Nadine Dorries, abstinence and abuse

Thursday, 19 May 2011

She's known for being the politician who's teamed up with self-described religious fundamentalists and used fabricated statistics to push her completely anti-choice agenda. She's had very public fall-outs with bloggers and threatened journalists. She's the woman who admitted, when questioned about her expenses and second home, that:

"My blog is 70 per cent fiction and 30 per cent fact. I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another."

No wonder it's been said that she's Britain's answer to Sarah Palin. I'm talking, of course, about the car crash that is Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, who's hitting the headlines afresh this month - not because of friendships with fundamentalists and bust-ups with bloggers, but because of her latest agenda: abstinence education.

Earlier this month Dorries proposed a bill which would mean girls - and only girls - between the ages of 13 and 16 would receive abstinence education. Somewhat worryingly, despite being founded on yet more fabricated information it passed its first reading.

As those of you well-versed in the major issues surrounding teaching of abstinence-only sex education in the US will know, the attitudes involved in this sort of 'education' need to be combated. I think we all agree that it did major damage in the years it was implemented Stateside and although Dorries isn't advocating an abstinence-only approach, the hallmarks are all there. Only teaching girls about it, for a start. Saying things like:

"Girls are taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no to a boyfriend who insists on sexual relations."

It's plain to see that her approach to young people and sex is incredibly one-sided, as well as that she seems to be ignoring the fact that teens are already most definitely taught that it's okay to 'say no' and that they definitely should if they have any doubts about the situation.

This week, however, Dorries has gone one step further. Appearing as a guest on Channel 5's The Vanessa Show on Monday, host Vanessa Feltz suggested that teaching children they can 'say no' already happens and that it already happens in an appropriate and sensitive way. The MP replied:

"Well do you know that’s really interesting because...if a stronger just say no message was given to children in school that there might be an impact on sex abuse."

Not content with putting the onus completely on girls to take responsibility for sexual activity, she now appears to be saying they should also be taking responsibility to prevent being abused.

Immediately and understandably, there was uproar. Supporting abstinence-based sex ed is one thing, blaming girls for being abused because they should have "just said no" is another. She moved on to linking the whole thing with high street shops selling bikinis to seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds learning the facts of life.

I don't really want people like Nadine Dorries dictating how things get done in this country. In addition to the list of embarrassments surrounding her, we now know she's the sort of person who holds these really quite damaging views about sexual abuse, its victims and its perpetrators. The idea that young people should be able to prevent sexual abuse from happening simply by saying "no" is ignorant. It's an attack on people who might already feel very much at fault for what happened to them and it lets abusers off the hook.

Since she made these comments I've seen tweets and posts from survivors of abuse, appalled at her insinuation that "saying no" could have stopped it from happening, that their abusers would have listened or that they were at fault for "letting" it happen. Posts like this one at Nightmares & Boners, entitled "Nadine Dorries Thinks I Was Asking For It", where Vanessa tells her own personal story and says:

"To say I am insulted that someone would insinuate that I caused my own abuse is an understatement. But this isn’t just about me, this is about everyone who isn’t able to live with the memory of what happened to them. It’s about children who even now are being abused and being blamed for their abuse: by their parents, by their abusers, by Nadine Dorries."

Vanessa ends by encouraging people to contact Dorries and express their feelings about her remarks and I think that's a good idea. It probably won't make her change her mind; she seems fairly set on promoting her unpleasant agenda no matter what. But maybe it'll give her food for thought.

At present, when she's criticised, she doesn't take it well. A recent interview in the Sunday Times had her ranting about those who don't agree with her, saying she "makes no apologies" for being sexist and lashing out at her critics on Twitter, calling the site a "sewer" full of "Trots" and the "socialist elite".

It's probably asking far too much to expect anything resembling an apology. But we can make more people aware that people like her are in government and they're out to cause nothing but damage.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via Juliette Culver's Flickr.


Koralimba said...

Great post, Hannah! It really is surprising that there hasn't been more of an outcry over her recent comments. Hopefully your blog post will reach a lot of people.

E V E L Y N said...

She is the most evil woman with any power right now in the UK. Seriously, we need to pressure her to resign or something. Women cannot afford to have people like that in politics.

Akela said...

I would like to think that ND was trying to say "one of the big problems with abuse and abusers is that they make their victims feel like it is there fault, if children recieved better sex education they might be more likely to not believe that and seek help" I want to think that's what she meant but that she is just such a hopeless excuse for a public speaker that it came out all wrong.

I want to believe that because the alternative is to believe that she believes that victims are to blame for being abused. And for a human being, let alone one with the privelage of being elected to represent her constituents to parliament and the givernment, to think that really is horrible.

Hannah Mudge said...

I'd like to think that too, Akela, but you can never be sure! I'd like to see her at least clarify what she meant, or apologise that it came out so badly if that's not what she meant. But an apology doesn't seem to be forthcoming!


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