Audre Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. A writer of the 70s and 80s, this month her poetry and prose is published in the UK for the first time in a new anthology: Your Silence Will Not Protect You. Akwugo Emejulu, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick discusses the resurgent interest in Lorde’s work and her importance to contemporary activists
Men with a history of sexual violence and domestic abuse joined Islamic State because of the organisation’s systemic use of rape and slavery as a form of terrorism, according to new analysis.
The promotion and sanctioning of sexual violence by the extremist group was a pivotal means of “attracting, retaining, mobilising and rewarding fighters” as well as punishing kaffir, or disbelievers, says a report to be released by the Henry Jackson Society.
Enshrining a theology of rape, the sexual exploitation of women alongside trafficking helped fund the caliphate and was used to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating prohibited.
In addition, forced inseminations and forced pregnancies – along with forced conversions – were officially endorsed to help secure the next generation of jihadis, a tactic also replicated by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
Analysis of ISIS members from Europe and the US found that a cohort had a history of domestic and sexual violence, suggesting a “relationship between committing terrorist attacks and having a history of physical and/or sexual violence”.
One Briton, Ondogo Ahmed, from north London, was given an eight-year custodial sentence for raping a 16-year-old girl in the UK but fled to Syria while out of prison on licence in 2013.
Another was Siddhartha Dhar, a father of four from London, who has been described as a central player in Isis’s brutal persecution of the Yazidis, a religious minority whose followers the group permitted its members to rape.
Testimony from one victim, Nihad Barakat, 18, revealed how Dhar, a former bouncy castle salesman from Walthamstow, east London, routinely participated in the group’s systemic trafficking and abuse of Yazidi teenage girls and enslaved some himself. “These cases indicate an existence of a type of terrorism that is sexually motivated, in which individuals with prior records of sexual violence are attracted by the sexual brutality carried out by members of Islamic State,” said Nikita Malik, the report’s author.
Although Malik said more work was required to establish a definitive link between an individual’s history of domestic violence and subsequent involvement in terrorism, evidence existed to indicate a potential correlation. One of the men involved in July’s London Bridge attack, Rachid Redouane, 30, was reportedly abusive and controlling, and his girlfriend eventually fled to a unit for victims of domestic violence. The Westminster attacker Khalid Masood, 52, is another who has been described as violent and controlling, this time towards his second wife.
ISIS has repeatedly promoted and attempted to legitimise a theology of rape, occasionally through its Dabiq magazine and Al Hayat media channel. One edition of Dabiq justified the rape of Yazidi women in Iraq by dismissing them as “pagans”. The extremist group also set up a department dedicated to “war spoils” and issued guidelines to codify slavery.
Markets selling sex slaves were relatively common in territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at the calpihate’s height, while the group’s franchise in Libya has also played a role in human trafficking. One account contained in the report describes how Isis members would touch the chests of girls to see whether they had grown breasts. If they had done so they could be raped, according to the report – which will be released in parliament – and if not they would be examined three months later. Among a number of harrowing case studies are accounts of how a 10-year-old Libyan child was raped by traffickers linked to ISIS.
Apart from subjugation and spreading terror, another key reason for Isis exploiting sex trafficking is financial gain. Ransom payments directly linked to the threat or use of sexual violence and paid out by governments and individuals earned, according to the report, between £7.7m and £23m last year, at a time of lowering revenues for the group.
It’s unsurprising to note that the report (or the article on it at least), makes the link to “deeply conservative Muslim societies”, but not to our own, western, misogyny. Hardcore pornography was easily available to any ISIS fighter who grew up in the west, plus bootleg pornography is available throughout the global south.
And as Namia Akhtar reported, Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were porn users:
Nonetheless, Sexlamists in their private lives are obsessed with pornography (in a February 17, 2015 article, New York Post reported that Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden found a fairly extensive stash of modern pornography in his possession), they communicate through it (media sources reported that terrorist cells embedded secret coded messages into shared pornography and onto pedophile websites) and justify their own salacious carnal practices on religious grounds. Al-Qaeda leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-waki, had also indulged in notorious promiscuity. Adultery and fornication are strictly prohibited in Islam, but in terror groups abhorrent sexual practices reign supreme. Daesh, for instance, has issued fatwas justifying rapes of Yazidi women to make them Muslims. Rape is the mechanism of Daesh to achieve their strategic objectives, since it humiliates and shames respective communities.
