This has been a contentious issue on Twitter now for some weeks now. Credit where credit is due, most of us would have been none the wiser about this case, if @EVB_Now had not campaigned vigorously for it to be reviewed and been successful. A huge thank you to them, Ending Victimisation, who have been a real education for me.
If you are unaware of the case, in which Neil Wilson was prosecuted for sexually abusing a child, this post is not about explaining what happened as there is plenty of information already out there about it. It has been widely covered in the press and information regarding it are easily available (just google Neil Wilson!). This post is my response to the various, mostly polarised and occasionally polemic, responses I have seen that have caused untold arguments and questionable behaviour.
I would like to start with defining some terms that have been used and will be referred to in this post so as to ensure we are all absolutely clear on what we are discussing:
Predatory = “1. (of an animal) preying naturally on others. 2. seeking to exploit others” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Twelfth Edition, 2011)
Exploit = “1. make use of and derive benefit from (a resource) 2. make use of unfairly; benefit unjustly from the work of” (ibid)
Radical feminism = this is a strand of feminism that focuses on patriarchy, in which societies are organised in a way that male supremacy is assumed and is used to oppress women.
Rape apologist = A term that is used to describe someone who makes excuses for rape, often placing blame on the victim, for example, and yes these are appalling examples but needed to be clear on the definition, “she was drunk/had a short skirt on/was asking for it”.
So, first of all, I want to start with a general overview. I think it is fair to say, that most people believe Neil Wilson was wrong and deserved the guilty verdict. The point of contention is the prosecutor’s and judge’s comments during “proceedings re sentencing”. (These have been publicly released and can be found here.) The cause of the “outrage” is multifaceted. The most controversial issue has been the prosecutor’s use of the word “predatory” to describe the 13 year old girl’s behaviour and it is here that I will address specifics.
If we return to my definition of this word earlier, we can see that when applied to a human being it means “seeking to exploit others”. I am reminded of a post or tweet I read in which someone suggested that the use of the word suggested an element of power and to suggest a 13 year old had power over a 41 year old man was inaccurate and wrong. As is typical of debates on this subject, they were shot down in flames, accused of rewriting the dictionary etc. I have included the dictionary definitions for both “predatory” and “exploit” (which is part of the predatory definition) and I think they both suggest an element of one person being in a more powerful position than the other. Translated into its basic form, the prosecutor was saying that the 13 year old girl was seeking to sexually make unfair use of the 41 year old man, Neil Wilson. Just on the definition of the word, I think we can see that this is wrong.
Her actions that are described in the proceedings are often quoted as a defence for the use of the term and the argument is made that 13 year old’s can have sexual wants and desires and we are forgetting what it feels like to be a teenager. It is my opinion though, that as this is not two people close in age, there is indeed a power difference with Neil Wilson having much more. Whatever she did then, can not be seen as trying to exploit him. Surely it is he who has exploited her vulnerability?
But let’s deal with the idea that 13 year old’s can be sexual beings. It is true that everyone develops and goes through puberty at different ages. It happened to me incredibly early. Your hormones are raging, you have all kinds of feelings, sometimes you think they make sense. However, you are often not emotionally mature enough to properly negotiate and understand these. You can act on that feeling of being incredibly “horny” without really understanding. It takes time for those hormones to settle! That is why we have laws in place to protect children. There are also all kinds of other issues as to why a 13 year old may be so sexually active: they may have suffered abuse; they may have lacked a “father” figure; they may feel unloved; they may wish to make someone happy; they may feel they ought to offer a “gift” to someone in more power; they may think that it is the only way to show someone affection or that they really want them in their lives. Whatever it is, that 13 year old is not being a predator trying to exploit someone for their own gains!
This has become the issue with this case but it goes far beyond this. If you can stomach reading the details, then please click on the link provided above and read the details. It comes with a content warning and is why I did not want to directly quote it here. But it becomes quite obvious from the prosecutor and judge’s conversation that they are seeking to reduce blame on the offender and place it on the victim. Examples are the term “predatory”, how old she looked despite being in school uniform (!), the actions of her and lack of actions of him etc.
