Tag Archives: violence

Andrea Dworkin’s Last Rape

Soon after Andrea and I met in 1974 she began to let me know about her history of battery and rape. I had never spoken with anyone to whom such things had happened. Or maybe I had, but no one before had trusted me to hear. This new knowledge learned from Andrea shook me to the core. I realised my life had to change. I had to take responsibility for what I now knew.

The public and political form of that responsibility included a dramatic shift in what I wrote and why. Since college I wanted to be a playwright. When Andrea first got to know me, I was working in an experimental theatre company. She and I were introduced by its artistic director, a mutual friend. Impelled by my new knowledge—about men’s rapacious capacity to enact their misogyny through violence against women—I stopped writing plays and started writing non-fiction, to figure out who I was, who I had to become, and what I had to do now that I knew what men as men do to women.

The personal form of that responsibility included Andrea’s and my private life together. A priority was safety and security, at home and wherever she or we went. She was vulnerable as a recognisable public figure who encountered haters because of what she stood for. She was also vulnerable to insults and assaults simply because she was a woman. One day she came home distraught and told me she had just fought off some young men who accosted her as she was walking on a nearby street and tried to force her into a van. A friend at a local rape crisis centre told her later that women had come in reporting having been raped inside such vans, their rapes videotaped. This was not the only near-miss during our life together. I always knew that her terrible history of male-pattern sexual violence—the lived knowledge that she wrote from to help other women—could at any moment resume.

One day it did.

In May 1999 Andrea went to Paris. She had just completed her monumental book Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation. Researching and writing it had consumed her for nine years. The work included immersion in Holocaust literature and had been so draining it caused her health to suffer. She needed a break badly. She wanted to take a vacation in Paris, a city she loved. She wanted to fly first-class and stay in a five-star hotel. I objected because we couldn’t afford it, but she persuaded me: this was what she most wanted to do; this was what she needed to be safe; her life mattered more than money. When I saw her off, I wanted more than anything for her to be okay.

She was. She was happy there; we spoke daily by phone and she told me. She took long walks. She saw art. She began writing a new book. She was resting and replenishing what she had sacrificed for Scapegoat.

Then one day she called in a state of alarm and agitation. She told me she thought she had been raped. In the hotel. While she was blacked out from a drugged drink. She sounded beside herself with confusion and distress. I tried to think fast and calm her. I said she should call her gynaecologist, whose phone number I would get her. She didn’t want to deal with authorities because she didn’t speak French, so I told her she should fly back home immediately on the first flight she could get.

The experience had shattered her. She struggled to recover. She had terrifying nightmares. She consulted two therapists. She went on anti-anxiety meds. Her health declined further.

For Andrea, writing was always a way to understand what she otherwise could not, so I was relieved when soon after the Paris ordeal she told me she had begun to write about it. Months later she showed me a first-person essay she was going to submit to the New Statesman titled “The day I was drugged and raped.” When I read it I was troubled. I recognised the veracity of everything in it, but I was fearful that this pubic disclosure would hurt her. I was uneasy that it said “John looked for any other explanation than rape” (which was true) but did not mention why (because I desperately did not want her to have been raped again), so it seemed to say I did not believe her. But I also recognized this was an instance when the last thing I should do was suggest editorial amendments or be a filter. If only for the sake of her healing process, Andrea needed to speak aloud what she wanted to say, on her own terms. So on June 5, 2000, about a year and one month after she was drug-raped, the piece as she wrote it was published.

Neither Andrea nor I anticipated the disbelieving, dismissive, and derisive attacks that followed—a contemptuous cacophony that accused her of, among other things, concocting the story to get attention. As I knew her to be tormented daily by ongoing and worsening physic and physical symptoms resulting from the trauma, I was shocked and angered by this ridiculing reaction. Not only did it bear no relationship to her reality, it also exacerbated her pain. I thought the attackers – all women – should be ashamed.

In the last years of Andrea’s life, the dark cloud that had hovered since Paris slowly lifted and let in light. Her fighting spirit was reclaimed, our troubled times were behind us, we were closer than ever, and she was working again. She wrote and published Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant. Though she could no longer accept speaking engagements, because she was unable to travel (due to bone disease, as she describes in “Through the pain barrier”), at the time of her death in April 2005 she was deep into researching and writing what would have been her fourteenth book.

It was many months after Andrea died before I felt emotionally ready to look through her computer. There were no surprises, nothing I would not have expected to find, except a manuscript I did not know existed. The text file had last been last closed and date-stamped August 30, 1999—about three months after her drug rape in Paris. I took a look, realised quickly it was about that anguish, saw it was dedicated to J.S. (me) and E.M. (Elaine Markson, her dear friend and agent)—and promptly put it aside. I could not bring myself to read it. I could not bear to revisit that painful time.

As months then years went by and my grief became not so constant, I realised that whatever emotional reaction I was avoiding, I really had a responsibility to read that piece. When I braced myself and finally did, I was overwhelmed and awed. Because what I discovered was a 24,000-word autobiographical essay, composed in twelve impassioned sections, as powerful and beautifully written as anything she ever wrote. It was searingly personal, fierce and irreverent, mordantly witty, emotionally raw. It was also clearly not a draft; it was finished, polished as if for publication. And I understood why she did not show it to me or Elaine. She had to have known it would devastate us. Because she had written it in the form of a suicide note.

Obviously it wasn’t an actual suicide note, or at least didn’t turn out to be. She lived on after completing it, kept to an intense writing schedule, and died in her sleep of what an autopsy determined was heart inflammation. But in choosing to write in that form, she found and released language with which to speak in her emotional extremity that gave utterance to the experience of being a drug-rape survivor as no other major writer has ever done.

Andrea designated me to be her literary executor, a responsibility that now included deciding whether she intended that manuscript to be published. Clearly she wrote it for her own sake, to excavate and exorcise her pain by shaping it into language through the agency of her art. But I honestly did not know whether she meant it to be in the world.

One day when I was rereading it, my theatre background kicked in and something about the writing struck me. I noticed that the text read like an extended dramatic monologue or monodrama, like the script of an indelible solo theatre piece. And I began imagining that a live performance of the work could be a way for Andrea’s words to be heard. By a live audience, aloud on stage. In a way that would fully honor and honestly express the passion from which she wrote.

The process took several years. Finally in early May 2014 the piece, now titled Aftermath, was performed six times in New York City in the Willa Cather Room of the Jefferson Market Library. The text was entirely by Andrea (the original manuscript cut by half to run 90 minutes). The director and dramaturg was Adam Thorburn, a longtime friend and collaborator. The performer was a phenomenally gifted actor, Maria Silverman.

Aftermath_image2_Feminist Times

Maria Silverman in Aftermath by Andrea Dworkin.

Audiences were intensely engaged. Night after night in post-show talkbacks there was overwhelming sentiment that the piece should go on. From those talkbacks it was clear that the performance spoke both to people who knew Andrea (and/or her work) and to people who had never heard of her. A post-performance online survey asked audience members to say what the piece was for them and meant to them. Here are some responses:

“The writing was painful, poetic, incisive. The actress was superb.”

“It was intense, painful, occasionally funny, and incredibly worthwhile.”

“Moving, touching, gut wrenching in the best way, brilliant writing, superlative performance, beautifully directed…wanting more!”

“It blew me away. So full of deep truths, so beautifully written, so powerfully performed. I thought it was fantastic.”

“This was incredibly moving. As honest and powerful as anything I had heard in a long time.”

Aftermath has since been accepted into the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City, where it will be performed in fall 2014. I am seeking other circumstances in which audiences in the U.S., and someday around the world, can have the powerful experience of Aftermath.

At each step in putting this theater project together, I have wished I could talk with Andrea about it. I would want to tell her how the words she showed no one are now reaching and affecting audiences in live performance.

Aftermath_image3_Feminist Times

After a performance of Aftermath by Andrea Dworkin (from left): John Stoltenberg, Adam Thorburn, Maria Silverman, Gloria Steinem. Photograph by Jackie Rudin.

As an author Andrea was always an artist, and Aftermath as literature is no exception. The writing is stirring throughout and ranges dramatically over many themes—her aspirations when she was young, her erotic and romantic relationships, the marriage in which she was battered, her understanding of the connection between Jews and women, her take on President Clinton’s behavior, her deep commitment to helping women, her critique of women who betray women. The fact that Aftermath is acted means audiences get to hear an emotional dimensionality in Andrea’s voice that in life she shared only with me and her closest friends—trenchant and oracular as the public knew her but also tender, sardonic, sorrowful, vulnerable, funny.

Andrea also always wanted her art to be of use. To matter, to make a difference. So I would want to let her know that through Aftermath her fearless, unfiltered articulation of her solitary anguish in the aftermath of being drug-raped is now touching other survivors of sexual abuse, female and male—helping them come to terms with what is incomprehensible and unspeakable about their own experience, helping them not feel so alone in it.


To receive updates about Aftermath: The Andrea Dworkin Theater Project, like its Facebook page. For tickets to the United Solo run in New York City, click here. For production inquiries, email media2change@gmail.com.


John Stoltenberg’s essays include “Living With Andrea Dworkin” (1994) and “Imagining Life Without Andrea” (2005). For Feminist Times’ #GenderWeek, he recently wrote “Andrea Was Not Transphobic.” He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

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Most rapists and murderers aren’t ill. Don’t call misogynists “mad”

An actor called him a lunatic, and newspapers and magazines called him a madman and deranged. And while it may have been tempting to use these words to describe the young man who killed six people because of his arrogant attitude of entitlement to women, Elliott Rodger’s videos and manifesto made clear that his problem was not his mental health, but rather his unbridled misogyny.

Using mental health slurs to describe people who are violent or objectionable is not only inaccurate, it also promotes stigma and damaging attitudes towards people with mental health problems. This is why describing rapists and murderers as crazy, psychos or nutters is dangerous as well as lazy.

It is these attitudes that prevent people with mental health diagnoses from getting on with their lives. They cause people in a leafy Sheffield suburb to actively object to a charity-run crisis house in their backyard on their street. The resulting prejudice prevents us from getting jobs and causes people to fear and loathe us. It makes people avoid seeking treatment because they are so afraid of the stigma that comes alongside the ‘mentally ill’ label. As an anonymous contributor to Fementalists wrote:

“For those of us who are mentally ill, however, it stays with us, stabs at us. Whenever we hear this kind of thing we’re getting the message we’re not to be accepted as we are, that we’re bad, wrong, to be mocked, or worse, dangerous. To me, it’s a constant message sent by society that we are unwelcome in it.”

The vast majority of people with mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and 95% of murders are committed by people with no mental health diagnosis. However, whenever a killing makes the news, speculation about the suspect’s potential psychiatric state abound, not just in gossipy social media circles but in the mainstream press too.

The problem with abusers is not that they are “insane”. When we label violent and abusive men ‘crazy’, we fail to identify and address the real problems. In cases of domestic violence, rape and stalking, for instance, it is easy to call the perpetrators psychotic but, if we do so, we are missing the opportunity to recognise and tackle misogyny, entitlement and rape culture.

The use of mental health slurs as insults is unrelenting, and the undercurrent of unremitting microaggressions is exhausting. When I call myself mad and you use the same word to describe Jimmy Savile’s terrifying catalogue of abuse, I can only conclude that you think there is a parallel between the two. When somebody is diagnosed with psychosis and you call a perpetrator of vicious domestic violence ‘psychotic’, you are suggesting that you believe the person who is unwell is capable of the same cruelty and abuse.

We see news reports of violent misogyny and we might well get angry. We read accounts of domestic abuse and we may feel frightened and vulnerable. But resorting to disablist language to describe the perpetrators of these crimes makes it easy to ignore the problem, while piling stigma onto mental health service users that will limit our lives and encourage hate crimes and discrimination.

So, if somebody is brutal, call them brutal. If they are cruel, call them cruel. And what if an abuser or killer has a confirmed diagnosis of, say, psychosis or schizophrenia? Well, what if they have epilepsy? Or a broken leg? The likelihood is that their diagnosis bears little relationship to their violence. Assuming there is a connection with their impairment is submitting to dangerous stereotypes that cause palpable, daily problems for those with these diagnoses and issues.

Wait for the facts, don’t assume and never, ever try to diagnose somebody based on what you’ve read on the internet.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

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Why is the BBC filing Rolf Harris coverage in “Entertainment & Arts”?

Rolf Harris has been found guilty of twelve counts of indecently assaulting four girls and women over three decades. Six other women testified to their experience of sexual assault during the trial, although Harris was not charged with these offences. As I write this, the police are now investigating numerous new allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by Harris.

