Abusive relationships, travellers and others

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The reason young women tolerate abusive relationships

The reason young women tolerate abusive relationships

Sir: Like many people I was saddened to read about the levels of violent abuse teenage girls suffer at the hands of their boyfriends ("One in five girls hit by boyfriend", 21 March) but perhaps unlike other readers I was not surprised.

Most of the media attention has focused on the correlation between girls who witness or suffer abuse at home and go on to suffer abuse from boyfriends. While this obviously needs to be addressed, I am surprised that nobody has focused on the more startling fact that the majority of teenage girls who accept being hit by their partners (over two thirds) have never had experience of abuse before.

As a young woman in my early twenties I have been concerned since my teenage years by my peer group's distressing lack of self-esteem. On all sides in film, commercials and magazines we are fed the message that finding and keeping a man is the ultimate goal and the ultimate status of cool. You cannot open a girls' or women's magazine without finding myriad surveys on what clothes men find attractive, how to get a date, what sex tips to use etc. The implied message is that to take part in mainstream culture you have to have a man.

The result is that girls find their self-image depends on sexual relationships and they become increasingly prepared to take a man at any price, violence being the extreme end of the scale. I cannot name one girl of my acquaintance (myself included) who has not at some point put up with bullying behaviour or given into sexual demands they secretly didn't want rather than lose a man. Sometimes this is not even a case of girls acting on misguided love but because they believe this is what they should be doing. As one friend who was sexually coerced told me, "Maybe I'm just uptight; isn't this what everyone else is doing?"

Until we address the way our culture presents sex and relationships to young girls, I'm afraid we will continue to see figures like these.

London NW3

Tories exploit hysteria against travellers

Sir: Your front page (21 March) asks "Are these Britain's most demonised people?" The past weeks have witnessed some of the most distasteful and inaccurate media reporting of recent times, led by The Sun's "Stamp on the Camps" campaign. On Sunday the Conservatives took out advertisements in a number of newspapers in which Michael Howard inaccurately accused Gypsies and travellers of bending the rules and there being "one rule for travellers and another for everyone else". Yet special rules are put in place to help the vulnerable and give respect to minorities, such as the rule that permits Sikhs to dispense with crash helmets. Is he saying he does not support protection for the vulnerable and those unfairly discriminated against?

If the Tories stand for "fair play" then why is Tory-controlled Brentwood council defying new government directives asking councils to identify land that travellers can buy at no cost to the council taxpayer?

Mr Howard and his colleagues created the present problems when they scrapped the duty on councils to provide sites. Instead the Tories promised travellers that if they found land to purchase and provide for themselves, the instruction given to councils would assist them through the planning system. After 11 years, very few councils have complied, and planning applications faced 93 per cent refusal. To avoid homelessness, and endless unauthorised encampment, travellers moved on to land and then put in legal retrospective planning applications, which still have to stand the test of due process.

Now Mr Howard is trying to surf on the hysteria stoked up by distorted reporting and score a few cheap electoral points.

Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition
London NW6

Sir: Travellers have every right to lead the lifestyle they choose, and I wish them well. However, their cause is harmed when some of them show nothing but contempt for other people.

They would command much more sympathy from people like myself if I was confident they would leave an area as they found it when they moved on. My personal experience of traveller camps is one of intimidation, nuisance and a disgusting mess left for the local authorities to clean up. If they behave responsibly, surely they will then be treated responsibly in return.

So perhaps Michael Howard is responding to genuine concerns of many people on the doorsteps. That is his job. But isn't it a shame that any issue involving discussion of a minority group of people is deemed to be "racist" or "bigoted" in a bid to shout down the debate.


Sir: Up until a week ago in our constituency the electoral choice was straightforward. A pro-war Labour MP who has apparently toed the parliamentary party line come rain or shine, an anti-war Lib Dem who stood a real chance of winning, or a quite laughable Tory. For card-carrying Labour Party members like us the choice was simple. Vote Lib Dem.

Then Michael Howard reached into the gutter and played the Gypsy/traveller card. The fear factor has finally worked for us. The sight of this prominent Jewish person with his family history being apparently party to demonising an entire community is so shocking that we are going to have to vote for a party led by a man we believe to be the slipperiest, most profoundly disliked politician to hold the office of Prime Minister in our lifetime. A PM whose time is up and whose representative round here needs to be voted out. But sadly not by us. Not this time.


Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire

Sir: I was dismayed to hear Michael Howard's plans for the solution to the problems of travellers. Does he really contemplate scrapping the Human Rights Act? Are my rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, assembly and association to be threatened? Are prohibition of torture and slavery to go as well?

Of course travellers should apply for planning permission, but I have heard that they are discriminated against in securing this - not on grounds of greenfield sites, change of use, access, etc, but merely because they are travellers.

Fairness is a two-way thing. If travellers are prevented from building on their own land and there are insufficient legal sites, what is their alternative to illegal parking?


