The Feminist Bubble

This post is inspired by a Facebook post I saw the other day that was posted by Black Girl Dangerous:

How would conversations between oppressed peoples with common interests be different if we didn’t spend so much time worrying about how privileged people who were listening in were gonna interpret/appropriate/use for their own agenda what we say to *each other*? We put so much energy into worrying about what they think that we miss opportunities to do the healing work we need for ourselves in our communities. Which, of course, is one very efficient way oppression operates.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and something I am guilty of. It feels like a lot of feminist conversations these days revolve around critiquing white feminism rather than trying to create solidarity or a strong transnational feminist movement (white feminism here of course refers to the movement itself, not being “white” – many brown and black people, for example, adopt a white feminist approach). This is something I do too and have started to find problematic, not because it isn’t necessary but because it seems to create a momentum in and of itself that prevents non-white feminisms from moving forward. So in that sense I definitely relate to the quote above: worrying about how white women are going to interpret something we do or say is not only energy-consuming, it is ultimately pointless because no matter how many disclaimers you might add to something you write, many are simply going to see what they want and interpret it through their own theoretical lens and experiences.

 

You can read the full article here. 

Neo-Colonialism and it’s Discontents : A blog by Sara Salem on Postcolonialism, Marxism, feminism and other conspiracies.  Twitter: @saramsalem

Victims of Domestic Abuse and the English Criminal Justice System

First Published by Donna Navarro

What has happened to a victim centred approach in cases of domestic abuse in the English criminal justice system?

A domestic violence review comes after a number of high profile cases where protection for victims fell below expected standards.

Why has it taken Home Secretary, Theresa May so long to commission Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to carry out an inspection into how police forces are responding to domestic violence? Domestic violence is not a new offence. The fact is two women on average die each week at the hands of their abusive partners. That’s 104 women a year, murdered by their partners. Children left without mothers. 104 women denied futures.

Why has it taken a number of high profile cases before Theresa May has commissioned this inspection? What about all the other women that haven’t made the headlines? The women that haven’t made it into the tabloids or on to the local or national news? Are their deaths not important? That’s certainly the impression the government has given by failing to put female victims of violence at the top of their agenda until now.

I suspect it’s just that Theresa May doesn’t know about those ones in the same way the rest of us don’t, because simply put, they don’t get reported by the media. To do so would be to admit failure. A failure to keep these women safe. Something we take for granted because we think we live in a society with an effective and efficient police service.

The Guardian reports today how poor Daniel Pelka was failed by multiple agencies in the lead up to his tragic murder by his mother and her partner:

‘Teachers, health professionals, social workers and police officers treated four-year-old Daniel Pelka as if he was invisible, failing to prevent his mother and stepfather from murdering him after a campaign of torture and starvation

‘Daniel’s mother, Magdelena Luczak, 27, and her partner, Mariusz Krezolek, 34, both Polish nationals, will serve at least 30 years in prison for Daniel’s murder. During a harrowing trial a jury heard that Daniel looked like a concentration camp victim when he died in March 2012. The court was told that he was subjected to torture including having his head held under water until he passed out and being force-fed salt. He was kept locked in a filthy box room at home in Coventry and was systematically denied food before dying after receiving a blow to his head.’

It appears not a single person involved with Daniel ever asked him about his home life. His voice was not heard.

The police attended Daniel’s home 30 times in response to reports of domestic abuse – thirty missed opportunities for the police to adopt a child-centred approach.  Afterall, women are not the only victims of domestic abuse.

The police failed to enact an inquiring mind, something which happens all too often in cases involving domestic abuse. Maybe the police were short staffed, maybe they weren’t sufficiently trained to recognise the risks. Maybe they felt domestic abuse was something best left to the couple to resolve.

Voices were not heard, for whatever reason. In Daniel’s case, his voice was not heard because no one bothered to ask him.

Domestic abuse has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other offence – on average a woman is assaulted 35 times before she has the courage to contact the police and ask for help. But police will often visit the home when the abusive partner is in the house. What woman, terrified of the consequences will ask the police for help when her abusive partner is hovering in the background, giving her that ‘don’t you dare’ look?

In 90 per cent of domestic violence incidents in family households, children are in the same room or the room next door, watching and listening, trying to hide from the terrifying events unfolding in front of them.

In over 50 per cent of known domestic abuse cases, children are also directly abused – the NSPCC, in 1997, found a 55 per cent overlap. Not only are women being failed by front line staff, but children are too – had the police acted during one of their 30 attendances to Daniel’s home, it’s possible they could have rescued him from a horrible fate.

The importance of multi-agency working in cases of domestic abuse and child abuse is vital. If staff dealing directly with the victims of these crimes do not share the information they hold, the risks to these victims are unthinkable. But what if front line agencies are not sufficiently trained to recognise the risks, to deal with the risks, to understand the risks – and incredibly that seems to be exactly what we’re dealing with here in the UK.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

This government is serious about keeping women and girls safe. We have seen improvements over the past year – domestic violence, rape and sexual offence prosecutions have reached their highest ever conviction rate for the second year running – so the systems in place to protect women are working better.

But sadly there are still too many cases, like those of Clare Wood and Maria Stubbings, where victims have lost their lives because warning signs were missed.

We have a duty to provide vulnerable people with the best possible protection which is why I have commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to review current practices and recommend where further improvements can be made.

To Theresa May, to our government, I say there are far too many cases where women are failed because warning signs are missed, far too many cases involving children where people in authority are afraid to ask intrusive questions. I say the government simply isn’t serious enough about protecting women and children.

The government may have a specific policy on ending violence against women and girls:

We are determined to support victims in reporting these crimes, and to make sure perpetrators are brought to justice. We all need to do more to prevent violence against women and girls happening at all.

We can’t argue with that, but what is the government actually doing?

In November 2012, new legislation was introduced making stalking and harassment a specific offence. Nearly one year on and the number of prosecutions under this law is minimal despite its simplicity.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) 1997, amended by Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 it is necessary to prove a course of conduct on at least two occasions, where the conduct amounts to harassment, stalking or fear of violence, or stalking which causes serious alarm or distress.

A list of example behaviours include following, contacting/attempting to contact, publishing statements or material about the victim, monitoring the victim (including online), loitering in a public or private place, interfering with property, watching or spying. This is a non exhaustive list which means that behaviour which is not described above may also be seen as stalking.

Let’s not forget that stalking and harassment, both offline and online, are linked significantly to domestic abuse.

Since November 2012, it is estimated 80,000 offences of stalking and harassment have been committed, yet only 327 suspects have been arrested, only 190 suspects charged, 33 convicted and 6 jailed. The reason: front line staff, police staff, CPS staff those dealing directly with victims of such offences, those making the decisions to prosecute, have not been trained on the new legislation.

So to Theresa May, I’d say the government needs to practice what it preaches. Perhaps providing front line police and CPS staff with training on legislation before it comes into force would be a helpful tool in ensuring victims receive the support they need.  What happened to a victim-centred approach? By not providing training to front line staff the government is not supporting victims, it is not encouraging them to come forward and report crimes.

The system is failing victims of abuse. When those dealing with cases of violence against women do not have the knowledge, the training and the necessary skills to deal sympathetically with victims, to believe them, to protect them, to effectively assess the risk of harm they face, then victims will continue to lose faith in the British criminal justice system. They will fail to report crimes. They will feel unable to ask for help, and more and more women and children will be killed at the hands of their abusers.

