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Author Archives: feministire

Abortion in Medieval Ireland

Perceptions of Pregnancy

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post is contributed by Gillian Kenny, a Research Associate at the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Abortion (or the lack of it) is back in the news in Ireland again following reports that a woman who claimed to be suicidal was denied an abortion and instead gave birth by caesarean at 25 weeks. The roots of lay and clerical anti-abortionism in Ireland would appear to be a modern phenomenon as medieval sources indicate a country in which abortion could be seen as a less severe offence by clerics, for example, than bearing an unwanted child or committing ‘fornication’.[1] In the middle ages women commonly underwent abortions…

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On RTE’s Disrespect and the Camogie Final

Pursued By A Bear

Today I watched the All-Ireland Camogie Final between Cork and Kilkenny. It was a fantastic game, with great skill on display from both sides and all the high-octane drama you associate with the sport. A great occasion, all in all, and Cork proved worthy winners in the end. This was, however, no thanks to the media coverage, and RTE’s handling of the event in particular.

I tweeted earlier today, wondering why there’s no Up For The Match programme on the eve of the camogie final. I mean, we all *know* the reason, but does it have to be so? The inevitable retort would probably be something along the lines of, “well, the level of interest isn’t there”, or “the game isn’t high-profile enough”. Sorry, but that’s not good enough. The game isn’t high profile enough, you say-do you see how you could easily remedy that? Give the game the platform…

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Journalists’ Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem

Guest post by Matthias Lehmann

More often than not, advocacy for sex workers’ rights and the acceptance of sex work as work puts one at odds with members of that part of the anti-human trafficking movement that rejects these ideas, considers prostitution as inherently harmful, and brands anyone disagreeing with them as a member of some imaginary pimp lobby. Another group one finds oneself at odds with are journalists who report about – and, like the former, conflate – human trafficking and prostitution, as their articles frequently include false, inaccurate or misrepresented information.

Chimpanzee Typing - Image by New York Zoological Society (1907)

As sex workers and their allies will confirm, one could easily spend all day writing rebuttals to counter the influence on public opinion of the many sensationalist reports, but one has to pick and choose. The following is a response to Kyla Ryan’s article “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem” in The Diplomat. Before I start, however, I would like to state that I am not an expert on the situation in Cambodia, although I previously conducted research and field work in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. I can read, however, and my rebuttal of Kyla Ryan’s article will for the most part analyse one of the very sources she used in writing her article.

Far, very far indeed, be it from me to deny that children are being sexually exploited and, as German politician and human rights activist Volker Beck once put it, “every trafficking victim is one too many”.

However, a quick glance at the source of Kyla Ryan’s alarming statements, a report by ECPAT-Cambodia, reveals that what she should have focused on is the rape of children in settings that are not related to human trafficking.

Let’s look at the data and let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the research conducted is methodologically sound and all of the findings accurate.

Rape

The report by ECPAT-Cambodia states that in 2011, “658 cases of rape were referred to the 33 participating NGOs, involving 671 victims”, 483 of whom were minors (71.5%).  While about half of these 483 victims were teenagers, 169 were aged between 7-12 (35%) and 77 between 1-6 (16%).

The report continues to state that the next highest age group, those aged 18-25, which ECPAT labels as ”young people”, accounted for the majority of adult victims, meaning that grouped together, victims aged 0-25 accounted for 90.5%.

I am not going to dismiss the fact that such an overwhelming majority of rape victims was rather young or even very young, but one should not overlook the fact that ECPAT-Cambodia labels youth here as “children” and adults as “young people”. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that the organisation’s self-interest plays a role here, regardless of how honourable its goals might be. The report does emphasise that “the majority of victims (approximately 1 in 3) were in the 13-17 years age group”, but I’ll come back to that later.

The report found that, “consistent with all previous Database Annual Reports”, “rape offenders in Cambodia are generally not total strangers to the victims, and usually know the victim fairly well”. The report suggests “that police and judicial investigations, as well as authorities and NGOs, should consider parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from rape”.

In the year 2011, 98.8% of the offenders were Khmer, with 0.9% foreign and 0.2% Cham/Muslim. (No further details are provided.) The total number of offenders was 770, therefore, the 0.9% correspond to 7 foreign offenders (rounded up) in the cases referred to the participating NGOs.

Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation

Looking at the data about trafficking reveals that in 2011, “71 cases of sexual trafficking were referred to the participating NGOs, involving 88 victims”, 66 of whom were minors (75%). While 55 of these 66 were teenagers, 10 were aged between 7-12 (15.2%) and 1 was aged between 1-6 (1.5%).

The report continues to state that “the number of child victims in the very young age groups of 1-6 years and 7-12 years was relatively high, with nearly 17% of the total child victims belonging to these two age groups”. As above, the report also states that, when grouping victims aged 0-25 together, they accounted for 92%.

Once again, every trafficking victim is one too many and I am not going to dismiss the fact that 11 children under 12 years of age were trafficked for sexual exploitation. One should not overlook the fact, however, that in the text of the report, ECPAT-Cambodia uses percentages rather than the number of cases and again joins age groups together, since, obviously, 17% is a more useful number than 11 to raise awareness – and funds! – and the same goes for anything in the 90% range.

The report does not provide details on the offenders who exploited the trafficking victims as customers but only on the 76 recruiters involved in the 71 cases.

