This article is taken from the May 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
In 1980s London one council decided that as gay men are oppressed, they must all be good. The results were catastrophic. Today most British institutions are similarly treating trans women as a sacred caste. Is nothing learnt from such safeguarding disasters?
Westminster’s prevention of Royal Assent is all that stopped Scotland’s gender recognition reforms allowing any man to legally become a woman by self-identifying as one. Despite their stance that “transwomen are women”, transactivists and politicians, including the former First Minister of Scotland repeatedly refused to state whether the trans woman Isla Bryson, a convicted rapist, is in fact a woman. “What’s relevant is that the individual is a rapist,” said Nicola Sturgeon when pressed for an answer.
“I don’t believe Isla Bryson is truly, and genuinely, a trans woman,” said SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf to Sophie Ridge on Sky News, when asked about Sturgeon’s disastrous attempts to pass the law on self-identification. “I think they’re trying to play the system for personal advantage.”
What is a “true trans woman”? I recall the case of Steve Wright, the serial killer of women in street prostitution in Ipswich. Many sex trade apologists, hell-bent on defending the rights of men to pay for sex, argued fiercely that Wright (who was well known to the women as a “regular”) was simply “masquerading” as a sex buyer.
Wright was a prolific punter, paying for sex with the most vulnerable women — five of whom he went on to murder — but somehow he was merely engaged in a Judith Butler-inspired discourse in gender performativity?
Yousaf acknowledges that self-identification policies are exploited by men claiming to be women yet appears to be just fine with it, even though he knows that this places women and girls in danger. The pro-prostitution lobbyists that insisted that because Steve Wright was not a punter, his heinous acts of violence were not performed by a punter, are doing the same as Sturgeon and Yousaf by burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the murky reality. Either way, their disregard for the safety and wellbeing of potential and actual victims is shocking.
Trans women, it seems, are by definition always blameless
Trans women, it seems, are by definition always blameless. Where politically necessary they cease to be categorised as trans, becoming predatory men, paedophiles or rapists. Anyone classifying trans women sex offenders as a subset of predatory men, rather than as a separate and “vulnerable” class, is denounced as transphobic.
Similarly, it’s verboten to point out that some trans women may be publicly indulging a fetish rather than expressing an identity, despite the formal recognition of transvestic fetishism as a paraphilia — one that has been associated with indecent exposure. Trans women are always innocent, stunning and brave: it’s policy.
We’ve been here before, albeit on a much smaller scale. In the 1980s, one local authority took its support for gay rights to similar extremes, enabling the institutional abuse of children in its care. Labour-run Islington Council treated gay workers as if they could do no wrong — much as trans people are treated by the SNP today.
In 1985, Margaret Hodge, Islington’s then leader, introduced a “positive action” drive to recruit gay and minority ethnic people into Council jobs, including sensitive roles working with children. So far so good. But an independent inquiry into the Council revealed how this well-intentioned policy heralded an end to effective recruitment checks and became a strong disincentive to challenging bad practice.
Recruitment in Islington was overseen by an Equal Opportunities Unit which set about removing the safeguards that might have stopped a prolific child abuser infiltrating a children’s home. Gone was a requirement to provide references from an employer — references from friends were accepted. Appointing officers were not allowed to challenge the status or suitability of these “friend” referees. Interview panels were banned from asking about disciplinary action or absence records.
The positive discrimination policy had serious unintended consequences, the inquiry found. Staff were able to exploit children for their own purposes while managers felt unable to discipline or dismiss staff from marginalised communities. “It cannot be a coincidence that of the 32 staff named in these records, a number fall within these groups,” the report said.
“Intelligent and well-meaning women even categorically advised the council that gay men were less likely to abuse children than heterosexual men. Those raising safeguarding concerns were vilified as homophobic,” according to Eileen Fairweather, the journalist who broke the story of the abuse.
What followed was years of violence and abuse
What followed was years of violence and abuse of exceptionally vulnerable children in Islington-run homes. The two-part Evening Standard exposé revealed pimps and predatory child abusers were both visiting, and staying in, children’s rooms. Accounts from former residents described rapes and beatings.
