QotD: “It’s personal and sometimes very extreme in its nature. Sometimes it’s pornographic, sometimes violent, often very misogynistic”
When Wavertree MP Luciana Berger passes the steps at the back of Central Lobby in the Palace of Westminster, she is able to give a nod to her great-uncle Manny – which is a good trick given that he died in 1986. Manny Shinwell, the famous Red Clydesider, is one of few people who was not a prime minister to have a bust in parliament. “It’s amazing to see that and be part of that heritage,” says Berger, who has read all of her great-uncle’s books. He was also, she points out, the last parliamentarian to throw a punch in the chamber. Shinwell, who was of Polish-Jewish extraction, took exception to a Tory MP telling him to “get back to Poland” and lashed out. “And good for him!” says Berger.
Were he alive, Shinwell would be as proud of his great-niece’s defiance as she is of his, given the scale of antisemitic provocation she, too, has had to endure. Three men have been convicted of abuse against her and there’s even been an international social media campaign – #FilthyJewBitch – organised against her. But that is not the only reason that Berger, who resigned as Labour’s shadow minister for mental health following Brexit, has been targeted. An atmosphere of contempt and violent aggression has recently begun to pervade political discourse. The most extreme illustration of it was the murder of politician Jo Cox, but others have had to endure aggressive and misogynistic intimidation. None more so than Luciana Berger. “It’s a combination of being young, female and Jewish,” she explains.
“Look,” says Berger, who was the director of Labour Friends of Israel for three years before becoming an MP, handing over her phone. She shows me a website which contains a vitriolic catalogue of messages, urging people to tell her – and I can’t even repeat what they call her – that Hitler was right – six million times.
The campaign, organised because antisemites were angry at one of their own being jailed for abusing Berger, has been online since 2014. Could Twitter do more to control it? “Of course they could!” Berger says. The effects of receiving these messages go deep. “It’s personal and sometimes very extreme in its nature. Sometimes it’s pornographic, sometimes violent, often very misogynistic. At its peak, there were 2,500 tweets. Some people who were shown just one message couldn’t believe it, so to receive thousands is difficult.”
But Corbyn’s Labour party has heralded strangely intimidating times, and resulted in new attacks on Berger who is supporting Owen Smith in the current leadership election. Almost half of Labour’s 99 female MPs (including Berger) signed a letter to Corbyn deploring the party’s bullying culture and accusing him of not doing enough to stop threats against women by his supporters. “I’m very worried about the future for women in politics,” admits Berger, who joined parliament in 2010 as one of 64 new Labour MPs – 32 men and 32 women. “It’s definitely got uglier. People feel they have permission to say the most awful things.”
That tone has been evident in recent Labour party mayoral nomination elections across England. It was not just that there was only one female candidate – Berger – across four contests. It was the way she was treated for having the temerity to stand. Berger has kept quiet until the vote but scheduled our final meeting for the day after the result. The nomination has gone to Steve Rotheram, Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary. Jess Phillips, Labour MP for the Birmingham Yardley, has already posted an acerbic tweet. “All the mayors can now go on an actual man date. We can make the tea.” The responses include calling Phillips “renta gob” and a “stupid woman” – which make her point even more neatly than she does.
The morning of the result, she received messages of support from women who feel she has made a difference, just by seeking nomination in the current climate. One says,: “The way you were treated during the selection process by some was awful so I wanted to thank you for standing.” What was that treatment? “At the start,” she says, “I had a colleague say to me that we already had a contest with the two men, which disgusted and appalled me.”
Following the result, criticism increased. “My campaign manager and I were shouted at by people who should have known better. There was a massive sense of entitlement around the other two candidates’ teams. I was absolutely right to stand – I’d do it all again tomorrow.”
Strange that it was Berger’s experience that was constantly questioned. “The left have a problem with women,” one young (male) party member tells me, while another describes their horror at hearing Berger publicly referred to as “a young pup” by another candidate. Yet she was the only one of the three with shadow cabinet experience. She has two degrees and despite being only 35 has worked at the London stock exchange and BP, and for the Commission for Racial Equality mapping Muslim-Jewish engagement, as well as being a runner at Paramount in America and a debt collector for an American production house. (The English accent worked, apparently.) And Disney, of course.
