‘Consent in fact’ is victim blaming bullshit!

Laws are there to protect us and keep our society functioning smoothly. I like most law-abiding citizens believe that where there is a law there is a clear boundary, a rule to abide by which is punishable if broken. Today I want to discuss the law on sexual consent, specifically as it relates to underage sex, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.

What is consent? According to a government website, consent is basically giving permission for a sexual act to occur. There are several points that need to be considered when talking about consent but for my point, I will mention just 3. According to section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, A person must have (1) the freedom and (2) the capacity to consent. Under the law in England, persons under 16 do not have the freedom to consent, because the legal age that they acquire the freedom to consent is 16, thus under 16’s are not free to consent. This has been decided because children do not have the capacity to consent because they do not have developed enough brains to fully comprehend the physical or emotional implications of having sexual relations. Just as their bodies have not finished growing nor have their minds. (3) Vulnerability, children are necessarily vulnerable as they are completely dependent on adults for their needs to be met, which is why The United Convention on the Rights of the Child was introduced to give children special protection during the time we define as childhood. So that they can grow into psychologically and physically healthy adults. If one of the participants to a sexual act is an adult and the other is a child then there is an inevitable imbalance of power because of the child’s vulnerability. Whatever the perceived relationship between them or the perceived consent, adults have more power than children, thus the adult is taking advantage of their position of power by engaging in sexual contact with a child.

The legal age of sexual consent varies across the world. In South Korea and Japan it is 20, in the USA it varies from state to state between 16 and 18. The worlds lowest is Nigeria where the legal age of consent is only 11. In England, the age of sexual consent is 16 and therefore anyone under that age is too young to consent to sex, thus for a person over 16 to have sex with anyone under the age of 16 is against the law. Let me clarify, the law of sexual consent is not there to stop teenagers from experimenting with each other sexually, nobody is policing what goes on in the privacy of teenage lover’s bedrooms except for hopefully the parents. The law is there to prevent adults, people with more power, autonomy and authority than children, from taking advantage of children who are vulnerable because they lack the capacity to fully comprehend sex and they do not have the freedom to consent because of their age.

 

Thus, the sexual consent law is there to protect children from adult predators and if an adult is having sexual contact with a child then there is an abuse of power happening regardless of what the child thinks or feels is happening. According to The United Convention on the Rights of the Child (UCRC) states that a child is ‘a person under the age of 18 unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age of adulthood younger.’ In England, 18 is the age that we have agreed on as a society that our children can start making adult choices and living adult lives. So, I don’t fully grasp why the legal age for sexual consent is placed at a point during childhood anyway. I argue that 18 should be the age when a person is deemed to be mature, responsible and informed enough to consent to sex with a fellow adult. I don’t know who benefits from the age of sexual consent being at a point during the most confusing time of a child’s development other than of course paedophiles; adults that want to have sex with underdeveloped children.

It is widely agreed, in England, that 18 is the point where a child transitions to adulthood although it’s obviously not an overnight change. 18 is the age when they are permitted to leave formal education, procure their own property and sign a tenancy agreement. 18 is the age when they can marry without their parents’ consent and start a family without social services becoming concerned as well as claim child benefit, housing benefit and other social support as adults to help them support themselves. 18 is the age of full criminal responsibility, when the adult court deals with criminal offences and criminals are treated more harshly, rather than youth court dealing with them. 18 is also the age when they can if they so desire, purchase and drink alcohol and buy and smoke cigarettes and get a tattoo. Before which age we don’t deem them to be old enough to make informed choices with regards what they do with their bodies. So why is the law so contradictory with regards to sex? Should we be permitting children to procreate before we permit them to marry or leave education? We are sending out mixed messages when we say they are not mature enough to understand and sign a contract but they are responsible enough for the consequences and complications of sexual relationships, especially when those relationships involve adults.

The argument about some sixteen-year-olds being fully developed and mentally mature does not wash with me. I have 4 teenagers aged 13 – 19, they are ridiculously immature, they think they are adults, they want to be adults but spend an hour in their company and it becomes obvious that these little bundles of hormones are not yet ready to take on the pressures of the adult world and I personally believe that includes sexual relationships, at least when it involves adults with adult expectations. Like I stated, nobody is policing what 2 teenagers get up to in private but the law is a clear boundary for adults to respect – don’t have sexual contact with children, it can psychologically damage them. Most of the psychological research in the world will tell you that we are not fully developed mentally until well into our 20’s, so I think we should respect childhood as a time of innocence and exploration which lasts at least until 18 and not complicate the experience of growing up further by allowing the grooming of our children into inappropriate sexual relationships with adults.

