In the Guardian this week, Julie Bindel writes joyfully about how Iceland, by banning strip clubs, is leading the way in feminism.
Reading it, it feels almost crass at how it is portrayed as an undeniable triumph over the oppression and objectification of women, which indeed it would be were it not for one simple fact; the law is gender neutral. Naturally there persists a perceived bias in the shaded whisper-world of the sex industry, but nevertheless it cannot be rightly said that these laws exist to protect women alone.
But is it such a noteworthy triumph? Surely column inches would be more usefully dedicated to the flip side of the point; that by rendering all such establishments and practices illegal, they will not cease entirely, and although there may be fewer of them around, the likelihood is that without the yoke of licensing and regulation to restrain them, the workers may well be at higher risk.
Such things would peter out over time, you might argue, but the sad truth of the world is that there are always people desperate enough to accept victimisation as their lot.
A more in-depth article would have peeled back that first shiny layer of triumphant gloss and asked the pertinent questions – how are you going to protect against the inevitability of unregulated clubs? Where is the money to police those extra investigations going to come from? – rather than simply hooting in unrestrained joy.
Meanwhile, Lisa has been hard at work translating for me, as we’ve been following the development of a story over in Sweden about the town of Bjästa. The tv station SVT runs a Panorama-style show, where they focus on and investigate stories that might not have got a lot of news time, but are of sufficient interest for them to investigate more in-depth. It seems, as far as we can gather, that they got a tip about this town, that there was maybe a story about someone being wrongfully accused of rape.
So, off they went, and discovered that the story wasn’t quite as simple.
First off, the rapist, a 15-year old boy, wasn’t innocent. He had gone into school one day and assaulted a 14 year-old girl in one of the toilets. All of the evidence, forensic included, confirmed incontrovertibly that he had raped her, and he was indicted on this charge.
The boy, however, was very, very popular. So popular, in fact, that although he couldn’t overcome the evidence against him in court, he could sway popular opinion in his favour. As a result, he was pitied by all and sundry. His victim was not so lucky.
She, instead of receiving the support and care of her classmates and community, was bullied. Mercilessly so, up to the point that she had to leave school and was unable to attend her end-of-year “graduation” ceremony (in Sweden, students “graduate” from each year).
Her attacker, however, was able to. He was in the process of appeal, and was given permission to attend the church service and the graduation proper. In the church, he thanked the community for their support by handing out flowers.
Later, at the graduation itself, he raped a 17-year old girl.
Understandably, the webpage hosting the video of this report crashed, there were so many people trying to see it.
Understandably, there’s a great deal of outrage.
But how do you indict an entire community for being stupid?
Turns out you don’t. Just reading through one of the latest articles on Dagens Nyheter, the local residents are pleading ignorance, and attempting to turn the argument around with the claim of media bias. It actually makes me a little bit sick reading a quote from one of the girls who accepted a flower from the rapist in the church.
Vad visste vi? Ingenting.
What did we know? Nothing.
Same old excuse, every damn time. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t us. It was someone else that hounded a rape victim out of the town. Who was it? Oh I wouldn’t know that either. No-one knows. We’re the victims now. Some of us have had nasty emails. People say mean things about us on the internet.
Can you believe it? Some of them have had nasty things said about them on the internet. I’m somewhat lacking in sympathy on this point.
If you’re not sure how this ties altogether, think of it this way. It’s an example of how journalism can be used effectively to expose the sort of awfulness that lurks in the hearts of even the most innocuous-seeming people and places. There is no triumph in this story. There is no joy. There’s just pain, and sadness. What makes it even worse is the knowledge that for all but two people, this event will fade into insignificance.