Response to Stonewall
2 July 2019
As survivors of abuse we are very angry at Stonewall’s report (Supporting trans women in domestic and sexual violence services), claiming that the women’s sector believes there is no issue with having trans identifying males in women’s spaces. Stonewall claims that the voices of professionals in the women’s sector are missing from this debate but in actual fact the original letter we wrote, clearly stating the issues with having trans identified males in spaces with female survivors of abuse, was done together with womens sector workers, as is this response. We have worked closely together from the start. Please see at the end of this letter for eleven on record quotes from women’s sector professionals and women’s services who disagree with Stonewall. We find Stonewalls report to be highly misleading and unethical. We feel completely silenced and ignored as survivors of abuse. We are very stressed having to do this response when our energies should be focused on recovering from the abuse we suffered. Many of us are disabled and very unwell because of our abuse. Many of us are also lesbian or bisexual and feel massively betrayed by Stonewall. The report includes quotes such as the following which all suggest having males in female only spaces is not a big issue:
“Many organisations told us that reforming the GRA to simplify the process of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate would have no relevance to how they run their service”
“Participants overwhelmingly told us that services’ thorough risk assessment processes would continue to safeguard against an incident of a violent man attempting to access services, while ensuring that all women receive the support they need.”
“Services recalled occasions where they responded to a complaint from another client in regards to a trans woman using the service. Participants explained that in these instances they engaged with other clients to build understanding for trans survivors, and some described how they brought in outside experts to support this.”
We, as survivors, and also many women’s organisations and womens sector workers who are listed below disagree with Stonewall’s report. We see it as going against ethical guidelines and disagree with it for the following reasons:
We have been notified by a reliable source from one of the organisations interviewed by Stonewall that they chose to deliberately leave out responses about concerns over women’s physical and mental safety with having trans identifying males in places like women’s refuges. We contacted this organisation upset that they appeared to be ignoring the voices of vulnerable women and were told that actually they did express concerns and Stonewall have ‘cherry picked’ from the response they gave and have purposefully chosen to leave out any quotes expressing concerns about women’s safety.
This goes against all of research ethics guidelines. Biased research is unethical in general but when it relates to choosing to ignore the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable people it can cause actual harm. Stonewall ignored women’s organisations disclosure. Biased one-sided research is deceptive and deceitful propaganda which reinforces the outcome these authors wanted. Their decision to deliberately and systematically exclude responses from women’s services who disclosed problems with allowing trans identifying males ensured a biased and false report. Their claim to be showing a balanced view further enhances their level of deception:
“This report isn’t showcasing one view, or one narrative, about trans inclusion – we wanted to reflect where these service providers are now. ”
To add to this when we called women’s orgs. ourselves we were overwhelmed by the amount who agreed with us that males should not be in spaces with females. Many were scared to speak out and the ones that did say they allowed trans people on closer inspection were allowing them into places like self contained accommodation, not to mix with females.
Furthermore in May 2019 Karen Ingala Smith gave oral evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee about enforcing the Equalities Act (link further down the page). As part of this evidence she stated: “Since I said on Twitter and Facebook that I was coming here this morning, I have literally been inundated with responses from women, survivors and service providers, who are saying, “Please speak out for us. We are afraid”.”
We are extremely grateful to the women’s services and womens sector workers who have been brave enough to speak out in support of this response.
2) Ignoring survivors voices
We note that female survivors of male violence have been made completely invisible in this report. The analysis made by Stonewall UK is incomplete.
For some of us our lives depend on having access to these female-only spaces. We feel ignored and silenced as survivors and that no account is being taken of this extra burden of speaking out as survivors of such sexual violence and abuse in addition to the burden on us as survivors when we can no longer rely on a fundamental principle of female-only rape crisis services for women & girls (female). This is supported by a recent development in Scotland where 71% of women said they did not want trans identified males in their spaces:
Scottish Women’s Aid, who have been taking donations from Amazon, appear to be ignoring the voices of Scottish survivors by supporting the Gender Recognition Act and supporting Stonewalls report. As survivors we feel betrayed by Scottish Women’s Aid.
We believe that access to female-specific, female-only services is the minimum women and girls (female) have the right to expect within the context of sexual aggression, which is overwhelming perpetrated by males upon females. There was a time in the provision of women’s services when the women using that service were consulted about everything from the layout of accommodation to the standard of professionals expected to offer the best support, practical and emotional. Now, silence, nobody wants to hear and worse, any understanding of how domestic violence impacts on women is being lost.
Stonewall have not taken account of overwhelming evidence of males abusing trans status to gain access to female spaces as detailed in our letter. Instances such as Karen White, a trans identifying male who used his trans status to gain access to a women’s prison and sexually assault women or the paedophile in Oxford who was refused trans status by a psychologist who can now gain a Gender Recognition Certificate if Self ID passes into law. Also the dozens of accounts of attacks on women in bathrooms and locker rooms. Why is Stonewall purporting to give a balanced view whilst completely ignoring every single incidence of violence against women perpetrated by trans identifying males. You can see evidence of these in our original letter:
3) Ignores female specific rape trauma symptoms when around biological males
Stonewall UK suggests that there is no issue whatsoever in having trans-identifying males in female-only spaces such as rape crisis centres and domestic violence refuges. This ignores our representations that even a single biological male in these spaces either as service user/service provider not only reduces the therapeutic effectiveness of such spaces but in fact makes such spaces inaccessible for those of us with female specific rape trauma with respect to physical presence of biological males, which often serves to socially isolate us already.
This not a function of prejudice or bigotry as is being suggested but the clinical symptoms of rape1 related Post Traumatic Stress. The reality of this are the clinical symptoms of hypervigilance, from which we can only really be relieved of in female spaces, a relief which is essential in order to even begin the cope with the vulnerability involved. This excludes us from women’s services. For Stonewall and women’s services to pretend this is a non issue is highly unethical. Women and girls have a fundamental female sex right to specific natal female spaces/services only and as survivors of male sexual violence we do not want to be constantly hyper vigilant because of males being present in what is supposedly a safe natal female space and/or specific natal female services!
Some of these workers claim to be so educated around domestic abuse that they can easily spot a violent male but do not seem to have even a basic understanding of how a woman or child may be traumatised by a biological male in her spaces after suffering domestic abuse.
Stonewall says the voices of professionals are missing but actually what no one is talking about is the children in these refuges. Children can suffer from PTSD too. If grown adult women are scared of males in their spaces what about children who have no voice? Surely their physical and mental safety should be prioritised over the feelings of a man who believes he is a woman.
