In 2014 the coalition government made ‘revenge porn’ a criminal offence. Classified as the ‘distribution of private sexual images without their consent and with the intention of causing them distress’ it was led through parliament by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
Backing the motion, the then Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said ‘Circulating intimate photos of an individual without their consent is never acceptable. People are entitled to expect a reasonable level of respect and privacy.’
And I completely agree.
But this isn’t just about women, as I found out myself yesterday when an ex-girlfriend, upset at our break up, took to social media to publish a photo of my private medication and falsely accuse me of cheating on her.
Last week cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham publicly stated that he was having treatment for erectile dysfunction, something which affects 60-per-cent of men over 60.
But it’s not just older men who suffer from this embarrassing and upsetting condition. It has been estimated that half of all men between 40 and 70 will have it to some degree and approximately 40-per-cent of all men will suffer.
Nicky Morgan said it was “beyond belief” that people were “cruelly distributing intimate pictures of their former partners without their consent” and I would hope that also goes for what happened to me. It takes someone with a warped sense of morality to think that tweeting prescribed drugs in order to humiliate them in front of their colleagues and, in my case, in the national media, is an acceptable response to the end of a relationship.
My ex-partner was using her discovery of my viagra tablets, made some months ago and not recently, as she said in her nasty tweet, to threaten me. My candidacy in the leadership of UKIP was seen used as an opportunity for her to use my private medical history to get what she wanted, knowing that the press and my political opponents would seize on it.
I am certain that if I had done something similar to her, I would currently be in police custody or out on bail with strict conditions attached. As it is, I am having to put up with blanket coverage of my medical circumstances whilst this woman poses for photographs and gives interviews packed full of lies.
This was not the only threat I received from Ms Chew, who also has money of mine which she has refused to return. Does the fact that I am a man mean that I am not capable of being a victim of a sexually motivated attack by a former partner or will the government carry out their promises to victims of revenge porn to ‘do everything we can to bring offenders to justice’ regardless of the gender of the perpetrator?
This goes beyond the physical – this is a subject which has deep roots in mental health; something no government in this country’s history has been able to tackle properly. For sure, we’ve had headlines about it but I can only assume the lack of action comes down to people with mental health problems not making good poster models for PR campaigns. The stigma attached to mental health is something which should shame our society.
Apparently government agencies can tell from a glance whether someone is a terrorist or has a mental health problem but they seem unable to do anything about it. Erectile disfunction is not only a symptom of mental health problems but a cause of some, too. If, as a nation, we think medical conditions are something to laugh at someone about, if we do not help people with life-destroying mental health conditions but instead send billions of pounds abroad, then we something has gone very wrong.
I’ve a thick skin – I’ve had my fair share of nasty headlines and negative coverage but because I don’t say things I don’t believe in, I can take it.
But what if this happens to someone who isn’t so robust? The Cure might have said ‘boys don’t cry’ but we only need to look at the suicide rates between men and women to see we have a gaping chasm to cross before we have equality between the sexes when it comes to what is an acceptable condition to have and what some people are just supposed to deal with.
If this incident has any long term impact I hope that it’s a change in how men’s health problems are perceived: not as a laughing matter – although thanks to all my friends and colleagues who have told me to ‘stand firm’ and ‘be strong’ – but something which should be given the help and consideration that women’s conditions do.
If we are serious about equality then it must go both ways.
Bill Etheridge is a UKIP Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands and is running for party leader