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.”
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.
QotD: “Their journey takes them into the dark underbelly of the scene, where they hear tales of human trafficking, forced drug taking and violence.”
A couple writhe naked on the sand while the waves break gently behind them.
A jogger runs past and he does not bat an eyelid at the sex scene playing out yards away.
The “lovers” are in fact porn stars, and they are filming on a beach in Spain — fast becoming the adult movie capital of the world.
While passers-by in the UK would be shocked, producer Thierry Kemaco — renowned in the industry for his outdoor films — explains: “In Spain, the people watch and when you finish, they applaud.”
This liberal attitude may be less surprising to a younger generation brought up on a sex-rich diet of TV’s Love Island and online porn.
But there is still plenty to shock six young Brits who travelled to Spain to explore the booming sex industry for BBC3 documentary Porn Laid Bare.
Their journey takes them into the dark underbelly of the scene, where they hear tales of human trafficking, forced drug taking and violence.
They are also on set to witness the nerves of a young Russian girl when she realises she is expected to have sex with 20 men.
The Brit group, who were chosen for their varying attitudes towards porn, include freelance journalist Neelam Tailor, 24, porn star super fan Ryan Scarborough, 28, student Anna Adams, 23, and the youngest of the group Cameron Dale, 21.
Not one of them comes away unchanged by what they witness.
The film is directed by Rob Diesel, who also stars in it. He says he went to Spain from his native Sweden because “they’re more liberal here”.
The website he is making the film for had 7.6billion visits last year and turned over £6.9million.
Rob says: “It’s a multi-billion-pound industry in Spain.
“They respect you as an artist. It’s a job here, it’s not like, ‘Look at the freaky guy there who’s doing porn’.
“There’s so many myths in porn still. You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with and the artists I work with all have contracts.”
But the Brits are left horrified when they later watch footage of Rob pulling a woman along by her hair in what is known as a “public disgrace” video.
Neelam says: “I felt like I’d been lied to. He’d talked so much about respect and choice and then we saw him doing the other side.
“When we confronted him, his argument was that people are into it.
“But I completely disagree with him and he has to think about the message he’s putting out into the world. For me, it’s always about the bigger picture.”
Neelam was just 12 when she first watched porn and says she would then view it “most days”.
She stopped aged 16 after noticing she struggled to become aroused when having sex.
Neelam, who is in a long-term relationship, says: “I realised this is the effect it can have so I stopped watching porn because real intimacy is so much more important to me.”
A third of young people surveyed say they’ve had riskier sex due to porn, while a quarter have felt pressured by a partner to do pornographic acts.
Roughly four in ten say porn has made them more concerned about how their genitals look, and one in five claim it made them consider plastic surgery.
Yet over half of those surveyed agreed that performing in porn is a good way to make money, and over a quarter would like to perform in porn themselves.
In Barcelona, they meet Ismael López Fauste, a porn magazine journalist turned police informant. He decided to leave the industry after witnessing “human trafficking, drugs, lots of violence and a lot of prostitution”.
Ismael tells them: “The point where I got out was when some of the girls overdosed on the set because they gave them drugs. I thought, ‘OK, I am a part of this’. This is just one of the stories.”
After writing a book exposing how some women are exploited, he says more came forward to tell their story.
But he adds: “Then the threats began because they wanted me to stop writing. They wanted me to delete everything.”
Asked who threatened him, Ismael replies: “The producers.”
He adds: “I want you to hear someone who was inside the industry. She was going to be with you but in the last few days she got threatened.”
The woman agrees to speak to the group over the phone. A former porn actress, she says: “In some scenes I was made to take drugs and if I didn’t I would be sent home without the money.”
She adds that she tried to report it to the police “but they aren’t bothered” and that she has failed to get the videos deleted.
The emotional interview leaves student Anna, from London, in tears.
She says: “It’s just really quite hard to know that it’s going on.”
A visit to a Madrid studio, run by director Torbe, the so-called king of Spanish porn, also leaves her shaken.
He tells them: “I find girls who don’t know anything about anything.
