The violence visited on homeless and unstably housed women

Released last week, “Recent Violence in a Community-Based Sample of Homeless and Unstably Housed Women With High Levels of Psychiatric Comorbidity” confirms common sense and lived experience as it adds some new twists … and leaves some out. The study looked at 300 homeless and unstably housed women in San Francisco.

Common sense and lived experience confirmed: “Violence against homeless women (i.e., women who sleep in a shelter or public place) and women who are unstably housed (i.e., those who are displaced or move often and women who sleep at homes of friends, family, associates, or strangers because they have no other shelter) is disproportionately common.”

Not terribly surprising: Almost all the women “met criteria” for at least one psychiatric condition, one mental health disorder, and one substance-related disorder. “Most study participants experienced comorbidity”, meaning they live with two or more chronic disorders.

60% of the women had experienced some type of violence prior to being interviewed. And here’s where some twists begin: “Violence was disproportionately perpetrated by non-primary partners.” Half of the women experienced emotional violence from a non-primary partner. Almost twice as many experienced physical violence from a non-primary partner as from a primary; and more than three times as many experienced sexual violence from a non-primary partner as from a primary partner.

According to the researchers, the odds of non-primary partner violence increased with a greater number of psychiatric diagnoses; a higher level of social connection; being White; having unmet subsistence needs. Being HIV positive decreased the odds of non-primary partner violence.

Violence from primary partners increased with age, being White, multiple psychiatric diagnoses, and a higher level of social connection.

While some of the social markers surprised the researchers, what really got their attention was the social connection link. It suggests that, for homeless and unstably housed women, social isolation makes sense. The less socially connected a woman is, the less likely she is to be hurt.

While the authors of the study don’t invoke “intersectionality”, they rely on it, to the extent that they insist that violence against homeless and unstably housed women must include emotional, physical and sexual violence.

The study misses economic violence, which is structural, and so misses prison. Given the privatization of streets and the criminalization of those who live on the streets, women with multiple disorders struggle with violence on the streets and are shunted off to jail and prison, where they receive less than no help, and then are dumped back onto the streets, where the cycle accelerates and intensifies.

The report concludes: “The high level of violence in this population exceeds reports from many previous studies because of its inclusion of emotional violence, perpetrators who were not primary or domestic partners, and a sensitive screening instrument. Comprehensive screening for violence against impoverished women in health care settings is needed, and these data suggest that this is especially true for mental health and drug treatment providers caring for impoverished women with high levels of psychiatric comorbidity. Referrals for care, counseling, and safety plans should prioritize basic subsistence needs (housing, food, clothing, and hygiene needs), psychiatric assessment, and care. Finally, providers must understand that rather than a negative predictor of health and safety, social isolation may be an effective means for some impoverished women to extricate themselves from a potentially dangerous environment in the absence of other options.”

The absence of other options is prison. High and excessive levels of violence against women and high levels of incarceration of women are part of the global story of severely reduced to eliminated mental health and all public services, of severely reduced to eliminated affordable housing, of severely reduced to eliminated jobs, of severely reduced to eliminated safe public spaces for women, and of astronomically expanded police forces and prisons.

France’s twisted road to restorative justice

Christiane Taubira, France’s Minister of Justice, epitomizes the tensions and dilemmas that the neoliberal world order produces. The moment Taubira was nominated, she suffered countless personal attacks. Originally from the former French colony Guiana, she early on took strong positions for social and racial justice. Her career is marked by her independence from the establishment, and she has ruffled feathers on the right and the left.

Two years ago Christiane Taubira promised a profound transformation of the penal system. She posed the question of punishment from an angle that departed from the neoliberal mass incarceration common sense. She questioned the role of prisons in connection with citizenship, affirming that prison cannot be the only response in a penal system. In fact, although the public has been bombarded with populist rhetoric and images about punishment, a recent poll showed that 77% of the French said that prison is not a deterrent. She worked with a Consensus Conference that produced recommendations to diminish repeat offenses.