4) Ignores basic statistics around who the perpetrators of domestic abuse are
This failure to take account of the medical consequences of specifically violence, is the more grievous when such violence is overwhelmingly unidirectional in nature with MoJ statistics which show that 99.1% of sexual offenders serving custodial sentences are biological males and rape crisis analysis which suggests that at least 1 in 5 women (females) have been subjected to rape or other forms of sexual violence/abuse, as well as the regular micro-aggressions of sexual harassment which do not even constitute a hate-crime in law, from which female survivors are not exempt. Only 1.1-1.8% Rape results in conviction which means men rape with near immunity & impunity: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2018/05/no-legal-system-isn-t-biased-against-men-it-allows-them-rape-near-impunity
We would like to again draw attention to the research referenced in our original letter which you can find on the homepage of this blog which shows violent crime rates of trans identifying males is the same as any other biological male.
People in the report are saying there have been no issues when they have allowed trans people. However, currently there are still very few trans people. Only around 5000 people currently have a Gender Recognition Certificate. This could increase to 500,000 if Self Id laws pass and this is before you count males who may pose as women to gain access to vulnerable women. We doubt any women’s service has had much experience to date but if you look worldwide, despite the numbers of trans people still being quite low, there are a shocking amount of incidences of violence against women committed by trans identifying males in women only spaces. We are worried that services are talking about something they have little experience of with no concept of how this could change if self ID were to pass in law. Violent males can and are currently denied a Gender Recognition Certificate by mental health professionals. Refuges will potentially be looking at a very different climate in the future if self ID were to pass and these checks and balances were to be removed. Although there is currently legal ambiguity in the Equality Act and Gender Recognition Act around whether self identifying trans people are to be classed legally as the gender they identify it is clear that having a Gender Recognition Certificate will give people more legal clout and recourse.
We are very angry about the myth being spread that we are anti trans for not wanting males in our spaces. Our fears are based around biological males, it is their biology not their trans status that we are concerned about because of the above statistics. Being forced to say that some males are actually women further silences us from being able to speak about being at risk from male violence. How can we talk about male violence if we no longer have a concept of what a male is?
5) Offensive claim to re-educate women out of trauma symptoms
We take deepest exception at the suggestion that those who suffer from female specific clinical symptoms of rape-related post-traumatic stress can in some way ‘re-educated’ out of this ‘bigotry’, in defiance of all the medical & clinical evidence in relation to post-traumatic stress and wonder what the public outrage would be if this logic were applied to military veterans. As survivors we do not think women who dont understand something as basic as survivors trauma response to biological males have any place working with vulnerable women. You can see the suggestion being made in these quotes from Stonewall’s report:
“I would be advising them strongly to bring in some external expertise, for somebody to go in and talk to everybody and explain how difficult any journey of a trans person transitioning either way really is, because it’s a lifetime’s journey. There are very practical concerns that service users have, both around themselves and their children, that just need to be laid to rest, and some of the myths need to be brought out into the open and challenged, but possibly not in front of a trans resident herself because that can be quite a painful process, but it certainly needs to be done.”
“Bringing in LGBT specialists to provide support was quite a good learning opportunity for them, the workers there, but also it allowed them to explore with the women in the refuge some of the issues around the difficulties for trans women, to identify how hard it must be to be there as a trans woman and how hard it must be to have experienced domestic abuse and some of the intersecting complexities.”
This is especially shocking when you take into account some calls from trans rights activists to bring back gulags for women who disagree with transgender ideology:
and especially hurtful that only the feelings of the trans person are taken into consideration and women’s trauma either completely ignored or treated like some kind of bigotry. We would like to draw attention again to the section of our initial letter where we highlight Rape Crisis Best Practice Model which clearly states women’s trauma responses need to be validated as normal, but now women are somehow to be taught that their trauma responses are not only irrelevant in the face of a mans feelings just because he believes he is a woman but are actually some kind of bigotry we can be educated out of.
Not only this but for women to be ‘educated’ that their fears are unfounded in the face of overwhelming and growing evidence of violence towards females in female only space by trans identified males is gaslighting women and psychologically abusing them in a space where they are supposed to be safe from this. For refuges to do this is a massive betrayal of survivors of abuse.
We find it insulting and patronising that the Stonewall report repeats the decades old male claim that female survivors of male violence must somehow ‘be re-educated’ because apparently the real violence men have inflicted on women and girls doesn’t supposedly exist! Not only can we not be trusted to know what we need – now we’re being vilified for it as well. The real education that needs to take place is that of “Consent” and respect of the female part of the population by the male part of the population.
8) False faith being placed on the effectiveness of risk assessments
From Stonewall’s report:
“While respondents were aware of a view that gender recognition reform could allow violent men to pose as women to access their services, with one participant expressing a concern about this, there was otherwise a clear consensus that services’ thorough risk assessment procedures would safeguard against this. These participants said that gender recognition reform would not compromise their ability to protect their service against, or turn away, any abusive or disruptive individual.”
When ringing womens organisations we asked several CEOs what part of their risk assessment will tell them that a trans identifying male is a rapist or a perpetrator of domestic abuse and not one of them could answer, even the one or two who were pro. having trans identifying males in their refuge could not answer this question. This is because there is no part of a risk assessment that will tell you this. No perpetrator is going to answer yes to the question: ‘Are you at risk of being violent to others?” We would like to put this question again to any worker in any women’s org. Ask yourself what part of your risk assessment will tell you that it is a violent male you are dealing with? Yet again we have women so confident that they are so educated about male perpetrators they could tell a violent male. If the women claiming this are so educated why haven’t they picked up one major factor that tells us a man has a likelihood of being an abuser? A male trying to access a women’s space is the biggest visible risk factor you will ever encounter. If these specialists are so highly educated why aren’t they aware that males themselves are a risk? We repeat – for a male to want to access a female only space, however he identifies, is already a risk and even more so once you remove the vetting process that is currently required to get a Gender Recognition certificate. As survivors we massively doubt the capabilities of workers who are not even aware of this very basic fact to be able to risk assess against violent males. This is especially when you consider that the trans person is already demanding workers fail to notice that they aren’t female, yet they propose to still be able to notice that they’re also demanding that they fail to notice that they’re a perpetrator?
