Archive for December 30th, 2010

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

See also: http://www.fugitivus.net/2010/12/22/dear-second-and-third-wave-feminists-with-publicly-recognizable-names/

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Sexual harassment against Pakistani women, particularly rape and gang rape incidents have increased to an alarmingly rate of over 13 percent across the Punjab with the provincial capital and the Gujranwala regions the most vulnerable.

According to statistics, available with TheNation, about 110 women out of total 271 and 358 out of 2,427 women were victimized of gang rape and rape respectively in the Lahore region with an increase by 12.5 and 13.5 percent during the first 11 months of current year as compared to the corresponding period of 2009.

By analysing the official documents, it seemed that the provincial police comprising on above 1,80,000 police officers/officials have nothing to do except to secure their own skins in front of judges and senior offices if any case was discussed.

Gang rape: About 271 incidents of gang rape took place in 35 districts of the Punjab in 2010 with the difference of 13 percent as compared to 2009 in which only 136 unpleasant incidents had occurred.

In the DG Khan region – the districts of Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh and Layyah remained at the lowest level as only two incidents of gang rape took place in Layyah during this span of time.

The pathetic situation regarding gang rape was observed in Lahore with 49 incidents, 30 in Sheikhupura, 25 in Kasur, 16 in Gujranwala, 11 each in Rawalpindi and Faisalabad.

The provincial police however claimed to apprehend only 385 rapists out of 643 while 48 cases of gang rape are still under investigation. About 125 challans were sent in the courts and the Punjab police cancelled 47 cases besides furnishing different pleas.

Rape: About 2,427 women/girls were victimised of rape during the 11 months of 2010 with 12.5 percent increase as compared to the same era of the last year in which above 2,184 women were raped, with the Bahawalpur region the most susceptible as many as 496 incidents occurred there.

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Lahore/27-Dec-2010/Rape-incidents-up-13pc-in-2010

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.

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/12/rape_victims_ask_military_wont.html

Malta’s strict anti-abortion laws will not be affected by the recent judgment of Europe’s supreme court relating to abortion in Ireland, according to a Maltese judge who sat on the case.

The European Court of Human Rights last week found that a sick woman’s human rights were breached when she sought an abortion in Ireland but was forced to go to the UK instead.

However, Judge Giovanni Bonello, one of the judges deciding on this case, told The Times the judgment had “no relevance at all” to Malta.

Although Ireland, like Malta, has strict anti-abortion laws, its Constitution allows abortion if the pregnancy puts the woman’s life in danger. It is this exception which the Strasbourg court had to evaluate because the woman claimed she was unable to obtain proper medical advice to terminate her pregnancy.

“The violation consisted in Ireland denying the woman a personal right guaranteed by the Constitution of her own country,” Judge Bonello said.

The case concerned a woman who underwent chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The cancer was in remission when she got pregnant. Before realising she was pregnant, the woman had undergone some tests contraindicated during pregnancy.

She feared the tests would have harmed the foetus and the cancer would reappear if she carried the baby to term.

According to Judge Bonello, the Irish state had not put in place any legal and practical structures through which a woman could actually make use of a legally recognised right to abortion if her life was in danger.

On the contrary, in Malta, he added, the law criminalised all forms of abortion, even those intending to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother.

“The Strasbourg court did not have to face this issue and said absolutely nothing about it. Nothing has changed in so far as Malta is concerned,” Judge Bonello said.

Human rights lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia believes the difference in legislation between Malta and Ireland will make it very difficult for either the pro-life movement or those who favour abortion to use this judgment for their cause.

This has not stopped pro-life lobby group Gift of Life renewing its call for the Constitution to be changed to ensure the right to life is protected “from conception” so as to make it very difficult for abortion to ever be made legal at some point in the future.

As expected, the Strasbourg court’s judgment on such a sensitive issue created a media sensation. However, Judge Bonello lamented what he described as a “radical misinterpretation and distortion” of the judgment.

“Nowhere does the judgment suggest that there is a right to abortion, much less that abortion is a fundamental human right,” he said.

The judgment concerned three women, two of whom desired to have an abortion in Ireland for reasons of “well-being” but could not have it performed in the country. The third concerned the sick woman.

Irish law does not allow abortions for reasons of “well-being” and the court dismissed the request of the first two applicants.

