Why do we hate Sara Beltran Hernandez and Nasrin Haque?

Dr Nasrin Haque

Why does the United States of America hate Sara Beltran Hernandez? Why does Australia hate Nasrin Haque? Why does the State hate, and fear, non-native born women? Why does the State, built on the principles of white male supremacy, hate, and fear, non-native born women of color? What horrible crimes have these women committed that the State has chosen to persecute them?  For Sara Beltran Hernandez, it is the crime of being a Latina, of being a Central American, woman seeking refuge. For Nasrin Haque, it is the crime of being an Asian woman. The real crime is not in their bodies, but in our States and therefore in ourselves.

Sara Beltran Hernandez is very sick. Doctors say she may have a brain tumor and should have surgery quickly. Hernandez has been in immigration detention since 2015. Her family, in New York, say that she fled an abusive partner in El Salvador. They have been applying for asylum since her detention. This month, Sara Beltran Hernandez complained of headaches, nosebleeds, and memory loss. When she finally collapsed, she was taken to Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. While awaiting emergency surgery, Sara Beltran Hernandez was taken, by ICE agents, and removed to the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas. Already weak and confined to a wheelchair, she was tied by her hands and ankles. The family is desperate and terrified.

The family is desperate, and by all accounts Sara Beltran Hernandez is dying: “Sara is worse than we thought. Death may be imminent.”

Nasrin Haque’s story is different and yet connected. Dr. Nasrin Haque, originally from Bangladesh, has lived in Australia for eight years. Previously Dr. Haque lived in Hungary. Nasrin Haque’s sister, brother, and parents are all Australian citizens. But her sixteen-year-old daughter Sumaya is not a citizen. When Nasrin Haque applied for permanent residency, she was turned down because her daughter lives with autism: “Her application for permanent residency was rejected because Sumaya’s condition, which is described as a `moderate developmental delay’, was deemed a burden on Australian taxpayers.” When does someone become a burden to the State, and how is that not only determined but calibrated and weighed? Where are the scales of injustice, and who set them?

Nasrin Haque is a successful doctor in Sydney. With friends and supporters, she waged a campaign to keep Sumaya, and the rest of the family, in Australia: “Although she does attend a special school, she has not received any other support from the state during her eight years in Australia. Sumaya is an independent young girl with strong computer skills and manages all activities of daily living on her own. My full-time position as a GP allows me to financially support my family without assistance from the Australian state … If we are deported back to Hungary, we will not be able to function. Deportation would tear our family apart, and destroy my childrens’ chances of completing their education and becoming productive members of society.”

Nasrin Haque was given until February 24, today, to present herself and her daughter with airline tickets in hand, or else they would be deported. Today, it was reported that, at the eleventh hour, the deportation was stayed and Nasrin Haque and her daughter Sumaya would be given permanent residency.

While the story for Nasrin Haque and Sumaya ends more or less happily, or at least with tears of relief, it’s a shameful episode in an even more shameful ongoing tragedy. When a young Salvadoran woman awaiting emergency surgery is forcibly and violently seized and taken off; when a young girl living with disabilities and her loving mother are told to leave, forever, because the disabilities cost too much, we have arrived at the intersection of State and Hate. The State built, like a fortress, on hatred, always assaults women, first, last, most intensely and most violently. Why do we hate Sara Beltran Hernandez and Nasrin Haque?

Sara Beltran Hernandez

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Dr. Nasrin Haque) (Photo Credit 2: NY Daily News / Melissa Zuniga)

The global patriarchal market and violence against women

Being a woman today is marked by violence.

On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, on a square between the cathedral and the train station, about 200 women were sexually assaulted and robbed after about thousand men circled them to isolate them from the rest of the crowd. This type of assault has been reported else where in Europe: Helsinki, Zurich, and others. It has also occurred in Cairo and Tunis.

On Tahrir Square in Egypt, in 2013, during demonstrations against the government, women who were present wielding their right to be in public spaces would be circled by hundreds of men and then undressed and raped. These attacks were constant. Women and men organized and formed groups wearing fluorescent yellow jackets and helmets, to liberate the women under attack. They knew that they could not rely on the authorities or the police. The military government also used violence against women.

The same occurred in Tunisia when women took to the streets of Tunis in support of a positive transformation of the society. Since then, they have been organizing and fighting to defend their rights to public spaces.

