In this podcast the abuse team discuss CSA and gender after Sussex Police was criticised by the home secretary for “policing pronouns” after it said it would not tolerate hateful comments about a child sex offender’s gender identity.
The Home Secretary intervened after a row erupted about jailed Sally Ann Dixon.
Dixon had committed the crimes as a man, and some Twitter users objected to police referring to Dixon as a woman.
Sussex Police hit back against “hateful comments”, but Ms Braverman accused the force of “playing identity politics”.
The force apologised and deleted the tweet.
We are not going to get into a debate about the use of pronouns and gender issues. We recognise the need for respect, and that we represent survivors of CSA for many varied backgrounds internationally.
The row began with a press release issued by Sussex Police after Dixon was jailed for 20 years.
Headed “Woman convicted of historic offences against children in Sussex”, it said: “Sally Ann Dixon, 58, of Swanmore Avenue, Havant, Hampshire, was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court after being convicted of 30 indecent assaults against her victims.”
At the time of the offences, Dixon was John Stephen Dixon, but in 2004 changed gender to female.
The press release led to questions from social media users about why Dixon had been called a woman and how the crimes had been recorded.
The force replied on Twitter: “Hi, Sussex Police do not tolerate any hateful comments towards their gender identity regardless of crimes committed. This is irrelevant to the crime that has been committed and investigated.”
It added: “If you have gender critical views you wish to express this can be done on other platforms or your own page, not targeted at an individual.”
The home secretary intervened, tweeting: “Sussex Police have done well to put a dangerous criminal behind bars.
“But they’ve got it wrong by playing identity politics and denying biology. Focus on catching criminals not policing pronouns. #commonsensepolicing”
Sussex Police apologised, removed tweets about the case and issued a statement which said: “An earlier reply to a comment on Twitter was inconsistent with our usual style of engagement; we apologise for this and have removed the comment.
“We recognise the rights of the public to express themselves freely within the boundaries of the law.”
The force said it had reported factually on the findings of the court which heard that, at the time of the offences, Dixon was living as a man, adding: “The relevant offences were recorded as being committed by a male.”
- For us the case highlights the following:
How the fact that serious offences were committed by an individual can get lost by the use or misuse of language. If for argument’s sake gender was an issue why use it? Dixon could be referred to as Dixon.
- The importance of accuracy because we find that victims and survivors often only come forward and disclose when they have seen media coverage for example the conviction of their abuser. Therefore, we need to be very careful to ensure that any reporting is precise and not inadvertently confusing or misleading, or capable of creating doubt.
- It is of course a serious concern that a sex offender could change identity and gender which has the potential to cause management challenges in and out of prison. How are the risks associated with this to be assessed and managed?
If for example sex offences are committed by a person who identified themselves as male at the time he committed them, but subsequently they were of another gender e.g., female or pansexual but had not obtained a gender recognition certificate how is the justice system to treat them?
This question leads to a series of further questions and there are not always easy answers?
- If convicted, are they sent to a male or female prison?
- Would they have to be segregated?
- If on release how is on-gong risk managed given that sexuality may have been an issue in the offending (it may not have been of course)?
As a society we have recognised that gender and sexuality are complex issues and the law has evolved to reflect this, but as we continue to learn we are discovering that these complexities generate questions that we have yet to find answers to.
What we do know that all of us involved in the justice system there are victims and survivors behind the horrendous offences committed and they need to always be treated with respect. To get side-lined by the gender of the perpetrator runs the risk of inadvertently losing that respect.