Tag Archives: justice

OJ, Yewtree & Pistorious: It’s time we listened to Sue Lees

Last week marked the twenty year anniversary of the deaths of two people whose names you may not recognise: Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. They’re famous only because of the name of the man who was acquitted of their brutal murders: OJ Simpson. And if you just went “OJ who?” it’s past your bedtime, go upstairs.

At the time many concluded that if you’re rich enough and famous enough you can get away with anything. This probably explains the Star Wars prequels. I’m not sure what the rules are – how famous you have to be to commit what crime. I’ve been on Question Time, I’m guessing that’s enough for a happy slap. I’ll take Farage.

For feminists, the television broadcast of the trial offered an insight into the court process and why men who attack women so often do so with impunity.

I read a lot of books about feminism at university, which might explain why I only scraped the narrowest of 2.1s in my maths degree. Objectification never came up in my modules, but statistics did.

One of them was Sue Lees’ book Carnal Knowledge. Lees had spent months sitting in court rooms watching rape trials and detailing the systematic ways in which the credibility of victims was undermined.

In December last year I did jury service for the first time. I drew two conclusions from my experiences. The first was that the system is still loaded with misogyny towards victims of rape and domestic violence. The second was that Ms Lees should really have been made a Knight of the Realm for sitting through all those hours of grinding legal argument and vicious victim-blaming.

Having trials on TV is a producer’s dream. Spend millions on a new series of Big Brother? No need, viewers will be queuing up to watch a famous athlete explain why he shot his girlfriend. So far we have resisted televising trials in the UK, resulting instead in coverage that has left me with a paranoid fear of chalk drawings.

Home and abroad the cases show a depressing set of similarities. The barrister defending Oscar Pistorius has produced as evidence romantic texts (true love always texts) and a video clip of the couple kissing. Here in the UK, the defense case for Rolf Harris called celebrity character witnesses.

Shouldn’t someone point out that being an outwardly “nice” guy doesn’t prove anything? Those who commit violence against women have so far refused to stick to a dress and behaviour code that lets us all know what they are really like. I suggest a “this is what a misogynist criminal looks like” T-shirts. Although of course within a fortnight we’d be hearing: “she can’t have been raped, she willingly got in a car with him while he was wearing his misogynist criminal T-shirt”. Doh.

While the Harris and Pistorius cases continue there are a string of others that have been dropped, not even brought to court. Freddie Starr, Jim Davison, Jimmy Tarbuck, and others have been cleared of all charges. William Roach, Dave Lee Travis, Michael Le Vell and most – famously of all – Michael Jackson.

Individually these things mean nothing. Any of them could be innocent. And we should remember that a “not guilty” verdict simply means the absence of sufficient evidence to convict. The basic right to be treated as innocent should prevail, but it doesn’t come with a prize or a medal: “Sponsored by Tefal – nothing sticks”.

No, seen together, as a pattern, they add up to a worrying picture – one that Lees was able to identify in 1996. Attrition at every stage of a system loaded against claimants means that – and this is a frightening concept to consider – the percentage of rape allegations that lead to conviction is now lower than the percentage of the UK population who voted for UKIP.

There have been flashes of hope out there. Mike Tyson went to jail. Max Clifford is in jail now. It may have taken years to get the result but Phil Spector eventually went to prison too. The court system has the potential to put dangerous misogynist criminals behind bars.

I’ve been careful with my language throughout this piece. I wasn’t at these trials, I can’t comment on the evidence presented, only on the system and the overall statistics. I can say this though: MAX CLIFFORD IS A SEX OFFENDER. MAX CLIFFORD IS A SEX OFFENDER. Phew. That does feel strangely exhilarating. It reminds me how empowering a conviction like that is, not just for victims and their families but for everyone who values a safe and just society. Maybe I’ll post him one of my “misogynist criminal” T-shirts. I hear his size is extra small.

We can do even better than this. Twenty years after OJ there are simple changes that could be made to our legal system that would give victims of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence a better shot at justice:

The right for claimants to demand a full trial, rather than allowing the police and CPS to just “give up”. Expert judges for rape and sex assault cases, including more female judges. Making it compulsory for judges to warn jurors that it is normal for victims to delay reporting and show no visible trauma as they give evidence. Information given to jurors on the defendant’s previous convictions, complaints and accusations.

And if you’re wondering where I came up with those simple, elegant ideas… they’re in Sue Lees’ book. And they’re as relevant now as they were when she wrote them nearly 20 years ago. The high profile, televised and media-sensationalised cases don’t really provide us with any new information, but they do provide an opportunity to talk about the legal system and demand much-needed radical changes.

Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian and political activist. Follow her @Cruella1

Photo: Wikimedia

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End Sexual Violence in Conflict: Slow steps towards progress

Last week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit saw dignitaries from 155 nations descend on London’s ExCel Centre.  A magnificent effort from both Angelina Jolie and Foreign Secretary William Hague, the four-day summit highlighted the atrocities and dangers that women (and indeed, men and boys) face in conflict times. The event’s fringe was fantastic, with incredible collections of artwork beautifully complimented by engaging and emotional discussions, as well as innovative and powerful theatre discussions.

I was moved to tears by Save the Children’s performance highlighting the stories of three very different girls, all affected by rape. I could not help but be inspired listening to Congolese gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege speak on how his resolve to end sexual violence in conflict only grew following the assassination attempt on his life in 2012. There were also some incredibly painful testimonies that will stay with me for some time. Hague and Jolie are to be commended for successfully getting the world to momentarily sit up and take notice of a humanitarian issue long accepted as a just another byproduct of war.

There were some great ideas and initiatives discussed and put forward during the summit. One in particular was the push to implement a mixed court in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the judiciary is badly letting women down by not holding perpetrators properly to account. This means that generals, who often order the rapes to happen, are routinely escaping justice. A mixed court system, with the international community supporting the existing system, would operate at a higher level of efficiency. Another excellent initiative put forward during the week was Care International’s long standing project of engaging men in conflict nations.  Their work tackles gender inequality and gender stereotypes, with the aim of reducing instances of sexual violence through an amplification of women’s rights and equality. Women for Women International’s policy of empowering women through economic independence is also worthy , as is the protocol itself.

