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How to have an abortion when you’re in Ireland

(A Rough Guide to Ireland – Part 1)

So you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be. What next? First things first – commiserations on finding yourself in this situation. It’s shit and it might get a bit worse before it gets better, but there are people out there who are rooting for you and hopefully you find the information in here a little bit useful. This is basically a step by step guide to getting through this situation.

positive test

Are you definitely definitely definitely pregnant?

Take a test. You can buy them in every pharmacy and they cost between €10/€20. Sometimes they sell them really cheap in Dealz and sometimes other pound shops for around €1.50/€2. If you’re embarrassed about buying it or worried someone might see you, consider asking a trusted friend to go and buy it for you. If you’re worried about what the shop assistant might think, just try and look excited. The chances are the sales assistant is selling these every day and will not pay any heed to you anyway. If you’re not sure about the home test you took, the IFPA carry out testing for €20 but it’s free if you have a medical card. Cura and Sexual Health Centre in Cork offer free pregnancy testing. Having an early scan so you can figure out how far along you are might be useful if you aren’t sure. You can get a free scan at FemPlus in Dublin and there are places around the country offering scans at a variety of locations with an average cost of around €100. The Abortion Support Network can tell you where the best place to go for a scan is.  A scan will also confirm that the pregnancy isn’t ectopic. If you can’t get to a scan or afford a scan the most important thing when determining how far along you are is that you need to be counting from the first day of your last menstrual period, not from when you had sex.

Marie Stopes Reproductive Choices will provide you with a consultation and a scan but where they will charge €110 (or €90 for a phone consultation). It’s important to note that Marie Stopes’ clinics in Britain absolutely will not perform a procedure if you do not have the correct payment for it.

Decide if counselling is for you

Perhaps you’ve made a decision not to continue your pregnancy, or maybe you feel you want to chat confidentially about that decision with someone else. Here are a list of clinics that are legit crisis pregnancy clinics. The IFPA section about their counselling service has some useful links and shows the locations where they provide services around Ireland. When you go to these counselling services in those links, the counsellor is legally obliged to tell you about your options including parenting and adoption. Remember, whether or not you continue your pregnancy is your choice, and you need to do what’s right for you.  

Be aware that there are other unethical “crisis pregnancy” services out there that are designed not to assist women but to push their anti-choice agenda.

You might not want to go to counselling, but bear in mind that it’s free and if you go to counselling with either Irish/ Northern Irish FPA, Well Woman, Femplus Clinics, One Family, Cork Sexual Health or here2help, and subsequently attend BPAS for a termination, you won’t have to pay the €80/€90 counselling fee that BPAS charge. A letter from the IFPA to say you attended counselling will waive the counselling fee charged at *any* English clinic.

There are lots of women who make their decision the second they find out they’re pregnant. There are lots who take some time to decide on their own. There are others who go to counselling. Do what works for you – but as soon as you make your decision to have an abortion, start the ball rolling on making the appointment.

So you’ve made a decision to have an abortion, what now?

How you proceed in accessing an abortion from here on, really depends on how much access to money you have. If you have money you can travel overseas to access termination services, and I’ll go into the logistics of this later. If you don’t have money to travel, there are still options.

The Abortion Support Network are an organisation that offer practical, non-judgemental information and advice, financial help and, when needed, accommodation in volunteer homes. They provide guidance on what is the cheapest way for you to have your abortion, and which clinics will be the best choice for you. Ring them before you make any appointment and travel plans. If it is a particularly busy time of year for UK clinics it may be cheaper and quicker for you to travel to the Netherlands or Brussels for your treatment (although you will definitely need a passport to travel there from Ireland). ASN has a network of volunteers in UK cities that will provide accommodation and meals for those who need or want to stay overnight – most women are able to travel in and out in one day.

The Abortion Pill

Abortion is illegal in almost all cases here so many women who don’t have the money to travel (or it simply is not an option for them because of their immigration status or relationship status or age or childcare arrangements) will illegally order the abortion pill from Women Help Women. The abortion pill is a safe medicine.

Some women in the 26 Counties have found that when they ordered this online that it was confiscated by Customs but to our knowledge, nobody has been prosecuted for attempting to receive pills online. In the 6 Counties however, there have been prosecutions for attempting to procure a miscarriage (there are criminal penalties for this in both jurisdictions). There are difficulties in ordering online, but it isn’t impossible. The medication is usually supplied in exchange for an €80 donation. Need Abortion Ireland help women access medications from Women Help Women.

Women on Web are another organisation that can sometimes deliver to Ireland. The organisation ROSA have twice partnered with Women on Web to drive a bus around Ireland to do consultations for pills and then the pills will be posted to you a few days later. This is worth noting if you’re using resources to travel to a place where the bus is going to be because they will take around 3 days to get them to you. It may be quicker to just order them online in many cases as Women Help Women take around 5 days delivery. Both Women Help Women and Women on Web are reputable providers of early medical abortion pill. However we understand that Women Help Women is faster to respond to client emails. There is another reputable provider of pills, called Safe2Choose, but they are not currently sending pills to the Republic of Ireland.

Both Women Help Women and Women on Web will ask you for a Northern Irish address in addition to your home address, or the address of the place you will be receiving the pills. If you do not have a friend in Northern Ireland, fill out the medical consultation and WHW or WOW will follow up with you.

Please do not attempt an abortion with any other remedy, herbal or otherwise, as you could inflict serious injury on yourself. While Women on Web and Women Help Women are trusted providers of the abortion pill, there is always a risk when buying medicine online when it comes from a source that isn’t trusted. 

A safe place to have your abortion

Once you’ve got your pills, you’ll need a safe space to take them. Most people will do that at home but for some that won’t be an option so they might go to a trusted friend’s house. Need Abortion Ireland’s site provides useful advice and self-care tips for when you’re having your abortion. They also provide care packages and a text message support service 089 490 2517 available 6pm – 9pm, 7 days a week. You can email them at info@needabortionireland.org The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) also provide a hotline for those living in Ireland with medical questions/concerns about medical abortion pills. BPAS can be reached at 1800 910 049 (ROI) and 0800 077 6049 (NI). Here are some tips on what to do if you think you’re in an emergency medical situation.

