Archive for the ‘North America’ Category
Katha Pollitt admires Julian Assange for his work on WikiLeaks, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that he has committed sex crimes
The problem is not that many WikiLeaks supporters question the zeal with which Swedish authorities are pursuing Assange. Maybe it’s true that an ordinary guy, faced with similar accusations, would have been allowed to slip away quietly once he left Sweden rather than become the subject of an Interpol red notice. (Maybe not, though. The 11 Swedes on Interpol’s public red list include people wanted for fraud and other non-spectacular crimes. Much has been made of the fact that only one of these, an alleged child molester, is charged with a sex crime. But the vast majority of wanted people are privately listed, so actually there’s no way of knowing if Assange’s case is exceptional.)
Given that US politicians, from Joe Biden to Sarah Palin, have called for Assange’s head, it isn’t paranoid to suspect that he is being singled out in order to extradite him to the United States. But it could also be that Sweden is following up because law enforcement officials get mad when world-class celebrities flee the country and then thumb their noses at them – cf Roman Polanski.
What’s disturbing is the way some WikiLeaks admirers have misrepresented the allegations, attacked the women and made light of date rape. It’s been known for some time that Assange was accused of using his body weight to force sex on one woman, ignoring her demand that he use a condom, and penetrating the other woman while she slept, also without a condom, despite her wishes; yet writer after writer has treated the whole thing as a big joke.
Appearing on Keith Olbermann’s show after he put up $20,000 to help bail Assange out of a British jail, Michael Moore – apparently an expert on Swedish rape law – called the case “a bunch of hooey”: “the condom broke during consensual sex”.
The heroic Sady Doyle, a blogger at Tiger Beatdown, gets lots of credit for starting a Twitter campaign that forced Moore and Olbermann to – sort of – back off their sexist chortling. But it’s too late: the “revelations” that Sweden has laws against condomless sex and that “Ms A” is a CIA “honeytrap” are all over the left blogosphere.
And it isn’t just men who are spreading it. On the Huffington Post, Naomi Wolf posted a satirical letter to Interpol, aka the “world’s dating police”, repeating the broken-condom falsehood and adding that Assange’s crimes include “texting and tweeting in the taxi… while on a date and, disgustingly enough, reading stories about himself online” in the cab. Is this the same Naomi Wolf who wrote a 2004 New York magazine cover story accusing Harold Bloom of putting his hand on her thigh 20 years before? Wolf argues that the accusations against Assange demean the seriousness of rape.
In fact, Swedish law does distinguish among degrees of rape, with Assange being accused on one count of the least grave kind. In a much-cited letter to the Guardian, Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape argued that Sweden’s low rape conviction rate proved that Assange was being set up – in 2006, she claimed, only six people were convicted out of 4,000 reported. Not so.
“I don’t know where they got those figures,” Amnesty International’s Katarina Bergehed told me by phone from Sweden. “In 2006 there were 3,074 rapes and 227 convictions.” (Sweden tracks rape by individual acts, not by number of victims, so the prevalence of rape is less than it looks.) Bergehed should know: she wrote the Swedish section of the Amnesty report on sex crimes in the Nordic countries that Assange supporters cite as proving that Sweden is the worst place in Europe for rape victims.
One reason the Swedish rape conviction rate is low is that – thanks to 30 years of feminist progress – the law defines sexual violence and coercion broadly but, as in other countries, police and juries often do not. The same seems to be true of large swaths of the American left.
WikiLeaks is revealing information citizens need to know – it’s a good thing. Assange may or may not have committed sex crimes according to Swedish law. Why is it so hard to hold those two ideas at once?
Extracts from a longer comment piece at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/27/rape-left-julian-assange-swedish-law-wikileaks
When a woman volunteers for the military, she gives up the comfort, safety and freedom of civilian life. This she expects, as do men.
Serving her country shouldn’t mean doubling her likelihood of being sexually assaulted, or, if she is, lowering the chance that the offender will be punished. But that’s what the military means for women, according to the Service Women’s Action Network.
What the Pentagon gives out in the way of this sort of information shows only a slice of reality, says Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine and the executive director of the servicewomen’s group, which is based in New York.
Her group has gone to court with its claim that the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are stonewalling its request for more data.
A Defense Department press officer, Maj. Monica Bland, wouldn’t address the litigation specifically but acknowledged the problem.
“Much work remains to be done,” Bland said by e-mail, and “the Department is committed to the goals of preventing sexual assault, increasing reporting, and improving DoD response to the crime.”
The servicewomen’s group puts it this way in its lawsuit: “Sexual assault pervades the ranks of the American military.” The American Civil Liberties Union and its Connecticut chapter are also plaintiffs in the case, filed in federal court in Connecticut.
They want records, on mistreatment ranging from sexual harassment to rape, that will better reveal the frequency and circumstances, the prosecution of cases and the treatment given victims, who often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The various branches of the armed forces define, count, track and report incidents differently. Because of that, the annual reports Congress requires of the Defense Department can’t tell the full picture. Letters from the servicewomen’s organization to agencies within Defense and the VA produced few records, so the group filed suit last week.
The idea that members and veterans of the military would have to go to court to get this information is astounding. Where is Julian Assange when he’s really needed?
Even incomplete, the numbers that are available are disturbing enough.
Surveys in recent years show that roughly one in three servicewomen say they were sexually assaulted during their time in the military. Of those who say they were raped, 14 percent said they were gang-raped, according to a survey reported by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2003.
As hesitant as sexual-assault victims in civilian life are to report the crime, it’s worse in the military. Fear of reprisal, uncertainty over what will result, and the military structure and mindset all discourage victims from reporting.
Still, either reporting is getting better or sexual predation is getting worse in the services. A Defense Department report released December shows sexual assaults at the military service academies are up.
And, citing Defense Department figures, the lawsuit says the number of sexual assaults within the armed services rose 73 percent from 2004 to 2006 and 11 percent from 2008 to 2009.
While the government has made it easier for servicemen and servicewomen to get help for post-traumatic stress disorder, the improvements won’t do much to help victims of sexual mistreatment, according to Bhagwati. The veteran with combat- related PTSD no longer has to prove a precise link between his condition and a specific episode. But victims of sexual assault have to show they were assaulted, hard to do in a system where records are often not kept.
And yet, 71 percent of female veterans seeking VA disability benefits for PTSD have been sexually traumatized, says the lawsuit.
Already we know enough to recognize a very serious problem. And it seems to be getting worse, even after high-profile promises to protect service members against sexual predators, increased reporting and more educational programs, and recommendations to standardize reporting and create environments where victims feel safe to report and offenders fear the consequences.
So it’s no surprise that while about 40 percent of those accused of sexual assault in the civilian world get prosecuted, only 8 percent of military sex offenders do.
Consider the case of three enlisted sailors who were discharged from the Navy after the rape of a female midshipman enrolled at Annapolis.
During a cruise with classmates, she and nine other midshipmen left the ship for a party in a sailor’s apartment. The other midshipmen eventually left her behind with three enlisted sailors, at least one of whom raped her, according to the new report on sexual violence at military academies.
The sailors’ punishment was discharge, not civilian prosecution.
Surely the worldwide sex scandal involving some Catholic priests taught that you can’t handle these things internally and let the predator move someplace else to prey on the unaware.
Protecting servicemen and servicewomen from sexual mistreatment, whether harassment, assault or rape, is hard enough when you know precisely what’s going on.
But until there’s enough information to know that, it simply can’t get much better.
And no one signs up for that.
A scan of Craigslist’s Canadian websites suggests the U.S.-based classifieds website has taken down its controversial “erotic services” section, following months of political pressure.
On afternoon of Saturday 18th December 2010, most Canadian homepages did not display the section. Previously, the ads had shown blatant sex listings, which included prices and accompanying photos.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he was glad that the San Francisco-based company had taken the section out of its popular listings.
“Our government was concerned that such advertisements could facilitate serious criminal offences, such as living on the avails of child prostitution and trafficking in persons,” he said in a statement sent to The Canadian Press.
For the past four months, provincial and federal politicians have lobbied Craigslist to remove the ads following a similar debate in the U.S., where several attorneys general complained that the section promoted the illegal sex trade.
That public debate prompted Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley to write a pair of letters to Craigslist chief Jim Buckmaster, personally asking him to get rid of the ads in Canada. Governments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta followed with the same request.
“It’s an important step and an important signal,” Bentley told CP. “We’re pleased Craigslist appears to have taken steps to protect women, children and the vulnerable.”
No official comment was immediately available from Craigslist, and some ads in Halifax and elsewhere were online Saturday afternoon.
Some advocates for a safer sex trade have said pulling the ads simply sweeps the larger issues of prostitution and sexual exploitation out of the public eye.