 

Donna Navarro : Writer, campaigner, former offender manager; passionate about social justice and women’s rights. Opinionated. Sarcastic. More fun than I sound… [@lexiconlane]

Methinks they do Protest Too Much

Cross-posted with permission from Abigail Rieley

I’ve been having a bit of a contentious time on Twitter lately. It can be like that sometimes and mostly lately I’ve been steering clear. I’m tired of having the same argument. It’s the argument that pops up with depressing regularity whenever someone raises the issue of violence against women. It usually comes when someone has said that this violence is a serious societal problem that we all need to do something about. Yesterday it came up because of thispiece in the Irish Times. In it Una Mullally made the point that perhaps we shouldn’t be telling women not to get themselves raped and murdered, perhaps we should be telling men not to be harming women.

Well it didn’t take long for the howling and gnashing of teeth to begin. First they started in the comments below the article, then the row took to Twitter, as these things tend to do. One after another men came forward with their chests puffed out, declaiming that this was a gross generalisation. All men were not rapists and murderers. Sexism! Misandry! What about the Menz!

It’s about the third time this week something like this has kicked off. As I said, on Twitter things kick off which the regularity of an explosions in a fireworks factory made of sawdust. Take your eye off the ball for a moment and Whoosh! I’m tired of hearing the same arguments, receiving the same barrage of hectoring points from some bloke who wants to show me the error of my ways for believing in this divisive nonsense. I’ve had enough.

It’s getting increasingly hard to avoid that hectoring response. If ,as a woman, you identify yourself online as a feminist or are definite in your views there will be invariably be someone waiting in the wings who wants to tell you how wrong you are. While I’m all in favour of freedom of speech and while I’ve no problem with lively debate I am sick and tired of trying to make my point to someone who is only interested in getting the last word. This is why I usually lurk Twitter late at night talking about 70s TV. The discussions can get heated there as well but no one tries to shout you down.

There’s a particular type of arguing here that really sets my teeth on edge. It’s not restricted to gender politics either, I’ve encountered the same response when talking about other types of discrimination. The attitude that will invariably be shouted loudest is the one telling me to shut up, telling me that I’m exaggerating the problem, telling me I’ve got it wrong.

Normally I try to calmly reason with them. I try to make them see my point and to demonstrate that their argument is built on a principal of denial. I’m all right Jack. But we come back to the beginning again and again and I really don’t think anyone learns anything.

No if you’re reading this and your fingers are already itching to jump in there to tell me I’m generalising wildly, all men are not like that and I’m just another one of those ranty feminists, let me stop you right here. Chances are we’re not going to agree. Here’s why.

We all look at the world through the lens of our experience. If you go through life and don’t see any of the sharp edges then well done, congratulations, you are charmed. But I’ll tell you now, we’re not looking at the same world. The very glass that makes up the lenses through which we see is fused from different elements. I can’t not see the corners. But I can point them out.

Firstly let’s start with the very, very basics. I’m not a feminist because I hate men. I’m not a feminist because I just want to be argumentative. I’m a feminist because when I look at the world we live in today and see women like me denied education, denied freedom, denied a voice, it makes me very, very angry. Sure, as a white, middle class woman living in Western Europe I’ve got it easy. I come from a culture where I can choose the man I marry, where I can continue my education and where I can vote for a say in how my country is run. I am not forced to sell my body and by and large I’m not marginalised. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see how much easier it is for men to get on in this fine country of ours.

When I worked in radio I often heard that my female voice was just going to irritate listeners. On Irish radio in general two thirds of the voices you will hear belong to men. Women, who lets not forget make up around 50% of the global population, make up only 13% of our elected representative. As a writer I know that my work is likely to be under reviewed and that my book will be more likely to get a softly feminine cover regardless of it’s subject matter because of my gender. I know that while education was never an issue for me it’s not that long since a third level degree was an impossible dream for women. I worked in the criminal courts for over six years and when you’re there on a daily basis you realise that the majority of crimes that pass through the Central Criminal Court are crimes against women. So many sex crimes pass through the courts in Dublin that the papers cover only a fraction. Those crimes, I’m sad to say, tend to be picked for their sensationalism, a pretty victim, a particularly brutal accused. I’ve written about so many of them on this blog. Click on any of the women’s names in the tag cloud and chances are you will find a woman killed by the man who was supposed to love her.

And when I get angry about all this, when I say this is ridiculous and must stop if we are ever going to move forward as a people there will always be those who tell me I am wrong. They will be men. I’ve never had this reaction from a woman.

The problem is that it’s all getting worse. When I was a child in the 70s it was fashionable to give little girls tool sets and little boys dolls. Granted this might have been a vogue in our own leafy suburb but back then I never questioned it. I used to laugh at the boys I played with when they told me I couldn’t play Scalectrix or Meccano because I was a girl. It never for a moment occured to me they had a point. That would be utterly bonkers. No if you go to a toy shop you can tell the aisle that’s meant for girls. While the boys are presented with a kaleidoscope of colours the girls have one option. Pink. Let me get this straight. All little girls do not want to be princesses. I always wanted to be the Prince. He got a horse and a sword and got to do stuff. All the Princess did was lounge around and look pretty.

I could go on and on and on with the examples of how this world is still trying to tell women to stay in the background, to shut up, to look pretty. It might seem like I’m off the point here but it’s all part of the same thing. Good girls are still pretty and mute and passive. Good girls need to be protected. Good girls need to be told when they have worried their pretty little heads about something unnecessary.

Because that’s the crux of it. These men who bristle when a point is made, who are so secure in the fact that they are nice men so we shouldn’t be telling them not to rape, who think that we just misunderstand or didn’t do our research, these men need to stop and listen. It doesn’t matter that you are a nice guy and would never harm a woman. That doesn’t mean that others of your sex would. For time immemorial, women have been told to beware, to watch out for the big bad wolf. We’ve been told to watch what we wear, watch how we speak, watch where we look. We are have the population of the planet but we hold a fraction of the power. It’s not an equal playing field. If your fingers are still itching to butt in just ask yourself why? Is it because you are so unsure of your own position that you can’t see the difference between yourself and the bad men? Is it because you started getting irritated by my words because they were written by a woman who really shouldn’t be this forthright? Is it because you need to look at your own attitudes before getting at mine?

I’ve been fighting my corner for a very long time. I’ll continue to do so for as long as it takes. I do not believe that I am any less capable, any less wise, any less worthy of respect because I was born a particular sex. But most of all I don’t see why as a woman I should have to take all the responsibility. Culturally we persist in assuming that men are at the mercy of animal urges. Surely it’s time they shared a little bit of responsibility and showed a bit of respect and a bit of empathy? I’m also confident that any of the lovely blokes that I’ve met, known and loved over the years will read this and not feel victimised. Because those men know that there is a problem and it’s one that we all need to do something about. I can rant until I’m blue in the face but even if every woman on the planet agreed with me we’d only be 50% and an underrepresented 50% at that. We all need to decide that this crap is unacceptable. We need to stop arguing about the bloody details.