Some women think they can magically spot a perpetrator. Whilst we do not want to take away from skilled women, who are experts at spotting violent males, in reality understaffed and underfunded refuges do not operate with the CEO at the door vetting everyone. Most women are admitted at short notice with a quick over the phone risk assessment, often by unskilled or locum workers, sometimes even in the middle of the night. This is also highlighted here by Karen Ingala Smith in this video of the Women and Equalities committee:
“Before I was a chief exec, I worked in refuges as a frontline worker for many years. I have opened the door to more women and children than I could count, and I do not think it is that simple. When you first take a referral, it is over the telephone. Sometimes a woman is in an immediate place of danger and she has to get to the refuge quickly. Anybody who knows about refuges knows that sometimes you get women turning up, if they are lucky, with a bin bag full of stuff and the bin bag full of stuff is sometimes just the children’s toys, because they have picked out what is the most important to them. You do not get time to do a massively detailed risk assessment usually before the woman arrives. Expecting refuges to accommodate males who identify as trans is asking a lot of a refuge………It is really complicated. It is not just a simple, straightforward risk assessment that is foolproof……. Usually you try to speak to the woman herself rather than the referral agency because you want to build that relationship of confidentiality with her and that relationship of trust. You also want to hear from her what has happened to her, rather than second hand through a referral agency. You will just take very basic details: maybe name, where she is from, whether she has any children, what happened to her, who the perpetrator is, where she is from and whether there are any areas her perpetrator frequents, because you have to find out whether they are near the refuge. It is usually just that very, very basic information. Does she have the money to get to you?”
Karen Ingala Smith
Whilst, yes, a skilled worker may, after having had some more in depth interactions doing more in depth risk assessments, be able to identify that a male is a potential violent perpetrator by this point it may be too late and it is highly unlikely they would be able to do this every single time. Like in the case of Karen White, who was very quickly removed from a women’s prison once it became apparent he intended to harm women, he still had time to do a lot of damage by sexually assaulting several women. If people who work in the prison service can’t even risk assess against a potential rapist with knowledge of their actual rape convictions then how can a womens refuge worker? Prisons also have risk assessments, that we are guessing are much more thorough than those in a womens refuge given the amount of violent criminals they deal with, and it is clear they are already not working. And it isn’t just Karen White. It’s Kayleigh-Louise Woods, it’s Jenny Swift, it’s Graham Cleary-Senior who killed his wife, it’s Colin Coates, it’s Gavin Boyd, it’s William Jaggs, it’s Steve Wright, it’s Craig Hudson (Kimberley Green), it’s Michael Chidgey, it’s Katie Dalatowski, it’s Katheryn Brown, it’s Phoomraphee Nakwichit, it’s Cedar Hopperton, it’s Paul Reed, it’s Joseph Cambron, it’s James Heyroth, we could go on but there is not room here to list all the violent males claiming trans status so we direct you to the hundreds, if not thousands listed in these two sources:
It is also irresponsible for women’s refuges to claim to be competent at risk assessing something that they have, as yet, had very little opportunity to risk assess. Furthermore, even if a trans identified male is immediately vetted, and refused because the worker suspects him to be a perpetrator, the organisation could still be on the receiving end of a lawsuit which they could very well lose and be accused of discrimination under the Equality Act if they refuse a trans person access. This is especially if they are basing their rejection of that person on a feeling or intuition which will in no way stand up in court. With no access to that person’s history or criminal record either it is very difficult to see what legal grounds a refuge or other women’s service would have to refuse a trans person whether the worker can tell they are a perpetrator or not.
We would like to draw attention to this article which proves that any checks women’s services are attempting and/or purporting to do to prevent abusers accessing these services are already not working:
9) Co-opting the struggles of oppressed groups of women to prop up their own agenda
We resent the use of arguments about oppressed groups of women such as disabled women, BAME women and lesbians being used to strengthen the argument to allow men in women’s spaces. Being a woman from a further oppressed group is absolutely not the same thing as being a male wanting to access a women’s space. It is massively offensive to oppressed groups of women to compare us to males wanting to access OUR spaces and even more offensive to use us to further your own agenda with not one thought for our needs. No steps have been taken to increase the access for disabled women or women with drug or alcohol issues. We resent that groups of vulnerable women are used to prop up arguments for allowing males in women’s spaces whilst our own needs continue to go ignored. We would like to pose the question of why it is that they have the whole country and whole women’s sector up in arms focusing on this issue of admitting trans identifying males into refuges when there has never been the same amount of attention for any other oppressed group of women. There are many more BAMER women and disabled women than there are trans people. Women from further oppressed groups have so many unmet needs yet we are lucky to get even a small footnote or small petition why? We would like to suggest that this is because we are talking about the rights of males v the rights of females that trans access is gaining so much attention. To then use the plight of oppressed women to prop up the trans agenda is adding insult to injury.
Some of us are disabled because of our PTSD . We are very angry that lip service is being paid to our access in a report that actually serves to limit our access to refuges.
Many of us are lesbians. We resent Stonewall comparing lesbians’ struggle to that of trans. people. We object to Stonewall essentially using lesbian’s struggle in refuges to prop up arguments to allow males into womens spaces as if it is the same thing and as if lesbians are a mere prop to promote trans people’s needs whilst our own go completely ignored. We are still being called bigots for merely being same sex attracted by organisations such as Stonewall.
This is another suspicious and deceptive move by Stonewall. If the argument for having trans identifying males in womens spaces was a strong argument you would not need to tag it onto arguments about other oppressed groups of women to try and strengthen it by falsely conflating them.
Please support us. Please share this response. Please send it to your local women’s organisations.
If you are a women’s org. Please start listening to us before it’s too late and a woman or child is attacked in your refuge. We want to prevent this happening beforehand not wait till someone is hurt.
Please use the exemptions in the Equality Act to protect women and children from violent males. There is info on how to do that here:
Fairplay for Women have also done a response to Stonewall which you can see here:
Please see below where we have included quotes from womens orgs and survivors
 Rape – a specific crime of male genitalia
 (Disorder) Post Traumatic Stress is grammatically complete, the primary cause in females is rape & sexual violence/abuse, perhaps it is not we who are disordered but a society in which we are subjected to such violence/abuse with almost no possibility of redress when less than 2% of rapes result in conviction. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2018/05/no-legal-system-isn-t-biased-against-men-it-allows-them-rape-near-impunity
 Rape Crisis England & Wales – with an equivalent figure of 1 in 200 males
Responses from women’s orgs and women who worked in women’s orgs.
If you expect refuges to accommodate males who identify as trans, you’re asking staff in women’s refuges to differentiate between
- Transgender people born male who have genuinely experienced men’s violence and have managed to unpick their male socialisation and who will not use their sense of male entitlement or sexism or misogyny to harm, reduce and control women in the refuge and
- those transgender people born male who have genuinely experienced violence but are still dripping in male privilege and advantage and who hate or resent women; and
- those transgender people born male who are narcissistic perpetrators who have managed to convince themselves (and others) that they are victims
- those transgender people born male who are fetishists and
- men who are pretending to be trans in order to track down a particular woman or access women in general
Why should we be put in this position? Why should women and children who have experienced men’s violence be put in that position? Why is prioritising the needs of women who have been subjected to men’s violence a problem?