“Ninety-five per cent of the girls who come here are new, so I teach them, especially young girls.”
When the TV pals visit he is a filming a group sex session involving one woman and several men.
The star is a 19-year-old Russian girl who, the group are told, will earn just over £2,500.
She is wearing a red eye mask and her hair is in pigtails.
Her appearance is enough to prompt Anna to demand Torbe — under investigation for allegedly distributing child pornography — to show them proof of the girl’s age.
After seeing a copy of the her ID, Anna is satisfied but remarks: “She’s just turned 19.”
Filming is further delayed because the young actress — who reveals she has only been in the job a week — is so nervous.
As the 20 men, who wear masks to hide their identities, wait around on set, the Brits discover that the Russian girl had been expecting half that number.
Let’s pause here to take a look at the numbers, since porn-apologists make claims like, the women in porn make “a million a year”. Porn is usually paid by the sex act, £2,500 ÷ 20 = £125 per sex act, assuming there is only one sex act per man on set, so the £2,500 is actually a rip-off. There is no way anyone could do this kind of filming every day; women only last “six months to three years, tops” in the porn industry, and one analysis found that almost half of the women in the US porn industry did only one or two films before quitting.
When Anna, who stopped watching porn because she felt it did not fit with her feminist views, confronts Torbe, he says it is because they are shooting “two scenes” today.
When filming does finally start, Anna leaves the set in tears.
Speaking outside, she says: “I’m really concerned for her safety. I feel scared for us to leave because I don’t know what’s going to happen when we are not there.”
In the studio, Ryan has to comfort a tearful Cameron, who says: “It is the worst thing I’ve seen.”
Ryan adds: “It just doesn’t look fun. After a week, how do you know how comfortable you feel sleeping with this amount of men? It’s not the environment for a 19-year-old.”
The Knesset [in late December] passed a landmark law against prostitution making [sex buying] a crime, rather than the [‘work’] itself.
The law makes Israel the 10th country to institute what is called the “Nordic Model” of combating human trafficking and prostitution. The law passed with the approval of 34 MKs, with none voting against, at the last minute before the Knesset broke for the April 9 elections.
There are currently 14,000 people [being commercially sexually exploited] in Israel, including 3,000 minors, according to the Welfare Ministry, and 76% would leave [the sex industry] if they could. The average lifespan of a prostitute in Israel is 46 years.
Now a first-time offender will be fined NIS 2,000 for hiring or attempting to hire a prostitute and NIS 4,000 for further offenses. It also allows for pressing charges and fining the offender up to NIS 75,300. It offers the Justice Ministry the option of instituting other punishments, such as “John Schools,” meant to educate those who pay for sex.
QotD: “When information is passed using words the listener typically weighs and assesses the believability of the message … But unlike words, pictures don’t work that way”
When information is passed using words the listener typically weighs and assesses the believability of the message. When we hear words we tend to hear them as ideas or opinions, often the listener is counter-arguing against those ideas inside their heads. You can be deciding right now that what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense and you can be challenging my verbal statements internally. But unlike words, pictures don’t work that way.
None of you are counter-arguing against the fact that I’m sitting here or that this is a table. Pictures are mentally processed as events, as facts, and are stored unbuffered and unchallenged. If you see it, then it happened and is true. Pictures are truly worth a thousand words.
The Internet is an ideal medium for the spread of sexual permission giving beliefs. The sexual Internet sites by their very nature say that sex is a commodity for sale. Anything that you can buy, you can steal.
Sexual images of women and children are entertainment, sexual access becomes an entitlement, the individuals who are in these pictures do not appear to feel degraded, abused, physically and visually invaded. They appear to be enjoying the interaction. It’s an event.
Perpetrators now ‘know’ that children like to have sex with adults, they know it’s true because they have seen it. Perpetrators show these images to children to break down the inhibitions of children. Children now ‘know’ that children like to have sex with adults. They know it’s true because they have seen it.
For both the predator and the child these images produce permission-giving beliefs.
