A mock-Tudor semi on a residential street in west London is the nerve centre of the organisation that made history 27 years ago in a landmark domestic violence ruling.
Southall Black Sisters (SBS), a not-for-profit group, is celebrating the 40th anniversary since it began challenging gender-based violence and providing practical support to black and Asian women escaping domestic violence and forced marriages.
Most famously it supported Kiranjit Ahluwalia, whose successful 1992 appeal against her conviction for murdering her violent husband changed the law on provocation and the understanding of battered woman syndrome.
To less fanfare, a 20-year campaign resulted in changes to immigration rules that had trapped women from overseas in abusive marriages. The 2012 concession let women who had come to the UK on a partner visa claim benefits while applying for settled status after fleeing domestic violence.
Formed by Afro-Caribbean and Asian women, SBS arose when in 1979 Southall communities united to oppose a National Front march through the town. Pragna Patel, who has led the group since 1982, says: “The growing anti-racist consciousness and second wave of feminism came together with the recognition that you couldn’t prioritise the fight against racism at the expense of women’s struggles.”
She explains that the word “black” in the name was a political and unifying term, bringing together disparate minority communities with common histories of imperialism and colonialism. With funding from the Greater London Council, she started out with two others. SBS now has 14 staff and, through a trust, owns its premises. Her vision, inspired by the burgeoning law centre movement, was to bring the law to people to deal with their realities.
“I was 22 and very naive in lots of ways, but fearless in other ways,” Patel says. “If you asked me to set up something like that today, I’d say you were kidding.”
In 1980 one of its first campaigns followed the death of a local woman, known only as “Mrs Dhillon”, burnt by her husband because she had only given birth to daughters. “The same community that had shown such indignation about racial violence was silent on gender-based violence,” Patel says.
The same year, SBS exposed the racist and sexist Home Office practice of testing the virginity of Asian women coming to the UK to join their husbands. Officials at the time argued that the test was necessary to determine the authenticity of their marriages.
The organisation shot to national prominence when it took up the case of Ahluwalia. It was pivotal for two reasons, Patel says. “It laid bare the built-in discrimination in the criminal justice system, based on white male assumptions of behaviour and conduct. And it forced minority communities to acknowledge that gender-based violence existed and the way they treated women was partly responsible.”
Ahluwalia tells The Times: “When I got my life sentence and my trial solicitor said there were no grounds of appeal that was a big blow. I had no lawyer, no family. I lost everything.”
After receiving her letter for help, Patel visited Ahluwalia hundreds of times and painstakingly put together her history to support her appeal. “In my trial statement there were 40 pages,” Ahluwalia says. “When SBS took over my case, there were nearly 500. I don’t have the words for SBS and Pragna. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”
SBS also worked to introduce the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, giving courts power to stop someone from forcing another into marriage. Until then, Patel says, authorities were reluctant to intervene in what they saw as “cultural matters” for fear of being branded racist.
Patel insists it is racist not to act: “Tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism are important in the fight against racism. But you can’t allow multiculturalism to be used to cloak abuse of more vulnerable people in the community.”
As SBS celebrates its anniversary, there is much still to do. The group has just been given a grant from the tampon tax fund to support migrant women escaping domestic violence. They are fighting for changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill, published this year, which leaves migrant women unprotected and trapped in cycles of abuse, exploitation and destitution.
These women do not need charity, Patel says — they need rights.
Join us in Leeds for a U.K. Launch of The Declaration of Sex Based Rights.
Academic, author and activist Dr. Sheila Jeffreys, sociologist and author Dr. Heather Brunskell-Evans, and lawyer and legal academic Maureen O’Hara will be presenting The Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights, for the first time in the U.K.
The meeting will be Chaired by Sarah Field, Leeds City Councillor for Garforth.
The Declaration re-affirms that women’s human rights are based upon sex.
Our panellists will speak about how the idea of ‘gender identity’ is eroding the notion and practice of women’s rights.
‘Gender identity’ is increasingly being used in an official capacity – for example the ability to change your ‘gender marker’ on the Leeds City Council website, with no checks or documentation.
They’ll explore how the official adoption of gender, as opposed to sex, endangers the rights of women and girl children to safety and dignity, and leads to discrimination against women in areas such as political representation, freedom of speech and association, sports and culture.
