Journalism is failing women

We deserve to know the sex of dangerous criminals

Artillery Row

Luigi Pirandello, the great Italian playwright, wrote that life has the privilege of not needing to be plausible, the way art has to be. Surely he would have thought the story of a man who rapes women and then says he is a woman would be too absurd to commit to paper. 

After all, there should be no clearer proof of being a male than raping a woman with your penis — just as there should be no clearest proof of being a female than giving birth. This is why gender theory proponents are so insistent on dislodging and negating these linchpins of our understanding of ourselves as sexed human beings. Hence the insistence that women rape, too, and that men give birth, too. It will take a long time to establish what physical and mental damage is done to children whose mother was on a steady diet of cross sex hormones and who were told their mother was their father. Much more immediate is the damage done to the women who are forced to share female services and spaces with male rapists claiming to be women. 

Sometimes this claim of womanhood is so preposterous, generating such negative backlash, that it is withdrawn. The Scottish Prison Service was perfectly willing to incarcerate double rapist Isla Bryson in the female prison estate, but the public’s reaction was so intense and negative that Nicola Surgeon had to declare in parliament that the decision had been reversed. 

It is exceedingly rare for women to commit sex offences against children

Most times, it happens a lot more insidiously. A female pronoun to describe a rapist or a paedophile, with no photo of the offender in the news, is all that it takes to present these most male of crimes as having been committed by a woman. To challenge this narrative means to enter a Kafkaesque nightmare, as I experienced for myself. 

On 20 February 2020 the Lancashire News published an article about a woman, Julie Marshall, being arrested for possessing more than 80,000 indecent images of children. It is exceedingly rare for women to commit sex offences against children. Usually when they do so, it is as accomplices to male sex offenders. The article did not have a photo of Marshall, and it used female pronouns throughout. It did add that Julie Marshall also used the alias John Robert Marshall, however. 

I wrote to the newspaper to ask for clarification. Was this a biological male without a GRC, a legal female (so a biological male) with a GRC, or a biological female who liked to use a male alias?

The editor, Luke Beardsworth, replied stating that Blackpool Magistrates’ Court had confirmed Marshall was legally a woman. He added this was a decision made by the police. Whether someone is a legal female can only mean two things: they were born female, or they were born male but had since acquired a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Mr Beardsworth also referred to GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Guidelines, which recommend that the word transgender not be used in headlines. This is not accurate, as GLAAD Guidelines ask to avoid phrases such “sex change” and “born a man”. The editor also added that they had a responsibility to refer to Marshall as a woman and that a legal female does not become less of a woman for having committed a crime.

These arguments seemed to me overkill: if Marshall had been legally a woman, that would be determinative. So I persisted. If Marshall had a GRC, revealing their male name would have been a potential breach of their privacy under the GRA. Additionally, I questioned why the Lancashire News was following the reporting guidelines of a North American organisation like GLAAD. 

The court record reported the individual as being of the male gender

The editor claimed he was following GLAAD Guidelines under his ethical, not legal responsibility to do so. This is certainly a novel approach to newspaper reporting, cherry-picking which reporting rules a newspaper ought to follow. He also claimed not to be aware of Marshall’s transgender status and that she was referred to as a female in the police and court reports, which is of course downgrading the previous claim that Marshall was a legal female. The use of the alias was reported but not questioned. His answer seemed to conflict with his previous statement on following GLAAD’s Guidelines about not revealing a person’s transgender status. How could the editor have taken the editorial decision not to reveal Marshall’s transgender status if he was not aware of such status?

I still was none the wiser. As a reader of the Lancashire News, what was I to make of it? Was Marshall a woman who liked to use a male alias? Certainly for paedophiles, it makes more sense to use a female alias, as it makes you look less likely to be a sex offender. Was Marshall a transwoman who wanted everyone to know they were once a male? That would be most unusual. Was Marshall a man who used a female name and his male name as an alias? Then why was everyone pretending he was a woman using a male alias? My brain was reeling. 

I tried one last time. On 24 February, I wrote:

I am sorry this answer is not sufficient. A person with a GRC does not use male and female names as aliases. Please confirm this person has a GRC by asking the police and please amend your article accordingly. As presented, the facts make no sense. Is this person a biological woman, a legal woman or a biological male? This is not clear and it is extremely relevant to the allegations. 

And you also have ethical responsibilities towards women and towards children. I am extremely offended if a male paedophile is presented as a woman. Also, parents need to know if people committing offences on children are male or female. You are obfuscating and failing to report the facts  accurately. I do not care if the police is recording this person as a female on the basis of self ID, which is not the law in the UK. You have an independent obligation to report facts accurately, not to be a mouth-piece for the police. 

It is fair to say by this time I had lost my patience. The editor did not reply. On 25 February, I informed him that I had contacted Blackpool Magistrates’ Court to obtain the court record. 

I received it on 5 March. The court record reported the individual as being of the male gender. Regardless of the interpretation one gives to the word gender (biological sex or legal sex/gender identity), the record was clear that Marshall was recorded as male by the court and presumably by the police as well. 

I informed Mr Beardsworth. I never heard from him again. 

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