowing the complainant or their representative to be present or ask questions during the CC members’ evidence; and a complete confusion about what standard of proof applied.

The DC would have done better to reflect on each of these flaws, and change them before the hearing, rather than maintain the main parts of a flawed procedure.

4. We should have provided proper reasons

After the first complaint, the DC issued a two word judgment “Not proven”; it was followed (after lengthy protests) with a one-side decision which said as little as the members of the disputes committee could get away with. This was another mistake. An ordinary, competent decision maker (a judge, a manager at a grievance hearing, a trade unionist investigating a complaint about a fellow member of the union) will be happy to explain why they reached the decision they did. It is a matter of professional pride to them that their decision bears a close relationship to what they were told about the case. If two witnesses disagreed on something important, they will explain which one they found more truthful or more persuasive.

Keeping reasons secret does not give a decision extra authority; instead it enables everyone’s worst supposition to fill the gap. The most critical people tell themselves, “Obviously they found for Smith; they were Smith’s mates.” The most loyalist tell you, “It was just an affair that went wrong.” Those who have thought hardest about the decision (whatever else we disagree on) can see its central incongruity. The members of the DC have said repeatedly that they believed the two women complainants. In Dave Sherry’s words, “we never felt anyone was lying”. But the first complainant said she had been raped and her corroborative witness that she had been sexually harassed. The panel found that our National Secretary’s behaviour was not inappropriate of someone in his position. But how can two woman be simultaneously both “believed” and “not believed”? Clearly there might be all sorts of explanations for this contradiction, but until it is explained, the party is left with a decision that just makes no sense. And it is natural to go on to think that we’re not being told the whole truth.

Some of this would have been averted if the panelists had had the experience, and the politics, to grasp that they needed to properly explain their decision.

5. All the documents of the investigation should have been published

The complaint has brought to centre stage the defensiveness of the organisation, meaning not just of the leadership (which always concentrates on protecting itself) but more troublingly of the large number of comrades who see it as their job to protect the party even (especially?) when it has got something wrong.

One of the many problems with this instinct is that it can be spectacularly self-defeating. Every step the leadership has taken to keep the story secret, every partial admission they have made which has then been shown to be more than half false has accentuated the impression of a group of people desperate to hide from the truth. For a year we have been the living expression of the proverb, “What a tangled web you weave, when first you try to deceive.”

If people were trying to defend the party politically, rather than administratively, they would take the opposite approach, putting everything in the public domain. It might be that this or that small decision would be criticised. But if it became clear that everything was public, that there were no more secrets waiting to come out, the story would soon die. It is the CC’s ongoing refusal to publish all the documents or to the let the party or anyone else know what really happened which keeps alive the memory of our National Secretary and the way that the structures of the party were mobilised to protect him.

6. The CC should have been kept out of the process from the start

The central “design flaw” with the SWP is that ever since the mid-1970s the organisation has developed (not all in one go but incrementally) a form of political practice in which all significant decisions are centralised, all initiative flows from the centre, and the role of the members in local branches is reduced to that of a passive transmission belt: i.e. handing out leaflets (produced at the centre) for a meeting (at which a person from the centre speaks), in support of a campaign (which was dreamed up by someone working full-time at the centre) and at which newspapers (produced by the centre) are distributed in order to be sold, and with them a leaflet handed out, inviting people to the next meeting…

The members of the SWP have a thousand different skills, we include novelists, musicians, artists, runners, boxers, nurses and doctors; if we were actually asked, we have so much frustrated creativity waiting to be expressed. And yet, rather than give us a chance to speak freely and shape our party, the organisation faces us constantly with the stern face of a classroom teacher (Mr Chips, or thereabouts) whose lecture (“Be Quiet!”) has been interrupted by his unruly class.

The dispute shows the same disease of control from the centre: with CC members keeping the DC out of  the original decision in 2010, and then shaping the DC verdict of 2012, making all the decisions about whether, when and on what basis the second complaint would be heard.

The CC, in general, likes to keep out of the public eye. But the decisions they have taken in 2010-3 have shown them to be unprincipled, indifferent to the politics of women’s liberation, and concerned essentially with the survival of their own positions at the head of the organisation.

If the members of the SWP were serious about learning from the dispute and making sure it couldn’t happen again, one of the first things we would be tackling is the culture of institutional deference to the leadership. We would constrain them, keep them out of our disputes procedure, and leave it people with the freedom to listen to a complaint genuinely, on its merits.

7. Don’t hide from the risk of institutional sexism – but confront it head on

The idea of institutional discrimination was developed many years ago to explain how an organisation could simultaneously believe at an official, “corporate” level that it did not discriminate, but actually in its behaviour treat people in a discriminatory fashion.

It is not much an analysis as a description of how groups of people can take decisions which point in a particular and discriminatory direction, precisely because they are focussing on considerations which seem to be gender-neutral.

In this case, no one with their eyes open would deny that a series of people in the SWP have been motivated by an overwhelming desire to protect a popular, and in his own mind “charismatic”, leader of our party, who had just guided us through a messy and unpleasant split.

Without some sense that – the CC, his friends, the DC panelists and much of the party’s rank and file membership – had all hoped that Smith would be vindicated, it is impossible to understand why for example the punishment chosen in 2010 had been so inadequate, why there was a standing ovation in his support in 2011, why the women complainants were asked such hostile questions in 2012, why in January and February 2013 the CC attempted to mobilise the disciplinary structures of the SWP around the pretence that Smith had been vindicated by our conference, and so on.

Under class society, everyone is shaped by what Marx called the muck of ages: subtle habits of stereotyping are absolutely general (along of course with ideas which point in favour of human equality). Anyone is capable of acting in a discriminatory fashion. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Bukharin, whoever you like could be raided for moments when their ideas pointed against human equality. Their failures do not invalidate them; they are part of what it means to be human. The only shield against discrimination is the very recognition of its possibility.

This is why those comrades who are writing that they “believe any charge that the party is a sexist organisation or has abandoned its tradition of fighting women’s oppression has no basis” are so misguided. They are simply repeating the method that has already led us so far from principle. You don’t make sexist behaviour go away by simply wishing it hadn’t happened.

You don’t equip people to fight sexism by saying that as a revolutionary party we could never be sexist.

You only defeat it by thinking hard about its possibility, and adopting a new mind-set which says, “it’s a risk, so to make sure that we avoid it, we will confront that danger, and never make these mistakes again.” And to do that, you have to start admitting what the mistakes were.

Two minutes to midnight comrades? By my reckoning the last second is already sounding.

The two women are still owed a proper apology



This piece was originally published in the SWP’s pre-conference bulletin 1. It was of course heavily edited by the CC. Even with those changes, I think it is appropriate to republish it now, at a time when the detail of the cases is much more widely known within the party. On a second reading, some of the details here may take on added significance. In particular, I think it is important for comrades to be aware of the gracelessness and hostility with which the CC acted on the DC’s advice that it should make a (limited) apology to the second complainant

The SWP has suffered the worst year in the party’s history. We have had to have three conferences in one year, the numbers attending Marxism have fallen by half, and the party has suffered hundreds of resignations. Everywhere in the organisation, we see ageing and decay. If the SWP is to survive, we desperately need to change course.

The basis of survival is at least clear. First, there will need to be a significant change in our leadership: at the minimum it will need to involve the removal of the minority of our old CC who voted against the adoption of the second DC report and of Alex Callinicos, whose intervention at our January conference (“this is war”) set the party up for our last eight months of continuous internal conflict. A new set of comrades needs to emerge, not selected on the basis of how they voted in the last 8 months, but on whether they are capable of moral leadership and of playing a consensus role.