You have to admire Berger’s courage and tenacity, particularly in the wake of fellow politician Jo Cox’s murder. “I suppose we all think we are untouchable but it means we have to take our security more seriously.” Did it frighten her? “I suppose I have been contending with issues surrounding my safety and security for years.” But what’s going on right now – why have things escalated to such ugly proportions in British politics? “Everything is just so much more polarised, particularly in the wake of Brexit. If you think about the British psyche right now, I saw doctors’ reports of increased presentation of people concerned about their mental health, for instance. Brexit was a prompt, a catalyst for uncertainty.”
To be fair, Berger believes that – unlike misogyny – antisemitism exists more out of the Labour party than in it. But she is still “disappointed” that Shami Chakrabarti’s official report into antisemitism absolved the party completely. “There [was a bit of it] that had no place there unless someone had asked for it.” Did she feel the report was manipulated? “I just didn’t believe that it was independent.” Does she believe Corbyn is manipulative as a leader? “You can’t just look at him in isolation. You have to look at the people who surround him. Incidentally, not many women!”
Corbyn, one party insider tells me, is a puppet in the middle, divided between MPs who don’t think he can lead Labour to victory and party militants who are more interested in the power of opposition than the power of government. It’s an unprecedented catch 22 with accusations of intimidation flying. Did Berger feel there was a murky side to what was happening at Westminster? “Yes, but it was more the ineptitude. I served under Ed Miliband and there was a stark contrast in terms of the professional operation and everything that happened in terms of trying to get a response.”
She remembers the 80s recession and her family not being able to afford a Chinese takeaway. She remembers Thatcher getting to the top and pulling the ladder away, so she makes sure she mentors a woman every year through the Fabian Women’s Network. Small changes can make big differences.
QotD: it is the voices of the prostituted speaking against the expansion of the sex-trade that are actually ‘excluded, stigmatised, and marginalised.’
In the spirit of the media’s usual ‘sex workers are under-represented’ stance the media (this time in Daily Life) have published another piece about ‘sex workers being under-represented’. The latest is by Kate Iselin who apart from being a self-described sex worker and published writer is also ‘furious’.
Targeting the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for not having a ‘sex worker’ on the panel ‘Invisible Women’, Iselin wrote a piece titled ‘Sex Workers are not invisible. We’re just being ignored’. No you’re not Kate, pro- sex trade voices are so ubiquitous that even calling prostituted children ‘sex workers’ has become entrenched in the media and public psyche. You are so far from being ignored that when a writer exposing the sex-trade is appearing on a panel to talk about their own book, you get a voice in Daily Life to complain about it. The pro- sex trade are so far from being ignored you have Amnesty International influencing their membership of some 4 million people and every single lefty- neoliberal I come into contact with. All prostitution survivors ever hear from the media and the public is, “But isn’t prostitution actually sex work and just another job? What’s your problem you pearl-clutcher.”
What Iselin really means is that her particular voice and the voices of those who unequivocally support the full-decriminalisation of prostitution are not on the panel.
For the record, as a prostitution survivor featured in one of the books being discussed, Spinifex Press asked if I could be on the panel, the Festival declined.
For the record, the Scarlet Alliance were offered an entire session at MWF but they declined. I guess if it wasn’t a place on a panel where they could have a go at discrediting Tankard Reist and Tyler, the people they claim to represent aren’t really worth the Scarlet Alliance’s time.
Claiming this not the first time a festival has ignored ‘sex workers’ Iselin points to the 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas which also did not have an ‘actual sex worker’ on it’s panel ‘Women for Sale’. She uses the example of journalist Elizabeth Pisani giving up part of her time on the panel so a ‘sex worker’ could be allowed a voice . How noble of her. This orchestrated stunt actually gave the audience the voice of then Migrant Project Manager (see sex-trafficking) of the Scarlet Alliance, Jules Kim. Kim is indeed now the CEO, replacing Janelle Fawkes who, to my amazement, also calls herself a ‘sex worker’. (I don’t doubt that some members of the government funded Scarlet Alliance sell sex, or used to, but the media and the public need to be wise to the fact that a lot of them don’t and never have.)