Since the first allegations about Jimmy Savile’s sexual predation arose, a number of men employed by the BBC, including Stuart Hall and Freddie Starr, have been arrested for child sex offences. Not all of these men have been convicted but they all have one other thing in common: the BBC has chosen to publish articles on their cases under “Entertainment & Arts”. To be clear, the BBC categorises these articles as “news” but then also place them in the “Entertainment & Arts” section of BBC Online.

I’ve complained numerous times, as I believe it is utterly dismissive and minimising to place articles of child sexual abuse, rape and exploitation under the category of entertainment. It implies that the investigation and trials themselves are “entertainment”. It does tremendous harm to victims to see their experiences of sexual violence minimised in such a manner by implying that the former employment of the man charged is more important than the crimes committed.

In the most recent letter from the BBC in response to my complaint, the BBC claims that placing such articles under the heading of “Entertainment & Arts” is exactly the same as placing an article on the use of the internet to share images of children being sexually exploited, abused and raped under the heading of “Technology”. The fact that the BBC’s official response so clearly misses the point shows just how little they understand the impact of victim blaming and the minimisation of sexual violence on victims and on the ability to have sexual abusers and rapists convicted.

Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile were allowed to continue perpetrating sexual violence against children and women for decades because of an institutional refusal to recognise the seriousness of their crimes. It is clear that numerous people were aware of what Harris and Savile were doing but either chose to disbelieve the victims or ignore them. This is rape culture.

Yet the BBC still thinks it’s appropriate to place articles about Savile, Harris and other men under investigation or convicted of child sexual offences under the heading of entertainment. This is only a small part of rape culture but it is one that demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding of the consequences of child sexual violence. It is also something that the BBC could easily change.

I’ve started a petition here asking the BBC to stop considering the employment of the perpetrator (or person under investigation) when placing articles on BBC Online. Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile were allowed to commit child sexual violence offences for years because of rape culture and the privilege of celebrity culture. We need to make it clear that their jobs only gave them greater access to vulnerable women and children and the power to continue. The crimes they committed are not entertainment.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

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Video: “Expected victimhood” – do you know how to escape a zip tie?

(Trigger Warning: contains references to sexual violence.)

Claire Kurylowski’s latest film IN REAL LIFE in which she makes a feminist inquiry into the perpetuation of sexual harassment culture.

“The point of departure for IN REAL LIFE was a YouTube video I watched titled How to Break Out of Zip Ties. It went viral with over 3.5 million hits to date.

For me the video reinstated the idea that women should be accountable for their ‘expected victimhood’ and, inversely, the lack of accountability/deterrent strategies existing in the same forms and scope, if at all, for anti-abuse and anti-sexual harassment.”

Claire Kurylowski is a London based film director, writer & editor. Richly atmospheric moods paired with intimate portraits characterise her body of work. . @kurylowski

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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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End Sexual Violence in Conflict: An interview with Women for Women International

This week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit has had a huge focus on conflicts since Bosnia in 1992. There have been numerous events focusing on Rwanda, Congo, Kosovo, the Balkan War and Afghanistan. Many of these nations are recovering from a major conflict and are in the process of adjusting to peacetime, whereas Congo is, though technically in peacetime, still in the grip of conflict.

I wanted to explore the similarities that these conflicts had, but also the differences. Why do some of these areas get more coverage, awareness and support than others- and did the international community prioritise some conflict nations over others? The conflict in DRC is the deadliest conflict since World War Two. But casualty estimates are often conservative, and sexual violence figures that are under reported.

All conflicts are, obviously, different. Their origins are different,  and the obstacles to resolution are different, too. However, the exclusion of women from resolution and community stands in the way of community peace-building. This situation is built on gender inequality before the conflict – patriarchy is a worldwide problem, before, during and after war.

I spoke to Carron Mann, Women for Women International UK‘s Policy Director about these areas.

JW: What are the reasons between the different manifestations, beyond cultural differences?

CM: We see sexual violence in many different ways in the various nations. For example, in Afghanistan and South Sudan, forced marriage of women to their rapist so their families avoid shame is a common issue. The commonality is the role of women being treated as commodities. A woman’s sexual virtue is her value, as opposed to women being valued as human beings. Women are targeted to target communities.

What role does a crisis of masculinity or hyper masculinity play in sexual violence in conflict?

I’m not sure how I feel about crisis of masculinity or hyper masculinity. Masculinity, like characteristics we have as women can be positive or negative. I think hyper masculinity implies you can be too manly, when actually you can be manly in a good way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself.

I think it’s a reinforcement of positive masculinity and negative masculinity that have real roles to play in both helping a situation and making it worse. What they’re trying to say is that those gender stereotypes that reinforce that men need to be sexually active, they need to sleep with as many women, what it means to be a man and how they treat women. We have this here as well. You only have to walk past some lads coming out of school.
How much support do you think the international community gives in terms of tackling sexual violence through an educational basis? I know that Women for Women International run some great programmes in terms of teaching gender equality and tackling gender inequality in conflict nations, but do you feel the international community is fixing enough support to those programs?

I don’t think women’s rights organisations on the ground are getting enough funding. We struggle for funding, but we can fill out a Department for International Development application form. They can’t. One of the things I noticed about the summit is that there’s a lot of focus on the UN, and what the UN is going to do. There’s talk about financing, and the UK announced increased funding yesterday but again, it’s how does that funding get distributed? Who benefits from it? is it all going to International non governmental organisations or is it going to local organisations? In fairness to International NGO’s, they work closely with local community partners, so when they benefit the communities do too. You can never have too much funding.

Why do you think sexual violence in some conflict nations tend to get more awareness than in others that may have higher levels of the crime?

Broadly speaking, I don’t think we like talking about sexual violence. I think that’s our first challenge. Secondly, I’m always really intrigued about why some conflicts get picked up and some don’t, like the Boko Haram kidnappings. Human Rights Watch and lots of organisations were documenting this last year. In 2012 [there was an] increase of incidents, [but] nothing happened. Then 270 girls were kidnapped and it finally got noticed. But not immediately.

Away from charities who obviously take an interest, what do you think are the reasons the media tend to pick and choose what they report?

I think it has to be that kind of grotesque shock to register with people. There was a report this morning about a girl being gang raped in India because she couldn’t afford to pay a bribe. Or the girls in Nigeria. It’s the shock factor. But actually, we’re hearing more about it. I spoke to a person before travelling to Congo who believed the rape levels were higher. So there are people who think there’s higher levels than what the UN are reporting, but that’s because the issue is getting more attention, so people think it’s happening at an accelerated rate. So there is an initial silence. Ultimately, it’s massively complicated and very difficult to get into a sound bite, which leads to it not being reported.

Do you think it’s ever going to be possible to end sexual violence in conflict?


Without gender equality?

No, because sexual violence in conflict sits within a much broader range of violence against women and girls which is a result of gender equality.

I agreed with Mann on many of her points, but I think there are further reasons why some conflicts are prominently highlighted in the media and international community over others. I believe it’s something to do with resources, something to do with power. Will the conflict affect our ability to get resources from DRC? Will it affect our ability to export coltan? Only when it does will we see the international community increase scrutiny on DRC. I also believe the complexity of the situation in Congo hampers the ability to report on it. People can’t understand the conflict, as it has so many layers, and  it has gone on for so long. A conflict like that of Rwanda, with warring ethnic tribes over 100 days is simple to follow. The same can be said with Bosnia. Congo, at the moment, tends to go back to the Rwandan genocide and subsequent overspill as a starting point- yet a lot of the issues have blighted the region for decades, and possibly centuries.

To end our interview on a positive note I asked one final question:

JW: What should the public take away from the summit?

CM: I hope they listen to survivors and survivors’ needs. I think they key starting point is listening. I think it’s also about recognising that [sexual violence] is not an inevitable part of conflict, and it’s also not an alien concept, much as we’d like it to be. No woman or girl ever deserves to be raped, regardless of how drunk she is, how short her skirt is, her ethnicity, her sexual orientation or her political affiliation.

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


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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End sexual violence in conflict: Change will come from the Congolese

This week sees the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit–  a four-day event, organised by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. The summit is co-chaired by William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Many from the international establishment – governments, militaries and judiciaries from around the world will have representatives at the summit, as well as field experts. There’s also a three-day Fringe event open to members of the public and media, with exhibitions, discussions and performances from various Non Governmental Organisations and charities.

The Summit’s aim is to identify specific actions by the international community in four areas where greater progress is essential regarding sexual violence in conflict. Those four areas are improving investigations, providing more support and reparation for all survivors of sexual violence, ensuring a response to gender-based violence and promoting gender equality as an integral part of all reform, and improving international strategic coordination.

It’s been five years since I filmed my BBC3 documentary, The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women. In it, I looked at the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC]. Since then, there has been a lot of change. Indeed, that the UK is hosting a summit on sexual violence in conflict shows the progress that’s been made in awakening the international community to a horrific humanitarian crisis. Whilst financial and security obstacles have kept me from returning to DRC since, I have continued to speak out on the atrocities occurring there, as I promised the incredible women who I met whilst filming. I was moved to see a substantial number of the global Congolese diaspora represented in all aspects of the Fringe event of this week’s summit – amongst the public, in the displays and stalls, through the performances and holding discussions on the situation in Congo. More heart warming was seeing how packed all these discussions were, with people interested or looking to learn more about the situation. In 2010, it was not always so.

The cause of sexual violence in Congo has always been a complex question to answer. It is this complexity which has often caused people to underestimate the scale of the issue, leading to certain aspects being more highlighted than others. It has become further complicated as the atrocities, initially committed by external troops in Congo, are now being committed by Congolese troops themselves. At the root of it all is the same issue – a lack of accountability, a system of impunity, and gender inequality.

At the Fringe I was able to speak to Fiona Lloyd-Davies, director of my documentary, who was attending the premiere of her new film Seeds of Hope – a documentary filmed over three years chronicling the work and story of the inspirational Masika Katsuva.

Katsuva, who I met in 2009 whilst filming, runs a refuge for women who are survivors of rape. Whilst watching Seeds of Hope, I was moved to tears at the progress Katsuva’s refuge has made since I last saw her. I was saddened however, to see the number of women relying on her refuge, a sign that whilst her awe-inspiring work empowering these women was producing results, that the danger to these women had not abated. In fact, as we learn in the documentary, Katsuva was raped again in 2012 following the attack in Minova, a period which saw her receive 130 new cases, the youngest of which was 11 years old.

During the question and answer session after the film, which is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Lloyd-Davies agreed that there had been a sea change of opinion and focus on the issue, a view supported by Dr. Denis Mukwege, the two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of Panzi Hospital.

Dr Mukwege also believed that there had been positive change, but stressed the still precarious nature of the situation. He spoke of how only a week ago, 35 people were massacred in a church in the Bukavu region. Both Dr. Mukwege and Lloyd-Davies stressed that in order for further progress, a priority had to be made for the fighting in Congo to stop.

I asked Dr. Mukwege about what hope for the future in Congo, tackling this crisis. “There will be no lasting peace without justice,” he told me.  “Integrating criminals and militia into the [Congolese] army is unsustainable. We need to stop the culture of impunity until all who played a role in the atrocities are accountable”

Dr Mukwege also believes that the Congolese people themselves have the power to make change, both the global diaspora and the citizens. He believes that substantial change and evolution will “not come from the UN, or Special Envoy, but will come from the Congolese people”. This is a view shared by many of the Congolese NGOs and also by Lloyd-Davies.

Lloyd-Davies stressed it was important to view the women in her films, not only as victims, but survivors – three dimensional people with hopes as well as fears. These women were rebuilding their lives. She believes a lot of the solutions to Congo are in Congo itself and that perhaps instead of constantly looking to external solutions, we should aim to better support the internal solutions already in existence. As she so eloquently put it, “there are many more women like Masika.”

Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, hosting the question and answer session for Seeds of Hope, spoke of a Congolese Justice system “on its knees” and of a need for better judiciary mechanisms. This view is shared by many Congolese activists and NGOs who stress for Congo to adopt a specialised mixed court for cases of sexual violence. A mixed court would see the Congolese Judiciary supported by international community to improve its efficacy. In the recent trial where thirty-nine soldiers were being prosecuted, only two of them were found guilty of rape. Senior command are consistently evading accountability and justice.

All of us, however, are hopeful that real lasting change can come to Congo. There are many positives to be taken from the last five years, such as the Minova trials, the capture of Bosco Ntaganda who is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court, and this week’s Summit. It is up to the international community to continue to support the Congolese people by ensuring the discussions and decisions made at this summit will be followed up and implemented. The future of Congo depends on it.

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


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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The fear of reprisal: What happens if you stand up to harassment?

All too often women experience some form of verbal harassment, whether it’s a “nice arse”, a “slut” or occasionally, a “pussy”. Entirely dependent on the situation and the woman, we have a few seconds to decide whether we are going to respond – essentially a fight or flight decision – and most times, I jump at the chance for a fight.

