Tag Archives: England

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?

Video games still inspiring junk-science articles

Indian students learn how to design video games. Photo courtesy Duke TIP.

It’s been a while since I saw so much junk science in a single article.

The Indian Express just published a piece arguing that video games make kids aggresive. The article quotes official-sounding people, such as Adarsh Kohli, professor of clinical psychology at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, and child psychologists in India. These experts claim a number of video-game dangers, including:

* Gaming makes children forget to eat;
* Gaming makes children become irritated if they can’t play;
* Gaming causes social withdrawal, lack of participation in family activities, and disinterest in people;
* Gaming makes children immune to trauma;
* Gaming makes children rebellious;
* Gaming causes back problems, such as cervical spondylitis;
* Gaming causes photogenic seizures (the actual term is photosensitive epilepsy, and it’s very rare);
* Gaming causes weak eyesight (interesting, since the same newspaper reported that video games can heal lazy eye).

Meanwhile, another India news outlet, Deccan Chronicle, recently published an article showing that playing video games boosts kids’ exam results. Based on research at Yardleys School in Birmingham, England, the article explains that 70 percent of regular gamers exceeded targets on standardized tests, while only 40 percent of non-gamers did so.

Granted, this may be because students who excel academically may also be drawn to play video games regularly; let’s face it, smart kids/geeks and gaming often go hand in hand.

But someone at the White House thinks video games are such a positive influence, they’re exploring ways to use them in the classroom. Many schools already do this, but new research could turn it into more of a nationwide phenomenon:

As studies began to show that no such relationship exists, research turned toward how video games can be used to positively benefit society.

“It turns out that many of those relationships just haven’t borne out in the research, and new fields have emerged around looking at how games function as a means for turning screen time into activity time,” said [Constance] Steinkuehler, [a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy]. According to Steinkuehler, federal investments in games is not a new concept, and dates back well before the Obama administration.

As science moves ahead, will articles like the first one become a thing of the past? I hope so.

Fear leads to anger — and goth-bashing

Thirteen-year-old Casey-Lyanne Kearney was stabbed to death. Her accused killer has been called a “goth.” Not likely.

On Valentine’s Day, Casey-Lynne Kearney was crossing Elmfield Park in Doncaster, England when a woman allegedly stabbed her and left her to die.

Police, who called the assault random and isolated, arrested 26-year-old Hannah Bonser, a Doncaster resident, for Kearney’s murder and and for possession of two knives. Her trial is scheduled to begin July 2.

Even before Bonser appeared in court to defend herself, neighbors described her to the UK’s sensationalism-prone Sun as a goth:

… neighbours in Doncaster described her as having the look of “a Goth” — sporting dark hair and dark-rimmed glasses. She was said to be “addicted” to computer games.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, said: “The police were round here and they took some boxes of stuff from her flat. She was like a rocker, gothic type. She was very quiet.”

Talking to the neighbors is one of the oldest tricks in the reporter’s book. There are a variety of good reasons for this practice, but what neighbors say must always be taken with a grain of salt — these days, many people don’t know their neighbors particularly well, or may even have conflicts with them that drive them to say things they shouldn’t.

Not only are those descriptions very vague and patched-together, they don’t really describe an actual goth. (And, you can see in the court link, Bonser doesn’t look particularly goth.) Most of the time, it takes more than dark hair and “dark-rimmed glasses” to identify a goth. (Also, nice how the slipped in the “video games” angle too, eh?”)

More than that, though, these flimsy descriptions reinforce the false idea that goths are a remotely violent group. This idea, popularized after the Columbine High School killings in Colorado in 1999 (committed by two young men who were also falsely identified as goths), has been tough to shake. People outside the goth culture see the black hair, theatrical makeup and clothing, piercings and studs, and assume their fear of such an off-putting appearance must mean goths are aggressive. In fact, the most aggressive thing about goths is probably their appearance. Religioustolerance.org notes, “Goths tend to be non-violent, pacifistic, passive, and tolerant.”