 

Abigail RieleyI’m a writer, journalist and feminist and this is my personal blog. I’ve written a great deal about the Irish criminal justice system based on my observations from working at a court reporter, particularly about the sentencing laws concerning crimes against women be it murder or manslaughter, rape or sexual assault or domestic violence. I also write about books and writing, women in 19th century Ireland (a subject I’ve been researching for the past couple of years), science fiction and general women’s issues (including, of course, the Irish abortion situation) and social issues. I’m also a bit of a geek and write about British science fiction and horror.

Abigail Rieley can also be found on twitter.

Pro-Life is Lies

Cross-posted with permission from The Real Thunder Child

Thanks to the recent underhand behaviour of the Telegraph regarding “sex selective” abortion, and the clear stated intent of the Times, I would like to re-iterate my own rebuttal of the pro-life narrative- a letter I wrote to the Guardian in 2011, as follows here;

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/may/27/abortion-debate-government-pro-life

In case the link doesn’t it I have re-produced it verbatim…..

“What the “pro-life” lobby fails to be honest about (which is why their influence is increasingly dangerous) is that – unlike the “pro-choice” lobby – they seek to remove from women their ability to choose a course of action best suited to their own circumstances and conscience.

I am a Catholic. I am against abortion*. But – as the mother of a girl – I’m fervently “pro-choice”. As much as it’s every woman’s right to choose not to terminate a pregnancy, it’s also her right to choose the opposite action. Every person has the right to complete sovereignty over their own body, and the right to deal with whatever consequences exercising that choice involves. “Pro-choice” only advocates a woman’s right to a termination if that’s what she chooses and, unlike “pro-life”, seeks neither to coerce or legislate (or coerce via legislation) over a person’s ownership of their reproductive destiny.

Medically speaking, allowing choice is ethical; removing it is not. Along with the abolition of the death penalty and the creation of the NHS, the 1967 Abortion Act stands out as the most ethical, humane piece of legislation in British history. It’s about time we of the “liberal left” grew a backbone and defended it as such.

Sinead Connolly”

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

* when I say I’m against abortion, I must clarify that I’d prefer to live in a world where it was never necessary. But that world MUST be created on women’s terms, not those deemed by patriarchy, or nothing will have changed.

** I have nothing further to add, anything else would be hyperbole – and the subject has enough of that without any of mine.

The Real Thunder Child can also be found on Twitter as @resurgamblog.

Maria Miller’s fallacy of modern feminism

Originally published by The Jaded Ladies

Maria Miller is a Conservative MP for Basingstoke.  She is also newly appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as well as Minister for Women and Equalities.  Setting aside her voting history on issues that would help reduce inequality (she tends to vote against them), she seems to be rather anti women’s rights as well, however much she claims to be a ‘modern feminist’.

This comes from her recent proclamation that the time limit for abortion should be reduced from the current 24 weeks, down to 20 weeks and her reasons for thinking so.  According to Miller, the time limit should be reduced ‘to reflect the way science has moved on’ in that now, a foetus born prematurely at 24 weeks is considered ‘viable’.  Though there is very little medical evidence to support this claim (The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – arguably the most relevant professional body in this discussion – are AGAINST lowering the limit), Miller should still have used a different justification for her argument to avoid making herself look like a complete fool.  To take Miller’s reasoning to its logical extreme, it follows that when future medical advances make it possible to conceive a life and then grow it to full term outside of the womb, then the need for any abortions at all will reduce to zero.  Here, Miller has conflated two very distinct issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights into one, and in the process has muddied the waters of the whole ‘debate’.

It is largely accepted that in a progressive society, the reproductive rights of women are necessarily protected and placed as higher priority than the right to life of a foetus that is yet to be born.  The current 24 week time limit on abortion recognises that there is a small chance of survival if a baby were to be born at this stage, though is still quite arbitrary, and for the purposes of maintaining the rights of women, needs to be recognised as such, and remain so.  As uncomfortable as the issue is for anyone to come to terms with, a society that respects women must realise that  it is a woman’s prerogative to make that decision, and that woman’s prerogative alone.  This is not the time nor the place to start bringing in the rights or the ‘viability’ of the foetus.

To start bringing into the debate the idea that the right to life of a foetus is more important than the right of the mother to choose whether or not to give birth to that foetus, is to give up any claim to feminism, ‘modern’ or otherwise, that one may have started with.  To place restrictions on abortions in this way is to attempt to remove women’s autonomy over their own bodies.  This is a very regressive opinion, and by all means, one could hold it and attempt to argue one’s point, but to do so from a position of concern for the ‘women and children’ affected is not only incredibly condescending, but also completely irrelevant in the circumstances.

One wonders why so much energy has been spent on this in the first place.  Less than 2% of abortions in England and Wales in 2011 occurred after the 20 week mark, meaning that this proposal would have affected less than 0.005% of thepopulation last year.  There are plenty of issues that Miller could have addressed to improve the quality of life for all women up and down the country.  Hyper focussing on this one in such a way as she has done, undermines her commitment to her role as ‘Minister for Women’.

I wouldn’t even like to credit this woman with being hugely controversial, as much as she may have been attempting to do so, however, along with Nadine Dorries and her similarly ridiculous claims that tightening abortion laws made her ‘more of a feminist’, it seems that we need to be increasingly aware of these people that are helping to make our laws and run our country.

The Jaded Ladies

Jaded Ladies: 4 friends blogging about feminism [@TheJadedLadies]

Surviving the Holidays

 

(Surviving the Holidays is cross-posted with permission from Terminally Forgetful)

etolle

 

Regardless of your familial situation, facing the holidays can be daunting; especially for survivors and people in recovery…I should know! I’ve cringed at the looming specter of faking holiday cheer, once again trying to keep the peace when the voices inside of me were anything but peaceful. It did not matter whether I was with my own family or someone else’s; I was triggered all the same.

But there is HOPE!! We do not have to continue to suffer through the insufferable today. If I am not first for myself, then I have nothing to give to others. Here’s a look at the top 7 tips I have for surviving the holidays and maintaining your serenity:

1. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

I am done carrying that clawing creature in my heart that causes me to feel isolated when surrounded by others. If I go to a party, a family gathering, or a situation where I know I am going to be triggered I make sure to bring a trusted support person with me. I have the right to be supported, or to not be present. If it is not okay for me to bring someone with me, I have the right to choose not to come.

There are resources in most countries for hotlines for survivors and people in recovery to reach out for 24-hour support. Google: 24 hour Hotline (the issue you have & your location or country). If you do not find one, please feel free to contact me via my Ask Me page.

2. EXIT PLAN

The number of times I have felt trapped in a place, because I did not take my own transportation or devise an exit strategy prior to arrival are too numerous to count. I’ve since learned that I can bestow myself with peace of mind by knowing ahead of time how I can leave when I need to. This forethought often lessens my hypersensitivity to being triggered, having a relapse or acting out.

If you decide against taking your own transport, I encourage you to note down local numbers for taxis & to be sure to have cash on hand. You have the right to leave a place where you feel unsafe or are tempted to relapse.

3. RECOVERY FIRST

A holiday from work or school doesn’t mean I take a holiday from my recovery. If I do not have my equilibrium built upon the foundation of doing a few simple things to receive a reprieve from addiction and madness, then I have nothing. Worse than that, my crazy train starts up & I begin looking for passengers to take with me into krakalaka-ville aka Insanity!