Increasingly, there appears to be a clampdown in the North on women taking the abortion pill, and a tendency towards prosecutions. Two prosecutions have been brought because someone touted on their housemate, and another two were reported by doctors. You are legally allowed to travel (if your immigration status is regularised) so telling your doctor you’re pregnant, or having them perform a pregnancy test should not be an issue. You do not have to tell them that you intend to have an abortion.

The Money

Figuring out how to pay for it, whether it’s the €80 donation for Women Help Women or €450 to a clinic and another €300 for flights, can be the most traumatic aspect of this experience for many women. If you are purchasing pills from Women Help Women or Women on Web and do not have the full requested donation, they may be willing to accept a smaller donation amount. If you’re later on in the pregnancy, or decide to travel to England, your procedure will cost more. The Abortion Support Network can help you with this but you may not wish to ask for that assistance. If you’re low on phone credit, you can request a call-back from the abortion clinics. Here is a list of clinics.

Many women take loans from their local Credit Union to fund their abortion. Generally speaking, they will let you borrow twice what you have in savings if a guarantor will sign for it. If you don’t have someone who can act as guarantor, you may need to get a student loan in a bank, or check if you can activate an overdraft facility on your account. Each credit union has different rules so it’s best to ask the branch you’re a member of. If you are in receipt of a social welfare payment you might be eligible to join and borrow from your local credit union through the Personal Microfinance Scheme. This was a government scheme introduced to try and stop people going to illegal money lenders. Try to avoid going to the illegal moneylenders at all costs. You could also go to the Community Welfare Officer to ask for an emergency payment. Keep in mind though that you will need to provide a reason why you need this payment, and if you say it is for a washing machine there is a chance you will need to either provide proof you purchased a washing machine or an inspector may call to check your purchase. You could take a chance and tell the CWO why you need the payment as they have a wide range of discretion but you do run the risk of going to a CWO who is antichoice and won’t give you the payment.

Other women have sold items on ebay to fund their terminations, or borrowed smaller amounts from various siblings or friends. You might have some coins in an old jar that you can put towards it. Maybe you have a fiver in an old coat. Or a €20 left in an old Post Office account. Withdraw it. Depending on your circumstances and ability to travel, you could be looking at paying anything between €450 and €2,500 to travel overseas to have a termination. Remember that the Abortion Support Network can give advice on the least expensive way to arrange your abortion and travel in addition to providing financial assistance to those who can’t afford to travel.

The medical abortion (abortion pill) costs less if you’re ordering it online, around €80, but you can only do this up to 10 weeks gestation. Surgical abortions will cost more but it will be cheaper if you do it without anaesthetic. Abortion is available in Britain on a broad range of grounds up until 24 weeks gestation. After 24 weeks, abortion is only permitted in Britain to save a woman’s life or prevent serious permanent harm to her physical and mental health; or where a child is likely to be born with a serious physical or mental disability. The later the gestation, the more expensive the procedure. Irish women usually have later abortions because it takes them longer to get the money together to travel.

If you’re reading this and not pregnant, start putting money away in a rainy day fund now. Open a credit union account if you can.

bpas

BPAS price list for those travelling from Ireland – April 2017

plane

Travelling for your abortion

Skyscanner is useful for checking for the cheapest flights. Make sure you liaise with your clinic first so that they have an appointment time available to suit you and with ASN beforehand if you’re getting financial assistance. If you have any serious medical conditions or are later along or have a particularly high BMI, that clinic may not be able to perform the exact procedure and may need you to go to a different clinic, so make sure you’re giving them accurate information so that you can have your procedure the day you travel. Also, book your appointment before your flights because it will be easier for them to adjust your appointment time if necessary than it will be for you to change your flights if needed.

If you fly over, you will need a passport for Ryanair so budget for that. Aer Lingus will take a number of different photo id’s including a work id with your photo on, a student id or a social welfare id if you’re travelling to Britain. If you can’t get an appointment in the UK and are travelling with Aer Lingus or another airline to somewhere else in Europe, you will need a passport. You can apply for a passport here and it costs €80.

Once you get there, if you’re travelling to a BPAS clinic, they have an excellent series of PDFs that show you the transport links to clinics from the airport nearest you. NUPAS also have a free courtesy taxi service. If you’re travelling to a Marie Stopes clinic, they have a free taxi pick up service for their clients coming from Ireland. When you make your appointment, the clinic will give you directions on how to get there via public transport anyway.  

 Outside the clinic

When you get to the clinic, there may be protesters outside. Protesters tend to stay at larger clinics but they aren’t allowed on premises so if there’s a car park outside and you arrive by taxi, you won’t have to deal with that. This can be distressing for women but this link provides useful information. Just remember, you aren’t doing anything wrong. Don’t engage with them. Just keep walking. If you’re very concerned about it, call the clinic and explain this to them and someone will escort you in.

Inside the abortion clinic

When you get inside, don’t be alarmed by the fact there are other Irish women there. They are all there for the same reason as you. You will never see them again.

Information on the abortion treatment and procedures is available here.

The length of time you’ll be at the clinic depends on the type of procedure you’re having but it will be anything from 3 hours to an overnight stay. For example, if you’re having a surgical abortion up to 14 weeks it takes around 15 minutes with an hour of recovery time. If you’re having the abortion pill and you’re under 9 weeks you can take both tablets in one go, but over 9 weeks and you’ll have to take one tablet and then come back in 1-3 days (this is why having an accurate knowledge of gestation is so important), and of course staying longer will increase the cost of your stay in Britain. 10-14 women travel to Britain every day from Ireland for abortions and most of these go over and back on the same day.

Consider when you’re paying if you want to do it by cash or debit card. Most clinics won’t have the name of the clinic show up on the card but you can check with them in advance in case you’re concerned. Depending on the exchange rate that day, it could be cheaper for you to pay in cash with sterling.

If you need accommodation, the clinic you attend can probably send a list of reasonably priced B&Bs if you ask them. If you can’t afford accommodation, contact Abortion Support Network. Abortion Support Network do not provide accommodation for women having Early Medical Abortions.