Again, the report found that, “consistent, in general terms, with all previous Database Annual Reports”, “recruiters of sexual trafficking in Cambodia are generally not total strangers to the victims, and usually knew the victim fairly well” and suggests that “police and judicial investigations, as well as authorities and NGOs, should consider parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from sexual trafficking”.

Listing percentages only, the report states 50% of the recruiters were Khmer, 10.5% Vietnamese, 7.9% Thai, Other Asian 5.3%, European 10.5%, and American 3.9%. The report states that “there is limited consistency across the years in regards to the nationality of recruiters” and that “it is too soon to determine whether the drastic increase in European/American recruiters in 2011 constitutes a new trend”.

Granted, a combined 14.4% for European and American recruiters is quite a marked increase from 0% the year before. Once again, the use of percentages is somewhat conspicuous, however. Converted into actual numbers, the 14.4% correspond to ten recruiters/traffickers. All foreign recruiters listed in the table accounted for 38.1% or 29 recruiters/traffickers.

It is interesting to note that in 2011, 51.6% (or 39) of the recruiters/traffickers were female, while 48.4% (or 37) were male.

Misrepresenting the Problems

Let’s look at Kyla Ryan’s article at The Diplomat then.

Ryan (or her editor) chose as the headline “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem”, when in fact, the ratio of rape to trafficking victims in Cambodia in 2011 was roughly 7.5:1 (671:88), at least according to the very source Ryan’s article is based on.

The byline states that “the country still sees a trade in girls as young as five years old”. While that may be true, the report this statement is based on lists a single victim aged 1-6 years old and doesn’t actually reveal the gender of the two-year-old victim.

Speaking of gender: nearly 20% of the overall trafficking victims in 2011 – the report doesn’t provide figures broken down by age groups – were male, and the report does state that the “data is a reminder that boys and men are also victims of sexual abuse and exploitation … although this may often be contrary to popular belief”. Articles such as Ryan’s are one of the main reasons why such popular beliefs exist.

Ryan is also guilty of perpetuating the common “male foreign perpetrator, female local victim” paradigm when she writes that Phnom Penh is “where foreign men come to seek sex with young girls”. While I cannot deny that men, foreign or local, may seek sex with young girls, the data on which Ryan bases her article says nothing at all about foreign men who bought sex from young girls. Instead, the report does say a lot about rape, but Ryan chooses to mention rape only in connection to brothels. The only foreigners mentioned in the report are the 29 recruiters/traffickers in 2011, eleven of which were European or American.

While Ryan does allude to the “complicated” situation where family members are involved in human trafficking, she curiously writes that “many young girls are not forced into the trade by criminals, but by family members”. I never knew that being a family member and being a criminal were mutually exclusive. One may disagree with me here, but it appears that Ryan prefers to blame “foreign men” for the crime, with family members merely being complicit in it.

Nobody should dismiss or trivialise sexual violence against children, youth, young adults, or adults in general. My issue with articles such as the one by Kyla Ryan is that they misrepresent the problems and fuel the rampant, and harmful, anti-trafficking panic while largely ignoring the actual problems.

Ryan fails to mention the fraudulent and exploitative activities of Somaly Mam – her organisation AFESIP was one of the NGOs contributing to the ECPAT-Cambodia report – and the underlying problem that more often than not, only lurid stories make for effective fundraising for anti-trafficking organisations, a problem which also seems to affect the way ECPAT-Cambodia wrote its report. Ryan also leaves out ECPAT-Cambodia’s recommendation to give greater consideration to “parental and neighborhood relations as key elements in preventing and protecting children (and adults) from sexual trafficking”. I must assume it didn’t fit into the narrative she wanted to engage in.

The report by ECPAT-Cambodia states that 1 in 3 rape victims and 2 in 3 trafficking victims were in the 13-17 years age group. Where rape was concerned, all offenders were male and nearly all were Khmer, but where trafficking was concerned, a slight majority was female and the majority was Khmer, though 38.1% (or 29 people) were foreign.

To summarise: according to ECPAT-Cambodia’s report, the bigger problem in Cambodia is rape, not trafficking; the main victims of both rape and trafficking are youth aged 13-17; and the offenders are overwhelmingly locals – where rape is concerned this is entirely the case, and where trafficking is concerned they comprise the majority.

Kyla Ryan’s article paints another picture. “Read The Diplomat, know the Asia-Pacific?” Hardly.

Epilogue

I said above that for argument’s sake, I would assume that the report by ECPAT-Cambodia is accurate, but I strongly recommend anyone truly interested in the subject to read further, because regardless of its wording or use of percentages, the report does provide a number of interesting facts, e.g. who was classified as recruiter/trafficker – included were owners or employees of brothels or massage parlours – or the reasons why “92% of victims agreed to go with the recruiter” – 29.2% stated they “wanted money to buy things” – or that “the majority knowingly entered sex work”. Admittedly, 42.1% said they were promised other occupations and then forced into sex work. One mustn’t discount, however, that some respondents might well have hesitated to admit they knowingly entered sex work, for fear of the stigmatisation they would face as a result of that. By suggesting that, I certainly do not mean to dismiss any actual cases of sexual exploitation. But equally, one must not ignore that due to the stigma attached to sex work, people selling sex frequently experience discrimination and violence, which even extends to their children and other family members, exacerbating their health risks and isolation and depriving them of their basic human rights.