Extract from a longer opinion piece by Carol Hanisch
Feminism (USA) has always been a problematic term in the struggle for women’s liberation, and now with such unlikely public figures as Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga embracing it, it’s become more so. When can or should the feminist label be applied? A look at the recent history of the term may help put the question in perspective.
In the 1960s, many of us involved in getting the Women’s Liberation Movement off the ground didn’t at first want to call ourselves feminists because the term was applied to establishment liberal groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW). These groups concentrated on legal and lobbying solutions, mostly in the areas of employment and careers, and while we appreciated their work, we had a much broader goal for our movement: the total liberation of all women in every area of our lives, including those considered too “personal” for public discussion and action. Also in contrast to the liberal groups, most of us agreed that women’s liberation could not be achieved under capitalism, though we thought progress certainly was possible and necessary and needed to be fought for in the present, that it would actually help bring about the other social and economic changes we wanted.
At the same time we took the name “Women’s Liberation,” we didn’t want to cut ourselves off from other women’s rights groups and we wanted to study and learn from feminist history and our feminist foremothers. We ended up using both terms — feminist and women’s liberation — though not completely interchangeably. We thought of ourselves as the Women’s Liberation Movement within a broader feminist movement.
The radical WLM led the way in making feminism immensely popular by using consciousness-raising to focus on the nitty-gritty male supremacy that women experienced in their everyday lives — some aspects of which, like abortion, were not then discussed in public. (The case for the success of these radical ideas is made in the 1975 Redstockings book,Feminist Revolution.) As its popularity grew, the feminist bandwagon became overcrowded with a myriad of offshoots: cultural feminists, lesbian feminists, lesbian separatist feminists, matriarchal feminists, eco-feminists, anti-nuke feminists, peace feminists, anarcho-feminists, animal rights feminists, third wave feminists, Jewish feminists, and the list goes on — even the anti-abortion Feminists for Life. Some, in our view, bore little relationship to the real struggle for feminist or women’s liberation demands, but were women self-segregating themselves to fight for other goals.
With the marginalization of the Women’s Liberation Movement by liberal forces, a milder “women’s movement,” minus “liberation”– and now even often minus “movement” (in practice if not if intent) — arose proclaiming that “feminism is anything a woman says it is.” It became mostly about the individual woman — individual choice, personal expression, and individual career success — with little relationship to the need for a collective, united, social movement to liberate all women. This tendency, there from the beginning, gained strength as the Women’s Liberation Movement, radical in its collective approach to attacking the roots of male supremacy, was pushed into near oblivion in the early 1970s. The militant multi-issue groups with their willingness to probe and expose every nook and cranny of women’s oppression were either marginalized or became single issue organizations, advocating in only one area and often distancing themselves from women’s liberation as a radical, grassroots movement.
Today, there is even a group aptly called “ifeminists” (individualist feminists), which claims it is for women’s equality while simultaneously associating itself with anti-government libertarians and Ayn Rand. It supports all kinds of “individual choices” for women, from abortion to porn, while opposing such “government intervention” as police and court interference in wife-battering.
Then there is the question of the relation of feminism to issues of war and peace. Many feminists consider peace to be a feminist issue (I don’t). Their criteria, however, is often inconsistent. Some who see Clinton as a feminist claim Palin can’t be a feminist because she supports the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Clinton, who championed mildly progressive women’s and family issues as a senator, is a war hawk as Secretary of State. Rare is the woman who gets into the Good Old Boys Club who doesn’t reinforce the system she started out to reform.
A movement needs a certain amount of consensus to move forward, and if it can’t even decide what direction that is, it is not a force to be reckoned with and will achieve little. What’s more, if its leaders are going to call that chaos a good thing, what hope is there? It also needs more than belief in women’s equality and encouraging words. It needs accompanying theory and action. Knowing that the yearning for equality has not left most women’s souls (even if the Movement that fought for it to become a reality is in disarray), opportunists of both sexes play off feminism in many spheres. Lack of consensus throws the door wide open.
It may be that by now the word “feminism” is so distorted by those claiming the label — including its enemies — that it is impossible to define or use the word without writing a whole book about it. But anyone who thinks we’re post-feminism and it doesn’t matter anymore is asleep at the wheel. We can’t afford to abandon the term and concept of feminism because of the real advances that have been made for women in its name, and the rich historical legacy that we must defend. And we need a name for what still needs to be done, a still monumental task. We need to use the terms “women’s liberation” and even “male supremacy” again, even if it means a very big fight.
Carol Hanisch was a founding member of New York Radical Women in 1968 and has been agitating for the liberation of women ever since. She is probably best known for writing The Personal Is Political and for proposing the idea for—and writing a critique of—the 1968 Miss America Protest. She was also managing editor of the Redstockings book Feminist Revolution and editor of the journal Meeting Ground. She has also been active in civil rights, working class and environmental movements. Website: http://www.carolhanisch.org and email: email@example.com.
There’s a lot going around in bloglandia and on the interwebs about WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange’s sexual assault charge in Sweden; commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of “sex by surprise,” which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. Totally unfair, right?
Well, no, I’m not sure it’s that straightforward. The actual details of what happened are hard to come by, and are largely filtered through tabloid sources that are quick to offer crucial facts like the hair color of the women (blonde) and the clothes they wore (pink, tight), but it sounds like the sex was consensual on the condition that a condom was used. It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. This is of course speculation based on the bare-bones reported description of events, but it’s at least clear that “this is a case of a broken condom” isn’t close to the whole story. (It’s also worth pointing out that the charge is actually a quite minor one in Sweden, and the punishment is a $700 fine).
Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) — if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape. That may not sound entirely familiar to Americans, since the United States has relatively regressive rape laws; in most states, there’s a requirement of force in order to prove rape, rather than just demonstrating lack of consent. Consent is more often used as a defense to a rape charge, and it’s hard to convict someone of rape based solely on non-consent. Some states, like New York, have rape laws on the books which include “no means no” provisions for intercourse — basically, if a reasonable person would have understood that the sex was not consensual, then that’s rape. It seems obvious enough, but those laws are not used nearly as often as forcible-rape laws; they aren’t on the books in many states, and they’re difficult to enforce even where they are.
Withdrawal of consent gets even trickier. It’s an obvious enough concept for feminist thinkers who have spent more than 10 minutes considering the realities of sex and sexual assault: If you consent to sex but then at some point during sex withdraw that consent by telling your partner to stop, your partner should stop, and if your partner doesn’t stop then that’s assault. It’s not too hard, for those of us who have had sex, to imagine how this works — I have a difficult time imagining any decent human being hearing their partner say “Stop!” in the middle of sex and not, you know, stopping. I can’t imagine hearing my partner say “Stop” and not stopping. And if your partner is saying “Stop stop stop stop!” and you keep going, yes, you are raping them.
But the concept of withdrawing consent seems to be a little tougher for folks who think of sex as something women give to men (or men take from women); it’s definitely a tougher concept for folks who think that sex inherently sullies women. I suspect that the thought process goes, If the damage (penetrative sex) has already been done, then the situation can’t possibly turn into a rape, because the initial penetration itself occurred consensually, and it’s that penetration that’s the basis of the harm in any rape case. Consent, in that framework, isn’t the point. The U.S. is a bit of a patchwork when it comes to withdrawal of consent laws, with some states recognizing that withdrawal of consent is valid and that it is rape if you keep having sex with someone after they’ve said no, and other states either not touching the issue or not recognizing as rape situations where consent is withdrawn post-penetration. Making the Assange story juicier blog-bait in the U.S. is the fact that we’re deeply wedded to the notion of rape as forcible; despite many of our best efforts, a consent-based framework for evaluating sexual assault is not yet widely accepted. So we hear “she consented to sex but only with a condom and he didn’t use a condom and now she’s claiming he raped her” and we go, “say what?”, because that’s so far removed from the Law & Order: SVU sexual assault model. When, really, if you evaluate sexual assault through the lens of consent rather than force or violence, the picture starts to look a little bit different.
Whether withdrawal of consent is what actually happened here is impossible to tell, so I’m not suggesting that Assange is a rapist or that these charges are 100% definitely on-point; I have no idea. But neither do the commentators who are saying that Assange did nothing more than have sex without a condom. And it’s important to counter the “haha sex by surprise those crazy Swedes” media narrative with the fact that actually, non-consensual sex is assault and should be recognized as such by law. Consenting to one kind of sexual act doesn’t mean that you consent to anything else your partner wants to do; if it’s agreed that the only kind of sex we’re having is with a condom, then it does remove an element of consent to have sex without a condom with only one partner’s knowledge. To use another example, if you and your partner agree that you can penetrate her, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she has the green light to penetrate you whenever and however.
I’m not particularly interested in debating What Assange Did or Whether Assange Is A Rapist, and I’d appreciate it if we could steer clear of that in the comments section. Rather, I’m interested in pushing back on the primary media narrative about this case, which is that women lie and exaggerate about rape, and will call even the littlest thing — a broken condom! — rape if they’re permitted to under a too-liberal feminist legal system. In fact, there are lots of good reasons to support consent-based sexual assault laws, and to recognize that consent goes far beyond “yes you can put that in here now.” It’s a shame that the shoddy, sensationalist reporting on this case have muddied those waters.