Swimming in my local pool a few weeks ago, I noticed three, middle-aged men loitering by the side, making loud, obscene comments about the women steadily doing lengths. It was clear they had no intention to exercise – but instead to make the other, predominantly female swimmers feel uncomfortable. They jumped into the opposite end of the pool, directly into my path.

Splashing and shouting – the trio seemed to have evaded evolution entirely – they turned their attention to me as I entered the shallow end. “Come and sit on my knee, love,” one of them jeered, while the other two guffawed, slack-jawed. I diverted away from them and began to turn away. “Fancy a shag?” one of them called. The other women in the pool watched awkwardly, and I cast my eyes across at the children paddling opposite. Fuming, embarrassed and tired, I decided to take one for the team.

I marched – or waded – over and promptly informed the three men that I would rather sew myself up and remain sexless for the rest of my life than have relations with any of them. My fellow swimmers tittered, while I stood, trying to maintain as much dignity as possible in a late-90s Speedo swimsuit and a red face. Then the middle one came forward and hissed, menacingly: “You fucking bitch.” Fear began to set in and my heartbeat quickened. I could feel my pulse in the soles of my feet. I glanced up but the life guard was busy watching over the kids. As I turned to swim away, I could feel them watching me. After two more lengths, I got out.

It’s a myth that verbal harassment is just a bit of harmless fun. It’s about power, control and intimidation, and as I have found out from personal experience, it can easily turn into violence. Cat-calling, verbal harassment – whatever you want to call it – is never flattery. The Everyday Sexism project has received thousands of stories from girls aged eleven and twelve, who have received comments about their developing bodies while they walk to school in their uniforms. Shouting, whistles, even clicks (I watched one man whistle and click at a woman in a bar once – like a bat), are never designed to be taken as a compliment. Verbal harassment causes a flood of different emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Frustration. Impotence. Misplaced shame. But the real threat is the potential for reprisal – of what will happen to us if we respond.

I escaped unscathed. But for Oxford University student Jeanne Marie Ryan (pictured), an incident in a bar quickly escalated into bloody violence. A couple of months ago, Ryan was on a night out with friends at a bar when she was groped by a stranger. Infuriated, she turned around and told him that his actions were unacceptable. The man then punched her seven times, breaking her nose and leaving her battered, bruised and shaken. Although terrible, Ryan’s attack took place around the same time as the breast cancer awareness “selfie” trend – and by posting a picture of her bruised face, she raised £12,000 for her local rape crisis charity.

When some men ask what the big deal is – that you should “take it as a compliment” – the whole notion of verbal harassment becomes trivialised. It’s not that simple, and certainly not a brief experience. It’s horribly drawn out. Crossing the road to avoid large groups, scanning the street as you walk, clutching your keys between your knuckles, the sinking feeling of noticing someone’s eyes on your breasts, legs or arse – it all has a lingering effect on your mental health. Verbal harassment is no more of a compliment than rape is sex.

Cat-calling is a statement of power. It’s a way of telling us that a man has the right to our bodies, a right to discuss them, analyse them, praise them, criticise them – whether we like it or not. It’s dehumanising. But when we respond, however calmly or viciously, the rejection disrupts their entitlement to our bodies, which society has allowed them to believe is their given right. This leads to the violent outbursts. We might be taking our lives into our own hands, but the more we react, maybe the more this will change. That’s going to take time and while it does we must take care of ourselves.

Lydia Smith is a journalist for the International Business Times UK and has written for publications including the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mirror and the Huffington Post. Follow her @Lyd_Carolina.

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#Genderweek: Why are men violent?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

We sent all our #GenderWeek contributors this brief:

Prof Jesse Prinz (Author, Beyond Human Nature)

If biological sex is not binary, if the current trend is towards trans inclusion in feminism and non-gendered charities for domestic violence – how in this context of a gradual break down in “gender norms”, can you explain why men continue to be much more violent than women? And what repercussions does this have for the discussions we’ve been having in #GenderWeek?

  • What do you consider the reasons behind men being more likely to being violent – is it culture, society, or evolution?
  • If the latter, how do you then deal with the idea that biology of sex is not binary – people assigned male and female at birth may not have XX/XY chromosomes?
  • And how do you deal, in an empathic and caring way, with the real threat that some women feel when with someone who was assigned male at birth in their space?

Here are their responses:

Dr Finn Mackay is a feminist activist and researcher.
Male violence against women is epidemic, it is a symptom of patriarchy and also maintains it. Male violence is not due to biology, it is made and not born. This means it can be unmade through the dismantling of patriarchy, which would liberate all of us, women and men. Not all men rape or abuse women, this means there’s no genetic excuse for those who do. Masculinity is wedded to violence, displayed through domination at any cost; leaving women and children to pay the price. We need to create an equal world, where we can all be the human beings we are, not brutal and limiting stereotypes.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence.
Gender kills. Sexual inequality is structural and based on biological sex. Gender is a social construct, a means of maintaining and reinforcing men’s oppression of women, sexual inequality. Gender is neither natural nor innate. Gender is a critical enabler of male violence against women. For me, feminism is about the liberation of women from male oppression. This does not mean that as a feminist I do not recognise or seek to end other forms of oppression, such as those based on class, race and disability; but it means that I see eradication of socially constructed gender as vital for the liberation of all women.

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.
I am suspicious of what is meant in trying to sum up, or wrap up, gender contrasts – seeing problems with all binary reductionism, gendered or otherwise. My basic feminism has never been Manichean: men equals ‘bad’; women equals ‘good’, when many women are not feminists in any way I can recognise (that is instinctively egalitarian and inclusive of all women); while some men do support women in all the ways they can think of, however privileged their gender position. But of course gender remains a hugely, multifaceted, hierarchical structure, which affects us all, so here is what I would say:

Some forms of gender polarisation are foolish. Men do not start all wars, women often condone, assist and more recently fight in them – was Margaret Thatcher a man? We need boys and men to support feminism. Some do. But I can laugh along with Barbara Ehrenreich: “Of all the nasty outcomes predicted for women’s liberation… none was more alarming, from a feminist point a view, than the suggestion that women would eventually become just like men.” Some have!

CN Lester is a musician, writer and activist.
I don’t feel that there’s any simple answer to this question, and that trying to reduce it to a sophistic “nature vs. nurture” argument distorts the research already carried out. It hampers our future efforts at reducing violence, and examining and trying to solve the myriad reasons why violence happens.

I think a multidisciplinary approach is needed – we need research and ideas for action from a range of activists, psychologists, neuroscientists, social workers, anthropologists (I could go on) – and while it’s necessary to remember that men commit the majority of violent acts, we can’t afford to ignore violent acts committed by women. The idea that men are somehow tainted and irredeemable and women are innately virtuous helps no one.

Natacha Kennedy is an academic, former primary school teacher, political and transgender activist who identified as a girl from a young age.
I believe that if one accepts that male violence is the result of biology then one has effectively given up on any idea of human self-determination either for men or for women. In the same way that Cordelia Fine has demonstrated that women are culturally influenced in terms of behavioural expectations and self-perception, so men are also influenced by a culture that expects certain things of them. This has probably come about largely because the ruling class needs to maintain a reserve of potentially violent people to use to protect their power and economic interests, consequently it needs to promote a culture that encourages men to develop violent dispositions.

Ruth Greenberg is a UK radical feminist, involved in RadFem UK, Abolish Prostitution Now and local feminist activism.
Male violence against women and girls, and other men too, is a socialised phenomena. It is understandable that some women, overcome with the horror of male violence, seek a biological explanation for this violence but the scientific evidence does not support that (Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender).

The prevalence of male violence presents a challenge to women who do not want male socialised people in women-only spaces. Trans women are socialised as boys and sometimes as men, depending on when they transition. So for many there is a concern that violence is not reduced by transition.

That is why I think we need women-only spaces that include trans women, and also spaces that are for women born female only.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.
Patriarchy is a system of social organisation and control dedicated to ownership and the transmission of ownership. To this end it makes use of violence and the threat of violence to control women’s reproduction and to police everything which might threaten bloodline transmission, e.g. sexual and gender variance, or exposure to other cultures. Subordinate groups are taught to fear: recruits to the dominant group are taught to value violence. Socialisation into violence is accordingly linked to systems of expectation particularly, but not limited to gender and sex assigned at birth.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own.
Women are oppressed by the biological reality of sex as is so clearly highlighted by the Everyday Sexism Project and Women Under Siege. Radical feminism is a political theory that recognises this sex-based oppression (Patriarchy). As a radical feminist, I do not believe that men are biologically programmed to be violent. I believe that male violence is encouraged and perpetuated in order to maintain wealth and power within a select group of, mainly white, men. We need women-only services that recognise gendered patterns of violence because violence is both a cause and a product of socialisation and sex inequality.

What do you think? Tell us below…

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#GenderWeek: The problem is capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. Radical feminists define sex as the physical body, whilst gender is a social construct. It is not a function of our biology. It is the consequence of being labelled male/female at birth and assigned to the oppressor/sex class. The minute genetic differences are not reflected in the reality of women’s lived experiences. Gender is the coercive process of socialisation built upon a material reality that constructs women as a subordinate class to men. As such, radical feminists do not want to queer gender or create a spectrum of gendered identities; we want to end the hierarchical power structure that privileges men as a class at the expense of women’s health and safety.

This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, that starts from the definition of “radical” itself, which refers to the root or the origin: that is to say, the oppression of women by men (The Patriarchy). It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men (gender).

Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex because they are harmful to everyone: female, male, intersex and trans*. As with all social justice movements, radical feminism is far from perfect. No movement can exist within a White Supremacist culture without (re)creating racist, homophobic, disablist, colonialist and classist power structures. What makes radical feminism different is its focus on women as a class.

Radical feminists do not believe there are any innate gender differences, or in the existence of male/female brains. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at maths and reading maps. Men are only “men” insofar as male humans are socialised into specific characteristics that we label male, such as intelligence, aggression, and violence and woman are “woman” because we are socialised into believing that we are more nurturing, empathetic, and caring than men.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. In the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women, fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy, and, therefore, no need for gender as a social construct.

Radical feminism recognises the multiple oppressions of individual women, whilst recognising the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment and a deterrent from speaking out. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employment and men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years due to the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as other. Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing and high heels that accentuate external markers of sex. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

There is a shared girlhood in a culture that privileges boys, coercively constructs women’s sexuality and punishes girls who try to live outside gendered norms. The research of Dale Spender, and even Margaret Atwood, dating back to the 1980s has made it very clear that young girls are socialised to be quiet, meek and unconfident. Boys, on the other hand, are socialised to believe that everything they say and do is important: by parents and teachers, by a culture which believes that no young boy would ever want to watch a film or read a book about girls or written by a woman. Shared girlhood is differentiated by race, class, faith and sexuality, but, fundamentally, all girls are raised in a culture which actively harms them.

Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. We acknowledge the sex of the vast majority of perpetrators of violence. We do so by creating women-only spaces so that women can share stories in the knowledge that other women will listen. This is in direct contrast to every other public and private space that women and young girls live in. Sometimes these spaces are trans-inclusive, like A Room of our Own the blogging network I created for feminists and womanists. Sometimes these spaces will need to be for women who are FAAB only or trans* women only, just as it is absolutely necessary to have black-women only spaces and lesbian women-only spaces.

There is a need for all of these spaces because socialisation is a very powerful tool. Being raised male in a patriarchal white supremacist culture is very different to being raised female with the accompanying sexual harassment, trauma and oppression. The exclusion of trans* women from some spaces is to support traumatised women who can be triggered by being in the same space as someone who was socialised male growing up. This does not mean that an individual trans* woman is a danger, but rather a recognition that gendered violence exists and that trauma is complicated.

It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes radical feminism a target of accusations like gender essentialism. We recognise the importance in biological sex because of the way girls and boys are socialised to believe that boys are better than girls. As long as we live in a capitalist-patriarchy where boys are socialised to believe that aggression and anger are acceptable behaviour, women and girls will need the right to access women-only spaces however they define them.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

Photo: Pixabay

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#GenderWeek: Male violence goes beyond domestic violence

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

I didn’t plan to start keeping a list of dead women, but in January 2012 seven women were killed in the first three days of the year. Three were shot, two were strangled, one was stabbed and one was killed though 15 blunt force trauma injuries. Michael Atherton, 42 shot dead his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull and her sister’s daughter Tanya Turnbull before shooting himself.  He also shot Susan McGoldrick’s daughter who escaped. Atherton  was licensed to own guns despite a known history of domestic violence.

Atherton’s murders made the national news, as did that of 20 year-old Kirsty Treloar who  was abducted and stabbed to death the following day. Reading online I noticed that at least one of the seven killings was referred to as an “isolated incident” and was incensed that connections weren’t been made between the murders of women. I started keeping a record of the women killed through domestic violence.