This protocol is the result of extensive consultation with various expert working groups and reviewers, with editorial authority resting with the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office. According to the document, the International Protocol has the main aim of promoting accountability for crimes of sexual violence under international law. Whilst the protocol isn’t binding on states, it can serve as an effective tool to properly document sexual violence as a war crime, a crime against humanity or an act of genocide- all enshrined under international law.

The protocol recognises that it will not tackle every sexual violence crime. Instead it focuses on those that occur under international criminal law. But survivors of sexual violence crimes outside of this context are still in chronic need of support. It is hoped that the protocol will be a springboard for increased action on prevention and accountability for all forms of sexual violence in conflict.

However, there are some criticisms of this that must be addressed. Whilst the aim and launch of the protocol itself is admirable, there is some conflict with our own domestic policy here in the UK. On the opening day of the summit’s fringe, both the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and the All African Women’s Group held a brutally honest demonstration. Their demonstration sought to highlight the conflict between the UK’s treatment of survivors of sexual violence claiming asylum and the aims of the summit. They called for an end to the disbelief and slandering of asylum seekers.

I spoke to two of the demonstrators. They explained to me that the UK was currently detaining survivors of sexual violence in immigration detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood – women who, having fled their home nation, were claiming asylum. How then, could the UK lead the way on sexual violence in conflict, when it was deporting and treating survivors in such a manner? The abuses at Yarl’s Wood are well documented and show the level of honesty that will be required from all the signatory nations if we are to truly help survivors across the world. How can we hope to tackle sexual violence on a global stage when domestically, we are failing women?

There’s also the question of efficiency. The international community is failing to make the most of it’s current resources. How then, can we be confident the protocol will not go the same way? There is a vast range of international legislation on peace and security, women’s rights, protecting women from violence and gender-based violence. They’re simply not being properly implemented. A commitment is laudable, but without real progress it is merely words. The time has come for action.

Countries need to be seen to be doing better. States need to work with women’s rights organisations in their respective countries to ensure the resources on offer, be it through funding or policy, are being efficiently used. In 2010, there was a coalition of 50 non governmental organisations all working together and sharing resources, with a focus on DRC. This coalition eventually folded due to a lack of funding. It’s initiatives like this that the UK, who announced a further £6 million in funding to help survivors of sexual conflict, need to make sure are properly funded. Too often, pledged money gets lost in International NGOs. We need to make sure a lot of more that is reaching smaller charities on the ground.

Looking forward, I am reservedly optimistic that the protocol will be beneficial to tackling sexual violence in conflict. I commend Jolie’s dedication to this subject, and her commitment to making real lasting change. The summit is nothing to be scoffed at. Indeed, when Sunday Times columnist Adam Boulton refers to it as “trivial”,  it serves as a sharp reminder of just how difficult it is to get people to take rape seriously. For Angelina Jolie to use her celebrity in this fashion is refreshing. Often, we see famous people engage in charity work in a very superficial manner, benefiting from the good press without any type of dedication to the cause. That Jolie continues in this field of work, despite media scrutiny and, at times, criticism for her involvement, is worthy of recognition.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon 

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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#GenderWeek: “TERF-war”, online bullying & the dark art of doxing

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Online bullying is, self-evidently, a phenomenon that has only been able to exist since the rise of the publicly available internet. The existence of “doxing” has followed it. Doxing (or Doxxing, Docx), for those who don’t know, is a shortened form of the word ‘documenting’ and is the practice of outing somebody online, usually by linking to the person’s photographs or identity in some way.

It is not always motivated by malice. The net provides a convenient cloak of anonymity for those who seek to dissemble. Few of us could have failed to laugh when Mary Beard received a snivelling apology from a no-longer-brave young man faced with having his tweet shown to his mother, and it will rarely be against the public interest to discover that a brand advocate is actually employed by said brand.

It becomes sinister when it is used as a tool to attack private individuals who have done nothing more offensive than exist.

In what has been dubbed the “TERF-wars”; where trans-exclusionary radical feminists, trans-inclusionary feminists and trans-activists have come to blows on Twitter – often over subjects such as women-only spaces and equalities law – the lines between debate and abuse often become very confused, with both sides accusing the other of abuse. The legal tipping point between the two is discussed below, although the moral high ground is obviously a different matter.

Many feminists find the term “TERF” offensive and the word “cis” – a Latin prefix used as the opposite of “trans” – uncomfortable.  There is no right not to be offended, so a person who dislikes the terms is unlikely to be able to make out a legal case to prevent it. Insisting on calling someone “cis” or “TERF” if they do not like it or identify with the term is rude, probably bullying, but unless it is used deliberately to cause distress, which would be hard to prove, it is unlikely to be illegal. Similarly, deliberate misgendering would in most cases be considered obnoxious rather than unlawful. There is no hard line definition of what is offensive; that is considered on a case by case basis according to what the “reasonable” person would think.

It goes without saying that there is no remedy in criminal or in civil law for someone putting forward a viewpoint with which one disagrees. As with all online debate, holding an opposing position is not in itself abuse or bullying. So, for example, there is no possible legal way to prevent “trans-critical analysis”, which theorises the non-existence of transsexuals, no matter how hurtful it may be to a person reading it. However it is very often within this context that doxing occurs which is often used in the online bullying of trans people.

Doxing is by no stretch of the imagination a simple analysis problem. It has involved deliberate targeting of individuals in a way designed to intimidate them, including vulnerable people (minors) who could in no way be said to have raised their heads above a theoretical parapet.

It is a sad truth that the application of the law cannot force anybody to be right. However, the law does provide some protection to the victims of bullying no matter what views you hold.  Here’s a slimmed-down synopsis of how.

The Public Order Act

The Public Order Act of 1986 makes it a criminal offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, either with intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress or in the presence of someone who might be caused harassment, alarm or distress. Equally, it is an offence to ‘display’ such words or behaviour. In 1986 that meant on a wall, placard or similar, but it could equally apply to Tumblr or Twitter in today’s terms.