UPDATE: As greater clarity is brought to these charges, it sounds like it was a lot more than “they agreed he would wear a condom and he didn’t.” According to the Press Association, “The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner … The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.” Emphasis mine. Kate Harding has more.
Comment published at http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/12/06/some-thoughts-on-sex-by-surprise/
Justice Susan Himel issued a ruling on Sept. 28 that declared several laws surrounding prostitution to be unconstitutional.
While prostitution itself is legal in Canada, keeping a common bawdy house or communicating for the purposes of prostitution are illegal. Translation, no brothels in the suburbs and no chatting up hookers on street corners.
Himel ruled that those laws put prostitutes at risk and violated their rights under the charter.
The ruling was stayed to give governments time to respond. The Harper government launched an appeal but that appeal could not be heard before the stay lapsed. On Thursday the Ontario Court of Appeal stayed the ruling until the full appeal is heard.
Terry Bedford, the dominatrix who fought and won in Himel’s court was disappointed with this latest court decision.
Bedford accused the Harper government of hiding behind the courts and said Harper should “be a man” and bring in a new law that works for prostitutes.
Speaking in Mississauga, Ont., Prime Minister Stephen Minister Harper told reporters he’s never been called upon to respond to a dominatrix before but defended the appeal.
“We believe that the prostitution trade is bad for society. That’s a strong view held by our government and I think by most Canadians,” Harper said.
In Ottawa, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he’s confident the government’s view will prevail before the courts.
“It is the position of the Government of Canada that these provisions are constitutionally sound,” Nicholson said.
New Democrat MP Libby Davies said the government is hiding from the issue.
“The government has refused to recognize how harmful these laws are for sex workers,” Davies told QMI Agency.
Davies called for full debate on prostitution in Parliament.
The Montréal Massacre of December 6, 1989, in which 14 women students at the École Polytechnique were systematically killed and 13 other students wounded by a lone gunman, is indelibly imprinted on the minds of Quebeckers and others who struggled to comprehend the worst single-day massacre in Canadian history.
Since the beginning of Québec’s “Quiet Revolution” in the 1960s, women had been making increasing strides in non-traditional occupations and educational programs. In the 1970s and 1980s, growing numbers flocked to the École Polytechnique, the School of Engineering at the University of Montréal. While most men in Québec and elsewhere accepted and even welcomed these transformations, a minority felt themselves disadvantaged by attempts to encourage women’s new roles and opportunities.
One of these was Marc Lépine, a 25-year-old Quebecker and child-abuse survivor who, as an adult, was described by acquaintances as a moody loner. Lépine had sought to join the Canadian Armed Forces, but was rejected. He had also studied for admission to the École Polytechnique, but was not accepted — a decision he apparently blamed on “affirmative action” policies promoted by feminists and their sympathizers. In the suicide note he would leave on his body, Lépine provided some insights into the virulent mindset that fuelled his rage against women and feminists:
Please note that if I am committing suicide today … it is not for economic reasons … but for political reasons. For I have decided to send Ad Patres [Latin: "to the fathers"] the feminists who have ruined my life. … The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women … while trying to grab those of men. … They are so opportunistic that they neglect to profit from the knowledge accumulated by men throughout the ages. They always try to misrepresent them every time they can.
Attached to the letter was a list of 19 prominent Québec women in non-traditional occupations, including the province’s first woman firefighter and police captain. Beneath the list Lépine wrote: “[These women] nearly died today. The lack of time (because I started too late) has allowed these radical feminists to survive.” It was, instead, dozens of ordinary women at the École Polytechnique who would bear the brunt of his fury.
The act of gendercide
On the evening of December 6, 1989, shortly after 5 o’clock on the penultimate day of classes before the Christmas holidays, Lépine carried a concealed Sturm Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle into the École Polytechnique. His first female victim, Maryse Laganiere, was killed in a corridor. He then proceeded to Room 303, a classroom which held 10 women students and 48 men, along with a male professor. Firing two shots into the ceiling and shouting, “I want the women. I hate feminists!,” Lépine enacted a gendercidal ritual that will be familiar to readers of other case-studies on this site (Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia) — only this time, the victims were female. Separating the men from the women, he expelled the men at gunpoint, lined up the remaining women students against the wall, and began to fire. Six women died; the others were injured, but survived.
“Then, Lépine went down to the first floor,” wrote Maclean’s (December 18, 1989). “Firing at diving, ducking students as he went, he entered the cafeteria, where he killed [Anne-Marie] Edward and two of her classmates. Still on the hunt, Lépine climbed back up to the third floor, where he strode into Room 311. Students, unaware of the unfolding tragedy, were delivering end-of-semester oral presentations. ‘At first, nobody did anything,’ recalled Eric Forget, 21. Then, the gunman opened fire, sending two professors and 26 students scrambling for cover beneath their desks. ‘We were trapped like rats,’ said Forget. ‘He was shooting all over the place.’ Other witnesses said that Lépine leaped onto several desks and shot at women cowering beneath them. Four more women were killed. Then, roughly 20 minutes after embarking on his rampage, Lépine took his own life.” By the time he blew off the back of his own head, fourteen women lay dead, and thirteen other students were injured (nine women, four men).
The murdered women were:
* Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
* Hélène Colgan, 23;
* Nathalie Croteau, 23;
* Barbara Daigneault, 22;
* Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
* Maud Haviernick, 29;
* Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
* Maryse Leclair, 23;
* Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
* Michèle Richard, 21;
* Maryse Laganière, 25;
* Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
* Sonia Pelletier, 28; and
* Annie Turcotte, aged 21.
The aftermath — A shared responsibility?
In the wake of the horrific murders, Quebeckers and Canadians — along with many others around the world — rallied to commemorate the victims and denounce the anti-feminist wrath of their attacker. Many called Lépine a “madman,” but others rejected the term as downplaying the calculating nature of his hatred towards women and feminists. Indeed, Lépine himself had rejected it in his suicide note: “Even though the Mad Killer epithet will be attributed to me by the media, I consider myself a rational and erudite person that only the arrival of the Grim Reaper has forced to undertake extreme acts.” Declared Judy Rebick, who was spurred by the massacre to run for the leadership of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women: “If he’d killed 14 Jews, he’d have been seen as disturbed, but also anti-Semitic.”
Municipal and provincial authorities declared three days of mourning; the flag at the Canadian parliament flew at half-mast. Candlelight vigils were held across Canada, and on the Sunday following the massacre, tens of thousands of Québec residents and visitors queued in sub-zero temperatures outside the University of Montréal chapel to view the closed caskets of the murdered young women. One of them was Gendercide Watch executive director Adam Jones, who recalls: “I have never seen such a collective outpouring of grief. The murders united many Quebeckers across generational, ethnic, and gender lines; all turned out to pay their respects. Personally, it was a transforming experience. I had never seriously examined the gendering of violence in our society, and around the world, before those 14 women died.”
Since 1989, December 6 has been officially designated a national day of commemoration. Over the years, debate has raged (renewed for the tenth anniversary commemorations in 1999) as to whether the slaughter was an isolated act, or a symbol of male violence against women. It was certainly, as noted, an act of mass murder unprecedented in Canadian history. And the ritual, gendercidal separation of women from men — as also noted — usually leaves men dead and women still alive. Nonetheless, Lépine’s rampage had strong echoes in the numerous acts of domestic murder and abuse committed by men fearful that “their” women will assert greater independence and move beyond traditional female roles. (Lépine’s suicide also typified the pathological self-hatred and self-destructiveness which regularly features in such acts, and which makes it difficult to speak of a simple exercise of “patriarchal power.”)
Some carried the argument of generalized male responsibility further still. “Men kill women and children as a proprietary, vengeful and terrorist act,” wrote Montréal Men Against Sexism. “They do so with the support of a sexist society and judicial system. As pro-feminist men, we try to reveal and to end this continuing massacre, which will go on as along as we do not end sexism and sexist violence, along with all of men’s alibis for them.”
Thinking along similar lines, Toronto city councillor Jack Layton co-founded the White Ribbon Movement in 1991 to remember the victims of the massacre and protest against violence against women. “Until Montréal, most of the discussion was introspective,” Layton recalled in 1999. “Then the massacre happened, and it got us off our butts. My head exploded that year. ‘What must it be like for women?’ I thought. It was time to speak out and own up to this behaviour.” “Eight years later,” writes Hurst, “the cause has spread to a dozen countries around the world. Its comprehensive curriculum on gender violence — taught at public, junior high and senior high school levels — is used in 100 schools across Canada, 1,000 in the U.S.” The movement has also attracted criticism from those who believe it makes unwarranted generalizations about the attitudes and behaviour of men (see Jones, “Why I Won’t Wear A White Ribbon”).