Karen Ingala Smith – CEO of Nia Project
Manchester Women’s Aid is a women-led, victim-focussed, specialist provider of domestic violence and abuse services. We have delivered life-saving, life -changing services for over 40 years: services that are committed to ensuring that survivors of domestic violence and abuse, and in particular, women and children, have a place of safety and support to enable them to recover from the trauma and harm they have experienced.
We are committed to providing support that safeguards every victim and survivor and to taking account of the specific needs of victims, the severity of the harm suffered as a result of a criminal offence, as well as the relationship between victims, offenders, children and their wider social environment individual needs and circumstances. This means that in practice we provide a wide range of services, some of which are integrated and accessible to all, and others that are targeted at specific needs groups such as our antenatal midwifery service.
We currently provide Refuge services for women only, and some group-work programmes that are women only. Both provide an environment where women can support each other and rebuild self-esteem and confidence in safe spaces. To access these services victims must either be a woman or a trans-woman who has lived extensively as a woman, as defined by the Equalities Act 2010, and have experienced abuse whilst living as a woman. Risk assessment is undertaken prior to, and throughout receipt of services, to protect the safety and well-being of existing service users and employees as well as potential service users.
We believe that every woman has a right to be safe and to be heard and the right to expect that their fundamental basic needs for safety, health and economic stability recognised. This is why we support the provision of specialist by and for women services for BAMER and disabled women and why we support the right of women survivors to question the safeguards that will be put in place for single sex spaces if self-ID is embedded into equalities legislation.
We accept that for some survivors, living in close proximity with people with male bodies, would increase their trauma due to the harm they’ve experienced as a result of male violence. Some survivors are concerned about the potential that, under new legislation, refuges will feel pressured to accommodate self-IDing trans women in male bodies and that organisations refusing these requests for refuge spaces will be subject to challenge.
We are grateful to survivors for raising these concerns and join them in asking for reassurance that we will be able to continue to use needs and risk assessments and, if required, equalities legislation, to ensure that our single sex services can be provided flexibly, safely and fairly to survivors.
The Pankhurst Trust (Incorporating Manchester Women’s Aid)
“Our organisation provides therapeutic and practical support for women and children living with, fleeing from and recovering from the traumas of domestic and sexual violence. We have always placed the views and experiences of the women and children we support at the heart of our work and its development. Part of that has been responding to the ongoing need for safe, women-only spaces. It is something that our movement fought for, over decades, for women who have suffered male violence, and it is evidenced strongly as an effective and trauma informed approach to meeting needs. Our aim is to address the impacts of VAWG.
I know how many women using the service who are fearful of losing these safe spaces. Wanting to discuss this, and to express our worries does not make us transphobic. It simply means that we want to protect what we fought for. Reasonable discussion and debate, and a recognition of our fears is necessary rather than views being shut down. This is a complex issue, and we need to build understanding on both sides”
Ms Dickie James MBE
Staffordshire Women’s Aid
I am an ex early years practitioner and ex Chair of Governors. I have seventeen years experience running toddler groups, working in early years, volunteering in schools and I served over three years as a Chair of Governors, including running the recruitment process for Headteacher and other staff. During this time I have had substantial training in safeguarding and child protection, including safer recruitment training and reading and being trained on Serious Child Reviews (every single one of which identified as a failing putting the needs of adults ahead of the needs of children) on a strategic basis. While working in early years, safeguarding and child protection was covered weekly at the staff meeting. The mantra was always ‘think the unthinkable’ and every session ended with being told ‘Remember you don’t know anyone well enough to say they couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t and that includes your colleagues sat here round this table’.
Over the years I have worked with vulnerable children, children that had family members who were barred from contact, who we were to call the police if we saw them near the setting, children who had previously been in refuge, looked after children and children who for whatever reason just did not like men. There were stringent door and phone policies in place to protect these children and regular spot checks to ensure they were adhered to, everything we did was child centred.
Because of this extensive experience and safeguarding training I am extremely concerned about the implications for vulnerable women and children in refuges if self ID allows admittance to males who identify as women, many of them will have an involuntary trauma response to biological males, regardless of how they identify.
It is my belief that survivors of violence and sexual abuse will need female only spaces, to heal, away from all males (regardless of whether the males identify as women or not). Refuges should put the needs of vulnerable women and their children first, every single time. Women will need to be enabled to establish healthy boundaries for themselves and their children so that they are able to leave refuge and move forward with their lives, and thrive. If they are not enabled to draw the line for themselves and their children of no males (regardless of how these males may identify, even if they have a GRC) they will not be empowered to establish the boundaries they need to keep themselves and their children safe. Until men, as a class stop routinely assaulting women and children, these boundaries will be needed. It is therefore vital that women who have survived abuse are empowered and educated on their rights, not only so that they can move forward with their own lives, but so that they can be role models for their children, to prevent the cycle of abuse continuing. Expecting women to share spaces with biological males (including transwomen) when they are vulnerable and trying to heal, is inhumane, even more so to children, it is not appropriate to expect women to control their own instinctive trauma responses to males and also that of their children.
It is a basic of safeguarding that children should not be used to validate the identities of adults. Any adult looking to use working with children to validate some need of their own, should not make it past interview if correct safer recruitment procedures are used (though sadly some will as no process is foolproof). Any male who wishes to be in a refuge and have his identity as a ‘transwomen’ validated by vulnerable women and children has failed the values part of safer recruitment procedures and therefore should not be there.
Tanya Carter – worked in a Cambridgeshire school as an early years practitioner and as Chair of Governors
There was a time in the provision of women’s services when the women using that service were consulted about everything from the layout of accommodation to the standard of professionals expected to offer the best support, practical and emotional. Now, silence, nobody wants to hear. And worse, any understanding of how domestic violence impacts on women is being lost. Understanding what domestic abuse is and the myriad ways perpetrators rule with fear, threat and real violence overlooked. Abusive men silence women, strip them of any confidence, esteem. Render them unable to give opinion freely without fearing further abuse. Punishments for transgressing the rules men lay down are real. The act of simply sitting in a room with a man after living in those conditions can silence women, distort any response or involvement in discussion. And, basically ratchet up levels of anxiety and fear.
Women need and deserve safe, male free spaces to be silent or not but operating with a real agency. Then, women assert self with the support of other women. This is not a performance, not living the version of femaleness described by men; abusive or not. This is the chance to break free from the version of femaleness which was used to abuse us! My stance in essence is that women are generally socialised to be silent, less verbal, quite per se than men. When with men we are conditioned to ‘give way’ to them. Abusive men reinforce that socialised expectation brutally. To encourage women to be, to have opinion, to speak without fear or any condition placed on their contribution the space must be women only!
