Submission to the UK Government’s Consultation on its Domestic Abuse Bill

This is the text of the Nordic Model Now! submission to the UK Government’s recent consultation on its proposed Domestic Abuse Bill, without the questions we did not answer and those for which we simply endorsed the responses given by End Violence Against Women (EVAW). We are grateful to EVAW for making their responses publicly available.

(The consultation questions are in bold, along with responses selected from a list of possible responses. Our open-ended responses are in normal typeface.)

Question 1. Do you agree with the proposed approach to the statutory definition?

Strongly disagree.

This definition does not recognise the power imbalance that is the context in which domestic abuse occurs. In the vast majority of cases, the power imbalance reflects the inequality between the sexes, although sometimes there are other factors like immigration status that give significantly more power to one of the partners than the other. It is this power imbalance that distinguishes domestic abuse from arguments and fights between equals and that makes it so very dangerous.

Framing the definition in a gender- and power-neutral way is likely to lead to inappropriate responses from the police and service providers.

Women’s lives are different from men’s for a variety of reasons, including biological reproductive functions, the unique nature of the mother-child bond and the work associated with raising children, gender stereotyping, the pay gap, the long history of men’s systematic advantaging at women’s expense, the palpable misogyny that pervades our culture, the way porn eroticises and legitimises violence against women and girls (VAWG), men’s greater propensity for violence (whatever that is caused by) and women’s smaller average body size and muscle mass.

Gender-neutral provisions invariably benefit men at the expense of women and therefore are likely to exacerbate the situation.

Within the personal relationship between a man and a woman, a man frequently uses violence and the threat of violence to get his own way, to force her submission, to maintain his power over her. Our deeply sexist and misogynistic culture has led him to believe he is entitled to have his needs and desires prioritised over hers and that, if she doesn’t submit to him, she is violating him in some way.

Under the proposed definition, he could claim that she is abusing him. And because men’s voices carry more weight than women’s, as we saw so clearly in the recent Ulster rape trial, the police may well believe him and treat the woman as the suspect.

It is for this reason that the United Nations recommends limiting the definition of domestic abuse to physical and sexual violence, the threat of such violence, and coercive control. Including psychological and emotional violence in the definition is likely to have unintended consequences because violent abusers can claim that they have been abused in such a way by their victims. In addition, these types of abuse can be hard to prove in a court of law.

We very strongly urge the government to change the definition in accordance with this advice. We would also like to see the separate definitions of controlling and coercive behaviours to be combined into a single definition of “coercive control” using the UN definition:

“Coercive control is defined as an act or pattern of acts of assault, sexual coercion, threats, humiliation, and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten a victim. This control includes a range of acts designed to make victims subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior.”

The statutory guidance should spell out how coercive control often manifests as emotional, psychological, and economic abuse and what this is likely to look like.

Domestic homicide reviews show that even after a woman’s death at the hands of her male partner, authorities often claim there were no equality issues between them. This shows there is a huge gap in understanding the structural inequality between the sexes, which the definition and statutory guidance must cover.

At the very least the statutory guidance must include the context of the power imbalance in which the domestic abuse occurs, and that, in the vast majority of heterosexual couples and other male-female relationships, the man is in a significantly more powerful position than the woman. Very few women have sufficient economic and physical power to use violence to demand a male partner’s submission; it likely does happen, but the guidance must make it clear that this is rare.

The statutory guidance should also make it clear that grooming a partner or family member into prostitution and/or “living off her earnings” is a form of coercive control and so would be an offence of domestic abuse in addition to that of pimping, trafficking, or child sexual exploitation (CSE). This would allow the violation of trust and intimacy to be recognised as an aggravating factor and would aid the recognition that she is a victim of multiple forms of male violence and that prostitution is not a completely separate phenomenon. Provisions for women who have experienced prostitution should be integrated into the services for women experiencing domestic abuse.

The statutory guidance also needs to spell out that threats concerning a woman’s immigration status and control of the documents that are needed to achieve settled status are common in cases of domestic abuse and are an aspect of coercive control. Women who have insecure immigration status are in a vulnerable position and this can make it difficult to report abuse and get help.