Whatever your normal daily discipline is to keep balanced, I suggest you continue to maintain that during the holidays. Give yourself and others the opportunity to be known and to know you. My recovery is an intrinsic part of who I am. If you need tips on how to maintain your recovery during the holidays, please do not hesitate to Ask Me.

4. YOU ARE A GIFT

I don’t know if this is hard for you, but I really struggle with the commodification of holidays. We’re inundated with stories of how people suffer emotionally and economically during the holidays by trying to ensure they have enough gifts for everyone they “should” give to. I want you to know that your presence is a gift! Your willingness to share your time with others and to allow others to get to know you is worth more than putting yourself in debt or depleting emotional reserves.

If you feel compelled to give gifts: I have enjoyed making small donations to humanitarian organizations in the name of the people I am gifting to. My most favorite gifts to give are ones I can have fun making myself, or are coupons I create redeemable for time spent together doing fun activities.

5. CREATE YOUR OWN HOLIDAY

Do you ever feel like the holidays are something imposed on you, rather than something you create yourself? Are there certain rituals you’ve always just done, because that’s the way it is?

You have permission to use your imagination & design holiday rituals that embody what the holidays really mean to you! This gives me a feeling of belonging and relating to the holidays on a more profound level. Often it can feel as if we are tolerating life, rather than creating it. I believe you are courageous and I encourage you to take time to create a ritual this holiday season that has special meaning for you.

 

pourintoothers

 

6. BE OF SERVICE

Drowning in a swamp of misery, loneliness, alcohol, or food is nowhere we’re going to be this winter, right? Let’s get out of the abyss together! Over the years I have volunteered my time during the holidays at crisis phone lines, soup kitchens, or packaging items for those in need. These are only a few of the many ways we can be of service to others. I’m not suggesting you stress over how to give, or exhaust yourself by giving too much to others and not enough to yourself. I’m suggesting you try…try to keep your eyes open for someone who needs help: Call someone to check-in & remind them that they’re not alone; Go with someone to a recovery meeting; Help someone who is struggling in some way.

It feels good to get outside of ourselves and our problems, even if for a little while, to be given a new perspective.

7. DRESS COMFORTABLY

Sounds silly? It’s one of the most practical pieces of advice I can give you! Back in the day when I wore heels to every special occasion, I use to call them my “drinking shoes.” I would have to have a couple of glasses of whatever type of alcohol was available to anesthetize the foot pain, never mind the emotional pain. I don’t need social anesthetic today. What I need are comfortable clothes and shoes I can be in for more than 2 hours at a time. During the holidays, my siblings and I celebrate “Pajama World.” It is one of our self-created rituals where we all wear pajamas, watch movies & spend time together.

Comfort + Fun = A Great Time

I suggest you try the exercise on closet clearing. Afterwards pick an outfit that is most authentically and comfortably you.

I am happy to support your journey towards wholeness this holiday season. Please Share this with others.

 

Terminally Forgetful: Helping motivated survivors transform their lives. A place to share your stories, ask questions and receive support and tools for healing and transformation.

An interview with Huma Munshi

This article is cross-posted from The Lifting the Veil Project with permission

An interview with Huma Munshi

We recently interviewed Huma Munshi about the concepts of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ within South Asian communities, among others. Huma is a writer and poet who writes on many issues including feminism and tackling ‘honour’ based violence. She sees writing as a means to connect with others and healing. She tweets at @Huma101

Please be aware that there is a trigger warning for child sexual abuse, rape and examples of victim blaming within this article.

Huma

You recently started the #fuckhonour and #fuckshame hashtags on Twitter. What drove you to start your campaign?

Muslim Women’s Network launched a report, entitled Unheard Voices, in autumn of this year describing the prevalence of young Asian, Muslim girls being sexually abused. There were a number of things that made me extremely angry but what led me to start the “#fuckhonour” hashtag was the concept of ‘honour’ to victim blame[1] and silence young girls who had been victims of abuse. In one case, parents of a sexual abuse victim felt that the young girl had brought shame on to the family. As a result, they forced her to undergo hymen repair surgery and then into a forced marriage.

A child being abused is horrific and but what compounded my anger was (yet again) family and community ‘honour’ had come before the needs of a child. There are umpteenth cases like this. There is the case of Shafilea Ahmed a 17 year old girl who was murdered by her parents in front of her siblings for refusing a forced marriage. There was the case of Banaz Mahmoud, a young girl in South London, who was raped and killed by her family members for not staying with her abusive and violent husband who they had chosen for her.

So my anger was cumulative. I started the hashtag whilst reading the case studies in Unheard Voices but I have heard stories of young people being abused and murdered in the name of honour for a long and painful time. I know this only too well. I allude to my own experience in my #fuckhonour and #fuckshame article of being a survivor of honour based oppression. I found the writing and the twitter hashtag extremely cathartic.

Interestingly, it was the founder of Media Diversified, Samantha Asumadu, who suggested I write the article and that is how I got the opportunity to put my views across. She saw me tweeting the hashtag. Sometimes social media gives you some special opportunities.

In your accompanying article to the hashtags, you mentioned that some people did not like that you had used profanity. Why did you step away from a ‘polite’ way of highlighting this important issue?

I recently came across the term ‘respectability politics’ whereby you play by the “rules” and adopt the acceptable discourse of the dominant class in order to get respect and the recognition you desire. But the more I understand oppression, the more I realise that we have to develop our own discourse and do away with so-called respectability politics. I also think asking politely for change within my own community will not overturn the hegemony that legitimises oppression.

This realisation and change in my writing is reflected in my activism. I refuse to ask politely for my rights to be protected or the rights of other women who are being oppressed. To suppress that part of myself now would be inauthentic.

Could you please explain what you mean by ‘honour’? How does it impact the reporting and attitudes towards sexualised violence in South Asian communities?

‘Honour’ can be translated as family status or standing within the community. The word in Urdu is “izzat” and a more accurate translation is “family status”. But ‘honour’ is the commonly used word. It is ironic as there is no honour in murder, it is a hate crime.

The Crown Prosecution Service define honour based violence as “practices which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour. Such violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and / or community by breaking their honour code. Women are predominantly (but not exclusively) the victims of so called ‘honour based violence’, which is used to assert male power in order to control female autonomy and sexuality.”

The final sentence is particularly import to understand the impact of honour in patriarchal societies. Honour is a means to oppress and subjugate women. In societies where ‘honour’ is put above the well-being of women, a woman’s intellect, autonomy, sexuality and identity and all supressed. They are seen as a threat to family standing within the community. Within these patriarchal communities, what could be more dangerous than an unmarried sexually active young woman?

There is also a prevalence of honour based violence within Turkish, Kurdish (see the work of the Iranian, Kurdish, Women’s Rights Organisation), Middle Eastern, Afghani, African and South and Eastern European communities. It is a common misunderstanding that only South Asian communities are impacted by ‘honour’. This list is not exhaustive. The police need to be particularly mindful that this is an additional barrier which hinders people from those communities reaching out, young people from these communities have been socialised to not bring “shame” to their families.

In addition to this, the police are still reluctant to intervene when young people say they are at risk of violence from their families.  As Unheard Voices reports: “the level of service received from police can depend on your ethnicity. There was a tendency not to disrupt and a reluctance to intervene because of the potential resistance from within the community.”

What were the general attitudes of men and women towards your activism and speaking out? Did they differ between sexes? Did they differ between races?