Join with women around the world to make a stand to defend our sex based rights, as laid out in the 1979 U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the U.K. in 1986.
On a sunny morning in Madrid, two young women duck down a side street, into a residential block and up to an apartment front door. Then they start knocking. Marcella and Maria spend a lot of time banging on doors and yelling through letterboxes all over the city. Most of the time, these doors never open. When they do, the two women could find themselves in trouble. Their job on the frontline of Spain’s fight against sex trafficking is a dangerous one; both have been assaulted and threatened. Yet they keep on knocking, because they have been on the other side of those doors, forced to sell their bodies for a handful of euros, dozens of times a day, seven days a week.
To say that prostitution is big business in Spain would be a gross understatement. The country has become known as the brothel of Europe, after a 2011 United Nations report cited Spain as the third biggest capital of prostitution in the world, behind Thailand and Puerto Rico. Although the Spanish Socialist party, which two weeks ago won another term in government, has promised to make it illegal to pay for sex, prostitution has boomed since it was decriminalised here in 1995. Recent estimates put revenue from Spain’s domestic sex trade at $26.5bn a year, with hundreds of licensed brothels and an estimated workforce of 300,000.
Supporters of decriminalisation claim it has brought benefits to those working in the trade, including making life safer for women. Yet this vastly profitable and largely unregulated market has also become infested with criminality, turning Spain into a global hub for human trafficking and sexual slavery.
Prostitution becomes sex trafficking when one person moves, detains or transports someone else for the purpose of profiting from their prostitution using fraud, force or coercion. In the UK, thousands of women are thought to be trapped in sexual servitude, but the scale of the problem in Spain is staggering. Until 2010, the law didn’t even recognise human trafficking as a crime. Now the Spanish government estimates that up to 90% of women working in prostitution could be victims of trafficking or under the control of a third party – such as a pimp – who is profiting from them. Between 2012-2016, security forces in Spain rescued 5,695 people from slavery but acknowledge that thousands more remain under the control of criminals.
Since it passed its first anti-trafficking laws in 2010, the government has been scrambling to get on top of this crisis, spending millions of euros on an emergency plan to target the individuals and gangs operating with impunity. In 2015, it went further and created formal alliances between security forces, prosecutors, judges and NGOs, to rescue victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Survivors such as Maria and Marcella now find themselves playing a crucial part in bringing the battle to the criminals who once sold and exploited them. But can Spain’s new alliance of defenders really turn the tide against the traffickers?
I meet Maria and Marcella, both in their mid-20s, in the offices of Apramp, an organisation set up to protect, reintegrate and assist women in prostitution. Apramp helped them escape their traffickers, and they are now among its outreach workers. Their day job is to identify potential trafficking victims and try to offer them a way out. They find women they think might need help on the streets, in hostess clubs, and in some of the 400 residences they say are operating as informal brothels in Madrid.
Both shrug off the suggestion that they are brave. “When I’m wearing the Apramp vest at those apartments or on the streets, I don’t feel scared,” Marcella says. “We know from our own experience they’re doing much worse things to the girls and women inside. So it only makes us more determined.”
The two poised and eloquent young women, dressed like students in jeans and trainers, have lived through terrible things. Maria, petite and softly spoken, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, was brought to Spain from Romania by someone she trusted: she thought she was going on holiday with her new boyfriend. Instead, he drove her over the border using their EU residency cards and within 24 hours she was on the streets.
“It just happens so fast,” she says. “It’s difficult to describe how much you can be broken in such a short time. The shock and the trauma makes you go into survival mode. You don’t have time to realise what has happened to you.” She spent eight months being prostituted on street corners, in brothels and in strange apartments. “You’re alive but you’re not really existing,” she says. “Not one of the men who paid to sleep with me asked me if I was there out of choice, or whether I wanted to be doing this. They didn’t care either way.”
She was told by her pimp that she would have to pay off a debt of €20,000 before she could go home. “With Romanian women, the traffickers threaten to kill your mother or your sister or your children if you don’t pay off your debt,” she says. “People always ask, ‘Why didn’t you just run away or go to the police?’ but they don’t know what they’re talking about. You can’t just stop a random person on the street and ask for help, because someone you love could get killed. The police in Romania are often corrupt. You think, why should it be different here?”
