If you beat up a woman, you should do time. End of story

"Perpetrator programmes" risk supporting the abuser more than the abused.

Can you imagine the reaction from the majority in Britain if it were suggested that those arrested for rioting and looting should avoid court and prison but attend classes on "Why it is bad to loot and steal", funded by the tax-payer. Think for a minute what would be said if those who set fire to cars, smashed windows with hammers, and stole as much as they could carry were told that if they signed up to a few session in which they explored the "issues" that led them to committing such crimes, they could stop worrying about punishment.

Much of the left and the right would unite in sniggers on this issue, and for good reason. Whether or not the crimes warrant a community service or probation order, fine, or, for the more serious acts, prison, we tend to believe that those who wilfully commit acts of violence and destruction that results in the harm of other people should face some degree of punishment.

Less so, it would appear, if you have beaten up your female partner and smashed up her property. Almost as soon as the phrase, "domestic violence" -- which often includes rape, stalking, serious injury, psychological torture, and other despicable acts -- is mentioned, it seems that someone pipes up about sending the poor men on a "perpetrator programme".

Of course I accept that there are differences between court-mandated programmes and those run by independents, such as the horrendously woman-blaming Temper!, in which warnings are issued about a "feminist approach" to domestic violence, and maintains that men are the real victims.

Perpetrator programmes involve men joining up with other abusers and attending group sessions in which they discuss and are challenged on their violent criminal actions. But are they more supportive of the abuser than the abused? Do they in fact leave the women in more danger than if the men had been dealt with in the same way as other violent offenders?

Davina James Hanman, director of the London-based charity Against Violence and Abuse (AVA), insists that perpetrator programmes are not the "soft" option. "For most of these men -- tightly trapped in traditional notions of masculinity -- prison is the soft option compared with deconstructing your feelings and behaviours. Frankly I'd rather someone tried to change his behaviour towards women than he be banged up for 23 hours a day brooding on the 'bitch' that put him there."

Maybe the problem is that "traditional sanctions" are a mere slap on the wrist? But this is also the case for rape, and yet we do not (yet) suggest that those thought to be guilty of such a serious crime attends a course to talk about his unhappy childhood rather than face the court: unless that rape is committed within a context of domestic violence, of course.

There is no reason why classes re-educating men about stopping their violence against women cannot be run from prison, and prison alone. You beat up a woman, you should do time. End of story.

These men are life-threatening. They ruin the lives of the children who witness it, and often end the lives of their victims. Why should we treat them as though they are "ill" rather than making a choice to inflict pain and misery on someone they profess to love? Do we really want these men sitting in a circle weeping about how their mother didn't love them, and deciding which flower their penis best resembles?

Because perpetrator programmes are becoming so accepted (only for crimes involving forms of violence towards women, interestingly) the appeal is spreading. A recent government inquiry into stalking legislation posed the question as to whether "treatment programmes should be available for perpetrators and, if so, what should be their content?"

The most common form of stalking occurs after the end of a violent relationship, The largest-ever survey on stalking found that many of its 745 respondents fear that they will be killed, or driven to kill themselves. It is risible to even consider removing such dangerous men -- most of whom are abusers of women -- from the criminal justice system, and giving them a soft option.

So long as we think of domestic violence as being the odd slap and kick, and fail to acknowledge that it more-often-than-not involves sexual assault, horrendous, long-term harassment and, for two women every week in England and Wales, death, perpetrator programmes may sound reasonable to many as a way to change behaviour. But in reality, we are treating these men differently from other violent and dangerous criminals.

Julie Bindel is a journalist and feminist campaigner. She tweets at @bindelj

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Low fat, full fat: why the diet industry keeps changing its mind

A new report illustrates just how disillusioned the diet industry has become, at the expense of everyone else.

Another year, another wave of dietary fads. Most seem to surface in the summer, when new nutritional advice claims to provide the panacea to everyone’s health woes: “Eat clean get lean!” “The simple secret of intermittent fasting!” “The paleo way is the only way!” “Six weeks to a super you!”

However, despite the barrage of diet books, the expansion of nutrition research and the growth of education about healthy living, global obesity has more than doubled since 1980.

It may be that this is due to the conflicting information constantly issued from the diet industry. “Eat lots of protein – it’ll speed up your metabolism!” “Too much protein will damage your kidneys – reduce your protein intake!” “Superfoods are a vital source of antioxidants!” “Superfoods aren’t so super at all!” “Don’t snack it will make you pile on the pounds!” “You should snack – it’ll stop you from binge eating!” It’s no wonder people aren’t sure what to eat.

