Friday, 31 December 2010

mushrooms are REALLY amazing

watch this, seriously, watch it. if you ever worry about pollution and toxic waste and you know the general destruction of the ecosystem we live in. this mushroom geek guy, paul stamets, is talking about proper scientific experiments he's done that show that mushrooms can break down diesel spills - and not only grow mushrooms from the diesel, but that they then become food for birds and they rot and create soil for plants to grow in so that amazingly fast, a toxic patch of diesel can become normal healthy land again. and he's done other work about fungi defeating other kinds of toxic waste. this is TRUE.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

seeing outside of the non-profit industrial complex

so many people (including me up til recently) have wood-for-the-trees problems when it comes to charities /  non-profits (and the public sector, and academia, for that matter), and the prospect of working for one. i'm so heartened to see this discussion on tumblr, at Radically Hott Off (though i'm confused about how to reference tumblr stuff properly) about the failure of non-profit orgs to actually do much to effect social change, apart from set ourselves up in nice salaried positions and then work to maintain that salary structure:
"the number one reason I hear people say that they are working at 501c3s [US term for charities / voluntary sector orgs] is because they believe in the work and they’d be doing it anyway and this way they can survive. but…isn’t there just a bit of moral —-unevenness i guess—in assuming that our neighbors, our fathers, our grocery store check out lady—don’t have the same wishes?


what happens if instead of saying *I* want a job that pays me enough to live on AND makes me feel a little less ethically violated—and say *WE* want jobs that pay us enough to live on and doesn’t kill the world? indeed makes the world a better place? 


what would it look like to begin the left transition from dependency on 501c3s to a steady communication with radical on the street/community driven movements? [...]. *F*eminist orgs do absolutely NO grassroots organizing, instead focusing on “recruitment” in universities—that is: finding the next generation of women to run the orgs.


it’s like there’s no clear understanding that raped women in prisons, raped women in migrant camps, raped women in your family, raped next door neighbors, raped friends, etc are all pretty freaking powerful and can create more changes than olberman can ever dream of—if we’d work to give those women skills to organize. The right may have more money—but they have the top five percent of the money makers to recruit from. we have the entire world."
yes. it's really clear to me how much we who are working in charities/non-profits are just working to bolster the comfort of our own privilege - sleep tight at night knowing we've "done good", "tried hard" - rather than actively undermining the structures that privilege us over those we say we are trying to help.

when i quit my proper job and was handing over to my replacement, i was explaining to her some of the issues around supporting women with 'no recourse to public funds' and how totally trapped those women can be, between their abusive partner and the immigration system. her response was like a perfect summary of why i had to quit! she said: "oh wow. you'd just want to take her home, wouldn't you? i mean, i've got a spare room and... oh but you couldn't. you could never do that! ... but if she had nowhere else to go! it's so terrible! ... but obviously i know you could never do that..." and in that paid role, of handing over my old job to this new worker of course i had to shake my head along with her: "no, you could never do that."

but you know how women's aid refuges started in the 1970s - feminists had spare rooms and opened them up to strangers fleeing abuse. they squatted buildings. families shared rooms. that absence of resources is unimaginable now when compared to multi-million pound blocks of self-contained apartments that new labour helped to fund for several cities' DV provision.

except - that absence of resources is precisely what women with no recourse have now. but somehow we've forgotten how to offer our spare rooms to them, or how to squat or do whatever is necessary to protect these women. because women like us are now relatively protected by the state. sort of. well, maybe not. but hey at least we're getting paid now, eh? and god forbid we risk offending the funders.

i so love the part of the quote above that i bolded. i'd never even thought of it that way. it just highlights so perfectly the entitlement of the reasoning (that i held for many years) that we have a right to elevate ourselves into paid charity positions so that we can feel better about ourselves, as if other people without the same access to those jobs don't feel the same way. and then when we're in, we have the audacity to keep (other) survivors out, because you know, 'managing volunteers is resource-intensive', 'we don't have the funding right now to run a volunteer training programme', 'volunteers complicate risk-management' etc etc.

so - yes! that seems like an amazing central premise for organising - not that i should scramble to get a funded place inside the nice safe (and shrinking) NPIC while extending a hand from the parapet during office hours to 'help' 'them' - but that i should work for the right of all of us to be doing well-resourced, well-recompensed, non-violating, meaningful, engaged work.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

We're Telling

and in more good news there's a new tumblr project, We're Telling: (via Flip Flopping Joy)
"Sharing anonymous accounts of rape and sexual assault; demonstrating that rape happens, everywhere, often.

WE'RE TELLING is a new blog whereby anyone can anonymously share their own accounts of attempted or completed sexual assault or rape."
demonstrating that rape happens, everywhere, often. it's been up for a day and there's already loads of posts. it's overwhelming. so important. i love the internet sometimes. i hope it's helping. i'm sure it's helping. is it just me or is there a real feeling in the air - in all sorts of cultural - political - personal ways - of the truth coming out, of belated acknowledgement of what really is...?

writing on Safety

aaaanyway... onwards with the celebration of radical voices that make the world make sense. this is wondrous and amazing - black queer voices on safety, security and travelling:
"Security, to us, means having the upper hand in an unsafe situation.  Security, to many, means having access to the violent means that the state uses to defend itself, the police, the national guard, the private security forces that companies use to protect their wealth.  For those of us, black, queer, young, radical, and grassroots, who are not often seen as part of the state’s project to reproduce itself (except when we are targeted as consumers) those sources of security are not dependable. As far as we can tell security comes from weapons.  And only works if you got more, faster, bigger weapons than whoever makes you insecure.   Maybe we could achieve security if our mobile home was a fortress, if we attached an alarm system with missiles, or a system that sent an electroshock through anyone who touched it.   None of these things, however would make us safe.  And methods like that would surely make the more low-tech partner on the trip, likely to be the first to trip the booby trap, and our comrades less safe.

We acknowledge that in a world where violence against queer and gender queer young people of color is common, security is not a light matter.  We have also decided, however, that security is not enough.  Our intention is for our journey to be SAFE.

Safety, to us, means being able to be comfortable in our skin, having the freedom to move, being able to sleep restfully and wake renewed and excited about the journey.  Safety comes from knowing that we are held by a community that has our backs.  Safety comes from knowing that all along the road there are home-spaces with comrades who will welcome us and who will answer if we call on them.  Safety comes from relationships and people."

Friday, 17 December 2010

"at least you're not going through this in the community "

-is my quote of the day from the 'professionals meeting' on a mental ward i went to today. oh my god. i really had intended to stop getting paid to be around this kind of shit, but i went back for some no-strings-attached shifts, didn't i, because it's less stressful than working somewhere unfamiliar, and before i know it i'm covering everyone's sick leave (and *everyone* is sick), including having to go outside of the office and try to look less frayed and more professional. 

so, well... these wards aren't the worst places in the world these days. they are just like slightly roomier and cleaner halls of residences. there was a greenhouse with december-wizened tomato plants in the courtyard - (i really truly believe in plants&soil as a potential lifeline of mental health, so that was good). the managers and consultants seemed genuinely to be trying to take an empowering approach. only one worker at the meeting, out of about eight of us, was acting like this woman was the biggest pain in the arse ever (i really don't understand professionals who get exasperated with clients who are not actually abusing them or causing them to have to work overtime - we get paid the same either way, right? what does it matter if this woman returns to her partner "after all our hard work"? it's not like you actually care about her, evidently), and who was saying things like (repeatedly) "she needs to be boundaried". no one challenged her on it, but at least the ward manager and the consultant had the decency to wince a bit. all the rest of the staff got it when i pushed the focus of the meeting towards giving the woman as much control as possible, regardless if she ends up returning to her partner. i guess the new labour years really did do some good in funding awareness-raising around domestic violence - and less coercive practice in mental health.

that said... the woman had said how shit she felt going through christmas in the hospital while she waits for a refuge place and dealing with grieving for her relationship and harassment threats and mind games from her ex. and the worker said "at least you're not going through this in the community." which i guess is mental health service -speak for any where outside the hospital ward.

the worker who said it was the most focussed and engaged with the woman we were actually there for, and had known her the longest. and it just seemed so amazing to me that even this worker who was doing relatively awesome holistic woman-centered work couldn't imagine a better way, a better community, or a better place for this woman to be than on a locked ward.