Second, at every level of the organisation, we need to break the culture of “following orders”. It was this mentality, that the next rank up of leadership is perfect, which led the first DC into repeated errors. How can you properly investigate a leadership you have been trained to think infallible? The purges which members of our outgoing CC have authorised in North London, Walthamstow, and Manchester must stop. The relationship between the CC and NC, and between each of them and the branches, needs to be reversed. Initiative has to be allowed to come from below.

Third, there needs to be a public and meaningful apology to the two women at the centre of the complaint. After our conference in January 2013, Charlie Kimber wrote to all members of the SWP saying, “We believe that both parties to the case should have their right to confidentiality and their right as members in good standing respected.”

Eight months later, no-one can pretend that the situation is still the same. The person about whom the first complaint was made (until 2013 a member of our Central Committee) has resigned from the party, and following a second complaint our disputes committee has found that he has a case to answer on a complaint of sexual harassment.  He is no longer a mere non-member of the SWP, and if he wanted to join the party, he would have to apply to join.

The phrase “case to answer” is itself curious. The former CC member resigned from the party in July 2013, just weeks before the DC that was due to hear complaints against him. A decision was taken, even before the DC investigation had begun, that the disputes procedure investigating the second complaint would be limited to the two options only of “case to answer” or “no case to answer”.

Where an employer investigates a complaint against a worker, or a grievance against a manager, or where a union investigates misconduct, or where a professional body investigates allegations of misconduct casting doubt on a worker’s fitness to conduct their profession, in the employment tribunal, or in the family or criminal courts – all of which investigate complaints of sexual harassment – an investigation is not halted halfway merely because the person subject to the complaint says “sorry, I won’t attend a hearing”. In all these other bodies, a decision maker investigates, and makes a decision as to what probably happened. In all of them, a wilful refusal to attend is taken as a small but significant sign of guilt.

Only in the police, where senior figures are allowed routinely to resign to forestall misconduct investigations, is there a culture of protecting senior figures by refusing to investigate fully when the senior figure resigns, and stopping a decision short of saying robustly, “yes, on the evidence before us, he did it”.

The DC recommended that the party apologise to the second complainant because her move to another place of work and to a more mundane job with less political content, caused her “unintended but nonetheless real hurt and distress”. Our outgoing CC waited a month before belatedly accepting the need to apologise in these terms. Its apology was partial and expressed its reservations with the DC report.

If the party wants to remove the terrible stain that has accumulated over the last three years, we will have to go further, and apologise properly and publicly to each of the two women.

In terms of the second complaint, the DC did not go far enough in suggesting that the party only needed to apologise for moving her but not for the sexual harassment which was what her complaint was about.

Following the most exhaustive investigation of which the party is capable, a two-day hearing in which a number of witnesses were heard and documents read, it was found that the former CC member had a case to answer for sexually harassing the complainant.

The period of time her complaint relates to is one when she worked for the party and he was our National Secretary, the person who appoints everyone else who works for the SWP. Part of her complaint was that it was his role as her employer which meant that she was required to keep on seeing him.

There could be no logic to justify saying: “We accept the complaint of sexual harassment has enough merit so that we can decide to place an obstacle on the former CC member rejoining the party, but we do not believe it has enough merit to oblige us to apologise to the woman concerned.”

In terms of the first complaint, the reasons for an apology are slightly different. Part of the need relates to our process of disputes procedure reform. In drawing up new procedures the party has accepted that our old rules were not good enough. But those were the rules under which her complaint was heard. If our old procedures need change; it must follow that the complainant has not had what we now consider a fair hearing.

There is another reason. In both complaints the women wanted an investigation of what they said was sexual conduct involving the same man. If the decisions had been heard in the reverse order, with the first complaint determined after the second, then by the time the first complaint had been heard we would have already decided that there was a case to answer on a complaint of sexual misconduct.

Anyone who has ever been involved in even the simplest kind of workplace investigation will know what this means. Where a company investigate a worker for two thefts or two assaults, and finds on one of them “case to answer”, the second hearing is inevitably more robust. The worker has to do so much more to be heard and believed where at first sight there appears to be a pattern of similar behaviour by him.

The same point applies with even more force in the courts, where what is called “similar fact” evidence is allowed in sexual cases – the similarity of the behaviour justifies placing an extra burden on a person to disprove the case against them.

For all these reasons, the part has a choice. The CC could say now to the first complainant, “We don’t know whether all your complaint was true, and in truth we will never have the complete answer. But we are serious about our politics, and if there is any possibility at all he did it, that is enough for us, we will apologise to you.”

Or, if that is a step that our outgoing CC will not take, the new report into the future of the DC recommends there should be an appeal process against the DC’s decisions. If this is the only way in which the party will allow proper findings about our former National Secretary, then so be it. To reclaim any scrap of authority, the party must revisit the first complaint – and, this time, investigate it fairly and properly.

You cannot re-build a party around an injustice. As part of the steps needed to bring the party’s crisis to a conclusion which we can explain to the outside world, the two women who made complaints each require a full, public apology.

An organisation with integrity



[The following piece was published today by Exchange magazine]

The main motion for discussion at the SWP conference in December will say, “Conference recognises … That all the comrades involved in the DC hearings sought to apply our politics in a principled way at all times and tried honestly to do the best they could in the circumstances. All DC hearings have been conducted with integrity”. That last word, integrity, is the important one.

I don’t want to make familiar points going back over what happened at that DC hearing; or whether it is possible to transform an investigation from scandalous to principled merely through a conference vote. Here, I want to ask: what does the left need to do, if we are ever going to have again a reputation for integrity?

The word “integrity” means at least two different things. In a first sense, it just means being principled and living by what you believe.

For a very long time, in so far as the SWP has thought about “principles”, we have assumed that they could be subordinated to the interests of the party, which stood in our understanding as a proxy for the class, which stood for all of humanity. “Anarchists”, we have explained, may see a revolutionary group as the harbringer of a new society, but “Marxists” don’t agree with them: it is not possible to wash off what Marx once called “the muck of ages” (i.e. oppression and its effects on both oppressor and oppressor) merely by wanting to be better, without a social revolution. But in the last year we have found that we are being judged, not for the formal content of our ideas but the mismatch between our ideas and what we have done.

A socialist party cannot pretend to be the growing embryo of a potential future society. But behaving repeatedly in an unprincipled manner is enough to kill any organisation and especially one which aspires to carry the dreams of millions.

One way to reorient the left is through adopting detailed codes which formulate basic rules as to what behaviour so obviously “crosses the line” that it is incompatible with membership of a socialist group. This winter, for example, the International Socialist Organisation (which was for many years until 2003 the SWP’s American affiliate) is preparing for its own annual conference. One of the documents being circulated by its leadership is a Code of Conduct for the ISO’s members.

The Code commits them to conducting debate rigorously, but with civility and respect. Members are made accountable for actions that bring serious harm to other members or to the organization. Discrimination and harassment are prohibited. All sexual encounters must be consensual, whether with another ISO member or not.