Iselin is not ‘furious’ about there not being a ‘sex worker’ on the panel ‘Invisible Women’, she is merely furious that Melinda Tankard Reist and Dr Meagan Tyler are. (I have not read Wykes book, so won’t comment on Iselin’s statements about her.)
While she pays lip-service to our testimonies in the book Prostitution Narratives, going so far as to say she believes our stories should be ‘amplified’, would Iselin mind having a go at the festival on my behalf? How about a current ‘sex worker’ in New Zealand who agrees with Reist and Tyler that prostitution is a human rights violation. Would Iselin want her on the panel?
You see it is the voices of the prostituted speaking against the expansion of the sex-trade that are actually ‘excluded, stigmatised, and marginalised.’ Voices like Iselin’s and the Scarlet Alliance are not. Iselin is ‘furious’ that our voices got put in a book that doesn’t serve her or the Scarlet Alliance’s agenda. So she pops it in this article instead, shamelessly playing a favourite liberal media trump card – under-represented sex workers. It’s getting old. Iselin is ‘furious’ that a feminist publisher and two editors were brave enough to publish our stories. And believe me, in this pro-sex trade climate it is incredibly brave. In fact those who don’t support the rights of men to buy women to use as their personal sexual devices are vilified ad nauseum by voices like Iselin’s and those she represents.
Iselin’s piece is manipulative and disingenuous. It was offensive and hurtful to read that she doesn’t doubt the veracity of our testimonies but then swipes at us anyway. She did it by attacking the women who listened to survivors, respectfully gathered our stories and wrote about us and our ‘dead friends and colleagues’. Claiming they are just headline grabbers. Reducing their exhaustive research, intelligence and courage to tabloid chasing attention seekers.
But Iselin didn’t stop at that piece of nastiness, in trying to discredit Reist and Tyler through the guise of targeting Melbourne Writers’ Festival, she then went on to use this as a sneaky way to dismiss survivor voices and the stories of our ‘dead friends and colleagues’ as ‘tragedy porn’.
Thanks for that.
In paying us and our testimonies some lip service, Iselin is then able patronise us as sad but unreliable dimwits who fell under the spell of dodgy ‘anti-sex worker’ advocates . I guess our voices shouldn’t be ‘amplified’ after all.
Daily Life certainly fell for you didn’t they Ms Iselin. Quelle Suprise.
Pornography is a lucrative business. Increasingly, women have participated in both its production, direction, and consumption. This study investigated how the content in popular pornographic videos created by female directors differs from that of their male counterparts. We conducted a quantitative analysis of 122 randomly selected scenes from 44 top-renting adult videos in 2005 (half male- and half female-directed). Findings revealed that all films shared similar depictions: Verbal and physical aggression was common, women were the primary targets of aggression, and negative responses to aggression were extremely rare. Compared to male-directed films, female-directed films were significantly more likely to portray women-only scenes and sexual acts. Even when controlling for main characters’ gender, female-directed films showed significantly more female perpetrators aggressing against female targets and significantly more depictions of women as perpetrators of aggression. We highlight the importance of economic forces, rather than director gender, in dictating the content of popular pornography.
Psychology of Women Quarterly 32(3):312 – 325 · August 2008
QotD: “More than 150 people in Wales have been reported to police for meeting children following sexual grooming over the last five years”
More than 150 people in Wales have been reported to police for meeting children following sexual grooming over the last five years, new figures show.
Dyfed-Powys Police saw the highest number of recorded complaints with 60, while North Wales had the lowest with 26.
Almost 60% of the crimes reported from 2011 to 2015 included online grooming.
NSPCC Cymru wants compulsory online safety lessons to become part of the curriculum.
Figures obtained by the charity under the Freedom of Information Act, showed 155 complaints were filed against adults accused of meeting a child under the age of 16 following sexual grooming.
South Wales Police received 35 reports while Gwent Police got 34.
Dyfed-Powys Police reported the highest number of crimes involving online grooming with 37, followed by Gwent Police with 22, North Wales Police with 17 and South Wales Police with 16.
NSPCC Cymru has called for mandatory online safety lessons in schools from September to teach pupils about the dangers of social media and online grooming.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Education is the key to teaching children how to use the internet safely so they don’t find themselves at risk of serious harm.
“Online safety is a 21st century child-protection challenge and it is something that we need to tackle head on.”
