Archive for December 21st, 2009

Three decades ago, the relatives of an eleven-year-old Native girl in Minnesota forced her to have sex with a man in exchange for alcohol. The story was not front-page news. It was not the subject of a feature-length film with a happy ending. No one intervened. But when she turned eighteen, the police started paying attention. She was arrested and convicted over twenty times for prostitution. Her parents’ addiction became her own, and she entered treatment dozens of times.

At an early age, the girl became one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Native American children and women forced into prostitution in Minnesota, falling under the radar of social services, the community, and the media.

“If it was a bunch of white, blonde hair, blue-eyed girls, believe me, there would be an end to this,” said Vednita Carter, executive director of Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based nonprofit serving women involved in prostitution.

In September, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center became the first organization in the state to release a report about the widespread trafficking of Native women. The agency hopes its effort will draw attention and funding to Native victims of sexual exploitation.

Advocates say the report’s findings cast little doubt that the situation has already become a crisis. In a sample of 95 Native women seeking services from the resource center, 40 percent reported being the victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Sixty percent of the women surveyed entered prostitution or pornography before the age of 18. And about one-fifth had been sexually exploited before their thirteenth birthday. When the girls become adults, the exploitation often continues. They remain in prostitution, but the law often no longer views them as victims, but as criminals.

The 126-page report, called Shattered Hearts, written by research scientist Alexandra Pierce, focuses on women who live outside of reservations. The report compiles statistics, identifies flaws in the legal system, draws parallels to the historic exploitation of Native people, and makes dozens of suggestions about how to address the problem. Pierce incorporated the Resource Center’s own studies, interviews with social service workers, and available government data.

“To me, it’s an emotional issue; it’s a financial issue; it’s a justice issue; it’s a human rights issue,” said Suzanne Koepplinger, the Resource Center’s executive director.

Although the legal system treats prostitution and trafficking differently, the report often uses the terms interchangeably, as many advocates believe that prostitution can never be considered fully consensual. The prostituted woman is the true victim of the crime, they argue.

“There’s a general acceptance that prostitution is a lifestyle choice, when it’s actually a federal crime against women,” Koepplinger said.

The report found that Native women have been disproportionally impacted by sexual exploitation. For example, Native American women make up about 25 percent of all women on probation in Hennepin County for prostitution-related offenses, according to data from 2007. But Native women represent only 2.2 percent of the county’s population.

Some of the reasons for the staggering numbers are clear. Native Americans have the state’s highest rates of homelessness, poverty, and alcoholism – what many call the legacy of hundreds of years of colonialism. But the report also argues that generational trauma plays a role. White settlers repeatedly raped, tortured, and murdered Native women over hundreds of years, treating their bodies as disposable and worthless.

In one account from the 1860s, a white rancher describes a government attack on the Cheyenne: “I heard one man say that he had cut out a woman’s private parts and had them for exhibition on a stick…I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over the saddle-bows and wore them over their hats while riding in the ranks.”

Other more recent practices, including the involuntary sterilization of Native women and the Indian Adoption Project (which removed Native children from their homes), added to the collective trauma, the report says.

“There’s been so much violence and destruction of families because of colonization,” said Nicole Matthews, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition.

In Minnesota, advocates say that Native women have been prostituted onto ships in the Duluth harbor for generations, although local law enforcement say that they have not noticed any trafficking since harbor security was ramped up after 9/11.

“Girls have conversations with their mothers about their time, when the mothers were working on the boats,” one advocate said during a round-table discussion conducted as part of the report. “Many of the girls were conceived out of working on the boats.”

These historical experiences leave Native women psychologically vulnerable to exploitation, the report says. Once women enter into prostitution, they are less likely to ask for help, as violence against women may seem normal.

Advocates say that many Native communities have also normalized sexual exploitation. Although data is limited, the fact that Native women are often exploited in childhood suggests that Native men play a significant role in their abuse. In many close-knit Native communities, women may have difficulty speaking out.

“It’s a very difficult issue because it’s a very painful issue,” Koepplinger said. “But not talking about it hasn’t helped us.”

An advocate who was interviewed anonymously as part of the report said that when she has tried to talk about sexual violence with members of her Native community, “Some of the elders don’t appreciate that.”

Another participants agreed, saying, “Oh, I know, I know. I was ‘that nasty girl who talks nasty.’”

If the girls don’t find help before they turn eighteen, the legal system takes over, often criminalizes their abuse, and fails to effectively stop sex trafficking, advocates say. But disagreement exists among both advocates and law enforcement about the best intervention methods.

