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Enough – The Violence Against Women and How to End It: Addressing the failings

Book review: Harriet Johnson has written a book of great lucidity, on a topic very familiar to us

Enough: the Violence Against Women and How to End It
Author: Harriet Johnson
ISBN-13: 978-0008533069
Publisher: William Collins
Guideline Price: £12.99

Enough: the Violence Against Women and How to End It, by Harriet Johnson, comes at a time of great insistence rooted in this title. Johnson is a clear-thinking British barrister, who has published what amounts to a loud and clear instruction for legal systems – not just in Britain – to address their failings when it comes to justice for violence against women and girls, and also for society to act on preventing violence. This may seem like an obvious thing, but there is always room for a book this accessible and coherent.

Enough is in three parts. Part one examines the reality of violence against women and girls in terms of statistics and case studies. Part two focuses on the justice system. Part three examines the path forward to addressing violence against women and girls once and for all.

Opening early chapters with the literal letter of the law, and detailing everything from stalking to female genital mutilation, transphobic harassment to online harassment, Enough deftly avoids becoming a grim read by adopting a stoic stance. This refined distance from prurience works very much to the book’s advantage. There’s a clinical expertise here, that resists leaning into trauma or true crime, allowing the reader to stay afloat, and not become bogged down or deflated by the terrible reality of the crimes emanating from misogyny, and how men are socialised.

What is incredibly insightful, is the contextualising of the sort of “thin end of the wedge” of violence against women, and how “smaller” infractions are all part of the landscape of harassment and abuse that can and does end in murder. Women spend a lot of time insisting that warning signs are part of a broader alarm system that should be heeded. The background noise of harassment and abuse is not ambient, it is a piercing siren that alerts women to the reality that they could be killed at any time. When people say “not all men”, the obvious response is: how are we meant to know which ones?

In the Policing Women chapter, the sting of women not being believed, or their allegations and experiences being minimised, is a brutal one

Johnson draws from law, from extensive experience at trial, and colours the text with specific (and sometimes anonymised) cases as examples of what can happen and what does happen when women aren’t listened to as they go about reporting various threats to their safety. The potency of these case studies – which almost feel like sad fables – is that the reader can relate, and if they can’t, they are then educated by these examples.

Tiny changes

Occasionally, Johnson deviates from the clear boundaries she has set herself to offer her own frank and fair point of view, helpfully reiterating things female readers will know, but also reminding male readers of the context and experience of being female in the world, such as when she explains how many women don’t notice the tiny changes they make to their behaviour in the quest to be safe. She then details the ultimate futility of these actions: “A woman was taken off the street and murdered. Don’t worry, I won’t go out. Most women who are murdered die at home. Don’t worry, I won’t stay in. A woman was targeted on a dating app – don’t worry, I have a friend nearby. I’ll call you to let you know I’m okay. I just won’t date. A woman was attacked in the street. Don’t worry, I’ll ignore him. Or I won’t, because that might make him angrier. I’ll smile and placate him until I’m in a safe space. Or I won’t, because that’s leading him on. I’ll tell him to leave me alone. Or I won’t, because that might make him attack me. The bitter reality is that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves safe… No woman can make herself small enough to be safe from this violence. No woman should have to.”

In the Policing Women chapter, the sting of women not being believed, or their allegations and experiences being minimised, is a brutal one. In detailing the obstacles women face when engaging with police, it’s obvious that such poor policing is not a succession of near misses or honest mistakes, it’s the corners not checked within the architecture of misogyny that scaffolds pretty much everything in society, where women are not listened to, ignored, or not taken seriously. As Johnson writes, “Disbelief or pre-judgment of victims is part of a culture of victim-blaming and rape denial that pervades in the UK,” as it does everywhere.

We are seeing a wave of practical and instructive books, demonstrating steps people can take in their own lives, and offering outright, the solutions for broader society

Johnson rightly and repeatedly writes that marginalised women – including but not limited to women of colour, women with disabilities, trans women, and women of ethnic minorities outside of the dominant ethnicities in a given society – are far worse off, and bemoans the lack of statistics and data that can give the UK (and it’s the same situation in Ireland) a better picture of who is suffering more, and how to then address that problem.

Systemic change

In the third part of the book, How To End It, Johnson heads her chapters with the simple but very necessary elements that contribute to effecting systemic change; political will, how to make police safe for women, a system of justice, and cultural change. On the latter, she writes, “There are two parts to the conversation about ending violence against women. One centres on how we can change society so that women can safely go where they please and behave as they want without being at risk. The other focuses on how we protect women from the society we currently have, which presents threats of violence, harassment, intimidation and discrimination at every turn. Until we have the former, we cannot stop working on the latter.”

There is a sense, as the peak of #MeToo began to flatten, that the theorising and philosophising is over. We are seeing a wave of practical and instructive books, demonstrating steps people can take in their own lives, and offering outright, the solutions for broader society.

Devoid of legalese

This is a book of great lucidity, mercifully devoid of legalese despite being steeped in knowledge and experience of the law. The topic is of course very familiar to us. What is repeated can often lose impact. And yet such repetition can also hack away at the bushel of obfuscation, especially when it is conducted, as here, with such clarity. Soon, an obvious desire path forms in this clearing, one walked by the countless number of activists with diverse gaits; the activists, the survivors, the legal experts, the campaigners, the women who share their stories on social media, the victim impact statements, the occasional caring politicians, the rare progressive police, the surviving relatives of murdered women, the reporters, and by this author. What we do with these facts, and how we proceed as societies – knowing the problems, knowing that there is a suite of actions and solutions at our disposal – is up to us, and those in power.