This violence belongs to a trend that has been ignored for too long. In Cologne, the police did not intervene right away despite the system of video surveillance that is part of the globalized economies with their security market. The assaults were publicly reported only five or six days after the fact.

The fact that in Cologne most of the aggressors were North Africans and/or asylum seekers blurred the big picture and fueled resentment against immigrants and refugees, thereby encouraging racist violence. German feminists have responded: no excuse for sexual predators or for racists. Other European feminists have simplistically associated this event with the rise of fundamentalist Islam.

That presentation is limited and ignores the globalized neoliberal economy’s reliance on various strains of neo-conservatism and religious fundamentalism including Islamic fundamentalism to increase its hold on society.

One could remember, how in 1936, the phalanges, Franco supporters, whose slogan was “viva la muerte” dispersed their cruelty against women and men. They violently commanded women to stay away from public spaces, to reproduce and take care of the household. All of that was supported and encouraged by capitalists.

Clearly, women’s emancipation is one of the biggest stakes of an oppressive society.

Today, the European militarization of its borders along with austerity measures within the context of fear of “terrorism” opens the temptation of a constant state of emergency. The ordeal of women in migration facing infinite sexual violence and death during their journey is rendered invisible. What is left is the growing rhetoric for more policing and more appearance-based prejudices, which allow security markets to develop. The current paradoxical protective and aggressive discourse of the authorities puts some women under surveillance, hidden behind security forces and at the same time normalizes the position of other women as victims of sexual violence, according to race and geographical locations and conflicts.

Similarly women’s reproductive bodies, again racially defined, are under surveillance in the United States, with the incarceration of women for miscarrying or having an abortion where it is more and more difficult to get one. These signs of patriarchal essence that justifies violence against women correlate with the expansion of the neoliberal economic order that disadvantages women and minorities and throws them into precarious situations, again rendered largely invisible.

The code of silence that covers the attacks against women in Europe is troubling. In France, a recent study on sexual harassment in public transportation revealed that 100% of the women’s answers indicated various levels of harassment. Generally in Europe sexual assaults have been reported around football games, and other public events. In Cologne few days ago, a journalist of the Belgian RTBF was reporting on the beginning of Carnival and the security measures to protect women participants, when a group of white men sexually assaulted her, all this in front of the cameras.

Without a broader transnational understanding of the causes for the regression of women’s social and political right to be in public spaces, the prospect for better women’s social and political equality with men are slim.

A large transnational solidarity movement, beyond judgment, must be the force against the current trend of violence against women, the basis of all violence that is fueled by the devastating unfettered market forces that consume bodies.

 

(Image Credit 1: Osez le féminisme 69) (Image Credit 2: Osez le féminisme)

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)

Women are attacked in the mirror of reproduction, and where is the outrage?

 

I often hear women in France wondering how it is possible that women’s access to abortion or to safe delivery is so outrageously compromised and mostly a source of revenue rather than inalienable rights in the United States. The current political landscape might help them, and us, understand.

Once again women and their bodies occupy the center stage of the presidential elections in the United States. While the last attempt to defund Planned Parenthood failed to pass, there were still too many votes in favor. The issue continues to obsess the GOP candidates and allows them to stigmatize women. They used the usual recipe to fabricate a scandal, this time targeting Planned Parenthood. They made deceptive images in order to emotionally manipulate a large portion of the population, brush aside the truth and reality, and focus on the anti women’s reproductive rights credo. The videos were assembled to manufacture false images of the use of “for-money tissues” coming from aborted embryos; ironically these accusations came from the candidates who defend profiteering at any cost. Actually, women who had had an abortion donated tissues for research on diseases such as Parkinson, Alzheimer, or orphan diseases, but does it really matter? The press was reluctant to explain the scam.

Planned Parenthood provides health care to women. One out of five have had recourse to their services because nothing exists for them in a for-profit medical system. This is not only about abortion. Across the United States, pregnant women are also mistreated: sent to prison, denied basic rights, and having no labor protection and no legally supported maternity leave.

It seems that nothing can impede the United States Republican candidates from bawling out injurious slurs toward minorities and women, while keeping silent about the reality of the violence of their economic views. But this time the farce is grotesque as well as threatening. As witnessed by the first GOP debate, the current US conservative battle for the primaries sheds light on the debacle of “democratic” debates in the cradle of neoliberal conservatism.