Question 6: In addition to the changes being made to how relationship education will be taught in schools, what else can be done to help children and young people learn about positive relationships and educate them about abuse?

Children learn from the social, cultural, and political environment in which they live. Lessons on consent and respectful relationships, while important, have limited value when the environment is saturated with sexist and misogynistic messages and structures.

If the government means what it says about “doing everything we can to end domestic abuse”, then it must also address the underlying issues, including:

  • The portrayal of women and girls in the media as sexual objects for the consumption of men, while men are portrayed as more authoritative, masterful, and powerful.
  • The exposure of children to online porn from an early age. Research shows that 88% of scenes in the most widely-viewed porn feature physical, sexual, and/ or verbal violence against women. This eroticises and normalises cruelty and violence against women and children and stokes men’s and boys’ sense of entitlement. At a minimum, the government must keep its commitment to implement robust age controls on online porn as a matter of urgency.
  • The glamorisation of prostitution and pimping in films and popular culture, which grooms girls into accepting a life of sexual use and grooms boys into being users and pimps. This needs to be challenged and counterbalanced by public education campaigns about the harms that prostitution causes.
  • The blind eye that is turned in most areas of the country to brothels and much of the widespread sexual exploitation, prostitution, and sex trafficking of women and of (especially female) children. A UN multi-country study found prostitution-buying is associated with men who rape and commit domestic violence. Studies of punters have found they are more likely to commit rape and other aggressive sexual acts. We call for the implementation of the Nordic Model, as the only approach to prostitution that reduces its prevalence while supporting those caught up in it to build a new life outside. This must include a well-designed, far reaching, and ongoing public education campaign about the harms of prostitution and the unacceptability of buying sex.
  • The way that social media companies tolerate misogyny but often silence women; for example, by allowing men to call individual women names like “bitch” and “cunt” and threaten them with rape (often with razor blades and similar), but ban women who name the epidemic of VAWG as “male violence.”
  • The way that many government policy and legislative changes since 2010 have had a disproportionately negative impact on women compared to men and have thus increased the inequality between the sexes, making domestic abuse more likely. We call on the government to implement a mandatory gender mainstreaming approach in all government departments with the aim of never again passing a policy or law that will disproportionately negatively impact women, and instead to seek to redress the historical inequality between the sexes. Not only would this make sense from a human rights perspective, it would also make economic sense because, according to the consultation document, male VAWG costs the UK approximately £26 billion annually.
  • The defunding and lack of investment in youth and children’s services that provide a rich cultural environment and help children and young people develop positive relationships.

Question 7: Which statutory agencies or groups do you think the UK Government should focus its efforts on in order to improve the identification of domestic abuse? Please tick the top 3 from the list.

  • Police
  • Judges/magistrates
  • Prosecutors

Question 8: In addition to improving training programmes and introducing guidance, what more can the Government do to improve statutory agencies’ understanding of domestic abuse?

The Equality Act 2010 introduced the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which places an obligation on government departments and statutory agencies to consider the impact of decisions on the need to: (a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act; (b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; and (c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

We do not see evidence that government departments and public bodies understand this duty, particularly in relation to inequality between the sexes. Male VAWG is both a cause and an expression of inequality between persons with the protected characteristic of the female sex compared to those of the male sex. As mentioned in response to an earlier question, gender-neutral provisions invariably benefit men at the expense of women and thereby contribute to the inequality between the sexes, of which male violence is an expression.

The “Equalities Considerations” at the end of this consultation reveal an extraordinary lack of understanding of inequality between the sexes and what addressing this means in practical terms.

For example, under a heading “Advancing equality of opportunity”, the consultation document states that, “While the potential options outlined in the consultation document may indirectly disproportionately impact on certain protected characteristics (please see above), the options should advance equality of opportunity because they cover all domestic abuse victims and perpetrators regardless of differences in their protected characteristics.”

This shows a clear lack of understanding that VAWG and the vast majority of domestic abuse is both an expression of the inequality between the sexes and a cause of that inequality. This is exactly what the PSED is meant to be addressing. But not only does the statement make it clear that the Home Office does not understand this, it appears to be concerned that the measures in the Bill might unfairly discriminate against male perpetrators.

