I did not need to watch the trial

I did not need to watch the Depp/Heard trial. The endless documentation around it and its live feed are meaningless. Even if the libel defendant were destroyed, aggressive, confused and/or totally without credibility, it would not change my opinion.

In my opinion, the person with gender privilege, more money, more symbolic power and more fame, not to mention more physical torque, is far more at liberty to walk away from a conflict than a person who has less of these things and is dealing with gendered ideology — a thing that lives in the minds of many femmes people, particularly cis-het women, reminding forever that femmes or childbearing bodies can be and are frequently trafficked, femmes minds are not valued; bank accounts not owned by men are precarious (as in evidence in the case of Britney Spears), and that displeased het-men have a social history of violence. Any invocation of the witch trials reminds that those bodies historically described as “women” are constructed as disposable.

Though in many contexts, these fears may be much less relevant, the true lovers of femmes people will understand that this internal siege exists and help us feel safe. Since the “Depp is innocent” campaign, that internal dreamscape has become a more, not less, dangerous place. Now that he has won his case, the dangers of that dreamscape will pierce the membrane into reality with the help of that repository called the internet.

The non-imperial gender and less powerful person in a relationship is far more likely to be stripped of other forms of material and social power if they are the one to choose to leave. Though I have little interest, fascination or even patience for a ‘Hollywood set’ of huge means, this relatively ‘less’ is of great importance when we are talking about ‘the union between a man and woman’ in the spectacle. Because it’s here in cis-hetero-ville that patriarchy finds itself and simmers its eggs against any social or structural change. When the imperially gendered famous person can pay an entire media machine to produce its slogans and re-frame events, his ex-wife has every reason to be and to have been terrified. Breakups for the person with less social power can be exponentially more frightening; they carry with them more potential for exile and violence. With the femmes gender having a history of being property, the gender who has been permitted to feel entitled to that property may construct being left as a form of being expropriated.

At the scale Heard will face here, where one can be certain that such an actress will face an entire regime of misogynistic death threats from other similarly entitled/sex privilege expropriated people, and with the more powerful actor most assuredly knowing that such harassment exists, it’s hard not to assume that his abuses continue.

Since I’m a reader, not a watcher, the bits I have caught pertain to some jocular death threats issued by Johnny Depp for whom the Stanford Experiments defense is suddenly deemed relevant. “Burn the witch” is not only misogynistic, it’s an elemental and originary form of misogyny. It represents a fundamentalist dogma of hate towards life-bearing bodies and a reference to a ‘first cause’ of a gendered regime change that brutalized bodies with vaginas. Team Depp argues that the context for him writing these texts was terrible, and so he became terrible. But why does this line of reasoning not work for Amber Heard? Was the context not also somehow terrible for her?

Indeed, what must a woman do to save her life? Sometimes the material manifestations of such decisions are surprising as, for instance, when Lucy DeCoutere gave Jian Ghomeshi flowers. That she did this was also used to prove Ghomeshi’s innocence in Canada. Fear does a lot of things to people: it can make them hyper-conciliatory, or it can make them enraged. But one thing is certain: the double standard has been holding in case after case.

It doesn’t matter to me that Winona Ryder (an actress I am a fan of as much as I can “like” any of these people) or Kate Moss didn’t experience violence with Depp. Sometimes a rapist abuser has a pattern that is obviously visible among his exes, and sometimes he doesn’t. While the pattern could serve as evidence, it’s not a foregone conclusion that if no one else comes forward, then he must be “innocent.” Perhaps Depp has categories of people he abuses, and categories he doesn’t. Perhaps he felt he could get away with exploring his violent side with Heard in particular; perhaps he was drunk. The reason doesn’t much matter. In any scenario, it still would have been much easier for him to walk away and shut the door than it would have been for her because the world doesn’t punish men, and particularly famous White, powerful men, the way it punishes every other identity at every social level.

Whatever Heard is or isn’t, she isn’t lying when she says that the judgment of this case hurts everyone. The judgement that proclaims Depp as “innocent” hurts abuse victims by making them more afraid to come forward, and it hurts abusers by declaring their innocence and thereby “finishing” the episode in what appears to be their favor. While it may look like a win, it actually deprives the abuser of self-reflection and the possibility of change and growth. More crucially, it deprives all of us because it re-installs the rigidity of gendered roles in marriage, men permitted to be controlling and women expected not to fight back and/or stay silent about what they endure; or that women’s roles remain circumscribed, though perhaps prescribed in kind by the whims of a particular era. Such a judgment reifies patriarchy at the center of the internet tabloid sphere, making a serious matter into a fluff piece about a woman’s derangement. So long as we live like this, there will be more Putins, Trumps, Enrons and all the forms of social destabilization created by excess greed, and a class of mostly White-man-people who are judged immune from ethics.

