Trauma and violence have become the global school curriculum

Paballo Seane, 19, was buried recently: “Paballo Seane, 19, a Grade 12 pupil at Cefups Academy, which is on a farm 11km outside Nelspruit, died in hospital over a week ago after allegedly being sjambokked by a teacher. She was buried on Saturday in her home town, Bloemfontein, in the Free State.”

Since Paballo Seane died, or was killed, former students of the Cefups Academy have reported their memories of sjamboks as a fairly regular “pedagogical tool.” Parents are threatening to take their children out of the school, and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has said if corporal punishment was used, the academy will be closed.

Will it be closed?

This is not the first time Cefups Academy has run into precisely this trouble. In 1999, Simon Mkhatshwa, the school’s founder, was convicted for sjambokking a teacher.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, a graduate of Cefups Academy, describes Simon Mkhatshwa as a “typical traditional man who believed that what must happen at school was teaching and learning and nothing else”.

Is the sjambok teaching, learning, or nothing else?

The violence done to Paballo Seane in school by a staff member is no anomaly, neither in South Africa nor around the world.

Across the United States, schools use so-called seclusion rooms, which are solitary confinement cells. Teachers are not supposed to use the rooms for punishment, but they do regularly. More often than not, the children believe that their punishment was not apt and normal, because teachers are fair and just. And so they don’t tell their parents. Not surprisingly, the majority of children are living with disabilities.

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven? No longer.

And in India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights “has written to state government to make it mandatory for teachers to sign an undertaking against torture to students.” This is due to a spike over the last two years in complaints of torture of students by school staff.

Teachers need to sign a document that says they will not “undertake” the torture of students?

The gender dynamic of staff violence has yet to be studied conclusively. What is known is that the experience is traumatic, hurts deeply and lasts forever. Trauma and violence have become the global curriculum.

Last week, Kathleen Dey, of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, urged South Africans not to use Women’s Day, August 9, as an alibi for hiding from precisely violence against women. This week, on August 12, the world `celebrated’ International Youth Day. Think of that, and think of Paballo Seane dying under the lash of a sjambok. Think of the girls across South Africa, the United States, India and around the world who suffer violence in the one place that is meant to help precisely girls advance in this world and the next: school. Remember Paballo Seane and all the girls, and then do something.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, very different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

Now you have touched Aderonke Apata, you have struck a rock, you will be crushed!

The United Kingdom tried to crush Nigerian lesbian, feminist, asylum seeker Aderonke Apata. Big mistake. They threw her into Yarl’s Wood, the notorious prison for women asylum seekers and migrants. She organized and mobilized. They tried to cast doubt on her claim of being a lesbian. She looked at them with pity, and then provided evidence. They tried to silence her. She founded Manchester Migrant Solidarity, aka MiSol, “a convergence space for migrants (including asylum seekers, economic migrants etc.) and non-migrants, offering practical and social activities for mutual support, empowerment and solidarity.” MiSol joined with WAST, Women Asylum Seekers Together; and Safety4Sisters to make clear there is only way forward: Shut Yarl’s Wood.

The State tried to turn Aderonke Apata into a spectacle, then into a cipher, then into a ghost. Each time the State failed, or, better, each time Aderonke Apata succeeded in organizing, mobilizing, articulating, shouting, whispering, speaking, singing, being heard and being fearless.

At a #ShutDownYarlsWood demonstration in June, Apata explained, “This wasn’t people speaking for other people, we heard women telling their own stories about what goes on in Yarl’s Wood. … Conditions in there are very bad, with poor healthcare, abuse and bad treatment, when these are women who have experienced imprisonment and torture before … Many women develop mental health problems that they didn’t have before. The prison environment brings back bad memories. There is no reason to detain these women in prison, for this is what Yarl’s Wood is …This is going on in our backyards, and yet people do not know about it. When they find out, they are enraged … We will speak with a louder voice until it is heard and continue to make more noise about Yarl’s Wood until it is shut down.”

Apata’s asylum case, and status, is still pending. Nevertheless, and because irony is decidedly not dead, Aderonke Apata, this past week, made the shortlist for a National Diversity Award, in the Positive LGBT Role Model category. In the eyes of some, Aderonke Apata is a hero, and the State is condemned.

Awards are nice, acknowledgement of one’s work is great, action is the best. End the United Kingdom’s current witch-hunt against African lesbians, against African women asylum seekers, against African women generally. Shut down Yarl’s Wood. Don’t delay, don’t pretend it’s complicated. It’s not. The “conditions in there are very bad.” Every day Yarl’s Wood is open, women living trauma are forced to engage with their past traumas wrapped into new ones, with the pain intensifying by the second. Every day Yarl’s Wood is open, women who sought help are exploited and then exploited again more intensively. It’s not complicated. Shut down Yarl’s Wood, because it’s bad and wrong, and every day it’s open, we are steeped deeper and deeper into guilt and shame. All of us are. Shut down Yarl’s Wood. Do it today.