In March, Ahmad Otak stabbed and killed Samantha Sykes and Kimberley Frank. Otak was in a relationship with Kimberley’s sister, these weren’t domestic violence murders. Samantha and Kimberley would not be included in the two women a week in England and Wales killed by a partner or former partner. Yet Otak had murdered them to exert his power over Eliza Frank, to scare and control her.

Only days before, the headless and limbless body of Gemma McKluskie was found in a canal, her head was not found until six-months later. Her brother had killed her; he had not only killed her, but chopped her up and tried to hide bits of her body in different places. That wasn’t sibling rivalry, it was hatred. Gemma was another dead woman whose murder didn’t count in the statistics.

Keeping note of things that don’t fit the pattern, sometimes reveals other patterns. By the end of 2012, I’d recorded six older women aged between 75 and 88 who were killed by much younger men: aged between 15 and 43. Delia Hughes was 85 when she was murdered by 25 year-old Jamie Boult. When Boult was sentenced, Delia’s daughter, Beryl said: “I’ve never seen a dead body before. Seeing my mum her head battered, covered in blood, black and blue with bruises, sitting in a pool of blood, blood splattered on the walls, this is a sight that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Similarly, Jean Farrar, 77, was kicked and stamped on by Daniel Barnett, 20, until she was virtually unrecognisable. Her son Jamie was absolutely right when he said: “Daniel Barnett did not need to enter my mother’s house that night. He chose to. Upon finding my mum at home, he easily could have left. Instead he chose to beat her and throw her against the wall. And when she screamed in pain, he chose to kick her, stamp on her, and jump on her head until she was unable to scream anymore.” Like Gemma McKluskie, the murders of Delia Hughes and Jean Farrar were brutal; these women were not just killed. The men who killed them made choices to inflict horrific ugly violence.

I’ve now recorded 120 women killed through men’s violence in 2012; 33 of them were killed by men who were not a partner or former partner but robbers, muggers, rapists, friends and co-workers, strangers. 16 of them were killed by their sons. When a woman is murdered, who killed her and how, or what the relationship between victim and killer was, are not always made public until after the trial of the killer, so my records for 2013 aren’t yet complete. But I know that of 140 women killed through alleged or suspected male violence in 2013, 31 were not killed by a partner or former partner. 260 women dead in two years, at least 64 of them – that’s almost a quarter – not killed by a partner or former partner.

Will we ever be able to say that patriarchy – sexism, misogyny and socially constructed gender – did not influence the deaths of those 64 women? I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we need to look at women killed by men, not just women killed though domestic violence.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at kareningalasmith.com and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen. Sign her petition at: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-ignoring-dead-women.

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247. Calls are free and the line is open 24/7.

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#GenderWeek: What about men? The end of women-only charities?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

What about men?

As my Irish mother always says: “Don’t let the b******ds grind you down!”

I was approached to write this article because we (Survive) advertised for a post in our local A&E for an IDVA (Independent domestic Violence Advisor), and in our advertisement we stated the post holder must be female using section 7(2) of the Sexual Discrimination Act. As our work primarily supports women and our women are primarily abused by men, we have found it appropriate for them to be supported by a worker who legally identifies as a woman. As an example of how this works on an everyday level, if you visit your GP it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a female practitioner to make you feel more comfortable when dealing with personal subjects such as fertility and sexual health; discussing a traumatic relationship is no different. Makes sense right?

So I find it hard to understand why, when someone makes a statement or publishes an article about violence against women, particularly domestic violence, the reactionary comments are full of people (men and women) asking: “what about the men?” “it’s not just women you know!” Or “just as many men as women experience DVA.” And my favourite: “why should women get all the help and support? Probably more men suffering in silence than women anyway!”

How do they know this? Where is their evidence? And why do they feel the need to attack women and those who help them? Why should it be that if I want to support women and their children I must be against male victims? This is simply not the case; I, like most in the DVA sector, recognise that there are also male victims. It feels to me that whenever women state something is for women only, people feel threatened. It is accepted (although odd in our day and age), that there are golf clubs and Mason meetings which are for men only, but the other way round makes people feel uneasy?

What I suggest to people is to go out there and set up support where you see gaps. That is what the first female voluntary domestic violence support workers did during the 1970s; this work was born out of the feminist movement, by women for women and their children.

The problem with the question “what about men?” is it creates is a world where funders, government and local councils start to demand that the services they fund support all, and support them thoroughly; that services spread and stretch their resources (often using the same if not lower funds), in order to evidence that they will and are supporting both male and female victims.

I work in one of the last organisations which specialises in supporting women and children only and at a grassroots level. I believe we are a dying breed and that as funding requirements change we will have to look at amending the fundamental principles of our constitutions and mission statements in order to keep up with funders’ expectations. So we risk losing our identity as a female only org in order to literally survive.

This change and expansion is clear to see in our new projects and ventures; we now support men off site if they come into our local A&E, and men can now attend our parenting sessions which are also off site. We also have male mentors to support the children living in our refuges and accessing our services, however our direct and main support within refuge, group work and outreach is still for women only.

The possible harm I can see coming from a complete change to support provision, and losing our founding identify, would be the message it would send out; that domestic violence and abuse is not a gender issue, which from my experience and research it still very much is.

  • On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: this constitutes around one-third of all female homicide victims
  • 42% of all female homicide victims, compared with 4% of male homicide victims, were killed by current or former partners in England and Wales in the year 2000/01. This equates to 102 women, an average of 2 women each week
  • In a study by Shelter, 40% of all homeless women stated that domestic violence was a contributor to their homelessness. Domestic violence was found to be “the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless”

I can already imagine the comments this article will provoke: Men are too ashamed to report, men are less likely to report, and so on… and while I agree there is some truth in these refutes, you can’t argue with these statistics – they are facts.

Out of the 367 male victims of homicide in 2011/12, 17 were killed by partners or ex partners and 124 by strangers. While these 17 deaths may have been prevented by better support from services, the figure for women in that same year is much higher: out of the 127 female homicide victims, 88 were killed by their partner/ex-partner and 25 by a stranger.

I do support the engagement of men in the DVA sector; it has been of great benefit for our younger service users to be supported by male mentors, for them to have a positive experience of non-violent/abusive men. I willingly accept that we will be exploring this area further and looking at the role of male workers supporting DVA victims, but we need to address this without losing our identity as a female led organisation. There are not many working environments where the CE, the management team and administration, as well as front line workers, are all female and this is a fact I am proud of.

Ruth Wood is IDVA & Outreach Services Manager at Survive: Working towards freedom from domestic abuse. Follow her personal Twitter @WoodWoodruthie

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247. Calls are free and the line is open 24/7.

Support services for men

Photo: Wikimedia

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I didn’t know how to help until Rumble in the Jumble

The reality of the horrors that rule the lives of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are unimaginable to most people like you and I. Following independence in 1960 the citizens of this shattered state have existed with civil strife, then civil war; the tensions ever mounting until 1998, when the people found themselves in the midst of the worst international African conflict on record, with reports of three million dead by 2003. The unrest has continued ever since.

The status quo now for many is a quagmire of displacement, bereavement, torture, starvation, rape, abduction, prostitution and abandonment, with no reliable authority to beseech or even bribe for safe passage into fields which for centuries provided sustenance for the people and their ancestors. From the earliest age girls and women are unable to even fetch water without the omnipresent threat of the most violent rape, that terrible weapon wielded with impunity by soldiers and militia at a frequency so alarming it’s impossible to comprehend. How are we to understand this from within the luxury of ours?

Like everyone else I read the news and try to take in as much of the unquantifiable horror occurring around the world each day as possible, and then give pitiful sums of what money I can, but it’s a minor balm against that nagging helplessness – how can I help ease the raging terror of millions of desperate fellow souls?

This desire to empathise and aid, this want to help, defeated by a lack of resources and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the scale of all the calamitous situations around the globe, was broken in a direct way for me with regard to the Democratic Republic of Congo when an email arrived in my inbox two years ago informing me about the Music Circle and its work.

The Music Circle, a subsidiary of Annie Lennox’s The Circle, which was created to assist women in the empowerment of fellow women, was founded in 2011 by PR whizzes Emily Cooper and Laura Martin. The pair brought together a group of key women working in the music industry to gather ideas as to the best way of raising money for and awareness of the devastating situation faced daily by women in the DRC.

One of these ideas turned out to be joining forces with Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney to expand an event that she hosted in 2012 with TV presenter Dawn Porter, as part of Oxfam’s Get Together campaign – the first Rumble in the Jumble. So in 2013, all resources combined, the second Rumble in the Jumble event took place and was attended by hundreds of fantastic women including Gizzi Erskine, Laura Whitmore and Caroline Flack, with items donated by the likes of Damon Albarn, Alison Mosshart and Annie Mac.

Crucially it raised £16,000 to stream into projects organised by NGOs in the war-shredded Democratic Republic of Congo. These projects strive to find ways to protect, shelter and educate; to give the citizens of the DRC as much of a chance as possible to one day have a normal experience perhaps even the tiniest bit akin to ours. One where the gathering of food, fetching of water, the necessities of life can occur without the threat of grave injury.

So, say you were going to have an indulgent Saturday, swipe away that intellectually bettering reading pile, leave the underused trainers lurking in the hall, what might you then choose to do with your afternoon? Take a mate for tea and cake? A bit of vintage shopping? Treat yourself to a manicure? Buy some records, or have a dance to someone else’s?

Well, being able to do all that under one roof would be pretty appealing then, wouldn’t it? Especially if getting stuck in to all those things turned out to also be a way of supporting these women half way round the world in the DRC who are in the direst need imaginable.

That’s what this weekend’s Rumble in the Jumble #3 at London’s Oval Space is all about. It’s a huge pile of fun put on by Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney and The Music Circle, in conjunction with Oxfam, to raise funds for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This Saturday’s event is already promising to top the last in every aspect, from fundraising scope through shopping potential to just all out entertainment. All you need to do is show up with £3 and a bag of your own under loved jumble, and you can peruse stalls hosted by Cherry Healey, Elizabeth Sankey (Summer Camp), Gaggle and Mixmag to name but a few; keeping a sharp eye out for celebrity jumble swag donated by Goldfrapp, Jessie Ware, David Gandy, Arcade Fire, Anna Calvi, Lauren Laverne and many more.

This year a host of fashion, culture and music brands have also donated brand new items including: Whistles, Dr Martens, ASOS, SONOS, VICE, Marshall Amps, Warp Records, L’Oreal, Dazed & Confused and Black Dog Publishing. Once you’ve bagged yourself a new outfit and topped up the record collection, you can spruce yourself up at the Smashbox Cosmetics and Bumble & Bumble Hair stalls before tucking into a tasty stew provided by Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, or tea and cake from Drink Shop & Do, before a glass of prosecco to get you primed, or a little dance to one of the brilliant DJ sets that will be sound-tracking the day.

And vitally, whilst enjoying all these things that are equally as unimaginable to those you are raising funds to aid as the realities of their lives are to us, you will be part of an event that will go some way to securing the safety of these women who live with the constant threat of forced displacement, sexual violence, abduction and extortion. There really couldn’t be a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon now, could there?

Facebook Event HERE.


Suze Olbrich is a freelance writer, video producer, promoter, manager and member of the Music Circle. Follow her @suzeolbrich

The Music Circle is a group of women from the music industry who are aiming to raise £50,000 for Oxfam’s work with women in Eastern DRC. Follow @themusic_circle

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EVAW welcomes UN expert’s comments on UK’s ‘sexist culture’

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, yesterday described Britain as having a “boys’ club sexist culture”. The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition respond to her remarks.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition today (15 April) today welcomed the recommendations made to the Government by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Ms Rashida Manjoo at the end of her two-week mission to the UK.

EVAW Coalition Co-Director Liz McKean said:

“Ms Manjoo is a renowned global expert on violence against women and girls and the UK is fortunate to have had her visit and make an assessment of our progress in this area.

“The EVAW Coalition notes that while Ms Manjoo recognised good progress in the UK in terms of action plans and some new domestic violence protections, overall violence against women and girls remains “pervasive” here and that work to prevent it is only “isolated pockets”. We warmly welcome her recommendation that work currently carried out by the Home Office on tackling abuse in teenage relationships – the thisisabuse campaign – should be extended to schools.

“Ms Manjoo is very clear that the so-called austerity cuts are having a devastating impact on the women-run services which protect and support women leaving or at risk of violence, and especially those for BME women. We support her recommendation that there must be safeguards to ensure women’s human rights to protection are guaranteed. We also hope the Government will heed her remarks about ‘gender neutrality’ creeping into policy and service delivery and the impact this is already having.