Louise Brown – Ran a women refuge for 24 years. Was previously Accredited Senior Front line Practitioner and Director for Wear Valley Women’s Aid. One area of specialism was facilitating Women’s Aid Power to Change program.
OBJECT is a feminist, gender-critical organisation dedicated to telling difficult truths and linking different forms of objectification under patriarchy. Our strapline is: Women Not Sex Objects. Our main issues are porn, prostitution, ‘sex encounter venues’, surrogacy and transgenderism. We refuse to believe in the emperor’s new clothes.
I worked at several refuges in Rochdale, Wigan and Westminster as a full time Project worker. I am absolutely shocked that Stonewall is trying to make out as if there is no issue having trans identifying males in spaces with vulnerable women. I have met women who are terrified of men. When I worked in refuges repair men had to be supervised at all times so the women would be and feel safe. Now Stonewall are trying to say there is no issue having biological males sharing living facilities with women who just escaped domestic abuse. I cannot think of anything more terrifying for a woman who just escaped violence than having to share accommodation with an unknown male. Stonewall are irresponsible and causing danger to vulnerable women. I am shocked that some workers are claiming they would immediately be able to spot any violent male trying to access the refuge just be doing a risk assessment. As someone who worked in this sector for several years I too have this radar to spot a perpetrator. I would never be so irresponsible as to make out this is some kind of magical superpower that will automatically spot any violent male at any time, but then again I wouldnt allow ANY male in a women only space. This is the only way to ensure womens safety not some magical, “fool proof”, intangible radar.
Louise Bond – Full time project worker and support worker in women’s refuges in Rochdale, Wigan and Westminster. Also volunteered at a Domestic Abuse Helpline and did research around the needs of women experiencing both domestic abuse and substance misuse issues.
Keeping female safe houses male-free is imperative for women and children if they are to heal from abusive men. It seems unduly cruel to not to consider how male-bodied individuals would ignite their terror anew.
I also have several abusive members of my family circle, at least one of whom is a cross dresser. The presence of a man, the sound of his voice, his oppressive and potentially threatening body size would all impact my decision not to use survivor services. Add to this the obstinacy and refusal of services to consider women’s needs, even to the extent of calling women bigots simply add to my sense of abandonment and despair about the lack of appropriate services for women survivors of sexual assault.
The thought of accessing a service for survivors of male abuse and being confronted with a male makes me feel panicky and nauseous, whether that male was there as a supporter or a client. To think that I could then be gaslit by being told that that male was a woman like me would probably push me over the edge to be honest. I think the same is true of many survivors who are afraid of men, regardless of whether they are calling themselves by a female name and dressed in female clothing
I am a survivor of probably tbe best rape in history but it was still rape. I made it clear I had changed my mind about being penetrated but my then boyfriend silently held me down and still and used my vagina to orgasm. Since then I have not ever been able to start sex with a man without the awareness that this could happen again, any time any place anywhere. End of man-sex for me. Even though my rape was ‘mild’ I was still very shaken by it and would not have felt safe at a service that was not women-only.
I am horrified that a national charity, one that is supposed to represent my interests as a bisexual woman, has labelled my PTSS reaction to male bodied persons “bigotry”. In my case, being forced, with no recourse, to accept transwomen in what are supposed to be safe spaces for women would have meant I would be unable to access those services. I strongly believe that Stonewall would be better serving their community base by fighting for funding for specialist services for trans people who experience sexual violence, or funding them themselves, rather than force already stretched women’s services to do that for them. This decisions will mean that women will remain in violent relationships longer, where research suggests they are at greater risk of being murdered by their abuser. In suggesting that women are bigots for having boundaries, they are reinforcing the abuse women suffer from men, and it is not hyperbole to say that this will lead to more women dying at the hands of their abusers.
I’m currently accessing support services re sexual violence and would definitely not feel comfortable doing so with any males present. Several friends of mine that have used services that have changed policy to accept self-definition of “gender” have now had to withdraw from those services. This means that continuing service users are presumable either accepting of, or unaware of this policy change, and so it will appear that service users are happy with this change of policy. The perspectives and needs of those who have left are no longer “seen” in the organisation’s statistics. To say that organisations’ services would not be affected by a change to the GRA does not imply that their service users would not be affected, and the voices and experiences of those who no longer feel able to access these services needs to be heard. I know of no-one who was aware that Stonewall or anyone else was conducting a survey regarding this, so the results are presumably skewed by only including those who have felt OK to continue using these services. The attempts to be “inclusive” of trans women has resulted in those same services excluding many existing service users, and these policies and funding requirements need to stop until this issue has been properly researched and resolved. As women we have a right to female-only space, and the Equality Act acknowledges this, citing exactly this kind of service as being justified in being exempt from even including those with a GRA. This does not prevent transwomen from being supported, as other organisations can specifically address their unique experiences and needs. The point of the Equality Act is to require organisations to address inequality, including by having a restricted focus if that is the most appropriate way of doing so, such as with services dealing with male violence. There is a clear conflict between the Equality Act and the new interpretations around “gender” and the GRA. This needs to be properly researched, and not by parties that have a vested and political interest in the outcomes. The exclusion of existing users resulting from these policies is not acceptable as “collateral damage” in the drive to appear “inclusive”
Unlike many Rape Survivors and as my assailant is unknown to me I can ‘come out’ without prejudicing children or family members. As a full-time volunteer for Stonewall UK during the Age of Consent campaign c1993/4, my motivation was very much about the vital importance of sexual consent & the way in which a differential age of consent, made it almost impossible for young men to report sexual violence/abuse against them. My work for Stonewall UK was as a Rape Survivor, with that particular insight.
Current rape crisis provision is already a fraction of what I could access in 1980’s but a central principle was that it was female-only. Those services described post traumatic stress accurately before it was called post traumatic stress. Physical proximity to biological natal males gave me particular problems. My post traumatic stress was reactivated after my #MeToo as a school teacher in 1998, some 20 years too early. It has impacted on dental treatment because I cannot tolerate my head being so close to male genitalia. For my last surgery, I had to have a female surgeon and anaesthetist and a definitely female bay after a previous failure of medical consent.
