Archive for the 'Violence' Category

7/7: Five years on

NS July 7th, 2010

I’m a little surprised that I haven’t read more about this in papers and on blogs today.

It’s been five years since bombs tore through London’s Underground and on a single bus, killing 52 innocent people and injuring 700 more. It also marks five years since London became ingrained into every little nook and cranny of my soul and confirmed my love for and devotion to this city.

I’ve told the story before of where I was that day and what kind of emotional impact it had and continues to have on me. So I won’t tell it again. But I will never forget.

To the families of those killed on 7 July 2005, and those living with the scars and pain left behind, know you are in my thoughts and my heart today, and always.

Wanted: an end to rape

NS January 12th, 2010

Warning: may be triggering to sexual assault survivors

Imagine you broke up with your boyfriend, a US Marine, and some time later found an ad on Craigslist that he has posted, pretending to be you, in which he said that you wanted to be raped and were looking for a man to fulfill your ‘fantasy.’ Imagine you got the ad taken down and reported it to police and though undoubtedly disgusted and shaken, thought that was the end of it.

Now imagine that before the ad was removed, a man contacted the email address it had listed, offering his services in fulfilling your ‘rape fantasy. ‘ Your ex and this man then carried out lengthy instant messaging conversations in which the man posing as you, the one with whom you used to be in a relationship and you once cared about, gave explicit instructions on how you wanted to be assaulted (“humiliation, physical abuse, sexual abuse”) and told this stranger where you lived.

Then, imagine your worst nightmare comes true. A stranger breaks into your home:  binds, blindfolds and gags you; and then rapes you while holding a knife to your throat, as instructed by your former lover from where he lives, on a military base in California.

Sound like a plot from a soap opera or a bad porno movie? Oh, how I wish I could tell you it was.

This actually happened, just last month, to a 25-year-old woman in Wyoming. Her attacker faces charges of first-degree sexual assault, first-degree burglary and first-degree kidnapping. Her ex-boyfriend is being charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit sexual assault.

Not surprisingly, her ex, Jebidiah James Stipe, 27, was in the process of being dismissed from the military for an “undisclosed pattern of misconduct” at the time of his arrest, Marine Corp officials said. I would not be surprised at all if that “pattern of misconduct” included threats, intimidation, insubordination, physical violence, sexual assault and/or sexual harrassment; most likely towards females he worked with and for. The kind of hatred towards women that would allow a man to arrange the brutal rape of his ex-girlfriend would undoutedly be hard to keep hidden from other females who crossed his path.

But what I find so disturbing about this story is not only the incredibly heinous and illegal actions of Jebidiah Stipe, but those of the man who agreed to carry out the sexual assault on his behalf. I know that there will be some who say: “But he was just answering what he believed to be a legitimate ad! He thought he was just fulfilling this kinky lady’s fantasy! He only did what ‘she’ asked him to!” and I’m not sure if legally this guy will have a leg to stand on with that argument (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it held up, given some of the ridiculous defenses rapists and their attorneys have used in the past), but this much is clear:

This man, Ty McDowell, 26, was only able to believe that this woman ‘wanted’ to be raped because he believes that those two things are able to mutually exist. Only in a culture that excuses and diminishes all but the most overt, violent forms of sexual assault was McDowell able to convince himself that he was merely fulfilling a not-all-that-uncommon fantasy; one that many women are too embarrassed or scared to admit they harbor. ‘No’  doesn’t always mean no, apparently; it also sometimes means ‘Yes please, and do it harder!’ according to popular myth.

And who can blame him for making this mistake, really? McDowell has undoubtedly grown up watching violent, degrading pornography in which women’s bodies are ‘taken’ and men are the ones ‘giving’ it to them, as if female sexuality and autonomy were commodities as common and worthless as coffee mugs or scented candles in the office Secret Santa gift exchange. He’s undoubtedly heard his peers make jokes about sexual assault and seen rape trials unfold where the victim’s character and whether she really said No (and forcefully enough, to boot) were called into question and made her out to be a woman who, in the end, didn’t want to stop the unwanted sex badly enough or who wanted it all along but felt too ashamed to give in and say Yes outright.