Often to a fault. In fact, goths are much more often the victims of violence, as in the cases of Sophie Lancaster and Melody McDowell, both of whom were coincidentally assaulted in England.

In some ways, the comments made by Bonser’s neighbors constitute another kind of attack on goths — and reveal the layers of misunderstanding and discomfort that exist against them in modern society.

When someone on UK Yahoo Answers asked why goths are so stigmatized, another responded:

Unfortunately a lot of people (especially those who live in small towns & don’t have a lot of life experience, or even those of a low level of intelligence) will always feel threatened by something that is outside their own experience and/or they do not understand.

Or, to quote a certain wise green muppet, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

When will we stop being so afraid of one another?

How fundamentalists control the story

Dawn Jewell’s horse, Erik, was slaughtered in Cornwall last weekend. Probably not by Satanists.

Satanic fervor has overtaken both British newspapers and Internet forums following the death of a 2-year-old stallion last weekend. Details of the death have been scarce, stoking public imagination. Because he died either late Sunday night, Jan. 8, or early Jan. 9, on the full moon (Jan. 9) and close to the supposed Satanic holiday of “St Winebald Day” (Jan. 7), speculators believe the horse’s death must somehow be related to Satanists or the occult.

BBC’s first article played up the “St Winebald” idea. Other, more predictable British papers, took it even further. “Eric the horse mutilated on ‘Satan sacrifice day’,” screeched the Sun, which also shared a few gruesome details. Their piece also contains this potentially libelous gem:

Rumours are rife among locals that the butchery in Stithians, near Falmouth, Cornwall, was part of an evil occult ceremony.

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has attempted to connect Erik’s fate to a second horse’s death nearly 300 miles away, in Wales.

However, in a followup story, the BBC has toned down the Satanism:

Some internet forums have contained speculation that the most recent killing coincided with St Winebald Day on 7 January, which is said to have been included on Satanic calendars as a date for blood rituals.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We’re keeping an open mind with many lines of inquiry as to what happened. There is nothing specific to suggest that this is the case, there are no facts, it’s speculation.

“It was a savage attack on or near a date, but there is nothing to suggest that it is things like a Satanic worship attack.”

Worrisomely, if you look up “St. Winebald’s Day” on Google, the first link you come to is one from The Forbidden Knowledge, which presents a “Satanic” calendar without sources or explanation. Click through to the front page of this site and you’ll see an above-the-fold warning that, “Your government is poised to inject you with a tracking chip manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions called, ‘Veri Chip.’ Don’t believe me? Click below, I’ll prove it to you.” Reporters who visit this site should be backing away, as quickly as they can, from any information it contains.

However, the second link with information about this “holiday” is a piece by pagan leader and former cop Kerr Cuhulain debunking the aforementioned calendar. He believes the source is the Calvary Chapel, a fundamentalist Christian organization, based in West Covina, California. In other words, not exactly experts on occult and Satanism — in fact, they have a vested interest in making such faiths look bad.

Cuhulain explains:

This calendar claims that Satanic groups perform between 4 and 8 human sacrifices (“blood” or “Da Muer” rituals) per year. It also claims that every year these groups must engage in 10 sexual orgies with males and females between the ages of 1 and 25 as well as with animals. Let’s look at this awful calendar in detail:

“DATE: Jan. 7, CELEBRATION: St. Winebald Day, TYPE: Blood, USAGE: Animal or Human Sacrifice, AGE: 15-33.”(5)

NOTE: January 7 is Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian New Year’s Day. It is not a Satanic holiday. Winebald was the brother of Saint Walburga, also known as Walpurgis.

Reporters, or even Internet speculators, don’t seem to have gotten as far as link #2. Or even questioning link #1.

Regular readers of this blog already know that Most Satanists do not practice animal sacrifice. That’s not to say that people playing at “devil worship” won’t hurt animals. It just means it likely has nothing to do with established faiths or the people who follow them.