“Ms Manjoo is clear that legal aid cuts are reducing women’s access to justice. EVAW members have reported that the legal aid cuts are leaving some women experiencing domestic violence without access to legal aid – and in some cases they are having to represent themselves in court and face their abusers. We urge the government to listen to the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur and speak to expert women’s organisations to find a remedy to this situation.

“The EVAW Coalition is very disappointed that Ms Manjoo’s requests to visit Yarls Wood detention centre were denied by the Government. The UK would be among the first to criticise a foreign government which denied access to a Special Rapporteur. Jamaican woman Christine Case recently died at the facility and an investigation is ongoing. Women’s organisations are very worried about multiple reported abuses at the site. We urge the Government to talk to women’s groups about urgent changes to the detention regime there.

“Ms Manjoo’s comments that violence against women cannot be successfully challenged unless it is seated within work to improve women’s equality and freedom overall are a welcome reminder to policy makers that abuse of women and girls cannot be tackled alone as some perceived corner of the crime agenda. Women are abused because they lack equality with men, and once subject to abuse find it harder to become free and equal. Her comments on the way different women experience racism, poverty and disability as well as gender-based violence need to inform all work in this area.

“And finally, we welcome the Special Rapporteur’s observation that as a society we are happy to blame “culture” when some women and girls are subject to forced marriage and FGM for example, but we refuse to take on an ever more “sexualised” media culture which upholds sexist rape myths and harms women. Media and culture are areas where clear policy to prevent abuse of women and girls is needed. We hope to see a response to this soon.

“The EVAW Coalition hopes that this spotlight on current UK work to end violence against women and girls will be used by all the political parties to develop better, more effective, more concerted commitments to end abuse in our lifetimes. As local and general elections loom, and as women’s rights activists are again very visible on the political and social scene, let’s hope we see a real offer to women and the whole community that everything possible will be done to eliminate violence against women and girls.”

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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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#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry

Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) is an unfunded group of radical feminists from many nations committed to ending patriarchy, colonialism, racism, and capitalism.

IWASI sees prostitution and pornography as forms of male violence against women. The misogyny inherent in these systems of women’s oppression is compounded by colonialism and racism, disproportionately harming Indigenous women and girls and our sisters of colour.

We are committed to abolishing prostitution and pornography, using public education and advocating for the decriminalization of prostituted women and girls, and the criminalization of johns, pimps, and sex industrialists. We are committed to not only advocating for legal change, but for true social change that improves the lives of all women and girls and recognizes our rights to safety, security, and freedom.

Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) is a group of Indigenous feminists that stand with women and girls affected by prostitution and pornography. We stand firm in our opposition to the sex industry: johns, pimps, and sex industrialists. IWASI works toward freedom and equality for all women and girls.


  • The system of prostitution as a continued source of colonialism that has grave, if not lethal, consequences for Indigenous women and girls worldwide. The institution of prostitution is fundamentally opposed to our traditional ways of life where women and girls were valued, loved, and treated with the respect we deserve.
  • Prostitution as a colonial system, an extension of the reserve system, the residential school system, and other colonial institutions that target Indigenous women and girls.
  • The system of prostitution as an inherently patriarchal system that exists on a continuum of male violence that includes rape, incest, wife battery, emotional, sexual and physical assault. The system of prostitution requires the existence of inequality between women and men in order to exist. It relies and thrives on the unchallenged male demand for sexual access to the bodies of women and girls.
  • The sex industry relies on capitalism and greed to justify its existence. We have seen and continue to see our homelands stolen from us and bought and sold to the highest bidder as “product”. We have seen and continue to see this colonial process applied to not only our precious homelands, but to the very bodies of our sisters and little sisters.
  • The sex industry treats all women and girls as hated objects, and that hatred is amplified by racism. Overt racism is not only acceptable, but is sanctioned and encouraged by the sex industry. This industry, hierarchal in nature, places Indigenous women and girls and our sisters of colour on the bottom rungs, where we are subjected to the worst and most degrading forms of male violence.


  • The total decriminalization, legalization, or normalization of prostitution.
  • The deceitful assumption that prostitution has always existed and that it will exist forever. We know from our Elders and Ancestors that there were times and places among Indigenous peoples where the sexual exploitation of women and girls did not exist.
  • The misguided rhetoric of harm reduction. We assert our right to be safe, not safer. We assert our right to live full and meaningful lives and we reject the limitations placed on us by the harm reduction industry.
  • Divisions among women created by the patriarchy in attempts to subdue the global women’s liberation movement.
  • The colonial, patriarchal, capitalist, and racist institution of prostitution in all forms and we pledge to fight against this system for the benefit of women and girls everywhere and for our generations to come.


  • An immediate end to the male demand for paid sexual access to the bodies of women and girls worldwide.
  • A global sisterhood that recognizes the leadership, knowledge, and wisdom of Indigenous women and girls in a fight for our lives, our lands and traditions, and our right to live free from male violence.
  • The recognition of prostitution as a form of male violence against women and the implementation of the Nordic model of state policy as a way to advance women’s equality, especially benefiting Indigenous women and girls.
  • The abolition of prostitution and a recognition of the rights of Indigenous women and girls to food, safe housing, lands, traditions, culture, language, health, spirituality, education and safety.
  • A social re-construction of male sexuality based upon the recognition of women’s human rights, especially in regard to women’s sexual autonomy.

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#SexIndustryWeek: My enemy’s enemy is my friend

These days, being trans is almost respectable. We have laws on our sides that mandate a large measure of equality with other women and men, even if those laws still leave behind those trans people who don’t entirely identify with binary gender, and even though there are a variety of loopholes for those who wish to discriminate. It’s still legal to exclude trans women who have been raped from a rape crisis centre; a number of feminist journalists and academics will still argue that self-defence of the trans community against transphobic hate speech is censorship. Compared, though, to twenty – let alone thirty-five years ago, when I transitioned – we have a serious measure of acceptance.

For many of those years, trans people were left out in the cold by the movement for greater lesbian and gay equality, and by the women’s movement. We were told that we were sick and deluded, or that we needed to wait our turn, that we should sit still and not frighten the horses. We remember how that felt, to be excluded and betrayed by our brothers and our sisters. It is primarily for this reason that I, at least, will never ever consent to forget the rights of sex workers – let alone to work for policies that make their lives harder, and to call that betrayal of vulnerable people ‘feminism’, or ‘progressivism’.

I was told so often, before and after I transitioned, that I was a dupe of a multi-million dollar patriarchal conspiracy of psychiatrists and surgeons, what Janice Raymond called “the transsexual empire” – to weaken feminism by introducing people like me as Trojan Horses. More recently, I’ve been accused of being part of a Trans Cabal – we all joke that we have an undersea volcano lair protected by robot sharks, because that’s about as plausible a claim, but we’re actually just a bunch of people who support each other on Facebook and Twitter.

When I and a number of my cis woman friends started Feminists Against Censorship, it was claimed that we too were being paid by the Mafia, or the CIA, or the patriarchy. I know that wasn’t true because I was helping with the accounts. Some of us were professional writers and a few of us did layout, or were cartoonists, so we produced some shit hot press releases – but we did it all on a shoestring. It may be, of course, that people who actually have funding and don’t have available talent might, instead of accusing other people of being on the take, wonder why all the talent is on the other side.

So I am not going to swallow the argument that people who argue for sex worker rights are dupes and pimps, paid lackeys of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. My first thought rather is: when are these people going to get some new material? When will they stop reacting to disagreement with stab-in-the-back conspiracy theories? And one of the reasons I say ‘these people’ is because it so often is the same people – intelligent feminists who think that they know what is best for other people and want to introduce laws to make that knowledge compulsory. When people praise Scandinavian policies on sex work I remember that, until very recently, Sweden demanded that trans people be sterilised before they could apply for a recognition of civil status.

One reason, then, for solidarity between trans people and sex workers is the recognition that we share the same well-intentioned enemies. In large parts of the third world, and some American states, sex workers and trans people are subjected to the same policies of arbitrary detention without trial, forced rehabilitation on work camps, compulsory health checks, rape, torture and murder by the police and paramilitaries. Of course, one of the reasons for that is that, especially in the third world, trans people are still the victims of the massive social exclusion that harmed older generations here and have few options apart from sex work. Trans people and sex workers – and in particular sex workers who are trans – are massively stigmatised, rejected, and put in harm’s way.

Sections of feminism – notably Janice Raymond – are responsible for some of that; Raymond collaborated with the churches and rightwing members of Congress during the Reagan era to remove federal funding from trans medical care. This meant that young, poor, working-class trans people, especially trans women of colour, had few other options than sex work if they were going to afford medical care, often resorted to dangerous quacks for surgical work, and were less likely to be able to practice safe sex. And many died and are dying and will die.

Austerity and cuts in health service provision, and student loans, mean that young people – trans and cis – resort to sex work to survive in modern Britain. Prohibitionist policies will make their lives harder, as Raymond’s attacks on trans people did – and advocates of those policies will end up with blood on their hands. No one is saying that sex work is always safe, or denies the existence of trafficking – for sex work as for domestic work and sweat-shops – but in the former case the important thing is to make it as safe as possible, rather than make clients more dangerous by criminalising them; and in the latter case, the important thing is to stamp down on all slavery rather than separate one area of slavery out for special concern.

As a young trans woman in the sixties and seventies, delaying full transition into my late twenties through fear of social exclusion, I learned part of my feminism in the university and part on the streets. The first people who helped me were streetwalkers, trans and cis; the first time I was raped, it was a policeman from the Vice Squad, in the back of his car. My politics of support for other trans women and for sex workers are a crucial part of my feminism, which is about solidarity and support for other women’s experience and choices – not about a small group of policy formers, politicians and journalists telling other women what to do.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

Photo: Feminist Fightback

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#SexIndustryWeek: Dworkin was right about porn

It is 2014. A twelve-year-old boy rapes his 7-year-old sister after watching hardcore pornography. Should this be a feminist issue? Judging by the lack of any mainstream feminist response, no. Perhaps once it would have been, but not today.

We’ve grown too worldly wise for moral panic. No longer are feminists shouty, sexless beings, piecing together a politics based on exception, exaggeration and fear. Terrible things happen to women and girls but when it comes to blame (such an awful word!) we are circumspect. Men rape women, boys rape girls, but it’s nothing to do with how we represent sex. It’s nothing to do with the stories we tell our children. Hatred of women just is.

The 1980s backlash taught me well. I grew up thinking all radical feminists were anti-sex and anti-men. Absorbing the “generational model” of feminism, in which each wave improves upon the last, I chose not to be like my predecessors. I wanted to be “normal” – not vanilla, no-sex-before-marriage normal, but normal in the way a woman should be, before social conditioning teaches her she must not enjoy a good fuck. Open mind, open heart, open legs. I’m not sure why I assumed normality  – the “real” version – would be so sex-centric but this felt important. Any criticism of the sex industry or objectification struck me as bigoted and almost pathologically wrong. If you reject the virgin/whore paradigm, what else is there to fear? Why not simply embrace all that is left?

It’s only recently I’ve admitted the answer to myself. Because what’s left is pretty awful, that’s why. Much as we’d like to see sexism as an historical hangover, it remains active and powerful. Liberation does not come through insisting that rape and other forms of violence against women have no cultural context. Feminism has to do more than simply polish patriarchy’s turds.

Sex is just sex. It should not be taboo. And yet at some point, feminists need to ask themselves, “why are things still so fucked up? Why are women considered less human than men?” It’s not random. It’s to do with power and it’s to do with bodies. It’s to do with fundamental beliefs about what women are for and pornography and sex work feed into this.

In a recent Times column, David Aaranovitch was scathing of those who find sex work problematic, claiming that these people – let’s be honest, these women – believe “sex is either something that binds people together, a couply superglue, or else a terrible force for entropy, sending the moral universe into a spin”. This is utter bullshit. Sex is just fucking, David, no more and no less. If we are to form parallels with religious fundamentalists, the religion in play here is not some anti-sex puritanism, but the unquestioning worship of gender norms which repeatedly screw women over. This is the problem; it always has been.

Aaranovitch asks whether “we believe that some women (and men) can choose to buy or sell sexual services without somehow being lesser people,” suggesting that there’s an invisible army of sex negative feminists on hand who’d say “no”.  As Michaele L Ferguson notes, this thinking – at root patriarchal and conservative – tries to frogmarch feminists towards the “honey trap” which sees sex work purely in terms of individual choice and argues that not to endorse the choices of sex workers – whatever their implications – means siding with the men who abuse them. It is of course nonsense but it prevents us from asking uncomfortable questions about the relationship between arousal, cultural conditioning and oppression. It means men such as David Baddiel – offering Aaranovitch a twitter backslap for his “brilliant column on body usage rights” – are seen as more progressive than feminists who view sex workers and porn stars, not as mere bodies to use, but as human beings, whose decisions can be criticised in the same way as everyone else’s.