“Police get a hold of them first,” said Linda Miller, executive director of Civil Society, a non-profit that provides legal and other assistance to trafficking victims. “They’ve declared that they’re not going to look beneath the surface.”

But St. Paul Police spokesperson Paul Schnell points to the federally funded Gerald D. Vick Human Trafficking Task Force, a police-led effort to coordinate services for victims of trafficking. The police department trains officers to recognize signs of human trafficking when they approach criminal situations.

However, many women are distrustful of law enforcement, and Schnell acknowledges that police officers frequently arrest women engaged in prostitution.

“In the moment, a case may become a case, “ he said. “But over the course of time and doing that investigation via prosecution or defense counsel, there are different places where there can be interventions to address the trafficking issues.”

Carter, of Breaking Free, said that St. Paul police officers have been increasingly receptive to treating prostitutes as victims. More police officers are bringing women directly to Breaking Free instead of jail, she said.

Nonetheless, arrests continue, and advocates say that a prostitution conviction – or even an arrest – can prevent a woman from ever having a decent job or housing.

“Not many women want to spend the rest of their lives saying that they engaged in prostitution,” Miller said.

Minnesota law does provide some additional legal protection to victims of sex trafficking. While the federal definition of trafficking requires that traffickers use “force, fraud, or coercion,” state laws say that a person can never consent to being sexually exploited. Under state law, anyone who had been prostituted by others is considered a trafficking victim.

Part of a longer article that you can read in full at


It’s a subject seldom addressed publicly in the Palestinian territories, but for the first time, a report is lifting the veil on the taboo topic of female trafficking and forced prostitution – and calling for action to stop it.

Trafficking and forced prostitution in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza operate on a small-scale basis, rather than being part of a sophisticated and organized activity, the report found. But the two practices are also frequent and widespread — and the women and girls involved have few means of escape.

The 26-page report, released last week and titled “Trafficking and Forced Prostitution of Palestinian Women and Girls: Forms of Modern Day Slavery”, was researched and written by SAWA, a nonprofit Palestinian group that combats violence against women. SAWA received support for the report from UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, which is making the report available online.

Getting information for the report — which was completed in June 2008 but published only now — was difficult because of the stigma suffered by the victims and the sensitivity of the subject within Palestinian society, SAWA said.

Explaining the delay between completing the research and publishing the report, UNIFEM spokesman Julien Vaissier said it took a long time to analyze the data from the field, and staff in Gaza were also forced in January of this year to turn their attention to victims of the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

“Dating [the report] 2009 would have been misleading, because the data was collected in 2008,” he said.

“It was hard for us to publish it, and it took us a long time to decide how, whom and why, because of the situation and the sensitivity of the subject,” SAWA representative Jalal Khader added.

The report found that unemployment and poverty play a major role in pushing girls and women into prostitution and making them vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers.

Most of the women have also been “violently abused by their families, especially their fathers,” the report found. The trafficked women who spoke to researchers said they had been “battered continuously” at home, then forced into marriage, often facing further violence at the hands of their husbands.

The situation is no better if the trafficked women and girls are accompanied by pimps or madams, who threaten the girls with violence if they refuse sex with clients. In one case, a trafficker called “W” threatened to inform a girl’s family if she tried to escape and to disseminate embarrassing pictures of her engaged in sexual activity.

Researchers found no studies or reports on the issue, just local newspaper reports on specific cases, SAWA said. They did manage to conduct 11 face-to-face interviews with “informants,” or Palestinians willing to speak out about the problem. Those included police officers, victims’ lawyers, taxi drivers and hotel owners.

Field researchers also managed to conduct in-person interviews with three trafficked women and included their case studies in the report.

SAWA said its groundbreaking report is not meant as a comprehensive study, but rather an initial step in identifying the problem.

“For the first time, people have chosen to break the silence and speak out, and this briefing paper can be seen as a first step to start answering the need for protecting women and girl victims of trafficking and forced prostitution in the [occupied Palestinian territories],” the report says.

If the victimized women somehow escape their situations, they face further problems on several fronts. The report found there are few social networks or shelter houses to which they can turn, that they may be ostracized by their communities and families, and that the law may treat them as criminals.

The first case study in the report is of a 23-year-old married mother of three from Jerusalem. A Palestinian, she says her father used to abuse her violently on a daily basis, tightening a belt around her neck until she fainted, then forcing her to live in the basement for days without food.

After the woman’s father forced her into marriage at 16, her husband raped her on their wedding night, then continued to beat her, she said.