Matthias Lehmann is a doctoral researcher at Queen’s University Belfast. His prior research and field work dealt with human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and human rights violations against sex workers in South Korea. His current research focuses on prostitution legislation in Germany. His blogs can be found here and here.

Very internet woman. Wow.

By Jane Ruffino. Reblogged from medium.com

I’ve been part of online communities since 1994, and, as far as I know, yesterday was the only time I’ve ever received a “hotness” rating. Some Silicon Valley brogrammers behind a site called GirlsOnAMap rated me a 4.2 out of 10. Even I was surprised that this score didn’t upset me. Because wow. So dudebros don’t think I’m good enough for their wingmen to neg? Very boring. Maybe that’s because posting a picture of me without my permission, and then revealing my location (which they got wrong anyway), is a little too worrying for me to worry that some frat boy wants me to think I’m ugly. Such not the problem.

Read more…

Does legal prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany?

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Does legal prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany?

Guest post by Matthias Lehmann and Sonja Dolinsek

[In the Irish campaign to criminalise sex workers’ clients, supporters of this proposal have regularly pointed to the German experience as “proof” of the failure of legalisation – despite the fact that Germany’s model is not actually advocated by anyone in the Irish debate. A recent article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel appeared to provide support for the view that legalisation has failed, and this has been picked up on and quoted by campaigners for criminalisation in Ireland. In this post, translated by the authors from the original German, two Berlin-based researchers explain what Der Spiegel got wrong.]

Last week, leading German news magazine DER SPIEGEL published a cover story – now published in English – on the alleged failure of the German prostitution law (ProstG) which rendered the State complicit in human trafficking. The deeply flawed report fails, however, to address numerous relevant aspects of human trafficking prevention and prosecution, including victim protection. It also fails to insert much needed factual evidence into the broader global debate on human trafficking, which is also about labor rights, migration, sustainable supply chains and human rights. DER SPIEGEL thus contributes to a very narrow debate on human trafficking and to the wrong debate around sex work.

Our blog post is based on a longer critique published in German on the blog “menschenhandel heute”. In this shorter version, we would like to critically engage with the international community on the difficult relationship between trafficking and sex work.

The myth of legalization

Prostitution, understood as the selling of sexual services, has been legal in Germany since 1927. In addition, Germany’s sex workers have been obliged to pay taxes since 1964. The new prostitution law of 2002 changed some aspects pertaining to the legal relationship between sex workers and clients and some criminal law provisions. It recognized the contract between sex workers and clients as legal and introduced the rights of sex workers to sue clients unwilling to pay for sexual services already provided. In addition, sex workers received the right to health insurance and social security. The law also forbids the right of direction (Weisungsrecht) by the employer in cases where a sex worker is employed at a brothel, for instance. In this way, a sex worker would always be able to determine to which sexual practices she or he would agree or not. What is misleadingly called the ”legalization“ of prostitution is actually the recognition of sex work as labor.

However, the law has encountered opposition in the implementation process. Rather than the law itself, as DER SPIEGEL claims, it is the unwillingness of some German states to correctly implement the law. Germany’s federal structure requires every state to issue its own implementation directives, which, as political science professor Rebecca Pates explains, did not happen in states like Bavaria or Saxony. Pates argues that some states actually never implemented the new law due to moral reservations with regard to prostitution. “The ProstG might in fact have the distinction of being the only federal law intentionally not implemented by Germany’s public administration”, she states in her paper “Liberal Laws juxtaposed with rigid control: an analysis of the logics of governing sex work in Germany” (2012). Other researchers presented similar findings. Her claims are supported by an official government report of 2007 (a shorter English version can be found here), which identifies the political unwillingness to implement the law as a reason for its failure. DER SPIEGEL’s analysis ignores this fact.

Technically speaking, prostitution is not legal everywhere in Germany. Most states prohibit prostitution in areas close to schools, churches, hospitals or residential areas, and most cities have defined restricted areas (Sperrbezirke) and times, where and when prostitution is not allowed. Some cities declare the whole city a restricted area, mostly with the exception of dark and dangerous outskirts, or allow prostitution only during the night. Furthermore, most states prohibit prostitution in cities with less than 30,000 inhabitants. This makes prostitution de facto illegal in most places and at most times, and sex workers receive fines or jail sentences if they violate the restrictions. In addition, sex work is not allowed for non-EU nationals (third country nationals), who would breach their residency requirements, if they engaged in prostitution. Non-EU nationals engaging in sex work are thus criminalized and made vulnerable not by the law, but because they are excluded from the law. Therefore, the incomplete legalization of prostitution may be the actual reason why the German prostitution law is failing its purpose to protect sex workers on the one hand, and why, on the other hand, most victims of human trafficking are from third countries.