and there was more that was wrong with the meeting. so much subtle coercion glazed with the right, 'patient-centred' words. like the consultant (who was the most patient-centred consultant i've dealt with) told her that she was "giving him [her ex partner] mixed messages by replying to his manipulative texts when the relationship is over". later the consultant gave her totally mixed messages by saying she wasn't to pick up his calls but "texting is understandable" and then implying that she wasn't to have any contact with him at all. just loads of stuff like that, subtle erasures of her equal personhood to the professionals around her who are holding all the power.

i fantasised about recording the meeting and being able to use it in some kind of training session where everyone had to identify the parts of the transcript where the woman was being silenced, put in a catch 22, pathologised and/or subject to the same framework of abuse that occurred within her relationship. highlighter pens at the ready! but the trouble is, these people (with the exception of the pain in the arse woman) are already highly trained and as right-on as it's possible for those of us working within such a coercive system to be. this was the nicest one of these meetings i've ever been to. i could continue to attend these things and fight little battles and try to defend one woman at a time in one meeting at a time, to the inadequate best of my ability. but is that not 'giving them an aspirin to lick', when the system putting these women in these situations needs to end. and the communities to replace these hierarchical institutions need to be built.
"They [many doctors within concentration camps] would hide them [sick inmates] from the selection officers who were going to kill them. They would do this to protect the inmate for that day. They would put them to bed, you know. They would actually do everything—if they were in pain, they would give them aspirin to lick. They would do what they could to help, except for the most important thing of all, which is they wouldn’t question the existence of the entire death camp itself. So they would find themselves working within the rules, however they could, to try to improve conditions marginally. And in retrospect, of course, that’s just not sufficient."

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


i've been meaning to write about supermarkets, and why i've tried to stop shopping in them. i want to write more about how people - we - try to eradicate violence from different areas of our lives, and how we often look in the wrong places. well, i haven't got that post together yet, but here is a quote from a beautiful short article by someone, about shooting a deer for food. it is very well worth a read. 
"It’s clear to see that a human killing a beautiful wild animal is kind of sad [...] What is unclear is how sad consuming any plant or animal as food is. 

Food from the store, as a rule, kills even more beauty, destroys unimaginably more life, than a hunt like the one I described above. Its invisible killing, to the consumer at least, because its culturally accepted. [...] To actually wrap one’s head around how much suffering and loss went into their ‘guilt free’ bowl of organic whole grains with tamari and olive oil is probably not possible..."

Monday, 13 December 2010

we really need to get our shit together about trafficking

after the refuge i worked at explicitly opened itself up to "women trafficked into the sex industry", when one of the first thus-labelled residents moved on, she set herself up as a high-class escort, with a fancy website. my colleagues, gathered around a computer, were scandalised and bitterly amused. "all that work for nothing!" "we were really taken for a ride there"... this woman had come into refuge because she was fleeing violence from pimps, my colleagues were not disputing that. but they felt that "all their efforts" had been in vain, because she "hadn't even wanted to exit prostitution".

as often happens in the office, i was too taken aback to really say anything of use. i muttered something about "don't you think it's great that she's free to make her own choices now?" to which they said "mmm", but continued to look disgusted.

i just find it crazy, though so illustrative, that schemes like this can get specialist funding to support trafficked women, while having no guiding philosophy (except, Trafficking Is Wrong), or politics, and no political or philosophical guidance for the staff doing the work. but it's illustrative because, of course, if an organisation was political, let alone holistically empowering of women who've survived trafficking, it wouldn't get funding.

and meanwhile, there's this crazy moral panic about trafficked women, through which any migrant sex worker, especially if she is 'illegal', could potentially find herself 'rescued' (which can take the form of deportation) against her will. it's really disturbing how there are so many feminist organisations latching onto the anti-trafficking thing, without simultaneously defending the right of women to migrate and do sex work. i was totally confused and distracted by these feminists for a long time, and until recently still couldn't articulate to myself why their campaigns were fucked up. the voices of migrant sex workers are so marginalised, including by well-meaning (? why do i keep using that word?) feminists, i'd kind of gone along with the deeply racist implicit conflation of all migrant sex workers as forcibly trafficked and enslaved, which also carries the assumption that this conflated group 'just can't ever speak out. they're too oppressed. or something.' i'm ashamed.

anyway, i've just read this amazing interview with Nandita Sharma, over at the Incite! blog, originally from No One Is Illegal Radio. she just cuts through the crap with such clarity:
"It is impossible to legally get into Canada as a sex worker and enter as a permanent resident. You don’t get “points” for being in the sex industry, even though there is high demand. The anti-trafficking legislation is another way to attack women’s ability to work in the sex industry, and it does so in a way that further legitimizes (and relies on) the idea that no woman should ever be engaged in sex work. Ultimately, the moral panic against sex work makes migrant women more vulnerable in the sex industry.
Ultimately, if we want to end the exploitation of women, we need to challenge capitalism, which is the basis for all of our exploitation. Whether we’re working in the sex industry, a restaurant, or in a university, we’re being exploited by those who are benefiting from our labour. So, if we want to end exploitation, we don’t give more power to the state to criminalize workers, we give more power to workers to end their exploitation. Of course, being a university professor is not demonized like sex work is. So we also need a major attitude adjustment. 
Those of us who are critical of anti-trafficking rhetoric and legislation are often accused of not caring about women. We’re accused of not caring about women who are kidnapped, women who are beaten up, women who are enslaved or not paid wages, women who have their passports and other documents withheld from them so that they’re rendered immobile. In response to these accusations, the important thing to remember is that all of those crimes are already addressed in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is illegal to kidnap people, to beat them up, to rape them, to not pay them wages, to withhold their documents without their permission, etc. Why do people think new anti-trafficking legislation will make women safer when the police seem completely disinterested in enforcing Criminal Code measures that already exist to protect women? Instead of anti-trafficking legislation, we should be demanding that workers in the sex industry are protected under occupational health and safety regulations, as all workers should be."

Sunday, 12 December 2010

BFP on Wikileaks

BFP is on fire at the moment. i feel privileged to share a planet with her.

"What’s important is what actions are being taken–not even so much against Assange–but against wikileaks. Against supporters of wikileaks. Even against those who have no idea who the fuck wikileaks is or what it’s done. 
Because indeed–those of us who care about gender liberation must, absolutely MUST, be aware of and understand that the nation/state that *F*eminists have entrusted to mete out “justice” for violated women–is using “justice” to criminalize all of us. It is up to us to understand that this isn’t a simple case of did he do it or didn’t he or “stand in solidarity with rape victims.” This is a case of our own tools being used against us. Not against Julian Assange. Against us. Because all of us who have been there understand on some gut level–how likely is it that these women will actually receive justice? What horrific price will they have to pay (in testifying, getting their names dragged through the mud, etc) to “get justice”? At the same time, how many of our lives will be dramatically affected by the “threat” we all now present to the nation/state?"
and here:
"it is the US government that seems to have perfected the role of patriarchal duality that we have all assigned to Assange. The advocate for the dispossessed rolled into a messy soup with dirty slimy scum bag that beats his girlfriend on the side.

It is the US government that is both rapist and activist. It is the US government that we all pretend not see hear the beating on the other side of the wall–because it’s doing such good for the community!

Just as we have to wonder why it makes sense to tell soldiers or policemen that it’s ok to kill when they have a certain uniform on, but not when they’re wearing clothes bought at Target–we have to wonder why it makes sense to condemn men who rape and abuse in private, while willfully and continuously ignoring the private rape and assaults of our government in the name of the “good” it does in public.

And that’s not to say that we let the man off scott free–but rather instead to question: if our goal is to stop rapes before they happen–how do we negotiate the dissonance of the “model” of public advocate/private rapist the US reinforces continuously with the idea of “anti-gender violence citizen”?

Specifically: how will gendered violence ever end when gendered violence remains, at the core, a esteemed value of the US government that we all live under?"
...and so much more in those posts. read them! 

