Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Family law system 'shambolic' - report

A report published today has described the Irish family law system as shambolic and overcrowded. Dr Carol Coulter's report also said it was remarkable that the system worked at all.

RTÉ News: Family law system 'shambolic' - report

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Rugby - a guy thing or a gay thing?

The "homo-erotic nature of rugby" is explored in this Woman's Hour item broadcast by BBC Radio Four during the recent world cup, when rugby fans of whatever persuasion didn't have the time to listen to it. The pic shows the Emerald Warriors, an Irish rugby team made up of gay, heterosexual and bisexual men. Well, aren't they all, but at least this one is explicit about it.

BBC - Radio 4 Woman's Hour -The homo-erotic nature of rugby

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Irish family courts not biassed against Dads, report suggests

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 23rd October:

We hear allegations that the family courts are so biassed towards men that separated and unmarried fathers have no chance of getting justice. That the media are not allowed to cover these cases, even under conditions of strict anonymity, adds fuel to the fire.

That’s a pity: the latest report by Dr Carol Coulter on behalf of the Courts Service paints a picture of judges who, faced with deep parental conflicts, do their best to ensure that fathers and mothers have access to their children. One might argue about the amount of access in individual cases but the idea of a blanket prejudice against fathers is not borne out by Dr Coulter’s report. Here are some examples:

– A mother whose separated husband cut her maintenance from €1,000 to €750 a month because she had reduced her hours of work asked Judge Murrough Connellan to increase the payment to €1,300. She said she had reduced her working hours because one son had behavioural problems. The judge said the point of maintenance was to keep the “parties in the manner to which they had become accustomed” and he told the father to pay €1,000 a month. He also granted an access order for the father to see his sons in the middle of the week and not just at weekends as had previously been the arrangement. The mother had said she considered access to be very important.

– Judge Bridget Reilly granted an hour’s access a week to an unmarried father who had never seen his 10-month-old daughter and who had been jailed for assaulting the mother’s parents. The man had also sought joint guardianship. Judge Reilly told him that though it was a very good idea for a father to be a guardian, as an unmarried father he had no right under the Constitution. The access would take place at the home of the mother’s brother. She also made a maintenance order under which the father would pay €100 a week and she told all parties to return to court so she could check how the arrangement was working.

– A father went to court because he believed his access to his children was being frustrated. This, he said, included at least one occasion on which he was denied access to his children at his sister-in-law’s house even though he was there in accordance with an access order. The mother told the court that the boys did not want to be with their father. Judge Murrough Connellan said neither was a bad parent “but together you have got into a destructive pattern, quarrelling, and this is making it very difficult for your children to grow up.” He recommended they attend mediation and put their own egos aside for the good of the children. He would not change the existing access order and expected the parents to work out together how to manage it.

– Judge Gerard Haughton was critical of a mother for making unsubstantiated allegation in court. This arose when an unmarried father sought joint guardianship of two boys. He said he wanted to be appointed guardian in case anything ever happened to the mother. The mother’s solicitor said the father provided no maintenance as he was on long-term disability. However, the judge dismissed this point as irrelevant. Given that the man was on long-term disability his failure to pay maintenance could not be held against him. Social welfare was “subsistence…you can’t criticise for non-payment out of subsistence.” The mother said one of the boys had been caught selling stolen items he had got from the father and that the school had told her the father “brainwashes” the boy. Judge Haughton said it was “grossly unfair” to raise matters for which no evidence had been produced in court. He granted joint guardianship, saying all he had heard from the mother “is suggestion and innuendo.”

There is much, much more than this in Dr Coulter’s report in her excellent and informative Family Law Matters. The series can be downloaded from the www.courts.ie which is the website of the Courts Service.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The future's female in top professions

Women will dominate the top professions in the future because they are getting higher points in their Leaving Certificate than men.