It is a defence to show that the conduct was reasonable or that the person doing it had no reason to believe that anybody would actually see it.

Sending malicious communications

The Malicious Communications Act 1988 makes it a criminal offence to send any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient. The offence covers letters, writing of all descriptions, electronic communications, photographs and other images in a material form, tape recordings, films and video recordings.

The offence is one of sending, delivering or transmitting, so there is no requirement for the article to reach the intended recipient.

In 2007 the court considered whether a political or educational motive would be a defence (when applied to a woman who was sending graphic photographs of aborted foetuses as part of an anti-abortion campaign.) It was not held to be a defence and any restriction on freedom of speech was justified by everyone else’s right not to be victimised.

Harassment

The CPS use the term harassment to cover the ‘causing alarm or distress’ offences under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA), and ‘putting people in fear of violence’ offences under section 4 of the PHA. Harassment is not specifically defined, but it can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contacts upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person. It would be difficult to prove that doxing someone (without notifying them) constituted harassment of that individual, but the CPS guidance states that:

“Closely connected groups may also be subjected to ‘collective’ harassment. The primary intention of this type of harassment is not generally directed at an individual but rather at members of a group. This could include: members of the same family; residents of a particular neighbourhood; groups of a specific identity including ethnicity or sexuality, for example, the racial harassment of the users of a specific ethnic community centre; harassment of a group of disabled people; harassment of gay clubs; or of those engaged in a specific trade or profession.”

This could undoubtedly be applied to an individual (or small group of individuals) harassing a group by doxing them, if the doxing is targeted at members of a particular group.

Doxing: outside the criminal law

Of course, although the CPS have an impressive policy on hate crime, the system is not always interested in what are perceived to be online spats and although, in my view, the system will increasingly recognise that offences can and do occur in the virtual world, the civil law may also be of more immediate interest.

The Equalities Act 2010 protects people with certain characteristics (race, sex, disability, gender reassignment, religion, pregnancy, marriage, sexual orientation and age) from discrimination, harassment or victimisation.  Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 guarantees a person’s right to privacy (unless there is a very good reason).  A private individual cannot be sued under either the Equalities Act or the HRA, but public bodies can be (and in the case of the Equalities Act, so can private members’ clubs, associations, employers and service providers).

This means that doxing someone out of malice would be unlawful if it is done by a tabloid – but not if it is done by an individual. However, if it is published by an online publication, it is worth looking at whether that publication is an association or service provider. If so, there may be a remedy in civil law for damages.

One final possibility would be to sue the bully in tort. Tort is a legal concept whereby a person who is harmed by another can claim damages. It is self-evident that doxing would foreseeably cause harm, from distress to actual psychiatric injury. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever attempted to use this route as a remedy for outing or doxing, but it appears that if a person were caused harm by another’s actions in doxing them, they may well be entitled to damages.  A precedent for civil damages could prove more of a deterrent than the threat of criminal action.

Julian Norman is a barrister, professional law nerd, feminist and writer. Follow her @londonfeminist

Photo: Maryland Gov Pics

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“Crying wolf”: Why don’t the police believe women?

In December 2012 Naomi Oni was attacked with acid on her commute home from work by a jealous friend.

The fear, pain and panic of this horrific attack are difficult to comfortably contemplate. Unfortunately for Naomi, this was only the start of her ordeal. Painful medical procedures, a prolonged hospital admission, and a traumatic police investigation added to her distress.

Naomi alleges that the Metropolitan Police Service accused her of throwing acid in her own face, as a histrionic self-harm, motivated by a desire for publicity and fame. Although one can understand the need to explore all avenues of enquiry, as the Met have stated, this seems like an incredibly unlikely scenario. I have worked as a Psychiatrist for many years, and such severe and maiming self injury for secondary gain is exceedingly rare. How then did such an outlandish theory escalate to the point where the victim was not only accused but told that no assailant was seen following her on the CCTV footage?

Do the answers lie in the attitudes of police officers towards women, and in institutional ambivalent sexism? Currently the Police Service is not representative of the citizens it serves; nationally only 27.3% of police officers are female, and women are grossly underrepresented in the higher echelons of management and leadership in the force. As an organisation, women were only integrated into the force in the early 70s, and the force failed to drop the prefix for Woman Police Constables until 1999.

Could the ‘canteen culture’ of sexism within the police force lead to such disastrous practices as victim blaming and a loss of empathy, with the potential of ultimately alienating the victim and causing further psychological damage? This case highlights a wider problem of gender bias. In a damning report on police response to domestic abuse, published last week, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary reported:

“HMIC is concerned about the poor attitudes that some police officers display towards victims of domestic abuse.”

“Victims told us that they were frequently not taken seriously, that they felt judged and that some officers demonstrated a considerable lack of empathy and understanding.”

Earlier this year, similar concerns were raised about a “culture of disbelief” over rape allegations, after figures showed some police forces were recording “no crime” for as many as a third of rapes reported to them. Liz Kelly, Chair of End Violence Against Women, told The Guardian:

“Our member organisations know how deep disbelief and victim-blaming goes on in institutions and communities. But the police play a critical role enabling rape survivors to access justice, so these disparities and attitudes must be urgently tackled.”

The psychodynamic perspective on groups and institutions gives us some insight into these attitudes by highlighting the dangers of depersonalisation and loss of identity in groups such as the police. As an institution with rigid roles and hierarchy, with a uniform and number in lieu of a name, the police may experience themselves less as individuals.

The severe stresses of such an environment and the effects of this depersonalisation could worsen maladaptive defences (i.e. inappropriate coping strategies). As individuals experience stress, the unwanted or taboo parts of the self are projected onto others, so that they elicit projected behaviour. It is human to externalise unacceptable feelings and attribute them to others, and this primitive defence mechanism is highly relevant in groups and institutions.

Groupthink as a phenomenon within groups can inhibit the rational reactions of individuals. There is ample evidence that our behaviour can be drastically modified with the conscious and unconscious pull to conformity and harmony of the group. The infamous Stanford Prison experiment in 1971 was conducted in a “mock” prison, where groups of young college students were assigned prisoner and guard roles. After the “prisoner” group staged a revolt on day two, the guards assertively regained control and used increasing levels of abusive and dehumanising behaviour. The experiment was halted early when the researcher realised that even they had become embroiled in the groupthink mentality by allowing such a damaging experiment to continue.