The raison d’etre of libel cases has often pertained to missed job opportunities. In this case, the consequence of Depp not issuing a libel accusation against Heard might have meant that he no longer would be allowed to make more pirate movies. But he would have assuredly not starved because of this, and indeed, it might be time for a new actor to benefit from such an opportunity. That blockbusters require a star in order to maintain their dominion over what adults and children watch is also problematic, normalizing, exclusionary and controlling.

If Depp were ethical, he would have written a well-considered op-ed back to Heard’s, supporting the social movements of femmes bodily autonomy namely the right to live without abuse and rape. He could have corrected where he thought she was wrong or talked about trying to understand how certain acts could, at least, have been read, understood or felt by her as they were in the context of his own predicament. He, like any other imperial identity in his position, could use such a moment to evolve the conversation, to avow his acts of cruelty or callousness, to read and learn about gender violence and support all of us in the travails and discomforts of what it means to truly and respectfully love the other and co-exist and co-create the world with them.

An onslaught of “Johnny Depp is innocent” is an abuse of the entire systemic socius for his petty battle. It ignores what the power of these signs do and which engines they feed. Maybe Depp did or did not abuse Amber Heard, but the accusation and judgment that supports libel abuses all of us. On that alone, Depp is an abuser.


(by Dora Bleu)

(Image credit 1: “Bleeding House Somewhere in Miami-5”, by Marko Mäetamm / The Cotton Factory)

(Image credit 2: “Bleeding House – 10”, by Marko Mäetamm / The Cotton Factory)

New York votes to remove guns from domestic abusers: Will they also disarm the police?

Praising New York’s reaction to the rising concerns of gun violence in the country, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he will sign into law legislation that would amend state law that passed after the Sandy Hook killings that previously prohibited domestic abusers from owning pistols and revolvers, but only applied to some selected misdemeanors.

Governor Cuomo said, “New York is once again leading the way to prevent gun violence, and with common sense reform, break the inextricable link between gun violence and domestic violence. Half of the women who are murdered in this country are murdered by an intimate partner.” Firearms had been used in 35 domestic killings in 2016 in New York State.

The law, which is being changed slightly to align with federal law, passed 41-19 in the Senate and 85-32 in the state Assembly. When enacted, it can prevent someone from getting or renewing a license for a gun if the person is the subject of an arrest warrant for alleged crimes.

While a step in the right direction, the law raises a question: if you’re going to disarm domestic abusers, will you disarm the police officers that make up a significant portion of the perpetrators of domestic abuse?

In an information sheet by the National Center for Women and Policing, two studies have illustrated the staggering violence in police families, with the survivors often unable to rely on the precise institution that should protect them from such abuse: “At least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population.” A third study done with older and more experienced officers found a 24 percent rate; meaning that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police families.

Reports against police families are handled informally, usually without an official report, investigation, or even a check of the victim’s safety, often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes. Often police officers who are found guilty face no consequences for their actions.

If we’re discussing taking guns away from abusers, police officers who are violent to their families should be disarmed just like any other abuser that will be disarmed in New York, not to mention prosecuted and immediately terminated from their position, as an article in The Atlantic noted, “If there’s any job that domestic abuse should disqualify a person from holding, isn’t it the one job that gives you a lethal weapon, trains you to stalk people without their noticing, and relies on your and discretion to protect the abused against domestic abusers?”

In any conversation surrounding gun violence and domestic abuse, the police need to be held accountable for the violence they perpetrate, not just out on the streets, but in their homes and against the ones they supposedly love.

Now is the time to discuss and act about disarming the police.


