Tonia Antoniazzi’s speech in the House of Commons this week was remarkable, not because of what she said – the need for accurate recording of crimes according to sex – but because she had the courage to actually say it.
After the ongoing intimidation of Rosie Duffield, it is a brave Labour MP who stands up and defends the right of members of her sex not to be blamed for the crimes of the other sex. Antoniazzi pointed out that where particular offences are very rarely committed by women, the addition of just one or two people can have a significant impact on data.
Antoniazzi alluded to the case of transgender fell-runner Lauren Jeska who was jailed in 2017 for the attempted murder of Ralph Knibbs, UK Athletics’ head of human resources and welfare. That one case, Antoniazzi pointed out, falsely elevated the number of women convicted of attempted murder that year in England and Wales by around 20 per cent.
Data matters, but there is a moral dimension to this. Jeska is no more a woman that I am, and it is wholly wrong for the female sex to take responsibility for the crimes of the male sex. Sadly, this is not an isolated case.
Earlier this week, Jessica Brennan was jailed for 22 years for the attempted rape of a child under 13, assault of a girl under 13 by penetration, five counts of sexual activity with a child, assault by penetration, two counts of sexual assault, sexual activity with a child, and five counts of indecent assault.
With a smattering of female pronouns, the news report suggested Brennan was a woman. The only clue left by the BBC was to point out that the perpetrator was known as Allan Brennan at the time of the offences. Let’s be clear about this: a man was the culprit here.
Whatever else Brennan did as part of their transition is Brennan’s business. But cases like this expose the folly of self-identification of legal gender. Why? Because for Brennan to be treated as a woman, Brennan need do little more than say: ‘I identify as a woman’.
Now that Brennan has been jailed, there is another unanswered question here: where will Brennan be spending the next 22 years? Current policy requires that, following sentence, the individual must initially be transferred to the part of the prison estate consistent with their legal gender. For anyone holding a Gender Recognition Certificate, that is their preferred gender, not their biological sex. Cases like Brennan’s show why checks and balances are necessary in the Gender Recognition Act, and why self-identification of legal gender is a dreadful idea.
We would not allow an adult male to self-identify as 17 years old so that they could be transferred to a young offender institute. So why should we consider allowing such a person to identify as a woman and be transferred to the female estate? The Westminster government seems to have understood the problem and pulled back from the edge. But, worryingly, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government still seems intent on inflicting self-identification on Scotland.
For transgender people like me, self-identification presents a different problem. A Gender Recognition Certificate effectively changes our legal sex. If that process isn’t sufficiently policed, then it is at risk of being exploited. For too long, transgender rights activism has been characterised by wishful thinking; the view, all too often, is that transgender people have only good motives. That is certainly naïve, but it is also discriminatory.
Transgender people are human beings and we deserve equality with other human beings. This includes the right not to be treated less favourably in education, employment and the provision of goods and services. But it also requires us to be subjected to the same safeguarding procedures as those who are not transgender.
So what should happen to convicted abusers like Brennan? The reality is that if such a person says they are transgender, we must assume they are. After all, there is no qualifying exam to join our club. But because of this, it is vital that we do not allow transgender women (i.e., biological males) to then claim all the specific rights granted to women. For Brennan, this must mean that his jail sentence is served in a male prison.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.