In short, a calendar cooked up by evangelicals is being used by some police, locals, and even British newspapers to explain a horse’s death — one even going so far as to finger a butcher shop and accuse workers both of horse slaughter and occult activity. Meanwhile, Satanists and occultists who actually follow their faith and their laws are quietly implicated.

Next, people will be believing that the government wants to put a chip in their brain.

Goths slapped for shooting Whitby graveyard

Posing on tombstones: is it disrespectful, or is it a celebration of the cycles of life? Photo by Flickr user zharth.

Twice a year, goths from all over the world flock to Whitby, in northern England, for the mother of all gothic festivals: the Whitby Gothic Weekend. They dress up, listen to bands, and visit the St Mary’s Church grounds.

Goths and cemeteries go hand in hand. Why? According to Amy at Ultimate Goth Guide:

Graveyards are peaceful and serene; and by and large people tend to stay away from them. The subject of death, for the mainstream, is taboo, which makes the resting place of the dead somewhere to be feared. Whereas Goths, as I have previously mentioned, are more appreciative of the beauty that can be found in dark or even frightening things. Death is not something that is hoped for or courted, but it is a fact of life, and as such has a beauty of its own. Non-Goths may find it uncomfortable to appreciate the beauty of a cemetery, but the ornate statues and crumbling gravestones are beautiful nonetheless.

But chances are, a Goth in a graveyard probably isn’t thinking about death at all – they are likely to enjoy the sense of history, the tranquil atmosphere, the beautiful carvings.

The St Mary’s Church grounds are something special to goths — in fact, it has been called “a Stonehenge for goths”. That’s because Bram Stoker included the graveyard in his novel Dracula as the location where the vampire takes Lucy Westenra as his victim. The place oozes atmosphere, as you can see here. You can read the passage where Jonathan Harker finds Lucy in the cemetery here.

So, the churchyard has been part of goths’ Whitby pilgramage — until this fall, when the church rector banned all photography in the cemetery. Although many newspapers have claimed this ban only pertains to goths, in fact it includes anyone who might want to take photos on the grounds:

John Hemson, the church’s warden said: “The reason the rector did it was, it had become unbearable. I sat there one day and in half an hour nine photographers walked past me.

“The Goths stand, sit or even lie on the table graves. there are people in Whitby who had families there even though it closed in 1861 and they object to it very much.”

Fair enough. In general, cemeteries are private property — supported and paid for by the families of those buried there. This is especially true on church grounds. Many graveyards ban photography for just this reason. At the same time, graveyards are pieces of history that include beautiful statuary and grounds. People come from all over the world to visit Paris’ Père Lachaise or New Orleans’ St. Louis cemeteries — and to take pictures to document their discoveries.

For a response from the goth world, again here’s Amy from the Ultimate Goth Guide:

I’m sure that in our younger and dafter days many of us were photographed draped all over assorted stones in our local cemeteries, but I think that most of us always have and will continue to draw the line at placing our booted feet all over the resting places of the dead. Surely we can all agree that that is disrespectful. And frankly, we Goths are overall a pleasant and affable lot, and would, I’m sure, be alarmed and upset to learn that behaviour in the cemetery had offended others. A small minority aside (probably the same minority who trample all over table stones), I’m sure that the ban will be respected and upheld by the spooky community.

Should goths — or anyone — be prohibited from touching, sitting, or laying on gravestones for photographs? Is it disrespectful? Should photography in cemeteries be banned?

Seaman’s submarine shooting rampage blamed on … game that has nothing to do with submarines

British seaman Ryan Donovan was recently sentenced to 25 years in jail for a shooting rampage on a submarine. Some say “Grand Theft Auto” is to blame.

Grand Theft Auto has been blamed for a lot of things. In fact, the series has been called the most controversial game franchise of all time by Guinness World Records. Some have claimed the game inspired multiple murder sprees, though none of those claims have held up in court. Most recently, GTA was blamed for inspiring the UK riots — as though there weren’t more legitimate forces at work.

Ryan Donovan, a 23-year-old seaman from Kent, was recently denied transfer from a submarine docked at Southampton to another he preferred. His response was to bring a gun on board last April, attacking several fellow workers and killing an officer, Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux, 36. Donovan admitted to the crime and has been put behind bars for 25 years.