As you can imagine, given my opinion on this matter, it made my blood boil this month when I read headlines such as,

‘Scandal of child sex victim denied compensation because officials rule she ‘consented’ to abuse’ (The Telegraph).

Compensation body told Rotherham abuse victim she ‘consented’’ (The Guardian).

‘Abused children ‘refused compensation’ over consent’ (BBC)

I was livid to discover that thousands of children have been denied compensation for the child sexual abuse that they suffered because the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) claim that children as young as 13 can ‘consent in fact’ even though they cannot ‘consent in law.’ This is absolute nonsense and sounds like a feeble attempt to justify exploiting the innocence and vulnerability of children for the sexual gratification of adults. It’s disgusting and its downright victim blaming, a revamp of the ‘she was asking for it’ defence and it makes me sick. A child cannot consent in any way because they are too young to be informed enough to consent – they lack capacity. They cannot consent in fact or otherwise before they are 16 because they do not have the freedom to do so. A clear message needs to be sent in this regard, the law is the law which is currently set at 16 and should be respected or in my opinion changed to 18. A child is a child which is a person under the age of 18 according to the UCRC. It is imperative that we stop victim blaming because it serves to justify the most heinous crime against the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. Exploitation and abuse are crimes and should be punished as such and the victim should be compensated!

The United Convention Rights of the Child states:

‘Governments should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse’ (Article 34).

‘Children should be protected from any activity that takes advantage of them or could harm their welfare and development’ (Article 36).

‘Children who have been neglected, abused or exploited should receive special help to physically and psychologically recover and reintegrate into society. Particular attention should be paid to restoring the health, self-respect and dignity of the child’ (Article 39).

This is the very purpose of the compensation that is being denied to victims of sexual abuse by the CICA, to restore their self-respect and dignity.

Another problem that is created by placing the age of sexual consent at 16 is the imaginary ‘blurred line’ or ‘grey area’ between the age of 14 and 16. Now I believed, as I said at the beginning of this post that the law was a clear boundary and 16 meant 16 but on speaking extensively to the police on this issue I have discovered that they tend not to follow up reports of underage sex when the child is over 13. It was explained to me that it is because they are ‘nearly legal!’ Which I find diabolical but again it’s based on the ‘consent in fact’ argument ‘they wanted it.’ It should not matter how much a child believes they want something, it is our job as adults to respect the law and the rights of the child. Most of us wouldn’t dream of giving drugs, alcohol or cigarettes to a child no matter how much the child consented because as adults we have a duty to protect them from harm.

I think this bolsters my argument that we should move the age of consent to 18 so that the blurred line is moved to 15 rather than 13. No adult should get away with having sexual relations with a 13-year-old child. My daughter was still sucking her thumb and sleeping with a teddy bear at that age, afraid of thunder and spiders. Her biggest worry was getting her homework in on time and practising for her piano lessons and that’s how it should be. Contraception, sexual health, pregnancy and adult relationships are more than a child of that age needs to be dealing with on top of revising for their GCSE’s. If we can’t remove the blurred line that is enabling predatory men and women to sexually exploit and abuse teenagers, let’s at least try to move the blurred line.

If we change the age of consent to 18 and punish anyone above that age abusing their power and adult status to seduce and engage in sexual activity with children, then we will be sending a clear message about what we find acceptable in our society. By drawing a clearer line between childhood and adulthood with regards to sex, we may be able to start tackling the problems of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.

I would really like to know other people’s opinions on this controversial debate so please comment.

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Child sexual abuse. It’s not about race.

I’m penning this in response to Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion’s comment on BBC R4 after the Newcastle child sexual abuse scandal came to light, for those that missed it, she said, ‘what we need to acknowledge and be very upfront about is, all of these towns where these where these case perpetrators have been British Pakistani’.

She was, of course, referring to the fifth scandal of its kind to reach the public consciousness in recent years that I can recall from the top of my head, I’m sure there are others. First, the Rochdale abuse scandal hit the headlines, in 2012 nine men, the majority of who were British Pakistani were jailed for running a child sexual exploitation ring, abusing as many as 47 girls, some as young as 13. The Jay report (2013), an enquiry into why the numerous reports about the abuse had not been adequately investigated by either social services or the police, found that the authorities had failed the victims of child sexual abuse due to “nervousness” around the issue of ethnicity. However, 5 years on, Maggie Oliver, a former detective that worked on the case and then became a whistleblower, claims that the child sexual abuse gangs are still operating in Rochdale and that the authorities are still more interested in covering up their mistakes than dealing with the problem [i].