If you need to account for being away for a day or two, you can say you were just going on holiday or that you had a job interview. Try to keep things simple. Remember that there is no shame in your abortion, you have done nothing wrong – regardless of whether you choose to tell people or not. If you would usually bring your Aunty Pat a fridge magnet from your holiday, and you’ve told her you’ve gone on holiday, try and do the same this time.

Travelling for abortion after 24 weeks 

If you need an abortion after 24 weeks because of a serious foetal condition, you may have to go to a specialist clinic for this. There are a few hospitals England that will provide the necessary treatment but you may have to wait a few weeks for an appointment. Depending on the stage of pregnancy and your medical requirements, the procedure may differ so it is best to speak directly to the hospital about the costs. In some late term abortions, the procedure is that the foetal heart is stopped and then the foetus is subsequently delivered. What some women have found in Ireland is that it costs around €1,500 for the first part and another €1,500 for the delivery so they opt to travel the first part done in Britain, and then return home to deliver the foetus in an Irish hospital where they have the support of their family. This also removes the cost of transporting foetal remains home to Ireland for burial. Some women simply prefer this option. Please do not be alarmed by these figures. Liverpool Women’s charges around £1634 for the whole procedure including the stay at hospital with your partner and it really depends on your particular needs.

If your pregnancy has been diagnosed with a fatal foetal anomaly, you are not alone. You can contact AnteNatal Results and Choices (ARC), a UK charity helping people understand their diagnosis and providing information. You can also contact Termination For Medical Reasons, a group in the Republic of Ireland made of women and couples who have made the trip to England to terminate pregnancies for medical reasons. They have a support group called Leanbh Mo Chroi – 086 3745474 or leanbhmochroi@gmail.com.

If you are in care….

If you are in residential or foster care, you have the right to travel to access abortion services. Contact your social worker to make these arrangements for you. Be aware, that in many cases where young people in care have attempted to seek abortions overseas, they have had to go through psychiatric assessments with the HSE and there have been court hearings.

If you need a visa to travel…..

If you are an asylum seeker, there is provision for you to get travel documents to access abortion overseas but it is an arduous process. You solicitor can also seek funds from the HSE via court order to assist you with the cost of travelling.  You can contact the IFPA for more information on getting the assistance to travel from the HSE. As outlined here, you will need two visas, one to leave Ireland and one to make sure you get back in. If English is not your first language, let them know when you are booking your appointment, in many cases, a translator can be provided.

If you are a migrant or a refugee the best places to go if you need a visa to travel are:

MRCI Migrants Rights Centre Ireland http://www.mrci.ie (01) 889 7570

IRC Irish Refugee Council www.irishrefugeecouncil.ie  (01) 764 5854

The MRCI and IRC share a Dublin office.

Depending on what country you are from, it may be easier for you to get a visa for The Netherlands or Belgium.

A legal abortion in Ireland?

If there is a real and substantial risk to your life, including a risk of suicide, you may be entitled to an abortion in Ireland. This is not guaranteed. In the Ms. Y case, the young woman was suicidal but was ultimately coerced under threat of legal action to undergo a c-section at 24 weeks despite being deemed suicidal. We are aware of another case where a suicidal woman was granted an abortion though, but there are too few cases at the moment to predict how applications will be treated. If there is a risk to your life because you are suicidal as a result of your pregnancy and want to seek treatment in Ireland, speak to your GP. It may be best to make alternative plans to travel simultaneously in case your request for a termination is denied. If you are suicidal, there is a list of contacts that may be of assistance to you here.

After your abortion

When you return, you should attend for a post-abortion check up with your GP or with the IFPA or a Well Woman Clinic. Post-abortion check-ups are free as they are state funded. Post-abortion counselling is also free. A list of clinics where you can access non-judgmental counselling is here. From a doctor’s point of view, a medical abortion (an abortion using the pill) is indistinguishable from a miscarriage. You don’t have to tell your doctor about it, but there’s some useful information here and here that may help you make that decision. Be aware that if you tell your doctor you took the abortion pill illegally in Ireland, there is a chance they may report you to the authorities. Your doctor is not legally obliged to report you in the South, but doctors are legally obliged to report you in the north. It may be worthwhile travelling to access post-abortion care from a provider you know will not report you.

Take it easy. Consider your future contraceptive needs. Talk to a friend or a professional if you feel you need to but don’t feel you have to. It can be a big emotional deal even when you’re 100% confident you made the right decision. So most of all, be kind to yourself.

takecare

Budgeting for your abortion overseas – A Feminist Ire Cut Out & Keep Guide

Cost
Pregnancy tests
GP Visit
Phone credit for making calls to clinic / booking flights
Passport or ID Cost
Cost of travel documents or solicitor consultations to get them
Dating scan (optional)
Getting to ferry or airport (bus or taxi fare) or alternatively, airport parking plus petrol costs
Plane or ferry ticket cost
Plane or ferry cost for partner or friend accompanying
Phone credit for journey
Cost of printing documents (boarding pass, utility bill etc).
Accommodation
Fee for Abortion Treatment
Cost of Contraception
Food
Painkillers
Sanitary towels
Travel from clinic to airport
Travel from airport to home
Childcare fees
Miscellaneous
TOTAL

@stephie08

TERFS Out

British TERFS who are suddenly all caught up in how we’re doing our fight for abortion rights and bodily autonomy wrong over here cos we do it arm in arm and hand in hand with our trans sisters: FUCK OFF. Where were you any time the last 10 years? Not talking about  anyway that’s for damn sure. Not even giving oxygen to the issues, nor to Catherine Corless’s research on the  nor even batting an eyelid about the women like Mother A and Ms B dragged through Irish courts about their fundamental rights in birth. And if I owned my house, which I don’t, I’d bet it on not fucking one of them even knowing about the fucking SCANDAL of the ‘Sisters of Charity’ (hollow laughter) being given, GIVEN our National Maternity Hospital AT THE EXPENSE OF THE STATE by this fucking government. Would also bet my house on them not knowing/caring that even their cis sisters in what is allegedly the UK don’t have abortion access if they live in Northern Ireland. So yeah. FUCK OFF and don’t come telling us we’re doing it wrong because we don’t fucking need you. Which is just as fucking well really cos look how utterly uninterested in our struggles you are until we show up your bigotry.