The first time Shivangi Choubey missed the curfew at her student hostel was a night in late September. It was not the only rule she broke that day.
Women students at Banaras Hindu University are not supposed to protest. Many are made to sign a contract that spells this out explicitly. Men are not required to sign anything of the kind.
Nor, at many hostels on campus, are women served meat, permitted to speak on the phone after 10pm, or allowed out in the evenings when their male counterparts still roam the tree-lined campus on sputtering two-wheelers or cram into the library to study.
So it was especially shocking – and unprecedented in the university’s 100-year history – when Choubey led 200 women through the gates of their college to join hundreds of others assembled outside Lanka gate, the campus’s bustling entrance. “Nobody ever misses a curfew,” she says, pulling a scarlet shawl around her shoulders. “That’s something very big for us. But we were so agitated, because these things keep happening to us.”
The day before, an undergraduate student walking home from her department said she had been sexually assaulted by two men on a motorbike. Campus security guards had been sitting in plastic chairs about 20 metres away but did nothing, the woman said. She told others that the warden at her college had dismissed the incident, telling her: “They just touched you. They didn’t do anything serious.”
“These comments were a spark on already burning logs,” says Dhriti Dharana, a psychology student living at the same college as the alleged victim. “We thought, to hell with everything. We’re going to protest.”
The days of demonstrations that followed have brought one of India’s most prestigious and conservative universities to its knees. Its vice-chancellor is on indefinite leave. The head of security resigned. Colleges were emptied of students – “evacuated”, one said – days earlier than a scheduled holiday after footage of police using batons against young women went viral, drawing national condemnation.
Harriet Harman has accused two major unions of “legitimising exploitation” after they backed the decriminalisation of sex work.
Aslef and the GMB will on Wednesday urge the Trades Union Congress conference to decriminalise prostitution, claiming it would improve safety for the thousands of men and women who work in the sex industry. The unions want the TUC and the government to back the launch of a scheme where sex workers have full legal protection.
Opponents say the move could increase sexism and violence against women, legitimise grooming and make schoolgirls grow up seeing prostitution as a “career choice”.
The former deputy Labour leader tweeted her opposition to the motion and urged TUC delegates to vote it down:
The Aslef motion, which is backed by the GMB, demands the overturning of legislation which “forces sex workers to work alone, leaving workers vulnerable to crime and the threat of losing access to their families”.
It says “austerity measures since 2010 have led to an increase in the number of people working in the sex industry”, and claims that many people would not choose to work in the sex industry and do so “because of economic necessity rather than criminal coercion”.
It says “sex workers should have the same rights as those in other industries”.
The motion supports the New Zealand model of “full decriminalisation which would give sex workers protections as workers in law”.
At a fraught TUC fringe meeting on Monday, sex workers pushed the case for decriminalisation – saying the current law infringed their human rights by preventing them from setting up brothels. They were criticised by campaigners who said prostitution demeaned women.
One critic argued that the New Zealand model would mean women could set up small brothels without any registration. She said: “That is the model you want for this country: to bring prostitution to every street corner so all our daughters can choose to work there. What about the right of women not to be prostituted?”
A delegate from the National Education Union said thousands of schoolgirls were being groomed. “The problem is if you say it’s a job like every other … sex working will be presented as a viable option, a career choice,” he said.
Kate Millett, author of the groundbreaking bestseller Sexual Politics, was the feminist who launched the second wave of the women’s liberation movement. Millett, who has died aged 82, developed the theory that for women, the personal is political.
The basis of Sexual Politics (1970) was an analysis of patriarchal power. Millett developed the notion that men have institutionalised power over women, and that this power is socially constructed as opposed to biological or innate. This theory was the foundation for a new approach to feminist thinking that became known as radical feminism.