Elsewhere, in the main body of the ISO’s rules, the group prohibits members from making false statements to obtain membership or engaging in financial improprieties, or acting as a strike-breaker, a provocateur, or an informer

I like the document and I support the ideas behind it but I won’t pretend that it, alone, could cure the problem. For one thing, the behaviours prohibited by it seem to have been selected quite arbitrary. I accept I wouldn’t want to be in a party with a police informer or an agent provocateur, or indeed a former informer. How about a police officer? (I assume not) Or a prison officer? Or a serving soldier? Someone who owns their own business? What if the business has a left-wing content? In the SWP, we tried to prohibit for a time our members having jobs in the union bureaucracy or even on 100% facility time. Unfortunately our former National Secretary had a number of friends in these positions, so we maintained the rule, but applied it arbitrarily. In some cases, through the party’s ignorance of what its members were up to; we didn’t apply it at all. Should we have kept the comrade who serves in the bureaucracy, as a very senior manager (i.e. with a power to hire and fire), and who has an OBE for his services to trade unionism? Does it make a difference that he is one of the kindest and most genuine people you will ever meet, as well as a committed revolutionary?

It is quite obvious, after the Delta rape scandal, that any left-wing organisation with any survival instinct will respond better than the SWP has done to complaints of rape. But any Code isn’t made useful by its ability to recognise last year’s errors, you want it to guide you through next year’s crises, whatever they may be.

The definitions of discrimination in ISO’s document mirror American law, but US law is relatively underdeveloped compared to various international counterparts. European law (and therefore even UK law) prohibits a much wider set of behaviours directed against wider sets of disadvantaged groups. This isn’t to praise UK law, by the way, which is itself the product of certain kind of social compromises and has all sorts of limitations, but only to say that any list will always be incomplete. The trick is to work out what the principles are behind our prohibition of certain behaviours, and to hope that those principles will guide you right even in unfamiliar situations.

Integrity has a second meaning; consistency. We in the SWP often say that women’s liberation is “integral” to our politics, if this is going to be more than hot air, it would have to mean that every aspect of our socialism was shaped by our commitment to ending women’s oppression: that we could not think about trade unions, universities, anti-fascism or anything else without thinking about women’s oppression.

One story about the old SWP illustrates nicely what integrity can mean. The revolutionary journalist Paul Foot had been educated at Shrewsbury public school, and his friends there, including Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton and Christopher Booker later worked with him on the magazine Private Eye. Unlike them, Foot was a socialist, joining the SWP’s predecessor, the International Socialists, in 1961 after leaving Oxford and remaining with IS/SWP until his death in 2004. A few years before he died he suffered a heart attack and was recovering in hospital, mute and seriously unwell. Friends from Private Eye visited him, and, as lay in bed, said that they had raised enough money for him to swap his NHS bed for one in a private hospital. Unable to speak, Foot lifted his fingers at them in a V-sign. Ill as he may have been, he was the same Paul Foot he had always been.

How do parties show integrity? Socialist Alternative, the largest IS group in Australia, published five years ago an Anti-Sexism Manifesto, setting out how to enable women to take part in a group as equals with men.

The pamphlet describes, in ways which any socialist should recognise, how men can dominate in social relationships, how women still tend to do the majority of housework and certainly childcare (even in socialist relationships). It notes the persistence of old, stereotypical ideas about how men will be the ones who work and women the ones who do most of the caring. It accepts that there is a limit to how far sexism can be overcome under capitalism, but makes a comparison with workers’ subordination: “Socialists do not passively accept that workers will always submit to their bosses’ authority, or that they will automatically adopt racist or other divisive ideas … We fight these ideas vigorously when we can. And so it is with sexism.”

Much of the pamphlet is about consent, and why socialist men should never chivvy a woman for sex, get her drunk in order to sleep with her, pretend that a “No”was playful rather than serious, etc. “No means no at any time”, its author writes. It talks in practical ways about what is wrong with men controlling women. Socialist Alternative encourage their members to practice safe sex, and to see this as something which is the man’s primary responsibility. Last of all, the authors of the pamphlet insist that no-one should use the group as a pick-up joint.

Some of the ideas in their pamphlet are things which people on the left have done intuitively for years. Even in the SWP, we don’t normally ask men to speak at Marxism on women’s oppression. Generally, we do try to have a number of women either speaking, or at least chairing, our national events. And any comrade who has been in the SWP more than a few years will remember a time when we tried much harder to challenge sexism than we do now. In the past, for example, we did try to provide childcare to enable parents to attend our meetings. The problem is that all these things we do, or did, feel partial. We never explain properly why we do them. They are not followed through in our campaigns or our publications.

A theme of the SWP opposition has been that if we want people to believe that we actually have a theory which makes women’s liberation “essential” to our project, then we need to demonstrate that our internal practice matches up to the way we like to present ourselves to the world. You can’t say one thing and do another …

[the piece continues here, at page 18]

On being, or not being, a finger-wagging Jaberwocky



One, two! One, two! and through and through / The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

I used to have a fantasy that when all my comrades in the SWP eventually grew up, they would be likely a typical Jewish family. They (we!) would spend our Decembers raging against each other with an intensity that outsiders would find incomprehensible. And then, suddenly, and utterly, we would make up. And no-one would be cross with each other any more.

Well, the SWP grew up, or certainly the average age of its members is about double what it used to be. And far from promoting a mature sensibility and tolerance, I find that the teachers are more teacherish, the dogma is more dogmatic, and the supreme authority is nastier and behaves more than ever like an aristocrat who finds himself in a job that was never meant for him.

Over the past twelve months, I have seen my comrades in the faction attacked, spat at by supporters of the CC, and bullied out of the branches where they had been active. I have seen behaviour so unpleasant that if members of the Conservatives or UKIP had been its victims I would be outraged on their behalf.

And because I am not a woman I have been spared the worst of it. I have not been raped nor sexually harassed. Nor have I been told by my supposed comrades that it would be really inconvenient and difficult to chose between my account of what happened to me and a man’s. I have not had to endure the “bourgeois morality” lecture in which it is patiently explained that women should wait their turn and not expect revolutionaries to take rape seriously. Nor have I had to endure Martin Smith’s favourite chat up line, which revolved by a coincidence around the very same phrase: “the only reason you won’t sleep with me is because you are swayed by” (wait for it) “bourgeois morality”.

And yet, even now …

I think of the SWP of Dave Widgery, and of the Anti-Nazi League.

I recall the immense pleasure I got on finding old copies of the (pre-1979) International Socialism Journal, how sharp the writing always was and how precise the politics.

I think back to the SWP which I joined in which men were argued with to take women’s oppression seriously.

I remember the students of my own generation who joined the SWP in large numbers, and fought as SWP members against the abolition of student grants, and against a homophobic minister, and always, always, against injustice.

I think back to the argumentative, iconoclastic spirit of the party in the early 1990s when I joined.

I recall how every branch seemed to have at least a couple of “cadre”, independent-minded comrades, who argued for socialist politics in their branch and were slow to persuade of the merits of the leadership’s get-rich-quick schemes.

I remember when I was invited onto the editorial board of Socialist Review, 15 years ago, and the pride in my step as I literally skipped back home because I was so happy and desperate to tell my partner the good news

I remember Welling, and Prague,  the enthusiasm with which the party leadership grasped the breakthrough at Seattle. (I also recall the intense, sectarian stupidity with which they then imposed a split on the ISO, using Seattle as their excuse).

I notice the way in which despite the closing down of Women’s Voice, despite the lack of a decent women’s perspective thereafter, despite the way in which comrades were warned by Cliff and Harman off the divisive subjects of rape and sexual harasssment – despite all of that, so many SWP membes turned out to have the right instincts

I remember the very same comrades who have acted recently as Martin Smith’s personal shield, when they didn’t answer strangers’ commonplace greetings (“How are you?”) with the words, “I am a loyalist” but when they had a democratic notion of what socialism involved, and were kind and supportive to new members of the group

There are so many people now in their 40s who I recall when they were better, bolder, more questioning people. I remember when they were revolutionaries. And in solidarity to the people they once were; I say to them: even now, it is not too late to turn back

I will not be purely nostalgic. Even in the last year I have seen some comrades trying to comprehend where “the other side” is coming from. At every whisper of a hint of a turn, I have been encouraging. And because there is so little time between now and our last conference, I will try to continue in that spirit for a few weeks longer.