End of story, right?

Not so fast. It turns out that Donovan, a year earlier, told a co-worker, “I am going to kill somebody.” But that’s not all. He also discussed “trying to ‘create a massacre in the control’ … The pair had discussed the computer game Grand Theft Auto, in which players took part in a “kill frenzy”. This, somehow, translates into GTA inspiring the shooting.

How many times do we jokingly tell co-workers “I’m going to kill someone” in a fit of frustration? And how often have GTA players talked about the game with co-workers? I get that the Daily Mail is not the most ethical or objective newspaper in the UK, and the things they say are taken with a very large lump of salt. It doesn’t even sound like the game played a major role in the court case. Still, sensationalism plays well. It gets people talking. And it gets people thinking about what it might mean the next time someone talks about this game — or something violent within it they enjoy. Are they the next killer? Should you report them to the police?

It certainly can’t hurt, right?

A sequel to the “Satanic Panic?”

Kids and adults play together at the annual Summerstar pagan festival in Washington State. Photo by Dannelle Meyers Photography.

The people of New Forest, England, recently faced an unlikely scourge: an anonymous “whistleblower” going by the name of “Alice,” who claimed in several online forums that Rosicrucian and Wiccan practitioners in the area were sexually abusing children.

In one such posting, shared on ShameOnYou.mobi, she wrote:

There is the secret Wiccan group in New Forest, England. Praying to “witches” and the devil and worse torturing children for the sake of their sick “religion”. They film and make fotos, which they distribute on the net.

Their leader, a demented Nick ####, called “Your Highness” by the other cult members. He lives in Minstead, preaches in the local church and pretends to be the “good guy” next door. Privately he boasts to be “an important Mason”, “your Highness” and doing incredibly sick stuff to children in his garage. He also abducts children occasionally, in the New Forest area. He abuses the children of his friends, drugging them and scaring them to death, so the children do not confide to anybody.

Other members of that particular paedophile ring are: His entire family. These family members have been abused and introduced into the Wiccan doctrine by Nick #### himself. They now abuse their own children.

“Alice” also turned up in the comments on a GodDiscussion.com post in which theistic Satanist Diane Vera addressed the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and early 1990s, pointing out that allegations of child abuse by Satanic groups had been entirely debunked. In those comments, and in many other postings, “Alice” identifies specific residents of New Forest and the surrounding areas. Many of her posts have since been removed, likely because her actions could qualify as libel.

This is almost precisely how the first “Satanic Panic” began, in the late 1980s, as locals were accused of sexually abusing children during Satanic and/or Wiccan rituals in UK towns. In all, 52 children were taken from their parents and made wards of the court, while three men faced charges — but police found no evidence of the alleged “Satanic abuse.”

In America, the fires were stoked by books such as Michelle Remembers, written by psychologist Lawrence Pazder about a patient he said suffered from multiple-personality disorder as a result of her abuse experiences. (She later married him.) Those stories were eventually debunked, but not until well after the story had been picked up by the mainstream press, including Oprah, frightening millions. There don’t seem to be any good statistics on how many children were separated from their families — or from preschools they loved — during this period.

It’s true that, as a nation, we know more than we used to about Wiccans and even Satanists than we did in the 1980s. They’ve emerged as a much more everyday and benign presence in society. But fear is not behind us, and the conservative religious movement — embodied in the Evangelical Christian and to some extent the Tea Party movement, is gaining both ground and power in America.

Ultimately, the demonization and criminalization of people who practice alternative faiths, from Wicca to Satanism and everywhere in between, is not over. As long as reporters continue to draw connections between criminal activity and paganism, this can’t end. Facts must supersede fear, and paranoid individuals like “Alice” must be taken for what they are.

Readers, how were your lives affected by the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 1990s? Did the stories frighten you? Were you suspected of wrongdoing because of your beliefs or interests? How could we keep it from happening again? Share your stories in the comments.