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.”
I worked for a decade under decrim. But before that, for a little, I was a stripper so we’ll start there.
One night, let’s call her Stacy, came in for opening and was extremely distraught because she’d been raped a few hours earlier, she came in to talk to me because she didn’t have anyone else. Our manager told her she could either work her shift or be fired. The only reason she was allowed to leave was because I said I’d leave too and I was making them too much money at that point for him not to cop it from the owner if that happened. She didn’t go to the police because she knew they wouldn’t care.
Then when I was nineteen I switched to working in brothels. People like to think drugs come before that but usually they don’t. Most of the time that comes after you start, to cope with it.
I routinely worked with trafficked women in legal brothels because under that system, it’s actually way easier to traffic them in. Most of them were South East Asian and I know at least three of them are dead, I’m fairly certain a lot more of them are now.
I’ve seen men come in and leave because they wanted ‘younger’ girls, despite there being girls working that were 18 and looked 15.
The night a john tried to choke me, I slammed his head into the mirror. I was warned by police after that next time I would be charged with assault.
I don’t feel the statistics accurately portray the history of abuse most if not all of us have experienced. I met maybe five women who said they hadn’t been abused in some way during childhood, whether it be sexually, physically or emotionally. In ten years.
Literally no one was there because they wanted to be. It was because if not, you starved or worse. I’ve never met any of us who was in the girl’s room between “”“clients”“” preaching about how great it was. We talked about what we would do if we had a choice and what we hated about johns and management, and every level of horror you can imagine that we’d experienced in our lives.
Decriminalization is just a different shaped cage. It’s still designed to trap and commodify women and girls as sex toys for men. I’ve seen women raped and beaten, I’ve known women who have been killed or who have ended up killing themselves.
The reason it’s not okay to people to exchange money to kill someone but it’s okay to exchange money to rape someone, is because the world we live in perpetuates that women and girls are lesser, and that our worth is based in fuckability to men.
And you could ask anyone who is exited the same and their stories don’t vary from ones like mine. But we’re called liars by people who have never set foot in a brothel in their goddamn lives, for challenging the bullshit notion that there is a class of women it is okay to exploit.
So, as many of you are aware, the high-priestess of genderology [Judith Butler] decided to momentarily descend from her exalted academic plinth and relay her ‘thoughts’ on the ongoing internecine shitshow that she, probably more than anyone else, has helped to create. Except of course that, with her usual intellectual integrity, the thoughts she decided to relay about said shitshow totally ignored what is really going on, in favour of pretending that this is a conflict between the wibbly-wobbly-gender-and-sex-is-fluid-rah-rah-liberation crowd, and, basically, um, the Pope. Despite being entirely predictable, this level of disingenuous erasure, is, nonetheless, pretty staggering. As Judy is actually more than well aware, this is a conflict which turns, fundamentally, on the fault-line in feminism that she, in fact, inaugurated – a fault-line between those of us who think patriarchy is a system of sex-based male dominance enacted through cultural mechanisms which we could call – if we can still stomach the word – ‘gender,’ and those who think that patriarchy is…like, seriously, what the fuck do they even think it is….some kind of free-floating cultural system that has nothing to do with actual bodies or their appropriation and domination, a randomly generated set of signs and signifying practices that shape our subjectivity, a thought which leads, in practice, to staking feminism’s whole liberation project on the epic transcendent power of some spectacularly superficial idea of gender-fucking.
Look, I’m a feminist, and a Prince-fan. I like superficial gender-fucking as much as the next woman. (I actually think Prince’s gender-fucking wasn’t merely superficial, but that’s another story). BUT, and this in some sense points towards the heart of the problem here, superficial gender-fucking has fuck all effect on the fundamental patterns of male dominance. As someone said to me yesterday on Twitter, the wires are currently full of male people running around stanning for the absolute progressive power of gender fluidity, who seem to think they are the living breathing instantiation of ‘smash the patriarchy’ because they dare to pair some nail-varnish with their beards, all while acting like exactly the same entitled, narcissistic, dependency-denying, mind-over-matter, female-erasing assholes that they always were. If gender isn’t just a penchant for gold lamé pocketbooks and lace and is actually something to do with the psychic, material, ontological and economic structures which underpin male dominance, then, lo, it turns out you still need an analysis of male dominance if you’re going to actually do a bloody thing about it. And I’m sorry Judy, I know you were traumatized by Dworkin and MacKinnon trying to ban porn, but having an analysis of male dominance doesn’t actually make me, y’know, the fucking Pope.