I asked in France what if the shocking Sarkozy or the heinous Le Pen had said something similar to launch their campaigns. Most said that this would not be accepted, not that there is no anti immigration sentiments. They said it would have triggered more mockery as well as indignation. Additionally, the response coming from the numerous associations that work on immigration rights and immigrant women’s rights would have been strong and irrefutable and accompanied with legal actions.

The question of reproductive rights is also shaped differently as deliveries and abortions are free, and pregnant women’s labor rights are still guaranteed in France as well as in many other countries, and the commitment to these rights, in France and across Europe, is robust, and again a vast range of associations is watching.

For example, when the conservative Spanish Prime Minister attempted to reduce reproductive rights in Spain, women and men from all over Europe went to the streets in support of Spanish women’s rights, thanks to these very associations, and forced the withdrawal of the bill.

However, women’s rights have been threatened in relation to the restructuring of the European Union, as we saw in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and France. This signifies another form of violence against women’s bodies, taking the oppressed body, the migrant’s body, hostage.

In the United States, the threat of these attacks against women persists in a distractive form. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has explained, energy is going to be spent fighting each scandalous initiative while the source of the problem will be kept blurred. The debt economy that works with violence, stigmatizing women and people of color and/or lower social status, is forgotten in these debates.

Women are particularly targeted. Many women in the United States, including in my own family, have struggled during pregnancy to keep employment, to have pregnancy health particularities respected, to keep 100 % of their salary, or to pay for delivery.

Where is the outrage? Where are the images of the united colors of precarity, of women living precariously?

The neoliberal order bathes in this spectacle, and the reality of life disappears. Let’s keep in mind that the state of the status of women and women’s reproductive rights mirrors the fate of most of the population.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Javier Barbancho / Reuters / Landov / AlJazeera)

(Photo Credit 2: Marlon Headen of Headen Photography / RH Reality Check)

Being sick is deadly for women

In Algeria, about 4000 women are repudiated by their husbands every year. The reason: they have contracted breast cancer! A third of Algerian breast cancer patients are thrown out and made precarious with no guarantee of treatment as they lose their social coverage. Additionally, they endure severe psychological upheaval.

Hamida Khatab, President of the Association El-Amel, which supports cancer patients, explains that many men refuse to accept the physical changes of their sick wives. She adds that these men consider that they cannot fulfill their conjugal duty anymore. There is a certain code of silence around the condition of women’s dependency. For instance, reproductive rights in Algeria are very limited; access to abortion is restricted to women whose lives are in danger.

Nonetheless, Algeria has been lauded for its progressive Constitution, especially with regards to women’s rights. The Constitution guarantees equal rights, mentions gender and includes a non-discriminatory clause. However, while the Constitution purports to give rights, laws and their application suggest something else. For example, there are no laws to protect women in case of domestic violence in Algeria.

The UN and the World Bank recently published data on women’s rights country by country. Reading the data critically reveals the difficulties of simply summarizing women’s rights. For example, on abortion rights, the data show that the United States guarantees access to reproductive services such as abortion, and yet we know that access is not only difficult to impossible in many states, but also prohibitively expensive.

The World Bank refers to Country as Economy, which makes the financial materiality the “raison d’être” of a country. In that logic, women become even more dependent. In Algeria, for example, women and men do not have the same inheritance rights to property, whether they are daughters, sons or spouses. Seen from the perspective of Country as Economy, the repudiation of women with diagnosed breast cancer is embedded in inequality and discrimination, the Constitution notwithstanding.

Hamida Khatab and her organization have demanded legal protection to shield women with breast cancer from being divorced, thereby maintaining access to free treatment through social coverage.

Meanwhile, in the United States, where profit runs the health system, there is no free treatment for breast cancer patients. Women depend on employer-sponsored health insurance through their spouses or their own jobs. According to a study that considered gender role in “partner abandonment” in the United States, “A married man is six times more likely to separate from or divorce his wife soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than a married woman in the same situation.”

Additionally, the out of pocket cost of treatment for insured women can easily reach $6000. For the woman who is uninsured, the numbers skyrocket. The single greatest factor of disparity in survival rates for breast cancer is whether the woman is insured or uninsured, and that is heavily determined by ethnicity, social and immigration status. This disparity is growing.

Women’s dependency is articulated around economic and cultural patriarchal polarities and carries deadly consequences for their lives. In a period of austerity and reduction of public services, women’s precariousness is racially and economically organized. The fight is broad and requires a larger sense of solidarity.

 

(Photo credit: El Mouajahid)

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.)