The future's female - Latest News, Education - Independent.ie

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The unspoken crime of male rape

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 9th October, 2007:

Male rape is a hidden crime of our time. Rape crisis centres increasingly hear about male rape but few cases ever come to trial. Yet Dublin Rape Crisis Centre says 12 per cent of its clients are male and that it expects this proportion to grow.

The phenomenon of male rape is concealed mainly by the reluctance of its victims to come forward. Heterosexual men may fear that they will be accused of being gay. Gay men may fear that they will be seen to have put themselves into circumstances in which rape could take place. In other words, they fear what has often prevented female rape victims from coming forward, namely that they will be accused of having asked for it.

Indeed, the tendency to blame rape victims for what has been done to them has been well established in research. And men are more likely than women to blame the victim. Therefore, one can see that a man who is raped might be more reluctant, for this reason, to come forward.

Matters are complicated where the man has experienced a physiological response of arousal to whatever acts were performed. Indeed, some rapists aim to bring about such a response as part of the abuse of the victim and to deter him from going to the police. The response, if it occurs, is no more than a mechanical one, so to speak, and it in no way mitigates the enormity of the crime that has been committed. Nevertheless, the victim may feel shame and embarrassment and therefore be reluctant to reveal what happened.

Male rape is carried out by both heterosexual and homosexual men. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that most male rapes are carried out by heterosexual men. This is understandable when you realise that rape has less to do with physical attraction that with power, control and rage. Therefore it is not necessary to be in a gay ‘setting’ or environment for a rape to happen – it can happen anywhere and to anyone. And it is more likely that the man will know his attacker in some way than that the perpetrator will be a complete stranger.

Yet the rape is traumatic and help is needed. For instance, research into this phenomenon would suggest that a man who is raped is more likely than a woman to be gang-raped. There is also a real possibility that he will be physically assaulted in other ways as well.

We read and hear about horrific physical attacks on women who are raped. These attacks amplify the effect of the rape itself. The same is true of male rape victims.

Traditionally, we think of prison as a place in which men can be sexually abused and raped by other men. I have never heard of cases of rape in Irish prisons. But we know, from research and investigations, about the rape of men by men in US and Australian prisons. This is often jokingly referred to in American movies in a way that would never happen in relation to the rape of women.

Do we believe that Irish prisoners are somehow inherently more decent than US or Australian prisoners? I don’t, and I suspect that sexual abuse and harassment of men in the prisons is also a problem in this country but one we never hear about, possibly due to a combination of shame and fear.

Men who have been raped can and do recover but this is more likely to happen and to happen more quickly if they get help. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is at 1800 778888 and its email address is rcc@indigo.ie. There are almost 20 rape crisis centres outside Dublin and you find information on them by going to the website of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and clicking on the “contact us” link.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted but you are not yet ready to seek direct help, at least read the material for male survivors of rape at http://www.secasa.com.au an excellent Australian website. Click the “survivors” link on the front page to get to the material for men.

See also earlier post on this topic: Male rape - a hidden crime.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Transsexual wins landmark case after epic 10-year battle

THE Government is legally obliged to revise the law on the rights of those who have changed sexes following a landmark decision in the High Court yesterday .

Transsexual wins landmark case after epic 10-year battle - National News, Frontpage - Independent.ie

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Will humans marry robots in 50 years?

The idea of a human falling in love with a creation made of steel and silicon seems rather far-fetched today -- even the most "realistic" robots seem more creepy than endearing. But people already do form attachments to their robots. People treat Roombas like pets, and soldiers form strong bonds with their minesweeping robots.

Cognitive Daily: Will humans marry robots in 50 years?

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Women are being ‘trafficked to order’ for sex with countrymen

WOMEN are being trafficked into Ireland to meet the demands of their fellow countrymen for sex with girls from their homeland.

Irish Examiner | Irish News | News from Ireland

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Woman guilty of false rape, assault claims against father

A woman has been convicted of falsely claiming she had been raped and sexually abused by her father.