Her bill encountered a multitude of trials and negotiations. She faced constant opposition from the right, as was to be expected. However the President and his Prime Minister Manuel Vals, who has developed a “tough on crime” political persona, had open conflicts with many aspects of her bill.

Her commitment was rehabilitation and reinsertion in society, or simply de-insertion from the lock-up logic. Despite the many roadblocks encountered in the parliamentary process, the bill passed last week. One deputy from the right wing UMP voted in favor of the bill. Immediately after the last vote the opposition filed a complaint to the Constitutional Council to repeal it. Many feel that case will go nowhere

The bill includes a new system of probation for those sentenced to less than five years. This frees judges from the mandatory minimum sentences introduced by Sarkozy that has sent many to hopeless overcrowded prison. Taubira’s initial proposal did not link probation to eventual jail-time. A compromise was adopted giving the penal system the leeway to change probation to jail-time.

Minimum sentencing is now completely eliminated.

The correctional court for minors, established during the previous administration bringing the treatment of underage offenders closer to the one in the United States, has not been terminated yet as promised. However, Christiane Taubira gave assurances that these exceptional courts will disappear in the next series of bills concerning minors.

The bill guarantees more actual aid to victims, including financial aid.

In the midst of this important process, Anne-Sophie Leclere, a candidate for local election for the far-right Front National, posted on Facebook a photomontage comparing Christiane Taubira to a chimpanzee and then confirmed her racist views about Taubira on French television. A complaint was filed by an association and received. Neither the offender nor her lawyer deigned to appear in court for the trial. A French court in Cayenne in Guiana sentenced her to nine months in jail, and 50 000 Euros fine with a ban from running for office for five years. Her party, that excluded her later, was also fined.

Some have criticized the sentence as overly harsh. If so, let’s ask if probation should be an option here and if a rehabilitation is possible for Anne Sophie Leclere? Racism is a very serious offence that has been continuously trivialized while other petty offences have condemned thousands to years in jail.

Of course, the Sarkozy administration was not tough on financial crimes as it cut the power of the financial courts, which resulted in a decrease of sentencing for financial crimes from 101 cases in 2007 to 37 in 2010.

The debate over the reworking of the penal system in France is a reflection of the struggle against the controlling neoliberal world-order that uses insignificant figures to operate racist mechanisms in order to humiliate and discredit serious reformers. Incarceration has been normalized as a business to deal with the superfluous bodies of this market/debt economy. The latter relies on violence for a constant destabilization of a civil society. It is crucial to bring to light every fight that has a chance to change this irrational penal violence.

Edom Kasaye, Mahlet Fantahun, Zone 9, and the writer’s freedom

On April 25 and 26th, the Ethiopian government arrested nine writers, six of whom are members of Zone 9. In Addis Ababa’s notorious Kaliti prison, Zone 9 is where political prisoners end up. Reeyot Alemu has been there for over 1000 days, for the crime of having written essays and articles critical of the government.

Now, members of Zone 9 sit in Zone 9.

For over 80 days, the nine writers were held without any charges, or better, under “informal accusations”. This past week, they were hastily charged with various forms of terrorism, under the anti-terrorism law passed in 2009.

Freelance journalist Edom Kasaye and blogger Mahlet Fantahun will join Reeyot Alemu in the women’s section of Kaliti. A third woman, Soliana Shimeles, was also charged with terrorism, but she’s outside of the country.

Almost forty years ago, in the throes of the anti-apartheid struggle, Nadine Gordimer asked, “What is a writer’s freedom?” Her answer, in part, was: “A writer needs all … kinds of freedom, built on the basic one of freedom from censorship. He does not ask for shelter from living, but for exposure to it without possibility of evasion. He is fiercely engaged with life on his own terms, and ought to be left to it, if anything is to come of the struggle. Any government, any society – any vision of a future society – that has respect for its writers must set them as free as possible to write in their own various ways, in their own choices of form and language, and according to their own discovery of truth.”