(Photo Credit: http://www.mylowveld.com)

End juvenile life without parole now!

 

The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life without parole. In `America’, when we say life without parole, we mean it. Currently, about 2570 children are serving life without parole. With more than 500 people convicted as juveniles and given mandatory life sentences without parole, Pennsylvania leads the nation and the world in the practice of devastating children’s lives.

Two years ago almost to the day, in Miller v Alabama, the United States Supreme Court outlawed mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles. The Court did not ban life sentences without parole, but rather chose to ban the mandatory aspect. Three weeks ago to the day, that same Supreme Court refused to hear a case, Cunningham v Pennsylvania, which concerned the retroactivity of their earlier decision. If mandatory juvenile life without parole became wrong, on Constitutional grounds, in June 2012, shouldn’t that Constitutional reasoning apply to all those children who came before and now struggle to survive in an inhumane situation? For the Supreme Court, the time is not right.

The time is not right for many states across the United States. Last week, the Sentencing Project released a report, Slow To Act: State Responses to 2012 Supreme Court Mandate On Life Without Parole, which showed a national reluctance to abide by the Supreme Court mandate. The Supreme Court decision struck down laws in 28 states: “Two years later, the legislative responses to come into compliance with Miller have been decidedly mixed. A majority of the 28 states have not passed legislation. Frequently, the new laws have left those currently serving life without parole without recourse to a new sentence. Though 13 of the 28 states have passed compliance laws since Miller; the minimum time that must be served before parole review is still substantial, ranging from 25 years (Delaware, North Carolina, and Washington) to 40 years (Nebraska and Texas). Most states, not only those affected by Miller, still allow juveniles to be sentenced to life without a chance of parole as long as the sentence is imposed through individual review rather than as a result of a mandatory statute.”

State after States continues to insist that prison is the answer, that a policy of mass despair and death-in-life is the best thing for `some children.’ Juvenile life without parole laws supposedly addressed a sudden eruption of predatory and feral violence committed by incorrigible children. As Deborah LaBelle, Executive Director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative, has noted, that means Black and Latino.

In Miller v Alabama, the Supreme Court decided that children are children and that children matter. No matter what they do, children are children, and this means, among things, they have a greater capacity for rehabilitation, assuming responsibility, healing and repairing. Mandatory juvenile life without parole denies children their identities as children. All juvenile life without parole denies children not only their existence as children, but also the possibility for all of us that a community cannot be built on the manufacture of despair. Hope matters.

Pennsylvania, despite your legislature and your Supreme Court, take your position as the world’s leading incarcerator of children for life without parole, and turn it inside out. End juvenile life without parole, all juvenile life without parole. Do it now.

 

(Image Credit: Pennsylvania Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth)

Children in torture chambers in schools across the United States

Disturbing reports came out this week that show that children, overwhelmingly children living with disabilities, are kept in solitary confinement across the United States. In some places, the rooms are called “seclusion rooms” and, in other places, “scream rooms.” Call them what they are: solitary confinement, the hole, torture chambers.

Torture is not too grand or extreme a description. Children have committed suicide in these rooms, in schools like the ones around the corner from you. Children have come home with injuries which needed surgery. Often, staff caused these injuries. Across the country, children, and their parents, live with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. The list goes on.

This is part of a national war on children. The incarceration and torture of children in schools occurs at a time when girls are being sent to jail for status offenses while boys are not. Taken together, this is the national policy of protection for children, for children with special needs, and for girls. And if you’re a girl with special needs, you’re in trouble. We have traveled far, and quickly, from the days of “suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

At the national level, the only shock here are the numbers, which are assumed to be lower than the actual incidences, and the shock, the fact that, despite report after report after report after report, each report is `surprising’. Amnesia has always been the alibi for the citizens of the Torture State. It allows us to forget that our elected representatives killed legislation that would end the policy of school-based solitary confinement. It allows us to forget that some places in the country, like Montgomery County, Virginia, have done away seclusion rooms and replaced them with healthier, more reliable systems that actually work. It allows us to forget both evidence and hope.

So as not to forget, here’s a story, taken from a US Senate staff report issued this past February. The report finds such cases occur across the country. Minnesota is an instance, not an exception:

Minnesota: In January 2004, an eight-year-old girl began attending Jefferson Elementary School in the Willmar Public School District. Her mother described her as a `little girl who loved to go to school, even though the child had been diagnosed with a communication disorder and designated as developmentally delayed with speech and language impairment at age three.