Dr. Mary Anne Layden
(found on tumblr)
It is midday in Bhairchawa, one of the 23 official border checkpoints between Nepal and India. Each day, up to 100,000 people cross under the stone arch separating the two countries. Some are on foot, others in trucks or on bikes, mopeds and rickshaws. Amid the chaos – the people, the dust, the noise of traffic and honking of horns – are the guardians: women who, having survived the horrors of human trafficking, now spend every day trying to spot potential victims and their exploiters among the crowds.
One of the women on duty today is Pema. While we talk, her eyes remain fixed on the crowds, scanning the throngs of people moving slowly across the checkpoint.
She is right to be vigilant. The 1,750km open and porous border between the two countries is a dream for traffickers and a nightmare for those trying to stop them. It has helped this crossing become one of the busiest human trafficking routes in the world.
More than 23,000 women and girls were victims of trafficking in 2016 according to the annual report published by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal. However, numbers could rise to 40,000 Nepalese victims a year, according to NGOs in the field. Last year, a study conducted by Sashastra Seema Bal, the Indian armed border force, said detected cases of trafficking from Nepal to India had risen by 500% since 2013.
Pema says she knows how to spot potential victims because she was herself trafficked across this border when she was 11 years old. Born in a remote village in the north of Nepal, she was taken by a friend of her parents, drugged and sold into a brothel in India. Years of rape and torture followed until she was rescued by Maiti Nepal, an anti-trafficking charity, following a raid on the brothel.
Pema lived at a Maiti Nepal shelter and has since trained to become one of 39 trafficking survivors working for the organisation as border guardians. The group work at nine checkpoints between the two countries, in collaboration with border police.
Pema spots a man trying to cross the border, holding the arm of a girl wearing a red leather jacket. She is wearing high heels, and is stumbling, unable to walk properly. “She is dressed too elegantly … One of the things traffickers do is buy women new clothes, to gain their trust,” says Pema as she approaches them and asks for their IDs. The girl does not have any, and the man says he is a businessman working in India and that she is his girlfriend. They are taken aside; Pema and the border police start to question the man.
It turns out their fears are well-founded. The man is a classic “lover boy” fraudster, a man who has seduced a young girl on Facebook and convinced her to leave her family and run away together.
“He has a record,” says Pema. “He was trying to get her out of the country to sell her to a brothel. This happens every single day.”
When the girl learns the truth, she collapses in tears. She is taken to one of Maiti Nepal’s transit homes, where she will receive help and emergency accommodation until she can be taken back to her family.
“It is hard for them to take in the fact that their boyfriend is a trafficker who just wants to sell them,” says Sirta, another of the guardians. “The same thing happened to me. My boyfriend sold one of my kidneys and then he sold me. I am only alive today because I was rescued.”
Lunapads is a company I would like to be able to support, and to recommend to other women, but I am appalled by your recent behaviour on social media.
Calling women and girls ‘menstruators’ ‘bleeders’ and ‘womb-owners’ is dehumanising and degrading. Putting ‘content warnings’ for ‘gendered language’ (whatever that actually means) on articles about women and girls is turning femaleness into a taboo subject – the tweet (from November 2018) that upset me the most was about Girl Scouts on the International Day of the Girl Child, about “girls lifting up other girls”, apparently that article needed a ‘content warning’.
In a tweet (from September 2018) about ‘patriarchy-free periods’ you talked about ‘all bodies’ being ‘covered’. ‘All bodies’ do not menstruate, only female ones. Obfuscating female biology is not progressive, it’s reactionary, and you do women and girls no favours by making them feel like bigots for talking about their female anatomy.
It’s great that you make ‘gender neutral’ products (but does a woman have to identify as trans or ‘non-binary’ to be allowed to use them?), but if you want to be inclusive, why not just say ‘women and trans men’? It seems obvious to me that this has very little to do with including trans men, and everything to do with pandering to trans women by not using the word ‘woman’ in any context that naturally excludes them.
That this is pandering becomes even more obvious when looking at a photo you posted on Instagram (in December 2018) of a card with a picture of a toilet and the text “Feeling confused or maybe a little upset? Don’t worry! My gender has nothing to do with you and I am supposed to be here.”