Friday, 3 December 2010

can we get real with children

i'm slightly heartbroken after reading this guardian article, 'a year in the life of a foster parent', because... it's something i really wanted to do. want to do. i did know it was that bad. i could tell from the stories i hear at work, the parents i meet and the social workers i meet, that it is that bad. that the system really is that much the opposite of child-centred, that social workers really are that offensive, that judges really are that clueless, that children really are that screwed-over. i knew that if i foster children that i will be powerless in a system that dumps children with me, then with someone else, and never asks them what they need. i knew i could ask them what they need, but i'd be powerless to give it to them.

i guess i'd been telling myself that i only know about the domestic violence cases, and these are only a small amount of all the reasons children are taken into foster care. i told myself that in the other cases, the right decisions might be being made.

the article includes four year old twins who have been removed from their parents due to concerns for their safety. they are placed in foster care, with regular visits to see their parents (it's not made clear whether the visits are supervised and/or overnight, etc). the twins tell the foster carer that they have been severely physically and sexually abused and that they never want to see their parents again. you might expect this to be the end of their contact with their parents, particuarly in this era of hysteria and ultra-caution around childhood sexual abuse paedophilia, right? i've imagined myself as a foster parent, getting disclosures like this and - of course - being able to say "those people will never do that to you again" etc etc. and being able to keep that promise. i don't know what i was thinking. the twins are interviewed and a bureaucratic, police and courts process takes many weeks. then it is decided that they are too young to make decisions about whether they see their parents, and (in a glorious and very typical example of kafkaesque contradictaryness of social care and the CPS) that they are also too traumatised to give evidence in court. therefore no court, therefore no end to their contact with their parents.

and what sticks in my head is - did anyone explain anything to the children? it seems like the foster mother really wanted to, and was traumatised by her powerlessness to protect them. but what could she actually say that was true? not "you are safe now", not "you don't have to go through that again", not "it's good that you've told me this because now i can help you"...

i know fuck all about children or parenting, but it just seems blindingly obvious that they need to be told what is happening to them, and if in doubt about what has happened to them, asking seems to be a good option. whenever i have heard about 'suspected sexual abuse' cases, asking the child concerned has not factored at all. what happens is: abuse is suspected, child is hauled in for medical examination (as if bruises/injuries have anything to do with 90% of sexual abuse!!), evidence is given to police who give it to CPS, CPS decide whether the evidence is over 50% likely to prevail in court... while this is happening (which takes up to a year) the child cannot be given counselling/therapy because it could prejudice them giving evidence in court. when that process is all over (and obviously out of the tiny number that go to court only a tiny number convict the abuser), counselling/therapy is usually conviently forgotten by social care as it is too expensive. when i have argued for play therapy for my clients' children i get the "oh you know, the waiting lists are really long", as if it's not worth getting the children onto the waiting lists at all. and if they do ever get to the top of the waiting list they get like 6 weeks!

all of which is a painful reminder that this society is not interested in protecting children from sexual abuse. and especially not in supporting children and adults who have survived sexual abuse. it's interested in busting paedophile rings, sure, but that focus is on criminalising the wrong kinds of sex, not in articulating what abuse it, and stopping it.

and my final question would be, out of the people i love who were abused by their families, how many of them would rather have gone through the social care (and courts) system, rather than staying with their families?

Thursday, 25 November 2010


the institutions are being demolished. education, health, support for migrants, children's centres, women's aid, 'sexual assault referral centres', you name it. our world is being refreshingly blatantly rearranged in order to ensure the rich continue to get richer, faster. what do we do now? do we fight to defend these structures? in all their iniquitous, exclusionary, policing/policed and violent glory? is that really what we want?

or is it time to reimagine what education, health, support for migrants, places for children, support for survivors... could be. what could these parts of our lives look like, in our wildest dreams? in our dreams where money doesn't matter, because we aren't allowed any. (or because there isn't any anymore.)

are we going to support one another? are we? are we going to start figuring out how?
"If your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If, on the other hand, your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them."

Thursday, 18 November 2010

all we are is a good set of hands

ohhh. mai'a. writes with such beauty and relevance.
"this division that we make in our discourse and activism between nonviolence and violence is false.  in reality our definition of violence is ‘stuff that the powers that be dont like’.  and that is not a helpful paradigm for determining what tactics we should use for our survival.  not only is it not helpful, it is contributing to our own demise.  taking nonviolence as a fundamental dogma is an act of suicide and a support of the genocide of others.

we cannot run away from trauma, because this culture in and of itself is traumatic.  our brokeness, traumatized selves, can be used by us to further destroy ourselves, or can be used as a way to let the love in and out.


something i learned from my teacher.  dont call yourself a ‘healer’.  no one can heal anyone else.  everyone must heal themselves.  all we are a ‘good set of hands’."

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

i, just...

this is so upsetting. i can be tough when it comes to hearing about domestic violence(!) but reading this makes me cry.

"Woman jailed for retracting rape claims is refused appeal." from the Guardian.

she reported being raped by her husband. then, under pressure from him she retracted this. and so now she is being jailed for 'perverting the course of justice'. and since she is now in jail, her children have been put in the care of her abusive husband. against whom no charges have been upheld by the CPS, despite abuse having taken place in front of one of the children.

i am absolutely speechless. what should we do about this?

and i was struggling, one post ago, to articulate why the prison industrial complex is A Bad Thing. jesus.

finding ways not to call the police

i'm so impressed by this. beautifully written, compassionate and thoughtful article, with homework! and a resource list too. ohhh, good work.
"...As we paced in the cold night, we moved through our questions, anger and frustration. We thought about how everyone we know—even in a community that mostly wants a world without prisons—has had different experiences with harm and violence, different experiences with police, and, most likely, has a different “threshold” at which they can imagine not calling the police..."
i'm trying to surround myself with prison abolition info at the moment, because it's still a politics that doesn't come automatically to me. i still find it hard to care what becomes of someone who has benefited from abusing. and all repeat abusers benefit. i want to see real sanctions against abuse. and prison is a sanction. but but but. at the very least i remind myself that sending abusers to jail is pretty shit for more vulnerable people there. i remember a couple of years back being taken aback when i learned about queer opposition to hate crimes legislation (e.g. here and here). but it didn't take me long to get that sending racists and homophobes to jail is not very cool for the people of colour and gays already there.

and. regardless of that it's not the answer to racism and homophobia and abuse, either. i do know. but as i say it doesn't always come naturally to me yet. and that's why i love this article for its articulation of why those of us with enough privilege still buy into the idea that the police can be a force for protection:
"...When I think of the moments in which I could possibly imagine calling the police, I think of people I love, and of things I hope they never experience. Why do we feel afraid? Sometimes we feel afraid because we have experienced harm, because we have experienced trauma. Sometimes we also feel afraid because we have bought into aspects of racism, classism, and media-perpetuated images of danger. Sometimes it’s the complex combination of all these things—imagination, memory, and prejudice..."
so the writer of this has thought through real, practical ways in which we can all challenge ourselves on when we might involve the police, and whether we can push that threshold back. and how we can be more prepared for having to make that decision in a crisis.

genius. essential reading.

Friday, 5 November 2010

quote of the day

"Kyriarchy exists to give us tools to liberate ourselves by understanding the shifting powers of oppression. [...] It exists to radically implement our finest strategies to deconstruct our personal and political powers for the liberation of self and community.  For self AND community. [...]

[I]n the spirit of feminist theology, in the spirit of radical understanding of power, I would argue with 100% confidence that the absolute LAST thing that kyriarchy strives for is individual liberation. Solely pursuing your own liberation often comes at the expense of others.  That’s not liberation, that’s mainstream feminism."
Lisa Factora-Borchers, of My Ecdysis, via Flip Flopping Joy. i was relieved - in that way that i feel relief when someone does the incredible work of articulating complexities of power - when i came across Lisa's much-linked post in which she introduces explains the term. if you've also used and/or appreciated this word, be sure to read this update of how it has already been co-opted. 

god i'm so naive

the women in the group this week - almost all of whom are on probation and doing 'unpaid work' / 'community service', and many of whom have been in prison - were talking about how prison is too soft, and how prisoners should be made to do more work for free as proposed by the coalition government. this... surprised me.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

sometimes i think about

how the concept of rape within marriage did not exist in english and welsh law until 1991.
"Marriage gave conjugal rights to a spouse, [...] a spouse could not legally revoke consent to sexual intercourse, and if there was consent there was no rape."
the implications of this just boggle my mind. imagine signing over your body like that. so in my parents' marriage.. in all our parents' marriages... i think this is such a terrifying illustration of how the possibility of abuse is silenced, in our culture, thus creating fertile conditions for abuse. i've been thinking about how one of the most important safeguards against abuse is to acknowledge that it happens, it can happen, it probably will happen where someone has power over another. in fact it can only not happen where one person has more power, if the powerfuler (yep, i'm needing more words, help please) person works actively not not misuse their power.

so for centuries women entered into marriages, and people who loved them watched them do so, usually in the total absence of any discussion about whether they would be raped (or otherwise abused), and what they could do if they were. well i'm sure this is still the case. you could call this trust. i'd call it silencing.

it is not safe to not acknowledge the existence and possibilities of power, how it can change, and how it can be used... i was joking with another polyamorous friend recently about pre-nups. i was saying that in any situation involving serious commitment and investment of any kind between me and a group of people, or an individual - i want and need agreements about what will happen if... things change. against the silencing of the possibility (likelihood) of abuse, manipulation, and less dramatically, to create conditions that mean people can leave if they need to. this is not anti-trust, or anti-love (i'm big into trust and love!), but a safeguard against any of us screwing one another over in an unknown future, as people shift, and as power shifts.

and i was asked at a workshop about this stuff what advice i'd give to groups to safeguard against abuse and manipulation - both as in domestic abuse within a community, and lunatics trying to stir and manipulate a scene - and my answer is prenups. like, before you set up, agree what you'll do if someone behaves abusively. define abusively. research how to tell where the power lies in situations where it's not obvious. know where to go for support, know how to support each other. know that this stuff will happen, in any group of people. if you are ready, you are more likely to be able to defeat it before it destroys your group. and read "Why Misogynists Make Great Informants".

