Assuming you don’t rely on the BBC and Guardian for you news you’re probably aware by now of this weekend’s revelations about Sarah Champion. The feminist MP for Rotherham admitted to having received a police caution for assaulting her ex partner during their divorce after hitting him with a framed painting. The situation is all the more incredible given she’s accepted the position of shadow Home Office minister focusing on women, equality and domestic violence after committing this crime.
Readers may well be wondering how a male politician who admitted to such an offence would be treated in comparison to Champion. Fortunately, there’s no need to speculate as such a case already exists and occurred just two years ago.
in 2014, Conservative MP David Ruffley revealed he’d been cautioned for assaulting his girlfriend and many aspects of his case are remarkably similar to Champion’s. Both cases occurred behind closed doors so it’s hard to establish the exact facts of each case. Both MPs were arrested, both placed in police cells and most significantly we do know both MPs received police cautions, thus meaning they accepted their guilt in committing the offence.
Ruffley appears to be remorseful about the incident, accepting responsibility for his actions and apologising to his victim. Some feminist activists allege otherwise and that he downplayed the incident privately, though we have no proof of this, though we do know he had issues with depression and alcohol.
Champion’s stance on the other hand is there for everyone to see in the newspapers and social media. She attempts to excuse her actions by calming to have been “provoked” and even downplays her assault claiming it was a “slight altercation“.
Since the article were published, Champion made matters worse still, not only downplaying the incident but even claiming victim status. She tweeted “Huge thank you to all the survivors for your support & understanding. It means the world”. She then stated “I won’t be re-victimised!“.
Further differences emerge when examining the cautions themselves – Raffley states his caution was for “common assault” whereas Champion admitted the crime of actual bodily harm, making her crime the more serious of the two (and that’s without even considering their respective job titles).
Ultimately, the most notable difference between the two cases has been the reaction, both from party colleagues, the media, the general public and of course feminist domestic violence “charities”.
Ruffley received some support from a few members of his local constituency party, though fellow MPs remained silent. Champion on the other hand immediately received supportive tweets from feminist MPs, particularly form those usually the most vocal about such crimes. The infamous Jess Phillips, famous for laughing at the idea of discussing male suicide in Parliament, sent a tweet expressing her “solidarity” with Champion, and Lucy Powell MP claimed “This will have been very hard for
@SarahChampionMP to talk about and re-live. Other supporters of having an abuser in Parliament who’s role is to prevent abuse included MPs Caroline Flint and Seema Malhotra, who described Champion as “brave”.
The above support pales into insignificant compared to events later in the day, when Labour leader Jeremy Corby himself publicly offered his support at his Party’s Conference. The “Jeremy Corbyn for PM” Twitter and Facebook pages also issued a statement seeking to victim blame (whilst accusing others of doing the very same thing), claiming that Champion was simply a victim who had reached breaking point and fought back:
“As so often happens in domestic abuse it is when a woman in pushed to breaking point and finally fights back that the police are called
“There has again been in some sections of the media an attack and attempt to sensationalise and victim blame, instead of attempting to tackle the serious issue of domestic abuse”
“Well done Sarah, we are pleased to stand 100% behind you.”
The double standards don’t stop there either. Ruffley’s crime inspired feminist group “Ending Victim Blaming:” to set up a petition calling for him to resign. The petition, started by EVB’s Jo Costello, received huge publicity and achieved over 50K signatures and achieved its goal with Ruffley standing down in 2015. We’ve enquired as to when they’ll create a similar petition for Champion, though there hasn’t been a response yet.
The concern about MPs having a police caution for perpetrating domestic violence seemingly came from every major major feminist organisation in the UK, though this time around with a female perpetrator committing an even more serious offence they’re all completely silent, thus suggesting quite incredible sexist double standards. The following is a selection of quotes from key groups
“Let me be clear – assaulting your partner is domestic violence, and it is a crime. David Ruffley’s violent behaviour is all the more disappointing given that he has previously spoken out publicly against domestic violence. Writing on his own website, he has asserted that, “One incident of domestic violence is one too many”. Marking the White Ribbon Day campaign in 2005, he also wrote: “By wearing a white ribbon we are able to pledge never to commit, tolerate or ignore violence against women.”
“Violent men must take responsibility for their actions. Apologies are all well and good, but at Refuge we know that perpetrators frequently use violence after apologising to their partners and making promises to change their behaviour.”
I am concerned that David Ruffley has so far been allowed to retain his position
– Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge
“Given how hard it is for victims to report domestic violence, the many continued failings of the justice system’s response … and the fact that violence against women and girls, in words at least, appears to be on the government’s agenda – it amazes me that the Conservative party would turn a blind eye to the message that is sent out by allowing an MP with a conviction to continue in office, especially one who had a policing responsibility.”
– Heather Harvey, domestic violence charity Eaves for Women
“It is not enough to publicly state you have a policy. The way you deal with these matters internally is not up to scratch. If you are going to make policy in this area, you have to have your own house in order to have any credibility.”
– Holly Dustin, End Violence Against Women Coalition
If an MP who has been convicted of domestic violence is left in office, what message is that giving?”
– Eleanor Rehahn, Bury St Edmunds Branch of the Fawcett Society
Of course, certain media outlets had plenty to say on the matter too, echoing the views above:
There was, notably, no mention of whether he felt that accepting a police caution for common assault – an admission, in other words, that he had assaulted someone – in any way conflicted with his position as a member of parliament.
Seeing as the man himself seems to be all but incapable of uttering the word that defines what he did, it seems unlikely that he will be able to state the bleedingly obvious: that his position is untenable.
– Hadley Freeman of the Guardian
It goes without saying that we’ll be hoping all the remain consistent regardless of gender in domestic violence cases and call for Champion’s resignation just as they did with a male abuser. Given the track record of misandry of all the above we’re not optimistic about the chances of success but we’ll be getting in touch with them all to establish their position and encourage readers to do likewise.
If any case perfectly encapsulates the immense double standards when it comes to male and female victims of domestic violence then surely it’s this one. Male abusers of women get near universal condemnation whereas a female who commits even more serious crimes simply play the victim and get support for violent attacks, as if the abused man deserved it. Such misandry, from both senior politician and major domestic violence organisations, only makes it harder for male victims to come forward with the confidence that they’ll be believed and get justice.
What’s most concerning is not so much Champion’s minimalisation of what she did, nor her excuses for violence, but her very clear failure to learn from the experience. While Raffley previously spoke out in support of victims of abuse of the opposite sex, Champion fails to do so, and continues to marginalise and ignore the 40% of victims of domestic violence who are male. On the very same day the news broke of her crime she gave a speech about violence against women and girls. She, of all people should surely know by now that domestic violence is not a gender issue.
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