(Photo Credit: For A World Without Police)

#SistersUncut: In England women reject austerity’s gendered death sentence

On Sunday, November 20, women shut down major bridges in London, Bristol, Newcastle and Glasgow, to protest recent drastic cuts in domestic violence services, a decade of cuts in domestic violence services, and, more generally the State’s pogrom against Black and Minority Ethnic, or BME, women, lesbians, immigrant and migrant women, poor and working women. Sisters Uncut organized the action to put the State on notice: “Theresa May claims she wants to end violence against women and girls. To do that we need an awful lot more than refuges. We need a long term, sustainable funding plan for all domestic violence services. We need universal access to benefits so survivors have the resources to escape, rather than policies like the benefit cap which are making it even harder when already 52% of survivors report that they can’t afford to leave. We need domestic violence support services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors – a `one size fits all’ generic approach might save money but it doesn’t meet needs. We need funding for outreach workers who are able to slowly build up survivors’ confidence over time and support survivors before the danger escalates, rather than a focus solely on crisis response. We need an end to gentrification and the devastating effects it has on communities; not all survivors want or are able to access support services, and it is their neighbours that provide their lifeline. And we must see the links between violent, racist government policies and the increased risk for black, brown, Muslim and migrant women experiencing domestic violence. We demand a secure, long term plan to support ALL domestic violence survivors, regardless of immigration status, with specialist services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors.

When it comes to services for domestic violence services, the grimness of the numbers is only exceeded by the viciousness of the program that has established them. In September, Women’s Aid reported the Government’s plan would force 67% of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England to close, and that 87% of refuges in England would be forced to reduce their current level of provision. In Wales, 69% of refuges would be forced to close, and 100% would have to seriously reduce their current level of provision. Because migrants are restricted from using public funds, migrant non-binary people women are turned away from refuges, social housing, benefits or healthcare. How do you want your pain and suffering, slow and torturous or fast and torturous? Welcome to the economies of torture.

Marcia Smith, a domestic violence survivor, remembered: “When I went to the police with bruises, they said they couldn’t see my bruises because I was black. People don’t see black women as victims, and we get racism instead of help. With black services, you don’t have racism, you have the trust and support you need.” Is it any wonder that 90% of BME survivors prefer to receive support from a specialist BME organization?

Sisters Uncut declared an end to the destruction of women’s lives: “We will not stand by as black and brown survivors are left stranded in abusive homes without the bridges to safety provided by specialist domestic violence services, whilst migrant survivors with ‘no recourse to public funds’ find all of their bridges blocked by the government’s immigration policies.”

You block our bridges, so we block yours. Just prior to Theresa May’s Autumn Statement, where she will reveal the new budget, Sisters Uncut declared it time for Women’s Spring, and in doing so, joined women in the past few months in France, Argentina, Poland, South Africa who themselves joined the women water protectors at Standing Rock in the United States and Grassy Narrows in Canada, and beyond. It’s time, it’s way past time: “To those in power, our message is this: your cuts are sexist, your cuts are dangerous, and you think that you can get away with them because you have targeted the people who you perceive as powerless. We are those people, we are women, we will not be silenced. We stand united and fight together, and together we will win.”


(Photo Credit 1: Broadly / Alice Zoo) (Photo Credit 2: The Fader / Holly Falconer)





From Jacqueline Sauvage to Bresha Meadows, the State abuses women victims of violence

Bresha Meadows at age 15

Two weeks before her 15th birthday Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her father in his sleep with the gun he used to threaten her and her mother. She was defending her mother and herself and still the first response from the state was to imprison Bresha. Despite all evidence of domestic extreme violence the state unleashed more violence on a child who had already experienced and witnessed violent mental and physical abuse. This time prosecution of the victim takes place in Ohio close to Cleveland, where the child Bresha Meadows is facing the unbearably violent vicious US penal system.

As Bresha turned 15 while incarcerated at the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center, no visitors for her birthday were allowed, signaling a clear lack of interest for her well being after everything she had been through. Her mother, Brandi, had been beaten since her first pregnancy and almost lost it due to the severity of her injuries. Year after year, for 22 years of marriage, her husband, Jonathan Meadow, used brutal, emotional and physical isolation techniques to control his wife, regularly threatening to kill her children, especially in recent years.

Bresha Meadows suffered directly from these conditions. As she grew older, she realized her father could eliminate anyone at anytime. Bresha escaped her home twice to seek help with her aunt Latessa, telling her how their father was trying to isolate their mom from her children as well as the constant physical abuse.

Despite all the evidence Bresha’s act was not judged as an act of defense. Instead, she had to be harshly punished. There is a manifest differential of punishment between a case like hers and male killing their partners or committing racist crimes.