The promise of freedom in return for paying off the debt almost always turns out to be a lie. Maria says that, throughout her time under the control of the traffickers, she was hit with hundreds of tiny charges: she’d have to pay for clothes, rent for the corner she worked, for condoms and sanitary towels. If she didn’t bring back enough money, she wouldn’t eat or she’d be beaten.
“Debt is invisible,” Maria says. “It’s not a physical chain but it works the same way.” She says some traffickers force women to get breast implants and even though the operation costs around €3,000, tell them they have to pay back €10,000. Marcella nods in agreement. She was trafficked from her native Brazil after applying to do a master’s in Spain, a university course that turned out to be bogus. She was forced into prostitution immediately after she was collected from the airport. “If Apramp hadn’t found me, I think I’d be dead by now,” she says.
The fact that she not only survived but is now able to help others in the same situation has been an essential part of her recovery. “The mafia take you and destroy your whole identity. Even now, you’re recovering but you can never forget your past,” she says. “Doing this work really helps.”
Between them, Maria and Marcella have helped dozens of women and girls escape their traffickers. It’s a process that takes months, sometimes years. Afterwards, Apramp finds the women somewhere safe to live, offers counselling and legal support, and helps them find work. “We have to show them that their lives are worth living again,” Marcella says.
Rocío Mora, Apramp’s co-founder and director, sweeps into the room and embraces Maria and Marcella, who are about to start their afternoon shift. “The only ones who really understand what we are facing are the survivors,” she says. Tall and immaculately groomed, Mora is one of Spain’s best-known anti-trafficking advocates; her rage at what she sees happening on the streets is raw and visceral. What Spain is facing, she says, is a huge violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls; anyone labouring under the impression that the majority of women working in prostitution in Spain are doing so by choice is deluding themselves. “The sex industry profits from the sale of women who are being controlled and exploited through debt, violence or psychological manipulation,” she says. “Our mobile unit has contact with 280 women a day and almost 100% are victims of exploitation and trafficking.”
There are many reasons why Spain has become a hotspot, but for Mora, the biggest single factor is cultural. Spain’s sex trafficking epidemic is, she says, just the most extreme manifestation of the country’s problematic attitudes to women and sex. “There is huge demand for prostitution here. It’s become so normalised that it’s just seen like any other leisure activity.”
One survey in 2008 found that 78% of Spanish people consider prostitution an inevitability in modern society. And demand is huge: another survey, conducted in 2006, found that nearly 40% of Spanish men over the age of 18 had paid for sex at least once in their life. Mora has recently seen a radical change in the kind of men buying sex. Before, it was largely older men sneaking away from their families. Now, both the women on the streets and the sex buyers themselves are getting younger. “The social stigma isn’t the same as it was when I started out,” she says. “We have a generation of young men growing up believing they have the right to do anything to a woman’s body if they have paid for it, and they don’t have to worry about the consequences.”
As a young girl, Mora watched her mother (also called Rocío) start Apramp from their kitchen table. At 18, Mora was studying by day and driving a mobile health unit through Madrid’s red-light district by night.
“When my mother started this work, it was mainly getting health services to Spanish women who were engaged in prostitution to feed their families or a drug addiction,” she says. Two decades ago, criminal gangs started to take hold. “And it really was a radical change. There was suddenly a lot of violence and coercion – men on the streets watching the women and taking their money.”
Now, she says, most women in prostitution in Spain are foreigners: Apramp works with women of 53 different nationalities. “And the gangs are more sophisticated and more ruthless. They no longer need men on the street, because they are controlling the women through debt, fear and psychological control. This is what makes it much harder to fight, because many don’t see that they have a way out.”
On Calle Montera, one of Madrid’s busiest shopping streets, eastern European or South American women stand alone or in small groups. Maria and Marcella point out that many of the women they help don’t look like trafficking victims: it is easy for people to walk past them and not realise. Maria says many are also acting as human signposts, indicating that there are houses filled with other women nearby. When we get back to our car that evening, flyers have been stuck under our windscreen wipers offering a two-for-one deal on women for the special price of €30.
A short walk from Calle Montera is the HQ of the Centre of Intelligence and Risk Analysis, run by Spain’s national police. José Nieto is its chief inspector and Spain’s leading anti-trafficking law enforcement officer. As with Mora, anti-trafficking work has become Nieto’s vocation. He has spent more than 20 years trying to develop an effective police response to a human rights catastrophe that, until 2010, wasn’t even included in Spain’s criminal code.