Ambivalent sexism is a theoretical concept developed by Dr Peter Glick and Dr Susan Fiske to understand gender based prejudice. Hostile and benevolent sexism are described, with the former representing the overtly hateful, such as beliefs that women are inherently inferior, manipulative or evil. Benevolent sexism describes attitudes which may appear subjectively positive, such as beliefs that women should be protected, or be put on a pedestal. However both forms remain damaging to individuals and to gender equality in their reinforcing message of separateness.

In the institution of the police, is the taboo of sexism projected into the group, resulting in institutionalised sexist practice?

It would be unfair to the police to suggest that this depersonalisation, with its resulting dehumanising behaviour and loss of empathy, is unique to their field.

I remember the loss of identity I felt as a young junior doctor in an environment where breaks were non-existent, and the work was challenging and never ending. The more stress I experienced, the more detached I became, with a loss of empathy for individuals at a dreadful point their lives. Patients became their illness, or a task rather than a whole person. In psychodynamic terms they became a part object only, to defend against the fear and anxiety of death and destruction which were ever present in the hospital environment. The Stafford Hospital scandal epitomises an institution’s descent into anti-human behaviour.

In more recent times, the savage cuts and erosion of pay and work conditions suffered by the police force can only increase the stress on individuals and the reliance on primitive defences to manage unbearable anxiety. The most shocking thing about Naomi Oni’s experience is not that it happened, but that it is a worrying omen of the police as an institution becoming more detached from the public they serve.

Anna Fryer is a Psychiatrist, feminist, mother of one preschooler and fan of the arts. Follow her  @annacfryer

Image: ITV Player

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Put your money where your rights are: Top 5 of Lesbian Wedding Gumpf

Same-sex marriage is now legal in the UK. We debated just last month whether this only served to make homosexual couples and queer people more heteronormative. Our panel never came to a consensus, but one thing we can be sure of is this historic move means it’s not just straight people who will be lumbering themselves with the trappings and corresponding cost of a traditional wedding. We know this because when you Google “Lesbian Wedding UK”, a whole variety of stuff you can buy comes up on page one.

To celebrate all couples now having the right to spend a fortune on a wedding, here’s our list of the top 5 lesbian wedding products that caught our eye.

1) Her & Her Wedding Dresses

Helen Bender is a German fashion designer. She presented her new lesbian wedding gowns at the Couture Fashion Week in New York City as a part of New York Fashion Week last year. With the collection titled “Charmed Brides”, Helen is one of only “a handful of designers who tailor matching outfits for lesbian bridal couples”. We loved this photo best, which illustrates that moment every bride looks forward to; when someone throws a bunch of loose carnations in your face.

herher

2) Lesbian Wedding Cards

Picking cards is tricky. Especially finding one that sums up your feelings about your best friends, colleague or family member on their wedding day. Thankfully there are card creative people who spend all day everyday honing our complex feelings into exquisite nuggets of emotional gold, like the following:

coupleof

3) Wedding Holidays

The only place you’ll find a rainbow on Thomson Holidays web pages is on the page titled “Gay Weddings“. They want to take you to “forward-thinking” Ibiza, and thankfully not backward thinking Moscow. For more same-sex marriage destinations go here.

holiday

4) Aprons

No one in the Feminist Times office uses an apron; that’s probably why we’re covered in stains. Maybe that’s also why this surprise cash-in on lesbian weddings is actually a blessing. Who wants a contribution to their honeymoon? Nah, give me an apron with two cartoon lesbians on it please.

apron

5) Hipster Wedding Fairs

No sooner had the Royal seal been given to same-sex marriage than One Love, a hipster wedding fair for up-market gays and lesbians sprang up at the rather posh Hospital Club. Skinny people, big beards, vacant expressions: “THE cool, style driven wedding show specifically to help gay and lesbian couples plan their beautiful and design-led wedding day”. Gotta like the One Love message, even if you can’t afford so much as an apron here.

hipster

Happy Marriage Everybody!

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Police

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Police

Prostitution stings are a law enforcement tactic used to target men who buy sex and women who sell it—or men and women who the police have profiled in this way. These days, rather than limit their patrol to the street, vice cops search the Web for advertisements they believe offer sex for sale, contact the advertisers while posing as customers, arrange hotel meetings, and attempt to make an arrest from within the relative comfort of a room with free Wi-Fi and an ice machine down the hall.

Whether these videos are locked in an evidence room, broadcast on the eleven o’clock news, or blogged by a vigilante, they are themselves a punishment. We could arrest you at any time, they say. Even if no one is there to witness your arrest, everyone will know. When we record your arrest, when you’re viewed again and again, you will be getting arrested all the time.

In the United States, one of the last industrialized nations which continues to outlaw sex for sale, we must ask: Why do we insist that there is a public good in staging sex transactions to make arrests? Is the point to produce order, to protect, or to punish?

No evidence will be weighed before the arrest video is published. Even if she was not one before, in the eyes of the viewer and in the memory of search engines, this woman is now a prostitute. As so few people arrested for prostitution related offenses fight their charges, there is no future event to displace the arrest video, to restate that those caught on tape didn’t, as one of the women arrested in Fargo said, “do anything wrong.” The undercover police, perpetually arresting in these videos, enact a form of sustained violence on these women’s bodies. Even with a camera, it is not immediately visible.

To produce a prostitute where before there had been only a woman is the purpose of such policing. It is a socially acceptable way to discipline women, fuelled by a lust for law and order that is at the core of what I call the “prostitute imaginary”—the ways in which we conceptualize and make arguments about prostitution. The prostitute imaginary compels those who seek to control, abolish, or otherwise profit from prostitution, and is also the rhetorical product of their efforts. It is driven by both fantasies and fears about sex and the value of human life.