Why does the state want to punish not only battered girls and women like Bresha but also pregnant women or women wielding their right to control their reproduction? 75% to 80% of women incarcerated for murder were battered and killed in self-defense, not to forget that class and race play a crucial role in their incarceration generally. Moreover, 84% of the US girls in custody were victims of abuse or experienced domestic violence. Even scarier is that the last comprehensive data on US children who killed their parents was published in 1990 and at that time 90% of the 280 children who killed their parents were abused.

According to Michel Foucault, “Systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain political economy of the body.” Bresha Meadow’s incarceration had nothing to do with reducing crime, had less than nothing to do with ending violence against women. The latter is a crime that has international recognition with a day, November 25th the international day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to raise awareness.

As opposed to Jacqueline Sauvage, the French woman also incarcerated for killing her husband, Bresha, if prosecuted as an adult, will face life in prison because of mandatory sentencing while Sauvage is going to be released in January since France does not have mandatory sentencing anymore and uses a system of sentence remission. Even if the judge decides to keep her case in juvenile court, she will still face a harsh sentence thanks to the complicated legal system in Ohio. In both cases the judges demonstrate a vision of the political economy of the woman’s body in which violence against women is permitted and women are on their own.

The ultimate action should not be to only find ways to bypass mandatory sentencing in the US or influence judges in France. Rather, we need to expose the patriarchal rules and economy that use prison as an instrument of control of women’s bodies, which is exactly the reason Bresha’s father thought that it was fine to put his wife and family in a box. As Latessa explained, “If they stepped out of that box, they were reprimanded and put right back in that box.”

Meanwhile Bresha who was living in hell with no help from the state to change the situation of violence in her family is now living in the hell of the state jail.

Please consider signing the petition that calls for the immediate release of Bresha and demands the withdrawal of all charges.



(Photo Credit: Lena Cooper / Cleveland Plain Dealer)



Free Jacqueline Sauvage, domestic violence survivor, patriarchal (in)justice prisoner!


In France, the case of Jacqueline Sauvage captures the inability of the justice system to do away with patriarchal rules and with prison as the essential means to assert punitive power. Jacqueline Sauvage’s story is the archetype of the effects of repetitive domestic violence. In September 2012, Sauvage, the daughter of a victim of domestic violence, shot her husband in the back, thinking that this time he would carry out his brutal threats, after 47 years of constant and ferocious abuses. She feared for her life one time too many.

The couple had four children, one boy and three girls, all raised in a climate of violence orchestrated by the father. The family is a middle-class family that runs a small business in Montargis, in central France; all these years of abuse, nobody dared say anything. The daughters were sexually abused and the son verbally abused. The son reproduced the climate of violence in his own life. He committed suicide the night before his mother killed her husband, but she did not know that when she killed her abusive husband.

Jacqueline Sauvage was accused by the prosecutor of faking or lying, arguing that she and her daughters never pressed charges against the husband/father oppressor. She lived in fear of retaliations; moreover she was under his control.

In France only 14 % of the women who declare having been a victim of violence file a complaint. Every year, 134 women are killed by their respective partner. In addition, 90% of rapists are known by their victims; 37% are their husbands.

Jacqueline Sauvage’s defense attorneys relied on a self-defense argument to save their client from more punishment. The court dismissed the argument and sentenced her to 10 years for aggravated murder. Another court dismissed the argument a second time in appeal. Meanwhile, the case became emblematic of the lack of support for women victims of domestic violence.

Then, Jacqueline Sauvage’s lawyers sought presidential pardon. They obtained a partial pardon, which means that it allows the justice system to grant remission but does not change the charges. She was still convicted of aggravated murder. The pardon skillfully did not challenge the status quo.

Finally, two weeks ago, a court decided that Jacqueline Sauvage would remain in prison despite the presidential pardon. The judge declared that self-defense cannot be applied, and she should have responded to the violence of her husband with proportionate action. With mass support, Jacqueline Sauvage is now appealing this last decision.

In the patriarchal code of justice women are still held responsible of their situation, particularly cases of abuse. In refusing to free Jacqueline Sauvage, the judge has normalized violence against women, making clear that revolt for abused women is unacceptable, even unfathomable. This long and painful story demonstrates one more time that women’s well being and rights are still a burden that lies on women’s shoulders, no matter what outfit they are wearing!

