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Sexual Violence as Entertainment – Moving Beyond the Shock Factor

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I don’t watch much TV but I have got to admit, I love watching Law and Order SVU. Law and Order Special Victims Unit follows the New York Police Dept. Sex Crimes Unit. The show just finished its Fifteenth Season. Overall I have been impressed by the way the show has brought awareness to the complexities of trauma and highlighted the way victims deserve to be treated by the police. I have a lot of respect for Mariska Hargitay who plays the main character Detective Olivia Benson. Mariska started her own foundation to help survivors.

Despite my love for watching Law and Order SVU, I have noticed a gradual change in the nature of the crimes portrayed and it got me thinking. As the seasons move on, the focus on sexual abuse or assault has evolved into explicit story lines filled with extremely violent sexual crimes and horrific sexual exploitation. While I value the awareness created by covering such stories, I wonder if there is something more going on. Has the violence and cruelty of the stories increased because we are becoming desensitized to the horrors of sexual violence in itself and need a more gruesome story to entertain/shock us?

Have you ever wondered if the same thing is happening to us as we learn more and more about sexual violence? I remember when there was a large market for books written about people’s stories of childhood sexual abuse and people were horrified by these stories. Does sexual abuse still shock us? Is sex trafficking the new sexual abuse? I hope they are both seen as horrific but I know that the more stories I hear the less shocked I become and the risk of wrongly trivializing less extreme experiences becomes greater.

When we hear about the cruelties going on in the world, we are shocked and rightly so! But when we depend on shock to rally a response we do a disservice to our cause. To depend on the shock factor when addressing sexual violence is playing into society’s insatiable appetite for bigger and better or in this context younger, more violent, and more horrific. To do so puts the victims of sexual violence in a competition to decide who is more deserving of compassion and help. If you have experienced sexual violence no matter how old you were, how often it happened, if it was in a war zone, in your community or in a brothel, it was wrong, horrific and worthy of outrage. Friends, don’t let your response to sexual violence become as fleeting as the emotion of shock. A victim’s experience is horrific no matter how “tame” or “extreme” their story may seem. Their stories are not entertainment; it’s their reality. This reality can be changed but not through emotions, instead through unconditional community commitment. What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below!

 

Together We Can- Offering Hope to One Girl At A Time

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This past month has been busy with university exams, speaking at events, planning events and planning world domination (just kidding on the last part, kind of…) But seriously, you know those times when your so busy you think your brain will explode?

That was me: super busy, super tired, and quite honestly super discouraged. But then I met a lady we will call Dee. Dee introduced herself to me and then launched into stories about work, life and everything in between. I watched part exhausted and part in awe of her energy and passion as she told me amazing stories from her life. There was a warm fierceness about her that drew me in. Then Dee stopped, then asked me, “So what do you do?”

I told her about going to university, keeping busy and slipped in my desire to helping woman and girls. I told her that most recently I had been focusing on helping the sexually exploited both in Canada and SE Asia. Dee stopped. She grabbed me, hugged me and wept. “Thank you, thank you, I was trafficked as a sex slave when I was young, thank you for helping us!” Dee now a grown woman, free from the sex industry, held me in her arms and thanked me over and over. Of course, I cried.

Its unexpected times like those that keep me going. It is not like I have bust into brothels to rescue child prostitutes or stormed into rebel camps to rescue abducted girls but Dee reminded me that the little acts do matter. There are so many woman and girls experiencing all different forms of sexual violence, it’s overwhelming! But when we put faces to each of these woman, we are all drawn into contributing what we can and it all makes a difference!

I have had the privilege of getting to know 16 year old Grace. Grace is an incredible young woman, but she also represents your average teen. I say that because Grace is not necessarily different from any other teen accept that she has chosen to do some extraordinary things in the midst of ordinary life. Have you heard of rainbow loom? I hear it’s the latest craze! Well Grace started a project called Bracelets for Asia, she has been making rainbow loom bracelets to give to teens in SE Asia who have been forced into sexual slavery! What a creative and effective project!

Grace is using her context to make a face to face impact with teens halfway across the world. Grace sees each of those girls sold into slavery as a teen like herself who she might not be able to rescue but she can let them know they are cared for, and that brings hope. Grace’s project has caught on and now over a hundred bracelets have been made! Not only will girls in SE Asia receive a symbol of friendship and value but everyone making the bracelets are learning about the problems of sexual exploitation!