Ty McDowell grew up in a culture that objectifies women to the point where we can’t even buy running shoes without making it all about tits and ass and how fuckable we are to men. He grew up in a society where a sizeable portion of the population think a woman is at least partially (if not totally) at fault for her rape if she had been drinking, had flirted with her assailant before the attack or was wearing ‘revealing’ clothing. He grew up in a place where a ‘sex robot’ can be invented, constructed, demonstrated and sold by ‘normal’ people and publicised in mainstream media markets without a disturbed eyelash being batted [I won't post a link to the video here but needless to say it is grotesque; not only is it misogynist but also plain creepy, with references to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and with one of the robot's 'personalities' describing her death].

Though it would be easy to dismiss this as just another bizarre, one-off creation, that this kind of thing is only a ‘joke’ or for ‘losers’, it shows just how inconsequential and disposable some men think women’s bodies are and what little importance they place on our thoughts, feelings and rights to ourselves. That some would rather have sex with a doll than bother to do the work in forming an authentic, consenting sexual bond with a real, live woman is exactly the kind of view that contributes to the dehumanization of women and, in turn, the proliferation of  rape culture. It leads to a world where a man can, with the mere placement of an ad, leave a woman’s body violated and her life in pieces. And that kind of world scares (and angers) the hell out of me.

Letter to self, age 11

NS December 7th, 2009

letter slot

Subsequent to the last post published here, which was from an anonymous guest blogger and was a continuation of a meme involving writing letters to our 16-year-old selves, I decided that I’d like to do one myself. But when I tried to think of what wisdom I should impart to my teenaged self, I realised that the one I’d like to give the most advice to is my 11-year-old self. So if you’ll excuse this bending of the rules, read on.

___________________________________________________________

Dear A****,

It’s been two years since your younger sister died. Your mother still cries at random intervals and at others closes herself off from everyone around her, retreating into a shell of grief, rage and sorrow, the blackness and depths of which you will hopefully never experience yourself. Though you grieve too, know that her grief is different from yours –  all-encompassing, far-reaching and infinte. You alternate between helplessness and uncertainty — wishing you could do or say something to soothe her burning heart — and self-righteousness and anger, feeling that your childhood is merely being gotten through and survived rather than treasured and observed. Be patient with her. She still loves you. This will make you stonger.

You struggle to know your place in the family now that  you are no longer the middle child but the youngest. Every time you argue with one of your parents you weep afterwards, either with regret that you upset them further or with a bitter indignation that you should be worrying about their feelings instead of your own and tiptoeing around the hole in your family where your sister used to be. Allow yourself to be selfish at times without beating yourself up with guilt; you’ve faced some harsh realities in life already and selflessness isn’t a prerequisite to being a good person, especially when you are a child.

You will think that your older sister is perfect and that everyone wants you to be more like her, with her straight As and ‘nice’ friends and involvement in school activities. You will not do as well in school as she does, mostly out of laziness and partly out of boredom, but a) don’t think you aren’t smart just because you don’t have perfect grades and b) don’t mistake good grades for a goody two-shoes — your older sister is one of the most fun, funniest and most generous people you will ever meet so don’t think you have nothing in common with her or that you’ll never be friends. She will eventually become so dear to your heart and such an invaluable confidante that you couldn’t imagine your life without her.

You are starting to realise, even though it’s not really discussed, that your parents are having money problems. Both of them are working, and will continue to work, part-time jobs on top of their full-time ones in order to give you and and your older sister the things you want and need. You will cry when, next year on your birthday, your dad gives you a card made from a brown paper bag with a picture of a stereo taped to the inside with a note from him promising that after just a few more payments, it will be yours. You will keep that card forever and look at it whenever you think of what it means to sacrifice for love. It will also quell the rampant consumerism that threatens to completely take over many teens and sow the seeds of minimalism and ‘making do’ that you try to live by later in life.

One night later this year, when you’re at a sleepover at one of your close friend’s house, she and two other close friends will confide a deep, dark secret to you. They will ask you for your help and you will know what to do. You will hold them as they cry and understand when they retreat emotionally, because the messenger often gets shot. You will talk to child psychologists and police officers as their abuser goes to trial. You will receive a threatening phone call from him before he begins his prison sentence, which will have you looking over your shoulder for the next ten years.

In your teenage years you will watch two of these friends struggle to understand their sexuality and confuse sex with love and acceptance; the other will go through severe anorexia and body dysmorphia and you will have to unplug her treadmill before she passes out in the midst of an exercise frenzy. This will be your first taste of what sexual violence does to girls and women, and of the severe consequences that last a lifetime. You will get angry. Don’t be afraid of that anger; hold onto it but learn to understand and control it — it will lead you to a passion for social justice and activism for women and, aside from writing, will be your life’s calling.