I am entering my 40th year of trans-awareness, 5 years I ‘came out’ as a lesbian and I have always tried to support trans-people. However, the reality is that I do get physical proximity issues in respect of transwomen but I don’t get them in respect of transmen. That’s biological/natal sex–ophobia not transphobia. That’s primary weapon of violence used by males against females-ophobia
Obtaining medical treatment is already too difficult and has to be carefully negotiated. I had to take a special letter to a mammogram appointment to get the mammographer to confirm she was a biological natal female. She signed it straight away, her colleague said “cervical screening?” I replied “It already happened.”
As rape survivor & #MeToo veteran (in my case) we already have so many extra hurdles, in the past, female only rape crisis was always the ‘backstop’ when we encountered these extra hurdles. In Brighton the service we thought was female-only has been including transwomen for some years without telling us. That is already a grotesque breach of trust. Last summer they condemned a meeting about discussing the implications of the Gender Identity Recognition consultation, which must include the several rape survivors who made themselves known to me, when I spoke out about how this affects me as a rape survivor. For 35 years I always felt they had our back now this rape crisis tweets images of transwomen, while we as rape survivors get online abuse and attacks from trans-extremists for saying we definitely need female-only spaces. I use other phonelines now that are female-only. I sent a monthly donation to Vancouver Rape Crisis who will not back d own on female-only rape crisis provision.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde:
“To have one organisation that you felt always had your back, betray you, to have two looks like carelessness.”
I do not know how to describe the sense of total betrayal I feel and the obscenity of telling rape survivors they should be ‘re-educated’ out of clinical symptoms of rape related post traumatic stress. If only post traumatic stress were that simple.
Clare B Dimyon MBE (Human Rights)
Full-Time Volunteer for Stonewall (UK) Summer 1993
(Active with Stonewall throughout Age of Consent campaign 1993-1994)
‘Stonewall decides female survivors of male violence have no right to natal female only spaces wherein we female survivors including myself, can disclose and share our experiences without the mandatory presence of males. No matter what identity males claim they are and always will be natal males! Having safe natal female services/spaces enabled me to process what males had inflicted on me and recognise it was never my fault. The long hard journey of dealing with male induced trauma would not have happened if males were in the room with me! Feminists finally succeeded in creating natal female sex spaces/services and now these are being eroded because men are using every means to justify pseudo male sex right to natal female sex spaces/services.’
I had felt like a confident and assertive person but after the shock of being attacked by a male I had to re-evaluate my ability to detect threat and my sense of trust and safety, I was risk assessing everything due to the situation a male had put me in, initially after the experience I certainly felt fear around males, however they identified and especially if they knew I was a survivor (for example when I went to court I was worried that the man on the hotel reception would know and would see me as vulnerable- this made me anxious). This made me hyper vigilant and focused on potential hazards, I received support from women and in those meetings I could relax a bit and concentrate on coping techniques. For example I attended a women only self defence class and it was important that I built up strength in a safe space where men wouldn’t know I was doing self-defence.
I am a female survivor of male violence – childhood sexual abuse, rape, and domestic abuse. I cannot tell you how painful and re-traumatising it is to even type that. These are emotions that I have spent a long time learning to cope with just to get through day to day. While no longer in a crisis situation, I still live with the residual trauma of my life experiences. This could be described as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder –
hyper vigilance, intrusive thoughts, an inability to fully trust others, self-loathing – that many women who have been through similar experiences recount.
I want to respond to the Stonewall report “Supporting trans women in domestic and sexual violence services”, and express in what ways, as a female survivor of male violence, I find this report problematic and in some ways distressing.
The first point I wish to make is around the framing of the report.
It starts with an ostensibly laudable call for an evidence-based discussion on issues affecting the services delivering support to survivors of male violence (SoMV) in light of the proposed reforms to the GRA, by which a system of “self identifying” replaces the current system of checks and balances.
Ruth Hunt (CEO Stonewall), in her introduction, makes note that “the voices of the professionals delivering these services have largely been missing from these reports.” when speaking of the conversation around this issue, and that “Much of this coverage has focused on particularly emotive issues – whether based on evidence or not.” The provision of *facts* should therefore be welcome.
However, the point I wish to make, is that it is the voices of the service users that have been noticeably absent in this conversation, and that this report commits the same error of appeal to emotion that Ruth Hunt calls out in her introduction.
While the providers of services have an important role to play in describing how services are currently being delivered, the report is heavily weighted toward explaining the *ideological basis* behind the reasons why some organisations have chosen not to apply the legal exemptions offered to them under the Equality Act 2010 with respect to the provision of single sex services.
I would argue that the ideological reasons for that decision do not constitute “evidence” for why proactively instituting a “self-identification” system (despite there being no legal requirement to do so) does not illustrate whether or not female service users are being negatively impacted under the “self-identifying” policies of some service providers. In fact it does not illuminate anything other than the ideological position of some
Where the experiences of women using the services are highlighted, it is disturbing to me that workers are attempting to change the perceptions of service users, and seem to view these women as in need of “education”. This is not a person centred approach. Indeed it could be described as gaslighting, an experience that many of these women will be acutely aware of from the abusive relationships they have escaped from.
For example, this account:
“A worker that was involved from the women’s refuge said that [bringing in LGBT specialists to provide support] was quite a good learning opportunity for them, the workers there, but also it allowed them to explore with the women in the refuge some of the issues around the difficulties for trans women, to identify how hard it must be to be there as a trans woman and how hard it must be to have experienced domestic
abuse and some of the intersecting complexities.”(page14)
So a worker, on hearing a survivor of male violence’s uncomfortableness with having to share space with a male bodied person would use that as an opportunity to explore the “difficulties for trans women”? How is this essentially any different from the experience that many women have on disclosing the abuse that they are suffering and are told “Well maybe you should see things from their point of view?. How is this not victim
blaming? How is this not gaslighting by persuading women to perform mental gymnastics in order to deny the evidence in front of their own eyes?
Nobody is denying that trans women experiencing domestic or sexual violence should be prevented from receiving help and support. But from the point of view of someone like me (who’s abuser, by the way, defined their self as trans but was actually a fetishistic cross-dresser) sharing what is meant to be a healing space with male bodied people is extremely detrimental to our wellbeing. In fact I did not engage with services locally
because of their policy on this matter. I suffered for nearly 10 years. My life and my sense of self was utterly destroyed. I still live with that trauma every day.
Nobody wants to see anyone being abused while using a service, and I feel very sorry for the trans woman who this happened to:
“The other women told me that another woman was basically physically abusing the
transgender woman in the refuge… And she said to me because I want to be safe and I don’t want to leave the place and nobody is going to take me in any other place, and I said but you’re not going to leave, you need to talk to me. And it was a big issue and she said this is the only place I’ve been able to get because I’ve been rejected everywhere in the refuge accommodation and this is the only place I got and that’s why, if I have to accept this from the other women in the refuge that’s fine because at the end of the day I know the staff and you are helping me and supporting me and that’s fine. And I
said no, that’s not fine, that is absolutely not fine.