In Women-Hating Right and Left, Andrea Dworkin calls out the way in which pornography is granted a special “get out of misogyny free” card because it makes people come:

“Those who think that woman hating is all right—they’re not feminists. They’re not. Those who think that it’s all right sometimes, here and there, where they like it, where they enjoy it, where they get off on it—especially sexually— they’re not feminists either. And the people who think that woman hating is very bad some places, but it’s all right in pornography because pornography causes orgasm, are not feminists.”

Dworkin was right, and it’s annoying that she’s right, given the things that might turn us on. I’m only human, too. I don’t want to be Andrea Dworkin; I’d much rather be Belle de frigging Jour. But I want to participate in feminism with my eyes open and I’m not so prudish about what happens to women that I’ll insist we turn off the lights.

Sex is not frightening. It is just flesh touching flesh, going into flesh, moving and feeling. An orgasm is an orgasm, a penis a penis, an orifice an orifice, a tongue a tongue. Nothing to be scared of. It is what it is.

What we fear is violence and abuse. That’s why we don’t call out misogyny. That’s why we don’t question the context of sexual exchange. That’s why the real taboo – the thing that we skirt around – is a feminism that seeks neither appeasement nor accommodation, but change.

VJD Smith (Glosswitch) is a lifelong feminist and mother of two who edits language books when she’s not tied up with parenting, blogging and ranting.  Find out more @Glosswitch or glosswatch.com

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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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Profile: My Body Back Project

Yesterday we received an anonymous message from a woman who cannot find the words to tell anybody what happened to her, so she cuts herself instead.

She described this as her “silent scream.”

The incredibly honest and moving message, which is two paragraphs long, continues: “It’s how I tell the world what happened to me, without saying anything.”

Before her, a woman called ‘R’ wrote to us with an articulate account of life with an eating disorder after a childhood marred with sexual violence.

“I felt so powerless that I have spent seven years trying to starve myself,” she said.

“I can’t tell my doctors why because they would not understand what happened to me and would tell my parents. This is my first step because I am anonymous.”

These are two of many messages we have received in the past fortnight, when me and my friend Yas Necati started the My Body Back Project.

The project welcomes female survivors of sexual violence to share their stories, of how they feel towards their bodies and sex. In two weeks, we have received an array of messages which highlight how deeply and differently survivors are affected. Women have anonymously written in about sex with their boyfriends and girlfriends, the “pressure” they have been under to perform sexually, “dissociating” from their bodies, feeling guilty about their sexual fantasies, orgasm, not being able to have sex, not wanting sex, sex addiction, eating disorders, and self-harm.

I started it because I struggled for years after rape – not just emotionally – but by projecting those feelings onto my physicality. For many years I was too nervous to stand up in a room full of people in case anyone looked at my body, felt too vulnerable to wear anything that wasn’t baggy, or even admit that any of this was happening, because I was meant to be “over it”.

There were no instructions, just the feeling of being shattered physically, even after I’d glued back the vital emotional pieces. There were no answers. But from reading the stories of women across the world who have written in to the project, it’s clear that none of us have answers. We don’t necessarily want somebody else’s prescribed solution either, but we do want to be heard. We do want to rip apart patriarchy’s notion that women’s bodies and sex are manufactured products to satisfy the male gaze.

In reality, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either “intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence”, according to the World Health Organisation. Our relationships with our bodies and sex are deeply affected by the violence we have battled, and the scars we still live with. We want to be able to talk about that.

For those who have the privilege of disregarding the consequences of sexual violence in their daily lives, the stories shared as part of My Body Back Project will make for uncomfortable reading. But it is honest and real. There is no guidance that any of the women who write to us can offer, because for each of us, our experiences are different. But they do break the silence that surrounds sexual violence, sex, desire – and how that all fits together for survivors. It’s something that’s often not spoken about, perhaps because women are taught not to talk about sex or their own pleasure.

We hope that’s something that will change, and we’re hopeful. In the first fortnight of the project, we have had heartwarming support. Rape Crisis England and Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland and Rape Crisis Ireland have been wonderfully encouraging. The brilliant poet Hollie McNish; MP Caroline Lucas; all of our friends at No More Page Three; the Everyday Sexism Project; AnyBody UK; artist Sarah Maple; and two activists we admire, Caroline Criado-Perez and Feminist Times Contributing Editor Reni Eddo-Lodge, are just some of the wonderful women who have sent in beautiful messages of support.

In the near future we will be campaigning about issues we feel are important but overlooked. We will also be running a monthly group for survivors of sexual violence at Sh! Women’s Emporium.

To keep up to date please follow us on twitter @mybodybackproj and have a look at our website www.mybodyback-survivors.blogspot.co.uk

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A guide to being a woman in 21st century Israel

David Cameron today makes his first trip to Israel since becoming UK prime minister has backed peace talks between Israel and Palestine. To mark his visit, Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist Hila Beyovits-Hoffman writes for us about her view on the state of Israel for women today.

Mazel Tov, you’re 18! For a young Jewish Israeli this means it’s time for military service. You will be drafted to the Israeli Defense Forces or face prison, as a conscientious objector or defector. So blow out the candles and it’s off to boot camp, young lady.

Like all Israeli children, you were taught since preschool that military service is the essence of your civic duty as an Israeli patriot. State schools taught you about the Goyim constantly killing Jews; about how the Holocaust wiped out six million Jews; about how Israel was established as a sanctuary for the persecuted Jews.

Israeli education is meticulously designed to imprint students with an overwhelming sense of persecution and righteous indignation at the historical wrongdoings toward Jews. We grow up with a constant, unrelenting fear for our lives, paranoia on a national scale. The army must be held sacred and protected at all costs because, we are constantly told, it is the only thing standing between us and total annihilation.

Thus indoctrinated, you join the army proudly.

And it’s a necessary step on your career path! Most of Israel’s political leaders were high-ranking officers, going directly from the IDF to the Knesset; employers often seek specific military training, reflected on a resume. On a personal and national level, this service is important for your future.

Alas… When you do join the army, you quickly discover that it’s a man’s game. Positions and career paths are only open to men. Men can become high-ranking officers. Men will call the shots; you will serve their coffee.

Moreover, women in the army are constantly exposed to sexual harassment and abuse. Countless cases of abuse or rape by senior officers are met with a cover up, or a wrist slap for perpetrators.

Conventional sexual harassment exists alongside religious discrimination. Formerly more secular, the IDF increasingly adheres to rabbinical strictures. According to Halacha, the Jewish religious code of law, women should be neither seen nor heard. Want to train troops? Military rabbis say you may not give out orders to men, because it is “immodest”. Want to be a combat soldier, alongside the men? The rabbis shudder and say any touching is forbidden. Want to sing to the soldiers in special events or holidays, as military entertainment? “Gewalt!” say the rabbis, “a woman must only sing for her husband, or it’s prostitution!”

Both religious and secular male-dominated institutions work to deny you an equal place in Israeli society. Military service won’t buy you equality.

*                *                *

But let’s look at the other side of the Shekel. What if you resist the draft?

You’re an 18 year old Jewish woman in 21st century Israel, which has become an apartheid state. You believe that the occupation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank is illegal and immoral. You see the corruption that this occupation causes, the violence, the ruthlessness, the hopelessness. You believe your country can and should become a morally superior place, an example of coexistence and peace, a true “light unto the nations”.

Rather than cooperating with the “Israel Offensive Forces” you avoid being drafted, working instead with a leftist, anarchist movement. You protest the unjust occupation and the brutality of the soldiers towards the civilian Palestinian population at demonstrations.

But then, male peers ask you not to wear T-shirts or shorts, “because the locals consider it immodest; it’s against their religion”. You swallow your pride and defer to the greater goal, dress “modestly” and show up at the demonstration, where you are sexually harassed by the locals, by your fellow leftist protesters, and of course, by Israeli soldiers, who already consider you to be a traitor. Thus, the pecking order is preserved, same as in the army. So much for deferring for the greater good.

*                *                *

From its very inception, the feminist movement has suffered from CDD – Constant Deferral Disorder. Women have constantly been asked to put their dignity, their rights, their very lives aside, defer them for “the greater cause”. Feminism in Israel is no different. Many people would say that “surely, the problem of women’s rights in Israel pales in comparison to the occupation!”

I contend that women’s issues should never take the back seat. I contend that allowing 51% of the population to always be seen as lesser human beings is precisely what leads to the philosophy and mindset that allows, even encourages, one nation to believe it has a right to control and oppress another.

And yes, Palestinian woman have it even worse, because they’re doubly oppressed, but notice what this system does even to the so-called privileged Jewish woman. Treating one group of people as inferior and denying its members equal rights, while fighting for the equal rights of the members of another group, such behavior does not stand the test of reason, nor of ethics.

While we allow this injustice to keep happening in the name of “the greater good”, Israel will never be able to function as a democracy. One form of oppression does not and cannot justify another. If women are never equal, we can have no significant influence on foreign policy, the occupation, the peace process, or social issues. We will always lag several steps behind, and with us will lag the dreams and hopes for a better future for all people living in Israel and Palestine.

Hila Beyovits-Hoffman is an Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist, writing on social and political issues, the LGBT community and gender issues. Follow her on Twitter: @vandersister

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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After Abuse: The Noise of the Unsaid

This article was originally published by Media Diversified. Editor’s note: The article contains interviews with anonymous victims of child sexual abuse, framed by the writer’s own story, following her previous article on being raped. 

I was about eleven when my mother asked me in hushed whispers if what my little brother said was true. He had seen a man slip his hand down my shirt. I didn’t know how to talk about what I didn’t understand and I was ashamed and angry. So my brother did the talking. With innocence, he described how a man — hired by my family to teach us how to chant the divine verses – had abused me.

It happened during a lesson. I was focused on reciting an alien language when a clammy hand touched my breast. I jumped, instinctively biting his hand and tearing off a clump of his beard. He screamed and told me I was possessed. Then he walked off, leaving me with the remnants of facial hair. And my demons.

“It’s not true, is it?” asked my Mother. Seeing the fear and shame in her eyes was too much. “It’s not true,” I lied, to stop feeling like I was suddenly naked. The candy pink walls of my room imprisoned everything that remained unsaid.

I had written a first person account of being a rape survivor. After it was finally published, I realised I had unlocked a portal of imprisoned stories: overwhelming, horrifying demons that haunted so many people around me. My abuser was wrong. I am not possessed. I thank the writer Neil Gaiman for helping me understand I am one of “the dispossessed …those who have fallen through the cracks.”

I have spoken to others who have been abused, those who have yet to find the release from where acceptance is claimed. There are no happy endings and clean resolutions for fractured bodies and souls, but letting the cracks show will make life with the noise of demons easier to bear. These stories are part of a city that functions with its innate dysfunction. Karachi, my hometown, is the bearer of horrors. It is also, in so many ways, a reflection of the resilience that structures the stories. Karachi is a city that refuses to give up.

I Was Made To Give Him Blowjobs

S* was angry. The kind of anger that festers like gangrene. Yet she held on to her fury. She sat across me and declared that she was a victim. She refused to be positive, refused to associate herself with survivors. She was still battling with her demons. Her war was far from over.

“I don’t know how it started. He was always there, watching. Until one day I was asked to take my clothes off.

“He’s my mother’s brother, but I can’t bear the thought of him; I disassociated in any way.”

I had nothing to say. Her story was absurd.

“Obviously it wasn’t as bad as your experience,” she told me.

Each one of us carried our own private hells within. The torment was incomparable.

“I don’t remember when and how it started, I just know I grew up thinking it happened to everyone. Even if it was something I hated, it was my normal.”


We were discussing the pros and cons of being in a nudist colony when R* listed the trauma of an employee in her house watching her everyday as she showered. She shrugged it off, throwing in the details here and there as she drove on. She stopped looking at herself for a few years: “I just can’t decide if violating a twelve-year-old’s private space is okay or not. It wasn’t nice to feel threatened every time I took off my clothes.”

She missed her turn and drove onto a street that neither of us knew existed before. We were both so lost.


When J* decided to tell me about his stepfather I was a bit apprehensive. He works as a speech therapist for children with special needs. He has the rare ability to not look like an idiot when communicating with children. I asked him if he thought I would lack empathy, because he is a guy. Later I discovered that anal rape of a six-year-old is beyond gendered spaces.

“I have to begin to make sense of the violation of trust, the idea of being robbed of my childhood home as a safe place, in order to get to the physical.

“When I think about it now, it’s as if I am standing outside a boy’s bedroom window and watching.”

I ask him if he wants to step in and stop what’s happening.

“No. There is a vacuum where pain, horror and anger should be. Nothing compels me to go in and beat the man my mother trusted her child with.