Meeting Dee this week reminded me of the importance of putting faces to a cause. Friends, Sexual Violence is a big issue representing so many faces; don’t be discouraged by the enormity of the problem. Instead, be like Grace, look around you and do something (however small it may seem) to help. I assure you if we all do something with the resources we have, we will make a difference!

 If you would like to contribute bracelets to Grace’s project email me: jane@hopeforher.ca

Victims Bill of Rights: An Open Letter from Victims of Crime

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On April 3rd 2014 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced legislation “to give victims of crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.”(Public Statement) I first heard of this legislation driving back from a meeting with women who are some of the very victims that Stephen Harper refers to. Listening to CBC Radio I heard lots of discussion about the new legislation but one thing stood out to me, one interviewee raised concerns that if victims have too many rights, they may slow down the justice process. Considering the meeting I just came from I wondered what those women would say about a fear of victims having too many rights! As a person who has been victimized by sexual abuse I would like to write an open letter to policy makers, politicians, lawyers, law enforcement officers around the globe to express what rights for victims of sexual violence would look like. Whatever country you call home, do you know how the legal system treats victims of sexual crimes?

“Dear Policy Makers, Politicians, Lawyers and Law Enforcement Officers, while I appreciate the legislation you have put forward for victims rights in the criminal justice system, I want you to know this doesn’t provide much hope for victims of crime like myself. I write this letter speaking as someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse and has also heard the many stories of others who have experienced similar things. I hope that this letter will be a voice that honors their experiences of the criminal justice system as well as my own.

As victims (and survivors I must add), we feel let down by the criminal justice system. It is interesting that it is referred to it as a justice system since very few of us see justice. Instead, we are re-victimized, our character and integrity is put on trail along with our wardrobe and social life.  Victim’s young and old are accused of lying, are shamed openly in court, and expected to remember every single detail of our abuse. We live in a beautiful, modern and wealthy country yet when we step into court it seems that all human rights are forgotten and our legal system is thrown into a barbaric society where our attackers are allowed to cross examine us or respectable defense lawyers are allowed to insinuate that “we were asking for it” or “it was consensual”. Yet we are telling you it wasn’t. Talk to our support workers, doctors and counselors they will tell you that we live and breathe the trauma of a very non-consensual “sexual encounter”.

We understand the “burden of proof is on the Crown” But somehow you pass that burden of proof to us, doesn’t the aftermath of our experience, our doctors’ expert opinion, and our testimony count for anything? You see, we carry enough burdens; we don’t want to carry your burden of proof. It is not our job to prove this happened, our pain is proof enough. Our power has already been taken away we don’t need to be raped by the power systems of court.

We are asking that you show us some respect and dignity. Your systems are keeping us victims when we want to become survivors. We ask you to give us some space to heal rather than having to struggle to make ends meet, I know you feel the financial burden of crime, we feel it too: Out of the $99.6 billion a year cost of crime we bear 83% of that burden. We have to make daily choices over buying food or going to a therapy session, I cant tell you the number of times I choose not to eat over therapy. We appreciate the support in place but its not enough. We need a safe and supportive community to heal. If you want these horrific crimes to stop you need to come up with a better “justice system” that gives appropriate rights to both the accused and the so called “accuser”. We are tired of being attacked by defense lawyers, intimated in court by our attackers, interrogated by your police officers and shamed by the public’s ignorance. We are fighting hard to become survivors of the trauma, its time you backed us up by making the justice system truly just then and only then can we celebrate victims rights.

Signed,

The 1 in 3 women and girls who have been sexual assaulted

…..and the many more too afraid to tell”

 

Sources: http://www.joysmith.ca/ , http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2014/04/03/overview-canadian-victims-bill-rights#sthash.1Mv93CXm.dpuf

Picture: http://pm.gc.ca

Sexual Violence in our Communities…Creating A Different Response

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When I was in elementary school I entered one of those kids art competition. This wasn’t a regular art competition. No, this was an art competition put on by the kids TV show Blue Peter! For those of you who aren’t familiar with British Television just know that was a prestigious competition to enter…at least on kid terms! Kids all across the United Kingdom were asked to paint a picture of themselves in a job of the future, as we got ready to welcome in the new millennium. My entry was my future career as a Space Air Hostess taking people on vacation to Space. I was very proud of my masterpiece and won the runner up prize which included being given the Blue Peter badge (seriously, a big deal!) Though I remember very little of what my entry looked like, I do remember thinking about the year 2000 with a sense of awe. I could only dream of what amazing technologies would be invented!

