Category Archives: Families and freedoms

Why does the law force rape victims to share child custody with their rapists?: The legal principles behind parental rights and responsibilities

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In seven states in the USA. rapists can sue victims for custody of any children concieved by the assault.  A conviction is needed to anull rapists’ parental rights. The problem is that most rapes don’t even go to court. Even in the minority of cases where a conviction is secured, these are often the result of plea deals, meaning that the conviction is for less serious sexual assault or for physical assault. Neither will prevent a rapist from suing for child custody.

So victims are failed by the law twice. Their rapist may receive no sentence, while the victim and her innocent child are tied to the rapist for 18 years. The first question we’re likely to ask is, why on earth would the law do this to people? As a feminist it’s tempting to fall back on “patriarchy!”, but although most legal systems were created in patriarchies and are inherently stacked against women- especially in regard to sex crimes- a more nuanced approach is needed. If patriarchy was the sole cause, American law would not remove parental rights in cases of rape convictions, nor would most states have a lower threshold for withholding custody from rapists. The Obama administration incentivised states to amend laws which gave rapists parental rights; it is, unsurprisingly, the Trump administration which is removing them. While at first glance this situation appears baffling- almost deliberately engineered to punish rape victims and their children- it’s important to understand the legal principles behind it, as well as the wider societal context.

First, let’s look at the law. (I didn’t study American law so this is going to be a very brief overview, not a JD level discussion.)

 

The legal context of parental rights arising from non-consensual conception

 

Statutory rape, parental rights and parental responsibility

If we look at how US law treats victims of statutory rape, we can see that victims of all genders are subject to the same parental rights and responsibilities. They usually can’t use their non-consent to avoid paying child support to their statutory rapist. Adults who have children by underage minors cannot have the child removed from their custody on that basis. This is as true in Britain; the only grounds for the court to grant the removal of a child from its parent are those of child protection (abuse or neglect). Therefore, statutory rapists enjoy shared or even sole custody.

 

Nonconsensual insemination and parental responsibility

Conception without consent doesn’t only occur through rape or (arguably) statutory rape. It also occurs when gametes are used for conception without the consent of the person from whom they are taken. One British man’s ex-wife defrauded a sperm bank into using his frozen sperm to conceive two children without his knowledge. He was ordered to pay child support. By contrast, egg and sperm donors are exempt from parental responsibility so they don’t have to pay child support. However, they’re also unable to exercise parental rights. In Scots law, unofficial egg and sperm donors have been granted parental rights even against the legal parents’ wishes. Though a surrogate who “steals” the mother’s child is regarded as the legal mother in Scotland, the biological mother is granted shared custody. The takeaway here is that only an official, legally sanctioned pre-conception contract can nullify parental rights. Hence, the unofficial donors could still have shared custody.

 

Biological parenthood = legal parenthood

So, what does statutory rape, child maintenance and sperm donation have to do with rape survivors being forced to share custody with their rapists? My point is that the law is strict on the biological connection creating legal rights and responsibilities. Note that one can’t exist without the other; donors don’t have responsibilities but they don’t have any parental rights either. In many US states, child maintenance and custody are processed together in a single case. Sadly, this resulted in a woman who’d been abducted and raped at 12 having to share her child’s custody with her rapist, her address disclosed to him and being ordered to move to the state where her rapist lived. (He made a plea deal and was convicted of attempted sexual assault before DNA evidence could be taken from the baby to prove it was rape, thereby avoiding a 25 year minimum sentence and serving just six months). She had a child support suit filed by the state on her behalf after she applied for welfare, and a child custody order routinely goes along with child support suits. (The judge eventually set the ruling aside because the rapist had not requested custody. Survivors whose rapists want custody are not so lucky.)

A paper examining nonconsensual insemination and statutory rape explains that “Thus, child support is essentially a form of strict liability with the justification being that the child is an innocent party, and, therefore, it is the child’s interests and welfare that the court must look to in adjudicating support.” Change “support” to “custody” and you have the legal philosophy behind forcing rape victims to share custody with their rapists.

Therefore the issue may be more to do with children’s rights than excessive protection of fathers’ parental rights.

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My argument would be that non-statutory rape/coercion/exploitation/CSA and CSE should be treated differently from statutory rape due to the harm it causes to the victim parent. (Personally I don’t think statutory rapists should be entitled to child support, but that’s a different issue). However, as few would disagree that survivors shouldn’t be forced to share custody with rapists, and as US law recognises that this is wrong (rape convictions anull parental rights and most states do not require a conviction to anull rights), I won’t elaborate on this. What’s pertinent is that treating rape differently from statutory rape regarding custody is not without its problems. Distinguishing statutory rape (merely sex with a person who only legally can’t consent) from CSE (sex trafficking, grooming, rape) or coercion (e.g. grooming, threats, anything not ‘bad enough’ to be rape under the law) may be difficult. Some adults look back fondly on their statutory rape and refuse to call it abuse, while others were happy at the time but later regret it when they realise they were taken advantage of. It’s easy to see why laws in seven US states require a conviction of (non statutory) rape- it’s easier!

And these issues- the complexity of abusive and illegal relationships, and the strict legal principle of the biological connection creating legal rights- lead us onto the second part of this article: the social context.

 

The social context of parental rights in abusive circumstances

 

Rape and the law

One reason why some US states demand a standard of proof that most victims cannot achieve in the current legal system is that previously it wasn’t known that most rapes don’t result in convictions.

 

The perspective of family courts and social services

Another reason is, it’s important to prevent parents crying rape to stop their ex-partner gaining custody, just like parents shouldn’t cry child abuse or drug dependency. However child abuse and drug use does not require a conviction to anull custody. So why should rape? Perhaps because abuse and neglect cause harm to the child. Whereas rape is harmful to the mother, or at worst only potentially a sex abuse risk to the child.