Sexual Politics was published at the time of an emerging women’s liberation movement, and an emerging politics that began to define male dominance as a political and institutional form of oppression. Millett’s work articulated this theory to the wider world, and in particular to the intellectual liberal establishment, thereby launching radical feminism as a significant new political theory and movement.
In her book, Millett explained women’s complicity in male domination by analysing the way in which females are socialised into accepting patriarchal values and norms, which challenged the notion that female subservience is somehow natural.
“Sex is deep at the heart of our troubles …” wrote Millett, “and unless we eliminate the most pernicious of our systems of oppression, unless we go to the very centre of the sexual politic and its sick delirium of power and violence, all our efforts at liberation will only land us again in the same primordial stews.”
Sexual Politics includes sex scenes by three leading male writers: Henry Miller, Norman Mailer and DH Lawrence. Millett analysed the subjugation of women in each. These writers were key figures in the progressive literary scene. Each had a huge influence on the counterculture politics of the time, and embedded the notion that female sexual subordination and male dominance was somehow “sexy”. Mailer, darling of the liberal left, responded with an article in Harper’s magazine in which he viciously attacked Millett’s theories.
And the well-respected critic Irving Howe wrote that Sexual Politics was “a farrago of blunders, distortions, vulgarities and plain nonsense”, and its author guilty of “historical reductionism”, “crude simplification”, “middle-class parochialism”, “methodological sloppiness”, “arrogant ultimatism” and “comic ignorance”.
It was never the intention of Millett to become a career feminist, being much more interested in her art, as a sculptor. But after being featured on the cover of Time magazine, in August 1970, she was catapulted into fame, which led to a backlash from some feminists who accused Millett of styling herself as a movement “leader” – an accusation she rejected.
That December, Time outed Millett as bisexual, and claimed that “[the] disclosure is bound to discredit her as a spokeswoman for her cause, cast further doubt on her theories, and reinforce the views of those sceptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians”.
At the time the women’s movement was divided over the issue of lesbianism – Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), had labelled lesbians the “lavender menace” – and many liberal feminists turned against Millett. Yet more than three decades later, the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin wrote of Millett: “Betty Friedan had written about the problem that had no name. Kate Millett named it, illustrated it, exposed it, analysed it.”
Born in St Paul, Minnesota, Kate was raised by strict Catholic parents. Her mother, Helen (nee Feely), worked as a teacher and an insurance saleswoman to support her three daughters after her alcoholic husband, James, an engineer, abandoned the family when Kate was 14. Millett went to the University of Minnesota, graduating in English literature in 1956, and then to St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She taught briefly at the University of North Carolina before focusing on sculpture in Japan and then New York. In 1965, she married the Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura. During their open relationship, Millett had sexual relationships with a number of women.
She went to Columbia University in 1968, and Sexual Politics, based on her doctorate, was published in 1970. At the time, Millett was living as an impoverished hippy in the Bowery district. She wrote about the impact of her newfound fame in Flying (1974) and followed this up with Sita (1976), about her relationship with an older woman. In 1979, she travelled to Iran’s first International Women’s Day with her then partner, Sophie Keir, a photojournalist. They were arrested and expelled, an experience they documented in their book Going to Iran (1981).
Millett had been committed to mental health institutions by her family on various occasions and she became an activist in the anti-psychiatry movement. She wrote about her experiences in The Loony-Bin Trip (1990). She also wrote The Politics of Cruelty (1994), in which she railed against the use of torture, and Mother Millett (2001), about her relationship with her mother.
In 1998 Millett wrote a piece for the Guardian, The Feminist Time Forgot, in which she said: “I have no saleable skill, for all my supposed accomplishments. I am unemployable. Frightening, this future. What poverty ahead, what mortification, what distant bag-lady horrors, when my savings are gone?”