“When I started in 1997, I was part of the brigade that believed all prostitutes did this work because they wanted to,” he says. “But it’s like an illness: at first you feel that something is wrong but you haven’t got a diagnosis. But as soon as you put a name to it, everything changes. You see it for what it really is.”
He explains the myriad reasons why Spain has become such a magnet for sex trafficking networks; “a perfect storm”, he calls it. “First, we are fighting a crime that is socially acceptable, because prostitution is accepted and embraced by many people here.” Second there is geography: “We are at the centre of all major migratory routes. The main victims we are seeing trafficked and forced into prostitution are Romanian, West African and South American. You can cross from Romania to Spain with an ID card. Africa is just 15km from us. We have a historic and a linguistic connection to South America.”
As in many countries, a prosecution is almost impossible without a victim willing to disclose their situation and testify against their exploiters. “There is great fear among victims that if they tell the police, they will be sent back to their countries with their debts unpaid,” Nieto says. “It makes policing very difficult; if the women don’t ask for help, there is a limit to what you can do. Here in Spain, prostitution itself isn’t illegal, running a brothel isn’t illegal, so you have to prove that what is going on is more than meets the eye.”
I really cannot begin to list all the things that are going wrong here, from the tone of the New York Times article, the original school newspaper article, the normalisation of the sex industry, the obvious failures to protect the welfare of the teenage girl at the centre of it all.
The Bear Creek High School newspaper has profiled notable students — athletes, budding entrepreneurs, academic whizzes — without incident for decades.
But an article that appeared Friday in The Bruin Voice caused an uproar over free speech, feminism and student journalism, all before it was even published.
The 18-year-old subject is a senior at the school in Stockton, Calif., one of more than 2,100 students.
She also makes her own pornographic videos.
The story about the story follows a pattern similar to other clashes between student journalists and school boards. The Lodi Unified School District, after learning about the planned profile, demanded last month that it be turned over for review before appearing online and in print. The attempted oversight drew far more attention than the article probably would have.
The district said the piece might violate a state rule that it said prevented publications at public schools from featuring “obscenity, defamation and incitement,” and it threatened to fire Katherine Duffel, the paper’s longtime faculty adviser.
In articles, columns, television programs and social media posts, the standoff over an unpublished story became either a symbol of censorship and women’s rights, or the loss of traditional values and a school district’s responsibility to protect young students from harmful content.
People from all over the country weighed in. Someone sent the paper a $250 donation. One woman sent $100 and asked for a sneak peek of the article. Hilde Lysiak, who publishes a local paper in Pennsylvania and is, at age 12, the youngest member of the Society of Professional Journalists, offered to flood the Bear Creek campus with copies of the story if the district blocked The Voice from publishing it.
“It’s been pretty hectic — we weren’t expecting so much feedback,” said Bailey Kirkeby, 17, the article’s author. “I’m a little scared that it’s hyped up too much and that when people read it, it’s going to be anticlimactic.”
In the end, the district decided not to block publication. But its lawyers did send a letter to an attorney representing both Ms. Duffel and Ms. Kirkeby, asking that The Voice publish a disclaimer stating that the district did not endorse the article. The Voice refused to do that, according to the lawyer, Matthew Cate.
In the letter, the district told Mr. Cate that it still had the right to review all material scheduled to appear in the newspaper and that it had the right to block an article. It also accused Ms. Duffel of insubordination.
“Students and journalism advisers face a lot of pressure from districts and others in positions of authority, and there’s a serious imbalance of power that can be easy to give in to,” said Mr. Cate, who shared the letter with The New York Times.
The letter also raised concerns that underage journalists may have been exposed to pornography while pursuing the story, and that the student, Caitlin Fink, may have “been exploited before reaching legal age” in “an industry that is at best notoriously poorly regulated, if not abusive and exploitative.”
On Friday, the district said it was “very pleased” that the exchanges with the paper had “resulted in an article that meets legal requirements.”
“We know that these experiences regarding controversies and debates help prepare our students to be successful as they pursue future efforts of higher education and career,” the district said in a statement.
The nearly 1,100-word article explores Ms. Fink’s path to the adult entertainment industry. In it, she explained that she sold erotic photographs of herself on messaging and dating apps like Kik and Tinder, initially for the money but later because she enjoyed the attention.