Dismissing women’s reasonable concerns about safety in public toilets (and changing rooms, and locked hospital wards, and homeless shelters, and prisons, and overnight accommodation for school trips) as ‘confusion’ or ‘being upset’ is patronising, condescending, and arrogant; the card may as well have said ‘don’t worry your silly little head about it sweetie!’
Do you care about the safety of women and girls at all? You must be aware of the case in Canada of Jessica/Christopher Hambrook, a paedophile and serial sex offender, who assaulted two women while living at a women’s shelter in 2012. Do you think it’s a good idea to tell women and girls to ignore their instincts when they are in close proximity to a potentially dangerous male?
What exactly do you hope to achieve with this mindless virtue signalling? Are there really that many trans men to buy your products? Trans women have male bodies, they do not have uteruses, they will never menstruate, and your products will never have the same fetishistic attraction as scavenging for used tampons and towels from the bins in public toilets.
Have you noticed an improvement in sales? Is alienating your core demographic really a good business strategy?
How do you justify advocating body positivity and self-acceptance on the one hand, but on the other, promoting an ideology that says some women are born in the ‘wrong body’ and that those ‘wrong bodies’ need extreme medical intervention in the form of radical surgery and a life-long dependence on synthetic hormones? What message do you think you are giving to girls who are going through puberty, and all the natural difficulties that major life-change involves, when you put up aesthetic photos of mastectomy scars on your Instagram account?
But what really tipped me over the edge and got me writing this letter to you was a re-tweet (in December 2018) about ‘SWERFs’. ‘SWERF’, like ‘TERF’ is a thought-terminating cliché, designed to shut down debate and critical thinking. Are you aware that many of the women fighting the sex industry, like Rachel Moran and Fiona Broadfoot, have direct, personal experience of being commercially sexually exploited while minors? Are you aware that SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) have organised a conference in London for this February called Women of Colour Against the Sex Trade? Will you be listening to these women too?
I also found a 2016 post of yours on Instagram where you discuss a potential project with Buck Angel, a trans porn performer. Is collaborating with the sex industry part of your ongoing business strategy? What kind of message do you think you are giving to young women and girls by helping to normalise the sex industry?
Your Pads4Girls program (where you again refer to girls as ‘menstruators’) is designed specifically to help keep Global South girls in school and out of poverty. One of the undeniable purposes of keeping girls in school and out of poverty is to help keep them out of the sex trade, or situations where they need to get an older ‘boyfriend’ who can buy them basic essentials like sanitary towels. What impact do you think the normalisation of the sex industry as ‘just work’ has on the life chances of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women and girls?
I look forward to hearing back from you,
Lunapads can be contacted via email@example.com. Screen-caps, of everything described above, in the comments
The national lottery was [on the 22nd December] accused of breaking its ban on political funding after giving a large grant to a second controversial transgender lobbying group.
The Big Lottery Fund (BLF) will pay £494,000 to “empower trans leaders and organisations” in “facilitation, media and influencing”. The money is being handed to the advocacy group Stonewall for distribution to other activists, creating a “network of leaders” to lobby for change. Stonewall was central to the campaign for contentious changes to gender laws.
Last week The Sunday Times revealed the lottery had awarded £500,000 to the trans advocacy group Mermaids, which campaigns for children to be allowed prohibited sex-change hormones. More large sums to trans lobbyists are thought to be in the pipeline.
The award to Mermaids, which triggered a backlash, is now under review by the BLF. It is today criticised by a coalition of academics and feminists, who have written to this newspaper calling for a public inquiry into the 25-fold rise in children seeking NHS help with gender issues over the past decade.
The group says it is “concerned” about the role played by Mermaids — which has been accused of bullying doctors, promoting falsehoods and pressuring parents to support life-changing medical interventions for their children — and “welcomes” the review.
One of those who organised the letter, Debbie Hayton, who is herself transgender, said of the Stonewall grant: “The rules say lottery money should not be used for ‘political activity’, but giving lobbying groups a grant for ‘influencing’ is funding political campaigning by another name.”