 

The invisible rape victims who share custody with their rapists

So far we’ve kept the focus on America. But rapists gaining custody of children may happen more often than we think- including in the UK. Most women (and other people with wombs) are raped by friends or family. These victims may be less surprised at a custody demand from an ex-husband, colleague, or fellow student they bump into every day, than they would a demand from a stranger who barely saw their face. The rapist who is present in their victim’s life has the opportunity to display clues as to their intent to sue for custody, or may even express that wish as soon as the pregnancy is known to them, further lessening the victim’s surprise when custody is demanded. Therefore these victims may not publicize the rapist’s custody lawsuit. Most victims never tell police (many don’t even tell their family) so such custody battles may not be identified for what they are.

 

Domestic violence and child custody

Furthermore sexual assault is not uncommon in domestic violence, so some custody battles which arise from abusive relationships may have involved rape. This raises the question of how cases where rapists want custody of children not born from rape be treated. The harm to the mother of contacting her assailant is likely to be the same whether or not the child(ren) were conceived by the assault. Yet one could argue that it is grossly unfair to punish a criminal by removing his parental rights when his fatherhood has nothing to do with his crime. Situations where it is unclear whether conception resulted from rape or from consensual sex a short time earlier/later also pose problems.

It is notable that domestic physical violence survivors have to share custody of children- despite the trauma suffered by some survivors being similar or worse than the trauma suffered by some rape survivors. Domestic and intimate partner violence tends to have a much longer duration than a single incident of rape. It sometimes carries similar hallmarks to some sexual attacks such as physical restraint, imprisonment inside the home, psychological abuse and physical assault. So this raises the question of whether physical abusers who conceived children in abusive relationships should have rights. But they do. Physical abusers who are considered to pose a threat to their victim or the child have supervised custody, but it is custody nonetheless. Only a risk to the child can result in parental rights being removed. Further, parental rights are usually not removed completely; a parent who loses custody may still be granted supervised contact and has a say in the child’s education. This applies to parents of all genders including adoptive parents.

 

Conclusion

While the idea of a man ‘owning’ his biological children (and sometimes any woman he sleeps with) is patriarchal, I don’t think there is consistent evidence that Law’s patriarchal history (and present) is the sole or even major factor at play. The laws of different legal systems bestow parental rights and responsibilities regardless of how children are conceived. Statutory rapists can receive child support from their victims and, since most single parent families are female-headed, female statutory rapists are perhaps more likely to have sole custody. Men who didn’t consent to insemination are nevertheless given responsibilities as well as rights. The survivors who are forced to share custody aren’t the victims of outdated or unusual laws. Rather, the inhumane way they are treated is embedded in the principles of western legal systems.

In conclusion, the issue of how the law should treat rapists who want parental rights is, morally, clear-cut. However, in legal terms it’s less clear and raises a lot of questions about how abusive parents more generally should be treated. The first step would be for the seven states to fall in line with the others and abolish the need for a conviction, instead using a civil process to determine whether rape was committed. The civil standard is already used in the process of assessing state compensation for rape (in the states which provide criminal injuries compensation to victims of crime). As to how other sex crimes such as statutory rape and coercion should be treated, not to mention children born from physically abusive or extreme psychologically abusive relationships, hopefully in future we’ll see a change towards protecting victims, children and innocent family members, while guaranteeing parents’ rights wherever appropriate.

It’s also important to remember that the news of necessity features survivors who are free to speak out and sometimes willing to waive their anonymity. Behind the headlines there are many more victims of rape and sexual abuse being forced to share custody with their assailants in silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How the political correctness debate is being manufactured

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Has political correctness gone mad?

That was the title of Trevor Phillip’s latest Channel 4 documentary which aired a few days ago. The docco contends that Brexit and Trump happened as a result of the ‘hard left’ refusing to engage in debate and using political correctness to silence opponents. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s topical. That there’s suddenly a Liberal-versus-Conservative divide imported from across the Atlantic threatening to disenchant the ‘ordinary people’ who will rebel against their feminist, LGBTQ and POC oppressors by voting in a British version of Trump.

But that’s just not true.

This PC Gone Mad/Liberal Elites Oppressing The Masses trope is a myth created and endlessly cycled by the media. Just days after Has PC Gone Mad? aired, another version of this self-created debate- though at least this segment was an actual debate- was shown on BBC Newsnight. With each iteration of this myth, no new information or current event is added. Instead, the same incidents are recycled over and over- mostly Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel being no-platformed (refusal to be invited as a guest speaker to student societies or clubs) by certain student unions.

Now, student unions are not all-powerful holdfasts of the “liberal elite” (or the Establishment, for that matter). They’re, well, groups of young people elected by other young people at the same university who could be bothered to vote. They do not have “agendas” which are meaningful forces at the national level (in the case of no-platforming someone). Their compositions change with each new influx of students, making it very difficult to deploy a consistent political agenda across decades to change an entire country.  The ‘PC Gone Mad’ myth has simply borrowed from America’s over-hyping of a few incidents of students asking for trigger warnings* on course material (which have existed for decades at US and UK universities; even TV has trigger warnings before certain programmes). In any case, a union or two no-platforming a speaker does not equate to a liberal elite oppressing the masses. Governments owe their citizens and residents free speech. Universities are not governments and neither are student unions. Student unions are groups of people who can no-platform if they feel like it. no-one has an inalienable right to speak to any group of people, any more than I have the right to demand that you continue to read this.

The myth of political correctness gone mad also assumes that ‘ordinary people’ desperately crave the freedom to say sexist, racist and homophobic statements. Most of us would disagree with that assessment of ourselves and our loved ones.

And while proponents of the myth claim that we suddenly aren’t allowed to say racist, sexist or homophobic things any more, in reality these laws have been in effect for decades. The Race Relations Act came into effect in the 1970s. It wasn’t invented by the liberal elite a couple of months ago. The Channel 4 documentary used the punishments dished out to online trolls who targeted the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez  as an example of political correctness gone mad. Prosecutions for online trolling may seem new to those who’ve barely heard of the internet, but harassment has always been a crime whether it’s committed to your face, in a letter, through a third party, over the phone or indeed online. This is similar to how conspiracy, slander or extortion are actionable whether they’re committed face to face or not. Or how murder is still a crime even if you don’t kill the person face to face.

