Is 7 years in jail enough for stomping a goth’s face?


Melody McDermott, right, and Stephen Stafford, outside the court where their attackers were sentenced this week.

Just how much jail time is enough to punish someone for pushing a stranger to the ground, kicking her, and stomping on her face?

Less than seven years, apparently.

That was the sentence for Kenneth Kelsall, the 47-year-old UK man who attacked Melody McDermott and Stephen Stafford last year on a Greater Manchester tram. His accomplice, 43-year-old Gareth Farrar, was sentenced to two years and two months.

The sentences came after a judge witnessed the attack via closed-circuit television; video has since leaked to the press. The attack comes out of nowhere, and begins and ends so quickly you’re left wondering what happened. Judge Elliot Knopf called it an “explosion of violence.” (The man who gets on the tram during the attack, and then gets off: Did he go for help? I wonder.)

McDermott survived, fortunately; other young goth women, such as Sophie Lancaster, weren’t so lucky. But McDermott’s face was so badly damaged she says she can no longer smile. Long after the attack, she suffered panic attacks on crowded trams at night.

Not having covered many UK trials, I can’t comment on how Kelsall and Farrar’s sentences compare to those in similar crimes. They both pleaded guilty, so I’m assuming the sentences were reduced. Although McDermott believes she was attacked for her goth appearance, such attacks are not considered “hate crimes” and aren’t met with enhanced punishments.

So, how much jail time is enough? Is it enough to get these men off the streets (and trams) for a few years? Will jail make them better, or worse? Will it heal McDermott’s trauma? Will it prevent other young women from being brutalized?

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

That said, prejudice against goths appears to be alive and well in other parts of England. Also this week, I read a post by a goth woman titled “An open letter to the Church of England,” in which she describes the discrimination she experienced recently when she went to church. She writes:

My experience has not been one of welcome but of whispering, pointing, and people generally wondering how I dared to come into their church – a recent experience involved being shaken warmly by the hand by a welcoming committee member who then turned to her neighbour, without bothering to lower her voice as I walked away, and asked “we won’t get more like that, will we?”

More than anything else, I would implore churches not to call themselves inclusive, and not to claim to be welcoming to all people and all demographics, until they have considered whether they are actually capable and willing to welcome the individuals who may then walk through the door.

I can — to some extent — not feeling wholly safe on public transit. But not feeling safe and welcome in church? Yes, church is a place where ideals and reality can be pretty different. But something seems very wrong with this picture.

How can we fix it?

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One response to “Is 7 years in jail enough for stomping a goth’s face?

  1. Hello! I’m glad you found some value in my writing, even if in a negative way. It’s sickening that these crimes happen and I’m thankful that my friends are big and scary enough that when we’re out people tend to veer away from us – although I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had weird comments from someone on the bus. In some ways I find the comments from people in shops, churches etc more painful because these are supposed to be safe places and them making hating us more acceptable makes the hate crimes easier to justify.

    That said there are churches welcoming us and my own regular church has just agreed to house a local goth eucharist to give us a safe space. And I’m heartened that several vicars have asked permission to use or distribute my letter. If we nudge people enough to remember that we’re just people, under the eyeliner, then change may happen slowly.

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