‘Shot in the vagina’

The same forces that feed into the violence against migrant women are also undermining climate action.

Maria Meza, a migrant woman from Honduras, runs away from tear gas with her five-year-old twin daughters Saira and Cheili at the US-Mexico border on November 25, 2018 [File: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon]
Maria Meza, a migrant woman from Honduras, runs away from tear gas with her five-year-old twin daughters Saira and Cheili at the US-Mexico border on November 25, 2018 [File: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon]

Last December, the Trump administration enacted a scheme requiring Central American asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal proceedings drag on indefinitely in the United States.

The Migrant Protection Protocols policy – a handily perverse euphemism – is the approximate equivalent of calling the Exxon Valdez oil spill the Marine Life Protection Initiative. As various human rights and advocacy organisations have pointed out, the border programme has exposed tens of thousands of asylum seekers to violence; including rape, kidnapping and assault, in the unsure border regions of Mexico.

In light of the surplus of rapes and other abuses already documented as a result of so-called “protection”, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – marked annually on November 25 – is an ideal occasion to reflect on the violence facing migrant women in an era of mass migration.

Pervasive violence

As the UN Women website observes : ” Rape is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power, and control that continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalised.”

For an idea of the extent of normalisation, just recall Patriarch-in-chief President Donald Trump‘s own previous advice about fondling women without their consent: “Grab ’em by the p****.”

Migrant women, of course, are particularly vulnerable to “grabbing” – and much worse – especially given that crimes against migrants are not generally reported or prosecuted. And for Central American women transiting Mexico to the US border, sexual assault is frequently par for the course.

Lest anyone assume that this validates the Trumpian vision of Mexico as composed of rapists and criminals , however, just recall the epidemic of rape in the US’s own military – not to mention rampant claims of sexual abuse of immigrant children held at US detention facilities.

‘Shot in the vagina’

It bears emphasising, too, that many of the women who flee Central America are fleeing a system of patriarchal violence that the US itself has played no small part in sustaining.

Following the 2009 US-abetted right-wing coup in Honduras, for example, a surge in femicides and all manner of other crimes was accompanied by a climate of impunity that has yet to subside. According to a New York Times essay , a 2018 study conducted in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula indicated that more than 96 percent of women’s murders went unpunished – an arrangement presumably facilitated by reports that officials in the “agency entrusted with investigating women’s deaths [were] killing women themselves”.

Murder methods have included being “shot in the vagina” and “skinned alive”.

In addition to throwing a bunch of money at homicidal Central American security forces, the US underwrites capitalist patriarchy by pushing punitive economic policies – pardon, supporting “development” and “investment” – that favour the financial domination of the United States’ local, predominantly male and obsequiously neoliberal elite acolytes.

This ensures that, while US corporate interests in the region remain sacrosanct, the lives of the poor are expendable – and the lives of women even more so. After all, as far as capitalism is concerned, there can never be too much inequality.

Patriarchal contexts

Meanwhile, across the ocean, violence against women is also tied up with migration. Last year, the UN found that in Libya – a primary jumping-off point for maritime migration to Europe – the ” overwhelming majority of [migrant] women and older teenage girls interviewed … reported being gang-raped by smugglers or traffickers.”

In Libya‘s migrant detention centres, too, rape is rife. And, thanks to an agreement between the Italian government and the Libyan coastguard, migrants intercepted at sea are often returned to these very same centres.

Never mind that centuries of European colonialism and exploitation of the African continent have played no small role in determining present migration patterns; “fortress Europe” has appointed itself unquestionable victim of the migrant crisis, condemning the actual victims to a criminalised existence that only increases the chances of their further victimisation.

For many migrant women, then, life becomes one continuous migration between patriarchal contexts in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalised.

And for those who do make it to Europe, things do not necessarily improve. Amnesty International has documented how, for a great number of females in Greek refugee camps, ” the insecurity and dangers they experience in Greece are a constant reminder of the violence they sought to escape”.