 

 

This post is a recap of a thread I posted on Twitter a few days ago; you’ll find it and the interactions here.

I am not a nun, I am a midwife: maternity care in a “modern” Ireland

The author of this guest post wishes to remain anonymous.

I attended a protest at the Department of Health yesterday to highlight people’s outrage at the handing over of the new National Maternity Hospital site to the religious order of the Sisters of Charity. I went as a member of Midwives for Choice, and I expected to help hold the banner and maybe video our spokesperson speaking. As it happened she could not, fearful as she was of her job by speaking out against St Vincent’s Hospital Group. So it ended up that I had a microphone and a megaphone pointed in my direction. My reaction? I froze. My voice is an inside my head voice, for the most part; I can’t even speak up in small group conversations mostly. So for anyone who wanted to know why there were midwives behind a banner, here are my thoughts.

I’m already scared that I’m a nun. All the older nurses and midwives in our hospitals were trained by nuns and they tell of the iron fist, regimented care and much else. Sometimes with respect and awe, sometimes fear, sometimes relief that they are all but gone.

The church’s legacy is strong within our healthcare system. Many if not most hospitals in the state have some church connection (religious members on boards, etc). Yet the history of church-run institutions in this country reads like a horror story, from the Magdalene Laundries to the institutional schools. Say it slowly with me: the institutions of the Catholic Church are inherently misogynistic. Women’s bodies will always suffer under them. They are beyond redemption.

Finally, this is the generation where the church’s abuses are being exposed. We are sickened as a nation to our very core about the Tuam babies, symphysiotomies, Magdalene Laundries, the abuse of our children by priests and nuns. Finally we should have hope that our society will stand up and say no more, that we can extricate our institutions from the grasp of the religious. It will be a slow but worthwhile process. When we can get the church out of our government, our laws, our schools, our healthcare systems, our bodies, maybe finally we can have a humane secular society.

That’s what most of us were thinking, surely, in the wake of the Tuam babies case? Please save us from the church? Then what the hell is this move? It’s as Irish a decision as getting your kid baptised to have a family get-together… and maybe to get into the local school. Cop on, Ireland. Stop being so short-sighted, so disingenuous. If we know something is wrong – and by God we know the Sisters of Charity have done wrong – then let’s stand up against it.

As a midwife, my role in supporting women to make informed decisions around their care in pregnancy and childbirth is already curtailed by the patriarchal, over-medicalised, over-litigious, under-staffed, no-continuity, factory-model, fire-fighting maternity system in place here. But at least women in Ireland are starting to take back power, to demand evidence-based care and proper time to birth. Even if this is something that our systems literally cannot provide at present, at least there is an awareness that what we have now is not good enough.

It feels like a change, this last 10 years: women are coming together; midwives are coming together; there is a politicisation, a will to change, even if it can’t quite find traction within our systems yet. There is a recognition that the 8th Amendment is a barrier to proper maternity care; where the fetus and the woman have equal rights within our constitution, any perceived risk to the well-being of a fetus overrides even real and substantial risks to a woman’s health and well-being. Our National Consent Policy directly points to the 8th Amendment as being a reason why pregnant people do not have a legal right to informed consent and refusal of treatment. Women leaving this system will attest to being railroaded and sidelined within their own care (see Aims Ireland testimonials).

I work within the system as it is now. While, individually, I strive to do my very best for each woman I care for, I know that the system is letting them down. I know that women are leaving our maternity system traumatised and broken down. Childbirth itself is not an inherently traumatic event. It is what we do to women in the name of “safety”: ass-covering and over-intervention without proper thought, consideration, conversation and shared decision-making with the people whose bodies we care for.

This brings me back to my first point: I already fear that I’m a nun. When the Tuam babies story broke, as well as the horror and the disgust that we all felt, I had a sneaking fear lurking… Those nuns were midwives. What if I’m a nun? What if I were a nun in Tuam, entering the institution to try to do my best for the forgotten and ostracised single mothers. What if I was kind as I caught their babies and helped them to their mother’s breast. What if I was gentle as I cared for infants while their mothers worked, coming back to feed them on schedule. What if my heart hurt as I dried the tears of a mother whose baby was adopted out to America. What if I felt sick with fear as I saw too many little babies dying. What if I knew that they weren’t being buried so that the money for them would keep coming in. What if I turned a blind eye because I was just a little nun cog-in-the-wheel. Sometimes I fear that I’m just a little midwife cog-in-the-wheel.

So I have to go and hold banners. I have to add my face to pictures and my feet to marches. I have to overcome my fear of putting my job in jeopardy by being seen to be overly-political, overly-public, overly-outspoken. I have to find my voice as a midwife and encourage others to find theirs… even if I’m not quite ready for the microphone and the megaphone. I have to nod to pro-choice badge-wearers and pro-choice colleagues. I have to have small conversations in work and outside of it. I have to join Facebook groups, scribble my thoughts, cuddle my loved ones, help my pregnant friends, and I have to breathe and tell myself I am not a nun. I am a midwife. I am with-woman not with-institution, however hard that is in my everyday work. I will stay within the institution because free maternity care is a public right and should be available to all, not just those who can afford health insurance and private midwifery care.

Some day I dream of the true mind and body safety that comes with continuity of midwifery care for all women, and the true informed relational decision-making that can only happen when our maternity institutions are built back up to humane levels, free of the stranglehold of patriarchal and religious control – both constitutionally and structurally. We have a chance in Ireland to reject our broken past and to go forward with conscious intent to do the right thing. So Repeal the 8th Amendment. And take back the National Maternity Hospital from the Sisters of Charity.

Sex work in France, one year on

Posted on

The French law criminalising payment for sex was enacted a year ago Thursday, on 13th April 2016. Supporters marked its anniversary by (predictably) declaring it a success already, on pretty much the sole basis of purported arrest statistics. A typical example was this tweet from Feminist Current, which my friend Laura Lee alerted me to:

and it reminded me that I haven’t done a dodgy stats analysis in a while. So here we are.