“Pimping” in Germany and the war with numbers

New criminal law provisions were introduced with the reform. As DER SPIEGEL correctly points out, the criminal offence “promotion of prostitution” was replaced with “exploitation of prostitutes”. In his response to the Spiegel’s cover story, Thomas Stadler, attorney at law, explains:

‘The claim that procuration would only then be a criminal offence if it was “exploitative” or “organized in a dirigiste manner”, which is hardly verifiable, is tendentious, at the very least. According to prevailing legal norms, those activities are deemed as procuration (“pimping”) where someone exploits a person that works as a prostitute, controls this person’s work to gain pecuniary advantages, dictates the place, time, degree or other circumstances of this work or takes measures to prevent this person from exiting prostitution that go beyond an isolated incidence. Insofar, there might be individual cases, just as in other criminal proceedings, where evidence is hard to come by. One has to ask, however, what procuration actually is and how the legislator is supposed to define it. According to previous legal norms, cases could be built on the establishment of a pleasant atmosphere, which rendered virtually anyone a “pimp” that had some sort of function in a prostitute’s orbit. The decrease in convictions might therefore result from the removal of juridical measures that were questionable in the first place. And that surely wouldn’t be a step backwards.’

In addition, the new criminal offence of “human trafficking for sexual exploitation“ was introduced. As Stadler points out:

Human trafficking is certainly a criminal offence. In §232 StGB, the criminal code even contains its own article that deals with human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The level of the penalty ranges between six months and 10 years. Introduced in 2005, this article is a considerable increase from the previous regulation, §180b StGB, both with regards to content and the penalty range. Since this article includes the so-called “forced prostitution”, the actual topic of the SPIEGEL article, the message of DER SPIEGEL’s cover is entirely incorrect. A sincere report should rather have pointed out that the legislator introduced considerably tougher laws to penalize “forced prostitution” in 2005. Therefore, to claim that the State promotes trafficking in women and prostitution is absurd. The opposite is true. The legislator increased penalties for “forced prostitution” and human trafficking.

Thus, with a strengthening of labor rights for sex workers came a stronger criminal law, making the exploitation of sex workers as well as human trafficking for sexual exploitation criminal offences.

DER SPIEGEL suggests that the case of 16-year old Sina, forced to work in a flat-rate brothel, is a typical example illustrating the failure of the German prostitution law, since the law would not protect her. However, employing a person less than 18 years of age at a brothel is a criminal offence under German law. Thus, Sina’s situation is not one that the prostitution law aims to address, and therefore, the law does not fail her in this regard. The failure of the legal system towards her situation and towards other victims of exploitation must lie somewhere else.

Contrary to DER SPIEGEL, the number of convictions for “pimping” did neither decrease nor increase in statistically significant ways with the new law. DER SPIEGEL claims 32 identified “pimps” were convicted in 2011, as opposed to 151 in 2000. An official government reply to a parliamentary enquiry from 1997, however, shows that low convictions for “pimping” were actually a trend: in 1994, there were only 39 convictions for “pimping”. Numbers from the federal statistics bureau suggest similar developments.

According to official statistics, the number of officially identified victims of human trafficking decreased significantly in the past fifteen to twenty years. The same government reply from 1997 mentioned 1,196 victims of human trafficking in 1995 and 1,473 victims in 1996, while the statistics of the past four years on record show steady figures of an annual 610 to 710 victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, i.e. 640 victims in 2011.

Human trafficking for labor exploitation is also a criminal offence, which so far has failed, however, to attract much interest by the German public. Recent research has shown that, until recently, even counseling centers for victims of human trafficking were mostly unaware of the possibility of labor trafficking and unprepared to provide adequate support. The general lack of interest towards labor trafficking is reflected in the low number of identified victims: only 32 individuals in 2011.

So, where is the real problem?

DER SPIEGEL’s greatest omissions are victim protection and victims’ rights when it comes to human trafficking. A narrow focus on the prostitution law and sex work prevents the authors from dwelling into the more complex web of legal regulations that make the prosecution of cases of human trafficking difficult in Germany.

First, human trafficking cases are dependent upon the testimony of victims. If they are for some reason unwilling to cooperate with the police and do not wish to testify, their cases will most likely fall apart. Furthermore, psychological support for victims of human trafficking is very limited. In many cases police officers and investigators expect linear and consistent narratives from victims from the very beginning, and utterly fail taking into account any traumas they may have endured just moments before. Victims are therefore not only forced to narrate their experiences over and over again, while their traumas are well and alive, but will also have their credibility judged and refuted as potential witnesses, if for some reason their stories show inconsistencies.

Before we talk about the prostitution law, let’s talk about how (potential) victims of human trafficking are treated once encountered by the police, and let’s talk about how those practices may in fact reduce to a minimum the willingness to testify.

Second, most victims of human trafficking who are third country nationals or from Romania or Bulgaria are repatriated to their home countries after their testimony. If they do not testify or cooperate with the authorities at all, they will be deported immediately after a reflection period of three months. Many decry the unwillingness of victims to testify as one central reason for the failure of trafficking prosecution. So far, however, little has been done to encourage testimony and cooperation by strengthening victims’ rights. What DER SPIEGEL fails to understand is that a reform of the prostitution law would have no impact on this aspect whatsoever. By focusing on the victims, the authors risk tapping into a dangerous rhetoric of victim blaming, and thus miss how not the prostitution law but the German immigration law actually contributes to much of the vulnerability of migrant women who are victimized. Germany should rather look towards Italy, where victims of human trafficking are unconditionally granted a residency permit and can begin re-building their lives.