The second scandal of its kind was in Bradford with 17 perpetrators, many British-Pakistani receiving a total of 160 years in prison for sexually abusing one school girl, said to have been sexually abused by as many as 100 men [ii]. The third was Oxford where 17 men many of which were again British-Pakistani were arrested on similar charges [iii]. As I said, there were others in between but these came easily to mind and serve as an example. The BBC showed a docudrama of the Rochdale scandal, so it was fresh in the public and media minds when the fourth case of its kind hit the news. Earlier this year, six men were convicted of abusing two girls in Rotherham, between 1999 and 2001. This time all the men convicted were British Pakistani. Then of course last month, there was a similar case in Newcastle where 17 men and a woman were convicted of similar charges for offences from 2011-2014, involving 22 victims and 26 defendants facing more than 100 charges against them. Those prosecuted were mainly British-born with a range of parentage such as Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish [ii].

In 2013, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) published a study looking at “contact sexual offending against children by non-related adults”. Claiming to have found two types of group-based child sexual abuse. Accordingly, Type 1 involves targeting victims, based on their vulnerability rather than having a specific interest in children, 75 % of recorded Type 1 group abusers, were broadly classed as ‘Asian’.  The cases of Rochdale, Rotherham, Bradford, Oxford and Newcastle are examples of Type 1 group-based child sexual abuse. Type 2 are those defined as having “a longstanding sexual interest in children” 100 % of recorded Type 2 group offenders were white. The study found that Type 1 group-based child abusers tend to work in larger groups than Type 2 child abusers, who often work in pairs. There is currently more Type 1’s  coming to light, for example, in 2012 there were 57 reported cases of Type 1 group-based child sexual abuse whereas there were only six reported cases of Type 2. However, the number of cases reported does not always reflect the number of offences. Therefore, it is correct to say that there are more recorded cases of ‘Asian’ perpetrators of group-based child sexual abuse than white perpetrators of group-based child sexual abuse in the UK but that is not the end of it [iii]. Also, group-based child sexual abuse is not the most common type of child sexual abuse.

Sarah Champion also claimed such grooming gangs had been allowed to thrive because people were “more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse” [iv]. On the contrary, I believe that this type of group-based child sexual abuse is being noticed, frowned upon, reported, taken seriously and gaining the media and public attention, at long last, precisely because the perpetrators are from minority groups and it fits with the current political climate and Islamophobic trends in the UK.  Some are calling the abuse race related because the girls are predominantly white British but the CEOP study showed that it is opportunity related rather than anything to do with race.   I’m not taking away from the ordeal that these girls suffered and I am thankful that justice is being served and awareness is being raised, this I hope will lead to empowering the victims and help other victims to speak out about their experience. I hope it leads to better education on recognising the signs and dangers of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, training for the professionals involved and lessons learned on the part of the authorities etc… I’m an idealist.

But, I take issue with the media and politicians focus on the ‘race’ of the perpetrators, especially when they are a minority of cases relative to the magnitude of the issue of child sexual abuse. I believe that it is important to also keep in mind that child sexual abuse by lone offenders is much more common than group-based child sexual abuse. Up to 70% of reported abuse is by a single perpetrator, not a group. According to CEOP, in 2012, 25 police forces identified 2,120 lone perpetrators involved in non-familial child sexual abuse in 2012. In comparison, 31 forces reported a cumulative total of 65 group-based offences [v]. Furthermore, these statistics exclude child sexual abuse from a family member, which is likely to be more under reported that non-familial abuse. One study found that 20% of children who are raped under twelve are so by their father, a further 16% were raped by another family member [vi]. The fact is that most perpetrators who sexually abuse children are family members, family friends or someone else known to the child, only 4 -7% of offenders are strangers to the victim [vii]. A meta-analysis of child sexual abuse based on 331 independent samples with a total of 9,911,748 participants indicated that 11.8% or 118 per 1000 children suffered from sexual abuse [viii]. Whereas RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, estimates that 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 [ix].