...but, marriage? really? can't you think of something more fun? less horrendous? like Mattilda says,
 "Many straight people know that marriage is outdated, tacky and oppressive -- and any queer who grew up in or around marriage should remember this well. Marriage still exists as a central site of anti-woman, anti-child and anti-queer violence, and a key institution through which the wealth and property of upper class (white) families is preserved. If gay marriage proponents wanted real progress, they'd be fighting for the abolition of marriage (duh), and universal access to the services that marriage can sometimes help procure: housing, healthcare, citizenship, tax breaks, and inheritance rights."*
nah, gleeful, leaping queers are my idea of ceremony:

* It was hell whittling this incredible article down to a short quote - read the whole thing!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

the abuser is popular

"in order for you to support communities and individuals, you have to work to stop the abuse that is holding them under water.  and stopping the abuse means stopping the abuser.  and the abuser is popular.  so you wont be."
mai'a, at Outlaw Midwives, in a post called "you have to choose a side. its a war. either you are with life, or you are with the forces of genocide". please read the whole thing!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

on 'powerlessness'

i used the word 'powerless' in my last post, and then wrote a massive footnote, which i think should be a post in itself!
* i hope it's clear that i don't mean to say that survivors of abuse, or mums whose children have been removed , or women who've been criminalised (or two of these things or all three) are powerless. i don't want to speak for anyone. and i am so full of respect for all the ways in which people in these situations find and use their own powers, and reclaim their powers. i want to find ways to talk about 'powerlessness', while recognising it is never total.

is there a word for power-squished-ness? as in - a way to say that someone has tried to eliminate or drastically reduce another's power - and that this has not been total (unless the person is killed*) but squashed, reduced, hurt...? i like the word squashed as it suggests the ability to bounce/grow/unfurl back. does this make sense? please comment if you can think of a word that means having had your power reduced, but not permanently.

serious power-squashed-ness has to be one of the worst feelings it's possible to experience. maybe it's the worst form of psychological pain. to the extent that generally, no matter what they have been through, people will not admit to having felt it. and - this is hard to talk about - i see this resulting in some women who've been through abuse, kind of denying that their partner ultimately had control. women say 'i gave as good as i got' because this is less painful than dwelling on how squashed their power may have been, even while he sustained injuries, or was poisoned, or was deeply unhappy, or said he felt afraid, or sometimes did as he was told, or negotiated in certain instances.

of course it's not up to me what women who've been through abuse want to talk about, and how anyone understands and describes their own experiences! but in terms of understanding domestic abuse as a pattern, understanding why and how it happens in order to minimise it, i think it is so important to find ways to talk about the intricacies of the power, and how where a woman is experiencing control and violence from a partner and taking control and perpetrating violence against him: of the stories i have heard this is very rarely a case of 'she gives as good as she gets', given the context of, for example, how men are generally able to be financially and housing-wise independent of their ex/partner and child/ren, while the reverse is generally not true. or the context of how men are more likely to make realistic threats to kill a partner, and (on some level) know they are more likely to get away with doing so, while the reverse is not true. and connected to both of these things, the context of how women are likely to be living in a much higher level of fear - of serious injury, death, homelessness, being sectioned, losing contact with their children by being deemed an unfit mother and so on - than men. to me, these kinds of factors bestow so much more power to men, that it is only in exceptional circumstances that women can give as good as they get. i certainly don't believe that it's impossible, i'm just itchy for real, clear, ways to talk about this stuff. i want to find ways of talking about and honouring how people surviving abuse can be powerful, and powersquashed, at the same time.

hmm. any ideas?

* footnote to the footnote: and i don't believe that people who haven't survived, people who've died as a result of abuse were powerless, of course not.

* another footnote: by tagging this 'collusion' and 'myths and excuses' i don't mean to imply that survivors are guilty of collusion, or stupidly taken in by, or propagating, myths and excuses by talking about their powerfulness! i use the tags to find my own way around my thoughts on here. what i mean is more that we all in this culture collude with abuse when we drift along not questioning the myths and excuses about abuse that are provided by the culture, which is an abusive culture.

society supports

i just read this, at Flip Flopping Joy:
"I was too wild, too out of control. And rather than find a way to *refine* my own personal style–that is, be the same big, wild, out of control person in a way that didn’t cross or step on other people’s boundaries–I tried to make myself smaller. Society *supported* me making myself smaller. Society *supported* me “controlling myself” through self abuse and shame rather than refining myself through love and consideration and compassion. Society supported me hurting myself–through the normalization of hurt. Through the normalization of hurting *me*."
and it reminded me of the last group. i was trying to guide the group through a list of reasons why abuse happens - reasons that members felt were true, as well as the myths and lies that we hear all the time. so that we could sort truths from lies, because understanding why it happens (because an abuser decides that the benefits of behaving that way outweigh other considerations) is key to being able to see it and stay away from it.

so i had a section on the flipchart(!) for 'ways that society supports abuse'. and people didn't get it. someone thought i meant, like women's aid. and i said yes women's aid support women who are abused but i mean - do you think there are ways that the way that society is set up, helps abuse to happen. and then someone said that their friends had said 'he doesn't mean it, he really loves you' - and of course that was a totally relevant comment. but what i was going for was like - when the police turn up and he says you're the crazy violent one and they arrest you because they're 'not trained' (to put it politely). but no one said stuff like that and because time was short i had to just validate the stuff they were saying rather than nitpick towards my own our-culture-is-fucked agenda. sigh.

but - how do we talk about it? is it necessary to talk about it? it's good to have that part in that exercise when i'm doing 'awareness sessions' with professionals. especially cos i get to make them feel guilty about colluding with abuse, ha, and maybe they'll think a bit harder about it. but if women who've come for a 'healthy relationships' course don't find it relevant to talk that way, well...

but it upsets me how much the women, on this course in particular, internalise the blame for the abuse, and their responses to the abuse. there may be more to it than this, but i connect this to the fact that most or all of these women are on probation, have court coming up, have had their children taken into 'care', have been criminalised. these women have had to learn to play the game of the powers that be. some of them were criminalised for their responses to the abuse they've been through. and those that came to the attention of social 'care' had their children removed for reasons connected to the abuse. and so i imagine these women have learned that if they display any anger at the way they have been treated - by individual abusers, or by social care, the criminal justice system, etc, they are knocked back much further by social care and the criminal justice system. and you can't live with that sense of injustice when you need to get your children back, or you need to act sane in a court room. you have to put it out of your mind, or drop it as just untrue.

and meanwhile individual abusers, social care and the criminal justice system, continue to propagate the notion of women being to blame for abuse, and/or choosing abusive man, and/or that an act of retaliation is at least as 'evil' as years of systematic abuse. these are the explanations offered to these women for the situations they're in. and it sure must be easier to believe that you yourself are bad, than to acknowledge the way society is engineered to make you powerless.*

one woman spoke of having called the police one time, when they arrived her partner told them she was in the shower, then she and her partner walked out of the house and past the parked police car, she with a swollen freshly-bruised face, and the police officer looked her straight in the eye and did nothing. and you know in the group i can validate that that is a terrible thing, that she was let down and betrayed (while meanwhile my cofacilitator remains expressionless, in that 'well it's just her story' way). and other women rolled their eyes in sympathy. and the woman herself said "i thought that was terrible; it was disgusting." but in that charity which has been co-opted by Probation, it's not the place to recognise and name the fact that the police help abuse to happen. everyone will have to deal with police in the coming weeks and months. the officers will be not unfriendly. it doesn't help to abhor them when you're just trying to get your children back. so these women absorb and absorb this 'normalisation of hurting themselves' and i can't figure out how much i'm colluding with this process vs how much i'm rightfully working within the boundaries of what they can cope with.