In November 1996, the Canadian Women’s Internet Association founded the “Candlelight Vigil Across the Internet”, with the stated aim of “rais[ing] awareness of violence against women across Canada and throughout cyberspace.” Now in its third year, the response has “far surpassed expectations,” according to organizers.
The Montréal Massacre was also a key moment in the struggle for gun control in Canada. In the wake of the massacre — “it came right out of it,” she said — Wendy Cukier founded the Coalition for Gun Control. The Coalition “would go on to play a major part in lobbying Ottawa for laws, in 1991 and in 1998, that would ban all semi-automatic, military assault weapons and short-barrelled handguns, and require the registration of all firearms, starting in 2003, and strict screening for all owners.” Ontario and a number of other provinces mounted Supreme Court challenges to the legislation, but in December 1999 Cukier stated she was “confident the court will come through.” (See Lynda Hurst, “10 Years Later, How a Massacre Changed Us All,” Toronto Star, November 27, 1999.)
Lastly, if Lépine had sought to terrorize Canadian women into staying put in their traditional roles, his rampage may have had the opposite effect. Between 1989 and 1999, the proportion of women enrolled in Canadian engineering faculties rose from 13 to 19 percent. And in absolute numbers, it more than doubled, to nearly 9,000.
Read more at http://www.gendercide.org/case_montreal.html
This is the result of a review by police following articles in a local paper that found a sharp drop in rapes in Baltimore – disproportionate to that of other cities – was a result of police too quickly dismissing complaints from women.
After the stories, city officials launched their own investigation and the results were revealed at a recent City Council hearing:
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the audit, along with other comprehensive changes in recent months, “has forever changed and improved the way sexual assault cases are investigated in Baltimore, ensuring that all victims of sexual assault have their complaints investigated fully and are treated with dignity and respect.”
Officials outlined a series of reforms, including barring beat officers from dismissing complaints without review, and police now work closely with rape crisis centers, even using counselors on interviews, to ease concerns of victims.
Women fleeing domestic violence will be able to use shelters in the GTA without worry of being targeted by immigration officers, a Toronto activist group says.
The Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre, a branch of the Canada Border Services Agency, will issue a directive barring officers from entering or waiting outside facilities serving women surviving violence, says Fariah Chowdhury, a spokeswoman for NoOneIsIllegal.
Chowdhury said rape crisis centres, women’s shelters or any community organization helping survivors of violence will now be off limits.
“For us, this is one small step in part of a broader campaign to make the city safe for women and for people with precarious status,” said Chowdhury. “It’s a long overdue victory because immigration officers should never have been arresting, deporting or detaining women who are so vulnerable in the first place.”
Chowdhury added that the directive will be released Thursday, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
It comes after two years of grassroots campaigning from a coalition of more than 120 organizations demanding shelters be considered a “safe space.”
Feminists and activists were concerned earlier this year when enforcement officers entered the Beatrice House shelter in Toronto looking for a woman from Ghana, identified only as Jane.
Jane, who said she grew up in a “voodoo” home and was sexually abused before arriving in Canada, missed the arrest because she and her 3-year-old daughter had just moved to another shelter.
“We have received numerous reports of immigration officials going into women’s shelters in the middle of the night and taking women and children out,” said Chowdhury.
“More and more people became afraid to access the services.”
While the directive is a “step in the right direction,” much more work must be done for undocumented people who aren’t able to go to university, access welfare or subsidized housing, said Chowdhury.
“These are essential support services that are really required for people’s survival.”
She added that talks about whether the directive will be applied on a national level will take place in coming weeks.
There isn’t really such thing as a “masculine” and a “feminine,” says feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Because we’ve been so deeply propagandized with the notions about what it means to be male or female, we don’t even know what the differences between these groups truly are. What we do know is that individual differences are much greater than group differences she says: “The differences between two women are quite likely to be bigger than the generalized differences between males and females as groups for every purpose except reproduction, just as the individual differences between two members of the same race or ethnicity are probably greater than the differences between two races.”
In her Big Think interview, Steinem sets the record straight about the oft-demonized feminist movement. Its purpose is not to attack men but “to free the uniqueness of the individual and to understand that inside each of us is a unique human being who is a combination of heredity and environment.” And in this pursuit, tremendous headway has been made, but there is still much more to be done.
Feminism isn’t dead, says Steinem. That’s merely a lie spread by the right. In the 1960s and ’70s, critics of feminism said that it wasn’t necessary, that women didn’t want these new rights and freedoms, and they are still propagating anti-feminist narratives. “The idea that feminism has not succeeded or that this generation has rejected it is just a new form of the backlash,” she says. But their efforts haven’t succeeded. “Even though the opposition has tried very hard to demonize [feminism] and to call us Femi-Nazis and terrible stuff, there are still about a third of American women who self identify as feminists with no definition and with the definition it’s more than 60%.”
We must also reassess our assumptions about men, she tells us. “We’ve demonstrated in this and other modern countries or industrialized countries that women can do what men can do, but we have not demonstrated that men can do what women can do,” she says. “Therefore children are still mostly raised by women, and women in industrialized modern countries end up having two jobs: one outside the home and one inside the home. And more seriously than that, children grow up believing that only women can be loving and nurturing, which is a libel on men, and that only men can be powerful in the world outside the home, which is a libel on women.”
Another sign of positive change would be a change in the forms of pornography society consumes, says Steinem. Pornography is tantamount to female slavery: “It’s all about passive dominance and pain,” she says. “I want to pass a newsstand and see erotica, real erotica, which has to do with love and free choice, not pornography,” she tells us. The same is true of prostitution: men go to prostitutes because they need a certain kind of dominance, which she says is an addiction to masculinity. “What has been eroticized by male dominant systems of all kinds is dominance and passivity; we need to eroticize equality,” she argues. “I always say to audiences of men, ‘Cooperation beats submission.’ Trust me.”
Finally, Steinem tells us why Sarah Palin’s choice to brand “mama grizzlies” as the mascot for right-wing women is so ironic. Grizzly bears are actually the animals that most embody reproductive freedoms, she says.
As participants from the U.S. at the 25th National Gathering of Women (XXV Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres) in Paraná, Argentina we denounce the attacks by rightwing Catholics on feminists at the workshops on “Women, Contraception and Abortion” which resulted in a number of injuries and the hospitalization of one activist.
This gathering is an historic victory by Argentine women and is a crucial place for the sharing of experiences as well as for strategizing on how to advance the fundamental rights of women as full human beings. The infiltration of the huge meeting by religious fanatics, a provocative and dangerous assault on freedom of speech, was an outrageous violation of women’s right to engage in much-needed discussions on how to win the basic right to control their own bodies.
Over the last four decades, Latin American women have won great advances in access to contraceptives and abortion. The ultra-right Catholics apparently consider it their mission to turn back the clock and reverse women’s hard-won victories.
Rightwing religious fundamentalism increased internationally in the 1970s in reaction to the worldwide revolutionary upsurge. Today, it is spurred on by the global economic crisis and the reliance of capitalism on women’s free labor in the home and cheap labor in the marketplace for super profits.
The seemingly ever-growing number of religious reactionaries often has the full collusion of bourgeois governments, including that of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. Through women’s sweat and sacrifices in the home, where they produce and care for the next generation of workers, and due to their drastically under-paid status in the workforce, untold wealth and global profits flow freely to keep capitalism and its crony governments afloat.
We stand with women all across Latin America who refuse to back down in the face of rightwing repression. At the enormous assembly in Paraná, feminists said “No more!” to the provocation of church-backed infiltrators and physically ousted them from the building where the workshops on “Contraception and Abortion” were being held. That same night, thousands of women mounted a march that stretched over 10 blocks singing chants against the dictatorship of the church and for women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies, including the right to abortion. The massive presence of police and military forces, posted in front of churches to “guard” them from protesters, was a display of government support for the anti-abortion fanatics.
As socialist feminists from the U.S., we are inspired by the militancy and tenacity shown by Argentine women this past weekend. We are engaged in a similar fight against the ultra-Catholics and evangelical Protestants on our own soil and are defending abortion clinics from attacks nationwide.
For forty years Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party have organized united fronts with other groups and individuals against similar campaigns by the right wing that target women, lesbians and gays, Blacks, Jews, and radical activists. We have learned that feminists, leftists, unionists and racial and ethnic minorities, representing wide-ranging political perspectives can and must work together to defeat our common enemies.
We support the call of Argentine feminists for legal, safe and free abortion and for the separation of church and state.
No more rightwing assaults on the Gathering of Women!
Long live global feminism!
Emily Woo Yamasaki, Radical Women
Laura Mannen, Freedom Socialist Party
One small study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, rather than take on the whole industry, the institute only focuses on what’s produced for children and who’s involved in those productions.