Of course it is “absolutely not fine”. As I said, nobody should be abused while using these facilities or at any other time. But what the worker seems to miss here is that perhaps women in general don’t complain about male bodied service users because they too fear losing a much needed support? How does this report address in any way this very likely possibility?
This report is troubling, since all that is presented as “evidence” that female survivors are not being negatively impacted are anecdotes from the very persons making the decision to forgo the single-sex exemptions legally available to them in the first place.
As such, I put very little stock in the utility of this report other than to shore up a pre-determined and ideologically driven agenda. I see nothing in this report that evidences anything else, let alone a genuine concern about the wellbeing of female survivors of male abuse.
I was very angry to read Stonewall’s report about women’s services. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who gets ptsd symptoms around biological males I would absolutely not be able to access a women’s refuge that had a trans identified male living there.
I once private rented a room in a women only house, not realising that not only did one woman have a male partner but that she had secretly moved him in. I was terrified. I was having severe panic attacks and thoughts that he would kidnap me. I had to move immediately for my well-being. There is nothing more traumatising for me than having to share my living space with a biological male. I just cannot do it. Allowing trans identified males in a womans refuge would mean I would be unable to access it.
I know this for a fact as I once attended a group for autistic women and had similar symptoms around a trans identified male there. I was terrified that I had met a man from the internet and again was in complete terror that he would kidnap me. That I had been tricked into thinking this was really a woman made me more traumatised not less. Accessing a mixed space where I know there are males is very difficult for me but at least the rare times I have to do this I am prepared and I am on edge the whole time. Having a male bodied person in a place that I have been told is a safe women only space feels like a massive violation.
I am still at risk from my abuser who I fear is involved in the sex industry as I remember him taking photographs of me as a child. If he found where I was I would have no access to a refuge space with trans identifying males in it.
I am a female survivor of childhood abuse and domestic violence, sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation, and of adult rape, exploitation in the ‘sex industry’, coercive control, domestic violence and multiple sexual assaults. I spent many years of my life experiencing repeat victimisation at the hands of controlling, dangerous, porn-addicted, cruel, sadistic men. I nearly lost my life on several occasions; in fact it is a near miracle I am alive. I have a diagnosis of Complex-PTSD as a result of my traumatic experiences. I am university educated, a mother, and happily married to a ‘good’ man. I am qualified and skilled when it comes to completing risk assessments and previously worked with high risk domestic and sexual violence perpetrators. I now work for an organisation that provides support to survivors of sexual violence. I am writing in response to Stonewall’s “Supporting trans women in domestic and sexual violence services” report.
I find it quite telling that the report opens with the following statement: “…trans people have faced an onslaught of damaging attacks in the national media and online”. I would question the validity of this statement, but more importantly I find it offensive that the report fails to open with an accurate recognition of the fact that it is females (biologically female women and girls) who suffer from sex-based oppression and therefore Domestic Violence and sexual violence disproportionately affects us.
The report conflates sex and gender throughout. Men who identify as ‘transwomen’ are not being targeted by male perpetrators at anywhere close to the rates that females are. To lump trans identified men into the mix statistically is an insult to women and girls and our collective experiences under the patriarchy.
I do not know who the ‘researchers’ spoke to, but I fail to believe that this report represents a true cross section of workers within the domestic violence and sexual violence sector. I know for a fact that if Stonewall’s researchers were planning to speak with me, or dozens of my colleagues up and down the country, we would say nothing, or say little because quite frankly it is not safe for us to speak the truth. We worry about being labelled transphobes or as a “terf”, bigot, nazi etc. We worry about courting controversy, bringing drama to the organisation’s door, potentially negatively affecting funding, and losing our jobs. Organisations like Stonewall and Mermaids and trans rights activists have been very successful in the silencing of women.
As a survivor and past service user (rape crisis, refuge, and counselling services) I can’t believe I even need to explain why female only space is so critical to healing. I cannot imagine having to share space with biological males. I would have been terrified. They don’t need to BE predators, it is the just knowing that they could be. The reality is that almost all perpetrators are male. The thought of having to share space with males who may or may not have penises when I was recovering from rape, sexual assaults, CSE, CSA, and exploitation in the sex industry literally triggers me as I contemplate it. What concerns me is that many organisations say they offer women only space- but actually mean mixed sex, yet they are not being open and transparent about it. If I was a vulnerable client, and I was in what I thought was women only space, and there ended up being a trans identified male in that space I would feel scared, confused, let down, unsafe, and I don’t think I would have the courage or confidence to complain. I would just have a sense that my boundaries had been crossed. I wouldn’t know who to trust. I think it would most definitely add to my trauma.
I noted in the report that ‘risk assessment’ was referred to quite a bit. I don’t understand why so much emphasis was placed on this. Trans identified males in need of support are not going to openly disclose if they are manipulators or controlling or abusive or perverted or outright sexually dangerous. In sexual violence services, we do not do police checks on potential service users, or DV checks; in fact, we only have what they tell us about themselves to go by. To me, the fact they are male is information enough to tell me that they might pose a risk to other women. But even if I was to assume they pose no risk, I think it is safe to assume that many women could have issues with their presence, but of course would not necessarily feel comfortable saying so.
I totally recognise that men need support services, as do men who identify as transwomen. I think that there is room to provide specialist services for them. If organisations are going to offer mixed sex services then I think they need to come out and be open about this. But women only services should be for females only.
Quotes received after this was posted online:
My daughter is 16 years old. Between the ages of 8 and 11 she was repeatedly sexually violated by a member of the family whom she loved and trusted. She kept this a secret however she made many attempts on her own life before disclosing to a mental health professional.
The professionals, and there were many, had always noted a trauma response when in the presence of male professionals. Without having to be asked, they ensured that all the professionals who engaged with her were female only. When she was hospitalised, they ensured that she was on a female ward and where it was not possible, ensured that she had a private room. Without such measures, I am positive that she would not have come along as far as she has today.
My daughter still struggles with males. She has not been in education for two years, has difficulty going into shops or going out in public alone. Her fear is not a way to punish or exclude males, however they identify. It is a visceral and uncontrollable response to trauma and something that is limiting her life everyday. If you are violated by a male you loved and trusted, why would anyone expect a woman to trust strange males, particularly those who are demanding access into spaces where women and children are at their most vulnerable? My daughter was lucky that she had knowledgeable professionals who noted her discomfort. The male professionals who stepped back did not take it personally her recovery came above their personal validation.