Prosecutions for online harassment did happen before Caroline Criado-Perez. They just didn’t make the national news because the victims were not famous enough (Criado-Perez was fronting a national campaign at the time). It’s not uncommon for those who profess their activism online to be the targets of abuse. It’s just that people who aren’t middle-class, who aren’t deemed respectable, who are seen as deserving of their abuse because they’re sex worker activists or queer activists or kinksters, won’t be newsworthy. Just because something isn’t on the news doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Kind of like how people are dying of cancer every day but their families’ grief won’t make the headlines, while celebrities who survive cancer do.

Trevor Phillips did raise important points: virtue-signalling can and does lead to harmful overreactions against powerless individuals, leaving systemic oppression intact. And shutting down debate is not a solution. But overall, the message of Has PC Gone Mad is not simply wrong, it’s mostly irrelevant.

The fact is, “liberal elites” and “ordinary people” are not in conflict. Brexit was not caused by harassment prosecutions or students no-platforming. It was caused by widespread ignorance of what the EU is and the benefits it offers as well as UKIP’s conflation of the unrelated issues of EU immigration, non-EU immigration, benefits ‘scrounging’, and illegal immigration. The only recent UK political clashes have been about Brexit, austerity, and so on- mostly against the Conservative government and certainly not against liberal elites. While these very real protests are sometimes played down in the news, these same news agencies are only too happy to regurgitate years-old incidents and inflate incidents which appeared in student newspapers into a fake national debate on political correctness. If a liberal versus conservative divide does ever happen, it was manufactured by the media.

*’The Coddling of the American Mind‘, which very eloquently criticises these students, is actually one of my favourite online articles due to the structure of its arguments and the important points it touches on. However, even this gem cites just a handful of very low-key, non-newsworthy incidents across the entire US. This proves that the ‘PC debate’ is an overhyping of unrelated trivial events. It’s a very well-written piece though and I’d recommend reading it.

Qatar to host World Cup despite appalling human rights record

First published on Mint Press News on 27/6/16

 

Recently, Qatar jailed a Dutch tourist for having sex after she reported her rape. The case revealed to the West how rape victims are treated in Qatar.

As Qatar will be the host of the 2022 World Cup, this raises the question of the risks faced by soccer fans if they are sexually assaulted during the World Cup. However, another pressing issue is that of how locals are treated. As MyMPN reported, local women and men who suffer sexual assault are likely to be at even more risk of prosecution than tourists.

Qatar has an appalling human rights record more generally — especially when it comes to women and migrant workers. The workers building the World Cup projects are being exploited by the Qatar state and corporations.

Migrant workers from Asia and Africa make up 99% percent of Qatar’s workforce but are forbidden to unionize. They are unable to leave Qatar as employers routinely seize their passports. Workers who lack official documentation are at risk of deportation and further exploitation. As wages are not paid on time — or at all — many employees live a life of de facto slavery in unsuitable housing conditions. Exorbitant recruitment fees further increase the financial strain.

In 2014 Qatar promised to update its labor laws. However, in 2015 Amnesty International criticized Qatar for not delivering on its promise to initiate reforms. Even if the reforms were made, Human Rights Watch believes that they “will not adequately protect migrant workers from human trafficking, forced labor, and other rights violations. It is unclear whether they will provide some protection for migrant domestic workers, mostly women, who are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

Women walk through an airport in Doha, Qatar on June 30, 2010. Two of the women are wearing niqab. (Flickr / Juanedc.com)

Migrant domestic workers are overwhelmingly female and face sexual abuse in addition to the physical and verbal abuse suffered by workers of all genders. Under current law, no protection is afforded to them. However, the legal protection available to non-migrant women in cases of sex crimes is likewise questionable; for example marital rape is not a criminal offence.

According to Amnesty International’s website, “Migrants from Bangladesh, India and Nepal working on the refurbishment of the showcase Khalifa Stadium and landscaping the surrounding gardens and sporting facilities known as the “Aspire Zone” are being exploited. Some are being subjected to forced labour. They can’t change jobs, they can’t leave the country and they often wait months to get paid. Meanwhile, FIFA (football’s global governing body), its sponsors and the construction companies involved are set to make massive financial gains from the tournament.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has promised to create a panel to ensure “decent working conditions” for laborers working on the stadium. However, the effectiveness of these measures against Qatar’s “Kafala” (sponsorship) system, which bonds the employee to the employer in an unequal relationship, is still in question.

The 2022 World Cup’s corporate sponsors include McDonalds, Budweiser, Hyundai, Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola. In 2015, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre contacted the companies with a list of questions regarding their FIFA sponsorship, human rights, and workers’ rights. None responded to the questions asked.

However, in a statement Adidas admitted “everyone recognizes that more needs to be done in a collective effort with all stakeholders involved.”

Coca-Cola said it was encouraging FIFA to respect human rights and that “We believe that through our partnership and continued involvement with FIFA we can help foster optimism and unity, while making a positive difference in the communities we serve. The Coca-Cola Company does not condone human rights abuses anywhere in the world.”

Adidas has a Human Rights Charter. Its website states, “The adidas Group recognises its corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the importance of showing that we are taking the necessary steps to fulfill this social obligation.

Adidas’ Policy on Forced Labour and Human Trafficking prohibits forced labor “in all company operations and in our global supply chain.”

This stance is bound to raise questions about why Adidas feels that sponsorship of the 2022 World Cup is appropriate. However McDonald’s sponsorship is perhaps less surprising. In 2013, police investigated McDonald’s for violation of labor laws in Brazil, following a 17-year-old’s complaint that she had not been paid in eight months. Belizean migrant workers in Canada claimed they were treated as slaves when the corporation forced them to share an expensive penthouse apartment then deducted huge amounts from their salaries to cover the rent.