Over the years, the institute’s studies have shattered any illusion that children’s programming doesn’t share the same prejudices of adult entertainment.
The institute’s most recent study is the largest content survey ever done of U.S.-produced children’s films. And since the United States produces 80 per cent of all movies in the world, it’s the largest ever, anywhere. (Download http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/downloads/FullStudy_GenderDisparityFamilyFilms.pdf)
It was done by Stacy Smith and Marc Choueiti at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who analyzed films released in the United States and Canada between Sept. 5, 2006, and Sept. 7, 2009.
They and more than 80 students looked at all G-rated, English-language fictional narratives and the 50 top grossing PG and PG-13 movies.
What they found is that the world portrayed in kids’ shows is dominated by men — or at least males, since some of the kids’ characters are animals and even cars.
Of the 5,554 speaking roles, 71 per cent of the characters had men’s or boy’s voices.
But in three years’ worth of children’s movies ranging from fictional narratives to dramas and cartoons, the most shocking conclusion is how the few female characters are portrayed.
Whether they’re fish, penguins, stuffed animals or people, the female characters are mostly young, sexy, beautiful and passive sidekicks. Eye candy.
A quarter of the female characters wore sexy attire. One in five was partly nude.
The tiny-waisted female bodies depicted veer so substantially from the norm that researchers noted there is “little room for a womb or for any other internal organ.”
Even in their small numbers, female characters are disproportionately young. One in five is under 21, nearly double the number of male characters that age. But after 40? Women fall off the cliff, says Smith, who presented her research at Vancouver’s SexMediaMoney symposium.
Smith and the Davis Institute aren’t just interested in how females are depicted in children’s programming, they want to know why and how to change it. Again, they’ve got the statistics to make their case.
Women behind the scenes — the content creators who include producers, directors, writers, camera operators and so on — are even rarer than females onscreen. Again, the statistics seem shocking in an age when people have come to believe that the equality battles have all been won.
In those three years’ worth of children’s movies, the content creators were almost all men. They comprised 93 per cent of the directors, 87 per cent of the writers, 80 per cent of the producers.
So why does that matter? Because even where there was a single female director or writer, the percentage of female characters rose.
But here’s the more significant statistic — and it’s the point that Madeline Di Nonno, the Davis Institute’s executive director, drives home in meetings with media executives. When there are two or more women behind the scenes, the number of onscreen female characters jumps.
Two seems to be a tipping point akin to the 30 per cent that female politicians say is necessary for their voices and issues to be heard and taken seriously.
So why should it matter whether there’s a strong female character in Finding Nemo, Madagascar or Ice Age? Why does it matter if the female characters in children’s shows are hyper-sexualized?
A multi-year study by Rand Corp. found, for example, that the teens who watch the most sex on television are the first to have sex and the first to get pregnant.
Like little boys, girls need strong role models, too. They need more than just Dora the Explorer and teeny-bikini-clad Little Mermaid. And the way to get there is to provide more opportunities for those children’s mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and even grandmothers to write and produce those characters for them.
To combat prostitution and sex trafficking, Sweden made it illegal to buy sexual services in 1999. Its record since then stands out amid the failures of legalized prostitution elsewhere in Europe.
At a time when some governments are trying – and failing – to combat sex trafficking by legalizing prostitution, Sweden’s innovative approach stands out as an exemplary model of lawmaking that reduces prostitution, penalizes men, and protects women.
As human trafficking became an increasing global problem in the 1990s, Sweden took an intensive look at its prostitution policy. It concluded that a country cannot resolve its sex trafficking problem without targeting the demand for prostitution. In 1999, Sweden passed landmark legislation that made it illegal to buy sexual services.
The legislation was built on the public consensus that the system of prostitution promotes violence against women by normalizing sexual exploitation. Thus, in a society that aspires to advance women’s equality, it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether rationalized as a sexual choice or as “sex work.”
Sweden does not penalize the persons in prostitution but makes resources available to them. Instead it targets and exposes the anonymous perpetrators – the buyers, mostly men, who purchase mainly women and children in prostitution.
The key to the law’s effectiveness lies not so much in penalizing the men (punishments are modest) but in removing the invisibility of the buyers and making their crimes public. Men now fear being outed as prostitution users.
In July, the government of Sweden published an evaluation of the first 10 years of the law. While acknowledging that much remains to be done, the report’s findings are overwhelmingly positive:
• Street prostitution has been cut in half, “a direct result of the criminalization of sex purchases.”
• There is no evidence that the decrease in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere, whether indoors or on the Internet.
• Extensive services exist in the larger cities to assist those exploited by prostitution.
• Fewer men state that they purchase sexual services.
• More than 70 percent of the Swedish public support the law.
Initially critical, police now confirm the law works well and deters other organizers and promoters of prostitution, especially traffickers, who find in Sweden an intolerant environment in which to sell women and children for sex. Based on National Criminal Police reports, Sweden appears to be the only country in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking have not increased during the past decade. [Editor's note: The original version of this sentence wrongly suggested that National Criminal Police reports made this comparison.]
Sweden’s progress contrasts sharply with the dismal results of other European countries that have professionalized pimping, brothels, and additional aspects of the prostitution industry.
Failures of legalized prostitution
In 2002, Germany decriminalized the procuring of prostitution, made it legally easier to establish brothels and other prostitution enterprises, lifted the prohibition against promoting prostitution, and proposed contracts and benefits for women in prostitution establishments.
In 2007, a federal government report found that the German Prostitution Act had not improved conditions for women in the prostitution industry nor helped them to leave. It had also failed “to reduce crime in the world of prostitution.” Finally, the report stated that “prostitution should not be considered to be a reasonable means for securing one’s living.”
The government is now drafting an impoverished version of Sweden’s law that would merely punish buyers of those forced into prostitution or who are victims of trafficking. Which raises the question: Why would a buyer ask her if she’s a victim – and why would she tell him?
Netherlands’s experiment with legalization has been equally grim. Two reports in 2007 and 2008 heralded official disenchantment with the results of a 2000 law that made prostitution and the sex industry legal.
The government-commissioned 2007 Daalder report found that the majority of women in the window brothels are still subject to pimp control, and their “emotional well-being is now lower than in 2001 on all measured aspects.”
A 2008 Dutch National Police report states it more strongly: “The idea that a clean, normal business sector has emerged is an illusion…” Like the Germans, the Dutch are now proposing an amendment that would penalize the buyers, but only those who purchase unlicensed persons in prostitution. Still, it’s an oblique indication that the concept of penalizing buyers is gaining ground.
The Nordic model
The failed policy of legalization of prostitution in Europe helped the Swedish model to become the Nordic model in 2009 when Norway outlawed the purchase of women and children for sexual activities. Results were immediate and dramatic one year after the Norwegian law came into force.
A Bergen municipality survey estimated that the number of women in street prostitution had decreased by 20 percent with indoor prostitution also down by 16 percent. Bergen police maintain that advertisements for sexual activities have dropped 60 percent. Effective monitoring of the telephone numbers of buyers who respond to such ads not only enables police to identify and charge buyers but also exposes a wider network of criminal groups involved in child prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking. In Oslo, the police also report that there are many fewer buyers on the street.
The same year as Norway, Iceland passed a strong law criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. Earlier in 2004, Finland approved an anemic version of the Nordic model. This left Denmark as the outlier with no legislation targeting the demand for prostitution.
Criminalizing demand works. Police report that it becomes less profitable for pimps and traffickers to set up shop in countries where their customers fear the loss of their anonymity. Less profit means less prostitution and less violence against women.
Not only in Europe but also in the Philippines and Korea, the prostitution policy tide is turning from legalization to addressing the demand for prostitution. The United Nations has prohibited their peacekeepers and related personnel from buying women for sexual activities in prostitution, even if prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction in which they serve.
Countries that want to fight sexual exploitation cannot sanction pimps as legitimate sexual entrepreneurs and must take legal action against the buyers.
By Janice Raymond, professor emerita of women’s studies and medical ethics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a member of the board of directors of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. An earlier version of this piece originally appeared at http://www.portside.org
According to a draft Oct. 1 memo obtained by the Star, Ottawa has determined these careers once considered “morally offensive” should be put on the federal government’s Job Bank, which is also available for use by the provinces.
The surprise memo from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has set a few tongues wagging among those wondering how these careers suddenly became respectable, and how Conservatives could allow this to happen.
“This is such a contradiction for the holier than thou family values gang to all of a sudden endorse an escort service as a legitimate occupation for unemployed Canadian women,” NDP MP Pat Martin said.
Terri-Jean Bedford, the dominatrix who went to court and got Canada’s prostitution laws thrown out, said these are legitimate occupations and “it’s high time that people stop being so judgmental about another person’s occupation.”
“There are a lot of unsavory occupations that I would never apply for. Soldier being one of them and politician probably being another,” Bedford said.