(Photo Credit 1: Grazia) (Photo Credit 2: 20 minutes)

Patriarchy never fails women; patriarchy always assaults women. #PatriarchyMustFall

In the news this week: in Cambodia rape victims have been “failed” by the so-called justice system; South Africa’s justice system is “failing” women; the United Kingdom “fails” women who suffer from domestic violence; and the United States’ program of mass incarceration fails all women, particularly women of color. The only problem with these “failures” is that they are successes. They are part and parcel of the public policy of patriarchy-as-nation-State. The State does not fail women; the State assaults women.

One of every twenty women in the world lives in the United States. One of every three women prisoners in the world is currently in a United States prison or jail, and that figure does not include immigrant detention centers. Globally, the 25 jurisdictions with the highest rate of female incarceration are 24 individual states and the District of Columbia. West Virginia tops that list, imprisoning 273 out of 100,000 women. There is no failure here. There is a decades long campaign to cage and otherwise brutalize women, and particularly women of color, all in the name of `protecting’ not only Society but also the women themselves.

In Cambodia, LICADHO, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, released a report yesterday that documented the massive “failure” of the State to address rape: “LICADHO’s monitors report that it is usually the result of a failure by police to respond to reports by victims, and in some cases, of suspects being tipped off by police that a claim has been made against them … This report brings to light the immense failure of the Cambodian justice system to properly investigate and punish cases of sexual violence against women and children. The reasons for this failure are many: corruption, discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls, misinterpretation of the law, and lack of resources all combine to perpetuate and entrench a system in which impunity prevails.

“The report has focused on the failures of the justice system rather than on the experience of individual victims; it must not be forgotten that at the centre of all the cases discussed there were women and children who had experienced a terrifying and violent attack resulting in psychological and often physical trauma. The failure of the criminal justice system to punish their attackers compounds their experience of abuse and perpetuates the harm they suffer. Moreover, every failure to punish reinforces existing public mistrust of the Cambodian justice system and conveys the message that rape is not an offence that will be treated seriously; it not only lets down the victims concerned but reduces the likelihood that future victims will take the risk of reporting the crimes committed against them.”

There is no failure in Cambodia. Police refuse to respond. The State refuses to put women and children at the center. We hear similar reports from South Africa, where the justice system fails “to adequately address gender based violence since the impunity of men as rapists is tacitly accepted.” Likewise, in the United Kingdom, when the State proposes to cut or almost eliminate domestic violence services, we are told, “The current government is failing women.”

There is no failure here. The State seeks to reduce women’s autonomy and dignity, and thereby extract ever more value, all of which accrues to men’s power, stature, wealth and pleasure. None of this is new. It’s the oldest play in patriarchy’s rulebook. Stop calling structural violence against women “failure.” Call it violence against women, and stop it. #PatriarchyMustFall

(Photo Credit: EPA / Kim Ludbrook / Daily Maverick)

Domestic violence in South Africa: Make the police take responsibility!

One night in 2010 CN’s* husband hit her so hard that she lost consciousness. CN was taken to the hospital, where she spent the night. The day after she was discharged, she decided to lay criminal charges against her husband. And this is where CN’s story stops making sense. Within 24 hours of approaching the police for assistance, CN was herself arrested, detained and assaulted by the police.

First, CN was given the wrong advice by police officers on duty, and told that she needed a domestic violence protection order from a magistrates court before she could lay a criminal charge. The court simply sent her back. The inspector assigned to the assist CN asked her for her telephone numbers, which he then used to call her husband, to invite him to the charge office. When CN’s husband arrived the inspector first spoke to him alone, and then told CN that she must discuss the matter with her husband to see if they could resolve it. When CN reported to the inspector that their discussion had not resolved the issue, and that she wanted to proceed with a charge, the inspector discouraged her. He told her that her husband would similarly lay a charge against her “for slapping”, and if this were to happen she would also be liable to be arrested. The inspector then asked them to write down their statements, and once they had done so, the inspector arrested both CN and her husband. They were both charged and detained in separate police cells at the police station, where CN then stayed the night.

The following morning, another police officer came to CN’s cell and informed her that he had come to take her to court. As she was being escorted to a police van she asked the officer to allow her a moment in order to speak to a more senior officer. But the officer sternly ordered her to board the police van, and then forcibly flung her into the back of the police van.

CN was subjected to “a dreadful series of traumatic, humiliating, dehumanising and flagrant violations of her rights to dignity, freedom of the person and bodily integrity.” This series of events makes so little sense because it is almost the polar opposite to what the South African legal framework envisages for domestic violence cases.