Woman guilty of false rape, assault claims against father - National News, Frontpage - Independent.ie

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23 schoolgoing children died by suicide last year

Twenty-three suicides by children were reported to the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) in the last school year, according to figures presented at a meeting of the service last week.

ireland.com - The Irish Times - Fri, Oct 19, 2007 - 23 schoolgoing children died by suicide last year

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quiklink: Government urged to tackle problem of sex-trafficked women

THE Government was yesterday told to urgently tackle the problem of women being trafficked into Ireland’s growing sex trade.

Irish Examiner story here.....

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Quiklink: Half of all family law cases relate to domestic violence

Domestic violence generates almost half of all the family law applications that are made in the District Court, new figures show. Link below:

ireland.com - The Irish Times - Tue, Oct 16, 2007 - Half of all family law cases relate to domestic violence

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dutch women are happy and bossy and the men like it

This is the text of my Radioscope article in The Irish Times on Tuesday 9th October:

Is bossiness the key to happiness for women? That was among the theories put forward in this Woman’s Hour programme on happy – and bossy – Dutch females.

When author Ellen de Bruin (above, right) was commissioned to write “Dutch women don’t get depressed” as a satire on the book “French women don’t get fat,” both she and her publisher assumed that Dutch women were no happier than other European women.

What she found, though, was that the happiness scores of Dutch women are relatively high – higher than those of British women, for example.

When Woman’s Hour asked Dutch men and women living in London whether they agreed with the statement that Dutch women don’t get depressed, there was, as it happens, general agreement with the proposition.

But why are Dutch women happy? Confidence, freedom, independence and equality all figures in the responses. But so did bossiness.

“The women make the men do stuff around the house,” said one woman firmly. “We tell them what to do.”

Oh dear.

Ellen de Bruin attributed Dutch women’s happiness to their “freedom to make the best of themselves.” Dutch women she suggested, are centred on their family and on relationships even to the extent of looking down on women in full-time work.

And they are indeed bossy in the home she agreed. Perhaps they are just assertive, the interviewer suggested? No, Ms de Bruin, she insisted, it goes beyond assertiveness.

So what about the poor Dutch men? “It’s the way that’s men like it” she declared. The Dutch man, it appears, is not a macho chap at all. Mind you, even though the Dutch men are probably better than the rest of us doing housework, their contribution is still “not to the extent that Dutch women would like it.” Perhaps all is not lost.

There is also a sense in the programme that Dutch society is simply more relaxed, outgoing and people-friendly than many others including our own. There might be a lesson in there somewhere for us.

The programme also featured Helena Frith Powell, author of "Two Lipsticks and a Lover" whose opinions, unfortunately, appeared to consist largely of a collection of cliches. Perhaps Dutch men are happy with being told what to do because they are high on drugs all the time she suggested. Frith Powell, who lives in France, also sniffily remarked that you wouldn’t find French women wearing clogs.

But de Bruin had the last word, accusing Frith Powell of indulging in “very gross stereotypes”.

In the end, perhaps it isn’t all a matter of being bossy. Dutch society appears to give women and men a greater degree of choice as to how they want to live their lives. The Dutch are not afraid of choice nor are they afraid of having absolutely top-class and a very comprehensive public services.

Actually, they’re even not afraid of saying they’re happy. Faced with a microphone, nobody took the opportunity to whinge and whine about life. Instead they seem quite willing to acknowledge and even to celebrate their own sense of well-being.

The poor mouth, it seems, is simply not part of their mentality. It does, of course, help to have had a very successful trading empire at one time as opposed to a Great Famine when it comes to perking up the national psyche.

Even so, the Dutch appear to have an enviable and admirable attitude to life, to other people and to society in general. Good luck to them, bossy or not.

Mister Peg, the male member

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 9th October, 2007:

Good morning. And how is Mister Peg today? And Percy and Moose and Maggot and Mister Happy?

These, if you haven’t guessed, are names of men’s penises, as given to them by the men themselves or by their adoring partners.