Home secretary, Amber Rudd called child sexual abuse an “affront to everyone” saying that political correctness should not get in the way of uncovering crimes [x]. I totally agree with Amber, so let’s be straight, most often, it’s our own men abusing our children and this is true wherever you live, whatever your race or religion and whatever social class you are from. Focussing on one group might conveniently help us avert our minds from the truth but it’s time to face facts. It’s happening in our homes, our schools, our youth clubs, our churches. Predatory men and women are preying on children for sexual gratification, there is no point looking at the victims to find the cause because all they have in common is a lack of power simply by being children. Any child anywhere can become a victim of child sexual abuse and it is never the fault of the child. There is no point pretending that the perpetrators belong to one group that we can easily spot in a crowd, as comforting as it might be, it simply is not true, they belong to every group. Most people who sexually abuse children are male although some are women. When the perpetrator is a woman it is less likely to be reported and for some unknown reason, the reports are often not taken as seriously as when the perpetrator is a male. When I first read about a mother sexually abusing her son I found it the most difficult thing to comprehend. It seemed impossible and more abhorrent than anything I’d ever conceived of because it was someone from my group, someone like me but it happens and therefore it needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.

When Freud developed ‘Seduction theory’ suggesting that the ‘hysteria’ and ‘obsessional neurosis’ he diagnosed in his Bourgeoisie female patients was caused by childhood sexual abuse, he received harsh criticism and was silenced by his bourgeoisie peers. His fellow academics and European men of influence forced him to retract his theory, the implications just didn’t sit well. It’s an uncomfortable notion that members of your own group are doing something so abhorrent as sexually abusing their own children. We now have much psychological evidence to show the long term mental and physical health problems associated with childhood sexual abuse, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder, to see that Freud was on to something, but even he didn’t want to upset his friends by suggesting the unthinkable and facing the mirror towards them.

We also have much more evidence coming to light of how widespread child sexual abuse is thanks to so many brave victims coming forward and speaking out. We also know that many people in positions of power have failed to act to protect children from child sexual abuse when they have been made aware of it. This year we have heard about the football abuse scandal, involving 328 clubs. 276 coaches and others who worked with young hopefuls have been named as perpetrators and 1,886 incidents reported by 741 victims [xi]. I recently watched a Panorama documentary about a massive child sexual abuse cover-up within the Army, Air and Sea cadets. According to the BBC, 363 allegations have been made against them in the past 5 years for previous and current child sexual abuse. Jimmy Saville was the tip of the iceberg for the celebrity world, there have been a string of them hit the headlines since. There are also current inquiries going on into the abuse of our most vulnerable children within children’s homes across the UK. The Catholic church is known for covering-up child sexual abuse and moving priests from church to church to avoid justice being done. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice study found 4-6% of priests admitted sexually abusing children [xii].

Coincidently, earlier this year, the home office ‘lost’ a dossier of 114 files containing evidence of an alleged Westminster paedophile ring from the 1980’s. It smells suspiciously like a cover-up and makes me wonder about the people who are currently running the country and holding positions of power [xiii]. I also wonder why some people who work in the police force and social services don’t take child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation reports as seriously as they should, or treat them as urgently as they could. I’m puzzled at why some judges are lenient on child abusers and how compensation can be denied to a child that has suffered from sexual abuse because they consented ‘in fact’ although they were too young, in fact, to consent by law [xiv]. Are these men and women in positions of power simply protecting their own in-group? Is it too difficult for them to see a predator when it looks just like them? Or is there something more sinister going on?

Focussing on British-Pakistani, Asian, Muslim or any racially or religiously defined group and projecting all the evil that embodies a child abuser onto them will only serve to facilitate and hide the real predators. This type of projection has happened throughout history, for example, the African rape myth in America in the 19th century, where the fear of black men raping white women resulted in the castration and lynching of many African Americans, when it was the white slave owning class raping African slave women that were the real threat and commonplace occurrence. Similarly, the Aboriginal child abuse scandal which facilitated the widespread removal of children from their families by the authorities under the mistaken belief that they were sexually abusing their children. It is now well documented that it was the white Christian missionaries that were abusing Aboriginal children in group homes during the stolen generation. This also occurred in Canada with the First Nations people and in America to the Native Americans [xv]. It is also the habit of man throughout history to call someone a savage for the crime of seeming less civilised than himself by his own judgement and then savagely raping his wife, hacking him to death in front of his children and burning them in a heap, like rubbish. But I’m going off on a tangent.