The first step in any such analysis is to go to the source of the stat. So I read the Feminist Current blog post, which links to this news article and this press release from CAP International. (“CAP” stands for “Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution”, in case you were wondering. Its current president is Sarah Benson of Ruhama.) Unfortunately, the news article’s source was the press release, and the press release’s source seems to be press releases from two other anti-sex work organisations:

At this point I replied to Feminist Current’s tweet to ask if they knew the actual source of those stats, but perhaps also predictably, they didn’t answer. So I did a search for “937” on the Mouvement du Nid site and found this article by the Abolition 2012 coalition, the title of which translates as “What harms prostitutes is not law, it is prostitution”. And a few paragraphs down we see the statement that

The clients are now accountable, 937 of them have been verbalized (figures from the Ministry of the Interior)

The word “verbalized” (verbalisés) is intriguing there, not being cognate with any legal term in English. I wasn’t sure if it could actually be translated to “arrested”, especially given France’s very different criminal procedures, and indeed it appears to be more analogous to “ticketed” according to the Council of Europe French-English Legal Dictionary. I’m not sure if this results in a criminal record, and would welcome any input from someone in the know. [Edit: see comments from Rikki de la Vega and Richard below.]  As to the 937 figure, I can’t find it on the Ministry of the Interior website, though it could have been revealed in a Parliamentary Question or something. But it doesn’t ring untrue, and I have no reason to suspect it isn’t true; all I can say about this figure specifically is that in a country of 66 million people, the fact that 937 were ticketed for something last year doesn’t strike me as evidence of a real commitment to its eradication – far less as something actually likely to lead to its eradication.

What I was more interested in was the other statistic, that no sex workers had been arrested since the introduction of the law.  This is what set off my bullshit detector, and sure enough, that same Abolition 2012 statement qualifies it rather significantly:

Since April 13, 2016, no more prostitutes have been arrested for soliciting and previous convictions on this count have been removed from criminal records. However, prostitutes are still arrested in certain cities that have issued anti-prostitution decrees…

Those “anti-prostitution decrees” are discussed further in this open letter to French presidential candidates, also issued by Abolition 2012. It states:

In particular, we would like to know what you will be setting up, once elected, on the following priority issues:

  • Ending anti-prostitution laws targeting victims While France regards prostitution as violence and the law of 13 April 2016, in accordance with its abolitionist ambition, decriminalized prostitutes, certain municipalities in the national territory have rid themselves of these principles and of the law by adopting anti-prostitution decrees punishing the prostitutes themselves.

One might question whether a country can really be said to regard a thing as “violence” if the maximum penalty imposed for it is no more than what a large grocery store would get for destroying edible food, but rhetoric aside, it seems clear that the law has not actually had the impact on sex workers suggested by the Feminist Current tweet and its sources. It would be interesting to see the statistics from those municipalities, and to know what sort of penalties are being imposed – particularly for the undocumented migrants who sell sex in France.

And on that note, I’ll return to what I said earlier about arrest (or verbaliser) records forming the sole basis for such triumphalism in these statements. The CAP International statement acknowledges that the other elements of the French law have yet to be introduced:

French members of CAP international, Mouvement du Nid and Fondation Scelles, together with the 60 member organisation of the collective Abolition 2012, are now prioritising the effective implementation of newly recognised rights for victims of prostitution and trafficking:

  • Legal, psychological and medical support,
  • Access to exit programmes,
  • Emergency and social housing,
  • Financial assistance,
  • Temporary residency permits,
  • Access to training and to decent work

Similarly, the Abolition 2012 letter to presidential candidates goes on to call for:

  • The opening of shelters for victims of prostitution, procuring and trafficking in human beings in shelters and social reintegration. 

  • Access to the free tax debts. 

  • Access to a residence permit for foreign victims. 

  • The provision of financial assistance for social and vocational integration for prostituted persons who do not benefit from social minima or assistance granted to persons seeking asylum.These basic provisions must be put in place as soon as possible throughout the country.

It never ceases to amazes me that anti-sex work feminists don’t insist on these basic provisions being put in place before measures that deprive sex workers of their income. What do they really expect to happen to these people in the meantime?

Finally, one more thing in that open letter jumped out at me: the admission by Abolition 2012 that the law is doing absolutely fuck all against the online sex industry:

The law clearly and strictly defines what is involved in procuring, including “taking advantage of the prostitution of others, sharing products or receiving subsidies from a person habitually engaging in prostitution; Act as an intermediary between two persons, one of whom engages in prostitution and the other exploits or pays for the prostitution of others”. Yet, major actors in bringing prostituted persons and prostitution clients into contact continue to profit financially from prostitution, handsomely, without ever being disturbed. On the Internet, where ad serving is growing exponentially, which would fall under pandering in any other context, it seems commonly accepted. But this tolerance deprives of useful effect any new measure designed to discourage demand and create alternatives for prostitutes. Every week in the national and local press we learn that websites, whether general or specialized, have not only facilitated the prostitution of others but have also benefited greatly from it.

So let’s review. According to the law’s biggest cheerleaders in France, sex workers continue to be targeted and punished by municipal authorities; internet prostitution continues unabated, thereby depriving “end demand” measures of any useful effect; and nothing has yet been done for any sex workers who are struggling to make a living under this law, which I presume are likely to be those who are street-based and therefore particularly vulnerable. In that context, are those 937 fines really cause for celebration?

Let me be clear that I absolutely welcome the removal of solicitation from the criminal code. And I am glad to see Abolition 2012 and CAP International keeping positive assistance to sex workers on the agenda, even if it really should have been their priority to start with. But press statements suggesting that the law is already a success are not only highly disingenuous, but potentially damaging to that agenda. By continuing to centre a criminal justice approach to the sex industry, and in a way that invites the French government to declare itself as “doing something” for abolition, they mute their own calls for the social and immigration reforms that are absolutely vital to actually reduce the size of the industry in France. They make it oh so easy for the government to continue to drag its heels on creating those alternatives for sex workers, because hey look what a good job we’re doing arresting clients! Which is what you were campaigning hardest for anyway, right?

