I saw this poster on the bus today. In case you can’t make it out, there is an image of a punchbag set in a dishevelled kitchen, and the caption says:”A domestic violence victim will be beaten 20 times in the next year, unless a friend stops it sooner” with a line at the bottom saying “Enough. Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support.”

I did think for a horrified moment that this might be a campaign sponsored by Women’s Aid and/or Refuge, who I think run the helpline. It’s not. Surprise! It’s the Home Office.

There’s another similar poster where the image and main caption are the same, but the sub-caption reads: “If your friend is being hit, she’s probably too scared to do anything to stop it. So her beatings will just go on and on. Help her take the first step, call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support.”

(Link to the similar poster – PDF)

Just who is doing the beating here?
These women – sorry, not “women”, “domestic violence victims” – are magically getting beaten by – who?
As usual in the case of crimes against women, the perpetrator drops out of the limelight.

I do get that a campaign encouraging friends to support those who are being abused has a place. I do get that perpetrators often seek to isolate their partners, to cut them off from the friends who may help them to escape – that encouraging friends to see through what is going on, encouraging friends to take an active role in helping victims is, on the whole, a good thing.


Why do we have a campaign telling a woman’s friends that they are responsible for “stopping” the violence when they can do nothing to stop the violence and can only offer support to the victim who might otherwise feel or actually be unable to escape? And why don’t we have a campaign targeted at men to just stop hitting and abusing women? And why don’t we have a campaign targeted at men to stop their friends from hitting and abusing women? And why is it always the women (and her friends) who get the spotlight, when the people who actually can stop the violence, or influence the perpetrator to stop the violence, are offstage somewhere, overlooked?

Is it that we feel these men are so far beyond the pale, so monstrously twisted, so clearly unhinged that no campaign or well-meaning friend could possibly influence them to modify their behaviour? Because that aint so. Men who beat and abuse their partners are human beings, just like us. Human beings, not monsters. Maybe when we search our souls for solutions to the problem of domestic violence we should ask ourselves fewer questions about how we can help women to escape and a great deal more about why these men commit this violence and what can be done to make them stop.

To make them stop.

What is the consequence of giving Woman to Man?

What is the consequence of placing an individual at the head of a closed family, of giving him authority to rule and guide his family, the family that is his?

What is the consequence of giving Woman in submission to Man? Of placing children, his children under his absolute care and control as the head of his household?

What is the consequence of empowering Man and, as a corollary, disempowering his family, his woman, his children? Allowing him to rule and guide through the mechanisms of submission, obedience – control.

Is it, sometime, abuse? Could we, perhaps, expect that abuse will happen almost inevitably as a result of such a family structure?

So should we be surprised if, sometimes, the consequence is that a man in control of his disempowered family can lock up a daughter in a place where nobody can hear her scream or see her bleed? That he can keep her there, utterly dependent on him for survival, a prisoner for twenty-four years, twenty-four years, as he rapes her and rapes her and rapes her. Repeated sexual abuse my arse. He raped and raped and raped his own daughter. Should we be surprised that he could impregnate her repeatedly, and keep her imprisoned, alone through her pregnancies and labours, imprisoning her children with her, the children of his rapes and rapes and rapes – should we be surprised that this happened? Horrified, yes, of course horrified. But can we really be surprised that this happens?

Should we be surprised that a man capable of such systematic, long term abuse, such cleverly designed, coldly planned cruelty can keep his abuse a secret? From neighbours, friends, associates. From his own family, his own wife, the people living in his house, with him and his imprisoned daughter and his imprisoned (grand)children, the fruit of his shocking, incestuous rapes… is it really so surprising that a man who can do this to his daughter and his (grand)children can control his other family members to the extent that they also knew nothing of what he did in the basement.

How he did it we can only speculate. Perhaps he ruled them with terror, perhaps with violence, perhaps with drugs or alcohol, perhaps he wore them away until they lost themselves and didn’t know even so much as the day of the week. We can only guess.

Why he did it is not guessable – we can say no more than that he did it because he could.
Why is it that he could?
See above.

Or, to put it another way: what about the wife, eh? The mother! How could she not have known what was going on in her own house? You can’t keep something like that secret from your wife! She must have known. It just seems so terrible, her own daughter. Mm. Hey, did you see O’Sullivan’s 147 last night?

Such things hollow a person out.