The Welsh Government said it had an “extensive” e-safety education programme, which included online resources and classroom materials to help pupils “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly online”.
“We have also created an online one-stop shop, Hwb, providing help for children and young people to stay safe on the web,” a spokesman said.
South Wales Police, Dyfed-Powys and Gwent Police said they worked with schools to educate pupils on issues including grooming, sexual exploitation, the taking and sharing of inappropriate images and staying safe online.
Gwent Police Supt Leanne Brustad said the force gave 1,874 lessons to almost 50,000 pupils in 2014/15, while South Wales Assistant Chief Constable Con Jon Drake said it worked with agencies to ensure those working with young people understood the signs of such abuse.
Dyfed-Powys Police said it had put more resources into tackling the issue and it had a team of digital detectives, forensic computer and mobile phone investigators.
North Wales Police has been asked to comment.
I was asking myself just now why they have “16 and pregnant” but not “16 and impregnated a girl” but I realized it would be pretty boring to watch a 16 year old boy play video games and go to school and live life as normal.
Goatmeats (original no longer available)
Grumpyradfem (original not publicly available)
A man fighting an order under which he must give police 24 hours’ notice before having sex with a new partner has lost his legal battle to have the restriction lifted. John O’Neill, a 45-year-old IT consultant, could face up to five years in prison if he fails to comply with the unprecedented order.
O’Neill was cleared of raping a woman last year, but in a rare move, the judge told the Crown Prosecution Service he still considered him to be dangerous. He was subsequently placed on an interim sexual risk order (SRO), making him the first person in the UK obliged to give police notice before he could have sex. Following the ruling, O’Neill went on television to say his life had been ruined.
On Friday, he lost his case after police successfully argued that he posed a risk to the public. Describing him as an attention seeker, the district judge Adrian Lower said: “I have found Mr O’Neill to be a vain, manipulative and grandstanding individual who sought to persuade me that black is white and used the valuable time of professionals to describe sexual fantasies he may or may not have. There is a narcissistic streak to Mr O’Neill, who does trouble me in terms of further contact he may have with other people.”
Lower did, however, query the terms of the order, and said they would be revisited, as in their current form they were “wholly disproportionate and frankly unpoliceable”.
During the hearing, it was alleged that in 2014 O’Neill had made a series of worrying confessions to his GP and a psychiatric nurse, including the choking of a woman unconscious, that he had thought “a lot” about killing her, and that he needed women “to be scared, or I don’t respond”.
York magistrates court heard that despite O’Neill being cleared of rape at Teesside crown court in November, the judge in the original trial, Simon Bourne-Arton, said after the jury was dismissed: “Please could you inform the authorities that although this man has been acquitted, it is my judgment that he is a very dangerous individual.”
North Yorkshire police then applied for the order on the basis of comments the single father-of-two allegedly made in 2014. O’Neill, who says he is unable to work because of the terms of the order and has been living rough in a wood outside York, claims his words were misunderstood.
The police began their case with statements from a community psychiatric nurse, Kevin Holmes, who had meetings with O’Neill in 2014. In a statement read to court he said O’Neill told him he was having sexually violent thoughts that continued all day. He also allegedly told Holmes he got into fights deliberately so that he would be beaten up and injured.
Holmes said: “He said he had been sexually violent towards girlfriends and he was not sure whether they consented. He had stopped asking girlfriends if they consented to sex over the last 12 months.”
The court was told O’Neill’s sexually violent thoughts dated back to his teenage years. The court also heard that his GP, Dr Miriam Hodgson, had made notes in which she recorded that his “sex life has become violent … [he] has been seeking out increasingly extreme sexual experiences”. She wrote: “Thinks he may have raped someone – it went further than she expected.”
O’Neill said he was being penalised because of his interest in sado-masochism (S&M) and visits to fetish clubs. He said he had discussed S&M with his GP and Holmes in relation to his mental state, and that they had misunderstood what he was telling them. He also said the SRO had had a devastating effect on his personal life.
O’Neill’s identity was made public earlier this year after an order protecting his anonymity was lifted. In June he threatened to go on hunger strike in protest at the order.
