The Spectator

Melanie Phillips on a nightmarish conspiracy against half the population.

How men get screwed


Melanie Phillips exposes the great conspiracy against men the victims of a sexism that is not only legal in Britain today but mandatory

by Melanie Phillips
The Spectator (U.K.)
June 10, 2000

ONE of the many mysteries of our age is why the British establishment has declared open season upon half the human race. Men are being systematically robbed of their reputation, their children and their purpose in life. The people responsible for this sexual warfare are sober women and men in suits -- pin-striped, rather than boiler -- not to mention wigs and gowns.

If what is routinely thrown at men was directed at any of our fabled victim groups -- women, black people, gays -- society would stand condemned of the most vile prejudice, discrimination and even persecution. Yet the vast majority of people either don't know how the dice are being loaded against men or, if they do have an inkling, think deep down (or not so deep) that, well, they really do deserve it.

You think this is exaggerated? Consider the review of sexual offences which is about to be published. Through judicious leaks, the government has indicated that it wants to toughen up the rape law because not enough men are being convicted. So it intends to skew court proceedings against them to make them less able to defend themselves against a prosecution.

Just think about that for a moment. Suppose the government said, for example, that not enough women were being convicted of shoplifting so it was going to make it more difficult for them to mount a defence. Unthinkable, isn't it? That's because the implication that women were naturally shoplifters would be preposterous, that artificially inflating the number of convictions for shoplifting to fit this false stereotype would be grotesque, and that it could only be done by junking our most precious legal maxim that a person is innocent until proved guilty.

Yet this is precisely what is being proposed in rape cases. The government intends to change the definition of consent to sex, the common defence against the charge of rape, so the defendant will have to prove that the woman did in fact consent. Lawyers are divided over whether this would technically mean reversing the burden of proof. All agree, however, that it would make it much more difficult for a man accused of rape to defend himself. And that's because the government assumes that all men accused of rape are guilty.

In fact, the evidence suggests this is completely untrue. Home Office figures for 1996 showed that 25 per cent of rapes reported to the police were false or malicious or the complainant withdrew the charge. In a further 39 per cent of reported cases the police or the Crown Prosecution Service took no further action because the complainant and suspect knew each other and so the circumstances were ambiguous; and a further 7 per cent of cases resulted in an acquittal.

Yet the government not only fails to acknowledge this, but also uses statistical jiggery-pokery to produce a false picture of soaring rapes and thousands of rapists escaping conviction. True, there was a fall in the conviction rate from 24 per cent in 1985 to 9 per cent in 1997. Yet that may be because freer sexual behaviour makes rape claims more untenable. While 'stranger rapes' are very rare, 'date rapes' between acquaintances have soared from 1,300 in 1985 to 5,000 in 1996, almost half of all reported cases.

Rape is without doubt a most heinous crime. Yet most reasonable people would probably think that being jumped on in a dark alley is a completely different matter from having second thoughts, sometimes in retrospect, about a bloke with whom you've gone home after a party or with whom you've already been sleeping.

Anti-man prejudice, in fact, runs through government thinking. Baroness Jay and her Women's Unit constantly fork out the old chestnut that one woman in four is assaulted by her partner. In fact, most British domestic violence studies on which the government relies for such claims are effectively rigged; they ask only women, not men, for their domestic violence experiences, mainly from self-selecting samples of abused women. Yet reputable international research shows overwhelmingly that acts of domestic violence are initiated by women upon men at least as frequently as vice versa.

Asked why the Women's Unit had made no reference to all this research, Jay replied that the government couldn't get involved in such 'subtle' issues. Instead, it resorts to unsubtle threats to pursue feckless 'deadbeat dads' for child support, promoting the impression that fathers routinely desert their children. In fact, many fathers desperately want to continue to parent their children after divorce but find that the courts put huge obstacles in their way, even if the men have acted blamelessly while their wives have not. Family court judges tend to force

fathers to prove they are fit parents, prove they are not violent or feckless. By contrast, they assume that mothers are generally the best parent for the child to live with, regardless of how they have behaved.

Of course, some men do behave very badly towards their wives and children. Divorce barristers, however, estimate that no more than about a third of the husbands they see are violent, and that both women and men cheat on each other in equal proportions. Yet the courts are institutionally biased against husbands, ousting them from their homes on the slightest pretext, stripping a man of his children and his assets even if his wife has gone off with a lover and his own behaviour has been exemplary. The judges will also accept a wife's claims that the man is violent on the basis of no evidence, in a system where it is impossible to mount a proper cross examination of her allegations. Yet on this pretext they will deprive a man of contact with his children.

