Archive for July 15th, 2008

The Senate Inquiry into the sexualisation of children was tabled in the federal Parliament this week and one of its recommendations was a national approach to sex and relationship education in schools.

Many young people have been complaining that what they’re taught in class is not relevant to their lives.

Now researchers from the University of Western Sydney have put together a program that they say will work for 16 to 25-year-olds.

Rape crisis workers say about 70 per cent of sexual assault victims know their attacker and among the remaining 30 per cent, the perpetrator is usually someone they’ve gone on a date with or met socially.

For the past three years, Associate Professor Moira Carmody from the University of Western Sydney’s Social Justice and Social Change Research Centre has been running a program with young people trying to prevent such attacks from occurring.

“They found it very useful in terms of feeling like they were more in charge of what was happening and that it was about negotiating with the other person,” she said.

“There were also a number of examples where people talked about being in a club and a bar and say, a young woman was very drunk and this person saw her being led off to a taxi by three guys, and she intervened and took the girl with her and took her home.

“Guys talked about standing up in front of blokes who were really harassing women who were quite drunk in a club and saying, ‘Back off mate’.”

First she interviewed young people about their sexual behaviour, experiences and concerns, then used that information to devise the six-week program that has been run in six communities in Sydney and regional New South Wales.

“It’s really about what they’re doing because a lot of programs tend to focus just on biology and safe sex, but they don’t – as some of the young people said to me, ‘They don’t tell us how to pick up’,” she said.

“They don’t tell us how to work out how to do consent, how to communicate with people. Those sort of things were what they were interested in.”

As part of the program, the young people did roleplay, were trained to interpret body language, practice standing up to people, raise issues with their friends, and they were encouraged to reflect on their behaviour and expectations.

Associate Professor Carmody says the young people found their new skills useful when they picked up someone in a club or a bar.

“They said, ‘Look, this is what I’m kind of interested in, what are you interested in?’, so they kind of negotiated before they even got down to the action, so to speak,” she said.

“Now this might sound a bit mechanistic and a bit of a passion killer but in fact they didn’t experience it that way. They felt very empowered by it and felt they were knowing what they were buying if you like.”

The 48 mainly female participants were interviewed at the beginning and end of the program, and then again six months later.

Karen Willis from the New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre says she’s supporting the program because it’s changed people’s behaviour.

“It actually encourages people to talk about what they’re doing, to check on their partner to make sure it’s OK, to make sure that they are both on same page and they are thinking along the same lines,” she said.

“Because certainly a lot of the research suggests that people make mistakes in their assumptions about what other people are wanting and not wanting.

“And we would really like to decrease that because that obviously can lead to criminal as well as unethical behaviour.”

Associate Professor Carmody will publish her findings in a book later this year and hopes the program will be adopted in schools, youth centres, universities and TAFE colleges across the country.

Based on a report by Meredith Griffiths for The World Today

The Acting Director of the Center For Law and Human Rights Education (CLHRE) Edward Z. Solu has called on the Liberian government to conduct more education on the rape law.

Suloe made the statement in Harbel, Margibi County during a Civic Education and Capacity-building Workshop. He said the government should provide sufficient education that would help the public to understand the interpretation and procedure of the rape law and its function in the country.

According to the CLHRE acting boss, the government was under oath to provide timely and basic education on the rape law to avoid its misinterpretation, .as it would satisfy the right of the people on information as regards the rape law.

He told the participants who include youth, women groups, and the elderly and local authorities that major gender based violence including rape, forced prostitutions, forced child labor, domestic violence and others form of violence against women and children must be reported to the government.

Suloe indicated that the misuse of young girls as sex mates in schools, offices and other places of works based on monetary influence as well as political power should be curtailed.

The Civil Education and capacity-building workshop, brought together youths, women groups the elderly and local authorities. He said the workshop was intended to raise the level of education on many negative issues that were affecting the co- existing of Liberian people.

He said both the government and people in decision-making positions in the Liberian society should protect the increasing violence of both the constitutional and God given rights.

Miria Matembe of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) disclosed that independent female candidates, particularly those who contested for but were not given party symbols, are experiencing intimidation including the threat of rape.

Matembe said this situation has forced seven female candidates to withdraw from the local council elections.

“It is disheartening that political parties are using youths to harass female candidates. The youths even threaten to rape them if they fail to withdraw their candidatures,” she said.

NDI has pointed accusing fingers at the ruling All Peoples Congress, the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party and paramount chiefs for the continuous intimidation of female independent candidates who are contesting the forthcoming local council elections.