The year 2000 came and went. The world continued on; contrary to some people’s predictions, and while we haven’t quite reached the point of sending people to space on vacation, we certainly have advanced significantly since the early 90’s.

All the technology and shared intelligence that exists on our planet, astounds me. I mean have you seen what computers can do these days! At the same time, these technological advancements can lull us into a false sense of security as to how sophisticated we really are as a human race. We have invented electricity, computers, medical cures, put a man on the moon and yet as a human race we are so incredibly ignorant when it comes to caring for some of the most suffering members of our society.

I have heard many stories from survivors of sexual assault and rape. I have heard their stories, seen their strength, and shared in their hurt from the way society has treated them. Sexual assault and rape are societal issues that our society does not know how to handle. Our legal system (note legal not justice) caters to the perpetrators and shames the victim. Our medical system often labels survivors as time wasters, over medicates and surprisingly often electrically shocks the trauma out of people through ECT. Our teachers are not adequately trained to recognize signs of abuse in children. Our universities produce professionals with head knowledge without cultivating the wisdom and compassion to care for survivors. Yes our society can come up with the new all singing all dancing iPhone, but when it comes to tackling the issue of sexual assault and rape, our society is still using a rotary dial phone!

In Canada for example, it is estimated that 1 in 3 women and girls will be a victim of sexual assault. 1 in 3, now thats not 1 in 3 of women and girls outside your circle of influence. That is 1 in 3 of the women and girls you know. Are you equipped to support and empower those women and girls in your life?

As communities across the globe we need to stand up for victims of sexual violence and stand up against its presence in our communities, schools, workplaces and dare I say homes! As a friend of mine once put it, “sometimes tears are no longer enough, its time to act!”

Hope for Her International is an organization focused on sexual violence against woman and girls. We exist on a local and global level to collaboratively cultivate communities that will not tolerate sexual violence against women & girls. We believe that if communities come together to send a clear and active message that sexual violence is not welcome and support those who have been victimized then together we will end sexual violence one community at a time.

Hope for Her International is working on a new project and we need your help! The project is in two parts. We are looking for input from people who :

1.Have personal experience with sexual violence and would like to share part of their story for the purpose of educating the general public.

2. Want to share a their message of support to those who have been sexually violated.

As I mentioned earlier, I have seen and heard of too many people who have been experienced sexual violence and have been met with messages of disbelief, shame and ignorance; too many victims are shamed, blamed or not believed. If we want to end sexual violence this needs to change, we need a different community response.We are working to do just that. We are creating a collection of survivors experiences that can help communities respond differently to sexual violence and a collection of supportive responses to those who have been sexually violated. Both parts of these submissions can be in any written, visual, artistic or audio/video etc. (there are no limitations).

The first option for submission answers the question: If you could help your community understand one thing about your experience of sexual violence what would it be?

Create a submission in any format and then send it to us here:

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The second option answers the question: If someone you cared about was sexually violated, what would be one thing you would want to tell them?

1. Take a picture of yourself holding a message answering the question: If someone you cared about was sexually violated, what would be one thing you would want to tell them?

2. Post it on Facebook and tag it #hopeforherinternational and #creatingadifferentresponse so we can track the messages. Then nominate some friends to do the same.

Here is an example:

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Know you know what to do….I nominate you to take part in creating a different response in YOUR community! If you have any questions contact jane@hopeforher.ca

Should Prostitution Be Legalized? : Debunking the Myths

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In continuation of my last blog, Engaging in the Debate: Should Prostitution Be Legalized? I want to address some common misconceptions about the legalization of prostitution primarily highlighted by Joy Smith in her report, Tipping Point.

MYTH- Those opposed to the legalization of prostitution and in favour of abolition are moralists, religious or conservatives.

