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“It’s the hardest time of year”: why domestic violence spikes over Christmas

Many women fear the festive period. Not a year goes by when we don’t see a seasonal rise in incidents reported to the police.

For most of us, Christmas conjures up images of crappy cracker jokes, sickly mulled wine and a haze of Christmas parties. But for others, Christmas is the most feared time of the whole year. Domestic violence rises significantly during the festive period. Not a year goes by when we don’t see a seasonal spike in incidents reported to the police.

As you’d imagine, the combination of financial pressure, free-flowing alcohol and being cooped up in closed quarters, exerts additional burden on relationships. In an abusive relationship, this pressure is manifold.

Like many victims of domestic violence, Charlotte Kneer, 45, dreaded Christmas. “It’s the hardest time of year. The violence is so much more poignant. Everyone ran around to make sure he didn’t get upset. Hyper-vigilant to whether he was going to lose it,” she explains.

With booze on tap, things spiralled out of control. “He would drink to enable himself to lose his temper, it was deliberate. Alcohol was an excuse to use violence. He would drink all day and where most people would have dropped unconscious on the floor, he’d carry on. The lights would be on but there would be nobody home. He’d just end up beating me up”.

Unsurprisingly, their kids picked up on what was going on. “Regardless of whether they saw anything, the likelihood is, they were hearing things. Stress was underlying everything,” Kneer tells me. “At one point, I got protection orders placed on him but when I went back to the property a few days later, he had smashed the whole place up, smeared blood all over the walls and smashed the kids toys”.

As with many abusive relationships, the violence was cyclical. “Usually every six months, something completely random would trigger it. On one occasion, I had folded up his clothes and put them on his pillow instead of putting them away. He got on top of me and started strangling me. He was repeating over and over again, like some crazed mantra, ‘I’m going to kill you’”.

Crouched in the corner naked, Kneer had nowhere to turn. “The kids were in the house. Even so he got a bag off the wardrobe and started throwing presents that the kids had wrapped up for me at me”.

Like many perpetrators, Kneer’s partner would go into apology mode after a violent incident. “He’d go into what he called ‘creep mode’. He was so calculating and manipulative that he even had a name for it. People often think ‘why didn’t you leave?’ There were so many reasons”.

In the end, Kneer finally gained the courage to leave him. After pressing charges, going into hiding and waiting 14 long grueling months for the case to come to court, he was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011. “But the effects echo down the years. I met him 21 years ago. I’ve got two children with him and my daughters lost their dad”.

Kneer now manages a refuge in the South of England and is currently supporting a number of survivors over the Christmas period. “There’s a definite spike in incidents at Christmas time and ex-partners are a lot more likely to get in contact so we provide extra support,” she tells me.

Kneer is not alone. Across the country, refuges and police forces are currently preparing for a rise in domestic violence cases and referrals. Take Humberside Police Force where 54 per cent of calls to the police relate to domestic violence during December. The figure is just 38 per cent for the rest of the year.

“The amount of calls we receive about domestic violence in December is frightening. We know that this is a tough time of year. Things escalate,” reflects Laura Gawthorpe from Humberside Police. “At this time of year, we check on victims who are still in an abusive relationship but have decided to drop the charges. We also check on our current and previous perpetrators”.

Across the country, the picture looks equally bleak. Last year Sussex Police arrested 262 people in connection with domestic violence  double the previous year. What’s more, according to UK government figures from 2012, assault and domestic murders increase 25 per cent during the festive period and incidents go up by a third on Christmas Day itself.

Bombarded with images of the perfect nuclear family gathered around the gold baubles of a Christmas tree, it can be easy to forget that Christmas is a time of coercion, punishment and violence for many women. Instead of being a time of year to be happy or to be grateful, it becomes a time of year to be on edge. After all, the slightest deviation from perfection – burnt pigs in blankets or the wrong gift choice – can quickly escalate.

On top of this, Christmas is often the only time of year that isolated women are around friends and family. This gives rise to the additional angst of hiding injuries from loved ones.

While incidents of domestic violence rise at Christmas, calls to the National Domestic Violence Helpline actually decrease during the festive period. According to Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, this is because, “Many women want to keep it together for the children and so they wait until Christmas is over to call. Plus, if they are in close quarters with the perpetrator, they are probably being monitored very closely.”

Although phone calls die down, significantly higher numbers of women join the Women’s Aid Survivors Forum during December than any other time of year. This is because women are able to get online but can’t risk their safety to make a phone call.

While Christmas has always been a difficult time for victims of domestic violence, sustained cuts to services mean this year could be even harder. In a country where a third of local authority areas have no specialised support services left, women are being left with literally nowhere to go.

To put this into context, nearly a third of referrals to refuges were turned away because of a lack of space last year. In turn, we are left with a dire situation where women are routinely being housed in wholly inappropriate temporary accommodation and may even be surrounded by ex-offenders.

With two women killed every week by a partner or ex-partner in England, it is clear that cutting services is endangering women’s lives and damaging children’s lives. For many women, this Christmas will be harder than you could imagine. What starts as a row can quickly become deadly.

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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.