Last but not least, Germany and the German media have so far missed the opportunity to broaden the public debate on human trafficking and modern slavery to include labor trafficking, organ trafficking as well as labor exploitation in supply chains of large corporations. Instead, the term human trafficking is often equated with prostitution by the media, politicians and even activists, thus perpetuating a selection bias towards women in the sex industry. Victims of other genders or in other sectors run not only a very high risk of never being detected but also of not even being believed. In this sense, we believe DER SPIEGEL has failed its declared commitment towards human trafficking victims – as the majority are conveniently left out, while others, like self-determined (migrant) sex workers, simply are not victims of trafficking.

The story and representation of Carmen, a sex worker from Berlin

The German print version of DER SPIEGEL’s cover story also featured an inset profile about Carmen, a sex worker from Berlin. Carmen works as an escort as well as a sex workers’ rights activist, a role she also fulfills as member of the German Pirate Party. She reacted to the profile by publishing a counterstatement, in which she quoted the email exchange with DER SPIEGEL’s journalist prior to the interview and publication. Contrary to the agreed terms, Carmen writes, the profile dealt only marginally with her “thoughts about prostitution policies, the sex workers’ rights movement, the discrimination of sex workers” or other relevant subjects. Whereas Carmen had agreed to the interview to introduce “arguments instead of prejudices into the public debate about prostitution and allow insights into an occupation that most people have no access to”, 80 per cent of the eventual profile contained stereotypical descriptions of Carmen’s appearance and her escort website

“I am not prepared to be made a projection screen of any clichés. I will not answer any personal questions that concern aspects outside my work in prostitution/politics”, Carmen had written prior to the interview.

In addition, DER SPIEGEL had altered the photo that Carmen had provided to be featured. While blackening her face without her consent anonymized her, the color corrections effectively highlighted her décolleté, further adding to the overall tone of the article.

After Carmen’s statement had gone viral, the journalist published his own counterstatement on DER SPIEGEL’s blog, only to draw more criticism. Under the headline “An Escort Lady makes Politics: Be truthful”, he admitted the non-consensual alteration of the image but claimed it was done to protect Carmen’s privacy, even though she had not explicitly asked for any such changes. Where the article’s focus and tone were concerned, he invoked the freedom of the press.

Interestingly, DER SPIEGEL also tried to do damage control by sending customized tweets to those who had twittered Carmen’s statement, and for its international online publication, DER SPIEGEL then chose to omit Carmen’s profile entirely, thus removing the one voice, if poorly presented, opposing the cover story’s narrative that legalizing prostitution in Germany had failed.

DER SPIEGEL also published a photo series to support the article’s narrative, which included voyeuristic images, a photo of Christine Bergmann, Federal Minister of Family Affairs when the German prostitution law was passed (of whom no other picture seemed available as that in front of a sign about child abuse), an angelic picture of Swedish anti-prostitution activist Kajsa Ekis Ekman, and to counter that, an unflattering photo of Volker Beck, human rights spokesperson of the German Greens and a staunch supporter of sex workers’ rights.

About the authors:

Sonja Dolinsek is a graduate student in Contemporary History and Philosophy at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her research project focuses on the history of prostitution in the German Federal Republic since 1949, with a particular interest in the gendered construction of sex workers. She is also the founder and editor of the German news blog on human trafficking “menschenhandel heute”, where she critically engages with anti-trafficking discourses and practices. She also volunteers as a translator for PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Migrants). She lives in Berlin, Germany.

Matthias Lehmann is an independent German researcher currently based in Berlin after extensive stays in East Asia. A graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Kyung Hee University, he has conducted research and fieldwork in Thailand and South Korea. In 2012, he participated in the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata, official hub of the 2012 International AIDS Conference. His research focus lies on the collateral damage caused by anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution legislation, in particular where the rights of sex workers and migrants are concerned. With his on-going research project, he aims to add to the knowledge about the experiences of sex workers in South Korea.

Ten Things You Can Do to Stop Violence Against Women. By Jane Ruffino

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Jane Ruffino originally posted this on Facebook. Facebook took it down. Fuck you, Facebook.

Exactly a year ago, my then-boyfriend put me in a headlock and punched me until his hand shattered. The only reason I didn’t die on my bedroom floor on the night of May 3, 2012 is that he didn’t know where to put his thumb when he made a fist. It wasn’t the first time, nor, I’m sad to say, was it the last time, but it was the one he got caught for, and the one I can’t get sued for talking about.

He spent the night in a hospital, having his hand rebuilt with pins. I spent the night strapped to a trolley in a different hospital, having everything x-rayed. I left with stitches in my face and my blood-soaked clothes in a Dunnes Stores bag. He left the hospital five days later, in a cast, and with a diagnosis of “work and home stress”.

I still get concealer in my scar (and it is still sore), and I’m still not totally safe, but I’ve started to rebuild my life, and it’s getting pretty good. But while my life improves, dudes are still beating up women.

As much as I’d like to shut up about this and have people stop identifying me with something that happened to me, it’s not that common for an abuser to be convicted. I’m in a position to do something that many women are not, so I’ll keep talking until dudes stop beating up women.

We all know victims, so we all know perpetrators. It’s always someone you wish it weren’t. Believe me, I know this better than anyone.

Even though you can’t make a relationship with a violent dickhead safe for his girlfriend (or possibly for any woman), we can make the world safer for women by making it harder to get away with cracking our faces open.

Here’s some of what I think we need to do differently.