In many ways this myth couldn’t be further from the truth. Approaching prostitution from an abolitionist standpoint is cutting edge and progressive. Often countries like Canada herald nations such as Sweden for their standard of living and approaches to society. Sweden is the home of the abolitionist model in regards to prostitution. Joy Smith references a variety of organizations, which support the Canadian version of the Nordic Abolition Model including Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centre’s, Native Women’s Association of Canada and Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. Those in favour of abolition are not moralist, religious or conservative, they represent a group of people with an opinion based on research, experience and education.

MYTH – Legalization of Prostitution provides safety for sex workers.

Sex-industry lobby groups argue that prostitution should be a legitimate business – just made safer than it currently is. However, research from countries that have legalized prostitution (e.g. Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Holland) indicates that this has not worked.

  • In 2013, German’s leading online paper Der Spiegel stated: “Germany has become a centre for sexual abuse of young women from Eastern Europe, and a playground for organized criminals from all over the world.”
  • In Victoria, Australia, during 2003, police found in that legalization brought an increase in street prostitution as well as with high increases in the levels of violence and rape.
  • In 2008, the Prostitution Law Review Committee in New Zealand found that the Prostitution Reform Act had not led to any significant improvement regarding employment conditions for sex workers.

 MYTH – Legalization of Prostitution will prevent the prostitutes and brothels from going underground and being exploited.

Evidence suggests that this is not the case. The legalization of prostitution has not reduced underground brothels and women are still being exploited.

  • In 2003, Major of Amsterdam, Job Cohen said that under the current Dutch legalization of prostitution, it was “impossible to create a safe and controllable zone for women that was not open to abuse by organized crime”.
  • A 2002 estimate by the Victoria [in Australia] Police put the number of illegal brothels operating at 400, a number four times as large as the legal brothers.9
  • A 2006 study by Canada’s Parliament found only 4% of prostitutes in the Netherlands registered after legalization due to stigma, leaving 96% underground and out of reach from police protection.
  • A 2013 analysis examining the evidence heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in Bedford v. Canada documented the following evidence:
    • 57% of women in legal brothels a Nevada study indicated they gave ‘part or all of their earnings to someone other than those controlling the legal brothel.’
    • At least half the women in those brothels were ‘controlled by external pimps.’27
    • Prostitutes within legal brothels were told they were ‘strictly forbidden to use condoms unless the customer asked for one…’

MYTH- Prostitution is the oldest profession and its not going to end.

Prostitution is not a profession; it is oppression. Think of apartheid in South Africa or any other human rights issues in history, what if people then had been happy to accept it as the norm:

“It is time to envision a society, and a world, without prostitution. This may sound idealistic, but the theory matters, the direction of travel matters, the aspiration matters; because if we can’t envision such a society, then we cannot even begin to build it…. Rather than simply throw our hands in the air and legalize the whole of the ‘sex-industry’, some genuine vision and ambition is needed here. It is time to choose which side we’re on, because the multibillion-dollar ‘sex-industry’ is doing fine and well, it does not need our support; it certainly does not need our protection. But around the world, exploited in prostitution, there are women, children and men who do, many of whom can see no end to their situation; so we must. We must make it happen; we must end one of the oldest human rights violations our world has known and relegate this blot on our humanity to history.” (Finn Mackay)

 

 Unless otherwise indicated points have been taken from Joy Smith’s report ‘The Tipping Point‘ The purpose of this post is to summarize and discuss points in Smiths article to help inform the public. The intention is not to represent these views as my own original work or research. Picture from CTV.CA

 The Canadian government is holding an online consultation between February 17th, 2014 to March 17, 2014 asking the public for their opinion on three international approaches: Decriminalization/legalization, Prohibition (criminalizes victim being sold), Abolition/Nordic Model.  This is a critical time to take action! To take part in the consultation click here to be taken to the government consultation site.

 

 

 

 

 

Engaging in the Debate – Should Prostitution be Legalized?

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The Bedford vs. Canada ruling has raised many questions about prostitution in Canada. Since the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down anti-prostitution laws, the government, along with many social groups are discussing how to proceed.

There are lots of voices in the discussion but I wanted to highlight a reputable and informed source, MP Joy Smith. Smith; recognized as one of Canada’s leading anti-trafficking activists, has released a report The Tipping Point, in response to the Bedford vs. Canada ruling.