She left home and now lives with a friend’s family, paying some $300 a month for food, utilities and rent, according to the profile.
“The only hard thing so far is making sure I have enough money,” she told the paper.
The piece also mentioned that she had fallen victim to scams, that her body acne had once disrupted a planned shoot and that she had faced threats. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
Although Fink makes a livable income through her adult entertainment career, as well as her second job as a dish washer, she admits the industry is not always glamorous; workers are constantly at risk of being taken advantage of due to their occupation.
“People assume that just because you’re in the industry, you would do sexual things with anyone, and that isn’t true,” Fink said. “Adult entertainment is a job just like any other job. There’s always that risk of getting kidnapped or possibly not even knowing what to do after your career is over and trying to find work after that.”
Ms. Fink told The Times that she had been making her own online pornographic videos since turning 18 in September. She also began working as a stripper recently. She said she was enthusiastic about being profiled in The Voice, seeing the article as a way to address rumors and meanspirited gossip about her work in pornography.
“I don’t see the story as too taboo — I want to inform people about this topic, that it’s not just all fun and games the entire time,” Ms. Fink said. “I know for a fact that I’m not the only person at school that’s thought about porn.”
The story of the paper’s standoff with the school district has been reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, The Associated Press and The Washington Post. Ms. Fink said she hoped that the publicity would have “a positive effect” on her career: maybe some scenes in movies, “possibly new friends in the industry.”
I can’t come here as a friend, even though I might very much want to.” These are the words of Andrea Dworkin, addressing an anti-sexist men’s organisation in 1983, in her acclaimed speech I Want a 24-Hour Truce in Which There Is No Rape. “The power exercised by men, day to day, in life is power that is institutionalised. It is protected by law. It is protected by religion and religious practice. It is protected by universities, which are strongholds of male supremacy. It is protected by a police force. It is protected by those whom Shelley called “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”: the poets, the artists. Against that power, we have silence.”
Dworkin, who died of heart failure in 2005 at the age of 58, was one of the world’s most notorious radical feminists. She wrote 14 books, the most famous of which was Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981). Now her work is being revisited in Last Days at Hot Slit, a new collection of her writing.
Many of the articles written about her claimed Dworkin personified hate. The media often said she hated men, hated sex, hated sexual freedom and absolutely hated the left. In 1998, a writer in the London Review of Books saw fit to give his view on her appearance (“overweight and ugly”) and how her “frustration” at not having enough sex “has turned her into a man-hater”. Another wrote after her death that Dworkin was a “sad ghost” that feminism needs to exorcise and that she was “insane”.
I knew the real Dworkin, and our decade-long friendship taught me far more about love than hate. “I keep the stories of the women in my heart,” she would tell me when I asked how she did the work she did and stayed sane. “They urge me on, and keep me focused on what needs to be done.”
She was motivated by an innate desire to rid the world of pain and oppression. Had more of us listened to Dworkin during her decades of activism, and taken her work more seriously, more women would have signed up to an uncompromising feminism, as opposed to the fun kind, the sloganeering sort you read on high-street T-shirts, that is all about individual “girl power” and being able to wear trousers, rather than a collective movement to emancipate all women from the tyranny of oppression.
We met in 1996. I was one of the organisers of an international conference on violence against women, and Dworkin was a keynote speaker. We hit it off immediately, as we had a similar sense of humour and a number of friends in common. A group of conference speakers went to dinner on the first night and we were raucously discussing our various wishlists of ways to end patriarchy. “Did you notice that we were ‘ladies’ when we came in, ‘guys’ when our order was taken,” said Dworkin the following morning, “and probably banned for life by the time we left?”
In the early 1970s, Dworkin spoke of her own experiences of sexual abuse and violence at a time when few did. And in today’s climate of #MeToo revelations, we can see how far ahead of her time she was. “In the 1980s and 1990s, reading Dworkin became, for many, a discomfiting and exhilarating collegiate rite of passage,” reads a recent piece in the New York Times. “Her writing is a strident and raw look at the systemic bias affecting the everyday experiences of women.”
Dworkin’s 1983 book, Right-Wing Women, could have been about how Trump came to power. Although I doubt she would have been so quick to lay the bulk of the blame for Trump’s election on white women, her razor-sharp analysis of why so many women are attracted to a politics that despises their rights is more relevant today than ever. Her central theory is that the right exploits women’s fear and offers us a chivalrous protection. It reassures us that we do not need to change the status quo, but accept it, and take whatever access to power is available to us. Dworkin despaired at what has come to be known as “lean-in feminism” which focuses on the ability of individual, privileged women to climb to the top, and always said that until women at the “bottom of the pile” were liberated, none of us could be.