“I know I probably come across as a text book case study of child abuse — blocking out my own emotions, channelling them here.”

“Well. Yes…”

He laughed and turned back to the kid tugging at his shirt.  I told him that the wisdom he possessed, both his broken and functioning selves, warrants a separate book.

“I’m twenty-eight. I can’t articulate beyond what I told you. The book will be as empty as the man who stands outside the window and feels nothing.”


I was ten when I got my period. The pain and the sight of blood triggered something. I saw myself under a man trying to push himself inside me. Before that I was too ashamed to even peek behind a dark curtain because I was convinced I had imagined the whole thing. The reality of pain and blood was a sign of another reality.

When I started transcribing these stories I assumed it would be easy. After I ‘came out’ as a rape victim, the reactions started to pour in. From being asked if I had lost all sense of shame and propriety, to a colleague coming up to me and shaking my hand for being brave enough to talk about what most people won’t. I was humbled, overwhelmed and stunned by what I had set in motion. I was one of the dispossessed, those who are alone because parts of us are missing, yet share fractured memories with other people.

Most of the people I talked to could not piece together their abuse in a clear and linear way. Their minds protected what their bodies had gone through. As I went along listening to people fighting, surviving, breaking down, living, giving up, I realized how the structure of our DNA is so similar. I used the horror of rape, abuse and violation as fuel to ignore my demons. I arrived at a place where I fought with myself for a space that only belonged to my grief. I used my broken parts to construct a self that functioned like a Rubik’s cube. It reshaped into something unsolvable at the first sign of danger.

The extremes of violence and violation we survived turned us into hunted animals. But we were strong enough to claw for life.


S* and I realised that neither of us can piece together our stories in a linear way. We don’t have the luxury. Our fractured memories have made our minds into a puzzle, there are pieces missing, pieces that don’t fit.


 A* was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder after she passed out the day her boyfriend proposed to her. He had crept up behind her and put his hands on her eyes to give her a ring. She stopped breathing before she passed out. In her early thirties she is in CBT that helps her explain the anxiety after abuse that occurred nearly twenty-one years ago.

A man took her to the neighbourhood park and put his hands over her eyes as he made her fondle him.

“I was made to give him blowjobs.”

After Abuse

There are so many untold stories. The solid walls, coloured and fixed every time a fractured memory starts to come up for air, die out because the rooms are perfectly cemented. What is beginning to chip away, however, is the silence; the language that was missing is slowly coming together. It is basic in its expression, almost childlike. What adds nuance is the ability to express emotions. And there is a vast spectrum of anger, grief, acceptance and, even, humour about abuse! What takes away from the purity of this language is the stage whispers. They were hushed once, now they have a theatrical quality.

I hope my story will help clear the murky darkness of what remains unsaid and silence the noise heard after abuse.

Amna Iqbal works as a Visual Journalist at The Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan. As she tried to do away with labels of class, sects, religion and gender, she has landed in an undefined space where she is making her way around falling off severe hand-me-down templates of dos and don’t s. Her work today encompasses her creative practice as a designer, writer, a journalist and a woman in a state of constant discomfort. Find out more on her website Off The Grid or follow: @amna_iqb.

Photo: OUCHcharley

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Congo Stigmata: The day Ensler crucified herself

There’s been plenty of criticism of V-Day recently, most aimed at Eve Ensler’s account of examining the body of a Congolese woman who was undergoing a fistula operation, as the result of injuries sustained from being subjected to rape as a weapon of war. In this account, about her own battle with cancer, Ensler quotes a friend as saying: “It’s like you’ve got Congo Stigmata… The women have entered you.” She continues to say that one of her doctors has said: “These findings are not medical, they are not science. They are spiritual.”

This account led to me withdrawing my support and co-operation with the organisation, which had begun in 2009. I believe that V-Day has done some vital work and continues to make great progress in Congo. But there have been some very serious mistakes too, which have resulted in me and other women questioning future involvement with them.

I have seen the work done by V-Day in Congo, both when I have visited and when I have read accounts of what is happening. I also understand there is an urgent need for work to continue. The care people show at grassroots level is very genuine and there are many successes in the story of V-Day & One Billion Rising. City of Joy, which was built by women to help women who had gone through trauma to heal and recuperate, is a stunning achievement: a safe house for women discharged from Panzi Hospital following operations for horrific injuries. A place where they can learn skills such as reading and growing crops, helping them to become self-sufficient before returning to their villages.

V-Day also affords the women of Congo a platform to speak. When much infighting amongst feminists these days relates to the platforms privileged women have and the platforms marginalised women are denied, it is important to recognise that V-Day enables otherwise silenced women to speak out. By helping the voices of these women to be heard, it also gives the women a chance to draw attention to the problems they want to and influence the help they are given. The reporting on the situation in Congo is often removed from the lived experiences of its main victims – women – to focus on the male-dominated politics. In this respect the work of V-Day, and other charities like it, is simply invaluable, but it is not without its issues in the way it is implemented.

This is not the first time criticism of appropriation has been leveled at the campaign or the organisation. Other women of colour have expressed issues with Eve Ensler’s organisation, notably Lauren Chief Elk’s open letter to Ensler which was widely shared last year. Lauren Chief Elk’s issues with Ensler related to V-Day’s treatment of Indigenous women in Canada, and the letter details her experience in raising that criticism.

In Congo other forms of exploitation affect some of the women whose stories are hotly sought after this time of year. They want to tell the world their experiences and make everyone aware about what is happening in Congo, how they are involved, and what they can do to help. But the fact is that for all their suffering, they are not being adequately compensated. Journalists take these stories to earn a living. Of course, journalists do need to be paid, but there is a glaring disparity when the women interviewed are sometimes paid for their time in grain alone. To these women, this falls woefully short.

Women interviewed in Congo mostly give their consent willingly, often having the situation explained to them by a translator. But just because consent is given at the beginning, it does not give journalists and campaigners free reign to do what they want afterwards. Out of a sense of decency it should be treated with appropriate respect.

These are fairly obvious examples of exploitation, deliberate or not, and work is needed to eradicate them, but they are not necessarily the most egregious. One of the worst examples was, as I said, by Ensler herself in her recounting of a woman’s surgery. The descriptions were pornographic and dehumanising. It debased the woman having surgery and Ensler at the same time. It called into question whether Ensler saw the women in Congo as her equals. These women are not projects for ‘white saviours’ to help or projects to learn from. They are not living cadavers. For me, Ensler’s piece recalls the colonial practice of human zoos, black bodies offered up for white consumption, or the citizens of New Orleans coming to see the tortured slaves of Delphine LaLaurie.

To fail to think of these things as she wrote the article is illuminating of Ensler’s worldview. It’s easy to see how one could not think of these issues when making such a decision – white privilege and white supremacy would not continue dominating were it otherwise.

Another criticism faced was the use of dancing and the framing of a “joyful revolution” by One Billion Rising.

When I filmed my BBC 3 documentary The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women in 2009 on rape in Congo, I was invited to take part in dancing in the grounds of Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Denis Mukwege performs the types of fistula operations that Eve described in her article. It was incredibly uplifting and rooted in local custom. From the women, for the women, by the women. For some, it was a brief respite from their thoughts.

Inviting women to dance does prevent us from focusing on the root causes of the suffering highlighted by One Billion Rising, but dancing and singing are essential to Congolese culture. We sing and dance for many different occasions, for many different reasons. When my uncle died, as the family gathered to mourn, my aunts would frequently sing – hymns, tribal songs and dances that expressed their emotions. Whilst I agree that a joyful revolution alone will not solve patriarchy, I don’t see the problem in attempting a shared experience through dance.

We must remain mindful of the power imbalance between us and the women in Congo, carefully choosing which stories we share and how we share them. It is hard to think that the woman who gave consent for Eve Ensler to witness her surgery would have agreed had she known that she would have been reduced to her bodily presence, her “hole” as Eve described it, and not her experience or soul.

It seems clear the bureaucratic level of both OBR and V-Day need urgent overhaul. When a movement this big and this important only ever focuses on a figurehead, there’s a huge problem. The organisation’s work does not need a sole spokesperson; it is strong enough to speak for itself. On this, the media must also take some responsibility and so must OBR and V-Day, by remembering that the people who should be heard, and who should fundamentally provide direction, are the women they are trying to help.

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

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I was sexually harassed more when pregnant and with my kids

Street harassment: a concept that was once reserved for dirty old men in trench coats and construction workers, has finally been recognised as a significant part of the spectrum of male violence against women and girls through the activism of groups like Hollaback and Everyday Sexism.

The recognition of how unsafe public spaces can be for all women, regardless of things like body type and age, is becoming more commonplace, as is the understanding of how street harassment disproportionately affects women of colour due to the intersections of racism and misogyny. However, there is one area of street harassment that remains unspoken: the harassment of women who are pregnant or with small children.

The fact that it remains, for the most part, unspoken, makes it difficult to assess how common street harassment is for pregnant women and mothers. We tend to think of women with children as safe from street harassment, yet it is the very vulnerability of being pregnant or with a child that makes it easier for men to harass without consequence. A woman with a child is less likely to confront a street harasser because of the fear of the possible harm to their child.

My first pregnancy was aged 18, when I looked no more than 15. I was the skinny kid with bad glasses and frizzy hair but I experienced a tremendous amount of street harassment before getting pregnant. Growing up in a transient mining community with a high rate of alcoholism in Northern Canada isn’t a safe space for women at the best of times. It was worse for Indigenous women.

The harassment got worse after I gave birth. I assumed, wrongly, that this increase was due to my age: that it was only because I looked young that I was being harassed. Then I experienced a similar increase in street harassment after the birth of my second child when I was 29, when I most definitely did not look 15. I have had comments about my breasts, my ass, and a number of dubious propositions all in front of my child.

Was I surprised that men were sexually harassing me in front of my child? Absolutely. I had naively thought men would not target a pregnant women or mother, not if she was outside the age range of the “teen Mum” who was in their mind, by default, a slut and therefore deserving of all harassment and abuse.

I wasn’t alone. It turns out that street harassment whilst pregnant or with a young child isn’t that uncommon. I’ve heard countless complaints from other women at toddler and baby groups. Parenting website Mumsnet has had thread after thread where women discuss their experiences of street harassment whilst pregnant or with small children. GirlwiththeMouseyHair wrote of her experiences of street harassment, which included a sexual assault, whilst 6 months pregnant and with her toddler.

Another Mumsnetter, D, shared this story with me. I am reproducing it with permission:

When F was little, we were on a quite empty bus and a guy came and sat adjacent and started rubbing himself in a quite blatant fashion whilst staring right at us. My thought at the time was that he might think I was less likely to kick off as I had a toddler with me. Or it could have been something worse that got his jollies. I was frozen to the spot. Then luckily he got off. I really didn’t know what to do.

Whatever the reason for this sexual assault D felt more vulnerable because she was with her child. This is a reality of street harassment, up to and including sexual assault, and it needs more research.

Without the research available I can’t statistically prove for you here that street harassment and sexual harassment increases when women are pregnant or with young children. So much of the evidence is anecdotal and remains in the domain of the message board, but I certainly remember more experiences whilst pregnant or with a toddler.

It’s possible this reflects feelings of greater vulnerability rather than a greater experience of harassment, or that I remember these incidents more vividly because my children experienced the harassment too – having someone confirm your experience can make it feel more real. It is heart-breaking when that validation comes from your 3 year old asking why the man was rude to you, or when your 2 year old asks the definition of a sex term that no small child should be familiar with.

The reality of street harassment is that no woman is safe in public spaces. That street harassment is a constant feature of women’s lives and that, unfortunately, this includes when women are pregnant or with their children.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

Photo: Kristian Bjornard

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Feminist evangelism: Blurred Lines at The Shed

The first thing that struck me about Blurred Lines, the latest offering from young playwright Nick Payne, was what a joy it was to be sat at the heart of London’s cultural heartland watching a play entirely performed by women.

Directed by Carrie Cracknell, Blurred Lines features a cast of eight brilliant women of different ages and races, who open the performance by reeling off the reductive, gendered stereotypes women face every day – from dumb blonde to gangster, from wife to single mum.

Taking its name from Robin Thicke’s depressingly popular hit Blurred Lines, the play promises a “blistering journey through contemporary gender politics”, and that’s just what it delivers through the series of vignettes – some witty, some dramatic – that make up the play’s short and sweet 70 minutes, interspersed with music from the likes of Lady Gaga, The Beastie Boys and N.E.R.D, and poetry by actor Michaela Coel. Thicke, we are told, refused permission for his song to be performed.

Both Payne and Cracknell were inspired by Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion, and her influence is clear in much of the play’s language and message. The scenes skilfully balance sensitivity and humour as they race through sexual assault and rape, discrimination against mothers in the workplace, objectification and the sex industry – though the latter is seen only through the eyes of a married couple, where the husband is a punter attempting to justify his sexual “transactions” to his wife.