Fortunately, the response has been positive and I personally have not had any backlash. I have been speaking up about these issues on twitter for a while and haven’t been trolled. My aim is to combat all forms of victim blaming and realise that every victim is of equal worth and requires equal support. I would hope this is picked up by wider feminist networks and campaigns so this does not remain a marginal issue.

Do you think that with the rise of the far-right, there is some element of victims being afraid to speak out because the issue may be turned into one of race, rather than one which focuses on violence?

Being a survivor of honour based oppression and having read widely on the barriers other victims face, it is not the far-right that stops you accessing help.

You don’t speak out because you feel a profound sense of shame. You feel a sense of shame that you are a victim; you feel a sense of shame that it is your family – the very people that should be supporting you – that are the perpetrators.

We should focus on whether front line services are less likely to support victims due to the cultural background of the victim. Is a teacher less likely to help some children because they do not want to interfere in so-called “cultural issues”? Will there be less support from the policeand social services because of the background of the victim? This is the issue that needs to be addressed.

Focusing on race in cases like the child abuse and exploitation cases in Rochdale is very unhelpful. There is no “typical victim”; Asian girls are just as likely as their white counterparts to be victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.  It is gendered violence and abuse and not an issue of race.

How closely tied are the issues of forced marriage and sexual violence in South Asian communities?

The two issues are tied to consent and domination. In both instances, patriarchal society seeks to dominate, subdue and control women (and men who do not comply). In these instances, these acts seek to control women who do not adhere to the strict moral code.

There are wider points regarding the prevalence of rape and gender based violence in Indiawhich alludes to the unequal treatment of women and issues pertaining to dowry and the high rates of foeticide. This provides some wider context to the oppression women experience.

How do you hope that the #fuckhonour and #fuckshame hashtags will help to raise awareness, or tackle the issue?

I hope this issue is picked up by the mainstream feminist movement and those that campaign to end violence against women and girls. This issue must not be neglected within the South Asian community.

Service providers from police, hospitals, teachers, housing and social services need to understand the profound impact of ‘honour’ as a barrier for some to access support. Most importantly they need to treat all victims with the support they are entitled. No culture comes before the dignity and rights of an individual.

Finally, I would like other survivors and victims to see this hashtag and realise it was never our shame; the shame will always lie with the perpetrators.


[1] There are a number of campaigns tackling this, Everyday Victim Blaming is a good campaign to combat this http://everydayvictimblaming.com/ @evb_now

 

The Lifting the Veil Project

Every sex worker deserves safety

[Every sex worker deserves safety is cross-posted with permission from Ruth Jacobs]

I wanted to write something for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers but I didn’t think I could as I’ve been in too much of a dark place these last few weeks with my own suffering from the repercussions of sexual violence. I wanted to go to London to stand in solidarity with sex workers and allies to mark this day, but for the same reasons, tonight, I couldn’t do that either. Then I felt selfish wrapped up with my own pain when tonight there will be women in the sex trade who will be raped, who will be beaten and some will be murdered. So I have to say this…

Violent men think they can beat, rape and murder women in the sex trade because they do not have the protection of the police and recourse to justice. Then there are some feminists who say all sex work is violence and rape. If this is so, how can anyone in the sex trade report violence or rape against them, if it is all the same? Let me tell you, because I have lived this, it is not. There is nothing remotely similar between clients who respected my boundaries and clients who raped me, or the client who beat me. This complete disparity must be recognised so the police do take notice and deal with the rape or violent attack we’ve suffered as they would any other victim. If our friend, sister, mother or daughter is murdered by a client, it was never part of their job!

Most people in the sex trade do not have other choices, many are in poverty, and for those who do have other choices and still choose to sell sex, every single person deserves the same respect from all of society and the same protection of the police and recourse to justice when they have been the victim of a crime and for that to happen, the Merseyside hate crime model must be made law UK wide.

The hate crime model is not just about classifying crimes against people in prostitution as hate crimes; it is so much more than that. There are relationships built between people in the sex trade and sex work projects, between people in the sex trade and the police, and the police work closely with the sex work projects. There is a dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) who supports the victim of crime from report to court. And for all this to work, the police prioritise protection of people in the sex trade over enforcement of the law. This means in Merseyside, people in prostitution are not viewed as ‘easy targets’ by criminals as they are throughout the rest of the UK.

And to prioritise protection over enforcement that means that when a woman, man or transgender person reports a crime committed against them, the police deal with that crime and treat that victim of crime as a victim and not a criminal, as is known to happen in the rest of the UK where the victim of crime is instead charged for something related to prostitution. So in Merseyside, the police do not charge them for working in premises with another woman for safety, which is classed as running a brothel, they do not charge them for soliciting if they were working on-street, they do not charge their university student twenty-year-old son or their elderly mother who lives with them for living off immoral earnings. They deal with the crime reported against them and treat them the same as any other victim of crime.

Knowing this is what has increased reporting of crime in Merseyside, is what brought about a 90% conviction rate of those who raped sex workers in Liverpool in 2009 and a 67% conviction rate for those who raped sex workers in Merseyside overall in 2010, is what has made all of society safer by taking off the streets more rapists, murderers and other violent criminals and what means there are fewer rapes, other violent crimes and murders.

What is operating in Merseyside is a discretionary decriminalisation of sorts. Decriminalisation is needed for the safety of people in the sex trade. It does absolutely not decriminalise sex trafficking. There are laws in place already that need to be upheld when a man pays to have sex with a sex trafficking victim, because that is rape every time. There are laws in place already that need to be upheld when a man pays to have sex with a child. This is child sex abuse. That money has changed hands does not make this anything other than child sex abuse and it needs to be treated as such. There also needs to be tougher sentences for trafficking in persons, which is already a crime.

To the people currently seeking to abolish prostitution, in a capitalist society what you are actually saying is abolish prostitutes because there is no money for exit routes; our UK government here is not going to invest in this if it even has the money. Most people in prostitution are in poverty. Shelter estimate there are 80,000 children who are homeless. If their mothers choose to, and it might be their only choice so there isn’t a real choice, but if they do, sell sex so they don’t end up homeless, or to take them out of the temporary accommodation homelessness has left them in and in which over half have witnessed disturbing incidents, we as a society need to make sure they are as safe as they possibly can be. We need to end poverty. That is what we should be seeking to end, not demand. This is the wrong fucking way round. And I can’t see why people cannot or will not see this.

As we’ve seen in Scotland when clients of women working on-street are criminalised, the women are left mostly with the more dangerous clients, murderers and rapists, and they have to see more clients for less money and they have to agree to sex acts they don’t want to do because of lack of clients. And you might argue that they do not have do this, but if their home is freezing because they have no money for gas, if their children have lived on porridge for a week and they want to buy them some meat, if they are about to lose their home because they are in rent arrears and the council won’t help them and this new bedroom tax has meant their benefits are no longer enough, and they would rather sell sex and have their home warm, their children fed, not end up homeless, then they need to be able to do that as safely as possible. And if the woman wants the money to save going into further debt while studying, or for drugs, or for any other reason, whatever the reason, she deserves the same safety, and not the judgement of people on their plastic moral high ground.