Among the interviewees at one camp was a Cameroonian woman who had to flee abuse twice. Leaving Cameroon on account of an abusive husband, she made it to Istanbul, where she found a job at a sweatshop. When her employer there started sexually abusing her as well, she fled again, this time to Greece.

Violate women, violate the earth

But physical violence and socioeconomic inequality are not the only ways in which patriarchal systems drive migration. Consider reports that climate change could generate more than 200 million refugees by 2050 – and that climate change disproportionately affects women.

Consider also an August article at The New Republic, headlined The Misogyny of Climate Deniers, which catalogues a ” growing body of research linking gender reactionaries to climate-denialism” and finds that “male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap”.

According to a 2014 paper published by the International Journal for Masculinity Studies, the whole notion of climate change is in fact perceived as a “threat to the masculinity of industrial modernity”.

By extension, then, patriarchal capitalism imperils not only women but the planet itself.

Now, as the migrant crisis rages on and humanity hurtles towards self-destruction , the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women should serve as a reminder that, without first smashing the patriarchy, we will never even stand a chance.

INTERACTIVE: Violence against women

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Is Mitch McConnell Trying to Kill the Violence Against Women Act?

OCTOBER 24, 2019

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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

Twenty-five years ago, the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, was signed into law. The protections it afforded to victims of sexual and domestic violence and stalking were renewed and expanded in 2000, 2005 and 2013. Last April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, with bipartisan support, yet another renewal, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, H.R. 1585, this time with added protections for women on tribal lands, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and with new limits on the ability of perpetrators of domestic violence to obtain guns. The bill was sent to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it has languished. One Senate staffer confirmed Wednesday that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t put it on the legislative schedule.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, during which many survivors of domestic abuse and their supporters wear purple to draw attention to this problem, considered a national epidemic. Every 16 hours in the United States, a woman is shot to death by her partner.

The text of the current bill contains statistics worth repeating:

“Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. Female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined. The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.”

The bill continues: “Homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women on the job. Domestic partners or relatives commit 43 percent of workplace homicides against women … in 2010, homicides against women at work increased by 13 percent despite continuous declines in overall workplace homicides in recent years.”

This new House VAWA bill, one of the earliest considered by the new Congress, which includes a historic number of women, passed by a vote of 263 to 158, with 33 Republicans joining the Democratic majority. The Republican support came despite opposition from the National Rifle Association, which strongly opposes language in the bill to close the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows gun purchases by unmarried, domestic or intimate partners who have been convicted of abuse or are under a restraining order.

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Last week, Everytown for Gun Safety reported: “Every month, an average of 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. Nearly 1 million women alive today have reported being shot or shot at by intimate partners, and 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun. In more than half of mass shootings over the past decade, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member as part of the rampage.”

Amplifying that last statistic, March for Our Lives, the gun control group founded by teenage survivors of the Parkland, Florida, massacre on Valentine’s Day 2018, sent out an email calling domestic violence a gun violence issue, noting that at least 54% of mass shootings are committed by domestic abusers. The list of mass shooters who were known domestic abusers or stalkers is long. In Parkland, the shooter had stalked another student and killed her in the massacre; in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the shooter had been convicted of domestic violence, but that conviction was not shared on the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, allowing him to purchase guns; in Newtown, Connecticut, the shooter killed his mother first before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary; the Pulse nightclub shooter in Orlando was physically and verbally abusive to his wife; and, most recently, in Dayton, Ohio, the shooter had kept a “rape list” of potential targets in high school and killed his sister during his murderous rampage.

Last Saturday, the Houston Astros defeated the New York Yankees, clinching a spot in the World Series. Among three female journalists in the Astros locker room covering the celebration was Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, who was wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet. Houston Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman yelled at them, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f***ing glad we got Osuna!” The Astros signed relief pitcher Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018, weeks after he received a 75-game suspension related to accusations he assaulted his child’s mother. On Thursday, after conducting an investigation with Major League Baseball, the Astros fired Taubman.