The sting itself, aside from the unjust laws it enforces, or the trial that may never result, is intended to incite fear. These stings form just one part of a matrix of widespread police misconduct toward sex workers and people profiled as sex workers. In New York City, for example, 70 percent of sex workers working outdoors surveyed by the Sex Workers Project reported near daily run-ins with police, and 30 percent reported being threatened with violence. According to ‘‘The Revolving Door: An Analysis of Street-Based Prostitution in New York City,’’ when street-based sex workers sought help from the police, they were often ignored.

Carol told researchers, “If I call them, they don’t come. If I have a situation in the street, forget it. ‘Nobody told you to be in the street.’ After a girl was gang-raped, they said, ‘Forget it, she works in the street.’ She said, ‘I hope that never happens to your daughters. I’m human.’”

Jamie had an incident where she was “hanging out on the stroll . . . these guys in a jeep driving by . . . one guy in a car threw a bottle at me . . . I went to the cops [who told me] we didn’t have a right being in that area because we know it’s a prostitution area, and whatever came our way, we deserved it.”

Police violence isn’t limited to sex workers who work outdoors. In a parallel survey conducted by the Sex Workers Project, 14 percent of those who primarily work indoors reported that police had been violent toward them; 16 percent reported that police officers had initiated a sexual interaction.

This was in New York City, where the police department is notorious for violating civil rights in the course of law enforcement, but look globally, where violations of sex workers’ rights by police are also common—and well documented. In West Bengal, the sex worker collective Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee surveyed over 21,000 women who do sex work.

They collected 48,000 reports of abuse or violence by police— in contrast with 4,000 reports of violence by customers, who are conventionally thought of as the biggest threat to sex workers, especially by campaigners opposed to prostitution.

Police violence against sex workers is a persistent global reality. As the economy collapsed in Greece, police staged raids on brothels, arrested and detained sex workers, forced them to undergo HIV testing, and released their photos and HIV status to the media. These actions were condemned by UNAIDS and Human Rights Watch.

In China, police have forced sex workers they have arrested to walk in “shame parades,” public processions in which they are shackled and then photographed. Police published these photos on the Web, including one in which a cop humiliated a nude sex worker by pulling her hair back and brutally exposing her face to the camera. When the photo went viral, the outcry reportedly prompted police to suspend these public shaming rituals, though they continue to make violent arrests and raids.

One could hope that the photos and videos like these could make the pervasiveness of this violence real to the public. But to truly confront this type of violence would require us to admit that we permit some violence against women to be committed in order to protect the social and sexual value of other women.

Violence’s Value

I’ve stopped asking, Why have we made prostitution illegal? Instead I want an explanation for, How much violence against “prostitutes” have we made acceptable? The police run-ins, the police denying help, the police abuse—all this shapes the context in which the sting, and the video of it, form a complete pursuit of what we are to understand as justice, which in this case is limited to some form of punishment, of acceptable violence.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

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Feminist Toolkit: How to make a Citizen’s Arrest

Last week Twiggy Garcia was working in a trendy Shoreditch restaurant when he realised Tony Blair was holding court in the private dining area. Seeing a once in a lifetime opportunity Twiggy acted out a citizen’s arrest by placing his hand on Blair’s shoulder and saying:

“Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq. I am inviting you to accompany me to a police station to answer the charge.

Blair’s response was to talk about Syria and Twiggy, upon realising the plain clothes security were about to feel his collar, legged it from the restaurant leaving Tony, and his job, behind. He is the fifth person to try and arrest Blair and the fifth person to fail, but you have to admire his pluckiness.

We can imagine all kinds of situations where we might want to place someone under citizen’s arrest, and not just alleged war criminals, so we went to top barrister and feminist Julian Norman to get an indispensable guide on how to take justice into your own hands. Turns out you probably shouldn’t.

How to make a citizen’s arrest.

The first rule of citizen’s arrest is of course don’t do it. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know how. Daydreaming of grabbing a tube-train groper and arresting him to the admiring cheers of your fellow commuters can be very satisfying. So here is your toolkit guide to a technically accurate daydream.

# 1: Don’t do it
Why not? Before we get started on how you would if you could, really, it’s a bad idea. People who have tried it tend to get arrested themselves for assault and false imprisonment. And even when they are acquitted, they had to go through that telephone call to their boss / their mum / their spouse explaining that they were in police custody. So keep this for revenge-based daydreams and absolute genuine emergencies.

#2: When to do it
The rules on citizen’s arrest are covered by s.24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which lets a person “other than a constable” arrest anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence or anyone whom she reasonably suspects of committing an indictable offence. Where that offence has already been committed, she can arrest anyone who is guilty or anyone whom she reasonably suspects is guilty of it.

So what’s the catch? Well, first, be sure your offence is “indictable” – that is, could be heard at a Crown Court. Some less serious offences can only be heard by magistrates (“summary only offences”) and these include most driving offences such as speeding, common assault, and some public order offences. If our heroine tries to arrest someone who’s been abusive and slapped her, she’ll be the one arrested, because she didn’t have the power to conduct a citizen’s arrest. See Rule One.

Let’s assume though that we have a more serious offence. Back to Mr. Gropey – she’s just seen him grab a stranger’s crotch, and there is no way it was consensual. Sexual assault is an indictable offence. The next obstacle is that arresting him must be necessary in order to stop him from causing physical injury to himself or another person, suffering physical injury, causing loss of or damage to property or making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him, AND it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest instead. Could she call the police to meet the train at the next stop rather than arrest him? If so, it is reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest and she should not do it. However, if he is about to be set upon by a dozen angry bystanders and there is no constable in view, then she could perform a citizen’s arrest as being necessary to stop him from suffering physical injury.

#3: How to do it
Disappointingly, there is no set form of words for the person performing the citizen’s arrest. However, she must inform the person she is arresting of what she is doing, why she is doing it and what offence she believes the other person has committed.

She is allowed to use ‘reasonable force.’ What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, but as a general rule you are allowed to defend yourself but not to attack. If Mr Gropey responds to the citizen’s arrest by attempting to punch her, she is entitled to judo kick his legs out from under him and sit on his chest, but once he is restrained she can’t carry on. If he runs away she can use ‘reasonable’ force to detain him but this must not turn into anything the court could construe as an assault.