An age-check scheme designed to stop under-18s viewing pornographic websites will come into force on 15 July.
From that date, affected sites will have to verify the age of UK visitors.
If they fail to comply they will face being blocked by internet service providers.
But critics say teens may find it relatively easy to bypass the restriction or could simply turn to porn-hosting platforms not covered by the law.
Twitter, Reddit and image-sharing community Imgur, for example, will not be required to administer the scheme because they fall under an exception where more than a third of a site or app’s content must be pornographic to qualify.
Likewise, any platform that hosts pornography but does not do so on a commercial basis – meaning it does not charge a fee or make money from adverts or other activity – will not be affected.
Furthermore, it will remain legal to use virtual private networks (VPNs), which can make it seem like a UK-based computer is located elsewhere, to evade the age checks.
The authorities have, however, acknowledged that age-verification is “not a silver bullet” solution, but rather a means to make it less likely that children stumble across unsuitable material online.
“The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first, and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content,” said the Minister for Digital Margot James.
“We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this.”
It had originally been proposed that pornographic services that refused to carry out age checks could be fined up to £250,000. However, this power will not be enforced because ministers believe the threat to block defiant sites will be sufficient and that trying to chase overseas-based entities for payment would have been difficult.
However, the government has said that other measures could follow.
“We know that pornography is available on some social media platforms and we expect those platforms to do a lot more to create a safer environment for children,” a spokesman for the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told the BBC.
“If we do not see action then we do not rule out legislating in the future to force companies to take responsibility for protecting vulnerable users from the potentially harmful content that they host.”
The age checks were originally proposed by the now defunct regulator Atvod in 2014 and were enacted into law as part of the the Digital Economy Act 2017. But their rollout had been repeatedly delayed.
UK-hosted pornographic video services already have to verify visitors’ ages, as do online gambling platforms.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) – which gives movies their UK age certificates – will be responsible for regulating the effort. It will instruct internet providers which sites and apps to block for non-compliance. In addition, it can call on payment service providers to pull support, and ask search engines and advertisers to shun an offending business.
Human rights workers at Amnesty International are braced for scores of redundancies after the management admitted to a hole in its budget of up to £17m to the end of 2020.
Up to 70 jobs will go in voluntary and compulsory layoffs amid a slump in donations and a multi-million pound increase in spending on fundraising, the Guardian has learned. Staff have been told the organisation will be reshaped in line with the vision of recently appointed secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, who wants to increase Amnesty’s work on climate change and economic rights. There are concerns that cuts will marginalise in depth research on totemic Amnesty causes such as the death penalty, torture and the arms trade.
Next week Naidoo is due to unveil a new strategic direction, which he has previously indicated requires treating issues like climate change as core components of the human rights struggle. Sources said it appears he wants to increase the focus on campaigning, rather than traditional research-led human rights investigations.
One insider said the 58-year old global organisation was in the grip of “an existential crisis”. The union resolution described it as “a perfect storm of challenges”.
The job losses follow a damning report into the charity’s culture in February, commissioned after the suicides last year of two staff members, Gaëtan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor. It detailed a “toxic” working environment and widespread bullying.
It warned: “As organisational rifts and evidence of nepotism and hypocrisy become public knowledge they will be used by government and other opponents of Amnesty’s work to undercut or dismiss Amnesty’s advocacy around the world, fundamentally jeopardising the organisation’s mission.”
According to a resolution from unionised staff in response to the threat of cuts “much of the anxiety experienced by staff in recent years has been generated precisely by the kind of mismanagement of finances and unfair treatment of staff that once again we see displayed in measures now proposed by the senior leadership team”.
The memo shows the charity was on course for a £7m shortfall on its spending of £20m and that travel budgets have already been cut and a hiring freeze extended. The shortfall includes £2.5m spent on fundraising that it could not afford. Income from Amnesty branches around the world was £4.5m less than forecast.