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The multinationals’ involvement has been satirized with the creation of “anti-logos” criticizing their support for human rights abuses. This questioning of why these sponsors have not pulled their funding is likely to carry on as human rights abuses continue to be perpetrated in the building of World Cup projects.

Underage Sex Workers- victims of trafficking or child protection policy?

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Source: www.ascend-international.com

Sex work law in the UK is complicated. Though it’s not fully criminalised as in most of the US, it is illegal for sex workers to share accommodation (“brothel-keeping”) even though this would improve sex workers’ safety. Soliciting and kerb-crawling are also illegal. One of the prostitution laws is that while the age of consent is 16 across the UK’s four nations, it is illegal for someone under 18 to do sex work.

Now, this used to fairly simple because all it meant was that escort agencies wouldn’t hire 16 and 17 year olds. Any teen who wanted to do sex work could do so on their own terms, and although there was always the risk that they could be deemed as “outwith parental control” if it was discovered by social services, on the whole there wasn’t a lot anyone could do about it. (I’m not saying that some young people’s lives weren’t turned upside down, or that they or their clients weren’t charged with soliciting, procuring or other offences- just that compared to the present day there was much less of a legal framework for detecting and interfering with young sex workers or prosecuting their clients).

That’s because the focus used to be on child exploitation through prostitution. In other words, the authorities had to have clear indications that money was being exchanged for sex before they could jump in. And that’s not always easy to detect especially if the young person is only doing sex work with a small number of clients. Sugar daddy/sugar mummy relationships and exclusive escorting are even more difficult to spot.

But since the 1990s the focus has shifted to child sexual exploitation. And this doesn’t merely cover sex work. It includes the exchange of sex for money, gifts, accommodation, drugs, etc- basically anything that isn’t sex or love. The ‘exploiter’ must have power over the ‘child’ by at least one of the following: age, emotional maturity, gender, physical strength, intellect, economic resources or access to drugs. This definition easily captures sugar relationships, exclusive escorting, survival sex and having sex for a promotion/access to their yacht/etc.

And actually that’s great. Because child abusers are not stupid. They’re going to choose the most vulnerable children, teens- and yes, young adults, because being over 18 doesn’t automatically mean you’re consenting. Ages like 16, 18 and 21 are arbitrary legal concepts which completely fail to reflect the fact that we all develop at different rates- and the fact that every relationship is different. A 14 year old with a high IQ sleeping with a vulnerable, low-achieving 18 year old may not be exploited; a lonely 19 year old with serious mental health issues dating a manipulative 18 year old might be. We just don’t know. Child abusers don’t always pay their victims in cash because they know how sketchy it looks. For example the victims in Rochdale were lured into exploitation with fast food, takeaways and alcohol, and once they were being abused, they were given accommodation, cash and “friendship” as remuneration. Abusers may even pretend to be the victim’s boyfriend or girlfriend to gain their trust, and then manipulate them into prostitution while the abuser keeps the profits.

As with many good things though, there are problems with this concept of child sexual exploitation.

One obvious problem here is the gender component. If I pay a 17 year old boy for sex and I’m the same age or only a little older, that’s fine. But if my twin brother pays a 17 year old girl for sex, he’s committing child sexual exploitation because he has the advantage of gender. It’s also difficult to see where genderfluid, trans and agender people fall into all of this.

Another issue is that of the teen who, instead of being targeted, groomed, pimped out and raped, willingly decides- without the involvement of any older person- to become a sex worker. (Bear in mind that most “children” involved in sex work are aged 15-17. I am not referring to a pre-pubertal child who “chooses” to become a sex worker; they do not have the capacity to so choose and their “clients” would be able to tell they are children, so would be abusers by definition). These young sex workers may find themselves victimised instead of supported by the law. It also seems illogical to say that a troubled 16 year old having sex with a 40 year old and receiving nothing in return is not being exploited, but that a 17 year old student being paid £250 by a 22 year old is a sexually exploited child. In this scenario the 40 year old is acting completely within the law but the 22 year old is an abuser.

It is also illogical that someone can legally consent at 16 to free sex but when they’re actually receiving remuneration, they must wait until 18- surely free sex is the more exploitative of the two? And if a 17 year old person lacks the capacity to consent to sex, then they cannot consent; the law cannot then say they can consent as long as it’s free. If they cannot consent to the act when they are paid for it then they cannot consent to the same act when they aren’t paid. They simply are unable to consent to sex. This makes no more sense than saying a child can’t consent to child molestation but if the child isn’t paid for it then they can consent.

But all of this is exactly what current child protection law and policy says.

Professor of Social Policy and Applied Social Research at the University of Bedfordshire, Margaret Melrose, argues in her article Young People and Sexual Exploitation: A Critical Discourse Analysis, that “By constructing the yoiung person as an ‘object’ that is exploited the discourse of CSE [Child Sexual Exploitation] manages, in one phrase, to negate the idea that the young people concerned might be exercising their own agency…by implication their involvement in commercial sexual transactions must be understood as forced or coerced on the one hand or as an irrational action on the other.”

This doesn’t mean that all underage sex workers should be assumed to have agency- clearly, some of them are indeed victims of trafficking and abuse. What Professor Melrose is arguing for is a more realistic view of underage sex workers which allows for both abuse and agency to be acknowledged.

She goes on to say: “There is limited evidence to support the idea that young people who become involved in commercial sexual transactions are always inevitably passive objects that are groomed, forced, or coerced…on the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that some of these young people may be making constrained, but rational, choices within the context of highly diminished circumstances”

“From within this discourse if these young people cannot be understood as ‘victims’ or as ‘innocent children’ then they must be understood in some way as ‘children’ or ‘victims’ who have something ‘wrong’ with them…that the young person is deluded, irrational, suffering from low self-esteem, false consciousness and/or other related (psychological) problems.”