SROs can be applied to any individual who police believe poses a risk of sexual harm, even if they have never been convicted of a crime. O’Neill said he was amazed that the police sought one after his acquittal. Lower, however, rejected his defence and said both Hodgson and Holmes had recorded accurate notes from their meetings with him.
The new terms of O’Neill’s order, which also contains restrictions on his use of the internet and mobile phones and requires him to inform police of any change of address, will be agreed on 22 September.
After the hearing O’Neill said: “It looks as though I may be able to get my life back after this. I’m still concerned about what the terms of the order will be and I’m very disappointed that the court decided it needed to continue. But it looks as though I will be able to work again, and because of that I may be able to find a home again.”
North Yorkshire police said: “The judge has made it very clear that he believes Mr O’Neill poses a risk of sexual harm, and that it is right to have an order against him in place. We will work with the courts to agree suitable prohibitions that will protect the public from the risk Mr O’Neill poses.”
A man has posted an online ad calling on “stunning” homeless women to get in touch so he can give them shelter — in return for sex.
The advertisement is one of hundreds listed on the notorious buy-and-sell site Craigslist that a charity has said aim to “exploit” vulnerable women.
Dozens of ads in London openly state that homeless women or female students looking for accommodation can pay with their bodies.
One post said a female student could act as a “resource” in return for free digs.
Another individual said: “If there is any homeless single stunning females who are out there seeking to save or seeking to be rehoused by a friendly genuine white British guy then look no further.
“I offer a genuine offer to any young single hot sexy female of any nationality or culture to house share with me free rent free.”
UK homeless charity Shelter said the “sordid” adverts were a “dangerous attempt to establish deeply exploitative relationships off the back of homelessness”.
It says the UK’s worsening housing crisis could lead to more homeless women becoming sex slaves in return for a bed.
“Women are being asked to enter a space which is entirely controlled by someone else, a person who always has the right to be there, who can say who else can enter the property and on whom they are entirely dependent for shelter,” a charity spokesman said.
“This is the vile exploitation proposed by these adverts: that women who feel they have no choice enter an arrangement where they feel they never have the choice to say ‘no’.”
Craigslist is often used for less traditional transactions.
Prostitutes and drug dealers often promote their services on the classifieds site.
More than 3500 people are sleeping rough every night in England according to the latest government figures.
High house prices and longer council home waiting lists have caused that number to roughly double since 2010.
More than 70 Australian schools are targets for a perverse pornography ring of teen boys and young men secretly swapping and exchanging graphic sexual images of female students and other nonconsenting women.
News.com.au can reveal more than 2000 images have been posted or traded by Australian members since the group began operating in December last year.
Young men use the site to nominate the specific high school or region they are phishing for nude photos from, along with the full names of girls they are “hunting”. Hundreds of individual names have appeared on “wanted” lists, including the names of sisters and entire high school friendship circles.
Once a girl’s name appears on a list, other members of the group then “contribute” by posting identifying information about the intended victim, such as her full name, face, school, home address, and phone number, along with directives like “Go get her boys!”
Any “wins” (a colloquial term referring to nude photos) of the nominated target are then uploaded or offered in exchange for a trade. Some targets are so sought after that “bounties” have been offered for any user who can post a “win”.
In one case, one user offered to trade up to 300 nude images of other victims, in exchange for a single nude photo of the one girl he was currently tracking. Another user said he had been trying to unearth nude images of a particular victim for more than five years.
Here are just a few of the thousands of comments from the site*:
“Anyone have any Wenona wins?”
“Anyone have any Saint Clare Year 12 wins?”
“I’ve got heaps of Miami High girls. Kik me if you wanna trade!”
“I ripped these from a computer I was asked to fix a few years ago.”
“Who has nudes of this bitch? I hear she throws it around!”
“I’ll [upload] all [the nudes] I have if people start looking for Hunter Valley, Newcastle or Port Macquarie girls, or any hot sluts”.
“I’m posting pretty much all the hottest little teens I have. All high quality images from Maitland, Newcastle, Cessnock, Rutherford etc.”
“I have a fair few of ***** ****** including a few box shots of her.”
“What do you want for the **** * wins bro?”
“I’ll pay good money to see the rig under **** *******, anyone have any of her?”
“Any **** *****? I’ve hear she sucks d**ks”.
“Let’s make this huge!”