Under a “Fostering good relations” heading, the document says “Consideration has been given to this objective that indicates it is unlikely to be of particular relevance to the proposals.” This again shows a total lack of understanding that the majority of domestic abuse happens within a context of sex inequality, and so tackling that inequality and fostering good relations between the sexes is fundamental to the prevention of domestic abuse. Instead, the Home Office claims that the Bill is irrelevant to fostering good relations. You couldn’t make it up.

It is therefore of the utmost urgency that the Government hires gender mainstreaming experts to, at the very least, provide high-quality training for all policy makers and drafters of legislation within all government departments. The Government should also provide high-quality guidance on addressing sex inequality to all who use the PSED.

The inequality between the sexes has been so normalised in the culture and has such a long history, that it has become almost invisible. This goes some way to explaining why there is not an emergency response to the epidemic levels of male VAWG that we are currently witnessing, given the costs, in both human and financial terms, of that violence to the country.

Local authorities need to understand that, when commissioning services for victims of domestic abuse and prostitution, the PSED does not require them to commission gender-neutral services or equal services for men and women, because women are the overwhelming majority of the victims. By framing domestic abuse in a gender-neutral way and commissioning services accordingly, local authorities are in fact worsening the situation for women relative to men – in direct contradiction to their obligations under the PSED.

The PSED is of particular relevance when considering licensing applications for sexual entertainment venues (SEVs), which are well-documented as leading to worsening male attitudes towards women and girls, and even more sexual violence. In addition, SEVs have been shown to make women feel unsafe and therefore restrict their freedom of movement and participation in wider society.

Similarly, the police need to understand that the PSED does not mean gender-neutral policing, and that a gender-neutral approach to policing any altercation between men and women is likely to advantage men and disadvantage women. They need to be trained in the way that male violence – threatened or actual – against women and girls is used by males to maintain their individual dominance and the dominance of males as a group, and that women’s response is often driven by their subordinate position and lack of economic, social, and physical power. Without understanding this, it is easy, to, say, interpret a woman’s or girl’s acquiescence as consent and self-defence as aggression.

However, the PSED is weak and too easy to circumvent. Bodies only need to have “due regard” for equality measures and there are few (if any) penalties for not doing so. Moreover, a simple, almost meaningless, box-ticking exercise is insufficient to comply with the law, and there is rarely a genuine attempt to address current inequality and to redress historic wrongs.

Although clearer and stronger guidance would go some way to addressing the PSED’s weaknesses, we believe it is fundamentally flawed and needs to be strengthened to include stronger obligations to take reasonable steps to address inequality and historic and continuing wrongs and a statutory mechanism for inspecting compliance with it. This would make financial sense, given the alarming financial and social costs of male VAWG in general and domestic abuse in particular.

Question 9: What further support can we provide to the public (employers, friends, family, community figures) so they can identify abuse and refer victims to help effectively?

We are unclear why there is such stress on identifying victims when government policies have led to the withdrawal of funding from the specialist services and refuges for women who are experiencing domestic abuse, meaning many are left with no escape or support. Similarly, government policies since 2010 have worsened women’s material position relative to men’s, thus pushing many women into financial dependence on men and increasing the power imbalance between men and women, which makes domestic abuse more likely.

We are concerned that raising awareness in the way suggested will give women false hope, when there currently isn’t substantive help available for many, perhaps most, women. This false hope may lead women to make decisions based on an incorrect assessment of what is available and may actually worsen their situation.

It would therefore make more sense to focus efforts on prevention. For example:

  • A high-profile and ongoing public education campaign aimed at men and boys about the unacceptability and consequences of abuse of power within intimate and family relationships, and presenting positive images of what a healthy egalitarian relationship looks like.
  • The sex industry is a key factor in the epidemic of male VAWG. It has been shown to increase both men’s lack of empathy to women and children and their sense of entitlement. Both of these factors underlie much domestic abuse and other VAWG. This means that tackling the sex industry and attitudes around it would contribute to a reduction in VAWG in general, and domestic abuse in particular. Implementing a Nordic Model approach to prostitution should therefore be a priority. In the meantime, measures should be taken to ensure that the police understand prostitution to be a form of VAWG and that policing pimping, brothel keeping, CSE, and sex trafficking are prioritised and well resourced; that those who are prostituted are directed to services to help them rebuild their lives; and that a nationwide network of high-quality services for prostituted women receive ring-fenced funding.
  • Ongoing measures to increase women’s economic position relative to men’s and to provide them with affordable housing and childcare, and a commitment to gender mainstreaming in order to ensure policies that are likely to worsen sex inequality can never again be approved.
  • Investment in high quality youth services.