The BLF said: “We do not fund political activities.”
[The activism of Morgan Page, who now works for the advocacy group Stonewall on its “transgender leadership programme”] may not assuage those feminist concerns. In 2012, amid some controversy, she ran a workshop [in Canada] called Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling. The “cotton ceiling” is a term used by some trans lesbian women to criticise biological lesbian women for refusing to have sex with them because they have penises.
The organiser, Planned Parenthood Toronto, insisted that “sexual consent was absolutely paramount . . . the workshop was never intended to promote overcoming any individual woman’s objections to sexual activity”.
When The Sunday Times revealed last week that the Big Lottery Fund (BLF), which awards grants from the national lottery, had given £500,000 to Mermaids, a trans group that advocates sex-change treatment for children, there was an outcry — and an immediate review.
News of this second grant for a partisan lobbying operation will trigger further questions about the lottery’s approach.
Other Stonewall trans leaders include Aimee Challenor, a former Green Party deputy leadership candidate who was suspended, then resigned, after using her father as her election agent, even though he had been charged with imprisoning, raping and torturing a 10-year-old child. He was later sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Challenor claimed to have known nothing of the crimes, which took place in the attic of the house they shared. Stonewall has since promoted Challenor to secretary of its trans advisory group, according to her Twitter feed.
Stonewall said the new lottery project was “designed to help trans people from all walks of life reduce both the discrimination they face and the fear of violence that is still a daily reality for many”.
David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, said: “Nobody objects to grants designed to provide services to LGBT people. But my concern with grants explicitly described as being for ‘influencing’ is that the lottery is taking a clear position at one extreme of what is a highly contested political debate.
“That is explicitly prohibited by their own rules which say that ‘political activity’ cannot be funded.”
The grants to Mermaids and Stonewall may be traceable back to an event last year held by the LGBT Consortium, an umbrella body for most of the sector’s charities and lobbyists, with the BLF’s portfolio development director, Gemma Bull.
“Basically the pitch was that public donations to LGBT organisations have gone down dramatically since equal marriage, so the lottery needs to step in,” said one person who was there.
A few months later Bull went on an LGBT leadership course run by Stonewall and this year was named as an LGBT role model by the organisation OUTstanding.
Early this year the lottery paid for the LGBT Consortium to hire a new staff member, Matt Halliday, to draw up grant applications and work on a new funding model. Halliday left in July in apparent dismay. He tweeted that he had “written to the funders of my project with a report on my project and the things I’ve seen” but neither he nor the consortium would comment last week. The BLF said it had received no report from Halliday.
It appears that neither the Mermaids nor Stonewall awards were considered at the highest levels. One former staff member said only the largest grants went to the BLF board to be scrutinised by external figures. Projects of £500,000 or less were approved by heads of funding, the 12 or so people who are part of the BLF’s middle to senior management.
They “would typically have up to 165 different funding applications to consider in a three-hour meeting”, the former officer said, which meant a little more than a minute on average for each grant. “They would make their decision based on three to four sides of A4 submitted by the funding manager responsible for assessing the application. The vast majority just went through on the nod.”
A senior BLF manager disputed this, saying a maximum of 25 applications were considered at each meeting and the paperwork ranged from 1-10 pages.
The former officer said levels of scrutiny had deteriorated in recent years because of problems with a computer system: “In order to cope, they cut down a lot of the questions they asked applicants including, crucially, on safeguarding. You used to have to describe in detail what the safeguarding risks were and how you’d address them. But now you only have to tick a box saying you’ve considered safeguarding.”
The review of the Mermaids grant could prove important in setting parameters for political grants in the future. Passions are high on both sides: MPs have weighed in and the charity’s supporters have adopted the Twitter hashtag IStandWithMermaids.
Even before its recent spending spree, the BLF was the ninth largest funder of LGBT causes in the world, according to the Global Philanthropy Project, and its money has been pivotal in the creation of a powerful UK trans lobby.
The LGBT Consortium says 89% of all funding for LGBT organisations comes from official sources, including the lottery. Further large grants are expected: the consortium has promised a “very exciting announcement” next month.