When people move, I don’t care what they did before. I will be forgiving – so long as they move.

Indeed, I would invite any wavering readers to do just that. I find that it is simply more pleasant when you can live your politics openly. It is better when you don’t have to make excuses for other people, and when you can live, or at least try to live, what you believe.

I see people who have joined the faction relax, because for the first time in a year they can live the politics they thought they stood for, and I have watched the pressure fall from their shoulders as they are again true to themselves.

And – to my erstwhile comrades among the self-declared “CC Ultras” of Idoom, I say: you should try it too.

Sixteen rape myths



By Bolshie Elane

It is an uncomfortable fact that sexual harassment and violence take place within trade unions, the Labour Party and within left parties. In a depressing catalogue in recent years Labour counsellors have been jailed for rape; an employment tribunal for sexual harassment was taken against the general secretary of NAPO and accusations made against the deputy general secretary of the RMT and the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party has been accused of covering up sexual harassment, assault and rape by leading members.

The rape & sexual harassment allegations in the SWP centred on how allegations against a member of the Central Committee were dealt with. The arguments have been bitter because everyone who joins the SWP is determined to make a world without exploitation and oppression and all sides in the dispute want to see women’s liberation. I left the SWP because of this in the autumn of 2010. I could not reconcile the socialist politics I learned in the SWP, with what was happening around me in response to the CC being made aware that a young woman was distraught that sexual harassment she had first asked for help to stop in 2009 had begun again.

Since that day I have been trying to understand what has gone wrong and why such good socialists should turn out to be such difficult human beings devoid of solidarity or understanding, who could slander the complaints (yes there are more than one) with such callous disregard or who could simply say, “I am not interested in that stuff—the important thing is to fight this government who are wrecking women’s lives”[1].

I don’t think that this began as a conspiracy of cover-up in the SWP –although I feel that there is one now that the issue is doing ongoing damage and other stories are beginning to emerge. I certainly do not think that ”Leninism-leads-to-rape” as many to the right of the SWP  like to portray-although the apologists have done their best to prove me wrong on that by arguing this is about Leninism and not rape and sexual harassment.

The issue is truly that my comrades are not able to recognise sexual harassment hiding in plain sight because they accept some rape myths. They therefore handle the cases badly and in answer to criticism claim that trying to stop problems of oppressive behaviour between comrades is an attack on Leninism or a political deviation. In doing so, they unwittingly peddle rape myths.

A rape myth is an inaccurate belief about rape. Widespread acceptance of rape myths is connected to the very low level of convictions for rape by influencing the low level of reporting by women, the way police &  courts respond and how cases are judged by jurors[2]. There are several types of rape myths that feed into the big myth that women often make false reports. Categories of myths include those relating to why rapists rape; relating to what a someone who is raped wears/acts like; relating to when a rape is reported; related to how someone who has been raped acts/appears in the aftermath and more.

It seems from the literature that people often subscribe to different kinds of myth. We should keep that in mind for trying to understand why sections of the working class movement as a whole, or individuals within it, can rightly and angrily rail against some rape myths and then fall for others—even to the extent of giving a man accused by a young woman a foot stomping standing ovation when he trots out cliché after cliché about the accusations that angry women make after consensual relations go wrong.

Unsurprisingly, research shows that those who hold prejudicial views towards women, other races, gay people etc are especially prone to believing rape myths[3].  That rape mythology should be prevalent amongst bigots fits with our understanding of the world. But being on the left does not make us immune to rape myths and interestingly, the research also finds that older people are more likely to accept myths about rape than younger people[4]

It is my firm conviction, knowing so many of the SWP members who so brutally messed up the W case and it seems at least one more complaint since, would never consciously trample the rights or well-being of women into the dust in the way that they have done. But the ignorance on the issue of rape is harmful. Nothing at all that is helpful to the cause of women’s liberation or socialism has resulted from the three years of horrible rows within the SWP, the trade union cases or that in the Socialist Party. Who has learned anything about how to challenge within ourselves the bits of dominant sexist ideas about sex and sexuality that we have internalised?

In trying to debunk the rape myths, I am concentrating on what I know. My writing this in no way suggests that I think the SWP is worse than other organisations, it is just that I don’t have knowledge of what went on in response to the charges against people in other parties or at the top of unions.

The SWP was my organisation for 30 years and I am proud of the politics of solidarity and resistance I learned in it.  My belief is that a small band of friends of the accused have systematically spread rape myths—each one that I address is one I have heard personally since 2010.

MYTH ONE: Sexual history with the accused or others is in some way relevant

The myth that these things have anything at all to do with a rape is widespread and pernicious—having a vile history of being raised to abuse women in the courts and create the idea that a woman’s relationship history is in some way connected to the defence case. Believing this myth has an effect on coming to a verdict of who is believed among the general public[5].

The truth: sexual history is no indicator of anything. Having had sex a hundred times before with someone is not permission for sex at any time you don’t want to. Starting foreplay is not an excuse for rape. Since most accusations of rape come down to the question of whose word is believed as there is most often no physical proof or confession.  Research shows that in making that decision, jurors, rely on their general assumptions about situations.  That the panel asked any questions at all of W shows a lack of understanding of what issues are relevant to investigating the actual incident of rape.

The danger: bias is an unconscious process. Revolutionary socialists committed to women’s liberation don’t live in the future but in this world of alienation and oppression and are weighed down by the “muck of ages”. The panel investigating the W case were sure that they were not biased. However, that the panel were thinking about previous behaviours and relationships in relation to assessing the reliability of W as a witness indicates some bias towards rape myths.

MYTH TWO: She didn’t complain at the time…

One of the commonest rape myths is that a failure to complain at the time means there is something dodgy about the complaint. “She changed her mind afterwards” is a widespread myth related to the sometimes years long gap before a complaint is made of rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment.

I have lost count of the times that “But why now? Why didn’t she say anything at the time?” was thrown at me when I spoke privately to longstanding members about the W case in 2010. The question was often anguished but always rhetorical and answered immediately by the questioner themselves. Occasionally, very angry people would answer by saying “she was angry with him for ending the relationship” but most often the question was followed by speculation that demoralisation about politics was in some way related and had caused a political confusion about sexism and sexual harassment.

Very senior SWP women on a number of occasions told me that the reason why I was speaking of my own very disturbing experience of sexual harassment at the  time in 2010 that I found out about W was that I was feeling demoralised because I was being victimised at work for my militant trade union activities.  In the case of X (the young woman who gave evidence of being sexually harassed herself to support the claims of W) the argument went that late reporting was a clear sign of making a malicious allegation and this was evidenced in the minds of those repeating the myth because she was seen as being in no way vulnerable and therefore would have spoken up at the time.

The Truth:  Most sexual harassment and rape are never reported.  In rapes that are reported many are reported long after the event-and for a variety of reasons. Women often believe rape myths and are influenced by them and confused about what they feel; they may be in shock for some time or they may decide to come forward when others do.

The length of a gap before reporting rape or SH is not related to whether or not it is true. This is why section 120(7)(d) Criminal Justice Act which had required reporting sexual violence, “as soon as could reasonably be expected after the alleged conduct” was abolished in 2003 after a struggle by anti-rape campaigners to debunk the myth oft cited by defendants. I reported being sexually harassed at the time it happened. Nothing was done and I , having internalised myths myself, was made to feel stupid, I never spoke about it again until in 2010 when I realised what happened to me was not an isolated incident. But I did spend nearly 30 years being on edge whenever I saw the harasser.

