Fear of male violence distorts women’s lives. It affects daily decisions: is it safe to take that shortcut? Should I avoid that empty train carriage? Assessing risk is second nature for most of us, yet the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer in London last year turned out to be an eye-opener for many men. They suddenly understood the split-second judgments that their sisters, partners and daughters have to make all the time.
The other thing every woman knows is that the criminal justice is failing in its duty to punish sexual predators. Just over 63,000 rapes were recorded by police in England and Wales in the year to September 2021 — yet there were only 1,557 prosecutions. Most rapists get away with it, and feminists have written thousands of words about the misogyny that lies behind such shameful statistics. Last year the UK’s then justice secretary, Robert Buckland, admitted that “for too long”, rape investigations have focused on the credibility of the victim rather than the evidence.
The title of Harriet Johnson’s short polemic, Enough, reflects a perfectly understandable irritation with this situation. Johnson is a barrister whose work focuses on representing women, including bringing civil cases on behalf of those who have been failed by the police and other public bodies.
She takes Everard’s murder as her starting point, arguing that it is impossible to talk about violence against women without mentioning the case: “When the details around her death emerged, grief turned to anger,” she writes.
Johnson’s book is fuelled by anger, some of it occasioned by what she has witnessed herself, such as “the prosecutor who joked to me about the likely sexual preferences of his witness”. The first half is laid out like a textbook, summarising the law on sexual violence, domestic homicide and stalking, followed by statistics that show how poorly it is applied.
The legal sections are necessarily dry and sit oddly with Johnson’s staccato exhortations to readers elsewhere in the book: “Organise. Vote. March. Rally. Campaign. Advocate. Interject. Intervene.” Does she not know that women have been doing all those things for decades, as far back as the Reclaim the Night Marches organised during the Yorkshire Ripper investigation in the 1970s? Sometimes she gets carried away by her own rhetoric, making the obvious point that “Sarah Everard was not the first” woman failed by a police culture that protects its own.
The book is more engaging in its later sections, when Johnson writes scathingly about the way women are treated by police and prosecutors — but abrupt variations in style suggest that it was hastily written. Her proposals to increase the number of successful prosecutions, such as focusing on the perpetrator rather than the victim, are sensible but not new. In that sense, the book appears to exist outside history, with little acknowledgment of a vast corpus of feminist texts and analysis. Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking book Against Our Will, for instance, identified rape as an exercise in male power as long ago as 1975.
Some readers will be dismayed by Johnson’s use of the divisive language of trans activism, reflected in phrases such as “cis-gendered” to describe biological women. But murders of natal women in the UK happen at a rate of two or three each week — while women of colour and those with disabilities experience even higher levels of male violence, as Johnson acknowledges — so it is all the more disappointing that Johnson does not think we deserve a volume in our own right.
In the end, Enough reads like a primer for readers who are new to the staggering extent of violence against women and the years of campaigning against it. It is a version of feminism that seems to have sprung into existence, fully formed, some time in the last decade.
Enough: The Violence Against Women and How To End It by Harriet Johnson, William Collins £12.99, 208 pages
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