Janice Turner, writing for the Times, argues that men must stop using prostitutes.

Even a single mother who was merely guilty of feeding her children cheap protein can be harangued on national television by an Eton-educated chef for supporting the abuse of domestic fowl. Crack-smoking hookers with their raddled complexions, tarty clobber and children in care are not as heart-breakingly cutesy as baby piggies peeping through crates, drowning polar bears, or even chickens. But surely we can find an ethical champion in the wake of the Ipswich murders to tell men not to spend their money on prostitutes?

Punters have doubled in a decade: now one in ten British men has visited a prostitute. And really why not, when even glossier men’s magazines give the message that vice is nice, advise how stag weekenders can buy firm young booty in Tallinn or Budapest, when lap-dancing clubs are mainstream fun – from “private dance” to upstairs shag being a blurry line – when omnipresent internet porn feeds a sense of male entitlement to every unfettered whim. Now the sex trade has rebranded itself a wing of the leisure industry, moral disapproval has evaporated and men can concentrate on getting value for money with websites like on hand to assist…

[W]e are told by those (mostly men) who fear a Swedish-style criminalisation of punters, that there are many prostitutes, neither coerced nor addicted, who relish their chosen profession. “Happy hookers”: that hoary old male fantasy of women who get pleasure, even multi-orgasmic joy if you believe the deluded fools on punternet, from being paid for sex is periodically fed by fictional callgirls, most recently Billie Piper in Belle de Jour, with her classy clients and La Perla undies.

But this horny imagining clashes with the reality of a trade that 89 per cent dream of escaping. And indeed schemes to assist prostitutes getting off the game – and the drugs – have many takers…

But men who use prostitutes need the happy hooker. Those with a semblance of a conscience seek reassurance that buying their jollies is hurting no one. The happy hooker, like the happy chicken, can be consumed without guilt…

While the Government is right to evaluate further whether the Swedish model leads to a true reduction of prostitution, or whether it is driven into deeper, more dangerous, places, one thing is certainly true: criminalising the buying of sex at least states categorically that it is not normal or acceptable, but, since it is incompatible with human dignity, morally wrong. And that is what we need to tell our young men but never do. Why are we hand-wringing moral relativists about women but not chickens? Why, at the very least, are punters not branded the most unethical consumers of all?

[Emphasis mine.]

Yep. Just keep your gagging goggles on for the comments.

PS – Yes, that’s a frog on a hat. Cute isn’t she? Tarty-clobbered crack-smoking hooker (complete with raddled complexion and child in care) to follow? Does anyone have a pattern?

I’m busy just now with a new, exciting project – you’ll soon see ;)

Meanwhile, I’d just like to share this article with you as it filled me with a little hope when I read it yesterday. It is about the visit of Vernon Coaker (Home Office minister) to a pro-Swedish-model conference on sex trafficking in which he made some really encouraging statements about the possible forthcoming step-change in Government thinking about men who buy women for sex.

[Vernon Coaker] told a packed conference hall… that the time had come for a major cultural shift in Britain regarding prostitution and sex trafficking. He said:

“One of the vilest crimes that threatens our society is the trafficking of human beings. This modern day slavery is an evil practice, perpetrated for profit with no regard for the consequences for the victims or society as a whole. It is often the product of organised criminality that knows no borders and that feeds on the exploitation of the vulnerable.

“Some men might question perspective a man can bring to leading the government’s agenda of dealing with these awful crimes. For me, the fact that the victims are women, and sometimes children, and that the crimes are very often perpetrated by men, makes it even more important that men should be taking some responsibility for the solution. As a result, I’ve taken a strong personal interest in this issue.”

CHASTE’S Chief Executive Dr Carrie Pemberton told delegates from India, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and the UK how it was crucial to tackle issues surrounding demand:

“It is time to wake up to human rights in the 21st century. How come in the 21st century that trafficking for sexual exploitation is one of the fastest growing areas of global trade, amassing hundreds of thousands of pounds for those involved, and being fuelled by a growing demand for casual sex for payment with no societal accountability?… The time has now come that we simply have to pay attention to the demand which is driving the engine of this abuse…

Sweden’s pioneering legislation in 1999 has enabled the world to take a fresh look at the way governments and society can address the multiple abuses involved in purchasing sex. With a standard fine or a maximum imprisonment of six months for the offence, hundreds of men in Sweden have been prosecuted to date, and more importantly attitudes have been significantly altered – particularly amongst the purchasing target group – 20-55 year old males.