One goal of the Violence Against Women Act is to educate people across all sectors of our society, to make domestic abuse simply unacceptable. “VAWA’s overwhelming impact on the lives of victims makes the need for reauthorization more critical now than ever,” writes Lynn Hecht Schafran of Legal Momentum (the new name for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund). “VAWA is moving the culture forward toward a future where everyone can live free from violence.”

Moveon: Sign the petition re: Alabama

Sign the petition telling the Supreme Court to protect Roe v. Wade and defend our rights.

Dear MoveOn member,

I’m Helmi Henkin, an organizer with the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama, which helps people access safe abortions. I started a petition after our state passed an abortion ban which gives the government control over pregnant people’s bodies—even in cases of rape or incest.

As similar extreme bills continue making their way through state legislatures, it’s vital that we send a clear message to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the other members of the Supreme Court of the United States that we will not tolerate these attacks on our protected human rights.

Add your name to our petition to the Supreme Court in defense of the right to a safe and legal abortion.

Don’t overturn Roe v. Wade. Protect abortion rights. End the attacks on reproductive rights and pregnant people’s health. We won’t go back!

Alabama’s extreme bill gives the state control over pregnant people’s bodies and increases the already tremendous barriers that people seeking abortion care in Alabama face in accessing their procedures. Access was already a problem in Alabama, which is why the Yellowhammer Fund exists.

The government’s control and politicization of our bodies is unacceptable. Families in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and communities across the nation are under attack as part of a publicly stated, coordinated effort to have the Supreme Court overturn its own legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade.1

This is truly concerning, because some members of the Supreme Court are already signaling a willingness to overturn legal precedent on other cases.2

Sign the petition telling Chief Justice John G. Roberts and the Supreme Court justices to end these extreme policies which deny families the right to determine whether, when, and how to create a family. 

People espousing “pro-life” politics frequently talk about how much they love pregnant people and babies. However, their political agenda does not extend to ensuring that pregnancy and birth are safe for pregnant people or that parents, children, and families can access the health care they need to live healthy lives. In Alabama, for example, this means that a large number of pregnant people are going without the prenatal, birth, and postnatal care needed to ensure healthy pregnancies and birth outcomes. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high.3

We will work with trusted partner organizations such as MoveOn to ensure the support of this petition is used to further pressure key decision-makers, keep the story in the media, and give everyone opportunities to stay engaged! MoveOn members have already raised more than $30,000 for our work in Alabama, and we’re seeing generosity across the country—but we also need to make sure the Supreme Court respects the fundamental right to access an abortion, so we need to act now.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends and family.

Thank you for your support during such an important moment for this movement.

–Helmi Henkin, The Yellowhammer Fund

Sources:

1. “Alabama Governor Signs Abortion Ban Into Law,” NPR, May 14, 2019
https://act.moveon.org/go/65594?t=7&akid=234356%2E40420145%2Efz5dC6

2. “Supreme Court’s Breyer, mentioning abortion case, warns about overturning precedent,” NBC News, May 13, 2019
https://act.moveon.org/go/65593?t=9&akid=234356%2E40420145%2Efz5dC6

3. “States with the worst anti-abortion laws also have the worst infant mortality rates,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2019
https://act.moveon.org/go/65595?t=11&akid=234356%2E40420145%2Efz5dC6

Swarthmore College fraternities face ban calls over ‘rape attic’ claims

Students hold a "sit-in" at Phi Psi fraternity, Swarthmore College (28 April)The protesters say fraternities have too much power on campus

Dozens of US students are on the fourth day of a “sit-in” protest at a college fraternity after the leak of meeting minutes which referred to buying date rape drugs and a “rape attic”.

Protesters are calling for the two fraternities at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, to be banned from campus.

Several students have also accused fraternity members of sexual assault.

In response, Swarthmore has suspended the activities of both organisations for the rest of the semester.