She ran away from home and met two men who promised her shelter and employment in Israel — but instead, when she got there, she was kept in a house and forced to be a prostitute, she said.

When she once refused to sleep with a client, the woman said her pimp called her father, who took her home and hit her violently until she fainted. She now lives at a safe house, the report said.

In another case, a field researcher overheard two women talking in the front seat of a public taxi on the way from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Ramallah. The woman told her friend she was unable to obtain a birth certificate for a baby fathered by one of her former clients at a brothel.

The woman said she was forced to leave the brothel after becoming pregnant and now didn’t know what to do: “I went to the social services in Jerusalem, but they could not help me either,” she was overheard as saying.

A lack of willingness by law enforcement to investigate these cases and prosecute the traffickers — along with criminalizing the victims’ behavior — only compounds the problem, the report said.

The Palestinian territories use a hodgepodge of laws applicable to different areas, which also makes it difficult to take action, the report said.

The report calls on Palestinian governmental organizations to draft new legislation guaranteeing that girls and women are treated as victims of crime and not as offenders, and referring to forced prostitution as sexual violence.

It also urges civil groups to document cases of forced prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes and to push the government to change the law.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of people by force, coercion, fraud or abuse of power. Traffickers seek to exploit their victims for sexual purposes, forced labor or removal of organs, SAWA said.

To download the report in either English or Arabic go to

SAWA website at

Women’s economic marginalization and vulnerability to violence is hindering development in the Arab world, UN and civil society officials said last week.

Launching the Arabic version of the “World Survey on the Role of Women in Development” at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), representatives said increasing women’s access to resources would have positive implications for social and economic development. The report, published every five years by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, was originally published in English in October.

“The Arab woman is still incapable of being equal to men,” said Afaf Omer, head of the ESCWA Center for Women. “Women in the Arab world cannot help society improve unless they enjoy their full rights.”

However, women in the Middle East “still lack any understanding” of the rights to which they are entitled under international law, she said.

Omer noted that while the economic participation of Arab women has risen steadily in recent years, it still lags behind the rest of the world. In Lebanon, women count for 26 percent of the total labor force, an improvement of only one percent since 2000, the UN has said.

According to ESCWA’s report “Women’s Control over Economic Resources and Access to Financial Resources”, released in August 2009, “this [lack of participation] is primarily attributable to the existence of discriminatory laws, failure to implement the non-discriminatory legislation that does exist and a lack of awareness by women of their rights in such matters.”

Lebanon, which signed and ratified the UN Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1997, maintains reservations on Articles 9, 16, and 29, which pertain to citizenship, family law and the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to settle disputes concerning the convention’s application.

No Arab states, however, have reservations on Articles 10-14 of CEDAW, pertaining to eliminating discrimination in education, employment, health care and economic and social rights. Still, the UN has found a 27 percent wage difference exists between male and female employees aged over 30 in Lebanon, and discrimination against unmarried women workers in terms of sick leave.

Lebanese women-led small enterprises received only 17 percent of the loans of formal institutions in 2006, compared to 47 percent in Tunisia or 32 percent in the United Arab Emirates, the United Nations World Survey said.

Domestic violence is also impeding progress on women’s rights in Lebanon, said Zoya Rouhana of the civil society group KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation.

According to 2002 estimates from the United Nations Population Fund, around 35 percent of Lebanese women have experienced physical violence, although KAFA says the figure is closer to 75 percent.

“This year is the 30th anniversary of CEDAW … but most Arab countries have not synchronized their laws” with the convention, often touted as an international bill of rights for women, she said.

The Lebanese penal code has no specific laws relating to domestic violence and does not criminalize marital rape.

“Our laws must reflect the changes that have taken place in our households and amongst [Arab] women,” Rouhana said.

The official issuance of the final version of the KAFA Draft Law on the Protection of Women from Family Violence, and its inclusion in the next general parliamentary session where it will be voted upon, was celebrated at the “Enough violence and exploitation” event at UNESCO Palace that took place last week.

Organized by women’s rights NGO KAFA, the Italian Embassy and The National Coalition for Legislating the Protection of Women from Family Violence, the event also honored high profile celebrities for their work in combating violence against women.

Actress Carmen Lebbos, who acted as Master of Ceremony, was one of the celebrities that were honored at the event for participating in the recent TV-spots and billboards that called attention to the plight of abused women. Other honorees included singer Yara, actress Nada Abu Farhat and actors Rafik Ali Ahmad and Yorgo Shalhoub.