I had met Millett the year before, when visiting Dworkin in New York. Millett was shy and warm, and not the angry, self-pitying person I had been warned about. She was preoccupied, however, with what she perceived to be the wealth held by other feminists, in particular those who had not contributed to the movement in any original way. Dworkin later told me Millett had lambasted her for owning a brownstone in Brooklyn, for no apparent reason other than she was unhappy with her lot.
In her later years, Millett and Keir lived on a farm in Poughkeepsie, New York state, where at first they sold Christmas trees, and later established a women’s art colony. In 2012 she received the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage award for the arts, and in 2013 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in New York.
Millett’s marriage to Yoshimura ended in 1985. She is survived by Keir, whom she married in later life.
The BBC has managed to report on this better (although I still had to change the headline from ‘child sex’ to ‘child sexual exploitation’):
Eighteen people have been convicted of abusing girls in Newcastle who were plied with alcohol and drugs before being forced to have sex.
The vulnerable victims, some as young as 14, were exploited by a “cynical organisation”, a court heard.
The 17 men and one woman were convicted of rape, supplying drugs and conspiracy to incite prostitution.
Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.
These trials involved 26 defendants, who were mostly Asian, facing a total of more than 100 charges and 22 victims.
Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.
Of the 26, three people have been jailed. The rest will be sentenced next month.
A Romanian couple have been jailed for trafficking a 14-year-old girl and other women into prostitution in the UK, in the first prosecution for child sex trafficking under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Romelia Florentina Radu, 32, and Petre Niculescu, 39, were each sentenced to 14 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to trafficking the child and eight women.
A third Romanian national, George Maracineanu, 47, who persuaded a woman to come to the UK, promising her love and work before handing her over to the couple, was jailed for two years and eight months.
The criminal network run by Radu and Niculescu was dismantled by the Metropolitan police and Romanian police after an eight-month joint operation.
The trial at Kingston crown court in Surrey heard that the group preyed on women from impoverished backgrounds, telling some they would be given work in shops or restaurants.
“The defendants benefited criminally from the sexual exploitation of a number of women,” prosecution counsel Caroline Haughey told the court. “They beguiled and deceived their way into their lives and them put them to work on the streets.”
In the case of the pair’s youngest victim, they “deliberately and callously stole her childhood,” she said.
The pair had operated in the UK since 2013 and lured the 14-year-old, one of nine siblings from a poor family, in 2016 after promising her a job as a waitress.
But on the night she arrived in the UK, she was told to change into “sexy” clothes and put on heavy makeup, because “she had the face of a child”, said Haughey.
The court heard that the girl was forced to have sex with men every day for four months.
In a victim impact statement, the girl said: “I was forced to have sex continuously. Many times it was painful and I was disgusted.”
She said she lived in permanent fear and was told not to tell anyone her age or her real name. “They would swear at me and threaten me with violence. They would tell me that they are going to hurt my family and that they would set fire to the front of my door,” she said.
Met police became aware of the gang after one of the victims, a 41-year-old woman, went to a north London police station. She told officers she had been recruited by Maracineanu, who had promised they would earn money together to buy a house in Romania.
The court heard that other women had been controlled by the couple, recruited through friends and family with the promise of a better life. One had been offered work as a prostitute when she was 14. Four years later, she agreed to go with Radu for unspecified work in the UK, but when she arrived was told she would be working as a prostitute.
Others knew they would be working as prostitutes and were told they would share takings. But when they had arrived in the UK thye found themselves in debt bondage – told by the couple they owed money for their travel costs, as well as their “patch” of the street and rent in the flats they used in Paddington, west London. While the women could earn at least £250-300 a night, they were often given as little as £20-30 a day.
They described physical and mental abuse. In a victim impact statement, one of the women said: “Once [Niculescu] beat me really badly. He punched me and then hit me many times with the pole from the hoover… I was covered in blood. I still have a scar because of what happened that day.”
Another described being beaten by a man who refused to pay for sex. “The client was under the influence of drugs and beat me for an hour, both during and after sex,” she said. “He slapped me all over my body, including my face. I was praying to God to escape alive.”