1. Swap your sympathy for empathy, and get angry: Nothing could get better for me until I got really angry, and empathy helped me get there. Empathising with me means you’ll stop asking me why I stayed, and assume that, like with any violent crime, it could happen to anyone. Empathising with him means you accept that it’s done by seemingly normal human beings, and not by easily identifiable monsters.

I do appreciate the “Sorry for your troubles”, but I’d rather you be angry with me than sad on my behalf. I know the sympathy comes from the right place, but it can feel a little like a pat on the head, and even a bit isolating. We live in a world where you can beat your girlfriend nearly to death and walk out of a criminal court straight into a pub for a burger and a pint. That should piss you right the fuck off, so if you don’t think it’s my fault, then don’t make it all my responsibility.

2. Trust us: Women like me lose the ability to trust ourselves, and we don’t often speak believably about what’s happening until it’s well in the past. Even I sometimes don’t believe me. And yes, we all take them back. It seems to have undermined my credibility with a lot of people, forever. Because hey, if I hadn’t been exaggerating all along, then why would I take someone back after he put me in the hospital?

I managed to gloss over the time I woke up with a pillow being pushed to my face. I didn’t want to believe he was capable of it any more than you did, so you should probably trust that I’m not going to make this shit up.

3. Start calling bullshit: Does your friend, your brother, your colleague insist that his girlfriend or wife is“batshit crazy”? Does she sound like a wild-eyed shrieking harpy who is totally ruining his life? I’ll tell you something: having the shit slapped out of you makes you a little crazy. Five weeks after I contacted his family to ask them to help him, I was in the hospital with a busted face. They hadn’t believed me because they’d been told I was crazy. I’m not, by the way, which I feel the need to say because trauma does all sorts of things to you, whether or not you ever get your face broken. But maybe if someone had started calling his bullshit years ago, he wouldn’t have ended up the way he is, and I would not have to rebuild my life and my sense of self.

Try it. Next time some guy says “She’s crazy”, assume what he really means is, “I’m an enormous dickhead with no respect for women.”

4. Stop looking for the truth: My account is true and real, and verified in a criminal court, but his account also represents a world he truly lived in. The fact is, we were both delusional. He believed I was a monstrous asshole, and I thought if I stopped being such a monstrous asshole, he would stop throwing things at my head and be the loving boyfriend he promised he’d be – if I only changed a few more things about myself.

It’s a Venn diagram, where the overlapping bit was “Jane is an irredeemable piece of shit”. It’s when I started insisting I was a worthy human being, when the punches and the slaps would start. You can rearrange the data points all you like, and get a hundred different versions, but there is no grey area between two overarching perspectives where you’ll find the truth you’re looking for. That crisscrossing of narratives applies to normal human relationships, but these were two competing and incompatible narratives, neither of which were rational.

This was a situation where I was trying to have a normal relationship with someone who once threw a pint of beer over me to prove he wasn’t an alcoholic. OK, so maybe that is a little crazy.

5. Let go of the checklist: You know the one. You Google “emotional abuse” because someone was a dick to you, and there it is. It’s a useful guide, perhaps, but you can’t identify abuse through a Cosmo quiz. Yes, abusers fit a profile, and in some ways, they’re all the damn same. They all try to smash your computer. They all put your phone through a wall. They all search your fucking email. And they all cry and beg for your love right after you’ve cleaned up the glass they smashed at your feet.

But there are times when we all fit the more minor things on those checklists. I’m talking about the name-calling, the voice-raising, the times we manipulate and goad and cajole our partners; it’s not OK, but it doesn’t make your relationship an abusive one. I’ve seen you cringe and turn all confessional when I tell you about things he did -– you’re like me, trying to make absolutely sure the same terrible tendencies aren’t in you. Every one of us probably has the capacity to turn into despots, or become complicit in terrible acts. Being mean doesn’t make us despots, but covering up domestic violence does make us complicit.

Working only from a checklist makes it easy to ignore the enormous difference between acting like a dick in an argument, and wanting absolute power over your partner. I’d hate to add up the amount of money I spent on therapy, desperately trying to understand if I was really the abuser all along. Until one day the penny dropped: sometimes I am a fucking asshole,but that doesn’t make me an abuser. Maybe this is obvious to you, but it was news to me. And yes, I still feel the need to prove it over and over, and I’ll never fully believe it myself.

Even I’m still looking for the truth, and I’m never going to find it.

6. Get over your need to diagnose: We live in a pathology-obsessed world. “He sounds like a psychopath.” “That’s sociopathic!” “How totally psychotic!” “Is he bipolar?” I don’t know, and frankly, unless you’re his doctor, it’s neither your place nor my place to slap a diagnosis on someone based on my description of him, especially given the bias I have since he cracked my face open like an egg.

Diagnosis is also what he used on me, as part of his pattern. I was Google-diagnosed with everything from premenstrual dysphoria to narcissistic sociopathy to -– wait for it -– Munchausen’s By Proxy (I told him I thought he drank too much). I think diagnoses are partly a form of excuse-making, but also, sometimes people are just assholes.

If you want to ask what diagnosis is most likely for him, try to be satisfied with “gigantic piece of shit”.

7. Focus on the perpetrator: Outside of gender-based violence, is there any other crime where the focus is so much on the victim that the criminal becomes practically invisible? Remember his name; forget mine: his name is Mark Patrick Kenneth Jordan and he broke his hand off my face. I get that it comes from a good place when you say I’m the last person you’d think it could happen to, but there’s an uncomfortable implication that it had more to do with me than it did with him.