I would be very interested to know how much of Amnesty’s fall in income is a result of its move to support the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry (including pimps and brothel keepers). That move seems to fall under the category of ‘economic rights’ and signalled a fundamental change in direction for the organisation, away from clear human rights violations such as torture and illegal detention, into more complicated political/social areas that it had no expertise in. The shift in focus from research to campaigning risks turning it into a PETA-like organisation, existing purely to get attention/donations and to keep itself in existence. While it is very true that the environment is fundamentally tied in with human welfare, many charities already exist to champion that cause, it looks like opportunism.
A pornography festival in London this weekend has been forced to relocate after protests.
Faced with the prospect of a picket, organisers of the London porn film festival, which describes itself as “celebrating queer, feminist, radical and experimental porn”, pulled screenings from the Horse Hospital, an arts venue in Bloomsbury. The three-day event will instead be held at a new location disclosed only to ticket holders.
Multiple complaints about the festival were made to Camden council. Local authorities have the power to permit screenings of uncertificated films.
Despite the festival’s progressive intentions, feminist organisations branded it demeaning. Janice Williams, chair of the activist group Object, said the films on show promoted “degradation and oppression”. Rude Jude, one of the festival’s organisers, disagreed. “This is the next step on from the moral panic and the rightwing conservative groups that protested this kind of thing before … Britain likes to think of itself as a place tolerant of queer people, but when queer people assert ourselves, we’re attacked.”
The festival programme includes screenings titled Soft Tender Tuff Bois, described as a “love letter to all genderqueer and transmasculine people”, and The Kinks Are All Right, which takes the theme of “seductive humiliation”.
Rude Jude said the festival was staged as a response to 2014 legislation that extended pornography laws to films streamed over the internet: “It banned so many queer acts. It banned the depiction of female ejaculation, caning, breast play, flogging. These things are part of queer sexuality. The festival was formed as a protest.”
The coordinators of a separate pressure group, Women Against Pornography, said: “Feminist pornography is an oxymoron … feminism is not about individualistic wishes or desires, it is about liberating all women from the oppression of males. This can never be achieved by being tied up in a bed or by telling women that torture will make them free.” Women Against Pornography cited “security reasons” for not wanting to reveal their names.
In a letter to Camden council, Williams singled out a festival strand titled Sex Work Is Work, the online description for which included the hashtag #necrophilia. Williams claimed the festival was to show extreme pornographic images and pornography that is “likely to result in serious injury” to the performers. The hashtag has since been removed from the festival site.
In a series of Twitter posts, the festival claimed transphobia underlay the attack on the event. Women Against Pornography refute the accusation: “In the letters we sent there was no mention of transgenderism. However, if transgenderism is apparently so closely linked with pornography then that’s not a very good advert for it. As radical feminists we are gender critical, although this didn’t form part of our criticism of the festival.”
The Horse Hospital, which does not receive public money, is known for its grassroots art programming and has hosted the festival since its inception. “We’re in a difficult position here. We’re always up against it with somebody,” said director Roger Burton.
‘Mums Make Porn’ is a Channel 4 documentary about a group of mothers who make a short porn film. Emma, the lead on this project, describes mainstream porn as “horrible. Gruesome” and her intention is to create a ‘new wave’ of porn.
The result is a 14-minute film that Emma’s 20-year-old daughter was happy to watch alongside her mum, dad, and grandmother, with her boyfriend and friends in attendance.
There is some acknowledgement of the realities of the porn industry:
“The darker realities of the sex industry are never mentioned – in the first episode of the series at least. Emma says that they met one actress who had performed so much that she was physically injured, and that some of the films she saw were so gruesome she could barely kiss her husband goodnight. There was a point when the group thought that instead of making a porn film they should be campaigning to have it banned. “But that’s a huge step,” Emma says. “We were just four middle-aged hormonal females. But absolutely it needs to be policed. Everyone needs to get involved, from the government to mums and even those working in the porn industry. […] Back home they started to interview potential cast members. The first question was: “What sort of porn do you like to watch?” Most of the actors, Emma says, didn’t like a lot of what they saw, or indeed a lot of what they were doing.”
What is the actual purpose of this 14-minute porno, apart from making a small group of middle-class women feel good about themselves?
Could it work as ‘sex education’? But education in what? If its purpose is to educate about consent, why do you then need to see real sex acts? Does it include stopping and starting again, or giving up for the night? (at 14 minutes, I doubt it.)