* see next post for extended footnote about my use of this word!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

organisation in 'we like girls and women', shock

oh my goodness. i found this while linking to the mind-bendingly awesome Young Women's Empowerment Project in my last post. at the moment i'm working in a couple of places that use the language of empowerment and so on... well i guess they've pretty much co-opted that language, and are using it for coercive purposes. and they seem to be among the more sound of voluntary sector organisations in the uk. imagine being part of a project that promotes this stuff. imagine...

"What we believe

  • Confidentiality. Anything that is said here stays here. We use anonymous identifiers to keep records of what we do.
  • Harm reduction. We support young women and girls in making any decisions in their lives that they want. We don’t tell anyone what to do or who to be. We think that youth are the best at making decisions about their lives.
  • No requirements of youth. Any young woman or girl impacted by the sex trade/street economy can participate.
  • Every participant is smart and can contribute to the project immediately. We don’t think that people need to be sober or out of the trade to express their thoughts and feelings, help us out, or to learn.
  • Sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia intersect and deeply affect the trade and girls and women who are involved. We can’t talk about the trade without talking about these issues.
  • Solidarity with boys/men/transgender persons involved in the trade. This issue isn’t only about women and girls.
  • We like girls and women. We don’t think they are “a problem,” “hard to work with,” or “difficult.”
  • We are lead by women who have been there. We call the shots.
  • We believe people who know this life are the ones who should be around this group.
  • We strive to have respect for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, where you’re at, who you are, or what your opinions may be.
  • People don’t need labels. We respect youth by not labeling them as problem youth, delinquents, etc.
  • We don’t want girls to “be saved.” We are here to support young women in making decisions about their lives.
  • We do not have one set of ideas. We don’t think that girls in our project should, either.
  • Our views about the trade are always changing. We reserve the right to change our minds when we learn new things.
  • We are not a social service agency. We do not provide case management.
  • Everyone can help make decisions.
  • We believe in partnerships between youth and adults, and partnership means that adults don’t make all of the decisions.
  • We believe that girls do not “seek out” abuse. Girls do what they need to do to survive.
  • Our experiences in the street economy/sex trade do not define who we are, or who we may become.
  • We believe that involvement in the sex trade/street economy does not suddenly become harmless based on age, sex, or gender. We believe in listening to people who are involved to find out what is happening.
  • Girls have their own language and understanding about the sex trade/street economy. Everyone who is living it is the expert.
  • Small is best. We don’t want to be a monolithic ‘agency.’ We offer different spaces, different ways of understanding, and we feel most comfortable with small arrangements."

honouring this

"i can't getcha outta jail, but i can getcha outta hell..."

oh, kate bornstein. queen advocate of coping strategies. someone should put her in charge. i hope by the time i get to my sixties i have as much compassion and wisdom to give, and keep on giving. do you know about her anti-suicide book? do you know about the blog where she keeps on posting and responding to comments from suicidal young people? oh i wish i'd had those sorts of messages when i was a teenager. i wish i'd had them when i was 25.

honestly, i see her work as so important and counter-cultural. keeping the people alive who can't bear to live here. not by making them stay, but by offering them a message they have almost certainly never heard: "You can do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Anything. Anything at all. It can be immoral, unethical, or illegal [...] It can even be self-destructive." so that there keep on being more of us, so there are more of us to work against the culture, even if that's only by staying alive. "There's only one rule [...]: Don't be mean. That's the only rule you ever need to follow to make sure that your life is gonna get better. If you're not mean, you can do anything it takes to make your life more worth living. [...] It takes true courage to follow your outlaw identities and desires in the world. Doing that nearly always ends you up with less worldly power. But I promise: you can always do something to make your life better every single day of your freaky geeky life."

and i'd like to do another project like this but aimed at adults, people who don't consider themselves 'teens, freaks and other outlaws'. or at least come up with a good, simple way of expressing this stuff, to use in my work. does stabbing your partner when it seems like he's going to kill you count as being mean? i have a lot of these kinds of conversations with women who can never forgive themselves for fighting back, and who have been (or are in the process of being) gravely punished for keeping themselves alive. 

and about how women cope with it. all the crazy stuff that people do in crazy situations - it needs to be honoured. the incredible Young Women's Empowerment Project (in Chicago) has the tagline "girls do what they have to do to survive".

how do you bring that kind of message to adult women who are already trapped, or even already criminalised for doing whatever it took to make their life more worth living?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

i heart lundy bancroft

guess what - he even has a blog! which unfortunately it seems he hardly ever updates. a cursory glance at the posts might make him seem a bit of a cheesey self-help merchant but i swear to you this man is an understated genius. and his analysis of abusive relationships and perpetrator mentalities applies to goddamn civilisation as a whole. i have given out hundreds of photocopies of chapter 14 (The Process of Change) and chapter 7 (The Abusive Man and Breaking Up), from Why Does He Do That and no one has ever said to me 'that's not relevant to my life'. everyone who's read it has got safer and saner. in a world dedicated to covering up for abuse and oppression, this bespectacled fellow keeps on quietly telling the truth.

on his blogger profile, his interests are 'domestic violence and sexual assault' 'child abuse and neglect' 'peak oil' 'bioregionalism' and 'over thirties baseball'.

we always hurt the ones we love the most

heard that again this week.

no, we hurt the most the ones we can get away with hurting.

from correspondence

"i agree that anyone has the right to be defended against accusations, of course. but i think it's really important for both sides to be differentiating the naming/questionning of bad behaviour from an implication that someone is inherently racist, abusive, evil, etc. [...]

to state the obvious, it's important to be able to have ways of talking about perceived oppressive behaviour without a) it being a character assassination and/or b) people framing it as a character assassination in a way that can divert the conversation away from the questionable behaviour and on to a character defence."

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

i'm sorry, you're just not ready

we met with someone this week, who was interested in coming on the course. kind of interested, kind of scared. and she'd had a lot go on and was just on the cusp of wanting to deal with it, wanting to open herself up and see what was there.

and because the content of the course would be challenging her relationships with the people she currently relies on for support, she would need additional support to go alongside the course. such as counselling. but there is a huge waiting list for counselling. so really, it's not ok to invite her on to an intense, structured course which is going to break down her support system while offering no alternative. and there is no unstructured group available, even though that would be the simplest thing to offer. and there is no counselling for several months.

so the worker's automatic response to this was to say "i'll talk with her caseworker and explain that she's just not ready." aarrgh. i mean, i argued and said that it's important to make sure the woman knows that it's not that there's something wrong with her, that the lack is with the service. but this could easily be lost in translation between so many workers. and it infuriates me that the unthinking default is to place the blame, constantly and in tiny ways and turns of phrase, with the service users and not with the service. it's sending the constant low-level message that they can't do anything right. remind you of anything?

and most of all i feel so sad for this woman, who is doing the scary thing of opening up and being honest about her history and her needs, and that there is no support for her. when she is so ready. and she was even going to rearrange her work so that she could do the course. more and more 'clients' are getting jobs midway through their support and having to give up the support. because obviously the work can't be flexible. all this pressure to get off benefits just means that people don't even have time...

it's crazy that we've created this course and the course is already excluding the 'wrong type' of survivor. so i guess i'm just repeating myself and saying that it's all bollocks except for open, long-term, user-led groups.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

about the magic

i dreamed about one of my ex-clients last night. there was some kind of party at my mum's house and i think a few women i used to work with were there, but she was the only one i talked to properly. she seemed quite a lot more sorted and had stopped drinking. i was impressed that she had decided to come to a party despite struggling with alcohol. she is glamorous in real life, and was looking really good for the party. i don't remember much else but i do wonder what on earth my subconscious is doing with all the 'material' it's amassed over the past seven years working. i kind of imagined that i'd have this process of processing it, and that i'd have this wonderful sense of gaining perspective on it all. but it seems to be hiding, or maybe this is how it's going to trickle out.

it's so so odd, having had one-sided, intimate involvement in key changes in so many people's lives. and so so odd to think that all of those memories are still in me, although i don't consciously remember them. i sorely wish that this kind of thing, this odd, magical, privileged, disturbing, part of the job was talked about in my office, in what little training we had, or even on the smokebreaks, but... nothing. having to deal with several realities, and deal with my colleagues pretending everything is normal, makes me feel crazy (another reason i had to leave). but if they won't talk about the magic, well, i still know the magic's there.

a cultural issue

i find it difficult to explain how much it means to me to come across simple, accessible, heartfelt writing that explodes oppressive myths and lies and distractions and scapegoats and 'things that people say' and replaces them with articulate truths. i read this today...
"Still, we in the West too often find it easier to perceive rape as an accepted part of an unfamiliar culture rather than as a tool of war that we could help banish. Too often, the enemy becomes all Congolese men rather than men with guns terrorizing the Congolese people. By casting the chaos and violence as “men vs. women” or dismissing the crisis as “cultural,” we do a profound injustice to Congolese men. Rather than help, we send an implicit insult: It’s a pity, but, well…it’s just who you people are. [...]

