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Jan Moir on Pol Pot tactics to end violence against women

“Surely if you insist on lessons to teach small children it is wrong for men to hit women, then you are implying that all men are a potential menace. Won't the end result be the kind of moral indoctrination that teaches all infants how to hate men?”

So says Jan Moir today in the Daily Mail on the government announcement that its initiative to combat violence against women in Britain will involve discussions of domestic violence in schools. Hmmm. Well, she might have got it wrong over Stephen Gately but the woman who is probably thinking what you’re thinking could be right on this, couldn’t she?

Well, no. OK, it’s good that Moir appears to have no problem with a cross-cutting government strategy to combat violence against women (as welcomed in my post the other day). And good that she points out that the actual perpetrators – the men who beat women senseless – need to be confronted in all this (offender schemes in prisons, perhaps?)

But, that said, Moir is so beside herself with it’s-all-just-PC-madness-gone-even-madder outrage at the intention to alert schoolchildren to things like domestic violence, that we end up with a barrage of hyped-up scare-mongering.

For example – Moir gives us a run-through of imagined hyper-PC Janet & John-style books – “Off to Play (With An Axe)” etc – that “tots” at school could be confronted with. This is the crazy-exaggeration-for-effect tactic beloved of many a newspaper columnist. It’s all about pouring scorn – it doesn’t matter whether it’s even faintly realistic. Then, strangely, Moir swerves over to talk about the threat posed by “honour” killings (the “inevitable result of migrant movement and a tectonic clash of ancient and modern cultures”, apparently).

Yes, “honour” killings specific to some ethnic or religious communities in the UK are a serious threat to women and girls (and some men) in the UK, and that’s why Amnesty and others have been pressing for more action to combat them for years. But, domestic violence and murder (femicide) is a massive problem faced by women and girls of all ethnic and religious groups in Britain. Cultural differences aside, when a man beats up or kills his partner he’s often lashing out because of some kind of enraged sense of damaged “honour”. He’s set to lose “face”. He’s being “disrespected”. His wife was going to leave him, was having an affair, was being “flirtatious”, or whatever.

But back to Moir’s dark dystopia where small children (“tots”) at school are sternly lectured about domestic violence. Moir gets totally carried away with her own hyperbole here. She says: this is “moral indoctrination” that “Pol Pot may have quailed at the thought of it, but Harriet Harman must be proud [of]”. (I wonder if Moir’s actually been following the trial of Pol Pot’s head of prison’s Comrade Duch, accused of orchestrating the murder of 15,000 people at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, a torture and death camp that was previously a school?)

Short of facts, Moir has turned up her hyperbole dial to an ear-bashing eleven. I say: let’s turn it back down again. Here are a few facts:

An ICM survey for the End Violence Against Women campaign in 2006 found that 42% of young people know girls whose boyfriends have hit them, and 40% know girls whose boyfriends have coerced or pressurised them into having sex.

Research in schools shows a wide prevalence of sexual bullying, with boys glorying in playing sex chatline messages from their mobile phones, and female classmates being called “whores”, bitches“ and “hos”.

Womankind Worldwide’s work in schools has shown that young schoolboys routinely talking of “smacking” girls to make them “pay” for their behaviour.

Amnesty’s Safer Schools report showed that, globally, one reason families don’t allow daughters to go to school is a fear that she will be sexually harassed by staff or classmates.

Jan Moir seems to recognise that there is a serious problem with violence against women in Britain, but doesn’t see that any half-decent prevention initiative has got to include schools. Instead, she affects to believe in a fairy-tale world of doting parents and innocent, well-behaved children. Yes, it would be great if all parents inculcated values of mutual respect and tolerance in their children, but that’s not on the cards in the foreseeable future. And in any case it doesn’t absolve schools of their key educational role, including teaching about real things like domestic violence.

If that’s too scary a thought, well maybe it's worth remembering that some of those young kids are actually going to be seeing page seven of today’s Sun open on the coffee table at home anyway. This shows the bloodied, battered face of Rita Crombie, brutalised by her husband with a hammer and knife. Or does Jan Moir think that children shouldn’t look at photos in the paper either?


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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