Ghida Anani, co-founder of KAFA and coordinator of the event, said the honored artists played a crucial role in reaching the masses. “I have witnessed an upward spiral in media attention for our cause. Aside from the TV-spots, talk shows and documentaries are putting our cause in the forefront and as a result it is fighting the taboo surrounding this issue,” she said.

Minister of State Amal Ofeish also showed her dedication to eradicating gender-based violence and her support of the ‘Family Violence’ bill.

Fadi Karam, representative of First Lady Wafaa Sleiman, the president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women Issues, hoped that the law would be passed swiftly and urged all public sectors and civil society actors to coordinate in order to reach the broader goal of an “all-encompassing solution to humanitarian issues.”

Social Affairs Minister Salim Sayegh, reiterated the government’s full support for the draft law and the campaign launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, “United to end Violence against Women.”

“The government’s policy statement reaffirms Lebanese commitment to all international conventions concerning women’s rights and will work towards eradicating all forms of violence against women.” Sahegh said. “We have prepared several concepts that the government is currently trying to concretize into practical solutions,” he added.

Sayegh told The Daily Star: “Today’s event was a bouquet of heartfelt testimonies about the injustice of a society that has all means to provide for women’s safety. There is a great discrepancy between the Lebanese lifestyle and the absence of women’s rights that safeguard their protection.”

The hopeless situation that many women in Lebanon are finding themselves in the absence of proper legislation was epitomized by the heart wrenching experiences told by victims of domestic violence.

“The beaten women here today have taught us a lesson in courage. We should denunciate this lack of protecting them in the name of shame,” Sayegh said.

“These violent actions deserve no other name than crime. Today we have broken the curtain of silence which will hopefully be the beginning of a long-awaited and much needed transformation of our society,” he added.

Although the Lebanese Constitution guarantees equality between men and women before the law, Lebanon’s legislation fails to be in accordance with the international human rights agreements it has ratified.

With the support of the Delegation of the European Commission, KAFA, a Lebanese non-governmental organization dedicated to eradicating gender-based violence, child abuse and human trafficking, prepared a Draft Law on the Protection of Women from Family Violence in 2008, which “criminalizes all forms of family violence and sets a range of provisions to protect and empower women within the family.”

KAFA’s director Zoya Rouhana said she was very optimistic about the passing of the Draft Law, as was already a great accomplishment that it was included in the ministerial statement. “The tremendous support for this law shown by MP Gilberte Zouein who heads the Woman and Child Parliamentary Committee and the Minister of Social Affairs is reason for optimism.”

Addressing the next step that will be taken if the draft law is passed, Anani said: “Our main mission will be to ensure its implementation. We will start a campaign promoting it, raising awareness and fighting illiteracy so as to make sure that women know their rights and how to fully benefit from them.”

See also: Pleas to end domestic violence fall on deaf ears in Lebanon – NGO underlines urgent need for law designed to prevent family abuse

Rivkah Lubitch claims rabbinical courts which allow husbands to deny their wives a divorce are partners to violence against women

A slap is physical violence; an insult is verbal violence; touching without consent is sexual violence. What should we call it when the rabbinical courts apply pressure on a woman to accept a divorce in exchange for the waiver of money that the civil court obligated her husband to pay?

Hitting, slapping, kicking, and punching are all included in the category of “physical violence.” Threatening, cursing, and isolating someone socially are all called “emotional violence.” Touching somebody without her consent, raping her, and incest are called “sexual violence,” and the absolute dependence of a woman on her husband is called “economic violence.”

So what do we call it when a husband refuses to give his wife a “get” for 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? Is this a form of violence? “Iggun” violence? Divorce violence? Marital violence? We still don’t have a name for it.

While it is true that a number of years ago, the women’s groups got together and established that a man who doesn’t give his wife a divorce will be labeled a “sarvan get” (divorce refusenik). And in fact, calling something by its name is a good way to begin defining the problem and isolating a cause for social change.

However, society has not yet established a term that reflects the despicable act that the divorce-withholder does when he refuses his wife her freedom, and liberty to establish a new family.

As is well known, language reflects reality, and also constructs it. Therefore, we can assume that the reason society has not yet delineated that the withholding of the freedom of a person to set up a family and marry another person is a form of violence is because society has not yet been persuaded, or internalized the fact, that such an act is in fact, a violent one.

The rabbinical courts most certainly do not think that a violent act is involved. Quite the contrary, why would one call this violence? A man’s right to take possession of his wife as if she were an object of purchase (kinyan) , and not to divorce her if there are no halachic grounds to do, so is held to be a basic Jewish right of primordial origin! There is no reason for the rabbinical courts to make the claim that such a man acts in a violent way.