This is in stark contrast to Germany where legalisation of prostitution has triggered an extraordinary increase in demand, with one survey returning a statistic of 1.2 million German men daily purchasing sex…

“We need to take steps now in our general culture, legislation, education and media to properly inform one another of the real human costs of purchasing people for sex in our contemporary world.”

In view of the flurry of posts today – HT Grace, Debs, Sparkle, all worth a read if you feel like sharing a bit of righteous anger – on a new government campaign to raise awareness (ahem, like nobody thinks this already) that women who drink are to blame for being raped because 1 out of 3 rapes happens after a woman has been drinking…

I give you this:

A study published in the Journal of Sex Education & Therapy found that almost 70 percent of sexually assaulted women reported that their assailant had been drinking.”

That’s 1 out of 3 rape victims – and 7 out of 10 sexual assailants. Do the maths – for which group, victims or attackers, is drinking the big problem?

So here is my new campaign:


You may recall that I have blogged previously about the “Qatif girl” case (see here, here, here and here) in which a young Saudi woman was gang raped and then sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison for her part in the crime.

I wrote at the time to my MP asking him to find out what was up with the British government, who were strangely quiet and had expressed no public condemnation of these events. My MP promptly wrote to the foreign office and at last a reply has been forthcoming. Kim Howells (minister responsible for relations with Saudi Arabia) says:

“The UK Government raised the case with Saudi authorities. The facts to hand on this case are disturbing. We urged the Saudi authorities to review the case again. We understand that King Abdullah has granted a Royal pardon to the victim.

We remain concerned to hear that the victim’s lawyer will be brought before a disciplinary committee for defending the case. The committee may decide to suspend or revoke his licence to practice law. Our Embassy in Riyadh continues to monitor this case.

The UK Government remains concerned about the overall human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, including discrimination against women, non-Muslims, homosexuals, the retrictions on freedom of expression, movement, assembly and worship, the implementation of UN human righst instruments and issues relating to the judicial process.

The UK Government is committed to improving human rights in Saudi Arabia and have intertwined and inseparable interests: in our economies, in the fight against global terrorism and in regional stability. However, this relationship does not reduce our commitment to human rights or prevent us from raising difficult issues with the Saudi Authorities.”

Kim Howells suggested that we see also The only thing on there of much interest in relation to KSA is this state visit FAQ prepared last October when King Abdullah came to visit the Queen in London.

So what do you think? Are we impressed?

A brief update on the “Qatif girl”, the 19 year old woman who was sentenced to 90 and then 200 lashes and 6 months imprisonment following her gang rape, because the rape happened after she had been sitting in a car with a man (who was also kidnapped and raped along with her) who was not a relative of hers. See my posts here, here and here for more details.

The BBC and ABC are reporting that the king has pardoned the Qatif girl. There is no information about whether the man, who was also sentenced to 90 lashes, has been pardoned. The Saudi justice ministry’s official position is that this pardon does not affect the justice or legality of the conviction and sentence. Apparently the king is being criticised within Saudi Arabia for bending to “foreign interference”. Well yay for foreign interference, and boo for the Saudi justice ministry.

Meanwhile, I had a fairly prompt response from my MP when I wrote asking what the government position is on this case, expressing appropriate shock and dismay about the case and saying that he had written to David Milliband to answer the actual question. I have not heard anything more. Not yet.

I have written a few times on this blog about the practice of FGM as a horrific violation of women’s bodies that, apart from stripping them of bodily integrity, also has many long and short term health risks. Today I want to think not about why it must stop now (duh) but about how it can stop, what we can do to actually make it stop. Fine words and awareness-raising are just so much hand-wringing unless we actually get out there and make something happen.

The most obvious step is to change the laws. There are still many countries where FGM is lawful or where only the most extreme forms are prohibited. And we need to ensure that no country will refuse asylum or refugee status to a girl or woman fleeing from FGM. It is only very recently that even in the UK the risk of being subject to FGM has been recognised as giving a girl or woman the right to be granted refugee status here.

But legal changes can only ever be a small part of the solution. There is no point in changing the law unless people will comply with the law. This means either rigorous law enforcement or more realistically (especially but not only in countries where police forces are overstretched, underfunded, uninterested or plain corrupt) voluntary abandonment of the practice by the communities where it is currently entrenched.