The Zone 9 writers’ slogan, and rallying cry, is “We blog because we care!” What do the writers care about? The truth. The end of censorship, lies, and suppression. The right to write. This week, Ethiopia charged ten writers with the terrorist act of writing, just writing. The rest is fog and mirrors.

In a tribute this week to Nadine Gordimer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o – who knows something about the combination of writing, truth, censorship, lies, imprisonment and exile – wrote:

Dear Nadine Your Name is Hope

You found broken hearts
You put them back together with words
From a pen that flowed ink instead of blood.”

The imprisonment of the nine writers, and charges against ten, is part of an Ethiopian story, as the name “Zone 9” suggests. At the same time, it’s part of a global assault against writing, all writing, under the guise of anti-terrorism. What was once particular to Gordimer’s South Africa or Ngugi’s Kenya or Paolo Freire’s Brazil or Angela Davis’ United States is now a coherent global regime. In that context, thinking of the ten writers charged with terrorism, thinking of Reeyot Alemu and so many other imprisoned writers, it’s time to ask, “Can pens still flow ink instead of blood?” Whose name today is hope?

Lacey Weld, Mallory Loyola and the real witch trials of Tennessee

In the last week, Tennessee became the site of the latest witch trials. On Tuesday, July 15, 27-year-old Lacey Weld was sentenced to 151 months in prison and five years of “supervised release” for manufacturing and using methamphetamine in her ninth month of pregnancy. The sentence exceeds the `traditional’ sentencing limits, because Weld was pregnant. The supplement, the gift, to Weld’s sentence is called `enhancement.’

At more or less the same time, Mallory Loyola was arrested, also in Tennessee, for narcotic use while pregnant. Under a new state law, Loyola was charged with assault, for having tested positive for methamphetamine. The fact that methamphetamine is not included in the Tennessee law didn’t matter. Mallory Loyola is under arrest.

The laws and practices that imprison pregnant women for drug abuse or other substance abuse are anti-mother, anti-poor, anti-family, anti-doctor, anti-women-of-color, anti-poor-women, and more. These laws and practices have devastating consequences, and not only on the women and their children. Everyone knows this …

And yet the laws continue to proliferate and women continue to be threatened, intimidated, harassed, and persecuted. Why? There are many reasons, one of which is that prisons need bodies, the machine needs to be fed. The war against women sleeps with the war for prison. In Europe, in the Middle Ages, tens of thousands of women were caged and killed for their knowledge and science, and in particular for their knowledge of reproductive health methods, including methods of abortion. They were called witches, and they were tortured and killed. In the intervening millennia, much has changed, but not the basic elements of the witch trial. Find pregnant women and women who care for pregnant women, demonize and criminalize them by any means necessary, invoke the community and the nation and protection, and then torture the women until they die in a grand public spectacle.

Lacey Weld and Mallory Loyola, by their own testimony, need help, but that doesn’t matter. Prison beds are hungry, and there are many ways of throwing women behind bars.

Support SCI Coal Township prisoners’ demands for decent food, humane treatment!

Austerity loves prisons but hates people, in particular prisoners. That’s the lesson from SCI Coal Township, a prison in Pennsylvania, where prisoners are peacefully protesting their mistreatment by the State and demanding they be treated as human beings with needs and rights.

In May, prisoners were told that `budget’ woes forced the prison to cut back on food rations’ size and quality. Prisoners’ morning meals were severely reduced, while the Staff Dining Room’s full, extensive, and, considering, lavish menu was untouched. Austerity loves prisons but hates prisoners.

SCI Coal Township prisoners have written and circulated a petition with 22 demands. Many involve the abrogation of their civil and human rights. The food demands are basically three:

First, rescind the cuts and restore the former menu, which wasn’t great to begin with.