Judge Bonello said the court decided the issue of abortion was one which involved “grave moral, ethical and religious considerations” and as a result an international court should not interfere with domestic regulation.

However, Dr Comodini Cachia said the European court’s decision on abortion cases involving women who had to terminate their pregnancy for health reasons did raise pertinent questions about the fate of Maltese women who may find themselves in similar circumstances.

“The message seems to be that even if there is a risk to her life the woman will not be given any assistance or even advice related to termination of pregnancy. Essentially her life is at risk and that is it,” Dr Comodini Cachia said, dreading the prospect of being a doctor who is faced with a situation of having his hands tied by the draconian law.

“While the State is provided with a lot of discretion as to issues of morality and values, yet one may wonder whether that same State would be fulfilling its obligations in respecting the life of the woman and the family life of her partner and other children where there is clear evidence that a pregnancy would jeopardise her life and health,” Dr Comodini Cachia said.

This conundrum has not been resolved by the European court and yet even if a case ever makes it to Strasbourg the outcome is anything but a straightforward decision.

In Malta, abortion is a criminal act that punishes the woman and the doctor. There are no legal provisions that permit abortion if the woman’s life is in danger.

The criminal code states that anyone found guilty of inducing a miscarriage or consenting to an abortion faces a prison sentence of between 18 months and three years.

Doctors who perform an abortion or prescribe medicines to cause an abortion face a prison term of between 18 months and four years and perpetual interdiction from the profession.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20101221/local/abortion-ruling-not-relevant-to-malta

The government has proposed a cash-incentive plan to encourage families to have girls.

As India’s middle class grows, more families are using modern technology to ensure they have a boy, according to gender and population experts. Confronted with a decrease in the number of girls born, the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has decided to crack down on the illegal practice of so-called female feticide.

India outlawed the practice of doctors using technologies like ultrasounds to tell patients the sex of their unborn child in 1994. Abortion based on certain grounds is legal, but having one based on sex is not.

Despite the law as well as gains in girls’ education and employment opportunities across India, the practice has continued and even grown as more people have access to ultrasounds. The child sex ratio, the number of girls to every 1,000 boys in the 0 to 6 years age group, dropped from 945 girls in 1991 to 927 girls in 2001, according to data from the United Nations Population Fund based on the census. When just looking at the sex ratio at birth [2], for the period 2006-08, the ratio drops to 904 girls per 1,000 boys.

Sex determination leads to a missing 500,000 to 700,000 girls across India each year, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

The state government has since announced a proposal to encourage families to have girls [4] by providing cash incentives. On the birth of a girl child, 5,000 rupees ($114) will be deposited into a bank account under her name, according to local media reports. Once the family ensures the girl completes her schooling and does not marry before the age of 18, she will have access to the money. The finance department has not yet approved the program, which would initially be for families living below the poverty line, according to the Times of India.

Cash incentives have similarly been used in India to encourage women to give birth in hospitals or other medical institutions and have been credited with an increase in institutional deliveries.

However, social activists in Mumbai question the effectiveness of providing cash incentives to encourage women to have a girl child when the families that need to be targeted are not the poor but rather the middle class and affluent.

Poor families ensure they have a boy by having large families, whereas the middle and upper classes now want fewer children and therefore resort to sex determination, according to Sayeed Unisa, a professor with the International Institute for Population Sciences, a Mumbai-based training and research center in the area of population studies.

There is a long-held belief in many Indian communities that at least one boy is needed to support the parents when they can no longer work and to light their funeral pyre. Girls, on the other hand, can be viewed as a burden given the rising costs of dowries and weddings.

Social activists say the skewed sex ratio shows how little girls and women are valued in many segments of Indian society. Many families still invest less in girls, affecting everything from their nutrition to their education and employment opportunities.

Discrimination occurs throughout a girl’s life in India, and sex determination represents the worst form of it, said A.L. Sharada, program director of Population First, a Mumbai-based non-governmental organization working on population and health issues.

Studies have shown that female feticide is not a result of families being against having a girl child, but more that they feel they must have at least one boy. Birth order therefore has a deep impact on female feticide as the sex ratio becomes more skewed when a family already has one or two girls and is trying for a final boy child.

A study by the Christian Medical Association of India found that if a family already had two girls, the chance the third child would be a girl reduced to 219 girls for every 1,000 boys. The study was based on births at a public hospital in Delhi for the year 2000-2001.