Some people seeking to abolish the sex trade want to criminalise clients in every country based on research of the Swedish model, research that does not stand up. It is a “failed experiment in social engineering” and Sweden has history here. They want this Swedish model, which regrettably I used to support because I did believe it was best for people in the sex trade, but it will cause more rapes and murders, deeper poverty and more homelessness, to operate globally. And even if the research did stack up, any sane person can see you cannot replicate something that relies on government investment for ‘exit routes’ from a wealthy country with a tiny population and a small number of people in the sex trade to the UK, which has an estimated 80,000 people in prostitution. And then use your common sense when you look further to India, for example, a poor country with a huge population and high number of people in the sex trade, where if there was this Swedish model, there will also be starvation and death for women in the sex trade and their children and grandchildren.

I do believe there needs to be in every country serious investment for real alternatives for women seeking to leave the sex trade. Personally, I do not believe these services should be forced, but optional, and non-judgemental and non-religious. But surely even those wanting to criminalise all clients can see these ‘exiting routes’ need to be in place first. Even if countries had the money and were willing to invest, these services and the volume required are not going to pop up overnight, or in a month, or even a year.

I am not the sex trade lobby and I am not pro-prostitution, but I am pro-every-person-in-prostitution, both sex workers and victims of sex trafficking. It is possible to care about both equally and it is possible to realise different laws are needed to protect both groups of people. And as someone who has sold sex, who knows that for her and for most of the women she knows who are out of that life that it is traumatic, even with that knowledge and the repercussions of trauma that I live with daily, as a mother I would still choose to sell sex to keep my home warm, to feed my children, to pay my rent arrears, if those were my circumstances. I am fortunate that right now, they are not, but perhaps because I am able to envisage that and imagine myself in other women’s shoes whether in the UK or India or anywhere else, I respect them for what they do to survive, which is the reality for most people in the sex trade. I am no different from those women just because I don’t sell sex any more, and I and them are no different from any other woman who has never sold sex.

No woman deserves to be raped or the victim of other violence or murder. It is never right to blame the clothes she was wearing, that she was drunk or on drugs, that she was out late at night, or that she was selling sex.

 

Ruth Jacobs blog is a mixture of human rights (focusing on anti-sexual exploitation, anti-human trafficking and sex worker rights) and arts and literature. Her current campaign is to make the Merseyside hate crime model of policing prostitution UK wide. In addition to the human rights interviews she undertakes, there are regularly interviews with other writers, from bestselling authors to brand new upcoming talent, and musicians, artists and filmmakers. [@RuthFJacobs]

Ruth Jacobs can also be found on Twitter.

What about the Women? The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps

This piece is cross-posted with permission from Louise Pennington

What about the Women? The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps

This is a response to a post at Everyday Whorephobia called “When the State Traffics Women“. I posted a brief response on the blog itself but I wanted to write a longer response. Women’s history is something I am very passionate about and this particular topic is something I am quite familiar with. Whilst I am glad more women are writing about this topic, I do have some reservations about some of the conclusions within this piece.

Sexual violence and rape were common during the Holocaust. The fact that these experiences are not common knowledge is because of sexist constructions of a specific Holocaust narrative which privileged testimonies of male survivors like Elie Wiesel over women, Gay men, people with disabilities, and children, to name a few. Partly, this was because of the historical context in which Holocaust narratives became well-known as very little academic research was done until the 1960s. Testimonies published in the immediate post-war era, of which there are many, had very small publishing runs as many people were simply not interested in analysing the full spectrum of violence perpetrated during World War Two. Holocaust history was written during, and is historically situated by, the Cold War. The political desires of the US and the USSR impact how Holocaust history was written and who it was being written for. Racism was a motivating factor of the crimes against humanity during the war as much as it was a motivating factor for how the history of the war was written.

As with all history, the Holocaust was complicated. Mass genocide does not simply occur because a few men in one nation order it. The Holocaust required the participation, active and passive, of much of Europe. That is a fact which very few are willing to acknowledge but it is something we need to remind ourselves of daily.

“When the State traffics women” does raise awareness of just how prolific sexual violence was during the Holocaust. This point cannot be emphasised enough; sexual violence was ignored by mainstream historians until well into the 1990s. Feminist historians were writing about in the early 1970s but this researched was dismissed, as women’s history frequently is. Since the 1990s, there have been numerous collections of essays on the experience of women published as well as numerous conferences which dealt specifically with the gendered experiences of women. There also been an explosion in the sheer number of women’s testimonies being (re)published. In 2010, an anthology specifically about sexual violence against Jewish women was published. As I write this, there are a multitude of PhDs, essays and books being written about sexual violence during the Holocaust. Women’s experiences are being written back into the history of the Holocaust and the extant of sexual violence against all peoples is finally being questioned.

My personal belief is that there cannot be enough research and writing on the Holocaust. The Soviet archives, which were only recently opened, have demonstrated just how much we did not know. 10 years ago, a group of scholarsdecided to establish the official number of slave labour and concentration camps. It was double what was previously believed and includes at least 500 brothels. So many records still need to be archived. What we thought we knew has turned out to be only a brief snapshot of what actually happened.

This piece had the potential to increase public awareness of the existence of brothels and the treatment of prostituted women. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the essay. First, it occasionally  conflates the experience of prostituted women within Nazi Germany with the experience of all women within the concentration, death and slave labour camps. This conflation is not helpful when researching sexual violence. The treatment of individuals within the camp system depended on their nationality, race, age, sex, sexuality, criminal activity, disability and skill. During the 1930s, the Nazis deliberately targeted prostituted women under the category of ‘asocial’** for incarceration, however we do not know how many women incarcerated as ‘asocials’ were prostituted women as the category included convicted criminals, women with disabilities, and those who are still othered in the UK now. The category of ‘asocial’ included anyone accused of moral degeneracy. It is also included women who were Lesbians. Lesbianism, unlike homosexuality, was not illegal under the Nazi regime. Lesbian women were still incarcerated but they were charged as ‘asocials’ rather than for the crime of homosexuality. This category was specifically about women living within Nazi Germany before the outbreak of war and at the beginning.

Secondly, the number of prostituted women who were incarcerated in concentration, slave-labour and death camps which had brothels is open to debate because of this issue of identification. We know, for the camps where records were not destroyed, how many women were incarcerated as ‘asocials’ but that does not give us an accurate record of women incarcerated for prostitution. This is a very important point when addressing the issue of brothels and which women were required to “work” in them because women incarcerated for the crime of prostitution were by no means the only women forced to “work” in the brothels.

The establishment of the brothels, as the piece correctly points out, were in direct response to two issues: Heinrich Himmler’s “incentivisation” program for male inmates working within the armaments factories in the slave-labour camps and homosexuality within the camps. Brothels were obviously the answer to both problems. I have some personal reservations about the brothels being developed to combat homosexuality within the camp system since the men who were incarcerated for the crime of homosexuality were subjected to sexual violence and medical experimentation. Being a known homosexual was much more likely to result in death than a pass to the brothel. The problem within the camps was sexual relationships between men who were not homosexuals and the rape of teenage boys by adult men. Both issues need far more research.