Sexual Offences Courts Matter, and Here’s Why

August is Women’s Month in South Africa, and so last week, to launch Women’s Month, and presumably `to honor’ women, two judges of the Pretoria High Court reduced to 20 years the life sentence of a man convicted of having repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl, a girl he says he regarded as “a daughter.” The judges reduced the sentence because they determined that the 11-year-old girl “seemed to be a willing partner.”

What? What?!?

According to South African law, not to mention common sense, an eleven-year-old child is never a willing partner to anything. An eleven-year-old girl cannot give consent to sexual contact, and nobody gives consent to sexual violence. Period.

From start to finish, the decision is all wrong, and, yet again, one can only be outraged and, yet again, foment and rage and lament the betrayal. Or …

Or one can consider this abysmal case as the proof, if one were needed, that greater attention must be paid to serious investment in Sexual Offences Courts.

Alison Tilley began the week by asking, “Did you know we have only fifteen functioning sexual offences courts?” Last August, the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters launched its Report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. After a year of study, the task team issued a strong and clear report, with direct and clear recommendations: “In the final analysis, the report makes a clear finding that there is a need for the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts in South Africa … The Department must give priority to the immediate upgrading of the 57 regional courts that have been identified as being resourced closest to the Sexual Offences Court Model. This upgrading process must be done against available resources, and must commence in the 2013/2014 financial year.”

The original plan was to have 22 functioning courts by the end of 2013/2014 financial year. There are 15.

In South Africa, sexual offences courts began in 1993. By the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts. Little by little, the courts were closed because of “budget constraints.” The budgets weren’t `constrained.’ The legislators decided, with their wallets, that protection of the vulnerable just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s happened before, it’s happening again.

Last year, the discussion of Sexual Offences Courts was impelled by the torture of Anene Booysen. This year, perhaps, it will be moved by the judicial violence done to an eleven-year-old girl raped by a man who thought of her as “a daughter” and by a court, and court system, who didn’t think of her at all.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, slightly different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

Rosemary Margaret Khumalo died last month

Rosemary Margaret Khumalo, affectionately known as Makhumalo, died last month: “Rosemary Margaret Khumalo died on death row on the 15th of July at Chikurubi Maximum Prison before the Constitutional application to set aside her death sentence could be heard by the Constitutional Court.” Khumalo, 59-years-old, had spent the last 15 years on death row.

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa commented, “Being on death row for an unduly long period is a violation of one’s rights. I do not know why she was on death row for such a long period time. Either someone did not know what they were doing or they did not want to execute her. It is a blow on the justice system of Zimbabwe.”

Chiedza Simbo, director of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), said, “It is with immense sadness that ZWLA celebrates the role Rosemary Margaret Khumalo played in defending the rights of women embodied in the new Constitution of Zimbabwe,”

Rita Nyamupinga, Director of Female Prisoners Support Trust (Femprist) reflected: “Makhumalo was so brave even after being sentenced to death she could smile and share her story without any reservation. She used to say ‘I am telling you because this place is not good, wanzvaka? (you hear?) with a Ndebele accent. She was in there from 1999 when she was sentenced to death for murder. All she wished for was to be released if they could not hang her. She said she had repented but could not bear the torture any longer. She was so prayerful, at times we would fail to pray but she would encourage us to soldier on … Every time we parted she would remind us not to take long before visiting her. At times we would take our time because of the after effects of the previous visit. In February 2014 after the Presidential Amnesty we all thought Makhumalo was eventually going but it was never to be.”

In many ways, Makhumalo’s story is typical of death penalty countries. Sentenced to death, she then waited, often in solitary isolation, for the hangman to come. He never did. The reasons for her long stay are unclear. On one hand, Zimbabwe is a de facto death penalty abolitionist country, largely due to the inability to find someone to actually conduct the executions. On a different, but not opposite, hand, the vast majority of those on death row are poor. As Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe chairperson Virginia Muwanigwa noted: “We want the death penalty to be removed from our constitution and our laws completely. One important reason for this is that it is mostly poor people who often get hanged.”

As in Zimbabwe, so in the United States and elsewhere. A recent US court ruling found that the main cause for death row delays is the State’s foot-dragging and underfunding of its indigent defense system.

But Rosemary Khumalo’s story has a twist. Last year, Zimbabwe passed a new Constitution, which exempts women, men under 21, and everyone over 70 from the death penalty. The new Constitution also does away with mandatory sentencing. For Khumalo and Shylet Sibanda, the only other woman on death row, this seemed promising. They appealed to courts and were denied their appeal because of lack of “urgency.” Khumalo appealed directly to the Presidency, on five occasions, and was rejected twice, and didn’t hear back on three other occasions.