We find these predators, that look like you and I, in positions of power and trust, positions where they have easy access to children, working in schools, children’s homes, youth clubs, coaching teams, churches and government. But we also find them everywhere else. They are fathers and uncles and grandfathers and friendly neighbours, wives, sisters and mothers, they will take you in and earn your trust and that of your children because they are just like you. So, what we need to do as individuals is to be vigilant, watch closer, listen harder, trust our children’s worries and ask about their nightmares. Take an interest in their friendships and their fears. If you work with children listen to them, know the signs and take notice, you might be their only life line. Most importantly, don’t be a bystander, report any concerns you have about a possible child at risk or an adult being at all inappropriate with a child to the local authorities immediately. We also need the authorities to take reports seriously and act on them in a speedy manner. We need judges to be less lenient. We need to stop brushing this issue under the carpet, acknowledge the magnitude and pervasiveness of the problem and tackle it head on together.

[i] http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/maggie-oliver-three-girls-rochdale-13027724

[ii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-40879427

[iii] https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/what-do-we-know-about-the-ethnicity-of-sexual-abuse-gangs

[iv] http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/839509/Britain-towns-cities-asian-grooming-gangs-Newcastle-Rochdale-Rotherham

[v] https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/what-do-we-know-about-the-ethnicity-of-sexual-abuse-gangs

[vi] https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-child-sexual-abuse-statistics-3533871

[vii] Rowan, E.L., 2006. Understanding child sexual abuse. Univ. Press of Mississippi.

[viii] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marinus_Van_IJzendoorn/publication/51068956_A_Global_Perspective_on_Child_Sexual_Abuse_Meta-Analysis_of_Prevalence_Around_the_World/links/00b7d53208b0b73999000000.pdf

[ix] https://search.proquest.com/openview/374725fd20d9287d1ce5c68c821d0b80/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

[x] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40895268

[xi] https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jul/23/sexual-abuse-football-investigation-clive-sheldon-appeal-for-victims

[xii] https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/779/article/what-caused-crisis

[xiii] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/05/lost-child-abuse-files-home-office

[xiv] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/17/child-sexual-abuse-victims-denied-compensation-consented/

[xv] Bull, S. and Alia, V., 2004. Unequaled Acts of Injustice: Pan‐Indigenous Encounters with Colonial School Systems. Contemporary Justice Review7(2), pp.171-182

Human Rights and Refugees

Human rights are the fundamental basic rights protecting the freedom and dignity of all people. They are indivisible, interdependent, universal and inalienable, encompassing civil and political rights and social and cultural rights. They are enshrined in the United Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR (1948)), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR (1966)) and the International Covenant on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR (1966)) and various other covenants. Their purpose is to protect citizens against abuses from the state, whilst specifying the duties of states to protect their citizens and provide ‘a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services’ (Article 25, UDHR). Human rights are important because they are the only protection citizens have against the state, they also place legally binding obligations on states, once codified into international or national law and ratified.

Whether a state has ratified a treaty or not, they may continue to violate human rights, treating their citizens in ways that offend humanity. Hence it is sometimes deemed necessary for the international community to intervene when mass human rights abuses are occurring. Such as in Syria, Human Rights Watch (2017) reported widespread abuse and daily forced disappearances, arbitrary detention and thousands of deaths in custody caused by beatings, torture, starvation, disease and suicide. Such treatment of civilians by their own government caused six million people to be internally displaced and motivated some members of international community to go to war in Syria. Conversely, using human rights as a justification to go to war can seem counter-intuitive to some, considering the mass human rights abuses that occur during such conflicts including loss of lives.

The conflict in Syria, caused approximately five-million Syrians to flee their war-torn country in search of refuge abroad, which is a human right. ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’ (Article 14, UDHR). Refugees and asylum seekers are not globetrotters looking for the country with the best benefit system and health service. They are not seeking to replace nationals in the job market or put added pressure on the social housing sector or public schools. They are people, human beings that have been uprooted from their homes, communities and countries due to extreme life-threatening conditions and forced to embark on dangerous journeys in the search of safety, for their survival. People fleeing conflict have already been exposed to life-changing horrors that were out of their control, added to that they lose family, friends and all that is known to them. Many of them suffer from long-term mental and physical health problems as a result of their experiences. Only to face further rejection and discrimination on their harrowing journeys by states and citizens alike. They are often villainised by the media, and suffer untold abuses en-route, especially unaccompanied women and children who are targeted by traffickers.

The United Nations International Refugee Convention (1951) and it’s 1967 protocol help protect refugees, guaranteeing basic rights and services to enable them to live an adequately good life. But it confers no right of assistance until they reach a signatory country, making them one of the most vulnerable groups on the planet. Over 4000 drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016 because state leaders are reluctant to take responsibility for them, partly because public opinion towards these desperate individuals is somewhere between unsympathetic and hostile. Even refugees and asylum seekers who manage to reach a signatory country safely, are too often held in detainment camps in inhumane conditions where they continue to suffer, with no access to medical care, basic amenities or education for their children.