Once he is arrested, she can ask him to accompany her to the police station or she can call the police to come and get him.

#4: Really, don’t do it.
Citizen’s arrest is a bit outdated these days. It’s the same power that PCSOs have, you need a thorough knowledge of criminal law so as to be sure whether your offence is indictable or not, plus it’s risky both in terms of annoying a potentially dangerous criminal and in terms of getting yourself arrested accidentally. In the age of the iThing, it’s safer just to video an offence taking place if you see it and hand the footage to the police (assuming that the offence couldn’t have been prevented, obviously, don’t just sit there and watch if you could stop it without risk to yourself), or place the offender in the Youtube stocks, like Racist Croydon Tram Woman.

#5: Checklist

  1. Is someone in the act of committing an offence?
  2. Or, has the offence already been committed and do I know (or reasonably suspect) someone to be guilty of it?
  3. Is the offence indictable?
  4. Could a constable practicably do this instead?
  5. Do I have to arrest the suspect to stop them hurting me, themselves, anyone else, or being hurt, or damaging property, or running away?

If the answer to these is ‘yes’ then you can perform a citizen’s arrest. If it’s ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ then don’t.

Julian Norman is a barrister, professional law nerd, feminist and writer. Follow her @londonfeminist

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#5yearssinceMaria: Duluth – how we can stop failing women like Maria

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence.

When Maria Stubbings’ abusive former partner Mark Chivers came to persuade her to take him back, having served time for her assault, she told police she feared for her safety. The panic alarm police had installed in her home had been deactivated on his release.

Five years ago today, she was found dead – strangled with a dog lead, under a pile of coats in the downstairs toilet – leaving behind two children. Chivers already had a 15-year conviction for killing a previous partner.

This year’s report into the case found a “a catalogue of errors” made by Essex police. Maria was badly let down in the weeks and months leading to her death; her case once again pushed the everyday reality of domestic violence to the forefront of public consciousness.

In some areas, there are multi-agency approaches to supporting women in such tragic circumstances. Hammersmith has been instrumental in dealing with domestic violence by embracing the Duluth model, an approach which aims to put the woman first through special interagency partnerships between the police, the courts and advocacy workers, giving victims the personal support and institutional protection needed to break free from the cycle of abuse.

This begins with the police prioritising domestic violence and understanding it, so that the mistakes of the Stubbings case are not allowed to happen. As Anthony Wills, the now-retired CEO of Standing Together, and former senior police chief at Hammersmith and Fulham tasked with implementing Duluth, explains: “if Maria Stubbings had been living in Hammersmith, it is more than likely she would still be alive.”

A united attack

The Duluth model, named after the city of the same name in Minnesota, was formed out of the grassroots women’s aid and refuge movement of the 1970s, recognising the need to step beyond simply offering the women somewhere to go, towards providing effective intervention. In the words of its founder, the women’s rights campaigner Ellen Pence, “we got tired of patching women up and sending them out again.”

In response, she began to formulate domestic violence intervention programmes throughout the early 1980s. The results were impressive. By getting the agencies working together, in conjunction with a rehabilitation programme for offenders, 69 per cent of victims reported no physical abuse during the education phase and a similar number reported the same three months after the programme. Mental abuse statistics were weaker, but the model acted as a clear framework for a united, community reaction to an issue that had otherwise remained ignored.

Pence later released a manual, Education Groups for Men Who Batter, which explained the ideology and profile of abusers, as well as the two-pronged attack. It was as simple as it was complex. Domestic violence operated around the desire for power and control, not just physically but mentally, emotionally and beyond. Pence visualised this through the power and control wheel, now a staple of domestic violence prevention methods.

However, it was not the theory that convinced Standing Together’s Beryl Foster to bring the model to Hammersmith. Rather it was the hands-on approach toward influencing practices that really convinced her. Beryl explains: “the Duluth activists took these two ways of doing things and applied them to actually looking at what agencies were really doing, instead of telling them what they ought to be doing, and why.”

“Although we’d always fashioned ourselves as a crisis intervention response charity, working across the criminal justice and voluntary sectors, we had never worked like this.

“We wanted to look at each person in the chain of a case, from the call out to the court room, to see how things could be altered to make sure that the context and history made it to the case file. The reality is that unless information makes it onto the case file, it doesn’t exist.

“It was all well and good us sitting separately around the table in Hammersmith talking to other agencies and authorities about what we did – but we were not looking at how it interlocked and how we could make specific changes. “

The biggest challenge in creating these links and building a coordinated community response to domestic violence came from the police force itself. Prior to the 1990s, police response reflected the prevailing attitude found: ambivalence and confusion.

Anthony echoes this sentiment: “Prosecution never got past first base because, until Beryl and Ellen arrived with Duluth, the police had no understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.”

Often the officer would advise the woman against making a statement, so as not to waste court time, since women frequently withdrew their evidence. The most forward-thinking police officers wanted to do something but couldn’t see how.  Social workers saw domestic violence as “the moving wallpaper” behind their work, but it was a catch 22 situation – there was very little reward seen professionally for them, as police did not value it.

“Police officers are all about prosecution, so what was the point in arresting someone if the woman would then withdraw her evidence?”

One victim, Joyce Guttridge, explained tearfully how her husband, Paul, branded both herself and their son Kevin with an iron in the 1970s, but she did not do anything because Paul “was friends with police”.

“I do sometimes feel I failed my boy, but people would never have believed me; domestic violence didn’t exist.”

Hearts and minds

Essentially, a mentality change was required – but as Anthony admits, it is “a nightmare” trying to alter police attitudes. His quip “just remember Steven Lawrence”, is the first sign of a refreshing honesty not always found from those in the higher echelons of the Metropolitan Police.

The key to achieving agreement was to make the deal attractive in police terms. Beryl explains, “We located it as a violent crime rather than social crime. If you can come at the police with ways in which they can reduce violent crime, you will get a hearing”. And that is exactly what happened.

It became “almost immediately apparent” to Anthony during the meetings “that myself and the police service had been doing a pretty terrible job around domestic violence,” largely due to the “ignorant culture, especially towards why a woman wouldn’t prosecute”.