Second, eliminate the special food privileges of the staff and have everyone eat from the same pot, as it were. Prisoners argue that the Staff Dining Room is a money pit that should be addressed.

Third, if none of the above is met, at least authorize prisoners to receive monthly 60-pound food packages from family and friends. Neighboring states New Jersey, New York, and Ohio already do so for their prisoners. As the SCI Coal Township prisoners say, “If the DOC places the budget over our nutritional needs we request a means to provide for our own nutritional needs.”

SCI Coal Township is also facing a court case in which its censorship of political and human rights literature is being challenged. Austerity loves prisons. Cut off food, cut off access to information and knowledge and education, cut off access to literature and culture. Call it a good day’s work.

Support the SCI Coal Township prisoners, if you can, by reading, signing, and circulating their petition, here.

One can ask the question

One can ask the question

One can ask the question
empowering young minds
as a 77-year-old is doing
at Lavender Hill High School
(outside of our ritual Days)

One can ask the question
why the white woman label
20-odd years in to a democracy
the media reports as such
(are they still group-thinking)

All the white I know
is the hoary-old ditty
A whiter shade of pale
a little-known collective noun
a whiteness of swans
(and the Beatles’ White Album)

I ask the question
from a non-racial rearing
enfolded by humanists
political educators teachers
civic-minded campaigners
(African) Marxists and Socialists
feminists and womynists too

(with Achebe and Ngugi
and Neruda and Brecht
they made their mark though
not with corporal punishment)

One can ask the question
with all the progressive battles
(no normal sport in an abnormal)
where has all the non-racialism gone
was it just a passing charade

One can ask the question
what seeds do we plant
as June Orsmond is doing
(the power of one person)
in Lavender Hill and elsewhere
in the ghetto of young minds

Marina da Gama grandmother June Orsmond’s work, in “The power of one” (Argus, July 2 2014), brings forth the question.

In Greece, austerity builds its own gulag

Austerity loves prisons. From the United States, where debtors prisons are seeing a return, to Australia and the United Kingdom, where immigration prisons choke with people and atrocities, austerity loves its prisons. In Greece, austerity has built its very own gulag, out of prison hospitals, immigration prisons, prisons within prisons, and the free floating fear of going to prison for indebtedness, inability, or any of the other `failings’ that are part and parcel of being human.

But this year, the State may have to start paying its debts, not to multinational agencies and stock brokers but rather to ordinary human beings.

The Korydallos Prison Complex is Greece’s main prison. The Korydallos Prison hospital is the only prison hospital in Greece. In February, hospital inmates went on a hunger strike, which included refusing medications. The vast majority of the Korydallos hospital prisoners are HIV positive. Their complaint was simple: inhuman overcrowding. Korydallos prison hospital is meant to have no more than 60. It currently houses over 200. Prisoners’ testimony, and leaked photographs and videos, describe the place as a hellhole. They’re right. People come in and get lost in the crowd and often die there: “There’s a 23-year-old who’s already been here for a month without getting a check-up. We enter the hospital with a medical condition or a disability and leave with a chronic illness. Do you know why you don’t hear of deaths in prisons? Because when someone is near death, they move him to a public hospital. That’s where his death is recorded.”

Many of those in the hospital are awaiting trial. Many others are in for minor offences, and many others are in for survival economic offenses: “We’re human beings. Many of us are in prison for financial crimes; we haven’t done anything violent. We don’t understand why we’re being treated like this.” Austerity loves prisons, and Greek austerity loves a good gulag.

On June 26, the European Court of Human Rights decided that Greece had violated the rights of Mariana de los Santos and Angela de la Cruz, two women from the Dominican Republic who had been arrested as undocumented residents. The two lodged a complaint concerning the conditions of their imprisonment in Thessaloniki and in Athens. In Thessaloniki, the cell was overcrowded, and the amount of money allocated was insufficient to purchase a meal. In Athens, along with overcrowding, “they described numerous sanitary and hygiene problems, particularly the fact that there had been only a single shower and a single toilet for all of the female detainees.” Overcrowding, hunger, debt, and no facilities: austerity loves its immigration prisons.