The job posting change is at odds with the Conservatives’ outrage over the recent federal court decision stating that Canada’s prostitution violated the Constitution. The government immediately appealed the decision, saying “prostitution is a problem that harms individuals and communities.”
“This is appalling activity by our government because what they are really doing is promoting the subjugation of woman for the most part,” Charles McVety, the president of Canadian Christian College, told the Star.
“It is also hypocritical that this would this would be done under a Conservative government,” he said.
The draft policy, which has yet to be implemented, stated that the following occupations will “be acceptable for posting on Job Bank”:
• Exotic dancer, erotic dancer, nude dancer, striptease dancer and table dancer.
• Escort, chat line agent, phone agent for personal services and telephone agent for personal services.
Many of these occupations in a 2003 memo from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRDC) were described as being “morally offensive by the majority of Canadians.”
It is not the first time that strippers have caused problems for the federal government of the day.
In 2004, the opposition called for then immigration minister Judy Sgro’s resignation over her office’s decision to extend a residence permit to a Romanian stripper, and Ottawa’s controversial program to allow foreign strippers to get special work visas.
“The Conservatives were all over that,” recalled McVety, “that’s why I’m a little incredulous that a Conservative government would do this.”
* Women are being asked to prostitute themselves after applying for vacancies in job centres, the Government has admitted
* Porn TV presenter job advertised in Jobcentre
* Equality impact assessment for accepting and advertising employer vacancies from within the adult entertainment industry by Jobcentre Plus
In the aftermath of last month’s landmark court decision that lifts the barriers to free trade in the sex trade, women’s rights activists are facing off.
They’re split over whether the ruling will make sex workers safer — or merely pump up profits for pimps and help organized crime to traffic women.
Examples of the divide?
“It is with stupefaction and anger that feminists have learned of the ruling,” the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres said in a media release.
“Worldwide, it is impoverished brown women whose bodies are being bought and sold,” argued the South Asian Women Against Male Violence (SAWAMV) in its statement. “This decision is not what we or our sisters want.”
And from the opposing corner?
“It’s wonderful that the court has recognized the harm of the laws, and has freed sex workers from the threat of criminal prosecution,” said the Pivot Legal Society, which has been fighting in the B.C. courts to overturn the country’s prostitution laws.
At the heart of this dispute is a wide ideological gap between feminists who believe that no woman is a commodity to be bought and sold and those who insist that, as with abortion, a woman has the right to control her body — while not risking life and limb.
That’s why Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court struck down as unconstitutional the bawdy house provision, which, arguably, by preventing sex workers from sharing premises, increased their risk of exposure to violence. Gone, too, is the “living off the avails” section, which criminalizes those being supported by a sex worker. While that was meant to target pimps, it also affects a prostitute’s live-in family, including partners, parents and adult children, as well as security guards who might protect her.
Also declared unconstitutional is the communication law, which experts say put street sex workers in the greatest danger because it did not allow them to safely screen “dates” before jumping into their cars.
“That’s a huge step forward,” says B.C. sex worker rights activist Tamara O’Doherty. “There used to be this idea we have to criminalize sex workers for their own good. So we (with opposing views on the court decision) do have this partly common ground.”
But there isn’t much of it.
“For me it’s not complicated to understand why there’s a divide: it’s two visions,” says Diane Matte of Montreal’s Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation.
Matte has a street-level view of the industry, and says it isn’t a pleasant sight.
That makes it difficult for her to understand why feminists would support the victorious plaintiffs — members of the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) — in the Ontario constitutional challenge.
“The SPOC women do not hide the fact that they want to open brothels,” Matte notes. “In other words, they want to prostitute other women. Why is that okay?
“I’m sorry, but why should I, as a feminist, support that a woman wants to sell another woman? And that doesn’t even look at the question of why men should have the right to buy women — and children — whenever and wherever they want. That’s why it’s impossible to reconcile these two visions.”
What abolitionists such as Matte want is to follow the so-called Nordic Model, one in operation in Iceland and Sweden, which has decriminalized sex workers while criminalizing their clients.
Others don’t buy that solution.
“As a criminologist I can guarantee you that that doesn’t work because it doesn’t remove the criminal element from prostitution,” says O’Doherty, who teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Making demand illegal, she says, only serves to drive sex workers underground.
Still, abolitionists believe that demand can be legislated out of existence.
“I don’t see sex work as natural or inevitable; it’s a practice we have constructed,” says Suzanne Jay of the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. “We can dismantle it and create another system of relationships.”
When the state gets involved in a vice, does ‘no’ mean ‘yes’?
Last week’s Ontario Court decision striking down the laws forbidding the operation of brothels, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and living on the avails of prostitution (which both the federal and Ontario governments have announced it will appeal) is the latest benchmark in the attempted normalization of behaviour that used to be more roundly condemned by the state.
Why it would be wrong to legalize prostitution
If prostitution were a job freely chosen, as the pro-legalization forces would have us believe, it’s unlikely that the average age of entry into that workforce would be 14.
Canadian sex workers win decriminalisation: a victory for women’s right to safety everywhere
The High Court in Ontario, Canada, yesterday abolished the laws banning street soliciting (communicating for the purposes of prostitution),working together from premises (bawdy house) and living off the avails of prostitution as they make sex workers more vulnerable to violence. The decision was a result of a legal challenge brought by three sex workers who argued that the laws endangered their health and forced them into unsafe working conditions. It is a victory for women and sex workers everywhere who have been campaigning for decriminalisation of grounds of health and safety.
Nine American mothers whose children died fighting in Iraq were embraced last week by dozens of Iraqi women who lost their own children during decades of war and violence in a meeting participants said brought them a measure of peace. The gathering in Iraq’s mostly peaceful northern Kurdish region was far from the sites of the roadside bombings or battlefields that accounted for the vast majority of the more than 4,400 U.S. military deaths since the 2003 invasion, but it was still a powerful experience for some mothers to even step foot in Iraq.
Some kissed the ground during their arrival Saturday.
“I was overwhelmed at touch down. We were really on the ground in Iraq. I was almost in disbelief that it was real. This is where my son spent the last days of his life, and now, I was there,” said a blog entry by Amy Galvez of Salt Lake City, whose son, Cpl. Adam Galvez, was killed in 2006.
In another web post she said she would return home a “different person.”
“I will be in the country where my son spent the last days of his life,” she wrote. “I’ll have visited the land where a piece of my heart will remain forever.”
The beginning of the Americans’ three-day trip — organized by a Virginia-based women’s aid group, Families United Toward Universal Respect — was attended by officials from State Department and Kurdish regional government.
Nawal Akhil, deputy chief of the group’s Baghdad office, said the goal was to “talk about their suffering to find a way to ease it.”
“We share the same ordeals and suffering — the American mothers who lost their children and the Iraqi mothers who lost their loved ones during the Saddam Hussein-era and in the violence since 2003,” said Akhil.
Elaine Johnson, of Cordova, South Carolina, said the trip allowed her to come to terms with the loss of her son, Spc. Darius Jennings, killed in November 2003 in Fallujah as the insurgency that went on to rip the country apart gained strength.
“Before making this trip, I was angry for my child’s death,” she said. “But after making this trip, I feel peace, peace, peace.”
The dozens of Iraqi mothers included Kurds whose family members were killed in Saddam’s 1980s scorched-earth campaign to wipe out a Kurdish rebellion in the north that claimed at least 100,000 lives, including thousands in poison gas attacks.
“When I hugged an American woman we couldn’t express ourselves in words, but what helped us to express our feelings and understand each other were our tears. We found them as a true expression to our grief and suffering,” said Peroz Nasser, a 55-year-old Kurdish woman who lost her parents and two brothers and two sisters during Saddam’s attacks.
Part of a longer report at http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/iraqi-women-embrace-american-633055.html
The US Senate should quickly approve a bipartisan bill that sets out a new strategy for US engagement in the struggle to end violence against women worldwide, Human Rights Watch said today. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Wednesday, September 29, 2010.
The draft International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) would require the State Department to adopt a five-year plan to reduce violence against women in up to 20 target countries. The approach calls for increased legal and judicial protections against violence against women, strengthened health services to respond to such violence, increased educational and economic opportunities for women, and changes to social norms that perpetuate violence against women. Special attention is given to responding to violence against women in the context of humanitarian disasters and armed conflict situations.
“Violence against women is a complex problem, but we can be smarter in fighting it – and that’s what this bill is about,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Senate bill has real potential for lasting positive impact to the lives of women and girls around the globe.”
The bill has 33 cosponsors in the Senate. Lead sponsors in the Senate are John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California; and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Republicans of Maine. The House of Representatives version of the bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Armed Services, has 123 cosponsors. Lead sponsors in the House are Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts; Ted Poe, Republican of Texas; and Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois.