The two sides came away in agreement about turning the current outlook on its head. Instead of the victim taking responsibility for the prosecution, it was the job of the state to take responsibility. Especially given the unique dynamics of domestic violence; in no other crime did the victim have to consider going back to live with the perpetrator.

Or, in the words of Anthony: “we don’t say to a murder victim who’s lying on the ground dead with a knife in her chest, ‘do you want to prosecute’? We say ‘you’ve been assaulted, murdered and someone had broken the law, we’re going to deal with it, we’re going to gather the evidence, build the case and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), is going to prosecute if there is enough evidence, with the court dealing with it effectively’.”

Painting the bigger picture

In 2006 Standing Together appointed Anthony to help achieve “the full monty”, as he calls it. This meant stepping beyond, by trying to incorporate other sectors into the system, such as health and childcare.

“Domestic violence is the pivot around which everything else forms – until the same approach is taken to domestic violence across the board, there will always be holes. The victim always finds the gap,” he says.

A fear of this system gripped Helen Barton*, who suffered a vicious attack when her partner attempted to strangle her whilst she drove home from a break with his parents. Although she managed to pull over and kick the door open, the beating continued outside on the motorway layby.

Later that night, Helen called her father from hospital. As a barrister, he advised her to go to the police. “My mother was different, she told me not be silly and keep quiet, but I pushed ahead,” she remembers.

“When I heard social services were coming, I was really scared because I thought they were going to take my son away. I scrubbed my house thinking they were just going to categorise me as a bad mum.”

Those particular fears proved unfounded because, even though Helen lives outside Hammersmith, elements of the Duluth model had filtered through.

“When the social worker arrived, she assured me that everything was going to be ok and that she was on my side. The next day police came round and took pictures and a statement.”

Yet the further you stretch outside those agencies directly involved in the Duluth framework, the more the experience differs.

Another survivor, Lauren Foster*, remembers a particular instance which made her understand “how much better things would be if everyone had the same understanding.”

“The health visitor would be drawn in by my ex. He would take her to one side – as part of the control – and she’d come back and say ‘your boyfriend is worried about your mental health at the moment’.

“He would be an angel in front of everybody but a devil behind the scenes,” she says.

Lauren’s local GP was even more unaware: “When the abuse started I was going to the doctor’s regularly due to the birth. They thought I was self-harming and diagnosed post-natal depression – ‘you’ve had a baby, here are some anti-depressants’. I was in and out of there in a few minutes.

“If they had an understanding and background knowledge, perhaps they could have spotted the signs and saved years of pain.”

Refuge agree. Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of national domestic violence charity, Refuge says: “A coordinated community approach is vital to keeping women and children safe from violent men. When agencies don’t join up their actions and their thinking, victims can fall through the gaps. In many cases, this can be fatal.

“Refuge runs services across the country and we work hard to create strong relationships with our partner agencies. Multi-agency working saves lives.”

Of course, the cuts have had a huge impact on services across the country; research shows a national 31 per cent cut in domestic violence spending. That’s despite research suggesting the current cost of domestic violence equates to £15.7 billion annually.

Two women a week are killed at the hands of their current or former partner – around 460 since the death of Maria Stubbings. How many more will it take?

*Not their real names

Alex Taylor is a freelance journalist with an interest in current affairs, social issues and the arts. Find out more @ykts_net

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria Stubbings.  Please join them and sign the petition now: http://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/maria

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at www.refuge.org.uk/christmas

If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit www.refuge.org.uk, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

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#5yearssinceMaria: Are these domestic violence sentences fair?

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence.

In October this year, domestic violence made the front page of the UK Metro, a free newspaper with a daily circulation of more than a million copies.

“Punch a horse, get jailed for a year. Punch the stomach of pregnant girlfriend (who coincidentally loses her baby the next day), get 16 weeks”, read the sensational subheading.

23-year-old Ryan Guntrip was jailed for just 16 weeks after punching his pregnant girlfriend, 20-year-old Carina Mackay, in the stomach. Despite admitting assault by beating, Guntrip was jailed for just 16 weeks because there  was no way of proving the attack had caused the miscarriage.

In the same week as Guntrip’s sentencing, a Newcastle United fan was jailed for 12 months for punching a police horse. The shocking disparity between sentences made this story front page news, but it was not an isolated injustice. We took a look at some other examples of pitiful sentences for domestic violence in 2013 and compared them to sentencing for other crimes.

Sentence: 16 weeks

Domestic Violence:

DV0

Name: Jubel Miah

Crime: Common assault by beating, committed against his wife

Sentence: 16 weeks

Case details: “Miah…ripped her tongue, kicked and punched her, inflicted black eyes on her and battered her confidence. He also tracked her movements using his mobile phone, tried to stop her going to college, accused her of cheating… The wife finally escaped from his clutches after he subjected her to a sustained attack in which he stabbed her with scissors and hit her with a dumbell.”

Same Sentence:

meat

Name: Simon Peter Davison

Crime: Meat theft

Sentence: 16 weeks

Case details: Stealing meat and other goods from Tesco, B&Q and Sainsbury’s stores, to the value of around £350.

 

Sentence: 4 months

Domestic Violence:

dv2

 

Name: Nicholas Jackson

Crime: Threatening behaviour and two counts of criminal damage against his former partner

Sentence: Four months

Case details: Jackson, who had previous convictions for arson and threatening to kill two former partners, walked free from court earlier this month because he had already served his fourth-month jail sentence in custody.

Same Sentence:

Speedcam

Name: Jack Scorby Armstrong

Crime: Perverting the course of justice

Sentence: Four months

Case details: The 20-year-old driver falsely told police his number plates had been stolen in a bid to escape a speeding fine.

 

Sentence: Suspended

Domestic Violence:

dv4

 

Name: Merlin Seagroatt

Crime: Assault causing actual bodily harm and criminal damage

Sentence: Suspended

Case details: Seagroatt “got into the room by taking a door off its hinges and attacked her again, telling her: ‘I’m going to kill you. I have always wanted to kill someone.'”