How can communities be persuaded to abandon FGM? The obvious answer is to tell them that FGM is dangerous, and a violation of women’s human rights and human dignity, that it can kill. But many adherents to the practice know that already, and they still do it. So telling them again and highlighting the dangers as best we can might help, slowly, in some cases: but it won’t eradicate FGM any more than telling people that smoking is bad for them will eradicate smoking.

So telling them not to do it doesn’t work. Telling them how bad it is doesn’t work. Why not? Clearly there are reasons people want to carry out FGM on their girl children which go deeper than “because we’ve always done it”. These communities experience benefits from FGM which outweigh the health risk to the child, which outweigh any right to wholeness that she may have, which outweigh any risk of legal repercussions.

The Population Council has an FGM (FGC) page with lots of resources about anti-FGM actions that have been tried, and evaluation research that has been carried out to identify the best approaches to FGM eradication. I’m not even going to try and summarise the various reports and assessments on there, but having read through a number of them I can suggest that a few common strands do emerge.

One is that the most successful approaches were participatory, involving the whole community in discussing FGM and thinking about their own behaviour, with a view to making and sustaining a voluntary commitment to changing the behaviour.

Another is the importance of projects being focussed on specific, whole communities. The admirable organisation Rainbo has developed a framework (which it calls “Women’s Empowerment and Community Consensus”, or WECC) which recognises that communities cling onto FGM because they get something out of it and that we must therefore do more than threaten or preach: we must also understand the community needs that FGM satisfies, so that we can help the women and men who “benefit” from FGM to find alternative ways of satisfying those needs.

This approach can be seen in the following two reports, which aimed at designing an approach to FGM eradication focussed on specific communities by looking at the reasons why FGM is practised within those communities:

  • A 2004 Frontiers report found that the reasons for cutting in the Islamic Somali community in Kenya included “religious obligation, family honor, preserving virginity as a prerequisite for marriage, prevention of extramarital as well as premarital sex, and aesthetics” (but not as an initiation rite). The approach recommended was then a religious-based approach, combined with medical information, to show that this is a traditional practice that is contrary to Islamic dictates because of the harm it does.
  • A similar report focussed on the Christian Abagusii community in Kenya where the reasons cited were “tradition, cultural identity, symbolic maturity, control of women’s sexuality and fidelity, and marriageability” and where it was found that despite being illegal, most cutting is performed (albeit unofficially) in clinics by nurses and midwives. Here the approach recommended was to mobilise health workers by educating them about legal and medical issues, addressing the financial incentives they have for performing FGM (they are well paid), and encouraging them to advise their clients against the practice. The involvement of health workers and education about health risks was already having some benefits in reducing the severity of the cutting, and in some cases limiting cutting to a symbolic prick of the clitoris.

Finally, sadly, it is clear that FGM abandonment is a lengthy process, that does not happen overnight.

One model for this process is the progressive diffusion of anti-FGM attitudes. For example, this might involve “converting” community members and encouraging them to go out and “convert” their own family and friends so that eventually the tiny minority who are prepared to stand up against FGM within that community grows and grows, with the expectation that eventually not cutting will be the norm. There is evidence of some success at this approach, although no evidence of any community where this approach has made a dramatic impact even over the long term.

A different model is to involve a whole community, a whole village, so that the community arrives together at a decision to stop FGM – each member of that community lending support (and peer pressure) to the change. This again cannot be done overnight. First, you have to get the whole village involved in actually thinking about and questioning FGM – using medical and human rights information distributed through health and literacy programs; encouraging religious leaders and other influential individuals including health workers to openly condemn the practice; and empowering grassroots anti-FGM advocates. The next step is to support people through the transition from thinking about change to actually making the change, with an element being to address fears of social exclusion for uncut women: alternative rites is one strategy; another is to bring whole villages to make an “FGM-free” declaration that will help to reduce fears of ostracism. There is evidence that this whole-community approach can work in the longer term.

So what can we do? It is frustrating that the process is slow, it is frustrating that there is no easy answer, no quick fix. No petition to sign, no angry letter to write, no big corporation to boycott. What can we do? As outsiders, it seems to me that all we can do is to support the grass-roots movements and projects, to support people who are actually out there doing it. Donating what we can, and hand-wringing otherwise.

