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“He said you wanted it”: what happened when I reported a man for exposing himself on a train

I left the court feeling unsettled, undermined and like I’d caused a fuss by reporting it in the first place.

As the cacophony of allegations against Harvey Weinstein has grown in recent weeks, initial shock gave way to the familiar creeping questions of doubt.

“Why didn’t they say something sooner?” “Why didn’t the women who took the money go to court?” “Surely not all of it was that bad?”

That people still don’t understand the pressure and challenges women face after being victims of sexual offences is beyond frustrating. It’s why, despite the improvements seen recently in the Crown Prosecution Service’s Violence against Women and Girls report, reporting of these types of crimes is still widely accepted to be woefully underreported.

Five years ago, I gave evidence against a man charged with exposure. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable as he stared at me while travelling alone on an early evening train, I decided to change carriages. As I walked past, he was openly masturbating.

The first person I came to was the train guard. Shocked, I blurted out what had happened and was told to wait while he investigated. Minutes later, the guard returned.

“He said you asked him to do it.”

Shock turned into anger. I repeated what happened with heat rising in my face. British Transport Police were called. The man apparently said again I’d asked him to carry out a sex act. Luckily, I was believed.

At 29, this was hardly the first time I'd been subject to some sort of harassment. There was the middle-aged taxi driver who repeatedly asked me to tell him my favourite sexual positions. There was the “friend” who took illicit photographs of me and a number of other girls while we were asleep. There was an endless list of gropings in nightclubs.

I can’t say I made the conscious decision to report this one incident over the others. But once the wheels were rolling, and the police revealed this was far from a first offence, I felt I had little choice.

A few weeks later, I got a phone call. The CCTV had not been on in the carriage, would I go to court? I agreed. I’d need to travel to the town he was arrested in, and it had to be a morning hearing, as he was on remand and it was the only time he could be transported to the court. That meant at least a day off work.

Among friends, I relied on black humour to dismiss the situation. But I felt embarrassed about bringing it up at my recently-started job. No-one wants to go to their new boss mere days in asking for time off, let alone for this.

At court, I was briefed by the prosecutor. Defendants can’t cross examine their victims if they’re charged with sexual offences, so there would be a court-appointed legal representative to challenge my statement on his behalf.

Sitting in the witness stand, the man in the dock opposite, I felt the same combination of sick and scared I’d felt on the train. After telling the magistrate what happened, it was time for the cross-examination.

Court appointed legal representatives aren’t there to conduct a defence case - their job isn't to get the defendant cleared. Yet the cross-examination still felt intrusive, insulting and accusatory.

Why didn't I challenge him myself? Why didn't I tell anyone else in the carriage? Why did I go straight to the train guard? Was I sure I'd not had any contact with the man beforehand? No conversation, no communication? I passed so quickly, I couldn’t have seen anything that quickly, surely?

“You said he was staring at you, but it's not illegal to stare at someone,” the defence representative said, as the prosecutor shook her head and prepared to interject.

“No, but it is illegal to expose yourself to a stranger on a train,” I replied, my face flushed and voice tipping into anger.

I couldn’t get out of the court soon enough. Outside, I was greeted by a kind woman who said it was all over and I could put it out of my mind. Did I regularly take public transport by myself? Yes, I answered.

I left the court with some leaflets about victim support and a brand-new rape alarm.

Weeks later, I was told he’d been sentenced to 16 weeks but wasn’t serving it yet because there was another case ongoing. I didn’t find out any more.

I was the victim of a non-violent sexual crime and two witnesses - the train guard and BTP officer - testified that he had essentially admitted exposing himself, albeit that he tried to blame me for what happened. There was no defence lawyer who was being paid with the sole intention of mounting a case against me. And yet I didn't leave court feeling like justice had been done, I left feeling unsettled, undermined and like it was somehow still my fault. I’d caused a fuss by reporting it in the first place.

If this is what women who report even fairly straightforward matters to police are put through, is it any wonder people are reluctant to report? What happens when there are no witnesses, the defendant is known to the victim, the woman can’t bring herself to report what happened immediately?

This is why reporting rates remain low. And it needs to change.

The #MeToo campaign is highlighting just how many people have been subject to sexual harassment and assault - but it needs to be the start, not the end.

I fully-support the solidarity and strength of everyone who speaks out about harassment and abuse, but as with anything that easily retweeted, I worry it risks being drowned out by the next meme or hashtag.

Up until now, I haven't said #MeToo. I feel it is unfair that the emphasis remains on those who've suffered abuse to share and relive those experiences in an effort to drive serious change. But I applaud everyone who has done so. I know it's not a decision that people take lightly.

It’s increasingly becoming accepted that sexual harassment and assault are widely experienced, but that’s the problem - it’s accepted.

There needs to be shift-change in the way reporting sexual misconduct is viewed. People need to stop asking why women - and men - have delayed reporting when the reasons are clear and numerous.

We can see how wide the problem of sexual harassment and abuse is. Now let’s work to make sure the perpetrators are held accountable, instead of the people who’ve endured it.

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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.