Children were given drugs, introduced to porn, impregnated and abused into prostitution. Their stories were supported by staff who had tried to blow the whistle. The Standard accused Islington of a “slavish adherence to a confused ideology” which allowed abusers to shelter behind gay rights and meant that Islington could dismiss its critics as “bigots”.
Concerns about pimps of African Caribbean heritage were dismissed as racist. In contrast, Neville Mighty — a Jamaican-born whistle-blower who was one of the first to try to stop the abuse — was himself accused of inappropriate behaviour, and sacked.
Margaret Hodge’s response was to dismiss the Standard’s reporting as “gutter journalism”. Her attitude was typical of Islington’s “Stalinist reluctance” to study the facts when they failed to fit the theory. “If gays are oppressed, then all gay men are good, was its simplistic credo,” Fairweather wrote in the Independent in 1995. “Men who hurt boys were not ‘gay’ — they were paedophiles.”
“Paedophiles cynically exploited the gay rights banner and those who suspected this were branded as reactionary,” Fairweather wrote. “We were all branded right-wing homophobes.” A social worker who rang alarm bells about a children’s home worker she suspected of abusing a young boy was investigated for being “anti-equal opportunities”. The boy later said he had been raped by the children’s home worker. Presenting her findings at a feminist conference, Fairweather was heckled for “abusing” children by women who had been taken in by a claim (repeated by Hodge on LBC radio and widely reported) that the Standard had bribed children to make the allegations.
In 1995, after multiple further articles and internal enquiries, the independent White inquiry validated the Standard’s journalism, concluding that Islington Council had both allowed the conditions for “dangerous and negligent professional practice” to flourish, and failed to investigate claims of abuse as it should have done. The inquiry reported that individuals were able to turn this to their advantage while the institution was “paralysed by equal opportunity and race issues”.
The same topsy-turvy approach to risk is being employed across our institutions. There’s the DBS policy which makes it easier for trans people to hide any past offending; the Scottish prison risk assessment template that is entirely focused on threats to, rather than posed by, male sex offenders in female jails; the NHS policies likening patients objecting to males on women-only wards to racists; the Police Chiefs’ guidance that says male officers may conduct intimate searches of women and girls from the moment the officer begins transition and women’s objections may be recorded as a hate crime, despite legislation stating that intimate searches must be performed by an officer of the same sex as the detainee.
Nowhere in any of these policies is there any consideration of the more vulnerable party: the child taught by a DBS-checked tutor; the mentally ill female prisoner; the old woman on a hospital ward; the teenage girl in custody. No-one is considered as vulnerable as the 6’2’’ newly-minted “woman” with quarterback shoulders and barely-disguised bulge.
The White report conceded the possibility that due to the council’s failures, child abusers were still working in children’s homes — a situation it described as a “deplorable state of affairs”. In 2017 the then council leader Richard Watts issued an apology to survivors for what he called “the darkest chapter in the council’s history”.
The last five years have seen a steady and growing stream of self-identified trans women convicted or accused of sexual and violent offences, including the former Tory councillor, David Smith, who had campaigned for gender neutral toilets across Middlesbrough.
At the same time, investigations into trans activists have revealed them as having deeply unsavoury habits or associations, or to have made violent threats against critics of self-ID. The Green Party candidate, Aimee Challenor, used his father as an election agent, despite knowing he was charged with raping a ten-year-old, then married a man who had posted child abuse fantasies on Twitter; Scottish Greens activist, Beth Douglas is under investigation for threatening tweets. The NUS transgender official, Jess Bradley was suspended after allegedly posting blog pictures in which he was exposing his own genitals in public. The result of the investigation was never announced.
Prisons data in the UK and elsewhere have consistently shown that incarcerated trans women are proportionately much more likely than other male prisoners to be sex offenders. And as long ago as 2015, the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry on transgender equality of “an ever-increasing tide of referrals [to gender identity clinics] of patients in prison serving long or indeterminate sentences for serious sexual offences”.
When the evidence points in the opposite direction, no reasonable policy will emerge out of pretending that trans people are incapable of being (or somehow less likely to be) sexual offenders. Males with trans identities can and do sexually offend — arguably at a higher rate than other males. Let’s not wait for another children’s home scandal before acknowledging this.
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