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Tom Meighan & Why Music Fans Have To Take Violence Against Women Seriously
Eve Willis , July 13th, 2020 12:43

Last week, former Kasabian singer Tom Meighan was handed a risibly light sentence for domestic violence. Eve Willis explains why this matters

You might not listen to Kasabian, but millions do - they're an astoundingly, if bafflingly, popular group. This is why it matters that Kasabian's lead singer Tom Meighan assaulted his partner, got an outrageously light sentence, and will, in all likelihood, be back to torment us all with a god-awful solo album of melancholic acoustic dirge in 18 months, when his community order is over and the nation has forgotten about his crimes. Sorry to be glib, but if you don't laugh, you'll cry.

Meighan attacked his partner in what the Judge described as a “sustained assault", where “you knocked Ms Ager over on more than one occasion, and put your hands to her throat…. You hit her in the face and pushed her into a hamster cage, which resulted in injury to her head". He also threatened her with a wooden pallet. Video footage shows her fighting him off. A child saw this, and phoned 999, which Judge Watson concedes makes this offence “more serious… She must have been frightened over what was happening." Well, quite. In Scotland, exposing a child to domestic violence is considered an aggravating factor, meaning courts can hand down tougher sentences. But this isn't Scotland. This is England, and Meighan got an 18-month community order and was told to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

When sentencing, Judge Watson commented that “I need to take account of the fact that not only did you hurt Ms Ager, you also let down many people - band members and those who love your music. They will be shocked about what you did that night."

They might be shocked, but will they care?

Meighan's sentence is disappointing, and testament to the inadequacies of the law - and I'll get to the niceties of that in a minute. But laws can be changed. Attitudes are trickier. Shortly before news of the sentence was revealed, the band announced that he was no longer a member. The fan response - on twitter, at least - was one of bristlingly defensive misogyny. How could Kasabian turn their back on 'Tom' when he was at his lowest? The band's initially anaemic response - he's leaving to work on personal issues - was eventually beefed up into an unequivocal “There is absolutely no way we can condone his assault conviction. Domestic violence and abuse of any kind is totally unacceptable." Some mates you are, the fans bleated.

Footage of the assault showed Meighan dragging his fiancé into the garden by her ankles, causing her multiple injuries. He held her by the throat. Maybe it sounds like I'm gratuitously dwelling on the scale of assault, so let's place it in a wider context. According to the 2018 Femicide Census, strangulation and asphyxiation are the second most common ways women get killed in homicides - 29% or 17% die these ways, compared to 3% of men. The New Zealand Law Commission noted that a victim who is strangled has a much greater risk of a future fatal attack.

In the UK non-fatal strangulation isn't recognised as a distinct offence, and the lack of observable injuries ( Meighan's fiancé was left with “a reddening round her neck") means that attackers are often charged with the lesser offence of common assault, rather than actual bodily harm. I'm sure you can guess which one lucky old Meighan got.

I volunteer with an organisation called We Can't Consent to This, set up in response to the growing number of women killed during so-called 'sex games gone wrong'. We recently successfully worked with MPs to have an amendment tabled to the Domestic Abuse Bill that will end this defence. Non-fatal strangulation is next. Legal change matters, of course it does. But politics - and the law - live downstream from culture. The law may change, but it cannot drag our attitudes with it. The Judge's decision in the Tom Meighan case was depressing, but unsurprising. The fan reaction even more so. Almost one in three women aged between 16 and 59 will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. You probably work or drink with a man who rules his home with an iron fist. Misogyny is banal in its ubiquity. It's everywhere.

I'm sure that lots of men reading this feel pretty good right now. You would never hit or choke a woman, and you wouldn't listen to music by someone who did either - let alone Kasabian. They're dull, embarrassing. They've been pushing their half-baked brand of lacklustre dad-rock for 23 years. At least Pete Doherty had the good grace to set his career on fire and quietly retreat into a life of relative anonymity and competitive fried breakfast consumption. I watched some of Kasabian's videos before writing this. A miserable group of boy-men who could do with some SPF and a couple of months on the 5:2 diet. I doubt that the cultural life of Britain will limp to a shallow grave without them.

But what about when the band in question are good? I'd put money on some of you closing this article and then humming absently to Psychic TV whilst you get your dinner ready. And how about Ryan Adams? God, what about the BFI's Halloween season - you won't catch me in the queue to see Rosemary's Baby, an incredible film by a man who drugged and raped a child.

When Genesis P-Orridge died much of the music press was laid low with collective amnesia. Suddenly no one remembered their former romantic and musical partner Cosey Fanni Tutti's allegations that P-Orridge threw a concrete block at her head, nearly killing her. Not to mention all the allegations of emotional and sexual coercion in Tutti's excellent biography, Art Sex Music. This is abuse, written off as the eccentricities of a great musician. Ryan Adams has been accused of sexual misconduct and emotional abuse. He exchanged over 3,000 texts with a 15-year-old he coerced into phone sex. This is grooming. Stations refuse to play his records, his career languishes; this is fair.

The law can - and should be - improved. But it's clearly currently not a strong enough disincentive to predators, to violent men. Men will only stop abusing women when it becomes socially insane to do: when being known as a predator or a wife-beater will lose you your friends, eviscerate your career, destroy your life. Some people say these standards shouldn't apply to art or culture; artists get to live by different rules, that different norms apply. They don't. Some might say that this will lead to an airless, antiseptic cultural landscape, full of diffident, scared men. That sounds, to me, like hysteria.

You cannot enjoy the glory of public acclaim if you terrorise women in your own home. Reject Tom Meighan, reject his work, reject his excuses. Reject the work of men - however brilliant, and Meighan certainly is not brilliant - who assault women, or accept that you play your part in actively shoring up their careers, egos and livelihoods. We should all play a role in the wholesale rejection of abusers - even if it means giving up music or art that is rich in tenderness and vitality. The perfect record can be thrilling, and the chime of recognition that a piece of art speaks to us is unlike anything else. But women are more important. It's that simple. Make your choice.

For more information on how you can get involved with We Can't Consent To This, click here. The fee for this article has been donated to Women's Aid.

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