The concept of “false consciousness” has long been used by the rescue industry to discredit sex workers’ lived experiences and deny that they have agency. (“Rescue industry” is a term coined by Dr Laura Agustin to describe the global network of NGOs who profit from Christian donors and governments by forcibly rescuing, sometimes even kidnapping, sex workers and forcing them out of the sex industry and into low-wage labour.) These NGOs use the term to ascribe victim status on sex worker activists and persuade lawmakers to criminalise sex work- laws which put trafficking victims, sex workers and victims of child sexual exploitation at risk. The fact that “false consciousness” is also now being used against minors to deny their choices is particularly alarming, as underage sex workers are already increasingly seen as victims due to media conflation of trafficking, sex work and child abuse. They’re also more easily marginalised members of an already stigmatised sex work community and have always been more vulnerable to “rescue” and state intervention.

To make matters worse, young victims of child sexual exploitation (whether they are victims or willing sex workers) are often alienated from their own care process. Camille Warrington’s article Partners In Care? Sexually Exploited Young People’s Inclusion and Exclusion from Decision Making about Safeguarding reveals that “their rights to participate were overlooked or considered inappropriate and they remained marginalised from choices about their care.” The young people are seen as a problem because of the blame culture within child protection services. They were often not even informed that meetings had taken place and that sometimes graphic information had been shared with other agencies and with their own parents and teachers.

“Young people were not able to differentiate between different types of multi-agency meetings. There was an overarching sense that young people remained unclear about the purpose of many meetings and the different roles of professionals…young people clearly demonstrated an appetite to be informed and involved in these meetings”

But even the lucky few who were told about the meetings and allowed to attend quickly discovered that attendance did not equal participation. They found they were not taken seriously, which led to feelings of powerlessness, embarrassment and mistrust: “the loss of control and humiliation experienced within abusive relationships can, at times, arise from professional carelessness, indiscretion or poor practice.”

It’s all too easy to imagine how it must feel for a victim of abuse or trafficking. But how much worse is this experience for a sex worker whose very agency and lived experience is being denied at these meetings by professionals who are supposedly helping him or her- just because s/he has not yet reached the age of 18?

Perhaps we can look toward a future where trafficking victims of all ages are swiftly identified and supported, where over-18s aren’t assumed to be consenting and under-18s to be coerced, and where underage sex workers’ agency is acknowledged and they are treated with the dignity they deserve.

 

 

 

No legal protection for employees fired for their lifestyle, appearance or family choices

 

 

First published on The Fifth Column, July 2015

 

Could you be fired for your lifestyle, hair, or past job? It could be more likely than you think.

We tend to think that we’re protected by antidiscrimination and labour laws. But people have been fired for being an unmarried mother, previously being a call girl and being kinky, and those with a previous work history in the adult industry continue to fear being fired if their previous career is exposed.

The case Flynn v Power concluded that it is permissible in Ireland to fire a woman for being pregnant while unmarried. However, these days EU states are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8 recognises the right to private and family life) and the EU Charter of Human Rights. Art 6 1) TEU holds that “The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights…which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties.” Relevant provisions are: Art 1 “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected”, Art 7 “everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life”, Art 9 “The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed”, Art 21 “Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex…social origin…membership of a national minority [or] birth….shall be prohibited.”

Though the Charter is ‘soft law’ and applies to Member States only when implementing EU Law, it is likely that anyone fired for being an unmarried parent would win their appeal if they brought a case to the European Court of Justice. The ECJ has previously interpreted “family life” to include children of unmarried and lone parents (Johnston v Ireland (1986), Eur. Ct. H.R., Ser. A, No. 112, Marckx v Belgium (1979) 2 EHRR 330:342, Berehab v Netherlands (App. 10730/84) 21 June 1988 Series A No. 138, (1989) 11 EHRR 322 S21 and Keegan v. Ireland (App.16969/90) 26 May 1994, Series A No. 290 (1994) 18 EHRR 342 S44).

They could alternatively bring their case to the European Court of Human Rights, or argue on EU Law within their domestic court.

However, this is the only type of family choice currently protected by antidiscrimination law. If a potential employer doesn’t hire you because you’re a young parent or live in a polyamorous household, there’s no statute to protect you.

Because of the Equality Act 2010 which makes it illegal to dismiss an employee for having gender reassignment, transgender individuals have more protection in the UK than in the US, where transgender people have been fired. But a lot of heterosexuals don’t have any protection from employer discrimination. Fetishes, kinks, polyamory and sex work are as yet unprotected. So if you happen to be kinky, are currently in a polyamorous relationship or have ever worked in the sex industry – no matter how long ago that was – you can be fired. BDSM is not recognised as a sexual orientation in the UK, and so kinksters don’t enjoy the same legal protections as LGBTQIA employees. Dismissals for being into BDSM have occurred in Canada, the US and UK. American teacher Melissa Petro was fired from her teaching job for being a sex worker while she was a student. So even your past can affect your present career.

Employers aren’t allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexuality; these are basic legal principles. But there are plenty of things connected with the issues of sexuality, race, and gender which aren’t protected. For example, if a man is discriminated against and not hired because an employer deems his long hair ‘unprofessional’, that is a form of gender discrimination if the same employer would have hired a woman with the same length hair. In the same way, an employer might discriminate against a white man who wears cornrows or dreadlocks while a black man wearing the same hairstyle might be accepted because these hairstyles are a part of his heritage. Similarly, black women sometimes damage their hair with relaxers or hot combs to get a ‘professional’ look as they feel that their natural hair isn’t quite good enough. As yet there are no employment regulations which protect a black or mixed race woman’s right to wear her hair in its natural state. In the US women have been fired for wearing their natural hair and for wearing dreadlocks. There are also no laws to stop you being discriminated because of your hairstyle, piercings or other body modifications like tattoos or scarifications.

It is obvious that the current anti-discrimination laws fail to protect people vulnerable to employer discrimination. Perhaps one solution would be to extend and strengthen the existing anti-discrimination laws to enable more marginalised groups to use them against their employers. But employers won’t usually be stupid enough to say “I’m not hiring you because you’ve got tattoos”. So even with strengthened antidiscrimination laws, it might be difficult for the victims to prove discrimination. Even if employers can’t fire their staff or refuse to hire candidates for having being in a polyamorous relationship or having scarifications, they could use other excuses to fire them.