In the northeast, Northumberland Domestic Abuse Services, which has received £756,000 from the lottery since 2012, faces closure by March after a new funding bid was turned down. Provided by the charity SixtyEightyThirty, it helps about 1000 people a year and is the county’s only specialist domestic abuse service to offer support and counselling for children.
A charity for male victims, Abused Men In Scotland, came within weeks of closure after losing its £419,000 lottery grant. It was bailed out at the 11th hour last month by a new funder, the Crerar Trust, which gave £29,000 to keep it going.
Dame Esther Rantzen’s national helpline for the elderly, The Silver Line, which has received just under £11m from the Big Lottery Fund since 2013, was told this year that funding would end. Rantzen said the charity was “secure for the moment” but its situation “isn’t easy”.
Few students ever dream that they’ll sue their high school. But that is exactly what several of my peers and I had to do.
Our school is Boyertown Area High School in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, and my reason for suing was to restore the bodily privacy we used to enjoy in locker rooms and restrooms on campus. Now, we have asked the Supreme Court to review our case.
I’m OK with the school district’s desire to hear voices other than mine on this issue. But I have a voice, too — and Boyertown officials have little interest in my perspective. They didn’t even bother to tell me or the other students that they changed school policy to allow students to choose their locker rooms and restrooms based not on their sex, but on their beliefs about their gender.
The moment I walked into our girls’ restroom and found a boy standing there, I turned and fled — the school’s surveillance video caught me running out. I tried to get the attention of administrators to explain to them how uncomfortable — how scared — I felt sharing the girls’ restroom with a boy. They wouldn’t listen. The principal simply wrote down my concerns on a Post-it note and said he’d contact me soon. He never did.
My parents were no less shocked by this new policy. Boyertown officials kept it a secret from them, too. The administrators never sent home a memo saying that, from now on, our school locker rooms would be open to students based on what sex students believed themselves to be.
Instead, our parents first learned of the policy when I found the boy in the girls’ restroom, and when others, like my classmates identified in the suit as Joel Doe and Jack Jones, were changing clothes in the boys’ locker room and looked up to find a girl changing clothes beside them.
Hollywood movies and TV shows try to make that kind of moment seem funny. But in real life, it’s embarrassing and unnerving. Locker rooms and restrooms are supposed to be a refuge for students, and adults, too, for that matter. As a woman, I go through those doors looking for privacy — not to find a guy looking back at me as I’m changing my clothes.
As a former foster child who bounced around through the system, I know what it’s like to be seeking an identity and trying to come to terms with who you are. As a black girl who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I know what it’s like to be treated unfairly, picked on, and made fun of by insensitive people. I won’t accept anyone being bullied or discriminated against — and that absolutely includes my classmates experiencing gender dysphoria. They deserve our love and support. Even so, my privacy shouldn’t depend on what others believe about their own gender.
Why is it so hard for school officials to understand that young girls care about the privacy of their bodies? It’s natural for us and our parents to worry about who might walk in on us in a vulnerable moment. The school bureaucracy has no right to say my privacy is irrelevant.
I had once lost my voice in the foster care system. And I was once again losing it in my own school: School officials withheld information from me and my parents, then silenced me by ignoring my concerns. Fortunately, my parents also taught me to speak up for myself, and I found my voice through this lawsuit.
I recently graduated from Boyertown Area High School, so I’m not taking this stand just for myself. I’m speaking for my friends and my little sister, all of whom are having their privacy interests ignored by their own school — a school that should be protecting everyone’s privacy. That’s not fair to them. And whether school administrators intend it or not, their secrecy and silence create the distinct impression that they aren’t really interested in fairness at all.
Schools can and should be compassionate in supporting students who experience gender dysphoria. So should other students. But a truly fair and genuinely compassionate policy doesn’t have to be kept secret from students and parents. And an effective policy would be one that secures the privacy of every student — which is nothing more than what every parent and student has a right to expect.
Alexis Lightcap is a 2018 graduate of Boyertown Area High School in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. She and other students have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their student privacy lawsuit through their attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.