How to predict a policy failure

As soon as the Coalition Government started cutting the flood defence budget in 2010, it was as predictable as the water cycle what would happen next: within no more than a few years and probably within the lifetime of the government which made the cuts, there would be heavy rainfall, resulting in massive floods, and a backtrack on the cuts – emergency spending if not a change to the planned budget – either way, a tacit admission of failure.

This sort of thing seems crashingly inevitable to me. There’s an obvious trajectory, of reduced budgets, reduced regulation or reduced oversight, followed by conspicuous calamity, followed by attempts to mop up the mess which generally involve reimplementing whatever system had originally been in place to prevent the calamity.

I’m not here to congratulate myself on uselessly predicting the flooding crisis (also, because I never went on record predicting it, so there’s no proof I ever did). I want to teach you how to predict similar balls-ups in the future, because the depressing thing is, it’s not that difficult.

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Eve teasing, or, as we call it in the civilised world, sexual assault

In Pushkar, on the 9th November 2013, a group of Indian film students interviewed me for a documentary about “Eve teasing”. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I think it was roughly along the following lines.

Every single one of the girls here has suffered either sexual harassment or sexual assault in India. The girls who’ve been living and working here for a long time get it constantly. The one who are just visiting have been assaulted already in the short time they’ve been here. At best, they put up with non-stop staring and lecherous comments. At worst, they’ve been groped and violated on public transport, in crowds, anywhere that they can’t stop men getting close to them. This problem is endemic; it happens everywhere, all the time. This is a country which is not safe for any women, but for Western girls especially, it’s simply not possible to come here without receiving harassment or assault from Indian men.

The fact that you have ‘ladies only’ sections on buses, and ‘ladies only’ carriages on metros, provides a short term fix, but it’s not a long term solution. Think about about the implication. By having these carriages, by¬†needing to have these carriages, what you’re saying is that Indian men cannot be in close proximity to women without sexually violating them. And it seems that it’s true. This should be a source of deep shame to your entire country. It’s not surprising that India is famous worldwide for being a dangerous place for women, that it’s known as the global capital of rape.

Obviously, rape and sexual assault still happens in the UK and other European countries too, and we’ve still got work to do on improving reporting and conviction rates. But at least it’s recognised as a serious crime by the vast majority of people. We don’t need ladies carriages on public transport, and women are safe using it at any time of day or night, because our men don’t try to molest them at every opportunity they get. On the rare occasions a woman is assaulted on our metro, the police investigate, and if they can catch the perpetrator, he’ll be charged, tried, and hopefully convicted and imprisoned. We don’t tolerate it as a society, and neither should you.

Notice that I haven’t called it by the name you use, “Eve teasing”. You need to stop using this term as well. Firstly because it refers to the Biblical story of Eve, it implies that these attacks are the fault of the woman, because she provides the temptation. An assault is never the fault of the victim. But secondly, it makes it sound like it’s just a game, harmless fun. It’s not harmless fun. The government, the police, the media – including you – say they want to stop this problem, but they’re still all using this term which pretends it’s not serious. So the first thing you need to do is stop calling it “Eve teasing”. It’s not “Eve teasing”, it’s sexual harassment, it’s sexual assault.

You’re not going to solve this problem – the problem that your men are so poorly trained in basic social rules that they treat casual sexual assault as part of their daily routine – until you start treating it like the serious crime that it is.

TL;DR – I gave a summary of this argument to an autorickshaw driver and tourist guide who was complaining that there are a lot fewer foreign tourists visiting India this year:

It’s because you rape too many of them.

The evils of social networks?

One of the events contributing to the current media and political fury over the evils of social networks and internet trolls has been the death of Hannah Smith, a Leicester teenager who committed suicide after apparently being bullied on Ask.fm.

However, it has subsequently turned out that 98% of the anonymous bullying messages Hannah received may have been posted by herself using other accounts.

If true, this backs up my point in a previous article that blaming these phenomena on the social networks themselves is dangerously missing the point.

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The problem with #TwitterSilence

On Sunday 4 August 2013, a number of Twitter users followed Times columnist Caitlin Moran‘s suggestion of a 24 hour boycott of the site, in response to a recent spate of recent media attention on abusive and harassing tweets directed at high-profile female users. The boycott was promoted with the hashtags #TwitterSilence and #Trolliday (a pun on the common misuse of the term “troll” for online abusers).

Meanwhile, many other women and men didn’t take part in the boycott, confidently and eloquently pointing out that the way to stand up to bullying is to raise your voice louder, not to be silent.

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You’re wrong about “internet trolls” – dangerously wrong

An item which I’ve been ranting about a lot over the past year or so, and which was scheduled for inclusion in Volume 18 of The Hate List, was the misappropriation of the internet terminology “troll” by the mainstream media. The rant seemed long enough to spin off into its own post on the new tombell.net blog.

Over the past few years, we’ve heard a lot from newspapers and the like about the growing menace of “internet trolls”: nasty, ignorant cyber-bullies who hide behind the safety of their computer screens and hurl abuse and harassment at politicians, celebrities and ordinary innocent people unfortunate enough to step into their sights.

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