Question 10: We are in the process of identifying priority areas for central Government funding on domestic abuse. Which of the following areas do you think the UK Government should prioritise? Please select up to 3.

  • Advocacy for victims to enable them to stay safely in their own home (Independent Domestic Violence Advisors or their equivalent)
  • Accommodation services
  • Other (free text)

Free text: More emphasis on prevention, particularly: ongoing public education campaigns aimed at men and boys; tackling the sex industry; addressing women’s economic, social, and cultural inequality in relation to men; and investment in high-quality youth services (as touched on in our answers to previous questions).

Question 11: What more can the Government do to encourage and support effective multi-agency working, in order to provide victims with full support and protection? Please select up to 3.

  • Guidance
  • Training
  • Other (free text)

Free text: Strengthen the PSED and its statutory guidance so that it can be used to implement gender mainstreaming approach in all government departments and public bodies. Ensure that no policies or legislation are introduced that will worsen the inequality between women and men, and take steps to redress that inequality.

Question 12: What more can the Government do to better support victims who face multiple barriers to accessing support.

Ensure that long term funding is provided to specialist women’s organisations, including those that provide services to those with specific barriers, such as disabilities, BAME communities, LGBT identifying women, those with mental health issues, and women caught up in prostitution and the sex industry, so that expertise and capacity can be developed in the long term, and that the services can become known and trusted over time in the communities they support.

These services should be advertised widely, and front-line staff in the health service, substance misuse services, housing, schools, etc. should receive high-quality training about the multiple barriers that service users may face, many of which may not be obvious.

It is important that specialist female-only services are provided for prostituted women, who can have multiple difficulties including drug use and addiction, and that these services include help to exit the sex trade and rebuild their lives. Many women enter prostitution through coercive control from their partners or due to poverty when trying to escape abusive partners. Services for women caught up in prostitution and the wider sex trade should therefore be considered an integral part of the domestic abuse and VAWG service rather than completely separate, and should include exiting assistance, advocacy, women-only addiction services, psychosocial support, and refuges.

Funding for such services should be ring-fenced and not left to the vagaries of local priorities and a “postcode lottery.”

Question 14: How can we make greater use of women-specific services to deliver interventions in safe, women-only environments? Please select top 3.

  • Delivery of health interventions such as mental health and substance misuse treatment at women-only services.
  • Improving access to benefits, finance, and accommodation advisors at women-only services.
  • IDVAs located or linked to women-only services.

Question 15: In addition to reviewing who may be eligible for the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession, what other considerations could the Government make in respect of protecting domestic abuse victims with no recourse to public funds?

We endorse the answer to this question made by the organisation End Violence Against Women. We would include an addition that the DDVC should be extended to at least two years and should also include all women with insecure immigration status who have been involved in prostitution.

Prostitution wrecks many women’s lives and it is the men in this country who cause that damage. It is therefore only fair that women whose lives have been damaged in this way by British men are given financial support so that they can recover and rebuild their lives.

Question 17: Which of the following individuals/organisations should be able to apply for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order? Please select all that apply:

  • The victim.
  • Certain persons associated with the victim (for example certain family members) on behalf of the victim.
  • Relevant third parties, who would be specified by regulations, on behalf of victims (see Question 18 for further details).
  • With permission of the court, any other person or organisation.
  • Other (free text).

Free text: The police should not be permitted to apply for a PN/ PO against the wishes of the victim.

Question 37: How can we continue to encourage and support improvements in the policing response to domestic abuse across all forces and improve outcomes for victims?

We support the use of body-worn video cameras by the police and would like to see them extended all front-line officers across the country.