Of course, these statements lauding the success of the new law aren’t really aimed at the French government anyway. They’re aimed at people who opposed the law to begin with, and people in other countries where it’s currently under consideration. They’re a way of putting a shiny spin on the law, to defend it from its detractors at home and abroad. But the problem with shiny things is they can blind you. I think we’ve already seen that happen in Sweden and Norway, where the level of denial among those who want to maintain client criminalisation can sometimes reach ludicrous heights. Earlier this month, I attended a conference addressed by Per-Anders Sunesson, Sweden’s “Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons”, during which he made the remarkable claim that since the sex purchase ban was introduced there had not only been no murders of sex workers, but not even one single complaint of violence against a sex worker. When I pointed out that Sweden’s own police reports stated otherwise, his reply was “Maybe you’re reading them wrong.”

So what I’d say to supporters of the French law, if you really do want to see it implemented in full and not just the headline provisions of it, is this: forget about us. Stop trying to persuade us (or those who might hear us) that we were wrong about client criminalisation, and start really holding the French government to account for continuing to allow persecution of sex workers by local and immigration police, for failing to ensure that sex workers who want to exit have the resources to do so. Stop centring sex workers’ clients and putting so much of your energy into campaigning against them. From here on, the welfare of those you call “prostituted persons” should be the focus of at least as much energy – or the government will do no more than bare minimum to implement social and immigration reforms, which will end up reforming nothing and leaving vulnerable and exploited sex workers just as vulnerable and just as exploited. And still selling sex.

Don’t let France get away with this while you’re busy crowing about numbers of “arrested johns”.

Won’t Someone Think Of The Rapists?

Won’t Someone Think Of The Rapists?

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Being interviewed for The Evening Standard self-confessed rapist Tom Stranger, who shot to fame when sharing a stage with the woman he raped for a T.E.D talk said, “In South of Forgiveness we speak about the ‘monster myth’ and how rape is seen as an inhuman act. I see it as part of a specific problem. It’s almost like escapism.”

I find myself constantly returning to Tom Stranger and Elva Thordis’s talk and interviews (I have not yet been able to bring myself to read the book). I find so much of it problematic as I have explored in various pieces here, hereand here. I suppose as someone who has been raped twice, both times by men I thought were my friends and both times after I had been drinking — Elva’s story strikes a cord with me. Also like Elva I’ve spent much of my adult life working to end sexual and (in my case) domestic abuse. Each time I read something new about Stranger and Elva I feel the urge to dissect it, to explore what they are really saying. And I think that is of value, given how many millions of people have been exposed to their story and the effect it is having on how we collectively think about and approach rape and rapists.

I would argue that while most people abstractly think of rape as an inhuman act — these values aren’t backed up in action. In values that play out in actuality most people actively attempt to nullify the existence of rape, by victim shaming and blaming and allowing perpetrators off the hook so readily. The essence and goal of rape culture is to normalise sexual assault against women, so in acted — upon values rape is not seen as an inhuman act and therein lies the problem. In fact rape is so normalised that it took Stranger himself 9 years and a confrontational email from his victim for him to realise he had raped someone. Rape has become so distressingly common that worldwide 1 in 3 women will be victims of male perpetrated sexual violence. Which leads us to ask the question how many men in 3 are rapists? Or men in 5? Or men in 10? We don’t know those figures, because no one is researching how many men are rapists. Rape is framed statistically through how many women will be victims — not how many men will rape.

It is hard to know exactly what Stranger means by “It’s almost like escapism.”, is he referring to rape? the term ‘rapist’? When asked by the interviewer Stefanie Marsh what did he mean by that he continued,“I think the term ‘rapist’ disallows any further analysis because it is a branding of someone as opposed to a behaviour.”

Yet ‘rapist’ does not require further analysis — it is the term we use for someone who has raped someone. That a rapist is arguing to not be branded a rapist is a bit rich. Stranger then says, “If you Google ‘Tom Stranger’ a lot of the headlines include the word ‘rapist’. I don’t know if it’s my place to question that term — it is factually correct and I’m not looking to refute it. But it’s a weaponised term. The semantics of it — it’s the grandest of sins. No one in their right mind would ever want to call themselves a rapist. I understand that. The discourse around that word almost isolates it. It is reductive to the point where it doesn’t get past the labelling. Being a rapist is unforgiveable — something beyond any kind of redemption or understanding.”

Stranger seems confused about what a weapon is, one thing a weapon is is using your strength, privilege or status to insert parts of your body into someone without their consent. Rape is a weapon, not the term rapist. Rapist in this case is simply a statement of fact. The truth cannot be weaponised when it is freely and openly admitted by the man himself. Furthermore rape is not in actuality seen as the ‘grandest of sins’ in terms how we treat men accused of or convicted of this crime. Far from it. Men routinely get away with raping women, with even those that are found out often forgiven and welcomed back into their jobs, sports clubs and communities with open arms. Some of them even receive standing ovations and awards or have dozens of people lining up to shake their hand. Even legally, rape is not seen as the ‘grandest of sins’ with only 5.7% of rapes reported to the U.K police resulting in a conviction,(and with only 15% of rapes reported that is a lot of rapists in our communities). And like Stranger himself, in some cases even self confessed rapists will serve no time in prison .

This brings us to the last of stranger’s quotes from the Standard interview, “Being a rapist is unforgiveable — something beyond any kind of redemption or understanding.”

The idea that families, friends and communities do not regularly forgive rapists couldn’t be further from the truth. In the T.E.D Q&A Stranger tells us how his own family responded to the news that he was a rapist.

“I am blessed with a loving, understanding and supportive network of friends and family, who have, for the most part, seen me as more than my actions. Primarily, the reactions I’ve received have been receptive, quiet and thoughtful.”

Stranger’s family and friends were “loving, understanding and supportive.” And that is the real problem we should all be talking about. That rapists are so readily forgiven, without having to be accountable or make reparations of any kind, rapists are accepted and shown love and support. I have worked with dozens of women who were victims of sexual and or domestic violence and I cannot think of one case where the perpetrators family and friends did not rally around them and attempt to discredit the victim. The most common societal response to men who perpetrate violence against women is to victim blame and keep on supporting the abusive man.