In fact, he used my outward confidence to his advantage; it made me less believable, and it made people question me. Because rather than seeing me as the sort of person who sends work emails with my neck strapped to an emergency-room trolley, my ability to cope made me look suspicious. I don’t know what’s more humiliating: knowing people think I’m a domineering and irredeemable asshole, or people knowing how easily I caved on just about everything.

But until we shift the discussion from “Why do so many women get abused?” to “Why do so many men beat their partners?” it will continue to be a sympathy-driven discourse that puts the onus on the victim to stop getting her ass kicked.

8. Cut out the platitudes: It’s not that I don’t understand what you mean by “There’s nothing you could have done” or “Nobody deserves it” or “Even if you were batshit crazy” – I get it, but those phrases are meaningless. When I say that I want to find out why I am afraid of spiders but not the guy who smashed a door to splinters with his bare hands, I’m not blaming myself for staying. When I talk about the things I did wrong, I’m not blaming myself, I’m actually kind of revelling in the fact that I’m now safe to be a complicated and flawed human being without getting a smack for it. Just respect my intelligence and my agency, and accept that I am able to grasp the complex dynamics; I still want to understand why I had such terrible risk assessment.

I think that people are pretty good, generally, that most people try to do the right thing, but platitudes are part of an “I don’t want to get involved” attitude. You’re involved, like it or not. You think I wanted to be involved?

Stop spouting cliches and talk for real. As long as what you say isn’t worse than “you fisheyed c*nt”, you can be sure I’ve heard worse.

9. Stop raising awareness and start demanding consequences: The week of Mark’s sentencing, Women’s Aid did a balloon launch. Women’s Aid is an indispensible organization that does great work, but what does PR fluff achieve? How much more aware of violence against women do you need to be before you do something? And are we so afraid of women’s anger that our own organisations are resorting to nice-girl complacency?

Pretty much every one of my calls to the cops – even with a barring order in place – was met with dismissiveness and impatience. They won’t start taking women like me seriously until the community makes it impossible to get away with beating us up.

It’s a crime against the state, which means the victim is only a witness. Violence against women is a crime against you.

10. Don’t hit women: It’s statistically likely that some of you reading this hit your partners, or will eventually. If this is you, then, hey – go fuck yourself.

Why childbirth should be on the feminist agenda in Ireland

Guest post by Sylda Dwyer

The day before Mother’s Day in an emergency Saturday sitting, a High Court judge was asked to compel a pregnant woman to undergo a Caesarean section. According to an affidavit presented in court, Waterford Regional Hospital believed that because the woman was 13 days overdue by their calculations, had a scar on her uterus from a previous C-section and the position of the baby’s head was high, a Caesarean was required. As the woman was refusing to consent to the procedure, the hospital sought an order to enforce the C-section immediately.

The judge heard evidence from the locum consultant obstetrician attending the woman and one other consultant obstetrician from the same hospital who gave his evidence over the phone. No independent or third party opinions were heard. The woman was represented in court by a solicitor paid for by the hospital. Her voice – undisputedly the most important in this potentially precedent-setting case – was absent. We do not know her reasoning for refusing the section except that it was not on religious grounds as the judge sought clarification on this.

We do know the following:

– she believed the hospital had miscalculated her due date and was in fact due on 18 March

– her husband was overseas and therefore unable to support her

– she has a son who was born in 2010 by Caesarean section

– she wanted to deliver this baby naturally

– she was prepared to undergo a C-section if an emergency arose or if the surgery took place on the Sunday or Monday when her husband would be back in the country.

Just minutes before the judge was due to make his ruling, word arrived from the hospital that the woman had consented and that a spinal anaesthetic had been administered. It is unlikely that we will ever know how the judge would have ruled. Either decision would have been a significant landmark in human rights in childbirth in Ireland.

A ruling in favour of the enforced C-section could have potentially opened up the floodgates to medical professionals turning to the courts when coming up against resistance from women who disagreed with hospital policies such as induction and active labour management. Such a ruling would essentially take the decision making power of a pregnant woman out of her hands and in the process remove her right to body autonomy in contravention of her human rights, a situation not unfamiliar to Irish women.

A ruling in favour of the mother would have been a boost to the recognition of a woman’s right to bodily integrity and to make informed decisions about her healthcare during pregnancy, something that is sorely needed in Ireland at the moment.

Either way, this emergency sitting had huge implications for maternity care and women’s human rights in this country.

It is also worth noting that the absence of a ruling meant that no woman in this country has yet been subjected to a court-enforced Caesarean birth against her will and this is cause for celebration. Although it is a dark day for pregnant women’s rights that the situation arose at all, we should be thankful that the horrors that might unfold in a forced C-section have not been realised. One can only imagination the long term negative implications such a birth would have on the baby and its traumatised mother.

So what happened next?

Outside of a couple of articles from the Irish Times, who initially broke the story on Saturday, an excellent opinion piece from Victoria White in the Examiner and some cursory pieces in a smattering of online and print outlets, the media has been deafeningly silent on this case. Apart from reporting the facts that presented themselves in court, no analysis or questioning of the case has been published. No one has asked why an independent expert opinion wasn’t sought, no one has asked why the woman was insistent on refusing consent, no one has queried the fact that one of the consultants claimed that Caesarean sections are “almost risk free”. It would appear that we’re all relieved that this messy business has been neatly swept under the carpet.