“It is happening in Kono and some parts of the northern province where it is reported that female candidates are molested and dehumanized,” she claimed.

She said NDI and in partnership with other non governmental organizations has called for an end to all intimidations against female independent candidates.

“I see no reason why they should not be allowed to participate in the electioneering process,” she said.

50/50 Group president Harriet Turay reiterated that they are not happy with the continuous harassment and intimidation of female candidates.

She called on all to work for a better Sierra Leone

West African Women Associations have expressed the importance of democracy, good governance and food security in actualizing regional goals of integration and development.

The groups in a communiqué released at the end of a two day meeting in Abuja also called on women groups in the sub-region to close ranks towards attaining the visibility of women in the sub-region’s integration process.

The regional workshop was organized by the WAWA Senegal and the Nigerian Chapter, with support from the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), ECOWAS and the Nigerian Government.

The communiqué read thus:

Key issues raised were democracy, good governance, food, crisis, peace and security for all those is expected to play strategic roles.

The Workshop emphasised that Women must close rank to forge social and economic ties, in order to realize the visibility of women in the African integration process.

That WAWAR/AFAO should remain a Civil Society organization fighting for and protecting the rights of women, as well as act as a liaison between ECOWAS gender point, women organizations and the government.

That focal points of the National chapter should emulate the example of AFAO Senegal, and organize the states and local branches to the benefit of all.

In view of the need for identification, that interested organizations in the field be more functional at regional and national levels as part of AFAO/WAWAR to access the benefits there for their members.

That WAWAR can enter into partnerships with organizations that will assist it build the Capacity of women drawing close collaboration at regional level to local levels, as agents of change for beneficiaries. WAWA/WASCOF should work together.

That WAWAR should engage in advocacy with government agencies to end conflicts, engender peace, stop trafficking in persons, fight HIV/AIDS, drug trade and addiction, and encourage the integration of women in politics and business.

Awareness should be constantly created on AFAO/WAWAR activities and hold partner meetings regularly as fresh hope for women empowerment.

WAWAR/AFAO should develop monitoring and evaluation mechanisms at all levels to enhance compliance with Policies and Projects.

That Dakar, Senegal, should remain the headquarters of WAWAR/AFAO, while efforts should be made to liaise with ECOWAS Secretariat, Abuja, Lagos, Nigeria, for an office for the Nigerian Chapter with a back-up Staff.

Mozambican civil society organizations are planning to intensify their actions to prevent violence against women and children by increasing the period of advocacy for such cases from a mere 16 day campaign to 365 days a year.

This intention was advanced during a meeting organized by the Mozambican chapter of the Gender and Media Southern Africa NGO (GEMSA) and it flows from a decision that the issue must be worked upon constantly, urging citizens that violence against women and children is unacceptable and must be eradicated from Mozambican culture.

So far, organizations working in this field have been operating an advocacy campaign for just 16 days, between 25 November, International Non-Violence Day, to 10 December, World Human Rights Day.

“During those 16 days we commemorate all special dates for women’s rights. Then we carry out a strong campaign for no domestic violence, we go to the districts, to localities, villages, and neighbourhoods to tell people how bad it is to use violence against women and children”, said Madalena Domingos, the coordinator of the Association of Victims of Domestic Violence (AVVD).

By extending the duration of this campaign for the entire year, civil society intends to pay permanent attention to this problem. “We want concrete actions to fight against this evil, which puts at risk the lives of women and children”, said Clementina Comate, of GEMSA -Mocambique.

These organizations are drawing public attention to the need for the government to meet the commitments it made when it signed the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s declaration on Gender and Development at the Blantyre Summit in 1998.

In that declaration, SADC member states committed themselves to take urgent measures against domestic violence.

These organizations argue that existing measures have proved inadequate, inefficient and biased against the victims – which is why domestic violence is on the increase in Mozambique.

They recommend that the necessary legislative and administrative measures should be taken at all levels, to ensure prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women and children. The NGOs are also calling for social and administrative services free of charge to help empower women and children who have survived to violence.

The two day meeting will be an opportunity for the organizations to harmonise their positions to enrich the national plan fro the fight against domestic violence, which is being designed by the government.

The proposals are to be presented on Wednesday, during a consultative meeting organized by the government, through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Welfare.

Domestic violence will not be tolerated since it goes against government’s position on advancing protection of women and children, says Justice and Constitutional Development Minister, Brigitte Mabandla.