What they fail to discuss or consider are the moments leading up to the abuse. Can we honestly say that this girl, THE VICTIM, is the predator when he willingly turned back and decided to go and buy cigarettes for a school child despite being a non-smoker? Do we honestly think this is an act of generosity rather than being opportunistic? Do we not wonder why at 41, he felt the need to invite a school child to step into his flat? Whatever age she appeared, let’s be clear, she was in school uniform. Just stop and think for a moment about how you would have reacted to that scenario. Walk past and ignore? Tell her to get back to school? Now let’s think about Neil Wilson’s choice of actions and decide where the label “predatory” belongs. With the offender and not the victim.
And that brings us to victim blaming. Often we do not even recognise it and in some way or other the majority of us will have been a victim blamer albeit unintentionally. However, it is important that people listen and learn so that it is no longer an endemic part of our society. The term “rape apologist” has been borne out of a recognition of this culture. Please note, that this post is the first time I personally have ever used that term either verbally or written. However, it has been used to criticise people who have defended the prosecutor’s choice of words. A furore has often then followed with claims of libel etc. However, I believe I have shown why the term “predatory” was used incorrectly. If you have chosen not to listen and learn about victim blaming and choose to defend a comment which is clearly part of a conversation parking blame at the victim of the sexual abuse, then I’m sorry, you are joining in the apologising of the abuser / rapist.
Many of those who have spoken out about this are also radical feminists. Now suddenly, apparently, all feminists who have an issue with a patriarchal system (and yes that is part of the reason why victim blaming has become part of our society but that’s a whole different post) are to be treated with disdain. I have lost count of the amount of names they have been called, which itself could fall under the definition of bullying as it is often from the same people. Firstly, not all radical feminists are the same and not all of them hold the same views (again, a different post). However, sweeping statements are made about them. Some will shout loudly, metaphorically speaking, and some don’t. But to be honest, when it is about a victim being blamed, who can blame them even if they’re screaming? They really have nothing on the suffragettes who were unable to get their reasonable demands met without resorting to violent actions that were described as terrorist attacks! Sometimes, loud is needed. Some of these RadFems have had uncountable amounts of abusive messages, tweets, letters etc and people demanding they debate each tiny point with them or take their advice as they know best. In the heat of it all, some of them have sworn at or insulted some people. I don’t condone this, I always try to remain civil but then I don’t have anywhere near the amount of traffic coming my way and it can be hard to keep cool! However, I do understand why it might happen and personally, I am grateful to many of them for raising so many issues and getting me to think about the way I may see things. They have spoken out about the despicable treatment of others including the victim in this case and have in return, it is true, seen a rise in followers but this is more than counteracted by the rise in threats and abuse they’ve received. I fail to see how they can deserve vilifying for speaking up for victims.
The worst insult has to be the new term to describe them as “fembots”. It is an old classic bullying tactic to dehumanise someone. After all, take away someone’s humanity or deny their beliefs and suddenly they can’t be a victim and it’s okay to blame them or treat them in anyway you wish. Let’s be clear about this, obsessively poking fun at someone makes you a bully. Replace “feminist” with another belief or group of people if you are in any doubt.
At the heart of this is a 13 year old girl. Our young people are living in an increasingly sexualised world where, whether you like it or not, the male is in power and the woman controlled. Our young people deserve better. Males deserve to know that it’s not right to be violent, pushy or demanding and that their girlfriend will not be anything like that porn star and our girls deserve to know that they do not have to fulfill that role and that they deserve respect. Don’t misinterpret me as a “man hater”, I’m happily in a relationship with one. I know there are plenty of males and females who already know all this and are wonderful, caring human beings. However, we can not deny the rising trends in young people and what they are exposed to each day from the porn on the phone, to the celebrity role models on TV or the photo shopped images everywhere. Can’t we all agree that all children deserve to have the support and protection of adults rather than needing it FROM adults? That when they are a victim, that they are recognised as such and not apportioned blame?