The women who were raped in the brothels included lesbian women as punishment for being lesbians and Jewish women; the laws of Rassenschade were generally ignored in the camps. “Working” in the brothel did involve better food rations. The women were also allowed to bathe and had access to better clothes. They also got to work inside which was an important consideration for many women. Women’s testimonies vary on how women were “chosen” to work in the brothels but most involve the women themselves “volunteering” to be raped in the brothel and women being forced to parade naked in front of SS guards and the most beautiful being chosen. Stories of women “volunteering” to work in the brothel include women who made the “choice” in order to access extra rations to smuggle to their sisters, which may or may not have included biological sisters as the benefits of sisterhood and the importance of women’s relationships are a common theme in women’s testimonies. There are also stories of women who were incarcerated for prostitution “volunteering” for the brothels in order to spare other women the degradation of being raped.

The women “working” in brothels generally represented in women’s testimonies in two ways: as debased women or as true sisters helping other women. Much more research needs to be done into the experience of women who worked in the brothels: who they were and, for those who “volunteered”, why did they make the “choice”.

The third, and in my opinion, the biggest problem with ”When the State traffics women” is that it focuses on men and their feelings, effectively erasing the humanity of the women “working” within the brothels. Men were given tokens for ‘good behaviour’. The tokens were bartered around the camp for food and other extras. Women’s bodies were bartered as objects and then the women were raped but not just by male inmates, and certainly not Jewish men. SS guards also raped the women within the brothels, as they did with women in all the slave-labour, concentration and death camps. Jewish women were allowed to be raped by men but Jewish men were not allowed in the brothels.

As the piece states, the men were given tokens to the brothels were subject to ”humiliating genital examination and a prophylactic injection before being taken to the room”. The piece fails to mention that the women within the brothels were also subject to humiliating genital examinations. SS guards certainly did watch in some camps but not in others. In some camps, SS guards were the only people allowed to rape the women in the brothels.  The women were also raped by dozens of men every day but no mention is made of the effect of this on the women’s bodies. The article also suggests that women who were infected with STIs were sent back to the main camps. It does not mention that this was frequently followed by a death sentence. It is also important to note that the campaign against STIs, as with the campaign against lice, was actually about the “safety” of the SS officers within the camps rather than concern about the male prisoners. The women, obviously, did not count. And, yes, the pregnancies which followed mass rapes were frequently aborted. Depending on the camp, this abortion could simply involve the murder of the women or the women dying from the abortion. It is certainly not quite as easy as the article implies.

This is the piece of text with which I have the most reservations:

What motivated the men who used the service? The need to relieve sexual frustration was one motivation but survivor testimonies also refer to many men wanting to talk or simply feel the physical closeness of a woman. In the pitiless world of the concentration camp they simply sought a few minutes of tenderness. They were as much victims as the women.

Whilst the men were as much victims of the women, it wasn’t for the reasons stated above. After all, the women weren’t exactly in a position to decide whether or not they wanted to talk or just feel the physical closeness of a male body. The women were being raped dozens of times a day by dozens of men. The men had a choice. The women did not and to ignore this point is to ignore the experience and trauma of the women. This failure to acknowledge the very gendered nature of the Holocaust has led to women’s lives being written out of history.The issue of brothels within the camps is complicated because it does “challenge prevailing orthodoxies about the nature of Nazi oppression”, but, and this is very important, race was a key factor in the privilege to access to the brothels. Polish resistance fighters, German criminals and western POWs were allowed access to the brothels. Jewish men were banned and Soviet POWs were considered suspect. For the women, race was generally irrelevant. Once women were incarcerated in the camp systems, they were victims of sexual violence from all men*** without the added factor of being incarcerated in the brothel.
For women out with the camp system, race also impacted on their experience of sexual violence. German soldiers raped whomever they wanted and the rape and murder of Jewish women in the ghettos guarded by regular German troops. The mass rapes by the Soviet army as the moved west is well-known, less so is the mass rapes committed by Allied forces. The stories of rape of women in Western Europe have not been fully explored.I do agree that the story of sexual violence needs to be historically situated within the wider context of Nazism, however the article refers to a now questionable construction of womanhood in Nazi Germany that was based on Nazi propaganda rather than the reality of the lives of Aryan women [and the conflation of *all* women with Aryan women here is telling]. This, however, is another essay for another time.
Sexual violence was an integral experience of the Holocaust for many women and I will write further about the experience of Jewish women in the camps. What I will say is that current research into sexual violence in the Holocaust has shown just how integral sexual violence is to genocide and human rights violations. The fact that rape was not mentioned once during the Nuremberg trials is disgraceful. The fact that neither “forced prostitution” nor rape were considered war crimes until 2002 is a crime in and of itself. When writing women’s histories we need to be careful that we do not use their life-stories to reinforce a narrative based on our political leanings. The experience of women during the Holocaust has already been erased from history once to meet a male political narrative. This cannot happen again.

 

** I have placed a number of terms in quotation marks because they are deeply problematic and outlining why they are problematic is an essay for another day.

***Clearly, not all men in the camps were involved in the rape of women and teenage boys but the threat was there for women.

There is more research on the experience of women available here:

The Holocaust at Women Under Siege
New Holocaust findings highlight larger gap in conflict and rape research at Women Under Siege
Remember the Women Institute

 

 My Elegant Gathering of White Snows: a blog about male violence against women, celebrity culture and cultural femicide. You can find more by Louise Pennington  on her blogs My Elegant Gathering of White Snows and The Seething Cauldron and on Twitter and Facebook.

See also:

RAPE AS GENOCIDE: UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL VULNERABILITY, ABUSE AND RAPE IN THE HOLOCAUST BY @LESTEWPOT

The importance of women-only spaces

This speech is cross-posted with permission from the campaign group Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. The speech was given at the opening of a new rape crisis in Lincolnshire.

Good evening. My name is [redacted], co-founder of the training, consultancy and campaigning organisation Ending Victimisation & Blame.

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at this event, launching a new Rape Crisis service in Lincolnshire. Thanks to Laura and her team for extending the invitation to our organisation.

I founded EVB in May 2013, both as a response to the media coverage of domestic & sexual violence and abuse, and to challenge the associated disbelief of those who disclose such abuse. Regardless of which professional service I have worked within, it had the threads of domestic & sexual violence woven through it. My experience in education, specifically pastoral support, found children and young people living with domestic abuse. My work with families in crisis via children’s services, found women with experiences of sexual violence as both an adult and a child, current domestic abuse and the after effects of all of these. My work with women and children who had experienced domestic abuse, found sexual violence woven through their experiences. In short, I have not been employed within a professional organisation that didn’t come into contact with Domestic & Sexual Violence.

I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When I disclosed my experience as a child, I was met with disbelief.  The perpetrator was believable. Much more believable than the ‘out of control’ teen I presented as. As a direct result of this, when I was raped as an adult, I didn’t tell anyone for over 17 years. The reason for this was that I didn’t expect to be  believed. I had consumed some alcohol (and incidentally have an overwhelming urge to say ‘But I wasn’t drunk!’), I knew my rapists. I had voluntarily got into the car with them, made choices that I knew would be questioned by the police. I’d grown up in local authority care, I wasn’t a ‘good victim’.  All of those things combined into a cycle of self blame that completely absolved the perpetrators of any responsibility.

At the time of my rape, I didn’t think rape crisis was for women like me. I had become politically active in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I knew about Women’s Liberation, but in many of the activist groups I joined, women issues were considered marginal.  Almost as if we’d be sorted out after the revolution – which of course meant after the men. In the early 1990’s, I stumbled across ‘Surviving Sexual Violence’ by Professor Liz Kelly & it changed my life. Knowing that there were networks of services set up for women like me helped me to re-evaluate my experience. It didn’t help me to disclose, but it did help me to be kinder to myself and to know that I wasn’t the only one.