The Domestic Violence Act of 1998, a well-known piece of legislation that has been on South Africa’s law books for almost 17 years, is very clear about the responsibility of police officers in South Africa. In fact, the legislature regards domestic violence so seriously, that any failure to comply with one’s police duties in terms of the Act constitutes misconduct for the purposes of disciplinary action. The Regulations to the Act go into further detail about the duties of police officers, and a National Instruction issued to all police officers in 1999 leaves nothing open to interpretation. South Africa also has a Victim’s Charter, implementation audit tools, and a host of cooperative structures at local, provincial and national level where domestic violence can be discussed.

And despite all this legal regulation, the South African Police Service has been coughing up a lot lately in civil court for not doing their job. While there are pockets of excellence within the South African Police Service, it is an open and disgraceful secret that our police, particularly in townships and far-flung poor areas, perform badly when it comes to assisting victims of domestic violence. Police officers’ treatment of victims at station level often causes secondary trauma: a refusal or inability to come when called, a failure to explain a victims’ rights and legal options, sending victims home to deal with it “in the family”, and a failure to even understand their own duties under the Domestic Violence Act, or to even have a copy of the Act readily available in their stations. We know this first-hand from women seeking help, we know this scientifically from research, and we even know it from the police themselves. And we have known it for a long time.

What is most concerning is not that our police are doing badly, but that there is no desire to be honest with themselves and the public about shortcomings, and no real commitment to improving the situation. In a briefing to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Police, the SAPS would have us believe that they are doing well, and that almost no officers failed to comply with the Domestic Violence Act between 1 October 2014 and 31 March 2015.


Excerpt from presentation by the South African Police Service to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Police, on 18 August 2015.

They also reported that 100% of all 1 140 South African police stations were rendering “victim-friendly” services at the end of the first quarter of the 2015/16 financial year.

Which begs the question, why does the Women’s Legal Centre and other organisations continually deal with complaints, such as a recent case where a client, whose husband brandished and threatened her with a firearm on several occasions, had to approach three different police stations in her area before she could obtain police assistance? Why are there continued civil claims for damages against the police, for failing victims of domestic violence? Why is the Civilian Secretariat for Police reporting that only 1 of the 156 police stations audited in 2014 were fully compliant with the Domestic Violence Act? Why is it that women who are in possession of domestic violence protection orders, are still being abused and even killed by their partners?

There is no scarcity of recommendations for the police on improving their response to domestic violence, and thereby often preventing it. Civil society has, since the operationalisation of the Act, produced a multitude of research papers. Interest groups lobby relentlessly and women’s and men’s organisations clamour to be heard on the issue by various branches of government. We express the same concerns, and make the same arguments and appeals year in, and year out. In fact, even to those of us in the gender-based violence sector, we are starting to sound like broken records. In 2014, the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry heard extensive evidence about the handling of domestic violence cases by police. Community members testified about their experiences, the police released an unprecedented amount of internal data and documentation, and this in turn was analysed by various experts. The police themselves cooperated with the Commission, after initially refusing to take part, and ended up testifying frankly about their own challenges. And yet, the evidence-based recommendations (see Recommendation 14) which have national applicability have been rejected by the national Police Commissioner.

Police officers in South Africa can and must prevent domestic violence, through a quality response to victims. But there is complacency about ongoing police failure in this regard that seems to have set in, and it cannot be fixed by throwing more law or policy at it. Nor do civil claims seem to be driving home the message that the status quo is unacceptable.

The fact is that one station commander who cares about his station responding quickly and effectively to domestic violence, and takes responsibility for making it so, can do more good than ten policy documents and 20 reports to parliament. This is accountability. We should no longer be asking, “what must be done” but rather, “who is doing it”. Accountability means taking responsibility for what must be done, and it means real, personal consequences for failure to do your job.

(Image credit: Heinrich Böll Southern Africa)

Domestic Violence in Urban India: A Middle-Class Story

While international attention to recent incidents of rape in India has generated urgent attention to the issue of sexual violence there, another type of gender violence has received less attention in these media representations: domestic violence. Domestic violence is a global epidemic–less spectacular but equally deadly, in India and around the world. According to BBC reports, every five minutes, 1 incident of domestic violence is reported in India—a fraction of how much actually occurs. How do we counter domestic violence? Who can and should help victims of domestic violence, who often suffer quietly for years before they are so battered that they muster the courage to leave (as the Hindi film star Rati Agnihotri recently did) or they die (as my cousin and namesake Kavita did)? What NGO or state institutional resources exist, in urban and rural areas? How effective are they? How do we change so many men’s and women’s attitudes and behavior, so that they stop the abuse, and so that they speak up when they see another man or woman being abusive?

The Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) campaign began in India in 2008, broadcasting 30 second ads on TV depicting men stopping domestic violence in their neighborhood or apartment building: they went to the home where they could hear a woman being beaten and abused, rang the doorbell and asked for some milk, or water, or to borrow a phone. The idea was to let the abuser know they were heard, and to interrupt the violence. The ads have stopped running, but the violence goes on.

Nobody rang the bell for my cousin Kavita. Six years ago, Kavita was living with emotional and verbal abuse throughout her four-year marriage in Mumbai. She was cursed and starved by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and husband; he even hit on several occasions. They were not poor-they hid bars of gold in bank lockers-just abusive. She kept hoping that things would change, if her sister-in-law got married, or at least when her beautiful daughter was born. It just got worse. In March 2009, emaciated at 34 years, a frail 5’4” Kavita died under suspicious circumstances, of “kidney and respiratory failure” (with no history of the same). She weighed barely 90 lbs. The doctors did not ask her husband any questions. Everyone knows that many married Indian women die of poisoning by a tasteless colorless chemical often used as a farmer’s pesticide, which causes kidney failure; detection is almost impossible.

I write this today, six years after, so that we don’t forget Kavita and millions of women like her. It is everybody’s responsibility—the parents, the siblings, the neighbors, the friends, the community, each one of us—to speak up, to intervene, to help, and stop the violence when we see it, for women’s human right to live with dignity in a violence-free world. Because when I reached out for help to an NGO serving as a resource in Mumbai for domestic violence victims, I was told “We can’t do anything if the victim is dead. If she was alive, we could have helped her, we could give her a lawyer, we could place her in a shelter. Since victim has died, we cannot do anything.” And the two year-old daughter she left behind will always miss the beautiful, loving mother she never got to know.



(Photo Credit: Stree Shakti Woman Power)


Nan-Hui Jo, guilty of dignity and survival


Nan-Hui Jo is a single mother, Korean immigrant to the United States, survivor of domestic violence, and prisoner. She stands, and struggles, at the intersection of State violence against immigrant women, women of color, and domestic violence survivors. While her story of being subjected to at least three forms of State violence is in many ways tragic, Nan-Hui Jo does not embody a failure of the State. The State wants Nan-Hui Jo suffering in prison and that’s what’s happening.

Nan-Hui Jo’s story is complicated, because of the innumerable details and turns, and yet simple, because of its familiarity. As a survivor of domestic violence, her story joins with those of Marissa Alexander, Tondalo Hall, and so many other women of color survivors who have been sent to prison for the crime of survival. As an immigrant woman, she joins Kenia Galeano and the mothers in Karnes Immigration Detention Center, in Texas, who are struggling to end State violence against immigrant women. In both categories, the women’s crime is having asserted their dignity.

Very briefly, Nan-Hui Jo came to the United States as a student, met a guy, fell in love, returned to Korea to get a fiancé visa, returned, married. Her husband abused her, and so Nan-Hui Jo filed for separation, moved across the country to California, returned to school, met a guy. Soon after, Nan-Hui Jo became pregnant, the guy pushed for an abortion, she resisted, they broke up, they re-united, they broke up again. Two months later, Nan-Hui Jo gave birth to Vitz Da, a beautiful baby girl. The father re-entered the picture a few months after Vitz Da’s birth, seemed to love the child, and the two adults re-united. The father exhibited unpredictably violent behavior, striking at Nan-Hui Jo at least once and threatening constantly. In July 2009, the two separated.

Here’s where it gets `complicated.’ Because Nan-Hui Jo had separated from her husband, she lost his sponsorship, and so ICE denied her application for a green card. Because no one told Nan-Hui Jo that she had rights as an immigrant survivor of domestic violence, she agreed to return to South Korea, which she did with her daughter. Five years later, in July 2014, Nan-Hui Jo and Vitz Da returned to the United States. Jo was arrested for child abduction. Her daughter was taken away. Despite his violent history, the father was given full custody of the child. Mother and daughter have not seen each other since.