Human rights are supposed to apply to all human beings but when people become stateless due to conflict, their rights seem to become worthless. How can we change it? By seeing all human beings as equal in rights rather than compartmentalising the people of the world into a fictional hierarchy of nationalities and races. Let’s value human life equally and make sure that everybody has the right to life’ (Article 2, UDHR), no matter where in the word they are born.

Boxes

Boxes

I have a real bone of contention about boxes, I don’t mean the boxes which gifts arrive in or purchases from Amazon or boxes which store our possessions while we move house, on the contrary, I once worked in a factory where I made and packed boxes into other boxes, a repetitive and monotonous job which gave me lots of time to develop my thoughts about boxes. I’m talking about the boxes we tick on the forms we fill in, whether they are application forms for school, college, university or work, or registration forms at the doctors, dentist, job centre etc. These boxes force us to identify with concepts such as race, gender, sexuality which are divided up into discrete homogenous and often binary terms such as male or female. We attribute features to these concepts, which help us to predict individual’s behaviours and responses to us, such as warm, kind and nurturing for a female and dominant, confident and strong for a male, these are stereotypes, each culture I’m sure has its own.  These stereotypes are then available as cognitive shortcuts to help us make decisions about people without any conscious effort. Which is great, because it leaves our cognitive resources available to think about more important stuff like Facebook, and what to make for dinner, and what to wear on Friday night so that I look great but not like I’m trying too hard, or whether the universe is a projection from a black hole or just a bubble in a series of bubbles.

However, I see a problem or two with this, firstly, the very act of categorising ourselves in this way creates divisions and according to, oh so much psychological research, this is the minimal condition for in-group bias and out-group discrimination to occur. Which basically means that people who tick the same box as you, in any given category will treat you better than they treat those that don’t tick that box. This works both ways, of course, those who tick the other box will be less generous towards you as they will favour the people who tick the same box as them. Also, mere categorisation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ causes us to exaggerate the differences between members of our group and the members of their group. This applies to gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, age class and ‘race’ which is a term I particularly take issue with as I refuse to recognise that the human race has such sub-divisions. However, I acknowledge people have racial identities, I believe that these like all identity positions are socially constructed through language and discourse and maintained by subscribing to these concepts and ticking the boxes available. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one group will deliberately favour other members of their group. No, this happens unconsciously so a white male is more likely to give another white male a job or a promotion than say a black male or a female, (oops the feminist slipped out).

Secondly, group relations are power relations, which becomes a problem when one group has more power than another group and yet has a bias toward helping members of their own group in favour of members of other groups. Can you see how this could lead to inequalities such as the distribution of resources, jobs, promotions, and equal pay? Not only can members of dominant groups abuse their power if they so desired they could also unconsciously prevent members of other groups from advancing their positions. Especially in societies where the majority rules, like the democratic ones in the UK and USA. It isn’t in the interest of the dominant group to advance the position of the subordinate ones. In fact, it is directly against their interests and most of us humans are self-interested and egotistical, at least in capitalist societies such as the UK and USA where competition and individualism are encouraged and altruism, dependency and collectivism strongly discouraged.

Thirdly, we all have these cognitive biases, like stereotypes, that we rely on, our families, friendship groups, neighbourhood, education, society, religion, culture, and in our day and age especially, the media all contribute to creating them and maintaining them. Some really cool experiments with brain scans have revealed that when we see a member of our ‘out-group’, that’s somebody who didn’t tick the same box as us on some form because they were either born in a different country or happened to be a different colour, gender or sexuality to us by birth, the amygdala lights up, a primitive emotional response tells us to beware.

Amygdala

Sometimes, people become extreme in their attachment to their own group and discrimination of other groups, often if there is a perceived threat to their own group or members of their group, it can spill over into prejudice and conflict, there are plenty of examples of genocide throughout history premised on the idea that one group is superior to another. There is good news though, education can dampen down this unconscious response and we can consciously override our unconscious biases if we make the effort to see all people as individuals with a whole set of variable social identities, rather than social objects that can be grouped together like they are a homogenous group with fixed attributes. Unfortunately, to be conscious of your thinking processes takes effort and higher cognitive functions which I don’t think racists, sexists or homophobes have.