Visually, the play is striking; Bunny Christie’s luminous staircase of a set is like something off The X Factor and, by the end of the play, is littered with precariously high heels and blonde hair extensions – trappings of the performance of womanhood that is being played out before us.

Each character is herself an actor playing her part and navigating her way through the complexities of life under patriarchy – mother, employee, wife, girlfriend – singing ‘Don’t Liberate Me (Just Love Me)’ or The Crystals’ ‘He hit me (it felt like a kiss)’ into her microphone. All the while, each character is juggling her career with her family, or coming to terms with being raped by her boyfriend.

Blurred Lines closes with a sketch that slyly nods towards the National Theatre’s own problems with representing women; an arrogant male director, played by Marion Bailey, sits with his legs wide apart in a post-show discussion, arrogantly defending his play’s sexism and objectification while his lead actress sits by in near silence.

The fast pace of these scenes relentlessly drives home the insidious nature of seemingly isolated incidents of sexism, which affect all women in myriad ways. Though nothing shocked me – jaded feminist that I am – it serves as a powerful and accessible piece of evangelism for those who continue to insist that feminism has served its purpose and sexism is a thing of the past.

For all its energy and humour, Blurred Lines felt like a depressing reminder of how much is still to be done, but if it opens the eyes of one sceptic then it’s done its job, and if it results in more (fully-clothed) women dominating theatre stages next season, so much the better.

Blurred Lines is on at The Shed, National Theatre, until 22nd February.

Photo by Simon Kane, courtesy of the National Theatre

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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:


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:


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:



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:


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:



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:


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.

Feminist Times is 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…


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More info here.

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#5yearssinceMaria: The manifesto of… a survivor of domestic violence

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. Today a survivor tells us her story…

I am in an abusive relationship. I want to say was… but wonder if that day will come.

I thought I’d done the hard and dangerous bit – I left. He no longer beats me, slams me into doors, pushes me downstairs or strangles me. But he is the father of our children and so, in truth, it doesn’t stop. Our beautiful, wonderful children tie me, and them, to a man who continues to abuse us.

I met my ex-husband back in 2001. He was successful, intelligent, at the top of his profession. He pursued me – I was flattered, I thought it was the heady behaviour of true love – it turned out to be the controlling behaviour of a man who doesn’t lose, who always gets what he wants. When we met I was working for a large accountancy firm, with my own successful career, my own house – my own independence.

Within a year none of that remained. I had sold my house, moved in with him and was living under the constant threat of being thrown out. He persuaded me to give up my job, telling me I couldn’t cope with it, and I stopped socialising as a result of his constant criticism of my family and friends.

That’s how quickly it happens – but you want to blame me for that, right? You want to tell me that I’m weak, there’s something wrong with me – that it’s my fault? That I should have just left? Blame the victim – that’s the way we do things; it’s our culture.

Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, says abuse is like the constant drip of water on a stone – drip, drip, drip – undermining, putting down, constant criticism, control, name calling… all silently stalking your self-esteem until you wake up one day and you don’t know who you are, how to stop it – where to turn to. You believe them – this is my fault.

Sometimes I can’t imagine how I stayed – In those moments I wonder if I am not like the people in the South Tower on 9/11 who didn’t know what was unfolding around them. I don’t make the comparison lightly. The terror of near death, that man’s hands gripping tightly around my throat – spots before my eyes, hearing muffled, and consciousness slipping away. But I did get up from my desk and start down the stairs, and luck was on my side; I got out.

There is no consistent response to domestic violence and that’s part of the problem. The police responded to my emergency calls. When I was screaming down the phone, “he’s going to kill me and the children,” they came quickly, arrested my husband and took statements. But they cautioned him – and then he was free to come home… The law can be a disappointingly blunt tool.

When I left for good after a beating in front of the children, the police told me we had lots of solid proof and that prosecution would follow provided I agreed to give evidence. It was a hard call – we were in the middle of divorce proceedings and such an act on my part would inevitably lead to greater hostility. But I agreed because domestic violence is against the law and without people coming forward to report this crime and give evidence, nothing will change. I am all for change.

So I stepped off the cliff and agreed, knowing that would mean facing him and all his lies in court. I said yes. The police took the case to the CPS and incredibly they said they weren’t able to prosecute: “Sounds like a ropey divorce”, was the quote. I was devastated, crushed and numb. I fought for an explanation, none came. No one would talk to me or give me a reason why. I felt blamed, that no one really believed me. Luckily, Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, picked me up and supported me at that point.

But the abuse stated again, this time with a new weapon. The courts, social services, threats of media exposure – he was a powerful man.

Despite court rulings in my favour, I am still in court, still fighting to keep the children safe from his lies and his behaviour. My new address was to remain confidential but he searched and found it. Nothing was done and that frightens me.

My life is changed, I am changed.

But change is good. I have met and been inspired by some of the world’s most amazing women since leaving. I have a new business and have even written a book. I am on a journey and all roads have led to here. I am not bitter, just changed – I hope for the better. I am not yet a survivor of domestic violence, but I am surviving.


I would like…

  • The Government to open a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to victims of domestic violence.
  • A well-funded, strategically co-ordinated, multi-agency National Domestic Violence Framework with documented standards of response to and care for victims of domestic violence.
  • A high profile media campaign highlighting the availability of Legal Aid in cases of domestic violence, and how those experiencing domestic violence can obtain help and funding.
  • Children to be properly protected in contact arrangements with perpetrators of domestic violence, by the extension of Legal Aid to Children’s Act Proceedings where Findings of Fact prove domestic violence is an issue.
  • More funding for specialist Independent Domestic Violence Advocates, who help victims of domestic violence to navigate a path to safety through the legal system – dealing with courts, social services, police, CPS and all government agencies.
  • Education on what makes a good vs. bad or abusive relationship taught as standard throughout the academic year (not a one-off class as part of sex education) starting at primary level and linked to anti-bullying work in schools.

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

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: 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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#IDontBuyIt: A Very Feminist Christmas Theme Week 16th – 22nd

We love a theme week and we’ve really gone to town on our Christmas themed week:

#IDontBuyIt: 16th – 22nd December

Our team of experts will be dissecting all things festive and why we as feminists just don’t ‘buy’ a lot of it. Whether it be capitalism, Xmas telly, the immaculate conception or the commodification of feminism. Here’s our list of #IDontBuyIt content:

The Guardian’s Issy Sampson unpicks the Christmas telly schedule to see how women fare in festive TV.

Psychiatrist Anna Fryer on womb envy, feminist psychoanalysis and the immaculate conception.

One of Santa’s Elves whistleblows on her working conditions.

Tales from women in the banking and media industries about their sexist office parties.

Dr Kristin Aune, Reader in Sociology & Director of the Centre for Society, Religion & Belief on how you can be a Feminist and a Christian.

A reader who lost it all in the crash explains why we should all adopt the Free Economony.

An exploration of the commodification of Feminism.

Children’s Editor Anna on toys.

Joni Seager and Lucia Ricci infographic on women, credit and depression.

Buy Nothing Day and Echo profiles, Feminist Fairies, and more.

#5yearssinceMaria: From the 16th – 19th December we will also be marking the fifth anniversary of Maria Stubbings’ death, alongside Refuge, including:

Maria Stubbings’ story.

He punched a horse: comparison of sentencing for domestic violence versus other crimes.

The manifesto of a woman who suffered from domestic violence.

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Comeback: Cameron’s ‘Rape Porn Law’ and BDSM

We would like to correct some of the inaccuracies contained in the blog post published today on the Feminist Times by writer Daisy Bata. The amendment to the Extreme Pornography Legislation, referred to in the article as ‘David Cameron’s new rape porn law’, has been plagued by misinformation, mythologies and what can best be described as a form of liberal panic since it was announced in July of this year.

Following this, it is entirely understandable that the material Daisy accessed to write her article, and the conclusions she reached from it, has been read and taken as fact by countless others. It is not to argue with or shout down those who hold Daisy’s position, nor the author herself, that we write this statement. Feminisms are built on disagreeable women! Rather we would like to just add to the conversation with some information on the law, what it does/does not include, the reasons behind our campaign and particularly how pornographic depictions of rape differ from BDSM pornography.

Due to time constraints we can only point to previously published materials, though many do cover the points raised in this article. One point to comment on directly however is that “(o)nce again we are witnessing the attempts of men to exercise control over our agency, choice and desire.” The campaign was led by an all women team. It was drawn directly from the support work of women within Rape Crisis South London and was supported by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Law Professors from Durham University including Professor Clare McGlynn and Professor Erika Rackley, Rape Crisis (England and Wales) and Women’s Aid among many other individuals and organisations, most of whom worked with, for and/or were themselves survivors of sexual violence. If anything we are witnessing the success of women exercising their agency to campaign for change.

The links below contain many additional links to information, research, evidence and opinion supporting the amendment to criminalise pornographic depictions of rape:

Legal Briefing

Content Analysis of Top 50 sites hosting pornographic depictions of rape … not a nipple clamp in sight

‘Criminalising Extreme Pornography: Five Years On’ – McGlynn and Rackley on The Extreme Pornography Provisions: A Misunderstood and Misused Law

Fiona Elvines: rape porn is an insult to men and an invitation to rapists / Comment is Free / 24th July 2013

Why I support criminalising pornographic depictions of rape.

Fiona Elvines is Operations Coordinator at Rape Crisis South London

Image courtesy of DFID

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#16Days: Profile – Women’s Aid

I moved to Women’s Aid this year because I felt its work was so desperately needed. In my previous career, both at Action for Children, and before that as a journalist, I’ve been acutely aware of the huge impact of violence against women and girls.

For a long time I’ve felt that it’s seen far too much as a “factor” in other issues that get a lot of policy attention, and far more funding, rather than as the central and fundamental issue for our time, which I believe it is.

Since I joined, I’ve realised that my job is as much about advocating for and striving to protect one of the most important legacies of the women’s movement in this country: its network of specialist domestic violence services, run by women for women and their children.

Starting from very humble roots in Bristol nearly 40 years ago, Women’s Aid built up a national network of services for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Too often individual services have to fight so hard simply to survive in a difficult commissioning environment with regular budget cuts; they simply don’t have the capacity to campaign. But without the voice of specialist, gender-specific domestic violence services and the women they support, local and national governments too often don’t understand what’s needed.

That’s why Women’s Aid exists – we bring these services together, and speak on their behalf and on behalf of women who survive domestic violence.

As a membership organisation, our activity takes many forms. We run campaigns on issues ranging from the need for proper relationships education in schools, to the desperate financial situation many of our members are experiencing.

We use our significant media presence to educate people that domestic violence is not always about punching or kicking, but about coercive control, manipulation and power.

We challenge the myth that some women ‘ask for’ the abuse they’re getting, and regularly call the media to account when they express attitudes that shore up sexism and abuse.

We are very clear and always state unequivocally that domestic violence is a gendered issue, with its roots in inequality between women and men.

We spend a lot of time working directly with government to create an environment which supports women experiencing abuse, and deters potential perpetrators.

By collecting the views of our members and uniting their experiences, we are able to speak with authority to those in positions of power, to tell them what’s happening on the ground. I am proud of the work we do to hold governments to account on their promises around domestic violence.

I am particularly pleased with our recently re-launched National Training Centre. The work the centre does is phenomenal, and every individual they educate on appropriate responses is someone who will make a direct difference to the lives of women experiencing domestic violence.

Even more directly, the National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, receives an average of 10,000 calls a month.

The work of the Helpline is furthered by the Women’s Aid Survivors Forum, where women can seek and receive support from each other. The positive messages, stories of hope, survival, and strength that come from our Survivors’ Forum energise me in our continued fight against domestic violence.

My time at Women’s Aid so far has coincided with perhaps the most challenging time for the sector since the 1970s, in terms of both funding and the misogyny that both feeds violence against women and undermines support for our services.

It has also been a time of a revitalised feminist discourse, particularly on social media, which I have really loved joining in with. I am trying to find a way of linking this discourse more directly and obviously to the issues facing women who experience domestic violence and our services that support them.

I like to think that Women’s Aid is getting domestic violence back on the agenda, that our links to both survivor services and new feminist organisations  puts us in a unique position to unite second and third (or even fourth!) wave feminism on an issue that could hardly be more important to all of them.

Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners – a number that hasn’t changed in the 40 years we’ve been working. For me, it’s now or never for Women’s Aid to lead the charge to finally bring that number down, and help countless women escape the hell of domestic violence.

Polly Neate is the CEO of Women’s Aid. You can support Women’s Aid by donating online at www.womensaid.org.uk/donate to text ACT to 70300 to donate £3.

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline free on 0808 2000 247. The line is open 24/7 and run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge.

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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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