So far thousands of explicit, nude images of teen girls and young women have been uploaded or traded on the swap-meet site. Some high school girls are pictured performing sexual acts while wearing their school uniform. Other images on the site include graphic close-ups of victim’s genitalia and breasts, and photos of young women engaged in penetrative sexual acts.
The site has been reported numerous times to police for child pornography, but so far they say they are unable to act because the site is hosted overseas.
Since its creation, multiple victims have also posted on the site, pleading with the young men to remove their images. Their requests are mostly ignored, laughed at, or in some cases, men retaliate by calling on their “bros” to unearth and upload even more images of the victim.
One young woman who begged for images of her friend to be removed, then had her own name added to the wanted hit-list as punishment.
Another young woman who stated that some of the victims might be “suicidal” was told that it was her fault for behaving like a “slut”, and that her images now belonged “to the internet”.
Most victims, however, appear to have no idea they are even on the site. Users of the site have deliberately tried to conceal their activities from victims by writing the names of targets in a simple code which prevents the girls from searching their own names. “Ellie”, for example, might be written as 3ll13, or “Amanda” as @m@nd@.
School names are also written in code to prevent high schools from detecting that their students are being targeted.
Yet a review of the site has found that at least 70 Australian school names have been mentioned by users requesting “wins” of current or recently graduated students.
In total the site mentions 28 high schools in NSW, 18 in Queensland, 15 in Victoria, five in the ACT, two in South Australia and two in Tasmania.
The site also encourages users to post their “wins” based on location, so that men and boys can study nude images of girls and women who they might know in real life. The site has at least 55 distinct individual threads organised by regions in Australia from urban hubs like Ryde in Sydney to regional centres such as Orange and Cessnock.
The discovery of the website follows a number of recent related scandals involving students at Brighton Grammar, Melbourne Grammar and St Michael’s Grammar School in Melbourne.
Users on this swap-meet website have also picked up on the media coverage of those scandals and have sought to uncover the original images which appeared on the Brighton Grammar “Young Sluts” Instagram account.
One website user, who admits to being a former Brighton Grammar student, comments that he finds the matter — including the exploitation of primary school girls — hilariously entertaining.
Sharna Bremner from End Rape on Campus says she felt “physically sick when [she] learned of the website and its contents”.
“These boys and men are behaving like a pack of hyenas hunting their prey, and then sharing the spoils with the rest of the group,” she said.
“They’re reducing girls to objects and trophies to be traded like nothing more than swap-cards in the playground”.
Ms Bremner says that charges should be laid against those responsible and that the mentality of these men closely mirrors that of a rapist.
“There are already plenty of consensual adult nude images online that are easily accessible. But these boys and men are not interested in that, because it’s not the nudity alone that they are after,” she said.
“What they are getting off on is the very fact that these images are not consensual and that the victims have no idea they are being exploited.”
Ms Bremner also notes that the users are not searching or categorising the images based on particular physical preferences or fetishes, such as a desire for “big boobs, or blondes, or redheads or whatever”.
“They are hunting women and girls who live in their area and sorting them according to geography. It’s the idea of proximity and accessibility that is considered arousing.
“The thrill is not just that they might see the girl who sits next to them in maths class, it’s also that they can put in an order for the girl from maths class. What these boys are really getting off on is the sense of power they feel over these girls, and the idea that they can own and obtain them like objects.”
Ms Bremner says that she can “absolutely see this [website] leading to acquaintance rape.”
“If you’re a young guy who has been told by your peers that getting images without consent is a good thing, that it gets you pats on the back, then just imagine the accolades you’ll get for physically taking advantage of a girl.”
“This group doesn’t just normalise the idea that consent is irrelevant and doesn’t matter, it actively encourages boys to ignore and violate consent.”
The NSW Sex Crimes Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett says that it “is a criminal offence to take, transmit or possess images that are considered child pornography”.
“This also applies to teenagers, who are reminded that the dissemination of any material depicting nudity or sexual activity involving young people could constitute a criminal offence,” she said.
“They should be aware they could be arrested and charged and, if convicted, end up with a criminal record.”
Police are encouraging any victims to come forward and report it.
