Guest Blog by Cyclefree, a lawyer/investigator specialising in financial services and whistleblowing investigations.
“Lessons will be learnt”. How often do we hear this? If only. Lessons are not learnt: not by those who should learn them; not enough to prevent similar problems happening again.
1. The memory hole
If a few years ago, who remembers the investigation or report? Or that it might contain something relevant now? Gavin Williamson resigned over bullying allegations against MPs and civil servants. But no commentator mentioned the 2018 Dame Laura Cox report into bullying within Parliament. It was promptly buried with no action taken. So here we are. Again.
2. This time it’s different
The 4 most dangerous words in the English language. Not true and too often an excuse for ignoring lessons painfully learnt.
3. Defining the question to get the answer you want
See Credit Suisse in trouble over Archegos, a fund run by a man who, when running a different fund, was convicted for insider dealing. How did they get themselves comfortable? Well, by saying this was a different legal entity thus ignoring the character, history of the man in charge and the risks this posed.
4. La-la-la: I’m not listening. Or asking. Denying evidence, not making inquiries so as to
avoid getting inconvenient answers, refusing to listen to those raising concerns, retaliating
against whistleblowers are all too common. Believing what fits with your preconceived
opinions commoner still. As is dismissing concerns as a “moral panic”.
5. Groupthink: With the latest fashionable cause, it becomes easy to ignore those asking
difficult questions or challenging the proposals. Easier to go with the flow than be a member
of the awkward squad, especially if retaliation is feared or threatened.
Remarkably, the Scottish government has taken all of these routes in its response to those asking questions about the GRR Bill. Consider this by Shona Robison earlier this year –
“There is no evidence that predatory and abusive men have ever had to
pretend to be anything else to carry out abusive and predatory behaviour.”
She went on –
“The evidence is critical in relation to this issue.”
Indeed. It is. She clarified –
“If we look at the evidence, the threat to women and girls comes from
predatory and abusive men, not the trans community.”
Note the assumption that not only is there no crossover between predatory, abusive men and those claiming to be trans but there can never be such a crossover.
Still, no evidence? Really? Let’s be kind and accept she was only referring to those countries which had brought in self-ID as planned for Scotland. The Scottish government is always keen to emphasise how in line with international best practice it is. So it must surely have looked at what the evidence actually showed. Yes? Alas, no – as seen in this summary of the international position by MurrayBlackburnMackenzie.
It’s worth noting:
(1) the Scottish government has admitted that it has not found or done any research on the
impact of self-ID laws on women in these other countries. Always easiest to claim there is
no evidence if you don’t bother looking for it, of course.
(2) In fact, there is evidence of significant problems affecting women, for instance, men ID’ing as women to obtain access to women in places such as prison. In Canada, the US, even Argentina where self-ID was first enacted in 2012.
Let’s look more widely. Is there any evidence in, say, the UK of abusive men pretending to be something else in order to abuse? Or using the cover of something fashionable or respected to carry out abuse?
– A celebrity famous for his charitable activities, say? Why, yes: see Jimmy Savile.
– What about the 19 IICSA Investigation Reports into the multiple ways in which men abused their positions as priests, teachers, social workers, foster carers, sports coaches and so on to harm the vulnerable? An unbearable amount of evidence there.
But these abusers are not from the trans community, might be the reply. Alas, there is evidence of men claiming to be trans and using that claim to gain access to victims. Or to abuse victims then claim to be trans to avoid or mitigate punishment or gain access to women’s prisons where more victims may be found.
What is not yet known – or not with great clarity – is whether those men who are either diagnosed with gender dysphoria or claim to be trans without such a diagnosis have the same rate and type of offending as other men or a higher or lower rate. Getting and understanding such evidence is surely essential before anyone can say that the “trans” community (however defined) poses no risk. Of that, however, there is no sign.
The scale of abuse by male predators is hard to assess. Not all is reported. But that there is overwhelming evidence, accumulated over decades – about how predators operate, how they gravitate to places where victims are found, how they put themselves in positions where it is hard for them to be challenged, how loopholes are abused, opportunities exploited – is undeniable. There is no sector, class, place or profession where it does not happen. There is no group of people immune from being predators. There is no basis for saying that men who are or claim to be trans cannot be – and are not – abusers.
Two facts are clear: overwhelmingly, sexual predators are men; overwhelmingly, their victims are females. The burden is surely on those proposing a reform allowing any man over 16 to change gender purely on his say-so to show why – and how – it will not be abused or exploited by those claiming to be trans.
Two arguments are often used by the reform’s defenders.
(1) Equating trans people with predators is unfair and offensive.
It is no better than those who, opposed to gay rights, claimed that gay men were paedophiles.
Current concerns are another unjustifiable moral panic.