Minister Mabandla was speaking at the official launch of the Guidelines, which will assist magistrates on how to deal with cases involving victims of domestic violence.

“This is another step forward in ensuring that the rights of victims of domestic violence are affirmed and protected,” she said.

The guidelines will improve services to the majority of people who had their right to dignity, freedom and security striped away by perpetrators.

“The guidelines will provide a better and more reliable analysis of the domestic violence act of 1998 from the perspective of independence of the magistrates.”

The minister confirmed that she was approached by the Promotion of the Right of Vulnerable Groups to approve the development of guidelines by members of the Lower Court Management Committee (LCMC).

Minister Mabandla further urged magistrates to do everything to ensure a therapeutic and holistic service.

“These guidelines offer you to have ease of cross referencing their application of the domestic violence against guidelines developed by your peers.

“This is an indication of the commitment and dedication to servicing communities with certainty of application of the law,” she said.

Chair of the Family and Gender Service Committee, Renuka Subban said: “We are of the view that this guide will be a handy reference material and will be widely used.”

She said while the majority of people in rural areas might not be aware of the legislation, others are aware, but are reluctant to ask for help because they are scared of losing the perpetrator, who is also the breadwinner.

“We hope that appropriate training for magistrates, peer learning as well as our guide will ensure that victims of domestic violence are afforded protection as guaranteed by our Constitution,” Ms Subban said.

The guidelines will help implement the principles contained in various policy documents in relation to victims of crime which have been developed and launched such as the Minimum Standards for Victims of crime.

The guidelines are a joint effort between the department and the LCMC, a forum comprising of all Regional Courts Presidents and Chief Magistrates in South Africa.

According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), in Gauteng alone, one in every six women who dies in the province was killed by an intimate partner.

The Institute of Security Studies conducted a research project in 1999, and they found that 90 percent of the women interviewed had experienced emotional abuse.

Being humiliated in front of others was most commonly reported.

Ninety percent had also experienced physical abuse such as being pushed or shoved and being slapped or hit.

A further 71 percent had experienced sexual abuse, which not only includes forced sexual intercourse, but attempts to kiss or touch too.

The report found that 58 percent of the women experienced economic abuse with most reporting that money had been taken without their consent.

Of the group which were surveyed, 42.5 percent of women had experienced all forms of abuse and 60 percent of all cases of abuse were committed by partners, lovers or spouses.

Pass Domestic Relations Bill to Ensure Security for Women

And now… it is unbelievable but true. The Domestic Relations Bill has been shelved for over 40 years! This is according to reports in the media, following a petition to Parliament by women activists demanding that the government passes all pending bills that address violence against women and girls early this week.

It is saddening to know that despite the chronic and widespread nature of domestic violence in Uganda, there are no specific laws that provide Ugandan women with any meaningful protection against it, yet as reported in the media, the Domestic Relations Bill, has gathered dust in Parliament for more than a decade!

Every other day, gruesome cases are reported resulting from domestic violence. One morning in 1997, the country woke up to the gruesome murder where Kooky Sharma, a Kampala businessman, murdered his wife Renu Joshi by inflicting electric burns all over her body. Sharma was sentenced to death in 2001 and on April 15, 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict.

Headlines in the media like ‘Man burns to death his children and wife’; ‘Man beheads wife, slits the wife’s throat’, among others, are the order of the day in this country. And many more are never reported!

The Domestic Relations Bill and other related Bills have become more than a necessity in society today because without laws against domestic violence, we shall continue loosing lives of innocent citizens especially women and girls.

The Domestic Relations Bill should be given top priority and treated like all such other important Bills. Isn’t there anyone in Parliament who sees the need to have this and all other related Bills passed?

I vividly remember when HIV/Aids was just beginning to bite, and despite the government’s positive commitment to confront the crisis then, there were people, some of them decision makers, who ignored the fact that people living with HIV/Aids were being stigmatised.

But before anyone would realise, HIV/Aids was knocking at everyone’s door. Children, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, grandparents, friends, neighbours etc were all being affected by the disease and it was then that it became everyone’s concern!

Just like HIV/Aids manifested itself over the years, the failure to pass the Domestic Relations Bill and other related Bills will lead to increased manifestation of violence across the country.

The result will be many deaths and by the time we wake up, it will be costly to start changing people’s perceptions about the violence.

It is cheaper for everyone to start fighting domestic violence than leave it to get entrenched in people’s mind such that before they know its gravity, it will have affected everyone.