Over the next few blog posts I intend to summarize and discuss this report in the hopes that it will help us to respond appropriately. Wherever you live in the world the issue of prostitution and sexual exploitation needs to be addressed. My hope is that this Canadian discussion will help you to influence your country’s approach on the matter.  This post will focus on summarizing Smith’s main points to provide a foundation for discussing the report more specifically in future posts.

In Joy Smith’s report The Tipping Point the following arguments are made:

  • Prostitution must not be legalized because it is a form of violence that dehumanizes and degrades individuals while reducing them to a commodity to be bought and sold.
  • However, continuing to criminalize the women and vulnerable populations being prostituted creates barriers that prevent them from escaping prostitution and entrenches inequality.
  • The most effective route to tackling prostitution and sex trafficking is to address the demand for commercial sex by targeting the buyers of sex.
  • Prostituted individuals must be given meaningful escape routes out of prostitution.

Smith argues that Canada’s previous laws “were developed with a profound lack of understanding of the violence inherent in prostitution and the significant inequalities placed on women”. Historically, Canada’s approach has never been to eliminate prostitution and sexual exploitation but to hide it from public view.

Smith frames the Supreme Court Ruling as an opportunity for Canada to redraft our laws to ones that reflects the need to stop prostitution and sexual exploitation. She argues that Canada is at a tipping point; it is time that we recognize the significant violence prostitution inflicts on (primarily) woman and communities.

The Canadian government is holding an online consultation between February 17th, 2014 to March 17, 2014 asking the public for their opinion on three international approaches: Decriminalization/legalization, Prohibition (criminalizes victim being sold), Abolition/Nordic Model.  This is a critical time to take action! To take part in the consultation click here to be taken to the government consultation site.

Preserve the Best in Culture – Ending the practice of FGM

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On Thursday, the UN called for a complete end to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) on what was International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. FGM/C is carried out primarily in some countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is usually done to girls between infancy and age 15. It was traditionally seen as a cultural practice but is now Internationally recognized as a violation of human rights against girls and women rooted in inequality between the sexes. “Although some would argue that this is a ‘tradition’, we must recall that slavery, so-called honour killings and other inhumane practices have been defended with the same weak argument,” he said. “Just because a harmful practice has long existed does not justify its continuation. All ‘traditions’ that demean, dehumanize and injure are human rights violations that must be actively opposed until they are ended.” (Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General in his speech Thursday)

It is easy to think that FGM is an issue that does not affect our wealthier nations. Comfort Momoh disagrees. She runs the African Women’s Health Centre in a London Hospital:

“We have people migrating from different parts of the world coming to the UK, to the West, bringing their cultures, bringing their own traditions, so it is a big problem – and it is growing – so as a front-line provider we need to educate ourselves.”

In fact, beginning in April 2014, all NHS hospitals are being told to record if a patient (or patient’s family member) has undergone FGM. The National Health Service in the UK reports that girls of immigrant families are being taken overseas to undergo this practice during the summer holidays so that they have time to “heal” before they return to school. The NHS also fears that some of these girls may have had FGM performed in the UK.

Living in Canada, there are many immigrants from FGM practicing countries, does Canada have a similar problem? “because of the nature of FGM, reliable statistics on the incidence of its practice are not available. However, based on discussions with members of the communities that are at risk, there is some evidence to indicate that FGM is practised in Ontario and across Canada. There is also evidence that suggests that in some cases, families from those communities send their daughters out of Canada to have the operation performed.”      (The Ontario Human Rights Commission)

Truth is regardless of where FGM occurs, this practice is horrific and we have responsibility to speak up and protect all girls! Remember the girls I mentioned in my post Reading with Sally Lessons on Child Marriage from Children? These children spoke up in their community and managed to end the practice of child marriage which later led to the village abandoning FGM! Lets follow their lead!

What can you do?

  1. As always, get informed! Learn about FGM.  (The World Health Organization is a good place to start)
  2. Be aware, learn about those at risk of this practice in your home country (e.g. school children from FGM practicing countries leaving during summer vacation for the procedure)
  3. Speak up! Like any form of sexual violence, shame and secrecy can silence. Don’t let it!

Sources http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/www.wmo.int/story.aspNewsID=47092&Cr=genital&Cr1=#.UvZrnBa5iCI, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26049733, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-female-genital-mutilation-fgm/4-fgm-canada#fn23