There has been no public outcry or a rallying of the troops to support this woman who played such a strong hand to defend her bodily integrity and human rights when most would have conceded to the pressures. In fact, rather than the sound of supporting voices, the loudest noise has been the feverish tapping on keyboards and smartphones as boards, forums and social media have lit up with other women condemning this new mother for daring to question her medical advice, calling her a reckless, selfish, stupid, dangerous, incense-burning hippy who deserves to have her child taken from her.

Rather than an outpouring of sympathy for a woman who felt she knew her own body and her baby best, many believe that the medical opinion was sacrosanct and beyond reproach and therefore the court should have ruled that she be subject to a forced Caesarean. By all accounts, the majority of the female online community have judged that the pregnant woman was fully entitled to bodily integrity and to make decisions about her body and her baby, just as long as they were the “correct’ decisions as deemed by her doctor.

Is seems that as a nation we are happy to accept that there is only one truth to birth and that is the medical system’s truth. Rather than question the policy practices of the Irish maternity system, which prioritises managing as many women through the system as it can, as fast as it can, over the health and wellbeing of mothers and their babies, we are happy to accept routine interventions which often directly lead to complications and traumatic birth experiences with long term health consequences, both physical and psychological.

We have a birth culture in Ireland where women accept that their birth process can be decided on by a medical practitioner. Hospitals dictate when a woman’s labour starts, how is starts, and whether its going fast enough according to a one-size-fits-all policy. Inductions convenient to hospital diaries, but not to a woman whose body simply isn’t quite ready to give birth yet, often fail leading to Caesarean sections that could have been completely avoided if the woman had been given a few extra days for her body to be ready to give birth.

Women already in labour who are deemed not to be progressing sufficiently fast enough to hospital policy, although their body is going at a pace that is working for both mother and baby, have their labour speeded up which can lead to both maternal and foetal distress. Episiotomies, surgically planned incisions of the perineum, are often performed without seeking a woman’s consent and in some cases in spite of her refusal. There is a time and a place for all of these interventions where they are positive and useful tools in successful birth outcomes. The issue is that they have become standard practice without medical indication.

In recent years a whole industry has developed around dealing with the fall out of women’s – and babies – negative birth experiences. Traumatic birth counsellors with expertise in post natal depression and post traumatic stress disorder, cranio-sacral osteopaths, women’s health physiotherapists and perineal specialists are part of mainstream healthcare. These practitioners provide a necessary and important service but surely there are questions to be asked about why so many women and their babies will require these services in the first instance?

Why is it that when the vast majority of pregnancies in Ireland are considered low risk, do we have such a high incidence of intervention and medicalised birth? Why do we accept that giving birth is something horrific that has to be endured as long as we end up with a healthy mother and baby? Who decides what the definition of healthy is? It would appear that we set that standard as simply still being alive, and to hell with the immediate and long term consequences of trauma caused by a medical interventionalist model. It is a low bar.

We unquestionably go along with hospital policies that are put in place to manage the number of women passing through maternity hospital doors and to protect medical professionals against litigation rather than for the best interest of mothers and babies. Rather than allowing labours to begin spontaneously and to progress at a natural pace for the comfort and safety of both mother and baby, hospitals hold full control over the birth process. This model of maternity care is the only example in the healthcare sector of maintaining such control. In any other medical situation, the patient has full control in the decision making process and can walk away without consequence if they don’t consent to medical recommendations. In this same context, it’s worth noting that pregnancy is not an illness, rather a natural physiological process, until medical complications arise.

Given that there are so many births in Ireland every year and child bearing is experienced by so many women, why is childbirth completely ignored by the feminist movement? . We rally to defend the rights of women in early pregnancy to choose how they want their pregnancy to proceed, as we should. Yet there is something about the birth process itself that we have marginalised and dismissed.

When uninterrupted, pregnancy and birth can be a life-affirming, empowering, peaceful and private experience that can result in positive outcomes for both mother and child, including in the post-partum bonding and healing process. So why do we allow it to be taken from us and controlled? The current system of maternity care, while populated with many excellent medical professionals, has administration, logistics and litigation management as its focus rather than mother-led care. Until freedom of choice in childbirth is put front and centre as a priority of the feminist movement in Ireland, alongside pro-choice and equality policies, cases like this High Court sitting will become de rigour and women’s rights in childbirth will continue to be eroded.

Related articles:

Woman agrees to Caesarean after hospital goes to court – Irish Times

Sadly, Ireland doesn’t know best in Ireland’s rigid childbirth regime – Victoria White, Irish Examiner

Caesarean Section Refusal in Ireland – Human Rights in Ireland

No country for pregnant women – AIMS Ireland

Giving birth is a feminist issue – Mind the Baby

Irish hospital prepared to forcibly perform C-section on non consenting woman – Allergic to Patriarchy

NHS NICE Caesarean Guidelines

Sylda Dwyer blogs at http://www.mindthebaby.ie

On International Women’s Day

Posted on

This is all.

Happy International Women’s Day. My feminism is intersectional. Solidarity with women of colour, queer & trans* women, and sex workers.

— + Yvonne Aburrow (@vogelbeere) March 8, 2013