The United Nations estimates that one of every three women in the world has been a victim of violence. Human Rights Watch reports have documented rampant violence against women, both in armed conflicts and in homes and workplaces throughout the world. Much of the violence goes unpunished, especially where insufficient legal protections are compounded by poor enforcement. Recent Human Rights Watch investigations exposed degrading forensic examinations conducted on rape survivors by medical personnel in India and the frequent abuse of women with disabilities in northern Uganda.
“The persistence of violence against women around the world is not only a challenge to our consciences, but a major impediment to economic, political, and social development,” Rhoad said. “It is a problem that we literally cannot afford to fail to solve.”
There is mounting evidence of the debilitating effect of violence against women on economic development. In some countries, violence and sexual harassment in schools prevent women from obtaining an education and contributing fully to their communities. The health care costs and workplace absenteeism associated with injuries from domestic violence also take a significant financial toll.
The Senate bill would complement the Violence Against Women Act, which addresses these issues within the United States. Similar legislation was introduced, but not voted on, in the last Congress.
Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the US Senate to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The US is only one of seven countries in the world not to have ratified the major global women’s rights treaty.
Campaigners against prostitution and sex trafficking appeared to have won a victory over the weekend when Craigslist, the powerful online advertising website, capitulated to mounting pressure and removed its “adult services” content from US servers.
The move is an important concession in the fierce debate in America between free speech and first amendment advocates and those seeking to clean up the web and protect vulnerable girls and women from exploitation. It follows a sustained campaign by prosecutors across the US to have the sex advertisements removed.
In the absence of comment from Craigslist, it is not clear whether the shift will be permanent. It is also unclear what the concession means for other countries, including the UK, where “erotic” services remained available today. However, the fact that the site’s executives placed a “censored” block over its adult services link in the US suggests that, in word at least, they have not given up the fight.
The sex services portion of the website, previously called its “erotic” section, was criticised as a thinly veiled clearing house for prostitution. It exposed Craigslist to several damaging scandals, the most serious of which was the killing in April last year of Julissa Brisman, a 25-year-old masseuse from New York, in a Boston hotel. Philip Markoff, her alleged murderer, was dubbed the Craigslist killer because he had arranged to meet her through the site. He killed himself in jail last month.
Brandon Petty pleaded guilty last month to sexually attacking with a knife four women who had advertised for sex through Craigslist. He faces up to 45 years in prison.
Also last month, an advert was placed in the Washington Post and another paper under the headline “Dear Craig”, in which two women said they had been forced into prostitution with punters attracted through the website. One of the women said she had been sold by the hour at lorry rest stops while the other said she had been a victim of sex trafficking from the age of 11.
Chief prosecutors from 17 states across the US clubbed together on 24 August to write a joint letter to the website complaining that “ads trafficking children are rampant on it”. They accused the site of profiting from the “suffering of the women and children who continue to be victimised by Craigslist”.
Though Craigslist has faced an intensifying public relations crisis, it is shielded from prosecution by a federal law that protects internet providers from the actions of their users.
According to web advertising monitors AIM group, Craigslist made $45m from its sex ads last year, about a third of its total profits. The website insists it has responded to concerns by introducing in the past year a system of weeding out the most egregious adverts, claiming to have rejected 700,000 items since May 2009.
“Craigslist is committed to being socially responsible, and when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations,” the chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, recently said on his blog.
From the Editors
How are women faring on “equality”? What remains unequal? And is equality really the summit for progressives and feminists, or only one more mountain to climb?
With the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote upon us — and August 26th is designated as Women’s Equality Day – On The Issues Magazine invited writers, artists and poets to consider the elusive search for equality and its flip side, double standards in our lives, for “EQUALITY: How much further away?”
Despite impressive gains, women in the U.S. and around the world are still seeking full equality in political, religious, civic, social, personal, work, financial and artistic realms. But if equality were to arrive or women were to arrive at it, will our goals as feminists and progressives be met? Before her death in 1998, former U.S.Congressional Rep. Bella Abzug said that women should change “the nature of power,” rather than power changing “the nature of women.” But with rare exceptions, the reality is that women still don’t hold the reins of power.
Even the suffragists who labored for women’s voting rights had more in mind. In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, listing a range of injustices encountered by women. Borrowing from the Declaration of Independence, she wrote of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal,” she wrote. Among her 16 “injuries and usurpations” are some still deeply relevant – relegating women to subordinate positions in church and State, applying a different code of morals to men and women, and attempting to destroy women’s “confidence in her own powers.”
After securing the vote in 1920, activists immediately turned to organizing in other spheres, writing the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (still not passed), and using the courts and legislatures to end discriminatory practices. The work, of course, is not done. In this edition, Carolyn Cook writes about how Hillary Clinton’s presidential run drew her to get involved in a new campaign for the ERA Say “I Do”: Constitutional Equality is Forever. Cindy Cooper explores the laws and still-pending concerns on sex discrimination in Gender Equality: Devil in the Details, while Beverly Neufeld writes about a refreshed movement for equal pay in Best City for Working Women: In Our Checkbooks.
In our first video essay, Ann Farmer looks at nontraditional employment, stepping into the garage with a woman mechanic in Equality Under the Hood: Car Repair is Women’s Work.
But there are many areas in the U.S. that the law does not reach at all. Religion is one. Angela Bonavoglia, an author who has researched extensively the Catholic Church and women, explains not only how the Vatican is using an iron fist against woman of faith but why it matters to those outside its purview, in Women Challenge Gender Apartheid in the Catholic Church. Eleanor Bader looks at the ways that women in conservative Jewish communities are quietly removing gender barriers in Snood by Snood, Tight-Knit Orthodox Piety Loosens Up.
Marcy Bloom and Ariel Dougherty remind us of two other areas that are beyond the scope of the government. In Health Inequality: Gates Foundation Bans Abortion, Bloom describes how one decision of a generous donor will sentence some women to ugly deaths. Dougherty writes in Girls Kick: Moving the Media’s World Cup Goal Posts that girls’ sports dreams are squelched by pathetically low media coverage.
Loretta Ross, a frequent writer for On The Issues Magazine, applies a multifaceted (“intersectional” to academics) analysis to the goals of the women’s movement from her perspective as an African American feminist. In the struggle against oppression, equality is but one marker along the way to undivided justice for all peoples of the world, she writes in A Feminist Vision: No Justice-No Equity.
Other contributors take a sharp aim at double standards, often with a good dose of humor.
Megan Carpentier dissects the suddenly-popular (if unproven) notion that it’s the male gender that is facing bias in Alright Then, Let Men Compete, while Elizabeth Black writes in bittersweet terms about the ways that women are still criticized for sexual enjoyment in Good Girls, Bad Girls: The Kinkiness of Slut-Shaming.
Marie Shear takes on dozens of linguistic slights and putdowns in “Little Marie”: The Daily Toll of Sexist Language. (Her essay brought to mind a comment by the crusading medical writer Barbara Seaman, who declared that she could not understand why researchers on women’s sexuality described “hard” and “soft” data; more appropriate, she said, would be “wet” and “dry” data.)
Other articles apply a long view. Lu Bailey finds hope in the common sense of parents who bristle at Hollywood stereotyping in Defeating Racism and Sexism with the Politics of Authenticity. Mary Lou Greenberg explains her view that the concept of equality does not go nearly far enough in addressing the degradation of a consumerist and capitalist society in Beyond Equality to Liberation.
Our art and poetry sections bring especially unique perspectives. Co-Poetry Editor Judith Arcana selects works from four poets who eloquently portray the lives of women, real and mythological, as they circle the edges of their lives and try to find places to breathe. Maria Padhila, Penelope Scambly Schott, Wendy Vardaman and Sondra Zeidenstein share the rugged dilemmas and not-so-delicate dances that women encounter.
“The Art Perspective,” curated by Art Editor Linda Stein, features a retrospective of a highly acclaimed international artist who frequently addresses inequities in wealth, labor and gender roles in Regina Frank Is Present. In multiple-part audio and video displays, Frank describes how she creates her works, often placing herself as a physical presence inside the art.
The work of other artists is represented throughout the magazine, including Roz Dimon, seen here and here, Robin Gaynes-Bachman, Barbara Lubliner, Kathleen Migliore-Newton, seen here and here, Victoria Pacimeo, Mark Phillips, Inga Poslitar, Marjorie Price and Deborah Ugoretz.
Lastly, we take a look at ten stories on equality from our archives (print, 1983-99; Online, 2008-present), including an investigation by Sally Roesch Wagner into the shared-power experienced by Native American women in pre-colonial societies, Merle Hoffman’s concept of Roe v. Wade as the Medical Equal Rights Amendment for Women, the links between Right-wing anti-gay and anti-women’s rights propaganda, and the vivid description of a “pee-in” to protest the lack of women’s toilets at Harvard. These and other writings are described and linked in From Our Files on Equality.