But if more laws or extending existing ones may be of limited help, changing attitudes might just make more of an impact. Discrimination wouldn’t exist without prejudice, and when there is no more discrimination there won’t even be any need for discrimination laws.

To conclude, it’s probably the changing of prejudicial attitudes that is more likely to ultimately result in more protection of employee rights. But until this social change occurs, any of us could be fired for our lifestyle, family form, appearance or previous jobs. You might think that you’re safe- but so did everyone who has been fired simply for being who they are.

Torture Report: It’s Not Just The CIA, But A Global & Structural Problem

cia hong kong uk rendition

54 countries were complicit in CIA rendition…and Hong Kong makes 55.

In the light of the Senate Committee’s Torture Report, we’re all keen to criticise the CIA. But 54 countries were involved in rendition and torture, and they all need to come clean about their involvement. The problem was global. The US may have exported torture just like the British Empire once exported its questionable values, but the States which worked with the CIA were not occupied by the US. They chose to. In the cases of UK-US rendition to Libya, the CIA’s role was actually minimal.

An outspoken Libyan dissident, Sami Al-Saadi, was forced to flee from country to country to avoid Gaddafi’s agents. He and his family were given temporary leave to remain in Britain but after a few years living in London and hiding their identities, they had to flee to China were they lived for a while. The family ended up detained in Hong Kong for immigration issues. In 2002 Tony Blair decided to make a deal with Gaddafi that Britain would get gas from Libya and Gaddafi wouldn’t develop chemical weapons. As part of this deal, the Al-Saadi family was to be renditioned to Libya. Though the CIA later decided to help by providing a plane, this was a UK plot and not a CIA-instigated rendition. The UK government wrote to Libyan officials that they had provided the intel (on the family’s location) even though they hadn’t paid for the plane, which shows they were eager to take credit for the rendition. The entire family, including children aged 4 to 12, were put on a plane in Hong Kong and flown to Libya where the entire family was imprisoned for months and their father tortured for six years. Fearing that the US would attempt a cover-up, in August 2014 the oldest daughter expressed hope that this CIA torture report would reveal the truth about her rendition. What she didn’t realise was that it wouldn’t be a US cover-up, but a UK one-the UK asked the Senate not to include references to UK agencies, so her family’s rendition was omitted from the report.

This rendition was not instigated by the CIA, but by Tony Blair. The CIA can’t be blamed as much as Britain and Hong Kong because the State which hands over the family, thereby enabling the rendition, is most culpable. That state was Hong Kong. The State which planned and negotiated the rendition is also culpable, and that was Britain. The US was complicit but they weren’t the main instigators.

According to The Guardian, terror suspect Abu Munthir was detained in Hong Kong before he and his family were renditioned to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004, just two years after the rendition of the Al-Saadis. Hong Kong agreed to the operation, their only conditions being that the US would contribute toward plane costs and the plane would be registered in a third country. This means that, as the family were then in Hong Kong detention, it was Hong Kong who handed over the family to Libya, and not the US or UK. If Hong Kong hadn’t renditioned the family, the UK and US wouldn’t have been able to perform a rendition (at least not without first breaking the family out of the detention facility). The UK has rightly been criticised for providing logistical support and intelligence in the 2 Libyan renditions, and for routinely allowing the CIA to use British airspace and refuel while doing renditions. But Hong Kong has done exactly the same thing- it’s allowed a use of airspace and also done a handover of an entire family to Libyan agents.

The Guardian says “The Hong Kong authorities were also insisting that the Libyans offer an assurance that the family’s human rights would be respected”. That might sound good, but in reality the Hong Kong government (and ours, and the US) were turning a blind eye to the fact that they were sending someone off to be tortured. You’d have to be very gullible to take a brutal mass-murdering dictator like Gaddafi at his word. And if there’s one thing governments aren’t, it’s naive. They knew what they were doing, even if they were trying to convince themselves that Gaddafi would honour his promise, even when the family were completely in his control and no other State would know what he was doing to them.

What is of concern here is that while the US has an investigation into CIA torture and rendition, and the UK is having a police investigation over the Libya renditions, Hong Kong has yet to make any attempt to address its role in these same two Libya renditions.

So, while we need to demand the prosecution of CIA torturers and the architects of the torture program- including psychologists, politicians, soldiers and everyone who made it possible- we should be scrutinising other countries, too. Hong Kong had a starring role in both the UK renditions- in fact, without Hong Kong’s actions, there would have been no UK-Libya renditions. And seeing as both renditions were to Libya and involved the UK, that might suggest a much closer working relationship existed between Hong Kong and Libya (and/or Britain) than is currently known.

We also need to take the sole focus off the CIA and ask how much Bush and other lawmakers knew. Though the report suggests the CIA hid the extent of their torture program from everyone else in government, Bush knew something. Why should he escape jail if all the other culprits are prosecuted? He was the head of state, and it’s a standard principle for the boss to take responsibility for employee misconduct. The issue of whether government agencies can refuse the orders of a President is a complex issue, dependant on US law and CIA policy, but the question of whether being a head of state grants you immunity is not. And the same applies to Tony Blair. Without his decision to use the Al-Saadi family as collateral damage for his Deal In The Desert, MI6 wouldn’t have renditioned the family. So why are the police only investigating MI6 and letting Blair get off scot-free? Surely the main culprit shouldn’t escape justice if his accomplices (who were subject to Blair’s pressure and possibly legally obligated to do what he says) can’t?