DC Alison Hines said all the women had been subjected to various levels of abuse. “All of them were threatened that their families would be harmed, their houses would be burned down, or they would be beaten up,” she said. “The fact that they were willing to give evidence against their traffickers is incredibly brave.”
Damaris Lakin, a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service London’s complex casework unit, said: “All three suspects initially denied controlling these women and girls for prostitution. The bravery of these women in providing evidence and supporting this prosecution has helped stop a dangerous criminal network taking advantage of vulnerable young girls.”
It is almost impossible to talk about pornography without wading into a swamp of controversy. Facts are not neutral, the politics are contradictory and, if you suspend judgment altogether, it often reads as silently taking a side. And still, we try. Good old us.
Last month’s Goop was The Sex Issue. If you browsed through pieces on the ethics of porn and one titled “Reality Check: Anal Sex” you found yourself in Gwyneth’s “Get It On Shop” where you could spend $885 on a pair of silver “benwa balls” to “strengthen your kegels and have a better orgasm all at once”, and $20 on individual sachets of “sex dust”. Goop sex is mindful, artisanal, aspirational and typically expensive. If US shipping costs put you off I have a good recipe for sex dust you can make at home that simply requires a swab from the underside of the far booth in the Brighton All Bar One, and some finely ground turmeric.
Last week, Rowan Pelling (ex-editor of the Erotic Review) launched the Amorist, which she describes as “an erotic version of Woman’s Hour”, a phrase that will undoubtedly be swimming in your head the next time you wake at dawn with a start, sweaty and scared, the taste of pennies on your tongue. It’s “a general interest magazine for those who are generally interested in sex and desire – and an antidote to Brexit”. It seeks to “counter the excesses of online pornography and the tendency to see sex through a functional prism”. It’s based in the same building as the Oldie, and the tone is that of a frisky couple whose youngest child has recently left home to study PPE.
Elsewhere, porn is being investigated in a new Netflix series of documentaries called Hot Girls Wanted, produced by a team led by Rashida Jones. In their first film we meet female filmmakers in the porn business; in the last, a teenager in Ohio facing 20 years in prison and a lifetime on the sex offenders’ register for livestreaming the rape of her friend on Periscope. Jones “wanted to show where there was dark, there was also light”. In particular, she said she was interested in “self-empowerment versus self-objectification”.
Except, says the New Republic in a crushing critique: “In their rush to ‘humanise’ adult performers and explore the concept of ‘empowerment,’ the producers enact precisely the kind of objectification and dehumanisation that they aim to critique.” Thinking about sex sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Every seven seconds, a thesis.
We snap the word porn on to images of excess. We understand the meaning of phrases like food porn, property porn, plant porn, travel porn, cocktail porn, not because these are sexy things, but because we associate the word “porn” with the feelings we have when we look at them – a combination of desire and guilt, and fantasy, and disappointment at the celibate reality of our real lunch, our real home.
But while we know what porn means, what it stands for, to judge by the ever-growing number of takes on the subject, the lure of learning about it seems almost as powerful as porn itself. That’s how we excuse our obsession: porn stops being something private and dirty, and becomes instead something you can discuss with your partner’s boss at dinner parties over cheese.
The cycles of thought have rolled between empowering to dangerous and back again, with new incendiary debates on whether it’s right to call porn “work”. What the commentaries have in common though, is that they’re all deeply enervating.
Porn has proved as slippery and ungovernable as sexuality itself. However much people attempt to pick away at it with words, porn remains, this mountain looming above us, its shadow falling over everybody’s private lives. Ironically the act of intellectualising porn, drilling into the stone of it, is the one thing that threatens it, in that it makes pornography a chore and not sex, and therefore much harder for a person to enjoy during their “me time”. Despite featuring nudity and lust, debating pornography is the opposite of talking dirty.
For instance, if instead of paying for sex a landlord would rather receive sexual favours from a tenant living rent-free, would that really be so bad? Well, yes, actually it would, at least according to recent reports of landlords making this very offer. Apparently, this is an appalling example of the current housing market allowing predatory men to exploit the vulnerable.