They are among the names which emerged in a survey by Male Health, an excellent and lively men’s health website. Other names include Dick, Willy, Charlie, Herbie, Trevor, Big Ben, Percy the Small Engine, Rodney, Junior and Wild Thing.

Notice that there are no specifically Irish names in there. Not a single Tadhg or Seamus or Ciarán, for instance. Perhaps, given his apparent alacrity in standing up for himself, the nickname, ‘a Willie O’Dea’, might be adopted for the Irish male member?

“Would you like to come outside and meet Willie O’Dea?” could become a preamble to all sorts of excitement which, of course, might later have to be denied.

Anyway, penises are a serious matter and if you’ve been reading your spam emails lately, you’ll know that one of the most widespread concerns which men have about Mister Peg is his size. This, as it happens, is something that worries men a lot more than it worries women.A recent issue of BJU International looked at the findings of 50 studies on penises since 1942. This is the sort of heroic thing which the world’s researchers do and for which I hope they are appropriately rewarded.

BJU International is a journal which provides a bedtime reading for the world’s urologists, so this is serious stuff. Its editor-in-chief, by the way, is an Irishman, Professor John Fitzpatrick of UCD.

Anyway, the researchers found that 85% of women say they are satisfied with the size of their partner’s penis. But only 55% of men are satisfied with the size of their own members. In fact, for women the man’s personality is a great deal more important than the size of Big Ben. All of which must be a great disappointment for men who go to the expense of having cosmetic surgery to increase their penis size but who neglect to do any work on their own personalities.

It appears that about two thirds of men who are worried about penis size can trace their anxieties back to comparisons made in childhood. Over a third develop worries after observing the size of other men’s members in pornography. It appears to have passed them by that the men in pornographic films and pictures are probably chosen partly because of having a penis size which is larger than average.

As well as surgery, men try to increase penis size through things like diet, ointments, vacuum pumps, and even sticking poor Mister Peg into a concoction of salt and cold tea.

But doctors who study this sort of thing say men are generally poor at comparing their own penis size with that of other men. This is because the man sees his own penis from above and the perspective makes the size seem smaller than it really is.

So small penis size may be a visual illusion – but it’s an illusion which will continue to make money for the spammers for as long as the World Wide Web exists.

You can read more on the BJU research report on www.malehealth.co.uk a website which is worth visiting from time to time anyhow.

And if you want to find out more about penises in general, you could book a trip to Iceland and visit the Icelandic Phallological Museum which describes itself as “probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country.” I love that “probably”. No, guys, you’re the only one. It is reported that they have been promised a human penis to make their collection complete.

Anyway they have a rather dull website which you navigate through by clicking on a penis. But don’t let the boss catch you at it.

That would be worse than getting Mister Peg caught in your zip.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Male rape - a hidden crime

Male rape is unquestionably one of the hidden crimes of our time. While services such as the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and, indeed, similar services around the world, are increasingly hearing about male rape, remarkable few cases ever come to trial - I cannot recall a single one in Ireland, though I expect some such trials have happened. Given the phenomenon of sexual abuse of boys by men, it would be absurd to suggest that sexual abuse of men by men doesn't happen.

Sam de Brito addressed this topic recently in his All Men Are Liars blog on the Sydney Morning Herald website and made the very good point that:

"The impact of rape on blokes shares many similarities with that of female victims but there are some significant differences: though women feel incredible shame and humiliation, this is often amplified in male victims because of the gender expectation that they should have been able to defend themselves, that they 'couldn't even fight off a fag'." (Most male rapists,he points out, actually see themselves as heterosexual).

Referring to research on sexual assault in prison, he adds that:

"The authors cited a 1990 study that found that victims of male rape 'are particularly distressed and confused if they become aroused during the assault. They may believe that their reaction gave the perpetrator consent or that they became an active participant in the assault'.

'Indeed, Groth and Burgess (1980) found that getting the victim to ejaculate was a major strategy of some perpetrators in that it further symbolised the extent of their control over their victim. This also has the additional advantage to the perpetrator in that it further reduces the likelihood of the victim reporting the assault.'"