However, for real improvement in the policing response to domestic abuse, we need a deep-seated change of culture. The police have traditionally been a self-perpetuating ‘macho’ environment. As a result, most police officers’ natural sympathy is likely to lie with the male perpetrator and not the female victim and for there to be obliviousness – blindness even – to the structural inequality between the sexes and all the interlocking forces that tend to keep victims trapped. We know there are exceptions and pockets of good practice, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the above statement is still overwhelmingly true.

Really changing this culture requires effective and continuous training about structural inequality. This needs to include education about the way mainstream culture and pornography normalises, eroticises, and legitimises power imbalance and male violence, and how this inevitably affects everyone’s ability to identify abuse of power, particularly between intimate partners and family members, but also between colleagues. Without officers having an opportunity to explore some of these difficult and challenging truths, we do not believe there will be a change in the macho culture within the police force. Engaging with such personal struggle should be a requirement of all police officers but particularly those who respond to incidents of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and prostitution.

Question 43: What more can police, witness care units and the Crown Prosecution Service do to support victims through the justice process from the point of report onwards? Where possible, please provide evidence or details of the experience to support your answer.

High-quality, specialised advocacy should be provided as a right throughout the process. This should be a professional service and not be provided by unpaid volunteers.

Improved and continuous training and development for the police, prosecutors, and court staff on structural inequality and male VAWG, as mentioned previously relative to the police.

A faster, more efficient criminal justice process. This means there must not only be an end to the closure and defunding of the courts but also a programme of investment.

While all these measures have a financial cost, if they are successful they are likely to save money in the medium to long term. As it becomes clear that men no longer have impunity, there is likely to be a decline in the levels of VAWG that are currently causing havoc and costing the country billions.

Question 44: Are there other aspects of the criminal court treatment of vulnerable people which the family court could learn from? Please select one.

Yes, please describe

We endorse the answer to this question made by the organisation End Violence Against Women. We would include an addition that there needs to be an understanding that women’s involvement in prostitution is often the result of domestic abuse, through coercion by her partner or in a desperate attempt to achieve some semblance of financial independence in the face of economic abuse. Furthermore, court staff should be trained in the understanding that prostitution is part of the system that maintains male hegemony, which ultimately enables male VAWG.

Question 51: Do you agree that relying on the civil law remedy in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is sufficient to satisfy the sexual harassment requirements of the Convention?

No.

Question 52: If not, what do you think is necessary to satisfy those requirements?

We endorse the answer to this question made by the organisation End Violence Against Women. We would include an addition that societal approaches to tackling the root causes of sexual harassment need to include tackling the sex industry, because it is normalises, eroticises, and legitimises the sexual harassment of women and girls, and their subordinate position generally.

The sex industry includes pornography (and its seepage into mainstream culture), prostitution, and lap dancing clubs and similar “sexual entertainment” venues (SEVs). Tackling the culture of impunity towards men’s sexual harassment of women and girls means addressing all of these aspects of the sex industry.

The Nordic Model should be introduced as a matter of urgency as the best way to deal with prostitution and to change social attitudes. It needs to be properly funded and championed at the highest levels so that all the things that are necessary to its success are implemented, including education in schools; an ongoing, high quality public information campaign; training for the police and prosecutors; resourcing and prioritising the policing of sex buying, pimping, brothel keeping, and sex trafficking; ring-fenced funding for a nationwide network of support services for those in prostitution, which should include genuine routes out, women-only addiction services, psychosocial support, refuges, training, childcare, etc.; and investment in training and employment opportunities for women and girls generally.

At the very minimum, robust age-verification controls must be implemented on online pornography as a matter of urgency, and a nationwide public dialogue should be initiated about pornography and its impact on individuals and society.

Funding should be made available for high-quality programmes for those who are struggling to kick a pornography habit.

Educational materials should be provided to all local authorities about the negative impact of SEVs on sex inequality generally, and the prevalence of male sexual harassment of women and girls in particular, so that they can understand their responsibilities to restrict SEV licenses.

Question 57: What more could be done to work with perpetrators in the community (convicted or non-convicted) to change their behaviour? We are interested to hear of particular examples of practice which have been successful.