The damage: every person who felt that delay in bringing the complaint was an issue in the W and X cases was prejudiced towards dismissing the claims of the young women and unable to properly consider the issues involved.

MYTH THREE: “but they were having an affair”

The phrase, “it was an affair gone wrong,” has echoed in my ears for three long years in regard to the W case.  The myth that prior consent in some way negates the assault or lessens the damage is of course what Socialist Worker along with the rest of the left, rightly took George Galloway to task for. However, people I have always respected have repeated this to me earnestly as an explanation for why there was no assault, sometimes adding the opinion that this was an unhappy vengeful young woman.

One person even explained to me carefully that, “it often happens that one of the people in a relationship don’t feel like having sex but decides they will because their partner really really wants to… I understand that is what happened in this case and then she later felt bad that she had given in and said yes.”   This is a version of the rape is just sex in the wrong time/wrong place myth.

The truth:  Having an affair is irrelevant. Prior consent is not consent at the time.  Most rapes take place within a relationship of some kind. Studies vary but date rape is sometimes put as high as 57%. Many rapes take place in marriage and we, the women’s movement and left, fought long and hard make that a crime.

Making someone have sex that didn’t want to have sex is rape-whether violence or not force is used, which it often is in subtle ways as it happens[6].  Research shows that verbal and physical clues are often expected by men especially where sex has previously taken place between them while the young women themselves think a verbal no is sufficient to be understood[7].

The damage of this myth: every person who accepted that the prior relationship had some relevance to the complaint of rape was prejudiced against the complainant and unable to judge properly if it had been properly handled

MYTH FOUR: “but she is in the opposition and is just making mischief

This has been said about X on many occasions to me directly and to others who have reported it to me.  Recent research argues that prejudice about women based on their behaviour, attitudes, dress etc is extremely harmful and biases juries[8].  It appears that for some in the SWP the same is true of political positions.

The truth: it wouldn’t make any difference if X were a Tory. Sexual harassment is wrong.

The damage: treating women members as sex objects hampers the development of the party, puts women off being members, brings the party into disrepute and amounts to wallowing around in the muck of ages crying moralist at anyone who complains.

MYTH FIVE: “Some women make it up”

That large numbers of women make up allegations is a common myth. A recent study found that 40.2% of the 3,210 participants thought accusations of rape were often false.  That W and X both made up complaints and put false accusations is something I have heard over and again. I have had people openly tell me, “I know nothing serious happened”; “some women do make it up you know” and “she had reasons to want to attack him”.

The truth: the highest estimates of false reports are 8%, but the generally accepted figure is that false reports are around the same as for other offences i.e. 4%. A recent report by the Crown Prosecution Service says that it could be as low as 1%[9]-significantly lower than other offences.  There is no reason to believe that the young women reporting sexual harassment (X) or rape (W) are lying. In the case of W she made no allegations to take revenge—she initially in 2010 simply disappeared from spaces where the man she later accused might be and became very upset, leading other women to approach the CC in concern when they found out why. The man accused admitted continuing to send texts when it was made clear she didn’t want contact. There can be no justification for claiming W was acting in revenge, or lying.

The damage:  Responding to a complaint of rape by saying, “some women make it up” makes clear that there bias against the complainant—and therefore bias towards the word of the man. This bias is illogical since in at least 92% of cases, and maybe in 99%, the report is not false.  The belief that false reporting of rape takes place is dangerous. Estimates are that about 85% of rapes go unreported Fear of being disbelieved is the reason most commonly given for the vast underreporting.

MYTH SIX: One woman’s rape is another’s  bad night/it’s a matter of interpretation

Myths about rape are held by women as much as men. A recent survey showed that 1 in 3 women believed that there are varying degrees of rape[10]  and that if a woman hadn’t clearly said no, then it was not rape.

The finding of the SWP disputes committee that the complainant was sincere, i.e. it is not doubted that she was genuinely unhappy with the sexual acts that took place but the accused had not done anything wrong appears to be based on the rape myths about reinterpretation/misinterpretation of experience. That the complaint was an issue of reinterpretation or of over sensitivity is absolutely widespread among those in the SWP “loyalist” camp. The idea of exaggeration and reinterpretation of events was also a theme in the Socialist Party case and in the NAPO case. I was shocked recently to be told, “You know that saying, ‘one woman’s rape is another’s bad night?’ well that is true. It is about how you deal with events”.

Again there is a special version of the myth in which reinterpretation is located in political deviation and weakness. Several women have told me that it is a political choice how to interpret these “messy” situations and arguing that women don’t always make it clear or “give in” and then wish they had not. I have even been told, “She (W) was taught to view it through feminist eyes and now feels used” or some such on several occasions.  I have even heard it said that I was the person who taught her to misinterpret her experience and change her mind about it[11].

The truth:  that saying about a bad night is from Katie Rophie who argued in the mid 1990s that women were making too much fuss about date rape on US campuses especially. She pointed to the way in which different tags were given to the same sorts of experience of having sex when they didn’t want to. Some women understood what happened to them to be rape and others just put it down to (bad) experience. Rophie could find no significant difference in the experiences and argued that women needed to be stronger. At the time the SWP said this was an oppressive idea.

It is important that when it comes to one person’s word against another’s, especially when dealing with teenage women, there is evidence that particularly in the case of young women that a no is not taken seriously unless both verbal and physical signals are strongly given while the men don’t hear/see/understand the no clearly given[12]

Sex with someone who doesn’t want to—where you are aware they don’t want to, or don’t care if they want to or not, or don’t bother to listen to them/take note of the obvious physical pulling away etc–is rape.

How a woman responds to that is about her personal experiences of life, her unconscious defence mechanisms and many other individual factors. It can be affected by her understanding of various rape myths and self blame etc[13].  The myriad of different responses to rape and coping with it do not change the fact sex without consent is rape.

The damage: peddling such myths does real damage to the personal wellbeing of victims and makes it more likely that perpetrators will feel safe to abuse while women will feel unsafe to report. It makes many angry as what appears to be being said is that W is not able to know her own mind and is unable to judge if she gave consent or not.

MYTH SEVEN: “There are two sides to the story”,  

I have often been told, “There are two sides to this. I can’t chose one” and “You weren’t in the bedroom so why are you taking her side” by people arguing that the man accused did nothing wrong.

Indeed there are two sides. The accused in the W and X cases was given a super long contribution in the discussion about his remaining on the CC in January 2011 following the initial allegation of sexual harassment.  Speakers were called to talk about what a good comrade he was[14].  Leading women such as Julie Waterson[15] and Shelia McGreggor spoke of how everyone was alienated and had skeletons in their cupboards. A standing ovation followed.  After her complaint of rape was finally made and she felt able to do it, W asked to speak to the conference where the handling of the complaint was discussed last year. She was refused that right.

The truth: statistically there is at least a 92% chance that the woman complaining is telling the truth. To argue there are two sides to the story and that therefore the man must remain a member of a socialist organisation in good standing, is to pick a side as no sane person would argue that someone in a position of power they thought had engaged in an oppressive & violent behaviour towards a rank and file member should remain in good standing.  After the evidence in the second case was given in, the man left the SWP without responding to the charges. There was at least a 92% chance of him being guilty on that occasion too.

