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The cautionary tale of Karen White, the transgender rapist

11 October 2018

5:34 PM

11 October 2018

5:34 PM

Karen White is a rapist and child abuser who has committed several acts of sexual violence against vulnerable people. One of the women Karen White raped was pregnant. Karen White is now going to spend a long time in jail.

Next week, a Government consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 will end. That’s the law that allows someone, for example, born male to be legally recognised as female, under certain conditions: you have to show you’ve lived in your new gender for two years, and a doctor has to certify that you have gender dysphoria or another condition that underpins your transition.

Some people think those conditions should be relaxed. They say the state has no business asking people to prove their own identity and that such rules are an unfair burden on transgender people who have quite enough trouble already in a society where they suffer prejudice and worse. The people and groups who make this case sometimes say that the “gatekeeping” elements of the gender change regime should be removed, so that a person can change legal gender on the basis of their own testimony, and nothing more.

Karen White

The ministers who announced the consultation haven’t clearly said what they think about this, but Theresa May has said she wants to “demedicalise” the GRA process, and Penny Mordaunt, the women’s minister has said similar things.

What does that slightly technical Whitehall process have to do with Karen White and the women Karen White raped and abused?

Karen White attacked some of those women in New Hall prison, a women’s prison. Karen White, then awaiting trial for rape, was in New Hall because Karen White says Karen White is transgender. Born male and still possessing a male body (including the penis used to rape that pregnant woman), Karen White was treated as a woman by the prison service, because Karen White said Karen White was a woman.

And Karen White is one of the reasons quite a lot of people have reservations about changing the law to allow people to change their recognised gender on the basis of their own testimony.

There is a common criticism of journalism and political argument on this topic, a criticism that is often voiced by trans-rights advocates and others. It can be summarised as: “By discussing trans rights and cases of abuse in the same context, you are demonising trans people and implying that trans people are sexual predators and perverts. That is harmful because it adds to the stigma some trans people experience. Please stop.”

And if that was indeed the point being made, I think that would be a fair response. 

But it’s not. The concern that has been raised about self-ID and other trans-rights policies is about safeguarding, about protecting vulnerable people from manipulative and abusive men. The expressed gender identity of those men doesn’t really come into it, except where those people might use the concept of gender to exploit those rules and facilitate their abuse.

Put more bluntly, no one is scared about trans people here. They’re scared about rapists. Some rapists say they’re trans. Get over it. 

Because acknowledging that some sex offenders will use gender laws to facilitate their abuse is no more “anti-trans” than accepting that some sex offenders used their positions as Roman Catholic priests to carry out abuse is anti-Catholic. Bad people do bad things. Anyone making, implementing or advising on policy should accept that basic fact and work to mitigate it, not cry bigot when someone asks whether that policy is open to misuse. 

One of the feminist groups that raised such concerns is Fair Play for Women.  These are the people who really sounded the alarm about transgender offenders in the women’s prison estate, with a report last autumn that was later borne out in official figures released by the MoJ. As the group’s warnings over prisons are being so horribly vindicated by the Karen White case, I hope that people in authority will pay more attention to FPFW’s most recent work, which is about domestic violence refuges and shelters.

That report makes two points that deserve much more attention in political conversation about gender, law and domestic violence. The first is that a lot of women who run and use shelters feel they can’t talk freely about this issue, for the familiar reasons that they will be accused of transphobia, lose their jobs and lose funding for the services they provide for vulnerable women.

The second, and more fundamental, point is that the people who run shelters and refuges believe that laws proposed to make life easier for transgender people will also have the effect of making it easier for abusive men to abuse women.

The report, based on the accounts of domestic violence workers and volunteers, makes abundantly clear the fact that the sort of men who wish to hurt, rape and kill women will take every opportunity to do. One shelter manager with 37 years’ experience told FPFW researchers:

With self-ID policies we will effectively be giving the keys to women’s refuges to abusive men. If that happens, beyond a shadow of a doubt, women will die. Never ever underestimate the potential for abusive men to track down, find and torture their victim.”

Perhaps you think that’s hyperbolic or excessively dramatic. If so, consider again the case of Karen White.

In 2016, the Prison Service put in place a policy that was intended to make life easier for transwomen in custody. That policy meant Karen White, a rapist and child abuser, was able to gain access to vulnerable women and sexually assault them. In the words of the prosecution in White’s latest trial, White is a “predator” who sought to “use a transgender persona to put herself in contact with vulnerable persons she can then abuse.”

Those words were spoken in a trial that ended in Karen White being given a life sentence and the judge telling White: “You are a predator and highly manipulative and in my view you are a danger.

The Karen White case came about even after MPs had been given clear warnings by several experts that dangerous and manipulative predators like Karen White would try to exploit gender laws and rules in order to abuse women. They failed to act on those warnings and properly scrutinise the rules involved in the Karen White case.

Now, that Fair Play for Women report about domestic violence shelters gives MPs and other people in power another chance to do better. They have been given a clear warning by the professionals who spend their every waking moment dealing with the harm done by abusive men and trying to protect women from abusive men, that such men will try to exploit laws on gender change to find, abuse and kill women.

What will it take to persuade them to listen to that warning this time?


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