I could stand here all evening and talk about the benefits of the Rape Crisis network; instead, I’m going to pick out 2 benefits that I think are crucial, and why they matter.

The first is women only services. We know women make up the majority of those who experience sexual violence. It is important that we have designated services just for women and these services must be run by women. When we are talking about violence perpetrated by men, we should be naming it as such. We should not be derailed by comments such as ‘it happens to men too’. We know this. We also know that sexual violence against men is most often perpetrated by other men and that specialist services for men are important. But not at the expense of women’s.

In January 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office released its first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales.

    It reported that:

  • Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year

  • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year

  • 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

These women deserve a service that will help them to feel safe.

The ‘Why women only spaces?’ Research published by the Women’s Resource Centre in 2006 tells us that women want women only spaces. If they have been a victim of sexual violence perpetrated by men, they need a safe space to heal. When reading the research, one comment stood out for me: The Latin American Women’s Rights Services stated: ‘We provide this service for women to come here and feel safe… in addition to this, it’s very important for women to see women doing this, and thinking they can do something like that in the future’. So women only space has a multitude of benefits. Helping women to feel safe and recover from sexual violence, and supporting their aspirations. All of the women that I have spoken to when preparing for this speech were positive about women only spaces, and how they should be protected.

The second benefit that stands out for me when looking at the service provided by Lincolnshire Rape Crisis is how this is a Feminist space. Why is this important? Do we need to identify as feminists in order to provision an appropriate service for women who have experienced sexual violence? Do we need feminism at all? The answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’! Feminism is the liberation of women from oppression, and the prevalence of sexual violence shows a clear need for feminism. The position of women in society contributes to the rate of sexual violence. Women being considered objects, lesser value and the property of men, leads to violence against women and girls. If we think of violence against women and girls as the trunk of a tree*, its roots are patriarchy.  Patriarchy upholds other oppressions, such as homophobia, class inequality, disability discrimination and racism.  The ‘branches’ of our Violence Against Women Tree are rape, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, domestic violence, stalking, trafficking, FGM, so-called honour based violence and gang related violence. We have to be able to name the problem of men’s violence in order to solve it.

Research confirms that men silence women just by their presence. Dale Spender did an experiment to find out just how this happens. She published her results in Man Made Language – which is a very interesting read. This is a summary of what she found:

    Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.

    […]

    There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.

So what does this say? Men set the agenda. Men often talk over women, sometimes without any awareness that they’ve even done so. Women need space within which to discuss their oppression and manage their activism.  That space does not need to include men. If men wish to talk about feminism and the oppression of women, they do not need to be in women’s spaces in order to do this – men can use the space they have in the rest of the world, and make it more feminist.

In preparation for this speech, I did an unscientific straw poll of some of my women friends, all of whom identify as feminists. I asked them to sum up why we need feminist women only spaces in one or two sentences. These are the responses:

“Because of the sheer volume of women who’ve suffered at the hands of men, in many differing ways.  Women need a safe space to trust.”

“Without a feminist understanding, all we have are myths and excuses for men’s violence – all of which disempower women.”

“Because women need to feel totally safe.  That isn’t possible when men are around.”

“Men’s presence means they will be prioritised. Our shared consciousness is important.”

“Because men talk over us, undermine us, and attack us. We need the women running the services to understand how this is systemic.”

Recent research published by Ruth Lewis & Elizabeth Sharp following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 adds gravitas to the unscientific straw poll I’ve completed! Women said that being released from having to defend their feminist politics:

“enabled deep discussions. In this safe space, women explored their potential rather than censoring themselves. Safety fostered confidence to speak, to share, to explore one’s skills and talents as well as to be emotionally expressive.”

Defending ourselves from the everyday sexism experienced by all women takes up space that women should be free to use to free ourselves from oppression. Defending our politics is often exhausting. Understanding the roots of the ‘hairy man hating lesbian’ or ‘angry feminist’ tropes as homophobic and misogynistic gives us the freedom to challenge these concepts outside of feminist women only spaces. We should not need to explain what we do, or don’t do, with our body hair. Nor explain our sexuality. Being angry gets things done – we should be angry. Women make up almost 52% of the worlds population, and yet own less than 1% of the worlds property. In the UK, less that 16% of high court judges are women. This should make us all angry, not just those of us who identify as feminist. When a billion of us on the planet are exposed to men’s violence; when the atrocity of rape affects so many of us; when our internal risk assessments become completely normalised – we are right to be angry.

So how does EVB link with Rape Crisis? One of the most significant things we have in common with those services within the Rape Crisis network is that we believe women. When they disclose their experiences of sexual violence, we do not question what they did to ‘provoke’ the abuse. We do not suggest that they should have behaved differently in order to avoid abuse. We do not hold them responsible for the choices men make. And we use that word ‘choices’ deliberately. We do not believe that men are hardwired to be abusive. We know that they make a calculated choice to behave in that way; and that not all of them do so. Questioning a woman’s choices, what she was wearing, why she consumed alcohol, asking why she doesn’t leave, telling women how to avoid abuse, making women responsible for men’s choices – all of these contribute to the expectation that if women changed their behaviour, men would not abuse them.

In the few short months that we have been set up, many women have told us that we are the first people they have disclosed their experiences to. Our supporters said :

“Since finding your site, I can’t tell you how much it has changed my life. I finally felt safe enough to disclose all of the sexual violence I had experienced to my Rape Crisis counsellor. You told me that she’d believe me, and she did. Without your service, I might have taken that information to my grave”

“Thank you. Thank you for all that you do. When I found your site, I didn’t think my experiences were bad enough to be considered sexual violence. I decided to look at the support services you list on your site, and call my local Rape Crisis anyway. They helped me to see that there isn’t such a thing as ‘bad enough’, as we all have different experiences. I couldn’t have done this without you, knowing that you are there for all of us, regardless of how ‘bad’ our experience is considered to be.”

Comments such as these give us hope that we can challenge the institutional disbelief that affects so many survivors. Together, we can support women and say “we believe you and know it wasn’t your fault”.

(*Thanks to Imkaan for the Violence Against Women & Girls tree analogy)

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change.

You can find more about Ending Victimisation and Blame‘s campaign on their website, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

Welcome to A Room of Our Own: A Feminist Network

Welcome to A Room of Our Own: A Feminist Network.

This space is for women to share their writing; we are fighting cultural femicide by sharing women’s writings, experiences and musings.

The only criteria we have for membership is that you self-define as a feminist or a womanist. It doesn’t matter what you blog about – hockey, parenting, donuts or feminist theory – as long as you are a feminist, you are welcome here.We welcome collective blogs as long as all the bloggers are women. We also welcome blogs which are art, poetry, photography, video and any other medium of expression which can be posted online. We include traditional ‘blogs’ as created on blogger or wordpress, as well as Tumblr, Facebook pages, Youtube pages etc.

We expect that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism. We believe these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating. We will post a new blog by our members everyday under the heading Featured Blog. We do not agree with every single blog we feature but we believe it is important for women to have a safe space in which to share their work.

A Room of Our Own is about ensuring that no woman’s voice is silenced, regardless of whether or not we disagree with them.