Equality, and what it means, turns out to be a rich and layered subject, with each question leading to another. We will continue to explore new perspectives on it in the Café of On The Issues Magazine, and we invite your articles, essays and creative thinking, as well as your letters and comments. Write to: On the Issues at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, we invite you to send us short videos on the topic of nontraditional employment. Send inquiries to On the Issues at email@example.com
- Pornography had started influencing us long before it came out of the underground and crept into Wall Street boardrooms a couple of decades ago.
But now, with porn stars bagging the status of ‘crossover artistes’, XXX has seeped into our very sexual identities, convincing obsessive users that the art of lovemaking begins and ends like the way it is shown on screen. Gail Dines, American anti-porn activist and professor of sociology, exchanges notes with Arghya Ganguly about her new book, ‘Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality’ and how the multibillion-dollar industry is shaping people’s lives, sexuality and relationships …
In your book, you say that in American society, porn is probably the most articulate teller of sexual stories for men. In your land of vibrant literature, it’s a bold statement to make…
Yes. It is bold, but it’s a statement I stand by. Boys are not going to great works of literature or art to learn about sex; they are going to porn. They first learn about sex in a culture steeped in porn imagery, so they develop a pornographic way of looking at women’s bodies at a young age. Just watching TV, going to the movies, or playing video games introduces boys to images that reduce women to sex objects. With this pornographic gaze well established by adolescence, boys graduate to actual porn. Most porn on the internet is hardcore, and boys are catapulted into a world of body-punishing sex that is based on the dehumanisation of women. We have no alternative images in the culture that counter this way of looking at women, so this one becomes dominant.
The message porn sends to men is that they are entitled to access women’s bodies. In porn, the man makes hate to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation. Whether it be choking her or brutal intercourse, the goal of porn is to illustrate how much power he has over her. The narrative about women is that they are all whores by nature, ready and willing to do whatever men want. In this world, women are never concerned about pregnancy, STDs, or damage to the body, and are astonishingly indifferent to being called whores. This is an uncomplicated world where women don’t need equal pay, healthcare, retirement plans, or good schools for their children. It is a world filled with one-dimensional women, who are nothing more than a collection of holes.
The story pornography tells about men is much simpler than the one about women, since men in porn are depicted as nothing more than soulless, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. No matter how uncomfortable or in pain the woman looks, these men are utterly oblivious to her as a person. She is to them just a set of orifices. These stories get delivered to men’s brains via the penis. The younger the boy is when he first views porn – the average age of first viewing is 11 – the more likely these stories are going to form the core of his sexual identity.
You also talk about how women have internalised the men’s gaze and they spend hours in front of the mirror due to it. ‘Porn penises’ have also become the standard against which men judge themselves. Do you suppose it will be a good idea to rehabilitate the youth by showing Renaissance art – for instance, Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – which mostly feature modestly endowed men?
Unfortunately, we live in a world in which culture is commercialised through the mass media, so there is little room for fine art. A better idea would be for men to stop using porn. They do measure themselves against male porn performers, and many feel like sexual losers. Their penises are not as big, nor can they perform the same way as the Viagra-fortified penises in porn. Many feel let down by actual sex, because they get used to masturbating to industrial-strength sex that is supposed to give their partners screaming orgasms. Next to this, real sex looks and feels bland and boring. I don’t think we need to ‘rehabilitate’ men; rather we need to raise their consciousness as to the harm of porn. I believe that the more men learn about the ways in which porn affects their sexual identity, the more they will think before clicking on a porn site. Girls and women have indeed internalised men’s gaze, and they are increasingly turning themselves into objects. This makes absolute sense when you think about the images that they are bombarded with. Flip through the pages of popular women’s magazines and you’ll see slight variations on a theme: a heavily made-up, young, attractive, technologically perfected woman devoid of body hair, cellulite, age lines or physical disabilities. She’s minimally clothed, with a seductive look plastered on her face. Whether it be an almost naked Britney Spears writhing around on stage or a Victoria’s Secret model clad in a plunging bra and thong, women and girls today are overwhelmed by images of themselves as sex objects whose worth is measured only by their ‘hotness.’
Do you agree with the historical argument that if the Great Depression and WW II didn’t occur then Playboy wouldn’t have been able to successfully advertise its anti-woman ideology?
Yes. It was no accident that Playboy became so successful in the 1950s.The obvious question here is how a porn magazine became a best seller in what was one of the most conservative decades of the second half of the twentieth century. To understand this, it is pivotal to map out some of the economic and cultural themes that marked this era. The post-World War II America required a consumer population that would spend money to build the economy. However, the targeted group – the emerging white suburban middle class – was born during a depression and raised during a war, circumstances that lead to frugality. To nurture consumerism, businesses adopted a number of techniques, not the least of which was a massive marketing campaign, to turn frugal people into spenders. The expansion of television helped spread the ideology of consumerism through advertisements and sit-coms, which were often thirty-minute ads for how to furnish a suburban home. However, women were typically targeted by television, so there were few avenues for luring men into buying products they did not need.
Enter Hugh Hefner, a failed cartoonist who – by design or accident – hit on an idea that meshed beautifully with the needs of capitalism. He created a lifestyle magazine for men that placed consumerism at the centre of the new identity of the upwardly mobile male. Playboy spent much of its early years crafting a magazine that taught men what clothes to wear, what furniture to buy for the office, what food to cook, and, most important, how to consume to a level that would attract women, whose goal was to marry out of the working class. Playboy promised men that if they bought the products they would get the real prize: lots of women, just like the ones in the centerfolds. Playboy thus not only commodified sexuality, it also sexualised commodities.
Why has the US government been insouciant with respect to porn? Is it because ‘Pornland’ is a capitalist’s dream?
Porn is indeed a capitalist’s dream, since it is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year machine with ties to other major industries. This is a business with considerable political clout, with the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles, and use public relations to influence debate. The porn industry sells the idea that women who enter the industry do so because they love sex and enjoy what they are doing. What we don’t hear about are their economic circumstances. Jenna Jameson is a major recruitment tool for the porn industry. She is a walking ad for what a woman can supposedly achieve by doing porn. I don’t think the solution to porn will come through the government. In a capitalist society, the role of the government is to protect the rights of corporations, not the people. If we are going to tackle this problem, it has to be through a mass movement.
Is it fair to conclude that dinners, vanilla sex and post-coital affection are passe due to capitalism and its tag team partner, porn?
I would say what we are witnessing is a move away from relationships toward a hook-up culture where sex, rather than an ongoing relationship, is the expectation. The increasing pornification of our society has been instrumental in shifting heterosexual relationships. Given its lack of commitment and intimate connection, hookup sex is a lot like porn sex, and it is being played out in the real world. If porn and women’s media are to be believed, these women are having as good a time as the men. But research is finding that women do hope for more than just sex from a hook-up – many express a desire for the encounter to evolve into a relationship. Sociologist Kathleen Bogle, for example, found in her study of college-age students that many of the women ‘were interested in turning hook-up partners into boyfriends’, while the men preferred it ‘with no strings attached’.
Do you approve of film schools having porn in their curriculum?
I don’t think educational institutions should support the porn industry in any way. I do, however, believe courses on porn are appropriate for a college classroom as long as they critically explore different ways of thinking about porn, not just ones that celebrate it. Showing movies or stills can be tricky, given the effect it may have on students. In my classes, I show stills, but only after much discussion and the establishment of a clear set of guidelines that allow students to not attend or to leave if they feel uncomfortable or upset. I also worry about students who have a history of abuse, since such images can trigger memories. Given that we live in a porn culture, we should be providing our students with media literacy skills.
Do you reckon that feminists fighting for sexual liberation in the ’60s and ’70s erred somewhere, because all they got is sexuality that has its roots in porn?
Feminism fought for a sexuality based on equality and respect, and what we got was a pornified, plasticised, formulaic sexuality that is an industrial product rather than a reflection of women’s authentic desires. This is not the fault of the feminist movement, but the result of a predatory porn industry that has become the main producer and disseminator of sexual images, ideologies, and messages. I have been doing work in this area for over twenty years, and I never expected porn to get so mainstream or cruel and brutal so quickly. Remember also that the feminism of the ’60s and ’70s was not just about sex, but about radical economic, political, and social change. This feminism understood that without equal access to material resources, women would always be oppressed. Today, feminism talks a lot about sex, but not much about the economic and social conditions of women’s lives.
- The XXX effect
The global porn industry was estimated to be worth around $96 billion in 2006 with the US market worth around $13 billion. Each year, over 13,000 porn films are released and, despite their modest budgets, pornography revenues rival those of all the major Hollywood studios
A key factor driving the growth of the porn market has been the development of technologies. There are 420 million internet porn pages, 4.2 million porn web sites and 68 million search engine requests for porn daily. However, officials estimate DVD sales were down by 50 per cent in the last year due to a weak economy, piracy and free or cheap porn on the Internet.