On Heroes Day celebrations recently, President Yoweri Museveni reportedly re-affirmed his commitment to seeing Parliament pass the Land Bill. Mr President Sir, also re-affirm your commitment to having the Domestic Relations Bill and other violence-related bills passed as well.

Though the government has been widely credited for emphasising girls and women empowerment in policy-making, many customary and statutory laws still discriminate against them.

My understanding is that the government is supposed to protect all citizens. But by failing to limit the impunity with which domestic violence occurs, it appears that the state is implicitly condoning it.

The government should enact domestic violence legislation that, at a minimum, provides for punitive measures with a view to curbing domestic violence.

It is high time legislators took the problem of domestic violence seriously. If the lawmakers do not pass the Domestic Relations Bill now, more and more lives are will be lost.

And this is an issue that should not be left to the women legislators alone, it is a matter that all legislators should accord the seriousness it deserves.

Opinion Olivia Lumonya

See also Weak laws blamed for domestic violence in Uganda

At no other level are the stark realities of violence against women and children more evident than at local government.

A five day workshop organized by Women in the Media Sierra Leone (WIMSAL) witnessed a heated debate on rampant domestic violence at community level and sexual harassments in offices.

Conversely, my question is, what are communities and local councils doing to address the violence that affects the lives of so many women in local communities?

What can local government -the level closest to the people on the ground- do about this issue?

Article one of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which Sierra Leone is a signatory to thus states ‘Discrimination against women, denying or limiting as it does their equality of rights with men, is fundamentally unjust and constitutes an offence against human dignity.’ In 2007, parliament approved the three gender bills, which include the domestic violence act which calls on governments including the local council to protect the vulnerable women majority from domestic violence.

All the male candidates contesting the July 5 local council elections have pledged to project the interest of women, children and youths if elected to power. Nonetheless, what the women are demanding is not prioritizing their interest but giving them what belongs to them; equality, treat women as if they are no lesser persons than men. Give them their rightful position in jobs et al which they have long been deprived of.

Municipalities should start implementing policies that would see women benefiting from job creation opportunities. For example, obliging service provider contracts to employ a certain percentage of women and by setting procurement targets for women-owned business to benefit equally from tenders. This should be linked to training, capacity building and skills development programmes.

Forming gender forums and support groups for women who are in abusive relationships as well as encouraging women to speak out.

Men and all other relevant stakeholders including churches, traditional authorities and community based organizations should embark on public education and awareness programmes that promote the ideas of women’s empowerment. While it is important to target women in these campaigns, changing the mindsets of men and people who still hold patriarchal views and condone violence against women continues to be a big challenge. Indeed as stated by the moderator of the seminar, Managing editor of Salone Times newspaper Williett John, we are living in a patriarchal society and its time women be allowed to move from the depth we have been forced to be in for a very long time.

One crucial aspect is around the safety of women in the respective municipalities and one very practical strategy that will be used to address this issue is developing and implementing a lighting master plan, which will include regular maintenance and monitoring, safety improvements to transport termini and naming streets.

The municipalities could also use street hawkers to promote a safer-street environment and compiling a database of exiting services and facilities available to survivors of gender based violence as will be provided by the rainbow center in charge of collating reports of sexual violence, the family support unit of the Sierra Leone police and the Human rights commission. Up till this day, the Amnesty International Sierra Leone chapter and victims of sexual harassment are still agitating for their reparation as provided for by the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Women in Sierra Leone still suffer from domestic violence especially in the rural areas and it is the role of the local government to design bye-laws that will protect these women, prescribe stringent punishment for perpetrators and provide equal opportunities for men and women in the local sector. In the north of Sierra Leone, it is still illegal for women to become paramount chiefs, which is a violation of their rights as citizens of their respective chiefdoms. Meanwhile, there are doubts as to whether women of Sierra Leone will ever get the 30% quota they are asking for as following the local council elections, women have been harassed to a point of withdrawing from the contest. These harassments have been perpetrated both by the governing All Peoples Congress and the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party.

What is clear is that we have to start moving away from events and start addressing gender based violence in a consistent and sustainable manner by moving from workshops to implementation. While the campaigns are a very important aspect of awareness raising and conscientization, more efforts and resources are needed for long-term solutions that will actually make a difference to the lives of women. President of the 50-50 group Mrs. Harriet Turay suggested that candidates for the local council elections contest on individual basis rather than on party basis.

“I think we should get rid of the partisan politics on the local council. Let the community people choose their leaders that will best represent their interest,” she opined. The local government is closer to the people and it is a first step in the eradication of domestic violence in our fragile society.