The writing, the writing, the writing. You have just started writing poetry in the journal your parents gave you for Christmas. It sparks something urgent and indescribable in the depths of your soul and you will spend countless hours in the years ahead with a pen gripped between your fingers and your back hunched over a sheaf of papers and, later, a keyboard. Your classmates, teachers and family will soon start to tell you that you’re good at it and encourage you to write more. This will result in speech awards, poetry and articles published in the school paper and, eventually, eulogies for two of your friends at their funerals. You will dream of writing a book that touches and inspires people, of having such a way with words that people get lost inside them, moved to tears or action or both. You will discover that you want to see the world and change it and will begin planning your global travels and humanitarian work. As it stands now, you won’t have quite made it there on either count but don’t let that deter you. Both are great goals.

Pretty soon you will begin going to parties and drinking and, when you are about 17, experimenting with drugs. You will have an absolute whale of a time and make some great memories, but when someone at a party offers you a powdered white substance on a mirror, turn them down. Walk away and never look back, because you come so close to losing yourself to it. You’ll know it’s time to stop when you do it in the morning before class, pawn your jewellery and cry when you run out. Learn how to have a good time but don’t ever let yourself creep out on that ledge again. Many people aren’t so lucky as to talk themselves down.

If you think life is all doom and gloom — don’t. In 10 years’ time you will be married to a wonderful Englishman and living in London. Yes, THAT London, and it will be as fabulous as you could possibly imagine. Five years after that you will become a mother for the first time and begin a new phase in your life. Two and a half years after your daughter arrives, you will give birth to your son, unmedicated, in your dining room (yes, it will be planned that way!) and it will be the most intense, primal and spiritual thing you have ever experienced. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed of this — it will change you and give you physical and mental strength you didn’t know you had. After you’ve done that you will feel you can do anything.

You will find mothering challenging, exasperating, depressing, thrilling, fulfilling and about five thousand different kinds of wonderful. You will beat yourself up when you err or lose your temper or fail to live up to expectations you have been conditioned to believe must be met, but don’t waste the energy. You will love your children and do the best you can with what you’ve got and, really, that’s all that matters.

Be well. Look after yourself. Have fun. Be a child. Never stop caring about others and never stop using your voice, in your life and in your writing, to try to affect change. You may not think they matter, but they do. Oh, how they do.

Love,

Me (30 years and five-and-a-half months)

Photo credit

Women’s Aid charity single

NS November 25th, 2009

TakeMyHandHome

I’ve never done any PR on this site before, mainly because I’ve never received a request that I could really get behind. I don’t want to help people sell more of whatever stuff they’re peddling unless it’s something I genuinely find extra-special or if it’s for a cause I believe in. I don’t even bother replying to ones wanting me to promote this or that DVD or pair of shoes or children’s clothing line. So it was with great pleasure when I read an email asking me to help promote a charity single for Women’s Aid, to celebrate 35 years of the fantastic work they do, and released today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which I wrote about yesterday.

Please, take a moment to read more about how you can help Women’s Aid raise some much-needed funds by simply downloading their new charity single on iTunes, for only 79p. I’ve never asked anything monetary of my readers before (and it’s not something I plan on doing very often), but I would be so pleased if I could help such a vital organisation, particularly in light of what happened to me last weekend and the much worse things that  happen to women all over the UK and all over the world, every day.

Thank you.

Women’s Aid release charity single Take My Hand

On Wednesday 25th November 2009, national charity Women’s Aid is celebrating 35 years of working to end violence against women and children by releasing their first charity single, ‘Take My Hand’.

The song has been written especially for the charity to help them raise vital funds to support abused women and children.

The single, which is being released to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, is sung by 13 year old classical singer Olivia Aaron, with Natasha Benjamin, a real-life survivor of domestic violence.

The song is based on the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8, ‘Sonata Pathétique’ and its lyrics are an expression of the emotions experienced by children and young people affected by domestic abuse.

Women’s Aid Chief Executive, Nicola Harwin CBE, said:

“Take My Hand has been written especially for Women’s Aid and reflects the words of families that have survived abuse. The song reflects hope for a future free from violence and we hope it will reach out to those affected by domestic violence as well as the wider public. We want to raise awareness of the support available and raise vital funds so that we can continue to provide these services.”

Domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women at some point in their lifetime and recent statistics[1] from the Women’s Aid Annual Survey show that last year an estimated 18,000 women and 20,000 children lived in refuge accommodation in Women’s Aid’s national network of services.

The launch of Take My Hand on the 25th November marks the beginning of Women’s Aid’s activities to mark the ’16 days of Action’, where the charity will ask the public to help them take action against violence against women and children. For more information on the ‘16 Days of Action’, go to www.womensaid.org.uk from the 15th November.

To buy Take My Hand for 79p, please go to www.womensaid.org.uk/takemyhand

Natasha’s story:

‘I was only with my boyfriend for three weeks when he started to become verbally aggressive. The first time he got aggressive I thought I must have said something that upset him and he went mad. He started throwing things at the walls, even a wine glass that had red wine in it. As I left the room he continued to throw things after me and a glass plate just missed my face.

The first time I did try to get help I was told to leave him, but it was not that easy. When it happened again I told no one, firstly from sheer embarrassment, and later from fear.

One night I woke up with his foot on my face and my boyfriend saying he was going to stamp on me. I had to sleep in contact lenses as it was a common occurrence for him to wake me up with demands or threats. I was so afraid of not being able to see when the assaults took place as I might not be able to get away.

I experienced a severe form of domestic violence that also included a range of abuse, from controlling where I was and what I did, to pulling my hair, to eventually strangulation. My daughter witnessed the abuse and we were both very frightened of what would happen. I was only with him for six months where he nearly killed me.

I stayed in a Women’s Aid refuge which provided us with safety and which gave us the support we needed to rebuild our

lives. I am singing on ‘Take My Hand’ to not only raise vital funds for Women’s Aid but also to provide a message of hope to women and children currently living with violence in the home – thanks to support services provided by Women’s Aid there is hope for a safe future free from fear.’

Call to action: this shit has got to stop

NS November 24th, 2009

The response to my last post has been overwhelming. The F-Word picked it up and posted about it on their site, which then made the rounds through the feminist blogosphere and brought hundreds of visitors to my blog overnight. The supportive comments and messages I received — here, by email and on Twitter — made me realise that what happened at the march hadn’t just angered me, but many people. When something like this happens to one of us, we all feel it because we know it could’ve been any one of us. To be attacked while on a peaceful demonstration just makes it all the clearer how deeply ingrained violence is in our society, and how much of a threat those who question the Order Of Things are to those who think they hold the deeds to us.

Wednesday November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, as designated by the United Nations since 1999. It is also White Ribbon Day, a complementary campaign run by and for men that encourages them to be part of the solution. In honour of this day, Million Women Rise had planned a candlelight vigil. When they read about what happened to me at Reclaim The Night, they asked for my permission to turn the vigil into a wider protest and to use my story to help highlight just how unsafe we still are. Together with other women’s organisations, like Object, the Women and Girls’ Network and Roshni, they are asking for as many people  (all self-identified women and male allies) who are able to come to this event to attend or help spread the word. I will be speaking of my experience at the event and there will likely be a media presence there as well.

Please, if you are as pissed off about violence against women as we are and want to demand that it stop, come join us in Trafalgar Square at 7pm tomorrow (Wednesday 25th November). Bring a candle, bring a friend and bring your voice. If you’re not able to attend, please spread the word to as many as you can, particularly if you are in or near London. A good turnout will help us raise some much-needed awareness.

My own personal request to those of you who can’t attend (and even if you can!) is to focus on speaking to the men in your lives about domestic violence, sexual violence and other forms of abuse and harrassment towards women. If you have a male partner*, ask him not to sit in silence when he hears a joke demeaning or belittling women. Talk to your male friends about how consent means getting an active ‘Yes’, not just the absence of ‘No.’  Ask them to complain about sexist ads (including ones that degrade men) and boycott misogynistic publications like the Daily Mail. If you have a son, talk to him from an early age about respecting girls and the conflicting messages he will receive from his peers and the media. Ask all of them to get active in becoming part of the solution because we can’t eradicate this problem on our own. Passive agreement is not getting us anywhere. Keeping quiet is not an option anymore; it is silent complicity.

It’s time for this shit to stop.

*edited for more inclusive language; h/t to Ruth for pointing out my mistake — I have poor editing skills when hastily typing before the school run!

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