A Violation Too Far?
The Guardian reported an interesting story yesterday, of how an undercover officer for Scotland Yard infiltrated the environments activist movement for a number of years. The interest, from the media’s point of view, lies partly in the fact that a woman came forward to claim the ‘spy’ had been sexually involved with her and other women activists.
The interest from GraunWatch ‘s point of view, lies partly in how the paper prioritised the woman’s account in their article about the case, in particular her statement that she felt ‘violated’ by this experience.
‘Scotland Yard was under pressure tonight to explain whether it had authorised an undercover officer to have sexual relationships with environmental activists after a woman came forward to say she felt violated following a close relationship with the man unmasked this week as a police spy‘ wrote the Graun journalist.
‘The woman told the Guardian that Mark Kennedy, the Metropolitanpolice officer at the centre of a growing controversy over the infiltration of peaceful environmental protest groups, had relationships with several women and may have used sex as a tactic to glean intelligence.
“He had so many friends and relationships with people in the movement that I’m questioning whether this was a tactic – or part of his task – to become more trusted or respected within the scene,” she said today. “In a general sense, there is the feeling that if somebody was being paid to have sex with me, that gives me a sense of having been violated.”‘
Now if I had been sexually involved over a period of time with a man who turned out to be working undercover for Scotland Yard, against the organisation in which I campaigned, I would be mighty upset and angry. But ‘violated’ is a loaded term. And it is one that suits the Guardian’s general stance on women, victims, sex and ‘sexual violence’.
There are many definitions of the term ‘violate’ and they are linked. It can be used to mean the same as ‘rape’:
‘violation – rape: the crime of forcing a woman to submit to sexual intercourse against her will’
Like ‘rape’, the word violate contains within it a sense of ‘trespass’.
‘violation – trespass: entry to another’s property without right or permission’
So in saying she felt violated, this woman positions herself as in some way having been ‘raped’, and ‘entered without permission’, even though as far as we know, the sex was consensual.
Also the woman’s belief that if somebody was being paid to have sex with me, that gives me a sense of having been violated.
suggests that the financial transaction between the man and his employer, Scotland Yard, has added to her sense of ‘violation’. Obviously if he was paid to infiltrate the organisation, and his employer supported him getting involved with women as part of that strategy, that is quite a serious matter.
But the Guardian has picked up on this word ‘violation’, because, I think, it fits in with their general support of feminist interpretations of women and men. This story covers a lot of bases and casts a shady light on men, the principles and economics of sex work, whilst casting women as innocent victims of men’s sexual aggression.
It is possible the woman involved found it hard to articulate how she really felt. I expect she may have come away from this experience feeling upset, angry, maybe even guilty for ‘letting down’ her co-activists by sleeping with the enemy. Maybe she felt ‘ashamed’. But admitting to this would involve painting a picture where she was not the poor, innocent victim, and I expect the Guardian may not have run with a more complex story.
You could argue that it is impossible to ‘feel violated’ as a violation is an actual act. Would you say ‘I felt raped’, or ‘I felt burgled’? It is a term that has emotive power, but doesn’t actually describe an emotion. It invokes something more.
Words are very subtle and important things. Journalists use particular words for a reason. This word, ‘violated’ fell into the Guardian’s hands who grabbed it and ran.
I wonder what words the woman will use to describe her feelings when she sees the story in the paper. I wonder if she might agree with me that they have taken her sense of ‘violation’ and used it for their own ends?
I think the word I might use is ‘exploited’. But that’s a loaded term too.