Opinion Mariama Kandeh

Taiwan’s domestic violence prevention network is fragile even though a groundbreaking act preventing domestic violence has been in effect for nearly 10 years, the Taiwan Coalition Against Violence said at a news conference yesterday.

Kao Feng-hsien, the president of the coalition and also a judge who promoted passage of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, said the law raised public awareness of domestic violence, but society and the government were not well prepared to protect domestic violence victims.

Taiwan passed the act in 1998, and implemented it in 1999, becoming the first Asian country to provide legal protections to victims of domestic violence.

Citing statistics compiled by the Judicial Yuan, Kao said 40 percent of restraining order applications have been rejected since 1999, and the 33.87 days it has taken on average to approve a request has cast doubt on the efficiency of the restraining orders to begin with.

Chou Ching-yu, an executive at the Commission on Women’s Rights Promotion under the Executive Yuan, said insufficient manpower has hampered efforts to prevent domestic violence, with the number of people involved in the field not growing quickly enough to meet a rapidly rising case load.

In 2006, for example, 456 social workers recruited by the government handled 66,000 cases, or a ratio of 146 cases per employee, she said.

Chou called on police departments and social workers to set up teams to deal exclusively with domestic violence cases, ideally with one staff handling 30 cases to guarantee better quality in providing counseling and assistance.

She also urged the government to provide a more stable income for individuals in the field so they can work without disturbances and worries.

Lai Mei-huei, former president of the Awakening Foundation, called on the government to budget NT$3 billion (US$98.75 million) over the next 10 years for domestic violence prevention.

She pointed out that domestic violence victims only received assistance equal to NT$2,700 last year, which was not enough to cover the cost of their medical care, counseling, and rehabilitation.

Lin Ming-chieh, an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University, suggested that the Ministry of Justice set up a section in charge of monitoring domestic violence assailants, and Wang Ling-huei, secretary-general of the Taiwan Provincial Education Association, said an inter administerial section is necessary to help integrate resources in domestic violence prevention and control.

Taiwan Government steps up efforts to prevent domestic violence
The government pledged to step up its efforts to prevent domestic violence at a press conference marking the 10th anniversary of the enactment of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. continues …

The horrific deaths of five children and one woman in the past week have left many Australians asking how could this happen and how can we stop this happening again. A domestic violence homicide review panel could provide some of the answers. But no such panel exists in NSW or Australia.

The Federal Government recently created a National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and Children. It will presumably set targets of less violence and fewer deaths. But at present we cannot say how many women and children die from domestic violence each year.

There are some statistics indicating the extent of domestic violence deaths in Australia. The National Homicide Monitoring Program annual report for 2005-06 reveals that 66 women (58 per cent of the 113 female victims) died that year as a result of a domestic altercation.

In 45 homicides, or 13 per cent of the total for that period, either the victim or the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence, and 10 involved a legal intervention order. The proportion was higher for victims killed by an intimate partner, with 65 per cent of such homicides involving some form of domestic violence.

The statistics also reveal the relationship between victims and their killers. Twenty-one per cent of all homicides involved an intimate partner, 19 per cent involved a family member, 30 per cent involved a friend or acquaintance, and 26 per cent involved a stranger.

However, these statistics do not reveal the true picture. While many of these deaths count as intimate-partner or family-member homicides, others may count as homicide by a friend or acquaintance, or by a stranger. For example, the murder in 2004 of the Melbourne physiotherapist Adrian Scholes by his girlfriend’s former partner would probably be counted as an acquaintance or stranger murder.

We need to learn more from the deaths that do happen, such as those of Roxanne Richardson and her children, Luke and Grace, who were murdered by the children’s father before he shot himself in their Hunter Valley home in 2004.

To better prevent domestic violence homicides like these, they must be viewed in connection with each other, and not as isolated, unrelated deaths. That would allow for a thorough examination of the context in which domestic violence deaths occur and of the responses provided by a range of services and organisations.

A domestic violence homicide review panel could undertake this sort of comprehensive examination. It would bring together a range of experts to review all domestic homicides. In each case, the panel would look for weaknesses in the way the system responds to domestic violence. Over time, the panel would compile and analyse accurate statistics on domestic homicides.

In doing so, it could prevent domestic violence deaths. First, the panel could improve how government agencies – such as police or child protection officials – respond to domestic violence. Second, information gathered by the panel could inform and strengthen the ways in which domestic violence services keep women and children safe.