It seems so little, and meanwhile the cutting goes on.

I seem to be glued to this blog today – it’s this “Qatif girl” case that I can’t get out of my mind. I just checked on BBC website and the latest story is all about the USA reaction and in particular George Bush’s utter refusal to condemn this unbelievable demonstration of Saudi Arabia’ state-sponsored misogyny.

There is still nothing on the reaction of our own government!

I have just written to my MP to ask him what our government makes of it all. If we all write to our MPs asking them to raise the matter with government then at least they will have to come out one way or the other, condemning what has happened (is happening) or not. That has to be something, right?

Writing to your MP is easy, you can do it online here, as long as you know your postcode and what you want to say:

My message is pasted below. Feel free to make use of it, but please bear in mind that, as WriteToThem rightly point out, MPs tend to take you much more seriously if you make up your own words (and the website doesn’t accept copy-paste messages anyway).

Dear [my MP]

I have been reading and hearing about a case in Saudi Arabia in which a 19 year old woman (described as “the Qatif girl”) has been sentenced to 6 months in prison and 200 lashes after she was raped by a gang of seven men.

I am completely amazed at this case, which is extreme even for Saudi Arabia. I note that some countries are making official representations to the Saudi authorities about it. For example, I understand that Canada has condemned the conviction and sentence of this victim as “barbaric” – which of course it is.

Can you please find out what the UK government response will be and whether some sort of official protest or condemnation will be forthcoming?

Thank you, etc

This relates to the story detailed in this post. I have posted separately because the first set of clippings relates to the case itself, and the second lot relate to how other countries have reacted to the decision.

This is especially important because I am utterly sick of hearing about the important, cosy relationship that we and the USA have with Saudi Arabia – because of their money, and their arms deals, and their help with the war on terror. Every day in Saudi Arabia women are cruelly oppressed; they are subjected to the most horrific enforcements of an apartheid so strict I don’t think any country in the world can compete; they are crushed as the “Qatif girl” has been crushed- and they have no effective redress.

Yet still we play nice with the Saudi government. There is no talk of action, no talk of sanctions, no talk of condemnation or pressure. It makes me sick.

Al-Jazeera, 20 November 2007

Josee Verner, Canada’s minister responsible for the status of women, called the Saudi ruling “barbaric” and said it would only further violate the 19-year-old victim. Verner said Canada would formally express its condemnation to “the appropriate Saudi authorities”.

But the US, which wants Saudi Arabia to attend its Middle East conference in Annapolis next week, did not condemn the ruling.

Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the US state department, said: “This is a part of a judicial procedure overseas in the court of a sovereign country,” when asked to comment on the case. “That said, most would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens.”Asked whether the Saudi authorities should reconsider the sentence against the woman, McCormack said he could not “get involved in specific court cases in Saudi Arabia dealing with its own citizens”.

The Star (Canada), 21 November 2007

Ottawa has rightly denounced this ruling as “barbaric.” It reeks of reprisal, not justice. Ottawa should urge King Abdullah, who claims to be reforming the legal system, where judicial whim trumps natural justice, to void the ruling and drop all charges against the victim.

CNN tried to get official reactions – nobody wanted to talk about this case:

COSTELLO: Over here, the U.S. State Department would only say the situation was “astonishing.”
QUESTION: Just to be clear, you’re in no way condemning the sentence at all?
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I’ve said what I’m going to say about it.

Also from CNN: White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend, who announced her resignation Monday, called the case “absolutely reprehensible” but told CNN’s “American Morning” the Saudis deserve credit for their assistance in battling terrorism. “This case is separate and apart from that, and I just don’t think there’s any explaining it or justifying it,” she added.

(We can only speculate that the reason she resigned is that she was not permitted to say these things and stay in a White House job.)

The Chicago Sun Times, 19 November 2007

We sell billions of dollars worth of arms to the Saudis in a lucrative exchange. The State Department needs to condemn the Saudis’ handling of the case. Being our ally doesn’t buy our silence. This is an especially egregious case and one in which we can use our influence to defend the rights of women in Saudi Arabia and around the world.

The UK government does not appear to have issued any comments yet. They have the same interest as the USA in keeping Saudi Arabia sweet, I guess.

How long? How bad? How much will Saudi women and men have to endure before the suggestion that “being our ally doesn’t buy our silence” becomes true?

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