A strawman. It is not that trans people are abusers by definition. Of course, they aren’t. Rather, there will be abusers claiming to be trans in order to commit crimes or otherwise gain some advantage. It is they who are being unfair to trans people by using them as cover to exploit the opportunities the reformers will enable.
Second, see what IICSA’s final report says: allegations of a moral panic about child abuse allowed a culture of denial of what was happening, giving cover to abusers. There were instances of paedophiles who used councils’ desire to increase “diversity” to get jobs where they could abuse children, jobs they would not have got had there been proper due diligence and a focus on what mattered – safeguarding.
The same point was made in last week’s report on the police. The recommendations of previous reports were ignored, the police were largely in denial about the problems, when women officers reported concerns they were not taken seriously, other considerations prevailed and risk assessment was poor. As the Chief Inspector wrote: “The police must be much more sceptical of those who want to wear the uniform.” 
(2) “Ah, but men don’t need to use self-Id to carry out abuse” , say the reform’s defenders.
After all, these crimes were committed before self-ID is even legally blessed. Well, not quite
true. But how does that help? If men have already been claiming to be women in order to
commit crimes, avoid punishment or get a lighter regime, why wouldn’t that increase once
self-ID is enshrined in law, with the legal consequences the Scottish government is right now
claiming before the courts? It is not just the police who need to be “much more sceptical”.
This rebuttal misses the point. Of course, predators don’t need self-ID to commit abuse. Sexual predators don’t needto become teachers, priests, sports coaches, entertainers, charity workers or anything else, either. But they do.
The key questions – those the Scottish government has carefully avoided asking – are:
– Are there risks that this reform – and how it is enacted – could be abused?
– How great are those risks?
– What are the consequences and for whom, if the risks are realised?
– Does it prevent or limit challenge, an essential safeguarding requirement?
– Can the risks be mitigated or eliminated? If so, how?
– If they can’t, should the reform go ahead at all or in its current form?
Three important lessons from previous reports are these:
(1) Boundaries matter – whether physical, safeguarding procedures, vetting, due diligence,
processes, legal requirements, conditions to be complied with, verifications or, in Matt Parr’s
words, “scepticism” about why someone wants to join a particular group.
(2) Ignoring previous reports, recommendations and evidence will make problems much
(3) Scandals happen when those boundaries are abolished, ignored, weakened or seen as
secondary to some more important purpose: “diversity”, for instance, or the reputation of an
institution or group, when challenge is made unacceptable.
In Chesterton’s words – in their haste to remove the fence, people forget why the fence is needed.
The final IICSA report says that years ago child abuse was not perhaps as well understood as now. It is not much of an excuse for behaviour which even then was wrong. But it may explain why it was not taken seriously as it should have been. The same can also be said of violence against women.
There is no such excuse now. It is unconscionable for the Scottish government to ignore evidence, to refuse to listen to women who have suffered abuse, to refuse to acknowledge the possibility of risks let alone assess them, to take no steps to mitigate them, not to do the necessary research, to assert what they would like to be true rather than engage and explain.
If it continues to ignore the lessons of previous scandals and repeat the same mistakes, then the dismal cycle of harm to the vulnerable, scandal, outrage, investigation, report, apology and promises to learn those lessons will inevitably be repeated. This is bad law and even worse governance. Above all, it is an abdication of responsibility those in public office have to citizens, especially the most vulnerable.
 The report can be found here – https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/Conduct-in-Parliament/dame-laura-cox-independent-inquiry-report.pdf
 See the First Minister’s response to the resignation of Ash Regan. And the decision by 8 SNP MSPs not to vote for or abstain on the GRR Bill.
 See https://www.scottishdailyexpress.co.uk/news/scottish-news/male-prisoners-changing-gender-under-28149343
 Chapter 4 of the 2018 Morgan report on Islington Council is illuminating on how abusers seek to piggy-back on more respectable organisations, to the reputational detriment of the latter. See https://www.islington.gov.uk/-/media/sharepoint-lists/public-records/communications/information/adviceandinformation/20182019/20181107sarahmorganqcreviewreport.pdf.
 See the Background and Context section of IICSA’s Final Report’s Executive Summary: “The notion that child sexual abuse was ‘not harmful’ persisted into the 1990s and, in some professional spheres, responses to it were seen as ‘over zealous’ and characterised as a ‘moral panic’.”
 See the 1994 White Report (https://islingtonsurvivorsnetwork2.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/the-white-report-redacted.pdf) and the 2018 report by Sarah Morgan QC on Islington Council (footnote 12)
 See the Times article by the Chief Inspector of the Police, Matt Parr – https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/matt-parr-trust-is-badly-damaged-but-not-beyond-repair-z09gd56r3
 See the current judicial review by ForWomenScotland against the Scottish Government – https://forwomen.scot/18/07/2022/judicial-review-2/