Will one mother’s lies harm other women who want to exercise their right to breastfeed their children in public?
Back in July Caroline Starmer alleged that a Primark security guard “physically removed” her daughter from her breast while she was nursing in the Leicester branch of the high street store, first making the claim on the Facebook page of the group Free to Feed, which supports breastfeeding in public, and then speaking to the press.
The case made headlines all over the world but Starmer’s claims were strenuously denied by Primark. After CCTV footage was checked police charged Starmer.
The 28-year-old admitted intending to pervert the course of justice and was given an eight-month sentence, suspended for two years, reported the BBC. According to Starmer’s defence she lied because an unnamed friend persuaded her to do it to make money.
The mother avoided jail “by a whisker” said Judge Simon Hammond.
“She has done a gross disservice to the many mothers who are breastfeeding and rely on shops and other public facilities to allow them to breastfeed their babies in privacy and dignity,” he said. “This is a very serious case of perverting the course of justice. What the defendant did was carefully planned and orchestrated for financial gain.”
The court heard Starmer has had 17 miscarriages and suffers from mental health issues. She had previously made a similar allegation about another local establishment, posting on Leicester Leys Leisure Centre’s Facebook page in February: “Disgusted at the fact they tried to remove me from the premises for breast feeding my twins in a quiet secluded area, away from where anyone else could be affected.”
What have Starmer’s lies done for the movement to support public breastfeeding? Hopefully, very little.
Predictably the Starmer case has sparked backlash from some people against the so-called “Mammary Militia” or “Breastapo” — it’s the perfect opportunity for those who either don’t want to see mothers breastfeeding in public, or think it’s all a big fuss over nothing, to use this case as an example of a hysterical, militant campaign.
But this is only one case — involving a woman who clearly has mental health issues and is in need of professional help — and it shouldn’t stop women from speaking up if they feel discriminated against for, or discouraged from, breastfeeding in public.
A quick reminder of the law on public breastfeeding is always useful: The Equality Act 2010 has specifically clarified that it is unlawful for a business to discriminate against a woman because she is breastfeeding a child. Additionally businesses have a responsibility to ensure that a woman breastfeeding while receiving a service they provide is not treated unfairly, including by other customers.
According to a recent poll by Public Health England, 72 percent of people support breastfeeding in public but 34 percent of breastfeeding mothers still feel embarrassed or uncomfortable doing so, with 21 percent of them believing people do not want them to breastfeed in public.