Any Congolese will tell you rape is not “traditional.” It did occur in Congo before the war, as it does everywhere. But the proliferation of sexual violence came with the war. Militias and Congolese soldiers alike now use sexual violence as a weapon. Left unchecked, sexual violence has festered in Congo’s war-ravaged east. This does not make rape cultural. It makes it easy to commit. There is a difference. [...]

“Cultural relativism legitimizes the violence and discredits the victims, because when you accept rape as cultural, you make rape inevitable,” [...]

When we blame all Congolese men for sexual violence, not only do we imply that rape is inherent to the African landscape, we avoid critical questions, particularly regarding the role that we in the West play.[...]

When we label rape in Congo “cultural,” we let ourselves off the hook. And that is a cultural issue. Ours." 
 Lisa Shannon, in the New York Times*, via the beautifully-named A Life Well Loved blog.

*dammit, i wanted to provide a link for you to read the whole thing but now it says subscribers only. 

Monday, 4 October 2010

women in prison

"Taking the most hurt people out of society and punishing them in order to teach them how to live within society is, at best, futile. Whatever else a prisoner knows, she knows everything there is to know about punishment because that is exactly what she has grown up with. Whether it is childhood sexual abuse, indifference, neglect; punishment is most familiar to her."
Chris Tchaikovsky - Former prisoner and founder of Women in Prison


i really want to write here more, so i'm going to eke out some ramblings, until it comes more naturally again.

i'm facilitating a course about domestic abuse with a group of women. it's through an organisation who work with 'women offenders'. funny how many of my friends could be described in the same way... anyhow, it's the first piece of work i've done since leaving my casework, and i'm struggling really to find the part of myself that works. for seven years i would get dressed and drink my coffee and travel to work and then find myself at my computer, or in the hospital, with lots of work to do and a professional identity to inhabit. i spent a lot of time feeling like this persona was fraying at the edges, and trying to be both the smooth, capable, educated professional that other professionals required me to be, and the down-to-earth, real-person(?!) support worker that the women using the service needed, was one more exhausting aspect of the job.

now every couple of days i need to pull myself up into some sort of professional mode to make a phonecall to people, and i procrastinate, because that person was never real, just a necessary part of what i was doing, which i don't really do any more.

i'm also finding it difficult to focus on the tasks i need to do. i'm a bit worried about this course. i did a two hour workshop with other women using the service a few months ago. it was great, as i was an outsider coming in so i had licence to just do my workshop as always, in a way that is kind of led by the group rather than me.

but now that i've written this course, in consultation with a worker from the service, and met some of the women who'll be on the course, i'm becoming more uncomfortable with how prescriptive courses are at this service, and how disempowered the women are.

the women who came in for appointments about the course, seemed to have rock-bottom confidence, even though the appointments were in a building they use frequently. it seems to me that, although the service seemed initially to be a really good, flexible, service for marginalised women, it has now been more and more co-opted by probation and social care. it seems like a lot of women are 'required' to be there by their probation officer and/or social worker. i think this could be overcome if i was doing the kind of group i used to run in my job - just open discussion groups where women can talk about whatever is going on and support each other and be validated. but i was asked to write a course. because that's how they do things here. and i'm picking up a general attitude from well-meaning workers, that the women are problematic, because they are lost, and they can't sort out their lives, and they can't look after their children. which totally disturbs me. i've tried to make clear to the workers that my attitude is that these women 'have all the knowledge/resources' to support each other and understand domestic abuse etc etc, but i'm worried that i won't be able to single-handedly make the course an empowering experience if the attitude of the co-facilitator (out of habit more than anything) is that the women need to be taught.

and i tried to suggest that we keep the course as open and 'user-led' as possible, but the worker replied that the organisation has to be able to demonstrate to probation/social care that there is concrete content to their courses otherwise they can be written off as wishy-washy. i really disagree. i used to have to write letters to probation/solititors/social care to explain what 'work i'd done' with a particular woman. i would write a strongly-worded letter saying we'd done rigorous work on safety-planning, patterns within abuse and control, looking for the first signs of control in new relationships, confidence-building and so on and so on - because this is all true! even though i wasn't teaching them, only facilitating their discussion and doing an exercise together maybe every two weeks. and as professionals we have licence to represent our work however is appropriate - because probation/social care thank god can't actually come into the group sessions. so it's such a cop-out, or a tragic reversal of what these women need, to try and tailor courses to the fucked up demands of statutory agencies.

god, user-led groups really are the only way! everything else is just painfully wrong.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

integrity is

i reached for Trauma and Recovery, which i've never finished, and it had so much to tell me about my mixed feelings in my last post. a snippet for you (perhaps swap the word supporter where it says 'therapist', and definitely something else where it says 'patients'!):
"By constantly fostering the capacity for integration, in themselves and in their patients, engaged therapists deepen their own integrity. Just as basic trust is the developmental achievement of earliest life, integrity is the developmental achievement of maturity. [...]
Integrity is the capacity to affirm the value of life in the face of death, to be reconciled with the finite limits of one's own life and the tragic limitations of the human condition, and to accept these realities without despair. Integrity is the foundation upon which trust in relationships is originally formed, and upon which shattered trust may be restored. The interlocking of integrity and trust in caretaking relationships completes the cycle of generations and regenerates the sense of human community which trauma destroys."

what will you do with your wellness?

well it wasn't all that dramatic really, quitting work, i'll be going back as an occasional fill-in worker, and i did this for the first time yesterday. mmph. it's weird, seeing the job after 10 weeks away.

it seemed so hectic, although i only saw two 'clients'. one was the ideal, heartwarming, afternoon session. she had had some support from us before, she was now ready to leave. she had her information, she had her plan. we talked it through, though she had it all sorted and didn't need me to validate it. i wished her luck and off she went. i sighed inside, feeling lucky to be able to come back and get paid to do this, thinking ah... this is a nice job.

the second was a woman i've talked to before on the phone. things are better for her now than then. she has been through extreme and prolonged abuse and is very traumatised. in some ways she's kind of 'difficult to work with' because of the trauma. if she's not happy with the service she goes on about it. she's trying to get her needs met after a childhood, and a decade in adulthood, of having her needs obliterated. when she first came yesterday, and was angry about the service, i was alarmed for my safety for about the third time in all the years i've worked for the service. i realised i'd forgotten to unlock the other door to the room that i'm supposed to use to get out if necessary - the same thing had happened once before and i'd been trapped in the same room with an angry client shouting in my face.

but she soon calmed down and i realised i'd overreacted, i guess i'm out of practice having been away. she stayed and talked for ages. she mentioned that another service in the town had just been in touch again, many months after their first phonecall, and she'd had to tell her story all over again, to yet another professional. i remembered, though i didn't feel i should tell the woman, that the service had said they couldn't visit her until they had done their risk assessment, due to this woman having mental health issues. and i thought how totally the other service would be freaking out now, as she's standing up in room with only one unlocked door, being angry, and i'm a lone worker. the other service would not only have unlocked the damn door, they would send two workers at once, and they haven't even agreed to meet the woman yet due to feeling she's a risk to them and need to do some massive form over the phone to see whether she's too crazy. and in the mean time who works with these crazy women? they are 'crazy' because that's what happens when you are abused, abuse is a crazy thing to happen. it's so important to work with the crazy women! and very few people are really very mad if you listen and try to see where they're coming from and what they need. anyway, i'm glad my service hasn't got itself together yet to the extent that it excludes 'crazy' women. i mean, if i told my manager about this session, she'd want to 'put in place measures for workers' protection' but she's not got around to it, thank goodness.