MYTH EIGHT: Drink and drugs were/might have been involved

The women making complaints were asked about drink and drugs in ways they felt prejudicial[16].  The rape myth goes, “she was drunk/had taken drugs. She didn’t mind at the time-but changed her mind when she sobered up”.  It is a commonly held myth used to attack women and in particular to give credibility to the accused claiming that they assumed consent[17].  Socialist worker supporters rightly reacted with fury in 1982 when a judge told a young woman who had been raped that she was guilty of “contributory negligence”-now young women feel they are accused of the same.

The truth:  having sex with someone who is so incapacitated they cannot consent is a crime.  Having sex with someone unable to articulate resistance who does not want to have sex—is a crime. These are not crimes because the bourgeois state wanted them to be. The women’s movement, backed by the left, fought to smash that myth.  It is shocking to most people on the left that these questions are even asked in any context other than to enquire if the accused had deliberately tried to get the complainant too incapacitated to resist.

The damage: if the disputes committee did not make themselves aware of all the possible issues of unconscious bias prior to hearing the cases involving their friend and/or close working companion, they cannot rule out that the powerful effects of the myths around alcohol consumption were not at play. That they asked the questions indicates that in fact it was to some extent.

Some special myths circulating in the SWP:

MYTH NINE: “I don’t listen to gossip”

This appears to be ‘the line’. I have heard it repeatedly for several years.  The idea that accusations of rape and sexual harassment are gossip is a myth.  The truth is that they are accusations that socialists should listen to and respond to, with solidarity and care.  To proclaim complaints of rape and sexual harassment as gossip shows a frightening ignorance of rape and the damage it does and a callous disregard for the rights of young women to equality and respect.

MYTH TEN: “I don’t listen to gossip because I trust the disputes committee who investigated”

There is no other political debate question arising in the SWP in which members are encouraged to think something because someone told them to. The DC is of course made up of ethical and trustworthy people. This does not mean they have no unconscious bias or have a fully rounded well thought out understanding of all the issues around sexual harassment and rape.  It is not good enough, when women are crying out for justice and unhappy with the way they have been treated, for people not to think for themselves about DC decision, and whether they might be influenced by rape myths. 

MYTH ELEVEN: “It doesn’t matter that the disputes committee all knew the accused. The question was decided according to our politics”

It is unfortunate that instead of deciding if the man accused of rape by W and sexual harassment by X was fit to be a member of the party—the only thing that they should have considered, they made a decision as to whether or not he had raped W.  This could only be done by deciding whose account of events was believed. Research has demonstrated that that this judgement of credibility[18] is more likely to be based on personal biases and attitudes than what a witness says.  In this context the panel being friends of the accused is a serious problem.

MYTH TWELVE: “But they all care about women’s liberation and one of them is a rape counsellor”

I do not dispute for one second the personal integrity of the people on the committee.  However, sadly it seems from the questions about drink and partying and other comments, they are not immune to rape myths and acceptance of rape myths have been shown to have a detrimental effect on the ability to make judgements on the issue of rape and sexual harassment.[19]

That one of the panel says she is a rape counsellor is misleading as it might imply that the woman is in some way fully trained and accredited as a rape counsellor.  She is not accredited with any counselling organisation at the time of writing and does not list being a trained counsellor anywhere in her profiles on Rapar or LinkedIn. It is therefore misleading to imply that her training ensures that questions asked were appropriate and especially not ethical. Counsellors anyway have nothing to do with investigations and no training in how to investigate.

MYTH THIRTEEN: This isn’t about rape it is an attack on our politics

There is no doubt that huge numbers of people from across the political spectrum have criticised the SWP and many have connected the way the cases have been handled to the general organisation of the party. But the idea that the complaints and anyone angry about what has happened made it up to attack the SWP is a myth. This is not as one particularly crazed friend of the accused argued, the Scottsboro boys.

The truth young women feel violated and harassed and complained to the party about the behaviour of fellow members. Complaining about rape is always about rape

MYTH FOURTEEN: The party dealt well with other cases and has expelled men accused of rape before

That there were previous processes where the women felt supported is somehow proof that nothing is wrong in the recent cases is a myth. That there was good behaviour in the past has no more relevance to this bad process than previous sexual history has to the incident of a rape. Possibly the DC has never had to confront its own unconscious bias before—no previous case resulting in expulsion has involved someone who was known to, friends with, had worked closely with, been arrested with etc. 

MYTH FIFTEEN: Our organiser is a young woman-the party is the only party that develops women to lead

The existence of women playing all sorts of roles in the party has absolutely no relevance to the problems surrounding the cases and the way they were handled.  The research has shown that women are also prone to believing rape myths even if to a lesser extent than men—that is what it means to grow up in a society in which the dominant ideas are those of the ruling class. Also Thatcher was a woman which obviously was not relevant to defending the lives of other, working class, women.

MYTH SIXTEEN: I am not interested in this stuff, the key thing is to fight the Coalition/ for the NHS/for socialism.

Which goes alongside of no one in my anti-bedroom tax/union branch cares about this gossip.

The Truth: an organisation, whether political party or trade union, that allows the abuse of women to go unchallenged is an organisation that will miss out on having in its ranks many of those it needs to make a better future for us all.  In the past many tenants associations did not have BME representation or deal with racists in the meetings—the struggle for tenant’s rights was weakened as a result.


Anderson et al, 1997; Individual differences and attitudes toward rape: A meta analytic review, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23(3),

Barter, C et al, 2009, Partner Exploitation and Violence in Teenage Intimate Relationships, NSPCC, London

BPP Working Paper, November 2012, Do Rape Myths Affect Juror Decision Making? BPP, London

Hird, M. J. (2000) An empirical study of adolescent dating aggression, Journal of Adolescence, 23,  pp69–78

Levitt, A & CPS (2013) Charging Perverting the Course of Justice and Wasting Police Time in Cases Involving Allegedly False Rape and Domestic Violence Allegations

McGee et al, 2011, Rape and child sexual abuse:  What beliefs persist about motives, perpetrators, and survivors.  Journal of Interpersonal Violence 26(17),

Rape Crisis, 2013; accessed at http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/2013/09/rape-crisis-and-reveal-campaign-together/

Schuller R. A., & Wall, A. (1998). The effects of defendant and complainant intoxication on mock jurors’ judgments of sexual assault.; Psychology Of Women Quarterly  22(4)

Schuller , R A & Klippenstein M, 2004, The Impact Of Complainant Sexual History Evidence on Jurors’ Decisions: Considerations From A Psychological Perspective,  Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 2004, Vol. 10, No. 3, 321–342

Suarez, E., & Gadalla, T. M. (2010). Stop blaming the victim: A meta analysis on rape myths, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25(11), 2035

Taylor and Joudo, 2005, The Impact of Pre-recorded Video and Closed Circuit Television Testimony by Adult Sexual

Assault Complainants on Jury Decision-making: An Experimental Study Australian Institute of Criminology

Research and Public Policy Series 68.

[1] Said to me on the NHS demo on 29th Sept by a lovely woman that I remain friendly with, who hadn’t realised I had left the SWP and was shocked to find out why I had.

[2] BPP Working Paper , November 2012

[3] Anderson et al  1997; Suarez & Gadalla, 2010

[4] McGee et al, 2011; Anderson et al 1997

[5] Schuller 1998, also Clark 2011 are useful on this, although I am not suggesting for a moment that the SWP panel or any of the party’s members accept all of the myths examined, merely that there remains some taints of acceptance of some of those ideas as evidenced in the questioning of W about other relationships and X in relation to alcohol

[6] Actually as far as I am concerned, not caring if your partner actually wants to have sex is not okay even if there is no resistance.  Consent should involve the active choice of everyone involved in a sexual act. At the very minimum it should involve a yes and stop at any indication of unwillingness.