Such panels operate overseas, including in Britain, Canada and most states in the US. They have improved services by identifying risk factors and crucial points of intervention.

Strangulation was made a more serious offence in Minnesota after its panel identified it as a significant factor in domestic violence deaths. When the San Diego panel identified access to firearms as a concern, a senator proposed changing the law to require perpetrators to surrender firearms after a domestic violence incident.

Calls for a domestic violence homicide review panel are not new, with groups like the NSW Domestic Violence Committee Coalition repeatedly arguing for such a panel. In 2006 the NSW Ombudsman supported a review process and on Tuesday he renewed that.

We need to know what went wrong and how we can fix it. A domestic violence homicide review panel ensures that this learning and thinking take place.

Edwina MacDonald is the law reform and policy solicitor at Women’s Legal Services NSW

“If you steal $50,000 you’d be prosecuted more stringently than if you assaulted your girlfriend on Friday night”

The failure of the Nova Scotia government to call Bill 81, the Domestic Violence Elimination Act, has left representatives of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS) very disappointed.

“The government is back-peddling,” said Rhonda Fraser of Chrysalis House in Kentville. “They know they have a problem and, yes, they are going to form a committee. But that’s not how this started out.”

Bill 81 would have created a collaborative government/community committee, responsible to the Legislature, to address prevention of intimate partner violence.

On May 26, the Law Amendments Committee had agreed unanimously to send Bill 81 to the Committee of the Whole for Third Reading. The following day Justice Minister Cecil Clarke chose not to call Bill 81 for third and final reading.

Bill 81, a private member’s bill, was first introduced by Liberal Diana Whelan two years ago. It was reintroduced Dec. 6, 2007, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Recently, when the bill was called for Second Reading, it was sent to the Law Amendments Committee on the unanimous vote of the Legislature.

“What happened last month appears to have little to do with the capacity of Bill 81 to address the issue of violence against women and much more to do with a partisan disagreement on another bill,” said Pamela Harrison, provincial transition house coordinator.

Bill 81 was shelved in response to the defeat of a government bill on scrap metal by the Opposition May 25. “We don’t know if this means Bill 81 is essentially dead, or if the bill may be called in the fall session of the legislature.

“We do know, however, that cases of violence against women will not wait until the government begins to judge each bill on its own merit, and not as a vehicle to punish recalcitrant opposition members,” said Fraser, who co-chairs the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS).

“It is indeed unfortunate that in a year when Justice struck a task force for Safer Streets and Communities, of which THANS was a part, and just recently released their Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Crime, that the Minister of Justice postpones a bill that would provide another tool to address violence against women,” Fraser said.

“We wonder how abused women in Nova Scotia will feel, being equated in importance to the theft of scrap metal. Scrap metal can be replaced. Lives lost to violence cannot.”

Fraser noted that the new government committee announced May 30 by Clarke arose from “public humiliation.” She added that THANS members will not forget in a hurry how the committee came into being.

“It’s frustrating. For every two steps forward, we take one back. That has been a constant. At the end of the day, what concerns me is equating scrap metal with domestic violence. Why would anyone consider that an appropriate trade-off in the first place?”

Fraser said the law in Nova Scotia treats crimes against property more seriously than crimes against people.

“If you steal $50,000 you’d be prosecuted more stringently than if you assaulted your girlfriend on Friday night,” she said.

Toronto’s homeless women are living in life-threatening conditions, with one in five being sexually assaulted in the past year, according to a report released on Monday.

A survey of 97 homeless Toronto women released jointly by non-profit community agencies Street Health and Sistering, both of Toronto, found that 37 percent have been physically assaulted in the past year.

Twenty-one percent reported being sexually assaulted in the same time period.

“If you’re locked out of a shelter and you have nowhere to sleep, where do you go?” study coordinator Kate Mason, of Street Health, said in an interview.

“These women are at risk of being exploited. They’re extremely vulnerable,” she said.

Homelessness among women is often overlooked because women are more likely than men to find temporary living arrangements, such as sleeping on a friend’s couch, Mason said.

But 50 percent said they have not been able to access a shelter bed at least once in the part year, leaving them vulnerable to attacks that will likely go unreported.

“By the time women are homeless, they’re often at a point where they don’t want to go to police about a crime,” Mason said.

What’s more, victims often don’t want to approach police for fear of being charged with illegal activities, such as panhandling, or fear of further assault. Earlier research had found that one in 10 homeless people have been assaulted by a police officer in the past year, Mason said.