On June 23, prisoners across Greece started a hunger strike that went on for over ten consecutive days. Along with overcrowding and the general architecture of despair, the prisoners were, and are, protesting new laws that create a new kind of maximum-security prison, called type-C prison. These are designed to house the `most dangerous of the dangerous,’ but that’s a fluid concept. It includes “terrorists”, who more often than not are young militant anarchists; members of “criminal organizations”, such as the Golden Dawn, and “prisoners who lead mutinies or hunger strikes like the one under way at the moment.”

Prisoners call C-type prisons the Greek Guantanamo: “a Greek ‘Guantanamo Bay’, a prison within a prison, without leaves, without visits, without tomorrow”. The gulag is national and global: “We start a mass hunger strike in all prisons across Greece. We claim our rights, and we fight to remain humans, instead of human shadows locked up and forgotten into despair.”

Prison guards are also on strike because of overcrowding. According to the guards, the current average on any given shift is one guard to 500 prisoners. Austerity hates workers, loves prisons.

From the cleaning women of the Greek Ministry of Finance to the Kordyallos Prison hospital to the immigrant detention prisons to all the prisons, the cry is the same: “We claim our rights, and we fight to remain humans, instead of human shadows locked up and forgotten into despair.”

Solidarity with Greek women cleaners against austerity!

The women cleaners of the Ministry of finance in Athens have been demonstrating that the fight for life and dignity should know no rest. Since being laid off eleven months ago, thanks to austerity measures, they have been in front of the Ministry, standing there to show that life cannot be neither brushed aside nor contracted.

First, they turned to the court of justice, as labor rights must be defended by all means. The District court of Athens rule in their favor. The minister did not budge. A month ago, a court decision in Athens vindicated them and ordered their immediate reinstatement. The government responded with what the neoliberalist dogma orders: demanding submission and dependency and going after the women cleaners. The government dismissed the judgment and bypassed the court of appeal, going straight to the higher court Areios Pagos.

At the same time, the conservative press, media, politicians have broadcast negative images of the cleaners, calling them shirkers, accusing them of receiving undue privileges.

Meanwhile, the women cleaners who lost their meager salary (around $1000/month) are regularly physically assaulted by riot police, and suffer injuries requiring hospitalization.

Why is the government in Greece going after the women cleaners with such rage? Why do the State despise their lives and livelihood so much? Isn’t the state responsible for the well being of all its members including low wage women?

Who is the government serving?

In the late 70s, when the dollar was `floated’, the market system encompassed the idea of floating currency in relation to the idea of floating work value. As a result, the value of work as well as the value of life became increasingly indeterminate. The goal became the promotion of indeterminacy as a way of life, going against all efforts to create a socially responsible state. Austerity measures, and structural adjustment programs implemented in the South, opened the way to establishing a contracted work force by erasing the notion of public services and public responsibility. Austerity and structural adjustment `liberated’ public funds to the indeterminate market system.

Women are more dependent on public services and related jobs and comprise the vast majority of the growing underpaid and unemployed population in Greece. The government has argued that the termination of their work was for the public interest, intentionally confusing reduction of public sector with public interest. The State claims that the decision should be made in an administrative court, which would to make it a permanent labor rule.

The fact that the women cleaners were no fiscal burden, and their replacement by contracting businesses is more costly and less effective does not matter. The issue is not the way work is done but rather the profit making market system that thrives on the floating value of work. This is a legal issue and justice should protect life and way of life.

The fight of the women cleaners and their determination, despite their increasingly precarious situation as the result of no pay, is an example for all of us who understand that the threat is global and broad.

