Sunday, 8 December 2013

78. Ferny herbivore duvet

Amanda and I are in a very loud bar. Everything she's saying is being drowned out by early 90s house music.

I am wearing a red lace catsuit with silver platform shoes. Amanda is wearing a green latex corset over a green net tutu and green striped tights with green boots. Earlier she informed me she was drinking only absinthe tonight, but we can't find anywhere which serves absinthe so she is substituting with shots of Apple Sourz.

"Ferny herbivore duvet!" shouts Amanda. She is grinning like a lunatic.

"Yes!" I shout.

"Soliciting android anal-beads sambuca?" She gestures towards the bar. The last word sounds like bad news.

"Maybe not a good idea," I say, cautiously.

"Okay, wait here by the circus!" She heads off towards the bar brandishing £20, and I resign myself to being hungover tomorrow. I look round and see that I am, in fact, standing by a large poster showing a 1920s circus scene.

I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing here. I have somehow managed to misjudge my drinking, and even through the fog of alcohol I'm annoyed with myself. I don't often get to the point where I have trouble standing up. I'm there now, and this is the point at which drinking stops being fun. I am dreading Amanda coming back and making me do a shot of sambuca. I want water, and lots of it.

But Amanda thinks I said yes, so she might be offended if she buys me a shot and I don't drink it. Bugger.

Maybe I could spill it. If I stand a little further out on the dancefloor, I could dance around a bit and then accidentally spill it on the floor. Not a bad idea.

At that moment I look round and see a short bald man standing next to me staring at me intently.

"Hi!" he says.

"Hello," he says. "I'm a happily married man."

"Good for you," I say, scanning the bar for Amanda.

"I'm Tyler Alligatorfloss," he says. Damn this music.

"Alice Chambers," I say, and we shake hands.

"I'm a happily married man," he says.

"Why do you keep saying that?" I ask. "I'm not trying to come on to you."

"What's my name?" he bellows.

"I didn't think you were that drunk, dude."



"What's my name?"

"Uh...Tyler Alligatorfloss," I say. Apparently this sounds enough like his real name to be convincing. He smiles and nods at me.

"Add me on Facebook," he says.

"Why?" I say. "You're a happily married man."

"I'm a happily married man," he says, attempting to stare deeply into my eyes. He can't focus, and neither can I, so it isn't working.

"Fuck this conversation," I say.


"Gotta go, bye!" I say and head off in the direction of the loo. It's quieter outside in the corridor and I take a moment to lean against the wall and sulk about my life. 36 years old, in a job I hate, overly drunk in a loud bar being chatted up by happily married men called Tyler Alligatorfloss.

"It shouldn't be like this," I opine, drunkenly, to the corridor.

"How should it be then?"

Chris is standing next to me, leaning against the wall. His blonde hair has grown out; it's all dark again, and I have to say it suits him.

"Better," I say. "More fun."

"You're not having fun?"

"Not really. I was earlier, but I'm not now."

"Don't you ever think you're a bit old for clothes and bars like this?" he says. "Most mid-thirties women have grown up. Settled down."

This is exactly what I was just thinking.

"Yes," I say. "I do think that sometimes."

"I mean, it's a bit undignified when you're starting to go grey." He pauses. "I'm here with Jena tonight."

I am drunk enough to be rude. "Okay, no need to clobber me over the head with subtext," I say. "Jena's younger than me, and therefore has more value on the open market. I get it."

Chris looks at me. His eyes narrow. He leans in and whispers: "You don't get it. You dumped me, you skinny old bitch. You dumped me by text. How fucking dare you? Who do you think you are?"

I sober up instantly. It's funny how quickly that can happen. I can feel the stubble on his chin against my cheek as the alcohol drains out of my body. It feels as if it has been replaced by ice. I'm shivering.

He smiles. Turns. Walks away back into the bar.

I stand in the corridor. I don't move. I don't move a muscle. Out of the three fear responses - fight, flight and freeze - my natural inclination is to deploy the least useful. I stare at the floor and wait for the situation to change. Some time later, I can't tell how long, it does.

"I've been looking everywhere for you," Amanda says. "I had a shot for you. But I couldn't find you and then it went in my mouth."

Sunday, 1 December 2013

77. People are fractals

Children die every day at the hands of people like Matthew.

Not all paedophiles are like Matthew. Like all groups of people, like punks, like feminists, like Muslims, like all the other groups people make across-the-board assumptions about, viewed from a distance the group is homogenous. When you get closer, when you look harder, it fragments into separate and distinct camps. Look even closer and the camps fragment again; people are fractals. For example, one can learn a lot just from Wikipedia. Not always a reliable source, to be sure, but for things like scientific classifications it's usually reliable as these are things which are easy to spot and update and wiki-geeks thrive on that kind of thing.