Sir: Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and much attention was given internationally to the acute discrimination suffered by Roma and travellers in most European countries, with proposals for campaigns to combat this form of racism.

It is ironic that on that day stereotypes and prejudice towards travellers and Gypsies, based on a few exceptional cases, was the angle of almost all UK media attention. Your front-page article is a very welcome exception to the rule.

Hove, Sussex

Mysteries of the brain

Sir: I hope I do not appear too pedantic if I pick up an error in the otherwise very interesting and clearly illustrated article on brain functions, "Making sense of the last great mystery of biology" (11 March). May I point out that one of the views of the brain was clearly back to front. The areas governing speech functions, Wernicke's and Broca's areas, are for the great majority of people located in the left hemisphere, not, as in the illustration, the right.

The two hemispheres are in many other respects highly differentiated with many important functions, such as face recognition, being largely or exclusively located in one or the other. It has been well known for many years that people who sustain brain damage to the left hemisphere often have temporary or permanent speech impairment whereas this is hardly ever the case for damage to the right. This is notwithstanding recent research which suggests that things are not quite so clear cut, and that some subtle aspects of the meaning and emotional content of speech may be affected by right-hemisphere damage.

Perhaps this illustrates how often the complexities of the brain defeat all our efforts to understand or describe it.


Clean hydrocarbons

Sir: I agree with everything Andrew Turner says in the first four paragraphs of his letter (18 March), but I would like to correct two common misconceptions in his last paragraphs .

Firstly, clean hydrocarbon technologies (with carbon capture and storage) have also to be part of the mix for pragmatic reasons (economics, existing infrastructure, security of supply) as a transitional fuel source until fusion is available. Secondly, helped by carbon dioxide displacements in existing oil fields, oil (which has always been "running out" since we started to use it) will probably carry on for at least three times the length of time that Mr Turner quotes and clean coal twice that time again.

There is no certainty in predicting the time that oil will run out, as technology, economics and public usage will always influence that point. As we develop a cleaner hydrocarbon industry then we will be able to prolong that period whilst we develop the alternatives which will be needed.

Institute of Petroleum Engineering
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Turbulent priests

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown fulminates (21 March) that religious leaders "have no right to tell us who we may elect". None of the Christian leaders mentioned in her article have told their communities whom to elect. What Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and Archbishop Williams have done is merely to have raised points for consideration before we vote in the next election. This is their responsibility as leaders within their communities.

She believes "religion must be confined to the private sphere", except of course in those instances where religious leaders agree with her, such as C of E criticism of Margaret Thatcher or reminders of society's duty toward the disenfranchised. What Ms Alibhai-Brown calls for is all political discussion to take place solely within a secular framework.

The secular liberal mindset which seeks to circumscribe social discussion except on its own terms displays an intolerance which is unhealthy for society and an ignorance of the nature of the Christian religion. As a Christian my belief informs and shapes my thinking, especially on social and political matters. It would be impossible for me as a Christian to somehow pigeonhole my most basic beliefs just so I could enter debate on Ms Alibhai-Brown's restrictive terms. What she calls for is the disenfranchisement of Christians or any belief group who take their faith seriously.

A much healthier option for society is to have open public debate where all may contribute.


Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes of "religious leaders abusing their powers to influence elections", and says "We did not elect these men - and they are all men. They have no right to tell us who we may elect." Are journalists elected? Do they tell us whom to elect?

School of Divinity, St Mary's College
University of St Andrews

Sir: J E S Bradshaw asks why not a "Catholic vote" (letter, 21 March)? Why not a secular vote? Why not an agnostic or atheist vote? Prudent politicians would do well to remember that Britain is, after all, fundamentally a secular country.

Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

Fertile dust

Sir: The idea of adding rock dust to improve soil fertility is a good one and should be supported (report, 21 March).

The Ice Age glaciers made rock dust available to various favoured parts of the world as "loess" - rock dust falling from the sky and producing the best agricultural land on the planet (including southern England). This happened much more recently than the three million years ago mentioned in the Paul Kelbie article.

There has been quite a lot of work in North America on the use of rock dust admixtures; particularly in Northampton, Minnesota, and by Joanna Campe. See www.remineralize.org.

Geography Department
Leicester University

Seasonal sounds

Sir: I can confirm that spring has officially sprung. This morning I heard the call of my local ice cream van.

Witney, Oxfordshire

Tony, Gordon and taxes

Sir: I am always ready to believe the worst about the Government, but am having difficulty reconciling two current rumours. One is that their next Budget would need to raise taxes severely. The other is that Tony Blair intends to move Gordon Brown away from the Treasury ahead of this unpopular task.

Farnborough, Hampshire

Cardinal error

Sir: I am impressed to hear that Will Self had cardinal knowledge of a girl in his distant youth ("Psychogeography", 19 March). Did he wear a red hat and threaten her with excommunication if she revealed all? I think we should be told!

Ely, Cambridgeshire