On 4th June 2021 the Daily Telegraph published an article on concerns about the Stonewall Equality Diversity Champions programme. The article included a couple of short quotations from me. On 7th June 2021 I received a long, intense email addressed to my work email account from a reader of the piece who disagreed vehemently with what I had said.
After expressing some general concerns and criticisms of my character, knowledge, legitimacy, family history and ethics, the writer opined that he (I presume) would be able to change my opinion if he were given the opportunity. He proposed to change my mind through rape and violence – conduct that would result in more than 10 years in prison if it took place. Included were 3 separate photos illustrating different young women being whipped and sexually assaulted.
I am sure that nothing written in this email was written with the knowledge, approval or consent of Stonewall. I have no doubt that Stonewall would never condone threats of sexual violence addressed to those who criticise or disapprove of Stonewall. This email demonstrates, however, a wider problem in British life. Women who are in any way visible – and this was an article in the Daily Telegraph, not a section of a primetime television show – attract a degree of misogyny, threats, sexual imagery and proposed sexual violence that is utterly unacceptable.
Of course this is #notallmen. It is a very small number of men and I am sure the vast majority would never direct such images of rape and violence against women no matter how strongly they disagreed with their opinions. But there is a small, noisy minority of men who do behave in this way. All surveys of women who are MPs, journalists, television presenters, columnists or otherwise publicly visible demonstrate that they attract disproportionately aggressive and misogynistic responses such as these.
Emails of this kind can amount to criminal offences – depending on the context, content and the number of threats, offences could include harassment, contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, malicious communications, contrary to the Malicious Communications Act 1988 or Communications Act 2003, making a threat to kill, contrary to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, making a threat to commit criminal damage, the Criminal Damage Act 1971, or blackmail, contrary to section 21 Theft Act 1968. Identifying an offender is not always easy with emails, of course.
Of course, this is not really about the women who are the subject of these kinds of threats. The man who made threats of sexual violence to Joanna Cherry did not know her, any more than my correspondent yesterday knows me. This is about those men, not about the women who are the subject of the threats. It points to an inadequacy and threatened insecurity in the men themselves, rather than in their targets.
But aggression and unpleasantness of this kind deters women from participating in public life. Nobody, of either sex or any opinion, should be subject to threats in this way. My particular correspondent chose the anonymity of a ProtonMail address and cannot be traced. But when men who have behaved in this way can be traced, it should be made apparent that such behaviour is always unacceptable. Perhaps such men should realise they do no good to the causes they claim to support when they act in this manner.
No woman reading a message like this thinks, “Oh, of course, this charming gentleman threatening rape seems a normal and sensible chap, maybe he’s got a point.” Instead, they think merely of his inadequacies and failings.
Everybody in the UK, particularly, in this instance women, deserves better than this.