“They don’t want to risk getting a ticket, or they’re afraid,” she explained.

Eighty-four percent reported having at least one serious physical health condition, including heart disease, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and diabetes.

“A lot of these conditions are life-threatening on their own, and even more so for the homeless. These chronic conditions often go unmanaged,” Mason said.

Mental health issues were also prevalent with 29 percent reporting bouts of depression and 19 percent suffering from anxiety.

The women in the study were homeless for an average of three years. Forty-two percent said they lived on C$2,400 or less per year. ($1=$1.02 Canadian)

The ranks of poor single mothers have grown since the 1996 welfare overhaul that weakened their safety net, and 30 percent now live with neither job income nor public assistance.

In 2001, Lisa Craig snuck out of her home in Chicago and boarded a bus for Milwaukee with her three children, leaving behind an abusive husband, a stable job and most of her possessions.

The elimination in 1996 of federal welfare entitlements had its roots here in Wisconsin, where voters in the 1980s were angered over perceptions that poor Chicago “welfare queens” were heading north to take advantage of more generous programs. But Craig headed north because she had family there to help her.

After a short stay with her sister, Craig took her children – aged 1 to 8 – to a homeless shelter. In order to receive a monthly welfare payment of about $600, she entered a three-month training program with the hope of a landing a job at the end of it.

But the training didn’t pay off. She didn’t find full-time employment until 2006, when she was hired as a retail clerk at Goodwill, which paid enough to cover her $600 rent but not much else. The job lasted only until last November and she has been looking for another since.

Over the years, Craig has made ends meet with the help of Wisconsin Works, or W2, the state’s overhauled welfare system. But she is “disenchanted” with the program because it has not lived up to its promise of helping her obtain long-term employment. “They need to come up with something else,” she said in an interview.

Craig is caught in the public policy experiments that began in Milwaukee in 1987 when Gov. Tommy Thompson tied welfare payments to behavior, including requiring recipients to engage in work-related activities, not need. Thompson stiffened the requirements in 1994. The country took notice as Wisconsin welfare rolls plummeted.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton teamed up with a Republican Congress to enact the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, a welfare overhaul reflecting much of the new policies in Wisconsin. The law was reauthorized in 2006.

Advocates working on behalf of single mothers say the law, which ended government’s obligation to provide minimum support to impoverished single heads of households, has exacerbated poverty.

“It definitely has played a role in the demise of the city,” said Sangita Nayak, an organizer with 9to5 National Association of Working Women, an advocacy group based here.

In 2006, 12 percent of Wisconsin women lived in poverty, compared to 9.7 percent of men, according to census data.

Advocates see some rays of hope that life will improve for the city’s poor. In April, voters elected the only woman to the 15-member city council; in May, a philanthropist gave $50 million to boost low-income neighborhoods; and in June, the state opened a new department to improve the life of children and families.

But without the welfare benefits, poor women are giving up on government to help them survive, said Joyce Mallory, a former program director at the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families in Madison. “A lot of people just stop trying,” she said. “They just figure, ‘Hey, I’ll try to get by. I’ll do whatever I have to do.'”

Some 15 million U.S. women live in poverty, according to 2006 Census data collated by the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center. Poverty rates are especially high among women of color, older women and single mothers. Black and Hispanic women are about twice as likely to be poor than white women. Roughly 1 in 5 elderly women are poor, as are 1 in 3 single mothers.

For many, poverty has worsened in recent years due to the shrinking economy, higher unemployment rates and the rising cost of fuel and food.

That is especially true in Milwaukee, now the seventh poorest city in the nation. Here, temporary homeless shelters have become permanent, food pantries are pleading for donations to meet demand and public schools now serve universal free breakfasts, Mallory said.

Like many other cities in the Rust Belt–the swath of industrial states that stretch from the Northeast through the Midwest–Milwaukee has seen a steady loss of jobs, many in the decent-paying manufacturing sector.

Economic downturns hit women the hardest because they earn less then men; are more likely to work part-time; are less likely to be eligible for unemployment insurance; are less likely to have health insurance; and are more likely to leave their jobs because of caregiving responsibilities, domestic violence, or harassment or stalking.

Since the welfare overhaul, the number of recipients plunged as many found stable employment. At the same time, the number of single mothers who are unemployed and who receive no welfare assistance has doubled, from 16 percent in 1996 to nearly 33 percent in 2005, or 1 in 3 single parents.