i really enjoyed the session and i felt good that the woman was staying and finding it useful and that i had the knowledge to refer her to services and groups and books and other things that can help her. she didn't want to access mental health services for PTSD in case she was misdiagnosed and pathologised and i thought this was very wise. i feel desperate for women i work with who are so traumatised to access support for this but it is now impossible without sending them for a general mental health assessment - this freaks me out for exactly the reason this woman was wary of it. people act all kinds of crazy following trauma, and can then get diagnosed with all kinds of disorders, when maybe all they need is acknowledgement that they've been abused, support to safely remember what's happened, for the opposite of the traumatising things to start happening (for example, for their needs to start being met), and support to understand their 'crazy' symptoms as normal and natural responses to abuse so they are less overwhelming. (hey, read especially Judith Herman and perhaps also Dorothy Rowe if yr interested in this stuff)

so yeah and then last night after work i didn't know what to do with myself. i was carrying trauma, already, after only one proper session at work. i feel better this morning, writing, and maybe if i could make myself debrief religiously every time i might not get fucked up. dammit, i love this work. and i know i have a lot to give. but last night i was fighting with myself thinking it's fucking you up, you're traumatised by proxy. and then i was thinking well the understandable thing to do would be to stop doing this work. but then it really does feel like it's my role in life, it's what i do, it's what i'm good at, it's what i've studied and am fascinated by, i can't stop now. and anyway, what right do i have to hole myself up away from trauma? as someone who has been through no seriously traumatising experiences, and a very low amount of the regular, in-society traumas, who carries a huge amount of non-traumatised privilege, i am protecting myself from trauma at the expense of more traumatised people, because i can, and this is as unacceptable as protecting any other kind of privilege.

if i open up my energy to people and support them in the healthiest possible way (which i'm committed to figuring out) then this goes a tiny way to redistributing trauma. i haven't seen this talked about before but it's very imporant to me. we challenge our right to comfort at others' expense, but often defend our decision to turn one's back on trauma and traumatised people - i haven't seen a discussion of privilege in the discourse around supporting. of course i'm not arguing that i should go out and try to get myself mentally scarred for the sake of it. no, what i mean is - if i can be useful with the extra energy that i don't have to spend dealing with nightmares, flashbacks, anger, panic attacks and so on, then i should be! what am i going to do with my wellness? how can i use my wellness most usefully, and maximise it, in order to maximise the wellness of others?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

so much to tell you

well, i quit my job! cue much identity-crisising as it's what i've done for my entire adult life, etc. but i'm starting to pull myself together a bit and remember that i still have lots to offer outside the world of employment. i'm on my way back from a workshop i travelled to, talking about power and control in queer relationships and communties. new folded flipchart paper in my bag to geek out over when i get home, caffeinated ideas of doing a massive info-sharing website, and thinking of ways to make money to live while doing work that is closer to my real values. exciting...

and wanting to ease back into blogging, i miss how it helps my brain. feels a bit awkward starting again, so here's a random relevant good and bad thing i've become aware of lately:

these folks are amazing: Stop Violence Everyday / STorytelling and Organizing Project. Especially check out the audio clips, totally inspiring community responses to abuse and manipulation.

bad thing? i dunno, look at this that i read today:
"Nicholas Sarkozy has pledged to press ahead with legislation to strip immigrants who attack police of their French nationality. [...] 

He reiterated his determination to implement the sanctions, which he first threatened after three days of riots in the southern city of Grenoble which were sparked when police shot dead a suspected armed robber in July.
The Elysée Palace said the president would implement the measures "as soon as possible". The punishment would apply to foreign-born criminals who had obtained French nationality in the last 10 years and who "endanger the life of a person in charge of public security, in particular the police and gendarmes".
The proposals have been vehemently criticised by the opposition and some legal experts who say they are contrary to the constitution that states all French citizens are equal before the law regardless of race, creed or origin. [...]
Critics accuse Sarkozy, who also faces international criticism over the expulsion of almost 1,000 Roma last month, of playing to extreme rightwing voters by linking violent crime and immigration."
which is from this Guardian article. because i'm just warming back up to blogging, and drawing the links again, and there is so much between the lines of that article about what happens to people who retaliate against their oppressors. and hey, since i'm still warming up i'm allowed to be repetitive and bring in Jensen once again:
"Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims."


Tuesday, 15 June 2010


hehe. now i've started doing this i'm seeing particularly awesome weeds everywhere. don't miss the next exciting installment!

do you get why it makes total sense (to me) in terms of this blog and it's not just escapism? i will write about it soon when i've got time.

two women

so. this morning at group. among the women.

one is an 'overstayer', ie she came to the uk on a visa which has now expired. she spends her life in fear of a knock on the door. her husband knows full well he has ultimate control - he doesn't even have to beat her, not necessary - he simply doesn't give her food, or money. when she is forced to ask - then he beats her. social services don't have to help her, only her children. so he provides adequate stuff for the children. social services, when asked to pay for accommodation for mum and children, refuse, and offer either to remove the children or fly mum with or without her children, to her country of origin. this woman can't tear herself away from that horrible programme on sky, UK Border Force or whatever it's called, the programme all about the knocks on the doors and how brutally effective our immigration system can be.

another woman is a UK citizen, and originally from another country. her ex-partner beat her badly, she pressed charges and he is now in jail for a couple of months. this woman doesn't feel confident enough to make phonecalls, and she asks me to call the Border Agency Reporting Centre to find out what will happen to him when he finishes his sentence. she wants to report that he is in the country illegally, and she has tried to do so before, during the months of court hearings when she received threats from him that he would kill her and her family. the border agency tell me to call the jail. the jail need to see my letterhead. i am glad to give up for the day, feeling queasy in this advocacy role. the border agency man suggests that there is no reason why he would be intercepted by immigration on his release from jail; a failed asylum seeker would be removed, but this man has no legal status; he will be treated like any other person at the end of their sentence, the jail and immigration are not connected. this woman feels suicidal at the idea of her ex-partner being released and coming straight round to her house as he's always said he would.

Too Much

there's a wonderful new post from Tyrone at Enough, 'On Crisis and Community'. i love Tyrone's description of neighbours working together on two occasions when people were attacked:
"I have felt so much gratitude since then, for my little group of neighbors who shared my inclination and willingness to act – not by calling the police, but by putting on our bathrobes in the middle of the night and knocking on our neighbor’s door together, prepared to help."
i love the Enough project, their honesty and the links they make...
"The questions I have – how do we balance immediate safety with long-term survival and transformation; how do we stop violence when the roots are unimaginably deep;


I want too much. I want solutions that transform violence, at the roots, for everybody. I want us all to believe in transformation – not only our small, fierce transformative justice collaboratives, but my neighbors. I want there to be reason for us to believe. I want the words, the strength to begin these conversations and see them through, in all of my communities"

Monday, 14 June 2010

weed of the week

these sweet peas are here every year, overflowing from a shitty bit of wasteland that i get to walk past often

Thursday, 10 June 2010

everything that is wrong with the world

i shouldn't share this as it's not going to help you through your day to know this, but somehow i can't help it. i've just posted some of mai'a's inspiring writing, now i'm going to ruin such optimism. if you're feeling overwhelmed with Wrong, as everyone i speak to seems to be right now, just scroll on down to the next post for some kickassness instead.
"Immigration Agents Target Oil Spill Cleanup Workers
A Louisiana sheriff has admitted that his office requested federal immigration officials to search for undocumented workers among those cleaning up BP’s oil spill. In a statement to the magazine ColorLines, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens said he was concerned about “illegal aliens” and “criminals” coming into the area “under the guise of doing legitimate work.” Last week, the journalism project Feet in Two Worlds revealed that immigration officials had visited two oil spill command centers to check the documents of workers."

mai'a on safer spaces

many things that mai'a writes float around my head and become such important reference points for me, and i want to find ways to share my thoughts about them, link to them here and talk with my friends about them, but mostly their significance and relevance is still filtering slowly through my brain.

i love nothing better than a systematic analysis of what needs to happen for abuse not to happen, and i'll be coming back to this one. here are some snippets:
"life is not safe.  people hurt each other.  we have a choice. to either support our own and others’ abusive behaviour or words, or to nurture respectful relations.
safety is an illusion.  what is real is what we do.  do we act out fear?  or do we act out respect?
4. intentions. your intentions matter. yes. to you.  and they should. to you. the rest of us. dont give a fuck.
if you are fucking up a lot, like over and over again, and hurting people, then i got to wonder:
a. either you really do intend to hurt people or,
b. dont care if you hurt people or,
c. are not able to see that your intentions and your effects are not lining up very well..."
read the whole thing, really, you should

still ending child detention

- this time by sending the children back to where they fled from.
"The UK Border Agency is to set up a £4m "reintegration centre" in Afganistan so that it can start deporting unaccompanied child asylum seekers to Kabul from Britain, the Guardian can disclose.