Imagine if the response from the family and friends of a perpetrator was to be disgusted and appalled? What if they wholeheartedly supported the victim instead of the rapist? What about the if the rapist was not allowed back into the lives of his friends and family until he had shown that he fully understood and realised the severity of what he had done and had dedicated his life to repairing the damage he had done to the woman? That would be a TRUE consequence for men to feel, that there would actually be serious repercussions from their friends and family if they hurt women. How many men do you think would rape women if they knew everyone, even their family and friends would rally around their victim?

We all have a part to play in rape culture. My bold idea is to start holding men to a higher standard. I have to wonder would Tom Stranger have raped Thordis Elva if his family and friends had done the same.

Patriarchy’s Wet Dream

View story at Medium.com

After the controversial TED talk ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ was programmed to be part of London women’s festival WOW 2017 there was outcry from survivors and individuals who felt that having a rapist at a woman’s festival was inappropriate, offensive and upsetting. In response the WOW organisers moved the event to one day outside of the festival and made it open to both WOW pass holders and the general public. Where the talk had been originally scheduled they instead held a panel discussion with the very loaded title of “Deciding Whose Story Gets Told”, where some of the people who were opposed to the talk going ahead at WOW joined those who wanted it as part of the festival. I thought the idea of ‘Deciding Whose Story Gets Told’ would be an interesting jumping off point for further exploration of this talk.

A quick breakdown of’Rape and Reconciliation’ for those who are unaware: 16 year old Elva was raped by her boyfriend Stranger who was 18 at the time, many years later she emailed him and they begin to correspond, resulting in Stranger admitting he did indeed rape Elva. They meeting in South Africa where they ‘reconcile’. They co-write a book together and rehearse for their TED talk. They are now touring the world to promote their book “South of Forgiveness”. A shorter version of this analysis is “Rapists admits to raping a minor. World Applauds”.

In the UK only 15% of rapes are reported to the police and only 5.7% of reported cases will end in a conviction. There are women who struggle to get their friends and family to believe they were raped, women who will never tell a soul, women who tell the police but aren’t taken seriously or who are told there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute, women who are silenced, women who are threatened, women who are raped as a tool of war, women who make up the 31% of UK women who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood and many more women who experience sexual violence in a range of different circumstances- and all of these women have stories that deserve to be told. However the story that the media, the book publisher Scribe, TED and Southbank have decided to tell is Elva and Stranger’s, a story of rape, forgiveness and reconciliation.

I am not suggesting that Elva not be able to tell her story, nor am I suggesting Stranger not be able to tell his either. I would however like to propose a few questions, like would they have been gifted so much publicity and so many stages if say, one or both of them had been a person of colour? We only need to look to Hollywood to see how white men accused of sexual abuse are treated very differently to black men accused of same. What if they were Muslims? What about if they were both physically unattractive? If they were in their 70’s? If they were both obese? It is hard for me to not think that the fact that they are both white, slim and attractive allows them access to stages and places that many other people would be denied. It feels likely that their white, middle class, attractive privilege gave their story a leg up when it came to  “Deciding Whose Story Gets Told”.

Elva states that by putting her story out there she hopes it will create a change of conversation around rape. She says we need to start talking to men about rape and include them in these types of conversations. I agree. It is a shame that the majority of media and festival opportunities Elva and Stranger have been given have all had primarily women audiences. As most survivors of sexual assault are women who do not need to be taught that it is men we know who are raping us. 90% of us are raped by men we know, this is not news to rape victims (1 in 3 women) nor is it (for the most part) news to the men who rape us (we don’t know how many in 3 that is, as we only ever talk about how many women get raped, not how many men will rape). We also do not need to be taught about why men rape us. We know why men rape. They rape because they feel a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, and this sense of entitlement has been socialised into them by a culture that pictures women through a lens of largely unattainable and restrictive gender stereotypes. We know they feel that they are of a higher status than women, they do not see women as their equal – and again this is where gender stereotypes play into these ideas men have that lead them to harm women.

Given Elva and Stranger’s stated desires for the talk and the fact that this knowledge (of why men rape) is so widely available I had hoped that Stranger’s part of the TED talk would be quite different from what he offers. I’d like to see him dissecting his toxic socialisation. I’d like to see him admitting to where society failed him by teaching him to have so much entitlement and so little regard for women that he would chose to rape a woman and manage to fool himself for years into pretending it wasn’t rape. I’d like to see him placing his actions in the context of it being considered ‘normal’ male behaviour and showing it up as the awful, degrading, harmful and abnormal behaviour it is. I’d like to see him explore rape culture from the point of view of someone who drank from it’s waters. I’d like to see him challenging other men to consider what they perceive as  a ‘normal’ way to treat women, and giving men tools on how to get help for themselves or the other men in their lives.

I completely agree with Elva when she says we need to change the discourse around rape. I believe we need to be talking mostly to those who rape (as in men and boys) and we also need to be focusing on parents. They are the people who are socialising the coming generation and if they aren’t talking about consent and role modelling it for their kids then we are going to have another generation of sexual and domestic abuse ahead of us.  Parents are, I believe the way forward and the way out of the abuse against women epidemic. We need a parenting revolution, one that teaches our sons to be respectful of girls and women, to understand the many ways in which someone says ‘No’ or ‘I’m not happy/comfortable’, we need sons who are critical thinkers, who can see through the patriarchal dream the media is selling them.

How amazing would it be if Tom Stranger fully owned all his previous toxic masculinity and combined his youth work with this knowledge to prepare and deliver talks for teenage boys? And for parents so they could learn how to raise sons who will NOT rape women? There is a great opportunity in the seed of Elva and Stranger’s collaboration. I just feel disappointed that have not grabbed it and instead the primary angle we are getting is on the ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgiveness’ aspects of their story. The idea of a cosy reconciliation with your rapist is a largely unattainable dream which will be and is denied to the majority of rape victims. I should add that for many, myself included it is also an unwanted outcome.