The Torture Report is a great start, but we need to avoid focusing on the CIA’s crimes to the extent that we forget the bigger national and global crimes, and the fact that spy agencies are being led into crime by psychologists and heads of state. The Torture Report raises a lot of issues about individuals being given too much power over organisations, the trust we give to psychologists, the way civilians can influence intelligence agencies, the relationships between lawmakers and spy agencies, the power of media and activists, and the amount of scrutiny we have over our government. If we don’t want a global superpower infecting our planet with torture-as-neocolonialism, and if we don’t want business-savvy members of the public and individual politicians to lead our governments astray, then laws, policies and the structure of relationships between agencies will have to change.

This is not just a problem with the CIA. It’s a problem with the whole system of how governments operate and how influential or not the media and human rights activists are. It’s not even just an American problem. It’s a global problem. It’s a problem which includes ingroup belonging, a form of mob psychology, and similar issues. The CIA agents and US soldiers didn’t wake up one day and be like, “OK, I’m gonna get my evil on!” Some of them really thought they were doing the right thing, while others, according to media reports, were uncomfortable but felt they had to go along with it. So, despite its inhumanity, it is a very human problem.

The Porn Filter: A Censored Britain

First published as Censorship in the UK: The Internet, Media Myths and the Porn Panic on 16/5/14 on Cliterati.

 

 

No censorship plan could be complete without fearmongering. And as is often the case, the enemy these days is dirty, filthy, child-corrupting, woman-defiling, enemy-of-the-family, soul destroying sex. Well, porn, to be precise. But David Cameron’s porn filter blocks far more than porn. It blocks feminist, LGBT, sex education and political satire sites, as well as esoteric material, alcohol and smoking. Even more worrying is the fact that the porn filter blocks rape crisis sites and domestic abuse helpline sites.

During its test, lawyers were unable to access court decisions they needed to prepare their cases. An unnamed source in education says school porn filters already block politics sites and art which contains nudity, to the irritation of art teachers. My local library blocks the Tor (an anonymizing browser) site as well as this blog, which means I can’t blog on public computers without using a flash drive with the Tor browser installed. It’s been reported that smartphones already have the filter which means that feminist, sex education and LGBT sites- as well as political sites- are blocked. (I’ve tested touchscreen phones which are not smartphones and they also have the filter). So should we even be calling the filter a “porn filter” at all?

“It’s not a porn filter, although that’s how it was sold by David Cameron and the media,” said a spokesperson for Sex and Censorship, an organisation which defends free speech and sexual freedom in the UK, “[D]ozens of categories of non-porn content are blocked by the filters. The filters put censorship powers in the hands of the household’s bill payer, and can be used as a tool of abuse against teenagers and partners by denying them access to vast amounts of content.” The history of porn censorship does seem to support these points, as such censorshipoften ends up being used to oppress women and sexual minorities.

Psychologist Dr David J. Ley is best known for his much-needed services to science and good old-fashioned common sense in pointing out that “sex addiction” is a pseudo-disorder in his book The Myth of Sex Addiction. He’s also the author of Insatiable Wives, the Executive Director of the mental health and substance abuse program New Mexico Solutions, and acolumnist on Psychology Today. And he doesn’t think pornography is Public Enemy Number One.

The demonization of pornography and blaming of it for various issues, from rape to sexism, is an incredibly simplistic game of ‘straw man/scapegoat.’ By blaming these problems on porn, society at large is able to avoid responsibility for its contribution and perpetuation of these problems,” he says. “[P]orn, like any form of culturally/economically-driven entertainment, reflects the values, issues and conflicts within society. Porn is a mirror of social values and struggles, not the other way around. If societies and advocates want to reduce sexism, rape, and all other forms of sexually-related issues, they need to address them within society first.”

Image source: www.lovethispic.com

 

Girls Hate Porn: True or False?

The moral panic over porn is fuelled by myths. Pornography is inherently harmful to women. Pornography is something only men use and that women need to be protected from. Pornography causes rape (a variation of the anti-sexwork brigade’s ‘sex work causes rape’).

Myths that purport to be feminist, but in fact reinforce patriarchal ideas about gender roles, the gender binary, female purity, and rape culture. But the reality is far more complex.

Compared to men, women actually have a stronger, less discriminating physical arousal response to pornography,” he explains. “Whereas men, by and large, show a clear hetero vs homosexual arousal pattern, women almost universally respond in a bisexual pattern. Whether this is an innate or culturally-driven response is not known at this time. What is distinct between men and women is that men are aware of their sexual arousal, whereas women often show physiological arousal and deny being aroused to porn. It is strongly suggested that this is an artifact of the ways in which females are commonly taught to suppress and deny their sexuality.”

In a nutshell, women get hard- and wet- watching porn, but we lie about it. Dr Ley also points out that research suggests that most women who consume porn “tend to be women with higher libidos, who are more sexually adventurous, and are more like men, when it comes to sexual desire and values. These women actually tend to like the same porn that men do, rather than the ‘women-oriented’ porn.” Seems like the less repressed a woman is, the more likely she is to be a porn consumer.

Dr Zhana Vrangalova, sex researcher, Psychology Today blogger and adjunct instructor, also acknowledges the fact that though more men than women consume porn, women can enjoy it: “[M]any women do watch porn, and in fMRI studies porn appears pleasant and rewarding to both sexes. In both sexes, most people who watch porn report positive effects, such as increased breadth of sexual behaviors, more positive attitudes toward sexuality, novelty, joy, and happiness), and only a minority reports negative effects… Positive effects are also reported by couples who watch porn together.”

 

Does porn cause rape?

The myth that porn causes rape is not based on evidence; rape should be on an increase which matches the increase in the availability of porn, but this hasn’t happened. Anti-sex work groups have previously tried to claim that lapdancing causes rape, and that claim was debunked too.

“[T]here is substantial evidence that availability of porn in a culture is associated with a decrease in sex offenses, especially child molestation, and inhibition of aggression,” says Dr Vrangalova. “[Porn] is often accused of increasing coercive and sexist beliefs and attitudes in men toward women. However, research shows that porn, especially non-violent porn, might have such effects only among men who are already predisposed toward such beliefs and attitudes based on their personality.”