The skewed sex ratio has become so bad in certain communities that families have resorted to buying wives from poorer areas. A young bride was bought for less than $25 in Haryana, one of India’s worst affected states, according to a recent report in London’s Daily Telegraph.

Such trafficking for marriage is becoming more common as sex ratios worsen. Some families, she added, can only afford one bride and share her among multiple family members.

To combat female feticide, social activists say there must be more monitoring of clinics and implementing the law against sex determination, the judiciary and medical professionals need to be sensitized to the issue, and an environment must be created where people can come forward to complain about non-compliance with the law. In addition, there must be more spaces and opportunities in communities to question gender stereotypes.

Extracts from a longer article at http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/101216/female-feticide-sex-selective-abortions-gender-ratio

Research into ‘honour-based’ violence (HBV) and killings in Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK by Professor Aisha Gill (Roehampton University) with colleagues from Bristol University has earned plaudits from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UN.

Criminologist Dr Aisha Gill has called for an urgent consolidation of the legal provisions for robust legal, policing and prosecution procedures in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The new research by researchers at University of Bristol and Roehampton University, has found a need for dedicated service and policy development to demonstrate that the issue is taken seriously and that ‘honour’ based violence (HBV) and killings are no longer acceptable in the way that they may have been in the past.

Researchers from the Centre for Research on Gender and Violence, University of Bristol and Roehampton University are calling on the Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq and the Coalition Government in the UK urgently to address violence against women in the name of ‘honour’ in response to a growing concern about alarming levels of violence against women and girls in Kurdish communities.

Dr Gill, Project Manager for the UK section of the research, said: “States across the world have duties under international law to respect, protect and support women’s rights, including taking steps to tackle violence against women.

“Although abuses that occur in the private sphere, such as so-called ‘honour’ killings, are crimes under the domestic laws of most countries, many states around the world continue to fail to demonstrate due diligence in this regard. Even now in the 21st Century, they still fail to prevent or investigate all such crimes, and fail to hold perpetrators to account.

“Thus, although legislation exists to protect women in theory, social tolerance of violence, cultural norms and a lack of political will often combine to nullify the law in practice. Further, cultural practices that have the effect of rendering women “invisible” create the conditions in which they suffer “invisible violence”, and may allow violators to act with impunity.”

Research from women’s organisations working closely with victims and survivors of HBV in Northern Iraq and in the Kurdish Diaspora, highlights the need for ongoing training and support, improved prosecution of individual perpetrators and support projects for victims, together with comprehensive awareness-raising and public education in culturally sensitive ways.

Dr Aisha Gill said: “Our findings call for improved international response. Globally, all states must ensure that victims who have encountered this form of gendered violence and those who have been threatened with or experienced HBV, receive immediate, confidential and comprehensive assistance, including access to legal help, and psychological and social support.”

Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt joined Dr Gill in Iraq to discuss her research and said he was pleased to add his support to this comprehensive study on the honour-based violence (HBV) and honour-based killings in Iraqi-Kurdistan and in the Kurdish Diaspora in the UK.

“Honour crimes have no place in a modern society and I have been heartened by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s efforts to crack down on them. No matter how unacceptable, traditions will always be difficult to change. Dealing with these crimes requires courage and determination and I welcome the KRG’s leadership and commitment to bring an end to impunity in this area. I am proud that, through Roehampton and Bristol Universities, the UK is supporting such crucial work,” he said.

“This report marks an important step. The recommendations offer a roadmap to combating honour-based violence in Iraqi Kurdistan. The UK will continue to work with the Kurdistan Regional Government in realising this goal.”

Details of the project in both English and Kurdish are available from Dr Aisha Gill.

http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/news/aishairaq.html

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.

http://toronto.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20101218/craigslist-pulls-erotic-services-ads-101218/20101218?hub=Toronto

An survey has shown there are more than 100 children under 18 working in Fiji’s sex trade.

The report, by the International Labour Organisation, says there are an increasing number of children involved in child labour.

It says more than 500 children are involved in the worst forms of child labour in Fiji, including drug trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and collecting and handling scrap metals and chemicals.

The ILO says although the majority of respondents started sex work between the ages of 15 and16 years, the survey also found that some started as early as 10 years old.

More than half of the child sex workers interviewed were living at home with their parents or guardians.

http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=57748