The civil courts, however, think differently. In a series of recent court decision in which a wife has petitioned for damages for divorce-refusal, the family courts held that the damages inflicted by the divorce-withholder are significant, quantifiable, and justifiable. According to the family courts, withholding a divorce violates a women’s dignity, her liberty, and her right to personal fulfillment, independent autonomy, as well as her right to marry and have children.

And now that it is clear to us that husbands who withhold the divorce are abusing their wives – “get” abuse or “Iggun” abuse – for which they must pay a price, let’s go one step forward and ask: Aren’t the rabbinical courts that stand on the side and watch as husbands abuse their wives, and sometimes even encourage this behavior, partners to the violence against women?

For example, what do you think of the decision of the High Rabbinical Court in the matter of a couple separated for 8 years, in which the husband demanded that the wife waive the judgments that the civil courts rendered in her favor: “The wife and her attorney, and the husband and his attorney, would do well to reach a fair agreement and to allow the two parties to divorce amicably since they both desire a “get.” What is this, if not violence?!,7340,L-3821484,00.html

Women peace activists alone share hope for peace

In a joint conference with Itach – Women Lawyers for Social Justice, the International Women’s Commission (IWC) presents a report that provides worrisome insights into Israeli women’s positions on peace and the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

“Women Confronting Peace – Voices from Israel” is the result of a three-year project, during which the IWC held 13 public hearings to document the voices of women of different backgrounds. The report was presented on December 3, at a conference entitled, “Women, Peace and Political Negotiations – The Voice Unheard“. Women from the Palestinian National Authority, the United Nations and Israel will share their opinions on the pervasive militaristic discourse that shapes the positions of many Israeli women.

The IWC has come to an unsettling conclusion: “Despite the fact that Jewish women are interested in meeting with Palestinian women, they perceive them as less maternal and unconcerned about their children’s safety.” The Commission also finds that “the exclusion of women’s perspectives from the security discourse that dominates Israeli-Palestinian relations prevents the development of an alternative feminist discourse.”

The International Women’s Commission brings together Palestinian, Israeli and international women dedicated to an end of the Israeli occupation and a just peace based on international law [including relevant UN resolutions], human rights and equality. The IWC aims to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through immediate final status negotiations leading to a viable, sovereign Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel on the June 4, 1967, borders. The IWC works for an ongoing and comprehensive reconciliation in order to realize a mutually secure and sustainable peace and co-existence.

One very interesting conclusion of the report reveals that women’s involvement in peace activism increases their commitment to ending the conflict through a feminist framework. These same women activists expressed their frustration at the inability to meet and connect with Palestinian women working for peace because of developments since the Second Intifada. .

“Jewish women in Israel are emotionally trapped inside the militaristic security discourse led by the Israeli political leadership. On the other hand, they are certain this discourse cannot bring peace” says Nourit Hajjaj, IWC member, and a co-writer of the report “Women Confronting Peace”.

The IWC highlights that fact that “for the first time in Israel, women’s voices are being heard, as mothers, citizens and activists; providing a forum of discussion on ways to bring these voices into the ongoing discourse on the conflict and its effect on their lives. Extensive international efforts by IWC aim at settling the conflict not only on the political level, but also through initiating opportunities for renewed hope in peace amidst an Israeli public trapped in a cycle of despair.”

Alongside these worrisome conclusions, the conference addressed the IWC’s appeal for increased representation of women’s viewpoints in political negotiations. This initiative is backed by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which demands greater representation for women in all spheres and stages of decision-making processes, especially those aiming to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.


MEDIA-LATIN AMERICA: Women Deserve Better Press

GENDER-SOUTH AFRICA: ‘There Is A Sense Of Vindication’

RIGHTS: Nigeria Failing To End Discrimination Against Women

MEDIA: The Untold Stories of Violence Against Women

BOLIVIA: Women Clamour for Right to Land

BALKANS: Apologising to Sterilised Roma Women – Slovakia’s Turn

POLITICS-NAMIBIA: ‘Parties Totally Don’t Care About Women’s Rights’

GUATEMALA: Sex Education, Family Planning Finally Available

RIGHTS: U.N. Recruits Men to Help End Violence Against Women

LABOUR-MEXICO: Manufacturing Poverty for Women

RIGHTS-FRANCE: Domestic Violence – Everybody’s Business

PERU: IACHR Calls for Justice for Victims of Forced Sterilisation

Q&A: “We Have Linked Machismo and Femicide in the Public Mind in Chile”