This week there’s a conference going on at Brighton University, in which a load of ‘critical thinkers’ will sit around and think very critically. Judith Butler is doing the star turn. I was supposed to go with a friend, and put on my polite academic face, and listen while she is lauded by room full of people, many of them male, who cannot get over how fucking psyched they are that ‘feminism’ no longer asks them to even acknowledge, let alone challenge, male dominance. I cannot and will not do it. At this moment the thought makes me rage. And so what I want to do, instead, is to sit here, and try and channel my rage into a (partial) excavation of how, and why, Judith Butler performed the magical and much-rewarded feat of making patriarchy – and the critique of patriarchy – vanish from feminism.
QotD: “These levels of physical and sexual violence are bordering on and including behaviour that would meet the criminal code definition of torture”
A concerning new trend tracked by welfare workers at the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence reveals clients who have been raped had been subjected to increasing violence.
Centre director Di McLeod in an address yesterday to more than 50 community stakeholders detailed the shocking violence which included women being subjected to group sex along with strangulation and choking.
Much of the violence had occurred after women were forced to have nonconsenting sex and their injuries required them to obtain treatment at the emergency departments at Gold Coast Hospitals.
“These levels of physical and sexual violence are bordering on and including behaviour that would meet the criminal code definition of torture,” Ms McLeod told the Problem with Porn conference at the Sharks Event Centre at Southport.
“What used to be an uncommon story is now very much an everyday story involving women of varied ages and diverse backgrounds.”
In the past five years the Coast centre had experienced a 56 per cent increase in referrals from emergency departments of local public hospitals, the forum was told.
“Sometimes the sexual violence is committed by a just-met partner, but in cases where the woman has knowledge of the offender’s habits she has often identified that the offender is a regular consumer of pornography,” Ms McLeod said.
The forum was told it was clear not everyone who viewed pornography would commit sexual and domestic violence “because some men who use pornography don’t rape”.
“But what research is finding and what we are seeing at our centre is that pornography is clearly influencing sexual expectations and practices between intimate partners, so that the correlation between pornography, rape and domestic violence can no longer be ignored,” Ms McLeod said.
The key finding by welfare workers was violent men using pornography could not see the difference between fantasy and reality and believed “women are up for it 24-7”.
The increased reporting figures were due to the extent of the injuries and view that many women felt less shame about admitting what had happened.
If sex is a service rape is just unpaid labor.
If sex is a service it can be provided to family members, morally.
If sex is a service it can be a small child’s career aspiration, and it should be supported as such.
If sex is a service then pornographic content can also be displayed to children, as they should be given examples of their work possibilities.
If sex is a service, and sex work is an existent opportunity to you, you can’t complain about being unemployed.
If sex is a service csa is just some form of child labour.
If sex is a service it is bigoted and against the costumer rights to denny service on the basis of anything, including sex, regardless of the workers orientation they should provide service to the costumer.
Things get really creepy when you mix things with inherent different natures like sex and labour, I know.
If sex work is work, then incest is no different than working in the yard or shed with mom and dad. It’s just practice for working in the real world.
Children being raped to death is just an occupational hazard
There is a common criticism of journalism and political argument on this topic, a criticism that is often voiced by trans-rights advocates and others. It can be summarised as: “By discussing trans rights and cases of abuse in the same context, you are demonising trans people and implying that trans people are sexual predators and perverts. That is harmful because it adds to the stigma some trans people experience. Please stop.”
And if that was indeed the point being made, I think that would be a fair response.
But it’s not. The concern that has been raised about self-ID and other trans-rights policies is about safeguarding, about protecting vulnerable people from manipulative and abusive men. The expressed gender identity of those men doesn’t really come into it, except where those people might use the concept of gender to exploit those rules and facilitate their abuse.
Put more bluntly, no one is scared about trans people here. They’re scared about rapists. Some rapists say they’re trans. Get over it.
Because acknowledging that some sex offenders will use gender laws to facilitate their abuse is no more “anti-trans” than accepting that some sex offenders used their positions as Roman Catholic priests to carry out abuse is anti-Catholic. Bad people do bad things. Anyone making, implementing or advising on policy should accept that basic fact and work to mitigate it, not cry bigot when someone asks whether that policy is open to misuse.