Sex and Censorship seem to agree: “There is an endless, but fruitless, search for harm caused by pornography, but no evidence. Probably the most pernicious (and dishonest) claim is the attempt to link porn to rape: whereas it actually appears that porn usage reduces rather than increases sexual violence.” Linking porn consumption to rape also fuels rape culture. It’s giving the rapist an excuse: “Don’t blame me- Porn Made Me Do It!”

 

Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the CHILDREN?!”

 

Image source: www.quickmeme.com

But of course no moral panic would be complete without invoking the fragile innocence of our nation’s youth. Sex and Censorship claims that the panic “focuses on harm caused to children – although the moral crusaders provide no actual evidence of such harm, of course. And inevitably, girls are considered more weak and vulnerable than boys, and thus in need of special protection. There is an old, sexist assumption that sex is something males do to females, and that appears in the new, ‘feminist’ anti-porn movement as well. In particular, gay porn is never mentioned by the moral crusaders: it is always the female that must be protected from such filth!” It’s all too possible that the media hype around sexting and ‘Generation Sex’ feeds into the panic, too. Boys and girls sext in roughly equal measure but the media focus is always on the deviancy or dangers of the girls‘ actions. Even stories about girls being slut shamed into suicide prod parents into telling girls not to sext instead of not to slut shame. Once again, the focus becomes the behaviour of girls, not the exploitative, coercive and slut shaming behaviour of boys. The porn filter could well be just another attempt to control the sexual behaviour of young women.

 

Who’s to blame for this porn panic?

But what’s causing the porn panic? Is feminism to blame, or the rise of a new moralism or sexual conservatism? “It’s a deep-rooted fear of sex, which has resurfaced throughout human history. Today, this sexual conservatism has reappeared wearing feminist clothing, but these are the same old conservative values, presented in new ways,” says Sex and Censorship.

Dr Ley’s view is that “Fascinating research has shown that women most commonly act to suppress the sexuality of other women, rather than men or society at large doing so. The belief is that this is related to women protecting economic control of sexuality, as a resource. It’s my belief that much of the female vocal antagonism and fear of porn reflects another aspect of this attempt to assert control of sexuality and maintain it as a limited, controlled, difficult to obtain resource. The old saying is, ‘don’t give away the milk for free, no one will want to buy the cow.’ Internet porn puts a high-speed milk faucet in men’s bedrooms. The film Don Jon is a great example of this, where the character voices that masturbation to porn is just more relaxing and satisfying than the work required for sex with a woman.

By asserting that women don’t like porn, are hurt by it, etc., there is definitely the effect that these attitudes and reactions are created by these narratives. Just as the belief that a woman’s first time having sex is painful actually creates the tension, anxiety and fear which leads to that belief being fulfilled. This may indeed reflect yet another aspect of women attempting to control the sexual expression of other women, through narratives such as MaryAnn Layden has put out, wherein she suggests that women who watch porn are increasing their chances of being raped.Watch out women, Porno will steal your soul!

 

Myths in mainstream media

There are certain media outlets from which we’ve come to expect mass fearmongering. But when the BBC shows a biased documentary on the subject, you know we’re in trouble. Sex and Censorship describes Porn: What’s the Harm? as an “appalling, biased piece of TV programming, which was riddled with inaccuracies” and have posted about the programme on their site.

Presented by a barely-legal dudebro with questionable expertise on the subjects of human sexuality or media, BBC3′s brand new Tyger Takes On Porn is very rude, funny, and explicit- but it’s barely journalism and doesn’t seriously investigate the effect of porn. The doc also portrays sex work negatively and whorephobic language is used throughout to distinguish pornscorts, adult performers and sex workers from “normal girls”. It is also alleged that “normal girls” do not like kink. 

Both presenters of the documentaries were very uncomfortable with porn and presenter Jameela Jamil has never used it.

Channel 4′s October attempt, Porn On The Brain, was almost as bad; Bad Sex Media Bingo, a site devoted to exposing junk science and myths about sex in the media, classes it as scoring “13 out of 24 of the squares on Bad Sex Media Bingo”.

I could go on and on (I made the mistake of facepalming my way through all three facsimiles of journalism) but the above links say it all. But enough of watching prudes googling “porn” and descending into spasms of writhing pearl-clutchery: what happens if you google porn documentaries? Well, you’re treated to documentaries such as Porndemic, which according to its blurb pushes the myth of “porn addiction”. Then there’s The Dark Side of Porn, which asserts that porn is now mainstream and there’s no stigma attached to being an adult entertainment actor. Way to deny whorephobia. While I can’t comment further without watching them, these documentaries’ titles and marketing obviously play up to the fearmongering.

So what does this all mean?

So it doesn’t appear that we need a filter to fix these nonexistent problems. But I’m certainly not saying that nothing needs to be changed. Labelling any portrayal of non-egalitarianism in porn as BDSM or fetish porn would ensure mainstream porn doesn’t include any degrading, sexist or misogynistic material. Surely we should at least try this idea before talking about filters?

A national debate about labour conditions for adult performers might actually be more helpful than one about porn filters- ditto a debate about equal pay, as female actors get paid about ten times as much as males, while trans performers struggle to find work outside the ‘shemale’ scene.

The porn filter idea seems to be more about protecting teens’ and women’s innocence than achieving change in our UN-denounced sexist culture, or achieving something for those most affected by porn-the actors, directors, scriptwriters, etc in the industry. It’s all about aesthetics, not about rights or lived experiences. It’s the idea of sex being incompatible with-and harmful to- ‘the family’-whatever that phrase means, because I’m betting it doesn’t include families which David Cameron disapproves of and is trying to destroy (single parent families and families on benefits).

Image source: www.moodsaplenty.wordpress.com

 

This is respectability politics gone mad. It’s hypocrisy gone mad. And as I previously wrote, it raises a lot of practical problems and cultural questions. And worst of all, the government can’t even be bothered to sell us something more believable to make us accept its Orwellian nightmareIt’s the ultimate insult to our intelligence.

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