Her lawyers argued from the basis of human and Constitutional rights and due process. Rosemary Khumalo pleaded as a woman, as a human being. She did not say she was innocent. She said she had repented. Those around her confirmed the substance of that claim.

Rosemary Khumalo was so close to release and so very far from freedom. In her last years, she lived with dignity, which is hard won in the killing conditions of Chikurubi. The years were hard, but the real story is not the long years. It’s death row: “‘I am telling you because this place is not good, wanzvaka? (you hear?).” Remember: this place is not good. Remember Rosemary Margaret Khumala, affectionately known as Makhumalo.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: “I am no longer criminal, today we have made history”

Some days the news is good. Today, that’s the case from Uganda. Last December, when the Uganda Parliament passed `ethics laws’, that, using the most vague and hence lethal language, threatened the LGBT communities with life in prison while also outlawing miniskirts, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, founder of FAR-Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda; Julian Pepe Onziema and Frank Mugisha, leaders of SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda; joined forces with Professor Joe Oloka-Onyango, MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, Prof. Morris Latigo, Dr. Paul Nsubuga Ssemugoma, indigenous civil society organizations, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD). Together, they sued the Attorney General. Today, they won. The constitutional court declared the passing of the anti homosexuality bill into an act as null and void.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and all the activists know the struggle is not over. They know that the LGBT communities, and especially their leaders, will be attacked with even greater vehemence. According to Kasha Jacqueline, “Many people are going to retaliate and attack community members. People are going to retaliate — not just the members of parliament and anti-gay groups and religious leaders, but in the community as well.”

But they know something else as well. You only win by pushing back and pushing forward. Kasha Jacqueline knows in advance that the government will petition the decision, as it did instantly. She knows that same-sex relationships, again still codified in the most ambiguous and hence lethal language, is still illegal. But she knows as well the great work of having faced down the State, the President, the Parliament, and everyone else who said she must just die, and the sheer joy of hearing the phrase “null and void.” The actions of those who would nullify her, of those who cast her into the void, are now null and void.

And Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera can laugh and cry and say, “I am no longer criminal, today we have made history for generations to come”. Some days, thanks to the work of women like Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, the news is good. Today is one of those days.

Cell extraction: Torture from sea to shining sea

From Tennessee and California, this week, people and groups are charging, in court and in the streets, that something called “cell extraction” is killing and torturing prisoners, children, loved ones: “In the insular world of correctional institutions, it is known as cell extraction, the forcible removal of a prisoner from a cell by a tactical team armed with less-lethal weapons like Tasers, pepper spray and stun shields.”

On one hand, standard “cell extraction” becomes particularly problematic when so much of the prison population is living with mental illness and so few, as in practically none, of the prison staff is trained to recognize, much address, a mental health episode. The story of Charles Jason Toll is a case in point.

Charles Jason Toll was 33, diabetic and living with mental illness. One hot August night, in Riverbend Maximum Security, in Tennesse, where Toll was in solitary confinement, guards rushed into his cell, pushed him to the floor, handcuffed and shackled him. When he repeatedly begged, “I can’t breathe”, he was told, “You wanted this.” A little while later, he died.

Charles Jason Toll was in prison for a parole violation. Why was he in solitary? Why did no one in charge know his medical history?

Part of Charles Jason Toll’s story is the vindictive system in which a slip can send you down a hole from which there is no escape, and that’s the plan.

Toll’s mother, Jane Luna, is suing Tennessee for having killed, and tortured, her son. Jane Luna didn’t even know her son was arrested until she received notice of his death.

Meanwhile, “Videos made public in California last fall showed corrections officers at state prisons dousing severely psychotic inmates with large amounts of pepper spray before forcibly removing them from their cells, images that a federal district judge, Lawrence K. Karlton, who ordered the release of the videos, termed `horrific.’”

Earlier this week, ten civil rights groups filed a complaint concerning the San Diego juvenile detention centers and their use, especially during cell extraction procedures, of pepper spray.

One story involves a girl who reported, to her attorney, that she had suicidal inclinations. “The girl sat on the bunk in her cell in one of San Diego County’s female juvenile-detention units as staff members explained that she was being placed on suicide watch. They told her she had to strip naked in front of them—including in front of a male staff member. She refused, twice. So, they sprayed her in the face with pepper spray, then shut the door to her cell. Two minutes later, they asked if she was going to cooperate. She refused, and they sprayed her a second time and again shut the door. Minutes later, they opened the door and sprayed her again. She vomited. They then sprayed her yet once more. After the fourth blast of pepper spray, the girl finally submitted. Probation staff ordered her to crawl out of the cell, where they handcuffed her, forcibly removed her clothing, cut off her shirt and bra, strip-searched her, put her in a gown and placed her in solitary confinement for 48 hours.”

There is a special punishment, a special hell, for girls and young women who refuse the advances of the State.

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.

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.