It is carrying out further investigations into Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, following the leak of documents detailing racist, misogynistic and homophobic language used at a Phi Psi meeting.

Fraternities are exclusive, mostly all-male student organisations. Some are based on areas of study, professions, academic credentials, or on specific religious or ethnical backgrounds. Others serve more of a social purpose.

Earlier this month, two student publications – The Phoenix and Voices – published what are alleged to be internal documents from the Phi Psi fraternity.

The redacted, 117-page documents include “meeting minutes” and details of pledging rituals from 2012-16. They feature offensive language and accounts of physical and sexual assaults, and bravado about buying “date rape” drugs.

Presentational white spaceThe “minutes” also allege that Delta Upsilon “have both a rape tunnel AND a rape attic (gotta choose one or the other)”.

Allegations of sexual assault, violence and harassment have also been shared by students on an anonymous Tumblr page named “Why Swarthmore’s Fraternities Must Go.”

In response, student protesters on Saturday began occupying Phi Psi’s on-campus fraternity house and camping outside.

Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and the Swarthmore Coalition Against Fraternity Violence, which arranged the protest, are calling on Swarthmore to terminate the leases of both fraternities and ban them from campus. Instead, they want the properties to be designated for “marginalised” students groups like women and ethnic minorities.

Fraternities are the only student groups able to lease property on campus. Many members also play in college sports teams, and alumni are often important donors for fundraising campaigns. Organiser Morgin Goldberg, 22, told the BBC that this had given fraternities “undue social power that they not only hold, but abuse”.

Ms Goldberg says she has witnessed harassment, racism and homophobia by members.

“If any other student group had this way of conduct, they would be off campus in 10 seconds,” she added.

Presentational white space

Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with the national umbrella group for fraternities, was suspended from Swarthmore in 2016 for violating its alcohol and drugs policy. It reopened for parties a year ago.

In a statement, the group said language used in the leaked documents “[was] not representative of who we are today.

“All our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes, and none of us would have joined the organization had this been the standard when we arrived.”

Delta Upsilon fraternity told Philadelphia Magazine that it read the documents “with total revulsion” and said they “do not reflect the values” of the group.

In an email statement, a Swarthmore spokesperson said the college was “committed to fully investigating” any allegations, but conceded that “it is very difficult to investigate anonymous [ones].”

A task force was set up last year “to critically examine social life on campus, including [fraternity/sorority] life”. It will deliver its recommendations to college President Valerie Smith on 3 May.

“Isolating a few bad apples will not address the structure,” said Ms Goldberg.

“This is the start of the conversation, not the end of it, about social life at college and which students groups are represented and which are under the bus”.

Joe Biden scrambles to tamp down Anita Hill controversy

Collage photograph shows Joe Biden and Anita HillThe law professor says Biden needs to apologise to other women and the public

Top White House candidate Joe Biden has denied treating a woman badly when she accused a Supreme Court nominee of harassment before Congress in 1991.

Anita Hill had testified against Clarence Thomas to a committee chaired by Mr Biden. His handling of her evidence has long been criticised.

Speaking on ABC’s the View on Friday, Mr Biden also said that he was “sorry for the way she got treated”.

Ms Hill on Thursday told the New York Times she would not endorse Mr Biden.

The former US vice-president under Barack Obama tried to tamp down the controversy a day after formally launching his White House bid.

Mr Biden has shot to the tip of a crowded field of 20 contenders who are vying to become the Democratic standard-bearer in next year’s election against Republican President Donald Trump.

What’s the Anita Hill row?

Ms Hill said that Mr Biden had called her before announcing his presidential bid and expressed his “regret for what she endured” during the hearing.

But she said that apology was not enough without “real change”.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,'” Ms Hill, a law professor, told the newspaper.

She added that she could not support Mr Biden unless he showed “real accountability” for his handling of her testimony before Congress in 1991.

