A Member of Parliament – an honourable member – googled ‘tractors’ on his mobile phone – he’s a farmer – and up popped pornography.
I don’t know what the farming community of South Yorkshire made of that, but as excuses for bad behaviour go, I don’t think I have heard anything less convincing.
But does it matter?
I think it does, and not just for the obvious reason that all pornography exploits the one whose body appears in the films and footage. What concerns me as police and crime commissioner is what this is telling us about the culture we are now living in and in which our children are being raised. Pornography is a major industry and easily found by children.
Those who work with young people speak about young males accessing pornography all the time – because it is so easy to do. According to a 2014 survey, more than half of 11-13 year olds and two-thirds of 14-15 year olds admitted to watching pornography. Pornography was their sex education. Young males are acquiring harmful gender stereotypes about how males behave towards females and what women want of their sexual partners that will impact on their future behaviour towards females, and at an earlier and earlier age. This is why it matters.
When I read each morning the Chief’s Log – a summary of the principal activities of the police in the previous 24 hours – I am frequently depressed by the number of sexual assaults they have recorded. But I am even more depressed when occasionally I read the ages of some of those concerned: the rapes by teenage boys. It is not surprising that we have a major cultural problem of male behaviour towards females if watching pornography is increasingly what children do.
When I was young, there were certain magazines that sat on the top shelf of the newsagent’s shop. What was once out of reach is now only too easily available and children growing up in otherwise caring homes can be exposed to today’s equivalent of the top shelf – and worse.
If we are serious as a society about changing the culture that leads to male violence against women and girls, this is one further aspect we must tackle.
A text of terror
Against that background I briefly reverted to my previous occupation on Sunday when I went to preach at evensong at The Queen’s College, Oxford. The chaplain asked me to speak about violence against women and girls and my role as police and crime commissioner in the light of one of the lessons being read. (If you want to look it up, it was 2 Samuel 13.1-20.) This was a story of domestic abuse – the rape of a beautiful young woman by her half-brother. Although she was a royal princess, this did not stop the violence against her and afterwards she faced shame and ruin, living a desolate life. It is a terrifying story and as you may imagine, not one that is often read.
However, it gave me a chance to point out two things to the students and staff of the college. First, that most violence against women and girls is not from strangers but from within the household. And second, domestic abuse is a crime that involves people from all social classes. We all, therefore – especially men – need to have our underlying attitudes and behaviours challenged.
Many of the young people in that relatively privileged congregation are on the brink of having influential careers in business, the professions, the armed forces, parliament, and, yes, the police. If domestic violence is to be rooted out, there is no social group that is exempt, as the lesson reminded us. Given how long ago that royal rape took place – about 900 years BCE – it also suggests that misogynistic attitudes are likely to be deeply and unconsciously embedded in all of us. We should not underestimate the task of making a difference.
Hexthorpe Park in Doncaster is a real gem.
But I would never have found it were it not for a Community Payback operation. This is where people do unpaid work in the community as part of their sentence, supervised by the Probation Service. The only cost to groups that make use of them are any materials that are used; the labour is free. It is often the cost of labour or the physical work involved, that defeats community groups when they want to repaint their village hall or clear some space to make a garden or litter pick over a wide area.
In this case, the men from Community Payback were working in Hexthorpe Park and I was invited to go and see what they had done along with the Probation Director for Yorkshire and the Humber, Lynda Marginson.
Although I have been many times to Hexthorpe, walking round the area with the local councillor, Glyn Jones, the MP, Rosie Winterton, the mayor, Ros Jones, and the local police, I had never before noticed the park. It is stunning – with impressive tree-lined walks, sunken gardens, a very noisy aviary, a bandstand and little dells. And there is a community cafe run by the family of the Chair of the Friends of the park, Steve Ressbeck. Well worth a visit.
The men on the payback scheme have been working there for sometime and in many respects have restored it to its former glory. Their supervisor told me that the men were mainly local and were very proud of what they had achieved. They were working on the landscaped area by the bandstand when I went. He had little doubt that in the future they would want to say to family and friends, ‘I did that’. And that all helps to make the community more generally proud of what they have and want to keep it looking good.
Community Payback projects are hard work. But they can help offenders regain some sense of worth and see that there is value and satisfaction in doing a job well – all of which helps in their rehabilitation. And, of course, the community gets its beautiful park restored.
(If your community could benefit from Community Payback, the Probation Service is looking for projects and I would encourage you to get in touch.)
And so to Dinnington.
I went to a meeting of Dinnington Town Council last week with the District Commander for Rotherham, Chief Superintendent Steve Chapman, the local inspector, Chris Blake, and two officers from the neighbourhood team – Ryan Everitt and Laura Cooper. It was one of the most encouraging meetings I have attended in a while. And I got a cup of proper builder’s tea. My thanks to Councillor David Smith and his colleagues.
I spoke about the new Police and Crime Plan for South Yorkshire – Safer Streets More Police – and answered questions. The District Commander had come with a wealth of local statistics about crime in the area and the outcomes of arrests and court cases. The councillors were thoughtful but also passionate about their town – which is exactly what local councillors should be. We all recognised that if we are to make Dinnington a good place to live and for businesses to thrive, we need to get on top of crime and anti-social behaviour and that means everyone working together to that end.
This has not always happened in the past but what I think is now making the difference is the way the local inspector and the neighbourhood police team (NPT) are making a determined effort to get to know more intimately the people and the place and to be more visible in the town centre.
Previously, the police had been using the Resources Centre as a drop-in place, but this was not centrally situated on the main shopping street but a little way down. The council offered their own offices, next to the Lyric, and the NPT are starting to use that. The more the officers get to know the councillors, the retailers and members of the general public, the more local intelligence can be shared and the more reassured people feel.
As one councillor said to me at the meeting. ‘It’s not rocket science.’
Stay safe and well.