Nan-Hui Jo’s trial ended in a hung jury. She stayed in jail, awaiting a second trial, where she was found guilty. In April, Nan-Hui Jo was sentenced to 175 days time served and three years probation. Immediately, Nan-Hui Jo was turned over to immigration authorities, who decided to place her in prison. She could have remained in the community until her hearing. Instead, she sits in jail.

Many organizations, such as the Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse, have campaigned for not only Nan-Hui Jo’s release but for her exoneration and freedom. 170 Asian American organizations sent an open letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security. They note, “Ms. Jo’s case highlights the vulnerable and marginalized situations that undocumented people and survivors of domestic violence face … As a coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting and advancing immigrants’ rights and providing support to survivors of domestic violence, we especially are concerned about Ms. Jo’s case, given her status as an immigrant, domestic violence survivor, and mother. We ask that the Department of Homeland Security drop the immigration hold request against Ms. Jo and release her from detention.”


Who benefits from separating this woman from her daughter? Who benefits from her sitting in jail? In a related context, Silvia Federici provides a clue, “The struggle of immigrant domestic workers fighting for the institutional recognition of `carework’ is strategically very important, for the devaluation of reproductive work has been one of the pillars of capital accumulation and the capitalistic exploitation of women’s labor.”

When Nan-Hui Jo arrived in the United States, survival became her carework, and the State has extracted value from that since day one. The State passes laws that `protect’ women, and then the same State refuses to implement those laws when women need them to survive and to live. That is no failure; that is the program. This is the lesson those organizing the Stand With Nan-Hui Campaign are learning and teaching others. State violence against domestic violence survivors is wrapped in State violence against immigrant women is wrapped again in State violence against women. And the result? Women – survivors, immigrants, women of color, prisoners – have to work ten times as hard to survive and assert their dignity.

For the rest of her life, Nan-Hui Jo will have to struggle and labor furiously to have any contact with her daughter. This is the price women, and their daughters, pay for the crime of asserting the dignity of women.


(Image Credit: Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse)

UK uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims


In London last week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights presented Parliament with its report, Violence Against Women and Girls. As before, the report is grim, in particular when it comes to State inaction vis-à-vis domestic violence. The authors of the report describe themselves as troubled and concerned, especially about women asylum seekers and refugees: “We heard particular concerns regarding victims with insecure immigration status, asylum seekers or refugees. These women and girls are often overlooked. Immigration policy is developed separately from policy about violence against women and girls. We urge the Government to address the gap in service provision for women with insecure immigration status and to review the use of the detained fast track process for victims of violence against women and girls.”

The abusive treatment of women asylum seekers who are in abusive relationships is State policy, not the error of overworked or unimaginative staff members. “The gap in service provision” and “the use of the detained fast track process” are not oversights. They achieve their intended goals: render efficiencies at the expense of women whose lives mean less than nothing to the State: “Throughout our inquiry we have heard about the experiences of a wide range of different groups of women including those with particular needs, for example women seeking asylum or refugees, women with learning difficulties, women from black and minority ethnic communities and women from communities of belief or religion.”

The treatment of women asylum seekers and refugees in abusive relationships in the UK is in direct opposition to the treatment of women in post-disaster zones: “We are concerned that, during the time it takes for a spouse suffering from violence to regularise their immigration status, they are very often left facing destitution or having to remain in a violent relationship. We find it worrying that current Home Office policies leave people destitute during the asylum and immigration process and that this in itself leads to women being at a greater risk of being a victim of violence. This is in contrast to funding being provided by the Department for International Development to post-disaster zones which looks specifically to address such survival strategies used by women.”

In other words, what’s good for Darfur is no good for Dover. Why is that?

To answer that, the report analyzes the fast track detention system; the culture of disbelief; and the lack of gender sensitivity; and concludes: “Despite the Minister’s assurances, we are disturbed by the evidence we received that the routine use of male interpreters, the operation of fast-track detention system and the reported culture of disbelief within the Home Office all result in victims suffering further trauma whilst seeking asylum or immigration to the UK. We find this unacceptable.”

We find this unacceptable. “This” is the systematic behavior and public policy of the State. The report has been described as demonstrating a failure: “UK failing to protect female domestic violence victims”; “Trapped with your abuser: How the Home Office fails domestic violence victims.” The Home Office didn’t fail; it achieved its stated goals. Calling it failure is an alibi. Rather say this: UK refuses to protect female domestic violence victims. How the Home Offices violates domestic violence victims. How the State uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims. We find this unacceptable.


(Photo Credit: Lacuna)