If you've been affected by the issue, or you know someone who has been, de Brito's post is worth reading.....

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Teen Dads - family anger and professional indifference?

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 2nd October, 2007:

Today, three or four teenage girls who became pregnant shortly after they turned 18 or at a younger age will give birth. Just under half will have become pregnant at the age of 17 or under. One birth every eight or nine days will be to a girl who became pregnant when she was 15 or under.

Each of these pregnancies is likely to have been experienced as a major crisis by the families of the teenagers involved.

At the centre of each of these crises is a young mother-to-be and a young father-to-be. The young father may very well be at the receiving end of a lot of anger from the girl’s family.

The first thing the parents have to do in such a situation is to work their way through this crisis and to help their teenagers to work through the crisis. They have to grieve – or rage! – at the loss, or deferral, of their children’s opportunities and at finding themselves suddenly thrown back into a care-giving role they thought they were leaving behind.

Families get through this: the girl has her baby and somehow people rearrange things around this fact. The baby, on arrival, usually succeeds in winning over the hearts of any remaining sceptics.
So where is the father? Generally speaking, he will be living separately from the mother of the child. The teenage mother’s parents may see him as the villain of the piece. Professionals working with families and young mothers may or may not seek to include him in what goes on.

The Teen Parents Support Programme, (Link to pdf) established in 1999 by the Department of Health and Children and supported by such bodies as the HSE and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency has helped roughly 1,500 teenage parents. Earlier this year, the programme’s national coordinator, Margaret Morris, said that in the ante-natal and immediate post-natal period, just over half of fathers (51 per cent) have contact with the teen mothers and their children while a further 17 per cent have sporadic contact.

This is a low level of involvement. And yet, as I have mentioned many times in this column, the involvement of fathers with their children has enormous benefits for the children later on in life.

Moreover, the child wants contact with the father and is hurt if the contact doesn’t happen. But if the teenage father is in the doghouse as far as the parents of the mother are concerned, then one can see why he would be inclined to avoid such contact.

Teenage boys are fairly inarticulate about emotional matters at the best of times. Certainly it seems to me that most teenage fathers are in no position to argue their case and fight their corner with their own family or the teenage mother’s family. Still less are they able to assert themselves with childcare professionals who may be ignoring their role.

Arguments over maintenance payments or rows between the two grand-parenting families can derail the relationship between father and child. It can also happen that when the teenage mother gets a new boyfriend, contact with the teenage father is disrupted.

But the need and right of the children to contact with their father transcends all these issues.

It’s really good, therefore, that a conference called “Teen Dads: The Neglected Parents,” subtitled “Engaging with and supporting young fathers,” is to be held at Croke Park on 18th October.The Teen Parents Support Programme is behind the conference which, the organisers say, “will interest anyone who has contact with young parents.”

The Teenage Parents Support Project is based at Treoir which is the National Federation of Services for Unmarried Parents and their Children.

If you are a family going through the crisis of a teenage pregnancy, the first thing you need is good information and you’ll find that information on this page on the Treoir website at where there is also a link to sound advice on shared parenting.

It’s time to bring teenage dads into the picture. It’s what their children want.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Most men who have sex changes are happy, research shows

Ever wondered if men who have sex changes are happy with the results? Well, the answer is an emphatic 'yes' according to this story on Medical News Today about a research report in BJU International which is edited by Professor John Fitzpatrick from University College Dublin.

A research team from the Departments of Urology and Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, UK, explored the initial experiences of 222 patients who had undergone surgery and 70 who took part in detailed follow-ups, the story says.

All the patients studied had had their penis surgically removed, their urethra repositioned and female labia constructed. 93 per cent had a clitoris constructed using a section of the glans of their penis and 91 per cent had a skin-lined vagina.

The researchers found that 88 per cent of patients were happy with their surgery at their first post-operative clinic visit, seven per cent were unhappy and five per cent made no comment.....

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