The terms of the official tender* for the centre show that immigration officials initially hope to forcibly return 12 boys a month aged under 18 to Afghanistan and provide "reintegration assistance" for 120 adults a month.

Home Office figures show there are more than 4,200 unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Britain, with most being supported in local authority social services homes. Those from Afghanistan are the largest group. Of the 400 minors claiming asylum in the first three months of this year, almost half were Afghans.

A decision to start deporting Afghan child asylum seekers who arrive in Britain alone would amount to a major shift in policy. Up until now, child protection issues and an undertaking that failed child asylum seekers would be returned only if adequate reception and care arrangements were in place for them on arrival have blocked returns.

The British plans form part of a wider European move to plan the return of unaccompanied migrant children to Afghanistan. Norway has also announced plans to open a reception centre in Kabul. Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are also reported to be preparing to return Afghan children to Kabul."

* meaning that private companies now have the opportunity to bid for the contract to do this work, for profit. nice.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

more on the world cup

awesome analysis yet again from Cara Kulwicki at the Curvature, this time of a world-cup DV campaign.
"Firstly, I have to say that while incidents of domestic violence rose by 30% last World Cup, I doubt that domestic violence itself rose in hugely meaningful terms. I imagine that what was seen was not a rise in men abusing their women partners, but a great surge in men abusing their women partners all at once. I imagine that virtually all of the perpetrators were already perpetrators (or would have soon become perpetrators) — they just all decided to commit their assaults around the same time, for a change. The World Cup didn’t make them do it. And so I think that centering a campaign around the World Cup as though it’s a cause is somewhat misguided."

i liked this

(and it couldn't be more relevant to me right now)
"I'm extremely sensitive as to whether the work I'm doing is actually accomplishing anything. And the feeling I get when I'm working futilely feels a lot like burnout, discouragement, frustration, and so on. I've felt this sensation often enough to know that it doesn't mean I need to take two weeks off and then come back and do the same damn useless job. Nor does it mean I need to collapse into a sobbing heap of self-pity. None of those do any good. It ususally just means I need to change my approach so that I accomplish something in the real physical world.

Useful work and tangible accomplishments make burnout go away quickly."
Jensen, Endgame.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

light switch

couldn't write

i'm trying to lift myself back into writing.
this isn't burnout, i've sorted out my working situation so i work the right amount now. no, this is horror and grief.
all of the why am i doing this when people are being killed actually trying to counteract abuse, oppression, imprisonment, starvation. (they are going again: many of the surviving activists are going to try again to reach gaza by boat. this blows my mind and, for some reason, makes me cry more)
have you followed what's happened, in the raid on the flotilla and afterwards? i've been focussing on that rather than the oil spill because a mind can only take so much, plus it more directly relates to what i'm trying to understand.
all my friends say they're going a little mad. but we say things to one another to keep each other on track. and then we take each other swimming in waterfalls (3 waterfalls! in four days this weekend, i am lucky)

meanwhile, a fucking counsellor totally screwed over some of my 'clients', making them believe they were to blame for the abuse, pathologising them, and partially undoing about a year of my work in a group. meanwhile my friends continue to wrangle with controlling people in their personal lives (my personal life is for now free of these types, touch wood). meanwhile i despair of ever getting together a concise analysis of ALL THIS STUFF that people can understand and apply to help undermine the power of abusers and oppressors. but stopping writing isn't going to help, is it.

meanwhile, i found out this thing. have you heard of plants called 'nitrogen fixers?' they are plants like beans, peas, clover and things. i knew that they were nitrogen fixers and that this is a good thing. but what i didn't know was that they get the nitrogen out of the air. ideas about land being regenerated are one of the things keeping me sane these days and someday when i'm less sad maybe i can write about how this all links in to ideas of community healing etc, and i have a friend who has written about these links and other people do too. but anyway, if you have a rubbish bit of land which has been stripped of nutrients for one reason or another, i knew that nitrogen fixing plants were one of the things needed to help it sort itself out. but i thought that these plants just somehow made existing nitrogen in the soil usable for other plants. but no! they get it out of the air and make it usable for other plants and creatures! these things help me so much because they show that land just does what it needs to heal. 'wasteland' fills up with 'weeds' and these weeds are bringing to that soil what it needs. and then they die down and rot and the soil becomes richer and other plants can grow. i might write about this stuff more, especially in times of desperation, i'm all for spreading information that might help other people stay saner too.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

ending child detention

things i've had my head in the sand about, #1/1000 000. i haven't written about any Yarl's Wood or other detention centre stuff as i'm at a loss to explain why i'm not chained to the gate, or Doing Something in some way, about it.

so the new government has pledged to end detention of children subject to immigration control. it was pointed out to me at a workshop by Black Women's Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape about yarl's wood at the anarchafeminist conference in manchester, that this of course means that children will be released from detention, often into the 'care' system, while mothers continue to be imprisoned.

splitting up families in this way is, of course, horrifying, especially in the guise of a 'doing good' election promise. however an alternative way to 'end child detention' was used in scotland, where they had pledged to end the practice immediately, and therefore needed to get those kids across the border asap:
"Sehar [Shebaz] and her baby girl were incarcerated in Dungavel on the same day that the new coalition government told us that child detention would end – and end immediately in Scotland – whereupon Sehar was summarily removed from Scottish soil and driven down to Yarl’s Wood  Detention Centre to be locked up there instead. [...]

Sehar was instrumental in ensuring that the letter to Nick Clegg was seen by the outside world. She was then swiftly separated from the other families and prevented from communicating with anyone else." (from a statement by Positive Action in Housing)
Then, on the 22nd may, Sehar and her daughter were deported, flown to Pakistan.
"Sehar is the victim of well-documented domestic violence here in the UK. Her escape from her husband is extremely likely to incur retributive violence soon after she sets foot in Pakistan. Her life and her baby’s life are at risk.

Damian Green, immigration minister, has refused to give Sehar compassionate leave to remain despite receiving copies of police reports and letters from Blackburn Women’s Aid supporting her claims of domestic violence."
last week a Pakistani 'service user' told me she'd heard that Sehar had already been killed. this woman has also told me several rumours that turned out not to be true, but that's not to say this isn't true.

Positive Action in Housing's statement continues:
"We are now concerned about the remaining eleven Yarl’s Wood families, four of whom are on hunger strike. We also remain concerned about exactly what the new government means when they say they will end child detention. Will families be able to claim asylum without fear of being separated and children being taken into care while parents are locked up? After the latest debacle about ending child detention, we have to be cautious about exactly what the politicians mean when they come out and say these things. At present, it means Scottish asylum families being driven straight away hundreds of miles away form their communities and sources of support to the controversial Yarl’s Wood facility which even the Chief Inspector of Prisons has branded as unsuitable for children. Let us not forget that UKBA themselves admitted that FAMILIES DO NOT ABSCOND.
In the spirit of the new government’s commitment to end child detention, Positive Action in Housing is calling on the government to release with immediate effect all remaining Yarls Wood families back to their communities so that their children can return to a normal life and schools and so that the asylum claims of their parents can be properly investigated in a humane and civilised way – this is the least recompense we could give as a society for the inhumane way we have treated these families."
eleven families. i mean, it just doesn't make sense to me even according to the obscene logic of the home office. why put a tiny number of people, so unsystematically, through such hell (not that i think the 250+ other people at yarl's wood should be there either..)? perhaps they are testing whether they can get away with it. i read an offhand comment by a guardian journalist who had spoken with women in yarl's wood that the phonecalls are cut off every few minutes as a matter of procedure. so that it's that much harder for them to keep in touch with lawyers, supporters, family (their children, once they are separated!).. i just...