Judge Peter Heywood said: “There are always ups and downs in a relationship. You can’t behave like this towards ladies you are in a relationship with.”

Same Sentence:

Dog

Name: Tariq Al Habtoor

Crime: Dognapping

Sentence: Suspended

Case details: Billionaire’s son Al Habtoor gave away his chocolate Labrador Ozzy to a fellow student. After changing his mind, Al Habtoor offered her £1,500 to buy the dog back. When she refused, he dognapped Ozzy in a ‘military-style’ operation, which he live-tweeted.

 

Sentence: 30 months

Domestic Violence:

dv5Name: Gareth Stemp

Crime: Eight counts of assault and two counts of assault and abduction

Sentence: 30 months

Case details: Gareth Stemp was convicted of ten separate charges over an eight-year “campaign of abuse and terror” on four partners since 2004, including one who was pregnant.

Same Sentence:

800px-Cricket_ball_on_grassName: Salman Butt

Crime: Match fixing

Sentence: 30 months

Case details: Former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt was jailed for conspiracy to deliberately bowl no-balls during last year’s Test match against England.

Sentence: 4 years

Domestic Violence:

DV1Name: Yacoub Rezai

Crime: Manslaughter of his wife Reihana Rezayi

Sentence: Four years

Case details: Rezai, who stabbed his wife to death, was found not guilty of murder because “he never intended causing serious injury”.

The court heard Rezai believed his wife had been cheating, and five days before her death she had asked for a divorce. Rezai’s defence counsel, Bobbie Cheema QC, likened the offence to “a crime of passion”. Sentencing, Judge Michael Pert QC said: “It’s clear on the evidence you had a happy marriage and were a good, placid and kind husband.”

Same Sentence:

FBNames: Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan

Crime: Using Facebook to incite disorder

Sentence: Four years

Case details: Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan were jailed  for using Faceback to incite disorder during the 2011 riots, despite the fact neither of their Facebook posts resulted in a riot-related event.

 

And finally, a bit of Christmas cheer…

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 13.35.12

Neighbours witnessed John Reece punching his partner and dragging her down the road by her hair. She suffered a broken jaw, cuts and bruises to her face, legs and feet. Recorder Timothy Spencer said: “It’s about to be Christmas and this [suspended sentence] is your Christmas present.”

It seems that, at Christmas time, even Santa is a harsher judge than the British Criminal Justice System – we all know bad boys shouldn’t get any presents.

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria Stubbings.  Please join them and sign the petition now: http://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/maria

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at www.refuge.org.uk/christmas If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit www.refuge.org.uk, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Thanks also to Karen Ingala Smith for her assistance with sentencing data.

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#5yearssinceMaria: Remembering Maria Stubbings

Five years ago today, Maria Stubbings was murdered by her ex-partner Marc Chivers.

Actually, the anniversary of her death might not be today. It might be tomorrow. Or the day after.

We don’t know exactly when Maria was killed, because in the last days of her life, she was badly let down by Essex Police.

Two days before Maria’s body was found, a police officer was instructed to check on her at home – but failed to do so. The next day, officers visited Maria’s home again. Chivers – already known to the police for killing another woman – answered the door and told them that Maria had gone away to stay with friends. The officers took him at his word and left a calling card.  Maria’s car was parked on the driveway.

The next day – the 19th December – officers visited Maria’s home once more. This time they searched the house. They found her body under a pile of coats in the downstairs bathroom.

Essex Police didn’t just make mistakes in the final days of Maria’s life. They failed her repeatedly in the weeks and months leading up to her death.

Maria’s death is a horrific tragedy – but it is not a one-off.

Domestic violence carries a sickening death toll: every week two women are killed by current or former partners. Since Maria’s death five years ago, approximately 460 women have been killed by a current or former partner. In too many of these cases, women are failed by the police and other state agencies.

Enough is enough. It is an outrage that so many women and children are still not getting the protection they deserve.

That’s why the national domestic violence charity Refuge is calling for a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria.  Please join them and sign the petition now: http://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/maria

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence, produced in collaboration with Refuge.

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at www.refuge.org.uk/christmas

If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit www.refuge.org.uk, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Mothers who fight for Justice: Sheila Blanco

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Dr Sara Payne MBE, Christine Lord, Kate McCann, Winnie Johnson. All these mothers have fought, and continue to fight, on behalf of their children who have passed away or disappeared in tragic circumstances. A mother demanding justice is a powerful force. She can embarrass establishments, shame perpetrators, change the law – but what is the personal cost of devoting one’s life to ‘justice’ and why do some mothers fight?

On the seventh anniversary of my friend Mark Blanco’s tragic death in suspicious circumstances, at a party attended by Pete Doherty, I asked his mother Sheila to tell us in her own words why she continues to do just that and if anyone has ever asked her to stop.

This is a case full of twists and turns.

Even some of the greatest journalists have misrepresented the facts.

Whatever I do will never bring Mark back.

Justice and Truth were central to Mark. He was a philosopher; he believed passionately in the individual, whoever he or she might be or from whatever walk of life they might come from.

I am determined to secure justice for Mark.

I hope that my persistence may, in some small way, pave the way for others in like circumstances. As the years pass, my resolve becomes greater and it is in equal measure to the outrageous manner in which Mark’s death has been treated.

Emotion should not determine justice or truth.

Though the bond between mother and child is all-embracing, I remain pragmatic and slightly detached in order to view things logically and as far as possible, dispassionately.

It reeked of corruption and cover up.

The fight is two-fold; against those, the perpetrators, and the gross negligence of the Metropolitan Police. From day one, the investigation was riddled with errors.

No one has ever suggested, to me personally, I stop my campaign.

I balance the hours I work on the case with another life. I have always taught piano and English and derive enormous joy from that though I am now semi-retired.

Police are institutionally homophobic, misogynistic and racist.

Also, they are accountable to no one. A lot of dead wood is still yet to be thrown out.

In a way, we have justice already.

It is only the Met police who cannot see or accept the true version of events that night and subsequently. I believe that if you work hard enough and believe in something enough, you can achieve anything.

Find out more about Justice for Mark Blanco here http://www.justiceformark.comFollow @justiceformark

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