One of the feminist groups that raised such concerns is Fair Play for Women. These are the people who really sounded the alarm about transgender offenders in the women’s prison estate, with a report last autumn that was later borne out in official figures released by the MoJ. As the group’s warnings over prisons are being so horribly vindicated by the Karen White case, I hope that people in authority will pay more attention to FPFW’s most recent work, which is about domestic violence refuges and shelters.
That report makes two points that deserve much more attention in political conversation about gender, law and domestic violence. The first is that a lot of women who run and use shelters feel they can’t talk freely about this issue, for the familiar reasons that they will be accused of transphobia, lose their jobs and lose funding for the services they provide for vulnerable women.
The second, and more fundamental, point is that the people who run shelters and refuges believe that laws proposed to make life easier for transgender people will also have the effect of making it easier for abusive men to abuse women.
The report, based on the accounts of domestic violence workers and volunteers, makes abundantly clear the fact that the sort of men who wish to hurt, rape and kill women will take every opportunity to do. One shelter manager with 37 years’ experience told FPFW researchers:
With self-ID policies we will effectively be giving the keys to women’s refuges to abusive men. If that happens, beyond a shadow of a doubt, women will die. Never ever underestimate the potential for abusive men to track down, find and torture their victim.
Perhaps you think that’s hyperbolic or excessively dramatic. If so, consider again the case of Karen White.
In 2016, the Prison Service put in place a policy that was intended to make life easier for transwomen in custody. That policy meant Karen White, a rapist and child abuser, was able to gain access to vulnerable women and sexually assault them. In the words of the prosecution in White’s latest trial, White is a “predator” who sought to “use a transgender persona to put herself in contact with vulnerable persons she can then abuse.”
Those words were spoken in a trial that ended in Karen White being given a life sentence and the judge telling White: “You are a predator and highly manipulative and in my view you are a danger.”
The Karen White case came about even after MPs had been given clear warnings by several experts that dangerous and manipulative predators like Karen White would try to exploit gender laws and rules in order to abuse women. They failed to act on those warnings and properly scrutinise the rules involved in the Karen White case.
Now, that Fair Play for Women report about domestic violence shelters gives MPs and other people in power another chance to do better. They have been given a clear warning by the professionals who spend their every waking moment dealing with the harm done by abusive men and trying to protect women from abusive men, that such men will try to exploit laws on gender change to find, abuse and kill women.
What will it take to persuade them to listen to that warning this time?
QotD: “#Merseyside Police failing to monitor sex offenders, says watchdog. Same police force found time to investigate #WomenDontHavePenises stickers”
#Merseyside Police failing to monitor sex offenders, says watchdog. Same police force found time to investigate #WomenDontHavePenises stickers despite that being a statement of fact which harms no one. Prioritising men’s feelings over women’s safety.
The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to campaigners against rape in warfare, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege.
Ms Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi who was tortured and raped by Islamic State militants and later became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people.
Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who, along with his colleagues, has treated tens of thousands of victims.
Some 331 individuals and organisations were nominated for the prestigious peace award this year.
The winners announced in the Norwegian capital Oslo on Friday won the award for their “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war”, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee chair, said.
The pair both made a “crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes”, Ms Reiss-Andersen added.
It was when I left Miramax in 1998 and tried to pursue justice that the scales really fell from my eyes; in some ways, the real abuse started then. I began working for Harvey when I was only 22 and didn’t really know who he was; partly through my naivety, partly through my upbringing, I happened to have the right set of tools in my personality to deal with him. I simply saw him as an unpleasant, lascivious boss and so treated him as such. I didn’t initially understand his power, or see him as the key to my future, which were the things that made so many others vulnerable to him.
But the challenge turned into a nightmare when a new colleague alleged Harvey had tried to rape her while we were at the Venice film festival. I had employed her to assist me, so she was my responsibility; once she told me, there was no possibility of us continuing to work for him.
On going to lawyers we were told, to our horror, that our only realistic option was to make a damages claim and enter into an agreement. They told me it wasn’t worth considering going to court. It became increasingly apparent that this had little to do with justice and everything to do with money and power. I had presumed the law was above all men, but the disparity of my position and Harvey’s trumped whatever he had done; the ensuing legal process ultimately broke my belief in the core values of our culture. That is more seismic than having your belief broken in one individual.