A dream is what is being sold here, and when you think about it it’s a patriarchal wet dream. A lovely, attractive, quiet, forgiving woman who does not rail and spit and claw at her rapist, or even try and have him arrested. Instead she meets him, forgives him and they co-write a book together. Then they go on to tour the world together as business associates promoting their book. On their website it stated initially that Stranger would be donating a portion of his profits to charity. That has changed in the last week to now read that he will be donating all profits to charity. However he will (and already has) profited in many other ways – status and celebrity, platforms and contacts. I do not know if he is financing his own way around the world on the book tour (it seems unlikely as I’d imagine they would be keen to tell us that if he was) but he will undoubtedly be offered other opportunities off the back of having raped a woman. And that is a bitter pill for many of us who are victims of rape to swallow. A white privileged man who has never had any legal consequences, profiting from raping a woman –  it’s hard to see how the real winner in this story isn’t patriarchy (served with a side order of capitalism).

 

My previous writing on the ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ talk can be found at these links:

Deconstructing the TED Talk: Here

View story at Medium.com

On the Privilege and Patriarchy in the talk: Here

On Southbank’s decision to move the event and their statement: Here

View story at Medium.com

 

Intersectional Patriarchy

Intersectional Patriarchy

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In my previous piece on the TED talk ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ I touched on the privilege aspect of Elva and Stranger’s talk. I would like to further elaborate on why this part of the talk is so problematic.

Privilege is briefly mentioned by Elva during her talk but she does not acknowledge the privilege of already being a celebrity in her home country, being white, wealthy, healthy and having the connections that come with celebrity status.

Elva describes her path to healing from the rape she experienced aged 16. This path involves contacting Stranger to start a conversation with him about what he did to her and leads to the two of them flying to South Africa to reconcile. They say in the talk that South Africa felt like the perfect place to do this work due to its history of truth and reconciliation. So we have two white people travelling to a country where white people slaughtered, raped, abused and oppressed black people (and where the healing of that is still an ongoing process)  using the suffering of people of colour as a canvas to paint their story on. This is the height of white privilege. For any white person to draw comparisons of their problems with the systemic murder and abuse of an entire race of people is despicable.

Where would people of colour have to travel to to be able to soak up the energy of a place where people of colour oppressed white people and then reconciled?

Elva knowingly takes the stage at an event that is specifically designed to spread  and amplify new ideas and then disingenuously tells us she is aware that her path to healing (via forgiveness of her rapist, co-writing a book together and going on a book tour together) isn’t for everyone.

There are a tiny amount of people who have the privileges Elva has. And I wonder how many of those who do would even want to meet the person who raped them, write a book together and go on tour?

I am not trying to silence or deny Elva as a victim her agency. And at this stage even if people wanted to silence her they could not as she has already delivered a TED talk, has a book tour scheduled and been given a huge amount of publicity.  Her story is already out there. This is not a person who has had her voice silenced.

Nor do I seek to silence the voices of those who feel that they have gained something from watching the video or reading their story. I think for many women there is a sense of relief that finally, here is a man willing to be publically accountable for his crime against a woman. And there is a sense among some women that this is a step in the right direction, the crucial involvement of men in the discourse of sexual crimes against women is finally here. And in order to hold onto that glimmer they are willing to overlook the many great problems with this particular talk, and potential harm it could (and I believe will) cause women long term.

I have come to realise that this talk is something of a Rorshach Test, where viewers can see and experience very different things. Those who defend it cannot see how it could be harmful and those who see it as harmful cannot see how others are unable to see that.

Despite Elva’s insistence that they are not holding their story up as a template they believe others should follow, it seems clear to me that a dream is essentially what is being sold here. A dream of confronting your abuser and being acknowledged and affirmed in your experience. Receiving an apology. A dream of male abusers with an openness to self-reflection and contrition. Even perhaps a dream of many men learning from and embodying Stranger’s example. A dream of men seeing themselves and their actions reflected back at them by Stranger and mending their ways. A dream of a shift in the dialogue around rape away from the victim and onto the perpetrator.

We cannot however divorce the dream presented in this telling from the patriarchy and privilege of which it is infused. For it is it’s resonance as a document and exemplification of the intersection of Privilege & Patriarchy with Rape & Reconciliation that has in my view played a large part in its success.

This is rape and reconciliation through the lens of patriarchy and desirable outcomes for the abuser:

The victim forgives her abuser

They become friends, even collaborators, business associates

The abuser suffers no legal consequences for his actions

The abuser profits from admission and remorse with a book deal, Ted talk, Speaking Tour, Brand building celebrity/Cultural capital/Prestigious platforms etc.

Viewing the story through this lens I feel it is hard to argue that beyond the possibility of his victim never contacting him at all there could be a more desirable outcome for the rapist.

As well as this the talk introduces the harmful idea of forgiveness being upheld as an ideal for victims of sexual violence. Elva has become a powerful symbol of ‘the woman who forgave her rapist’. How long before that message seeps into popular culture becoming the benchmark other victims will be held up to?

The value of this idea to a patriarchal culture should not be underestimated. The idea of the woman who forgives her rapist and not only that goes on tour with him is an almost impossibly high expectation to make of most rape victims. It is wonderful for Elva that she found such a deep level of peace with what Stranger did to her and that she was able to move on in a healthy way with her life. But for us to set this up as an ideal, or even as a possibility for other rape victims is to set most of us to fail.

The reconciliation utopia Elva and Stranger are selling us can only be accessed by those with   enough intersecting privileges; white privilege, class privilege, economic privilege, health privilege, celebrity privilege.

The requirement of so many  intersecting privileges demonstrates the remoteness of the dream being sold here from the overwhelming majority of women and rape victims/survivors who do not share them.

The essential message of the talk is a man who claims he didn’t really realise he had raped a woman finally admitting; in public that he raped a woman. This is a man who will never experience any legal consequences for his crime as it is now outside the timeframe of the statute of limitations in Iceland. Added to this, this man has and will continue to profit (financially and in status and celebrity) from his admission of rape.

Wilfully or not, Stranger has found a way to capitalise from raping a woman.

And all those who grant him a stage aid him in doing this.