Found via Feminist Current, with the comment “Despite the fact that these young men have the massive Internet porn machine at their fingertips, they specifically seek to violate these girls, as their unwillingness is central to the appeal.” I will also add that Australia is a country with a patchwork of legalised and decriminalised prostitution.
Fresh evidence is emerging that refugees stranded in camps across Greece are falling victim to rising levels of vice peddled by mafia gangs who see the entrapped migrants as perfect prey for prostitution, drug trafficking and human smuggling.
Details of the alarming conditions present in many of the facilities comes as the Greek government – facing criticism after the Observer’s exposé of sexual abuse in camps last week – announced urgent measures to deal with the crisis. A further four refugee centres, it said, would be set up in a bid to improve severe overcrowding, a major source of tensions in the camps.
Aid workers say an estimated 58,000 migrants and asylum seekers in Greece are increasingly being targeted by Greek and Albanian mafias. Tales of criminals infiltrating camps to recruit vulnerable women and men are legion.
“If nothing is done to improve the lifestyle of these refugees and to use their time more productively, I see a major disaster,” warned Nesrin Abaza, an American aid worker volunteering at the first privately funded camp known as Elpida (Greek for hope) outside Thessaloniki. “These camps are a fertile breeding ground for terrorism, gangs and violence. It seems like the world has forgotten about them. They are not headline news any more, so therefore they do not exist … but the neglect will show its ugly head.”
With an estimated 55 centres nationwide – including “hotspots” on the Aegean islands within view of Turkey – Greece has effectively become a huge holding pen for refugees since EU and Balkan countries closed their borders to shut them out earlier this year.
In private, many Greek officials express alarm that numbers are growing amid worrying signs that the five-month-old deal signed between Ankara and the EU to keep the flows in check is on the verge of collapse.
Although nowhere near the level of last summer – when at its height 10,000 people streamed into Lesbos in a day – arrivals have risen visibly since last month’s failed coup in Turkey. In the 24-hour period between Thursday and Friday some 261 migrants and refugees – nearly double the normal number – were picked up on islands.
Unable to move on, frustration has mounted among the thousands now stuck in limbo. On the back of uncertainty and anger over delayed asylum processes, marooned migrants say they have become sitting ducks for criminals as they move in. “I never knew a thing about drugs and now I am doing drugs,” said a 17-year-old Syrian youth detained in a camp that stands in a defunct Softex toilet-roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki. “This camp is horrid. We live like animals in tents in burning heat.”
Drugs, he ventured, had become the central cause for violence, with brawls erupting frequently. “The Greek and Albanian mafia come here and push the drugs,” he explained conceding that he financed his own habit by illicitly sneaking into Macedonia, where he bought cartons of cigarettes to sell in the camp. “The police are non-existent. They see drugs, stabbing, fighting and do nothing. They do not care. The world does not care.”
The testimony, which is backed up by human rights groups that have deplored the appalling conditions in Greek detention centres, comes after the EU released €83m (£71.8m) in April to improve living conditions for refugees stranded in the country. The UN refugee agency, the International Federation of the Red Cross and six international NGOs were given the bulk of the funding. Greece by then had already received €181m to help deal with the crisis from Brussels.
Announcing the emergency support, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, claimed the assistance was “a concrete example of how the EU delivers on the challenges Europe faces”.
“We have to restore dignified living conditions for refugees and migrants in Europe as swiftly as possible,” he said.
But four months later, as allegations of sexual abuse and criminal activity envelop the camps, questions are mounting over whether the money was properly administered. In addition to bad sanitary conditions and lack of police protection, the latest revelations have shone a light on whether the humanitarian system is working at all.
“There is no emphasis on humanity, it is all about numbers,” Amed Khan, a financier turned philanthropist who funded Elpida, told the Observer. Elpida, also established in a former factory near Thessaloniki, has a tea room and yoga centre and, seeing itself as a pioneering initiative, encourages refugees to regard it as a home. In the month since the camp opened its doors, it has won plaudits for being the most humane refugee centre in Greece.
“Nobody is using money here efficiently or effectively,” lamented Khan. “The humanitarian system is the same one that has been in place since the second world war, it lacks intellectual flexibility and is totally broken. The real question to be asked is, has the aid that has been given been appropriately utilised?”
From the Observer (which I am pleased to note is still managing not to call raped women and children ‘workers’)