[7] Hird 2000

[8] BPP Working Paper November 2012

[9] Levitt et al 2013

[11] Let me clear that I have never had any discussions with W since 2010

[12] Barter et al, 2009

[13] BPP Working Paper, November 2012

[14] indeed he had been my organiser in the early 1990s and the best we ever had in my opinion-which is entirely irrelevant to whether or not he raped a young women and sexually harassed others

[15] Julie later apologised. I am unaware that Shelia McGreggor has ever done so

[16] Writing recently another woman has complained of questions about alcohol consumption being used against her when she complained of rape

[17] Eg Schuller , R A & Klippenstein M, 2004 which shows that there is strong bias towards thinking that consuming alcohol prior to the rape is a defence for the man to have assumed consent

[18] Taylor and Joudo, 2005

[19] BCC Working Paper, November 2012.

Reclaim the Night (Women’s Voice, 1977)



ABOUT 200 women from the local Women’s Liberation groups, Women and Socialism and Women’s Voice supporters, held torchlight processions in Manchester on Saturday 12 November, to show Chief Superintendent Bowley that women will not be stopped from going out at night. Groups of women marched through gales and freezing cold at Levenshulme, Strangeways and Longsight with torches and placards chanting ‘Reclaim the Night’ and singing songs, escorted by groups of policewomen. When we got to Piccadilly Gardens, in the centre of Manchester, the police heavies and News of the World reporters suddenly appeared because a woman had had an argument with her husband when she wanted to join in! The march succeeded in getting a lot of local and national publicity.

Sandy Rose

WALKING through Soho on your own on a rainy Saturday night is usually a horrible experience – turned in on yourself with your eyes to the pavement, trying to avoid getting hustled.

Saturday 12 November was a different story; several hundred women some with exaggerated face paint – spilled through the streets, plastering strip-joints, porn-shops, ‘saunas’ and sleazy film-clubs with posters and stickers explaining what the pleasure-palaces are really about: ‘This degrades women’ and ‘This violates women’.

Seeing the horror on the faces of the nasty, leery jerks hastily locking the strip-club doors as their windows were redecorated was very enjoyable.

The demonstration was exhilarating and chaotic. We screamed and hollored and wolf-whistled and sang – and inevitably brought a reaction from all the small packs of would-be studs on the streets. ‘Who’d rape you’, ‘Call yourselves women? Ho, ho.’ I wished I’d brought a few spray-bottles of Devon Violets…

If there is a single image screaming at us from every hoarding, magazine and television screen that indicates possession, status, domination and cheap thrills it is the image of a luscious, passive, mindless woman – for women to aspire to be and men to aspire to have. Rape is one logical consequence of the image of woman as an object for men’s use. Yet many people, even some male socialists who don’t try hard enough, don’t yet understand why it is not trivial to attack the purveyors of this view – the adverts and the strip-joints.

Repetitions can knock a message through the thickest of skulls – so let’s make sure every advert and porn club gets regularly plastered with stickers (what else is a handbag for?) And let’s reclaim some more nights in some more towns.

Cathy Bearfield

Women’s Voice 12, December, 1977

Rape (Women’s Voice, 1982)



Rape has been in the news more than virtually any other single item over the past weeks.  First because a businessman who raped a girl escaped prison, then because three men in Glasgow escaped trial when the woman they allegedly raped was too ill to give evidence against them, and finally after the screening of a horrific tv documentary on the police which showed them questioning a raped woman about her sex life and mental history.

Each incident caused a flurry of protests, editorials and questions from MPs.  Everyone from Len Murray to Margaret Thatcher condemned the incidents yet anyone who has been raped, or had any contact with someone who has, knows what these cases highlight in such a dramatic way.  Women who are raped get a rough deal from the law.

It starts when you report the rape, and are subject to lengthy and often unsympathetic questioning.  Even if the police believe you, there is still the repeat performance at least one in court, where unless the accused pleads guilty you have to go through cross examination.

Your credibility usually hinges on how many men you have slept with, or how late at night you were walking alone.  This description of police reaction to rape is fairly common.  ‘VICTIM: I rang the police and they showed up very casually about ten minutes later.  They sauntered in and one of them produced a flick knife when I asked him to untie me.  They started saying things like ‘ Well,  I don’t think you have been raped.  This was obviously someone you met last night.  It got too heavy and you decided to call the police this morning’.  They kept suggesting it was a casual affair gone wrong.  They said, ‘ if everything you say happened had happened you would be completely hysterical by now you would have thrown yourself out of the window to get away’, ‘They obviously didn’t believe me.’ (‘The Facts of Rape’ by Barbara Toner, Arrow).

Many women prefer not to report rapes because of this sort of attitude, believing they can cope better without this ordeal on top of the actual rape.  They see the law as something which doesn’t offer them much protection.

This fact now seems to be seeping through to people who have never been concerned with the issue.  The head of Thames Valley Police has promised that their interview procedure will be reviewed.  Margaret Thatcher wants stiffer sentences for rapists.  William Whitelaw is backing a bill to guarantee jail sentences for rapists.

But will any of it really help?  Of course it is better for women to be decently treated by the police, but tightening up the law presupposes that men will stop raping women if they will get longer prison sentences.  That seems unlikely.

Rape is a product of the way women are seen in society.  In some societies rape has been a sign of possession.  In periods where society is in upheaval, such as in war, rape can be used to subjugate the defeated population.  In capitalist society, rape is a product of women being seen as objects, as things which can be bought and sold.

When nude women fill the pages of newspapers and magazines, with the express purpose of selling more copies, it is hardly surprising that some men see them as something they can steal.

Long sentences won’t change these attitudes.  If they are a product of society, it is only by changing society that rape can become a memory of the past, instead of the grim reality of the present.

That doesn’t mean that even within capitalism things always stay as they are.  In the boom years of the fifties and sixties women’s role changed.  They went out to work, many entered higher education, ideas of women’s equality were on the agenda.  New laws on equal pay and sex discrimination were introduced, even if they were very feeble.  People expected to see women outside the home, often challenging the idea that their only role was as wives and mothers.

The crisis and, especially in Britain, the Thatcher government, has changed a lot of that.  Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister, who worked throughout her life, even when her children were small, now tells us that may be fine for a few women, but isn’t running a home and family the most fulfilling thing a woman can do?  Women are encouraged to cope with cuts in services – no school dinners, looking after sick relatives, living on unemployment pay.

As education and job opportunities disappear, women no longer have the chance to challenge their roles.  They are forced back into the family and into the image of themselves as either page three pin-ups or good wives and mothers.  It is not unexpected therefore that along with a breakdown in the fabric of society in other areas – increases in prostitution, street theft, the crimes of poverty and unemployment – so too we should see an increase in the crime of rape.

The cries of Thatcher and Whitelaw are cosmetic.  They are precisely the people who create these conditions, yet are the first to cry for law and order.  Just as they are the people who caused riots by making life in the cities so intolerable for young people, especially for blacks, then call for a short sharp shock treatment to stop them.

Of course there are a few rapists who decide to go out and rape as many women as they can.  Some like the Boston Strangler even have films made about them.  But most of the statistics show – as do these recent cases – that rape by someone known to the woman and often as a once only thing is much more common.

It is more likely to be the men who think that because a woman hitchhikes, or wears a low cut dress, or is out alone at night, she is offering sex, who are the most common rapists.  That is to do with the particular ideas in those men’s heads, of course.  But it isn’t simply badness on their part.  It is interesting how these ideas really coincide with the image of women as passive willing sex objects.  And that image isn’t one which individual men dream up.  It is a product of the people who package sex and use it to sell everything from fast cars to Turkish Delight – which is what the world we live in is all about.