In building solidarity with the women cleaners there is a chance to direct the focus to respect for life that can override the ruthless neoliberal attack on human dignity.

 

Solidarity is the people’s weapon!

Australia is `shocked’ by its routine torture of children

Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands. Among `detained’ asylum seekers, children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior, according to Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s Human Rights Commission. According to Triggs, between January 2013 and March 2014, there were 128 reported self-harm incidents by children in detention. Triggs characterized these numbers as “shockingly high.”

The numbers are high. The stories are heartbreaking. The pictures drawn by children are devastating. One girl draws her own portrait. It’s a close up of her face, pressed against bars. Her eyes are blue, her tears, streaming down her face, are blood red. All the self-portraits are similar: the children are crying and are all in cages. Doctors and others report that children can’t sleep, suffer trauma, regress, suffer clinical depression, self-harm, and die inside.

There is no shock here. This has been Australia’s public policy for over a decade, and the policy has only worsened. As Gillian Triggs noted, “Children are being held for significantly greater periods of time than has been the case in the past, and that leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance.”

Leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance. Just call it ordinary torture, and be done. The delivery of medical services is worse than toxic, and the stays get longer and longer. Today, Australia holds more or less 1,000 children in “closed immigration detention.”  The longer children stay in “closed immigration detention”, the more likely they are to suffer mental health crises and the more severe those crises will become.

At a hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission this week, Triggs asked, “Is it acceptable to have children held on Christmas Island in shipping bunkers, containers, on stony ground, surrounded by phosphate dust in that heat?” The government representative replied, “The last time I looked, president, there was no shipping container. They are containerised accommodation, they are not shipping containers.” Unfortunately, “containerised accommodation” does clarify everything. The State sees these children as less than less than less than human.

A child will die in one of those cages, and that child will have been a human. Perception matters, as Australia’s women asylum seekers and their children well know. Torture matters. The torture of children matters. Children matter. Tell Australia, and tell all the nations of the world that throwing asylum seeking children into cages. Children matter. It’s not shocking.

Considering that domestic work is mainly carried out by women and girls

Five men on the US Supreme Court decided this week that women workers [a] aren’t really workers and [b] don’t really work. Therefore, women workers don’t deserve the protections, and the power, that a trade union can confer on its members. Many have written on this decision, and many more will. Much of the response has avoided that frontal attack on women workers, preferring instead to focus on labor unions or on household workers. Although the majority opinion doesn’t specify women, it’s clear that the workers under attack are women.

On June 16, 2011, the International Labor Organization recognized as much, when it passed the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The Convention defines domestic work as “work performed in or for a household or households”, and defines domestic worker as “any person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship.” The ILO was careful to note that its Convention applies to all domestic workers.

But before the ILO launched into the nuts and bolts of decent work for domestic workers, it set the global table, specifying the place of domestic work in the global economy and the place of women and girls in domestic work. In other words, the International Labor Organization recognized and considered women as the key.

And so, without further ado and as an alternative to the narrow, misogynistic world view of the U.S. Supreme Court, here’s a sampling of the opening of the Text of the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers:

“Recognizing the significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy, which includes increasing paid job opportunities for women and men workers with family responsibilities, greater scope for caring for ageing populations, children and persons with a disability, and substantial income transfers within and between countries, and

“Considering that domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights, and

“Considering also that in developing countries with historically scarce opportunities for formal employment, domestic workers constitute a significant proportion of the national workforce and remain among the most marginalized, ….

“Recognizing the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out that make it desirable to supplement the general standards with standards specific to domestic workers so as to enable them to enjoy their rights fully, and ….

“Having decided upon the adoption of certain proposals concerning decent work for domestic workers, which is the fourth item on the agenda of the session, and

“Having determined that these proposals shall take the form of an international Convention;

“adopts this sixteenth day of June of the year two thousand and eleven the following Convention, which may be cited as the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011.”