We endorse the answer to this question made by the organisation End Violence Against Women. As explained more fully in answers to earlier questions, we would include an addition that societal approaches to tackling the root causes of male VAWG need to include tackling the sex industry, because it is normalises, eroticises, and legitimises male VAWG, and the subordinate position of women and girls generally. This should include the introduction and implementation of the Nordic Model approach to prostitution, the urgent introduction of robust age-verification controls on online pornography, and tackling SEVs.

Question 58: Please select which of the following you believe should be priorities for improving data collection. Please choose up to 3.

  • Improving collection and reporting of data relating to the gender and relationship of the perpetrator and victim
  • Improving data to enable better tracking of outcomes in domestic abuse cases/ intervention
  • Other (free text)

Free text: We endorse the answer to this question made by the organisation End Violence Against Women, with the following addition.

We are concerned that the government’s proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 so that people can self-define their “gender identity” through a simple administrative process, will mean that “gender identity” will become a person’s “legal sex” and effectively replace biological sex in all data collection. This is already happening to a certain extent. For example, crimes committed by males who identify as women but who have undergone no medical transition, are now being routinely recorded as having been committed by women.

There is evidence that large numbers of people will take advantage of the proposed mechanism to change their “legal sex”, unlike the relatively small numbers who have used the existing system.

We are concerned that this will make it impossible to disaggregate data by sex as required by CEDAW and the Sustainable Development Goals and it will therefore become impossible to understand who does what to whom. We suspect there will be other unintended consequences that are likely to have a negative impact on women, including the erosion of women-only spaces and services that are of such importance to women recovering from male violence.

We therefore believe that another solution must be found rather than gender identity/ legal sex replacing the category of sex (as historically understood) in data collection. For example, we suggest recording a person’s sex, based on the incontrovertible biological evidence, along with an optional additional category of “gender identity,” and the complete abandonment of the idea of a changeable category of “legal sex.”

Question 59: Do you agree with the proposed model for a Domestic Abuse Commissioner outlined above? Please select one.

Strongly disagree      

Please give reasons [free text]:

We endorse the answer to this question made by the organisation End Violence Against Women, with the addition that the remit of a VAWG commissioner should explicitly also include prostitution, CSE, sex trafficking, and other forms of sexual exploitation as gender-based violence against (predominantly) women and girls.

Question 64: How can the government better share and promote effective practice on domestic abuse across all public services both in regard to commissioning and delivery of services?

We endorse the answer to this question made by the organisation, End Violence Against Women, with the addition that the impact of prostitution and the sex trade on male VAWG and sex inequality must also be factored in.

2 thoughts on “Submission to the UK Government’s Consultation on its Domestic Abuse Bill

  1. This article makes little sense. Under question 9, it would suggest that we completely ignore male victims and promote the abuse against males.

    “A high-profile and ongoing public education campaign aimed at men and boys about the unacceptability and consequences of abuse of power within intimate and family relationships, and presenting positive images of what a healthy egalitarian relationship looks like”

    This would only highlight how rare abuse against men is, making it almost impossible for the public to recognise when a man is a victim of domestic abuse. 33% of male victims isn’t a small percentage, meaning abuse against men isn’t as rare as you would like to believe and while I do recognise that there is a percentage of men playing the victim as a means to hide their abusive behaviour the same is true of women. it is a fact that only 1% of men suffer from breast cancer but that rare 1% still receives medical treatment and of course, it would make no sense to spend millions of pounds to make the public aware of the 1% but you are suggesting that millions of pounds are spent to criminalize the 33% of male victims of domestic abuse and offer them no help from the aftermath of the abuse that they have been though because they will have to hide in shame of this high-profile education that you are suggesting.

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    1. We do not doubt that many men suffer in unhappy relationships. But they are not being killed and seriously injured in large numbers by their female partners – although some men are killed and seriously injured by male partners. In the vast majority of the most serious cases, the perpetrators are male. So our suggestion of an information campaign helping men understand there are other, happier, ways of being seems reasonable.

      For an introduction to this, you may want to read: https://nordicmodelnow.org/2018/04/20/the-domestic-abuse-bill-nice-try-but-it-doesnt-come-close/

      If you still are thinking “what about the men,” we recommend Jessica Eaton’s legendary piece:

      https://victimfocus.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/stop-asking-me-what-about-men/

      Like

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