There isn’t any halfway house we can talk about getting rid of rape, because it is so obviously a product of society.  That is why legal reforms solve very little – we have to fight for a transformation of the world of commodity production which produces such attitudes and acts towards women.  Which is why the fight for women’s liberation is at the centre of the fight for socialism.

Lindsey German, February 1982

Woman’s Voice, February 1982 – Issue 60

Rape – hatred and contempt for women (Women’s Voice, 1979)



I have a friend who was raped. This is the story as she told it:

‘I was attacked by three men in a park at night. I didn’t try to get away because  I had no confidence in my own strength. I tried to talk my way out of it.

‘At first it wasn’t like sex. It was so violent. They tried to humiliate me. They were talking to each other, keeping each other going. They were talking to each other, keeping each other. They called me names, they said ‘We’re going to kill you, baby’. One had his knee on my throat, the other ripped my jeans off. One had a black hood over his face. They stuck a bottle up me, and one of them put his prick and tried to strangle me.

‘Suddenly they got off me and started kicking me really hard in the head, in the eyes…they’d seen three people c oming. They were ran away.

‘I was stunned. It’s weird you mind splits off-I was thinking how silly I must look my jeans on. I banged on peoples doors, nobody answered. I was terrified. I phoned the police. It took them 25 minutes to arrive.

‘I told the police they probably catch them if they went to the heath.  They weren’t interested.  They were more interested in what I’d been doing and being derogatory to men.

‘I asked for a police woman. She was very contemptuous, treated me as if I had done something wrong. They took me to a police doctor who took a smear from my vagina. It hurt it was all torn. They took of tampon I had to wear and some pubic hair. They put them in jars and I had to carry them   and all the police could see what I was carrying. At one point I misunderstood something  that the policewoman said and I asked her if she had ever been raped. She said, ‘of course I haven’t!’

‘I had nightmares about being in a tube train and meeting the three guys again. I went to a psychiatrist and she assumed I encouraged the rapists.

‘I think men rape women for different reasons. For  them I think it was a real hatred and contempt for all women, but contempt stems from fear and it was a real fear of women as well. It was as if they were trying to get their own back on me.

‘Women can’t fight back, and men exploit their relative weakness, they trade on physical inequality. The experience has made me aware of the basic need for survival. When it was happening, one part of my mind was almost detached, your mind as a way of protecting you. I searched desperately for things to say to them. But it was the horrible realisation that I was totally alone.

‘It’s crucially important to learn to defend yourself. There’s something about knowing you can fight that makes you equal to them – I was just passive and yelling and telling them to stop. I’ll never get rid of what happened to me but I’ll be better when I know how to defend myself.

‘I started learning Kung Fu. It’s very male. I’m not interested in being aggressive, and I resent that I have to learn to be aggressive. But I have to do it.

‘There’s no easy answer to dealing with rapists in our society. Prison is punishment that reinforces violence, people come out and do the same things again.’

About a year after this, my friend and I were walking on the heath. It was a dull February afternoon. Three men were coming up the hill towards us. Instinctively I took her arm.

As they came level they one leaned over and said to her, ’Hey baby, baby, baby, baby,’ and then walked on. They stood on the brow of the hill and they were very threatening. ‘She was very tense. ’It’s them she said.

I have never experienced such confusion and turmoil. I wanted to kill them to run into the open space of the heath and yell to everyone there that should help me lynch these men.  I didn’t want to let go of her. It flashed through my mind that they’d attack us again and that nobody would help us.

We stood rooted and watched the men disappear. The only revenge we had was to be free of them and as far away as possible.

Is self-defence the only answer for women. Here and now it may be, but rape can only happen in a world where strength means violent, negative, aggressive superiority where our lives are rooted in inequality.

Women’s Voice 31, 1979

The Man or the Woman: who are we supposed to believe?


I recently wrote an article for the SWP’s Internal Bulletin with 3 other lawyers (it’s starting at page 89, seeing as you asked…), arguing that the party should apply a civil and not a criminal “standard of proof”, with a burden on the person defending the complaint. In the criminal system, you have to have a presumption of innocence, because it balances what would otherwise be the unjustifiable imbalance between the information-gathering powers of the state, which has access to police, telephone records, medical data, etc, and of the accused, who has none of this. This burden make no sense outside the criminal system, outside which it would create injustice, because it makes it intolerably unlikely that any complaint would ever be accepted.

The point of a reversed burden of proof would be to give “some” weight (not necessarily a decisive one, but some weight) to the undoubted fact that women make very few false complaints of rape or sexual harassment. It is enormously difficult to come forward with a complaint of this sort: still more so against a man who is many years your senior, who is your employer or the de facto leader of your party.

In reply, one misconception that I’ve heard repeatedly is that anything other than a criminal standard of proof would weigh the process unfairly against the person defending a serious complaint. Only a “radical feminist”, it is said, would automatically believe a woman just because she made a serious complaint.

There are lots of fallacies with that argument. Here I want to focus on one, which is the idea that deciding who to believe is only or primarily about what standard of proof you operate. Yes, standards and burden of proof matter, for the reasons I’ve just given, but they are not the heart of the decision-making process. I have represented people in both criminal and family courts accused of rape or domestic violence. The former operates the criminal standard of proof, the latter the civil standard. Logically, a person accused of an offence is more likely to be believed in the civil as opposed to the criminal courts (That is the whole point of the burden). But whichever court system you describe, some people will be believed and some will not.

Essentially, what makes a compelling case is much the same in either a civil or a court system. What you want from a witness is much the same in either. You want someone who will give a detailed and plausible account. You want someone whose story is backed up by such documents as there are.

In the criminal system, this process is codified into what are called “adverse inferences”. For example, if a person is asked about their guilt, and they provide one version of events, but they then change their story, a jury is told that they are entitled to use that as evidence that the person is lying.

A jury is entitled to draw adverse inferences from previous convictions. That does not mean that all previous convictions are relevant. If a person is accused of income tax evasion and they have a previous conviction for assault, the conviction is probably not relevant. But as well as the fact of previous convictions it is also worth looking at the manner in which those convictions were obtained. If a person has loudly maintained their innocence, pleaded not guilty, and yet been convicted, that means that another decision maker has listen to them carefully and decided that they lied. You could draw an inference from that person’s past denials not merely that they were untruthful to others but that were not truthful to themselves.

There is a degree of technique involved. People who have been judges for 20 years tend to make better decisions than judges in their second week. The most basic skill is a simple human one of empathy, the willingness to listen, to start your starting assumptions and to watch and see if a case develops along the lines you thought. Losing independent-minded people from these sorts of roles, and replacing them with others of less empathy, is a recipe for poor decisions in future.

Obviously: you should not believe a person bringing, or defending a complaint, solely because they are a leader of your party. And you should not believe the person defending a complaint just because you have been told they did good once in a different job, or because they are your friend.

Some defenders of the Disputes Committee process will tell you candidly: “I don’t necessarily defend the DC. But they are in a hopeless position. These cases invariably pit one woman against one man, her word against his, and in those circumstances who should you believe?”

Courts of all sorts are put in this position most days of an average week. They do their best, they apply these and other simple rules of evidence, and they make a clear decision. You cannot rely on the authority of a court or a quasi-court, or whatever you want to call it, which lacks the confidence to make clear decisions. And if its verdict was “we believe the woman, but we are not going to make the findings she asked us to make” then its decision was less than no decision at all.

(Originally published, with thread here)