During his Friday appearance on The View, Mr Biden – who raised a whopping $6.3m (£4.8m) on the first day of his campaign – was asked about offering a personal apology to Ms Hill.

“I’m sorry for the way she got treated,” Mr Biden responded.

“If you go back and look at what I said or didn’t say, I don’t think I treated her badly.”

In 1991, Ms Hill was called to testify at Mr Thomas’ confirmation hearing after an FBI interview with her was leaked to the press.

The hearing was conducted by an all-white, all-male panel, and several women apparently willing to corroborate Ms Hill’s account were not called to testify by Mr Biden.

Both Ms Hill and Justice Thomas are African-American.

Mr Biden voted to send Justice Thomas’ nomination out of the committee to the Senate floor, then voted against him in the full confirmation vote.

Decades on, the event is considered a political embarrassment for Mr Biden, who remains a favourite to secure the Democratic nomination.

Earlier this month, the former vice-president pledged to be “more mindful” about physical contact with women after seven women accused him of unwelcome physical contact.

Anita Hill testifying in 1991Clarence Thomas was Anita Hill’s supervisor

What about Charlottesville?

Mr Biden has also been reproached by the mother of an anti-racism protester who was killed during a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

Susan Bro told the Daily Beast the presidential hopeful had not notified her that he planned to invoke Heather Heyer’s death during his campaign launch video on Thursday.

“Most people do that sort of thing,” she told the Daily Beast. “They capitalise on whatever situation is handy.

“He didn’t reach out to me, and didn’t mention her by name specifically, and he probably knew we don’t endorse candidates.”

In a later interview with CNN, Ms Bro softened her tone, saying she was not particularly upset because “the issue is about the hate, it’s not about Heather”.

Ms Bro added that she had told Mr Biden his video could have traumatised for some Charlottesville survivors.

Petition to the House Judiciary Committee: investigate Kavanaugh

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While we remain focused on the growing calls for an impeachment investigation in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, we’re here to remind you about a story that’s lately received far too little attention. A little over six months after squeaking through an overtly partisan confirmation process, Justice Kavanaugh still has a lot to answer for:

    • During the confirmation process, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley excluded nearly 75% of Kavanaugh’s White House records from his documents request.
    • The small number of records that were made available show that Kavanaugh was dishonest in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2004, 2006, and 2018.
    • When a supplemental FBI investigation looked into accusations of sexual assault, the White House tightly controlled the investigation — including who could be interviewed and which lines of questioning could be pursued.
    • When Kavanaugh came back to the Senate for the hearing at which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified, he potentially committed perjury in answering the Committee’s questions.
  • Kavanaugh reported a sizable personal financial debt in 2016, but that debt disappeared without a trace by the time he filed his 2017 financial disclosure statement.

The American people deserve answers. Who paid off Kavanaugh’s debt, and why? Did the White House cover up evidence that Kavanuagh sexually assulted Dr. Ford? Did Kavanaugh perjure himself in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee?

The House Judiciary Committee has the power to find out — so we’re pushing them to get to the bottom of these questions and more with an official investigation. Will you add your name to call on the House Judiciary Committee to investigate perjury and other crimes potentially committed by Brett Kavanaugh?

Thank you,
Team FSFP

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Sexual harassment trainer booted from Statehouse (but why?)

 

AUGUSTA, Maine — State legislators in Maine have asked a woman hired to give lobbyists free sexual harassment training not to come back following complaints over her presentation.

Karen Ryla from the Bangor-based Work Performance Solutions was hired to lead the training sessions as part of a new law passed last year.

Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby said lobbyists told him after Thursday’s session the training was not tailored enough to the power dynamics and work relationships in the Statehouse.

Taryn Hallweaver with the Maine People’s Alliance posted on Twitter that fellow lobbyists had to make corrections and counter “over-the-top” examples provided.

Libby says the remaining sessions will be led by the Legislature’s human resources director, Jackie Little.

(Things that make you go, “hmm..”)