Wisconsin’s welfare provides unemployed single heads of households with children payments of up to $673 a month and the parent must participate in at least 40 hours of assigned work, work-related activities or training programs a week. That averages to about $4.20 an hour, considerably below the current minimum wage of $5.85 an hour, which is set to increase to $7.25 per hour next July.

Parents can apply for county-based programs to help them pay with child care, medical treatment and food. Some parents can work part-time for pro-rated benefits.

Proponents say the effort to move people from welfare to work has been a tremendous success, helping parents–especially single mothers–find stable jobs to support their families. The welfare overhaul, they say, has also helped women collect child support.

“Welfare reform stands as a signal achievement, in my judgment, in social reform policy,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt said in a 2006 speech marking the law’s 10th anniversary. “The act brought significant improvements in the lives of many Americans by helping them break the cycle of dependency and encouraging them to pursue self-sufficiency.”

He pointed to a 57 percent decline in the national welfare caseload between 1996 and 2006.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in Wisconsin, where welfare participation has dropped from 90,000 in 1996 to 6,400 today, said Reggie Bicha, head of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. In 2007, over 5,000 participants found work, with an average hourly wage of $8.54.

But critics say the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

More single mothers are employed now than were in the 1990s, according to Liz Schott, a welfare expert at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But recent declines suggest a healthy economy–rather than changes to welfare–helps people transition to work, she said. And many of those now working are still poor because they do not earn enough to afford child care, transportation and other work expenses, she added.

Moreover, the government did not implement a mechanism to track those who left the system. Countless others are now homeless and living in extreme poverty, she added.

“This is going to catch up with us,” Schott said. “We no longer have the very, very, very weak safety net that we used to have for poor families with children.”

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.
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Tiffany was 12 when her mother died. That was the same year she ran away from her sister’s house, lived on the streets for six weeks and met the man who two days later became her pimp.

Under New York state law, girls like Tiffany could be prosecuted for breaking the law. But a new bill Gov. David Paterson is reviewing would help child prostitutes avoid harsh prosecution. They would be treated as victims and get services to help escape exploitation in the sex trade.

“As a young girl, when you’re under the age of 17, you cannot consent to sex, and you’re forced to have sex with someone for money — I feel like that’s statutory rape,” said Tiffany, who asked that her last name not be used because she was a victim of sexual violence.

The governor’s office has said only that officials there will review the measure when it’s sent to them.

Now 18, Tiffany has received her GED, does outreach for other young women and hopes to go to college. She spent a year-and-a-half in jail for assault before she was introduced to a mentoring program.

New York — and many other states — have sought to prosecute sexually exploited youth. State laws generally contradict the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which defines sex trafficking as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion — or involving a minor. Child advocates want state laws to reflect federal law.

The Safe Harbour bill that passed the Assembly in June would allow children under the age of 15 avoid criminal proceedings on their first prostitution arrest and instead be considered a “person in need of supervision.” The bill would offer them services to start over.

In any future arrests, the youths could defend themselves as victims of sex trafficking in court to avoid harsh prosecution and stiff penalties. The judge would have discretion in those cases.

Arresting children exploited as prostitutes can further traumatize them and impose a stigma that is difficult to escape, said Rachel Lloyd, the founder and executive director of the Girls Education and Mentoring Services, a nonprofit that helps girls avoid or escape sexual exploitation.

Only Washington state and California have considered legislation similar to the Safe Harbour Act, said Karen Stauss, the managing attorney and policy counsel for the Polaris Project, an organization fighting human trafficking.

According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Runaway and Throwaway Children, an estimated 450,000 children run away from home every year. Living on the streets, one out of every three teens will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.

But intervention has helped girls like Tiffany.

“I’m not in the life anymore,” she said. “I have a job, I live on my own and I have my own apartment. I see a counselor, and I’ve learned to love myself and (to) be able to deal with situations in another way. I don’t have to run away from my problems.”

Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS), is a nonprofit that helps girls avoid or escape sexual exploitation, in New York. New York, and many other states, have sought to prosecute sexually exploited youth. State laws generally contradict the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which defines sex trafficking as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion _ or involving a minor. Child advocates want state laws to reflect federal law. “This is a billion dollar industry that targets some of the most vulnerable children in the state,” said Lloyd “Adults are out there looking for vulnerable kids and criminalization is not the solution … when in any other case this would be statutory rape.” A new bill N.Y. Gov. Paterson is reviewing would help child prostitutes avoid harsh prosecution. They would be treated as victims and get services to help escape exploitation in the sex trade.