The UK launched its first dietary guidelines in 1994, which have since been continuously revised to form the guide now known as “The Eatwell Plate”. The dietary guidelines recommend plentiful carbohydrates “such as rice, bread, pasta and potatoes”, at least five portions of fruits and vegetables, some protein, some milk, some dairy and minimal saturated fat.

However, a recent report serves to highlight the confusion consumers face when it comes to food: it claims that the official advice on low-fat diets is outright wrong, even damaging.

Led by the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration, the report (not peer-reviewed, it’s worth noting) attacked a host of official health proposals. It claims that “eating fat does not make you fat”, and criticises Eatwell Plate’s small fat allowance. The report also stated that saturated fats have been unfairly demonised, as there is allegedly little evidence to suggest that they cause heart disease. Meanwhile sugar consumption should be dialled down to zero, apparently, and calories shouldn’t be counted, as an abundance of them won’t cause obesity. Also, forget about the exercise - apparently a bad diet can’t be outrun, according to the report.

Professor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “As a clinician, treating patients all day every day, I quickly realised that guidelines from on high, suggesting high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the universal panacea, were deeply flawed. Current efforts have failed – the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists.”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist and founding member of the Public Health Collaboration reinforced this by saying the guidelines were “perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history, resulting in devastating consequences for public health.” Under current dietary guidelines, obesity levels have indeed increased in the UK, with nearly two-thirds of men and women overweight or obese, costing the economy more than £3bn per year.

In the face of such starkly opposed sides - both backed by seemingly reputable experts who claim all their research is based on empirical evidence - what are consumers meant to do?

The vilification of fat

In 1983, it was recommended that overall dietary fat consumption should make up only 30 per cent of total daily energy intake – 10 per cent of which, at most, should come from saturated fat.

The recommendations came from a number of research papers published at the time, which suggested a link between saturated fat intake and increased levels of LDL cholesterol – the cholesterol which has been connected to increased risk of heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis.

An even simpler reason for the suggestions boiled down to this: fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates – nine calories per gram versus four, to be exact. This shape to future official guidelines, and gave birth to the low-fat high-carbohydrate mantra. Fat was cemented as public enemy number one.

As a result, the fat eliminated from people’s diets was to be supplemented with an increased intake of carbohydrates. Tipping the scales in favour of carbohydrates were promises of weight loss as a result of higher fibre content, elevated levels of serotonin to aid sleep and boosts in mood from feeling fuller.

But obesity levels continued to soar, and health experts shifted their focus to the next culprit: carbs.

The low-carb era

An analysis by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition combined the results of 21 studies and found that “saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease”. Other studies demonstrated the positive effect on testosterone levels in men from increased saturated fat intake, and have noted increased levels of triglycerides (the stuff that makes you fat) from lower fat diets.

As a result, dieticians developed a deep suspicion of carbs, and sugar in particular, and diets like the Atkins regime became more and more popular.

In part, the report by the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration uses the research that propped up these low-carb high-fat diets as a means by which to attack the general consensus surrounding healthy eating. Dr Malhotra, who led the latest report, previously worked in a pressure group called Action on Sugar – a group that has tried to get the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar added to food.

The reasoning goes something like this: guidelines encouraging greater carbohydrate consumption are oblivious to the fact that sugars constitute a vast amount of refined carbohydrates. By cranking up the sugar intake we ratchet up the risk of type 2 diabetes; this in turn could spark further health problems including obesity.

The logic seems sound, and yet obesity levels have continued to soar in the face of this research. The notion that all sugar should be avoided also ignores the fact that our brains require a significant amount of glucose for optimal functioning.

Everything in moderation

In the face of an industry that can’t make up its mind about how people should eat, it’s no wonder obesity levels have grown to epidemic proportions. So what can be done?

Professor Susan Jebb, the government’s obesity adviser, believes that the current debate needs to expand beyond the battle between carbohydrates and fat. She said: “We’re eating too many calories – if we want to tackle obesity people do need to eat fewer calories and that means less fat and less sugar.” And she’s right. If decades of research have pointed to anything assertively, it’s that calories count, and paying attention to portion sizes could take us a long way.

Both fat and carbohydrates are necessary for our bodies to function. The solution? Enjoy everything in moderation. Eat fruits without fearing fructose, don’t throw away the egg yolk, get a decent amount of protein and yes, you should have your slice of cake too.