Wikipedia tells us that Holmes and Holmes, 2002, looked at types of paedophile and their psychological profiles and came up with seven classifications.
              Does not prefer children, but offends under certain conditions.
      Typically has relationships with adults, but a stressor causes them to seek children as a substitute.
      Morally indiscriminate
      All-around sexual deviant who may commit other sexual offenses unrelated to children, otherwise meaning some rapists are so into raping they pretty much tend to rape everything that stands still long enough.
      Often mentally disabled in some way, finds children less threatening. (Having learning difficulties unfortunately does not preclude having physical sexual feelings. As a society we like to pretend it does, and we make no allowances for the sexuality of people who are physically or mentally disabled. Because people with learning difficulties are not very good at the finer points of social interaction, their response to frustration is to act to relieve it. A lot of the time they genuinely don't understand why they are not allowed to do so, or that they're harming the other person. My personal opinion is that people who fall into this particular group could probably benefit from some kind of government-sponsored sex worker scheme, but I don't think Britain is there yet. And nor are we likely to be there any time soon.)
              Has true sexual interest in children, ie a fixed orientation emerging before or       during  puberty and stable over time. Still is non-consensual and causes significant harm, though, so let's not start making coming-out banners for paedophiles just yet.
      Sadistic and violent, targets strangers more often than acquaintances. Why, hello there Matthew. You have your own classification. How nice for you. Did you know I still have a knife scar on the left side of my ribcage?
      Little or no activity with adults of own age, described as an "overgrown child."

Interesting. Even with this basic information, we already see the fractals. We see that an autistic man who has no understanding of his crime and offended because he was sexually frustrated should be handled differently from a sociopath like Jimmy Savile who offends because he can.

As a society we will blame everyone else rather than deal with the human reality of paedophiles.

We rave and rant at the social worker who should have removed the child. The legal system which lets sex offenders out. The mental health worker who should have picked up on the signs. The teacher who should have seen the bruises. All these cries for heads to roll and local authority witch hunts and we ignore the elephant in the room.

A paedophile is not a monster, but an adult human being. He or she makes a decision to force sexual contact on a pre-sexual human. And that decision belongs to that person. It's not anything to do with anyone else. Other people should keep an eye out, yes. They should be aware of the signs. But the majority of the blame has to rest squarely on the shoulders of the person who fantasised about child sex abuse, planned how to do it, and then did it.

We are freaked out by sex offenders - and so we should be. They are terrifying. They damage people for life. They scare people. They physically hurt people. Sometimes their desires are so extreme that they can only be satisfied by murder. No-one wants to admit sex offenders are just another facet of humanity. That's even more scary than monsters.

We lock them up and throw away the key. We pretend they don't exist, they don't have needs, they're not people, they're not there. As a society, we are doing the equivalent of thinking that if we just stand still and keep our eyes closed for long enough the bogeyman will go away.

This does not work. It's not a question of right or wrong. Or a question of what "should" or "shouldn't" happen. It simply does not work. It doesn't work just like the much-vaunted war on drugs doesn't work. Shouting "But you shouldn't take drugs!" at people does not change the fact that they do take drugs, and debate about whether drug laws are "right" or "wrong" does not change the fact that they don't work. They do not work. I could make two phone calls and be off my face on pretty much anything I chose to ask for within three hours. So could you, whoever you are, whether you move in druggy circles or not. If you think about your circle of friends and acquaintances, I bet you can think of someone to call. Or someone who would know someone to call. No matter how straight you are, if your life depended on getting some coke, or some heroin, or some acid or whatever - you could have it in your hands within three hours. It is a huge and stupid waste of time and money and it does not work. Neither do the laws against prostitution. Neither does any other law our society has put in place to eradicate an aspect of humanity it doesn't want to admit exists.

Why paedophiles happen, we don't know. No-one knows. Whether it's genetic, a product of upbringing or a rare combination of various factors is not understood. But the fact remains they are there. They exist. Pretending they aren't human - that they are a monster in the shadows - is pointless.The problem needs to be engaged with, because if it isn't engaged with it can't be solved or contained. The only way we will ever understand why these people exist and what makes them tick is by looking them straight in the eye, talking to them, and dealing with what we see. In other words, accepting them as part of us.

We can't figure out how to change them until we've stopped being afraid of looking at them.

One final point; victims of paedophiles are also people. I am not just a victim with a scarred ribcage. I am a woman with a job, with friends, with a cat, a woman who likes Vivienne Westwood shoes and listens to Bauhaus, a woman who hopes one day to have a family and a home of her own. A woman who hates being defined by less than an hour spent in some rhododendrons 27 years ago. You need to see them in proportion, so you can see us in proportion too. The knife against your throat doesn't break you, but the media witch hunts and celebrity confessions, the way everyone goes quiet and treats you like you might start crying or attack them, the assumption that when you have been sex abused you will never have an ordinary life, that might. That just might.