That organisations like stonewall not only dismiss the impact of including males in refuges on women’s recovery, it also shows a complete disregard for the wellbeing and safeguarding of women and girls purely to validate an agenda.
Please tell me women of Twitter, what kind of solidarity with women you display when women who have been raped by men with penises feel the need to publicly recount these traumatic events in order to justify their desire to retain single sex spaces
When those of us who were sexually abused as young girls feel we have to out ourselves and describe the shame we have lived with all our lives at having had men with penises abuse us AND our trust in this way
What kind of feminism puts the feelings of people with penises who think they are women above the lifelong harms done to women by men .. the women who have survived the damage inflicted on their bodies and psyches by people with penises
What kind of feminism ignores the fear of women who have been harmed by people with penises at sharing spaces with people with penises.. small spaces, confined spaces, spaces where we are vulnerable – spaces which we think of as safe
What kind of women ignore the pain of other women who know the pain that men with penises are capable of inflicting – the abuse of trust, the physical damage, the shock and the violation
What kind of feminism and what kind of women cannot see how the reality of sexual abuse and sexual assaults and rape shapes women’s lives – casts us in a role we did not choose and forever determines our relationship with men with penises that is based on our experiences
Like many women, I have spent my life feeling ASHAMED yes, that’s right.. ashamed that as a 7 year old, a man I should have been able to trust, took my little hand and used it to masturbate himself
ASHAMED that as a teenager, someone else with a penis held me down and raped me ashamed that at 15 I had been stupid enough to trust him and his intentions ashamed at what he had done to me
and now, some women on twitter, some feminists, wish to try and shame me again.. shame me for not trusting people with penises that I do not know, when my experiences of people with penises that I did know led to my abuse
I have been shamed enough I will NOT be ashamed of my need for sanctuaries from people with penises I will NOT be shamed for my fears I will NOT be told by women or feminists that I am a bigot or a transphobe ENOUGH
I sat here in tears writing these tweets tears of sorrow at the loss of innocence, the betrayal of trust and the sadness of what might have been I am no victim I am FUCKING FURIOUS that other women do not care enough about me and the millions like me to put us first
I will NOT BE SHAMED I will NOT BE SILENCED I will NOT BE ACCUSED OF TRANSPHOBIA AND BIGOTRY I will NOT BE CONDESCENDED TO I will NOT BE IGNORED I am a woman and my feelings and reality matter GET OVER IT
You may see me, or a woman like me. I’m nothing special, that middle aged slightly greying lady you pass in the supermarket.
You can’t see, me as a child, that watched my father hit my mother and siblings. You can’t see that he hit me as well. You can’t see my first husband did the same. You can’t see my scars. You can’t see I was first sexually assaulted walking home from school aged 12, and that it has happened in every decade of my life since. You can’t see I was dragged into a public toilet and raped aged 13. You can’t see me physically assaulted for protecting a friend from a violent partner. You can’t see me packing my life into a car, and running, from another man, who had threatened to kill me. You can’t see the many other close calls to my wellbeing and safety. You can’t see my constant risk assessment, my anxiety, my fear. You can’t see the tears, the depression, the therapy, the prescription medication.
You don’t see me.
This is a survivors story which I sent to my church which wants transwomen to be able to access women’s spaces.
1) I was abused by my religious parents. My main abuser was my late father, who was physically violent towards me throughout my childhood and teenage years, striking me regularly around my head. The abuse was also emotional – this involved being isolated and/or ignored and/or forbidden to take part in harmless social activities with friends. In my earlier childhood there was a sexual element to this abuse. (Because I was very young it was unclear to me exactly what he was doing, but it involved my having to stroke one of his hands while he used his other hand to arouse himself sexually.) My mother, who also hit and slapped me until my mid-teens, did not protect me from any of this. It seemingly did not occur to either of them that such behaviour might conflict with the values of their church
One small thing I remember them doing when we moved to a new house – when I was 14 – was their immediately removing the lock from my bedroom door. This was because my father wanted to be able to burst into my room and start hitting me. Since then it has been essential to me to know that there will be spaces from which I can exclude male-bodied people who might wish to harm me.
2) In my early twenties, I was molested by a married man, while living in the religious community which he and his wife helped to found. He would regularly give me – and another unattached young woman in her thirties who also lived there – close ‘friendly’ hugs. The woman and I started to discuss how inappropriate we found these hugs. The man actually didn’t seem to like us much most of the time. Instead he regarded us as people who were attempting to change ‘his’ community in ways that he disapproved of. When I eventually asserted myself to say that I didn’t like these hugs, he responded by touching my breasts.
3) In my mid-thirties I was subjected to a form of exhibitionist behaviour by an older male at a church training event. This was at an event to help equip people who were newly appointed in church roles. As an ‘experienced’ Elder he took me and another young woman into a very small room where he sat between us and the door. Our two chairs were placed so close that our knees were almost touching his. Almost immediately that we were all seated I became aware that his flies were open. I did not tell anyone at the time, thinking the mistake to have been an ‘innocent’ one. Looking back now it seems clear to me that he had manipulated the situation so that he could enjoy private proximity to the two youngest female attendees, while partially displaying his own genitals.
Finally, I would like to say that I do not wish to discriminate against any vulnerable person I might meet in or outside my church. But I absolutely do not want anybody who is male-bodied and who has a male sense of entitlement to be near me at times when I am physically vulnerable (asleep and/or not fully clothed.) I also do not want to be near anybody male-bodied – and with male entitlement – when I am emotionally vulnerable.
This fear and distress caused by making myself vulnerable to people who have not earned my trust means that it has been appallingly difficult for me to write this letter. I simply do not know who I am writing to, or what your intentions are. Nevertheless, I am doing so because I think that after many years I’m strong enough to be able to deal with this pain. I also think it is important to do what I can to protect other women.
I must now state what ought to be obvious. Just because somebody is – or claims to be religious – it does not mean that their every action will be guided by love. I do not believe that women’s responses to unloving actions should be governed by oppressive social rules which say that in order to be considered good, we must deny our own (inconvenient) truths.
It seems to me that a genuinely loving religion would respect and accommodate the pain that I and so many other women have to carry on a daily basis. It would seek to lighten this load, rather than endeavouring to pile greater burdens upon us.
I have given a significant amount of service to my church at local and area level. Yet by seeking to deny the reality of male violence and oppression, by moving to sacrifice female space in the name of ‘inclusion’, there are elements with the church which make me feel as if I now have no worth, no value, unless I conform to the newly fashionable demands of hierarchies and interest groups.
I believe that I am worth more that. I hope that the church I belong to is worth more than that too.