Miramax was represented by one of the most powerful “magic circle” law firms on the globe, Allen & Overy. Even though the allegations were of a serious criminal nature, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) was negotiated that, as far as I can see, was wholly unethical. The agreement includes things that were legally extraordinary. Under its terms, my colleague and I would not be able to speak to a doctor, counsellor or accountant about what had happened, without them also signing an NDA, which we would be held accountable to if they broke it. The most sinister of these clauses stipulated that I was to use my “best endeavours” not to disclose anything in a civil or criminal case brought against Weinstein. In other words, I was to keep quiet, whatever the circumstances, for ever.
The NDA took hours of complex and stressful negotiations in Allen & Overy’s offices. The experience was one of complete siege mentality, with sessions lasting up to 12 hours. On one day, after a full morning’s negotiations, we resumed at 5pm and finished at 5am the next day. You lost track of time and space. We were two young women shut in a room full of lawyers talking in legal riddles, and we were not able to tell anyone what we were doing.
From the beginning, it was imperative to me that money never changed hands. But it was made very clear that a financial demand was the standard and only formula. At this point, our entire motivation became focused on the fact that, if we could not prosecute Harvey, then we had to stop his behaviour and protect people in the future, in exchange for our silence. Other obligations that were agreed were that Harvey would have to attend therapy for three years, and that Miramax would be forced to inform Disney (its parent company) or fire him if any further settlements were attempted. I don’t believe anyone had tried to do this before; it seems clear from the horrifying list of further allegations that have since emerged that his side of the agreement was not upheld.
I always felt we were being made to do something we didn’t want to do. However, it wasn’t a simple situation and it was not just about me. My colleague was in a very psychologically vulnerable position, having experienced extreme trauma in the first few weeks of her job, and we were being given frightening advice with few options. I had no choice but to do what our lawyers were telling us, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
Harvey insisted on being present on the day we signed the agreement. He apologised for his behaviour and offered us anything we wanted to return to the company. This was the first time my colleague had seen him since the attempted rape and it was obviously very distressing and intimidating. There seemed to be no protection within the system to stop this. His words that day were essentially an admission, all of which was noted down by our lawyer. But when we got up to leave, Harvey’s team insisted the notes be destroyed.
My film career came to a halt after that. It’s a small industry, and there were whispers and rumours. No one knew what had happened, of course, but after several uncomfortable interviews, it became clear people didn’t want to risk upsetting Harvey, and I couldn’t defend my reputation.
My goal now is to ensure that NDAs cannot be weaponised and used to hide criminal behaviour. Law firms have been enabling questionable behaviour and making money out of these agreements. And this is not just limited to sexual harassment; it is far more insidious within our work culture. My NDA would have been unenforceable, but this was never made clear to me and I lived in fear of it for 20 years – until last year. I felt I had been criminalised and that, if I spoke, I would be the one going to jail.
There will always be characters like Weinstein; we can’t deny the existence of charismatic, sociopathic and dangerous characters, and they seem to people the top echelons of most businesses. But as a society, we have a responsibility to make sure that employees are protected – and that if they are abused, they have true recourse.
There is a place for NDAs, but they have become an immoral tool, legally used to silence victims. The circumstances in which they are created need to be carefully examined, and regulated.
Earlier this year, I gave evidence to MPs at a select committee inquiry to examine sexual harassment in the workplace, and the improper use of NDAs. The lawyer who negotiated my NDA from Allen & Overy gave evidence immediately after me. I was sitting right behind him, watching his neck getting redder and redder as he was asked whether he had produced an agreement that could pervert the course of justice. I got terrible nervous giggles, because I hadn’t expected the MPs to be so aggressive. Unfortunately, the representative sent to the inquiry from Simons Muirhead & Burton (my solicitors 20 years earlier) had not been involved with my case.
My argument was not with the individual lawyers, nor even with the firms. My argument is with the fact that they were doing something apparently legal. A positive thing to have emerged from the inquiry is that the Solicitors Regulation Authority is now investigating; this, and the recommendations made by the select committee, mean there is a real chance that significant change will come. If power and money put you above the law, then the law is worth nothing. And that, fundamentally, is more frightening and dangerous than an ego out of control.