Sex offenders in single sex spaces – where’s my movement?

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On the 2nd and 3rd August 2021 respectively The Telegraph and The Times published articles on policies that allow trans identified men into women’s single sex spaces in hospitals, including men who had been convicted of sex offences. Devon, Oxford and Nottinghamshire Health Trusts state that risk assessments would be undertaken, however this would not necessarily bar a man with a sexual or domestic violence offending history from being able to enter a single sex ward, one can only presume because his internal sense of gender identity takes precedence over the risk this may pose to women…

The Telegraph article goes into a lot of detail, having interrogated the policies of 20 separate NHS trusts. NHS professional disclose how women in mental health units are locked in these wards and allegations of rape have been made. The government already knows this as in 2018 the NHS came under fire for applying trans-inclusive policies in hospitals (resulting in mixed sex wards within mental health provision), which led to serious sexual assaults against women, and the UK government now assert that wards should be “genuinely single sex” (Department of Health UK Gov, 2018, p.157). But it appears from today’s news, the transgender ideological policy capture is taking priority over DOH guidance in some NHS Trusts.

It is vulnerable, elderly and confused women who are residing in these wards, right now, as we speak, and as Dr Lucy Griffin has warned “One organisation is suggesting that any woman who objects to a male on a single-sex ward is put in seclusion, as in a psychiatric setting.”

The social movement one would expect an outcry from is my own, the male violence against women sector, I would think they would have a lot to say (and even as I write, I live in eternal hope that they do…). Vulnerable women are being put at risk, their privacy, dignity, and safety is being compromised at a point where they need and deserve the best care. Male sex offenders are being given access to women’s spaces under sex self-ID policies, and it is not just the NHS policies, we know that women in prison have been left just as vulnerable, and been subject to attacks, but still not so much as a whisper from my movement…

Let’s stop and really let that sink in…male sex-offenders are able to access females in a space that should be reserved for them whilst they are at their most vulnerable, and the male violence against women movement have said nothing, not one thing.

I have said it before about my own movement, the silence is deafening on this debate, hence the research I undertook. But there is perhaps another reason why organisations aren’t stating the bleedin’ obvious, and why they aren’t coming out fighting for women who are being put at risk of male sex offenders in their spaces. The NHS treat female patients who raise their discomfort with men in their spaces as transphobic and compare them to racists and as I tweeted this morning, some male violence against women organisations do the same.  

We can see that this concept of educating women and comparing views of those who oppose gender identity policy capture as racist within the Transgender Equality report (this report led to the 2018 consultation/s on the Gender Recognition Act 2004). When talking about single sex spaces, Morton, of the Transgender Alliance, states that male violence against women services “would work to educate” women to accept men who identify as women in a refuge, and a further submission likened single sex exemption policies to “apartheid” (House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, 2016, pp. 28-29).

Look a little deeper into my movement and we can evidence this concept is written into guidance for service providers. For example in Scotland the Stronger Together  guidance, for trans inclusion in male violence against women (MVAW) services, states that if female residents feel uncomfortable with transwomen in the refuge they should be educated in the same way as they would for racism (Stronger Together, 2015 p.15). This is further asserted by participants in the research Stonewall undertook which asked professionals who work with female victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence their views on accommodating trans identified men in women’s spaces. Again some participants stated they would seek to educate in the same way they would for racism or other equality issues (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p. 14,15)*.

Let’s be candid here, this means that MVAW organisations would be ‘educating’ a traumatised woman, who is objecting to a man in her space. They would be ‘teaching’ her that the man in her space is in fact a woman and in spite of the simple request of wanting her own space to heal, or any trauma responses she may be having, she is told her responses and requests are wrong and they come from her ‘bigotry’ and ‘transphobia’…

Both the aforementioned reports (Stronger Together and Stonewall) make references to risk assessments, they also claim the concerns that sex offenders will access single sex spaces are baseless. On the first point I don’t agree that the answer to this issue is a risk assessment, I defer to Karen Ingala Smith’s speech to the Scottish parliament on the reasons why, as she says everything that needs to be said, and I completely agree with her. On the second point, sex offenders have accessed single sex MVAW spaces to offend, it is not a baseless claim and you can see examples within my research – starting with the introduction chapter.

So here we are. The movement that was set up by feminists, with the sole purpose of defending and speaking up for women who are subjected to, or may be at risk of, male violence, remains silent.

A woman may today have raised her voice about her elderly Mum, or she may have had to speak up for herself. She may have said that she doesn’t want to share her ward, her toilet or her shower with a man and for doing so she may have been accused of being transphobic and treated as if her behaviour was the same as racism…The male violence against women’s movement remain silent because some of them would treat her exactly the same if she was in their refuge.

The rest of the movement, the women who think these policies are horrendous, are still silent…maybe because they are too afraid to challenge their sisters and the policies of their own organisations… (believe me, it’s hard, I know this and I sympathise)…

But the end result is the woman raising her voice on that ward today is left alone, abandoned and with no support, she may be worried that she is going to be raped, she may be experiencing flashbacks and her mental health may be deteriorating…she should expect the feminist movement to come out to bat for her but instead she is left out in the cold and labelled a bigot.

I don’t think that’s ok, so I will keep speaking up…will you?

Dr Shonagh Dillon

*See my research for opposing views on Stonewall’s findings – Chapter. 6

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