Only if this is the case, why is paying for sex not viewed with the same horror? It’s the same marketplace, the same bodies, the same needs. All sex for rent does is cut out the symbolic means of exchange in the middle. Yet far from decrying the exchange of sex for money, supposedly progressive organisations such as Amnesty International and the NUS, in addition to mainstream political parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, are pushing to liberalise attitudes towards the purchase of sex. Why are these two things seen so differently?
True, live-in work carries with it particular risks and uncertainties, but do any of us feel the same qualms about housekeepers or nannies getting to live rent-free? And aren’t many of us doing jobs we’d rather not do, only a pay check or two away from eviction? So why should sex for rent be seen as especially problematic?
If it’s to do with the fact that it’s sex and not, say, cleaning or childcare, shouldn’t we be able to pinpoint why this is? And yet few are willing to do so, silenced by the thought-terminating clichés – “sex work is work”, “my body, my choice” – that have come to dominate the left’s approach to sex and gender.
I’d go so far as to suggest the mainstream left has no real right to be shocked about sex for rent. After all, it’s only the logical conclusion of a pseudo-feminist politics which refuses to engage fully with power and labour redistribution, choosing instead to talk in circles about the right of individuals to do whatever they like with their own bodies while bypassing any analysis of why one group seeks to control the sexual and reproductive lives of another. It’s politics for the unthinking and the privileged, yet it appears we can all afford to be unthinking and privileged when it’s only the bodies of women at stake.
“My body, my choice”, a perfectly appropriate slogan when used to mean only a pregnant woman should be able to make decisions about her pregnancy, has been expanded ad absurdum. Yet the point about abortion is that the only alternative to it is the work of pregnancy; there’s no possible third option, whereby the already-pregnant individual gets to go through neither. The same is not true of sex work or poverty. It is possible for there to be alternatives to exploitation or destitution. That for many women there are currently none is not least down to a politics that values unlimited sexual freedom for all – an impossibility – over a fairer redistribution of limited choices for everyone.
If we regard women as full, equal human beings, then we cannot have a world in which there are no limits placed on men’s access to female sexual and/or reproductive labour. “Sex work is work” and “my body, my choice” simply don’t cut it when it comes to deciding where to draw the line. We should all face restrictions on what we can do with our own bodies, just as we should all have duties of care towards the bodies of others. The problem with patriarchy is not that it prevents women from having the same physical freedoms as men due to some inexplicable, knee-jerk “woman-phobia” –it’s that it shifts most of the necessary physical restrictions and duties attached to reproduction and care onto women, leaving men with the belief that liberation means no one ever saying “no” to you.
Such a belief – at heart pro-capitalist and anti-feminist – has seeped into supposedly pro-woman, left-wing thought and activism, yet anyone who points out the absurdity of it is treated to a Victorian asylum-style diagnosis of prudery and whorephobia. To claim, on the one hand, that one is anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal, while insisting, on the other, that no woman is without means as long as she has orifices to penetrate, is not progressive. On the contrary, it’s ultra-conservative. It shifts the baseline of our understanding of need and it does so dishonestly, masking coercion by repackaging it as free choice.
If anything is for sale – any body part, any experience, any relationship – then the poorest will be stripped bare. If you accept the principle that there is nothing wrong with buying sex – or ova or breastmilk or babies – how do you ensure supply can meet demand? Only by making sure there are always enough women with no other options. There is no other way. There are not enough female bodies to meet male sexual and reproductive demands without any form of coercion; that’s why patriarchy, with all its complex systems of reward and punishment, exists in the first place.
If sex work is work, poverty is necessary. The alternative to patriarchy isn’t a world in which everyone gets to be a de-facto patriarch, free to make whatever sexual and reproductive choices they want, safe in the knowledge that there will always be willing bodies to meet their demands. The postmodern fantasy that an underclass of coerced, poverty-stricken females can be replaced by an underclass of willing, always-up-for-it, cisgendered females, while charming in its naivety, remains just that: a fantasy.