Is it supposed to be an education in technique? The mention of male performance anxiety suggests so, but then who gets to set the standard?
Is it commercially viable? Is it going to ‘disrupt’ the porn industry? Of course not. The fact that it is being put up online for free (on Erika Lust’s website – more on her later), suggests that making it commercially viable was not a part of the plan (making it even more a middle-class vanity project, working-class women don’t have the time or resources to make porn for free, instead, they get ‘sex work’ pushed on them as something they ‘need’).
There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ when it comes to porn, only ‘a woman made it’ and/or ‘a woman gets off on it’; which means all porn is ‘feminist’, including the most extreme acts of violence, bestiality, and child sex abuse images, because somewhere there is a woman who will get off to that.
Pandora Blake, a self-styled ‘feminism pornographer’ produces only sado-masochistic porn centred around corporal punishment, and even Emma “is impressed by a couple of fetishists she watches making a naughty little video” while another mother is interested in “’beauty’, ‘tastefulness’ and large penises”, so there is no standard (sex products sold to women always claim higher production values, and always sport a bigger price tag).
The Guardian published an article last year titled ‘The Pleasure Revolution’, some of it was interesting, like the need to correctly describe, and normalise, female genitalia, and sex toys that aren’t objectifying and aimed at men; and some of it was ridiculous, like politics lecturer Reba Maybury, who has a side-gig as ‘political dominatrix’ ‘Mistress Rebecca’, who only dominates white, right-wing men, in order to ‘shift the power balance between the sexes’ (which is laughable, of course, she is being paid by these men for this ‘service’, she is still doing what they want, and outside that BDSM bubble, these men will carry on exactly as before). The article also links to a supposedly ‘feminist’ website, called ‘frolic me’, at the bottom of the website’s front page (click on image to enlarge) is a list of ‘erotic’ films and stories available on the site, including “voyeur catches a couple having a sexy rough fuck’, ‘BDSM erotic story of a submissive girl and her daddy’, and ‘forbidden seduction of a young horny stepson’. There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ porn.
The idea of ‘ethical porn’ is equally meaningless. Mainstream porn uses ‘exit interviews’ (filmed statements where the female porn performers say that they consented to everything that just happened to them); as recent cases of abuse in the US porn industry show, these are faked in order for the woman to get paid, and there are plenty of other accounts of abuse and abusive conditions on porn sets. Any genuine policing of porn sets would make porn production impossible.
The pornographer Erika Lust is name-checked approvingly by the Mums, but this is Gail Dines’ description of one of her porn shoots (from ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’):
Lust’s rather bizarre idea of a compelling “erotic” movie for women was to portray a woman pianist living out her fantasy of playing the piano naked while being “pleasured.” So Lust finds Monica, a woman who is both a pianist and willing to play out this fantasy, concocted by Lust. The problem is that Monica is new to porn and lacks any experience, while Lust hires a mainstream male porn performer, resulting in the usual degrading porn sex – pounding penetration and hair pulling included. Monica finishes the scene in obvious pain and traumatized, looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. But remember, this is a “feminist” porn film, so Lust, acting all sisterly, gives Monica a big hug and a glass of water to make her feel better. And then asks her to fake an orgasm for the final scene. So much for authentic female sexuality!
It was stomach churning to watch Lust manipulate and cajole Monica into making this film, and lying through her teeth as she explained that she is doing something different from the boys. Despite all the talk about aesthetic value and women’s sexuality, HGWTO is just a clever piece of ideological propaganda. Lust, just like the boys, is making money from sexually exploiting women; unlike the boys, she wraps herself in a feminist flag as a way to differentiate her brand in a glutted market. In Lust’s world, sisterhood is powerful because it provides cover to pimp out women in the name of feminism.
What projects like ‘Mums Make Porn’ miss is that even ‘better’ porn still objectifies and commodifies sexuality, and also ignores the addictive nature of porn, requiring more, and more extreme, images. It also makes the common, mainstream, assumption that men are simply consuming ‘bad’ porn by mistake, because there isn’t any ‘good’ porn available (a similar apology is made for male sexual violence, that poor men simply don’t understand when they are raping someone). If ‘good’ porn were commercially viable, it would already exist, and higher production value porn already exists.
This porn film will do nothing to challenge the mainstream porn industry, and it is no substitute for compulsory, age-appropriate, sex and relationships education, including education on consent, and the porn industry.