Lack of contact with their children is a source of immense injustice and misery for many fathers. Lawyers say a typical scenario is this. Mother decides to divorce because she's got a new man. The easiest way to get rid of Father is to claim he's been violent to her or the children. The father leaves or is ousted. His access to the children is governed by a contact order made by the court on the advice of a court welfare officer. Yet the mother has the whip hand in controlling the father's contact. He finds regularly that the children are too busy to see him. When he turns up to see his children, it's often the boyfriend who tells him to push off. Yet somehow the mother seems able to persuade the court that she is entitled to move the contact goal posts without redress.

The new president of the High Court's family division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, denied earlier this year that fathers got an unfair deal on contact although, she added ambiguously, a small minority of non-custodial fathers 'gave rise to real problems'. How could she possibly be so complacent when fathers are routinely denied contact on grounds produced by welfare officers that are so spurious as to be incomprehensible? There was the father who, in McDonald's, spread his arms to his daughter and said, 'Bet you haven't seen me in a suit before', a watching welfare officer misinterpreted the gesture, decided the child had refused to return the father's proffered embrace, and he was denied all contact with the child as a result.

Then there was the father whose overnight contact with his five-year-old was stopped because 'the child had many milestones ahead of him'; another who was denied contact because he 'had to prove his commitment'; another because 'this is the mother's first child'; another because he was 'over-enthusiastic'; yet another because 'the child fell asleep in his car on the way home'. One child of 13 hadn't seen his father for eight years because he was led to believe that an injunction against his father prevented it. No one—certainly not his mother— had told him that the injunction would last a maximum of three months and that for most of that eight years he had every right to see his father. And so on and so, appallingly, on.

The disastrous impact of fatherlessness upon children is well-documented. The impact on fathers is less well-known. Some are driven to nervous breakdowns or suicide; others lose their jobs as they try to visit their children who have moved to a different part of the country. Of course, there are men who walk out on their wives and bust their families. But the majority of men are divorced against their will. The pain of family breakdown becomes unbearable when compounded by the gross injustice of a legal system that under cover of impartiality so often rewards the offending spouse and punishes her victim.

How can this happen? Welfare officers' conclusions about divorcing spouses are rarely questioned by judges who regard these officers as the only source of expert advice in such cases. Until now, they have been probation officers; henceforth, they will also be drawn from the children's branch of the Official Solicitor's Department and from guardians ad Stem. Yet this reform is unlikely to do much to counter their prevailing ethos, encapsulated by a document produced by the National Association of Probation Officers in 1996. Entitled 'Equal Rights: Anti-Sexism Policy', this proclaimed that marriage subjected women to male tyranny; that society was based on patriarchal male control over women and children which extended into all institutions that the oppression of women must be challenged in the courts; and that therefore the aim of the welfare officer was to 'challenge the discrimination against women in contested residence and contact decisions'.

Such sentiments may seem extreme; but the presumption of male violence which under pins them is now common

throughout the family law system. The Lord Chancellor's Advisory Board on Family Law said last year that the courts should stop fathers seeing their children simply on the basis of allegations of violence by their ex-wives. The board's extraordinary presumption of male guilt was backed by its claim that domestic violence research indicated 'in the great majority of cases the abuser is male and the victim female', and that fathers were overwhelmingly the perpetrators of domestic violence. Yet the research certainly does not show this. Most violence against children, moreover, is perpetrated by mothers or boyfriends. A child's natural father is least likely to be violent towards it. The courts should actually be giving fathers, not mothers, the benefit of the doubt.

Many judges think mothers are intrinsically vulnerable and must be protected as they are generally to be the parent with care of the children. Yet why should this be? If a mother has gone off with her lover, jeopardising the well-being of her children and demonstrating infidelity to their father, promise-breaking deceit and selfishness, why should she be automatically regarded as the fitter parent to bring up the children?

The answer is to restore issues of conduct to divorce and the subsequent care of the children. The spurious argument that 'children's needs' must come before any other consideration means children are being used as hostages to protect adults from facing the consequences of their own behaviour. Children's needs are in fact best met by having both their parents to look after them; failing that, by living with the more responsible parent. This may even bring the divorce rate down, as has happened in America in states where mothers no longer get automatic custody.

Men are terrified of being thought prejudiced against women, not least because of an old-fashioned sense of chivalry. They look at the absence of women among captains of industry or Members of Parliament; they look at the football hooligan and the burglar from hell and they think it must be true that men are basically vile victimisers and that women are their victims. But life's a lot more complicated; and the result of such brow-beating into false stereotypes is that everyone ultimately becomes a loser.

The author is a Sunday Times columnist. Her book The Sex-Change Society, is published by the Social Market Foundation.