Rapists are male

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(Credit to Karen Ingala Smith for the title)

The wonderful Murray Blackburn Mackenzie lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament on June 2nd 2021 to accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape.

I submitted a response to the parliamentary committee considering the Petition – below is a copy of my submission.

Petition 1876: Accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape:

I write in response to the above petition both in my capacity as a professional who has worked in the male violence against women sector for nearly three decades, and as an academic who has undertaken doctoral research into the issue of gender self-identification and the impact on the male violence against women (MVAW) sector. One main data theme for my research was the necessity to accurately define a woman, not least for the legitimate recording of data but more importantly for the future services we provide to victims and survivors.

The case of Karen White is a good example of where these policies lead us. It is viewed by feminists as highly dangerous and offensive when rapists like White declare they are women, their crimes are recorded and reported as female crimes (Hellen, 2019; IPSO Guidance, 2016). Subsequently, at the point they are brought to justice, the courts and judiciary will insist a male rapist is referred to as ‘she’ during the legal process, including by his victim (Judicial Institute for Scotland, 2019; Judicial College, 2018). This policy, supported by only 12% of the British public (Biggs, 2020; Populus, 2018), played out at White’s trial when the prosecutor reported: “Her penis was erect and sticking out the top of her trousers”(Biggs, 2020). One could argue this amounts to a mandate for gaslighting rape victims, hearing all court officials referring to the man who raped them as ‘she’; and further, that being forced to use this language constitutes a state-sanctioned abusive act, prioritising pronouns over the rights of female victims (Newman, 2020). Yet these are obvious outcomes which flow from an acceptance of the mantra ‘transwomen are women’. Redefining the word woman removes the biological weapon used by the perpetrator, and by referring to a male rapist as ‘she’, these policies directly oppose the language of the law which in rape is defined as “A person (A) commits an offence if: he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis” (Trans Crime UK, 2019; Public Accountability and Inclusion Directorate, 2014; Sexual Offences Act, 2003, Part 1). There are wider impacts on the trauma of victims in these instances, but also on the adequate collection of evidence and communication with the wider public. Frequently sex offenders will have abused more than one victim, and the police appeal to the wider public for more witnesses to come forward. If the recording of the crime is incorrectly asserted, the subsequent publicity surrounding an offender may prevent others from reporting, not least because they will not recognise the language of referring to their male rapist as ‘she’. This could disproportionately discriminate against women whose first language is not English.

The decision the Scottish Government make in response to this issue will have wider impacts on the delivery of services that aim to prevent male violence and support women and girls. Labelling a man, a woman, based on the concept of gender identity through recorded official police statistics will affect all services within the movement, including the legal understanding of what constitutes female only provision. Language around sex and gender is particularly important in services due to the disproportionate effect of violence and abuse being experienced by females globally. It is essential to get accurate data on all crimes of male violence because we cannot argue for services for women and girls (including services working with perpetrators) if we can’t rely on official data records.

Through my research I evidenced that women who work within the male violence against women movement, even those that are supportive of gender reform are clear of the need to define a woman as a biological descriptor. They view this as a necessity for victims and for service provision.

I am aware that a number of the VAWG umbrella bodies in Scotland are supportive of the principle of gender self-identification and the inclusion of men with transgender identities in women only services. Indeed, I understand that it is a condition of funding they receive from the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe funding stream.

However, I think it is essential to add that the results of my research evidence that umbrella bodies and lobbyists from both sides of the debate were not viewed favourably by participants or through the online ethnography data. My findings show the silence or capitulation to these issues from umbrella bodies resulted in frustration from some of their own members, the wider movement, and female victims and survivors. Therefore, it is important to debate these issues and take into consideration a wider mandate of voices from those who may have already given their views.

Dr Shonagh Dillon


Biggs, M. (2020). The Transition from Sex to Gender in English Prisons: Human Rights and Queer Theory. Socarxiv Papers. Retrieved 7 July 2020, from https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/43f2t/.

Hellen, N. (2019). Police forces let rapists record their gender as female. The Times. Retrieved 6 September 2021, from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/police-forces-let-rapists-record-their-gender-as-female-d7qtb7953.

IPSO. (2016). Guidance on researching and reporting stories involving transgender individuals (p. https://www.ipso.co.uk/media/1275/guidance_transgender-reporting.pdf). IPSO: Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Judicial College. (2018). Equal Treatment Bench Book. Retrieved from https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/equal-treatment-bench-book-february2018-v5-02mar18.pdf

Judicial Institute for Scotland. (2019). Equal Treatment Bench Book. Edinburgh. Retrieved from https://www.judiciary.scot/docs/librariesprovider3/judiciarydocuments/judicial-institute-publications/equal-treatment-bench-book.pdf?sfvrsn=3aa746ad_4

Newman, M. (2020). Warning over transgender guidance to judges. Law Gazette. Retrieved 9 February 2021, from https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/warning-over-transgender-guidance-to-judges/5103196.article.

Populus. (2018). Gender Recognition Act Survey ONLINE Fieldwork: 19th-21st October 2018. Retrieved from http://file:///C:/Users/Shonagh/Downloads/2454-A-The-Corrosive-Impact-of-TI-ppi-110-WEB%20(2).pdf

Sexual Offences Act 2003 (2003).

Trans Crime UK. (2019). About this site. Trans Crime UK. Retrieved 26 July 2019, from http://transcrimeuk.com/about-this-site-2/.

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