“Since kindergarten, the girl’s IEP had included a behavioral intervention plan that authorized the use of restraints and seclusions when she exhibited certain behaviors. Eventually, the school district and her mother had the child assessed by an outside evaluator, who did not recommend the use of restraints or seclusions. However, the techniques remained in the girl’s behavioral intervention plan during the 2005 to 2006 school year. The mother said she had agreed to the use of seclusion, in an area the school called a `quiet room,’ only if necessary. However, some reports indicate the girl’s teacher secluded her forty-four times in one school year.102 The girl’s mother also said the teacher made the child sit at a `thinking desk’ perfectly still for thirty minutes straight and demeaned and belittled the child when she could not hold this posture. If the girl fidgeted or made any noise, her teacher would yell at her and sometimes put her into restraints, including a prone hold.103 During one incident in April 2006, the teacher forced the girl into the seclusion room while she was on her way to the bathroom, causing the child to urinate on herself.

“Aides reported that the teacher’s classroom, which was somewhat hidden in the basement of Jefferson, was `more a punishment/torture area than a classroom,’ and `run very much like a secret room that you are not supposed to talk about.’”

Suffer the children for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

 

(Image Credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times)

How many women are forced to give birth in solitary confinement?

We the people must be persuaded that no child should be born in a solitary confinement cell. We the people must be persuaded that no woman should have to give birth while in solitary confinement. Who are we? We are the United States of America. In this man’s land, pregnant women prisoners have less than no reproductive justice or rights. Instead of care, they receive neglect and abuse that crosses over into torture.

Last week, Nicole Guerrero filed a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail, in Texas, and others for having forced her to give birth in solitary. The baby died. It’s a terrible story, and it’s an increasingly common one. While much of the focus has been, and will be, on the details of the case, consider as well the larger, national framework. Nicole Guerrero is not an exception. She is the face of the everyday violence against women, and in particular against pregnant women, in the prisons and jails of the United States.

Last year, in response to the Pelican Bay hunger strike in California, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, found nearly 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, although the numbers are difficult to determine. He urged the United States to suspend prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement and to consider the rights and needs of the vulnerable: “I urge the US Government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances, including an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row.”

Pregnant women, women with infants, breastfeeding mothers: these are the most recent targets of mass incarceration, those charged with “fetal endangerment.” As charges against pregnant women both rise and intensify, more and more pregnant women are going into the prison system, and the vast majority end up in local and county jails, or in State prisons, like the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama. Inevitably, more women will undergo childbirth in solitary, and more children will be born in solitary.

When Delegate Mary Washington, of Baltimore, first heard of a pregnant woman prisoner, en route to the hospital, being shackled, she said, “Wait. What? What do you mean … shackled?” The woman telling herthe story explained she meant exactly what she said. Pregnant women prisoners, women prisoners in childbirth, are routinely shackled. It’s part of the new normal.

Nicole Guerrero is a signature of the next phase of that new normal. She is neither anomaly nor exception, and despite her pain, anguish and suffering, she is not the stuff of high drama. The national history of infamy is not made up of tragedy, but rather an endless series of ordinary episodes that combine to form normalcy. Our normalcy. We are the people who demand to be persuaded that there’s something wrong with a system that forces women to go through childbirth while in solitary confinement. We are the people who demand to be persuaded that the destruction of women is a bad thing. Remember that.

 

(Photo Credit: guardianlv.com)

The growth of women’s incarceration in the United States

Yesterday, the National Research Council released The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. It’s a useful, long, exhaustive, not particularly surprising, review of the literature on mass incarceration in the United States over the past four decades. Media discussions have managed to avoid the report’s sections on women. Here’s a summary of what the report says about women’s incarceration:

For four decades, women have been the fastest growing prison population. The United States has one third of the world’s female prison population. The majority of women in prison are mothers. Women’s prisons are historically `under resourced’ and it’s only getting worse. Women prisoners face particularly high rates of sexual violence from prison staff. Women prisoners have exceptionally high rates of PTSD, mental illness, and alcohol and drug dependence. Women prisoners have astronomically, shockingly high rates of abnormal pap smears.

Here are excerpts from the report:

“25-40 percent of female inmates have abnormal pap smears, compared with 7 percent of women in the general population.”

“More than 200,000 women are in jails or prisons in the United States, representing nearly one-third of incarcerated females worldwide. The past three to four decades have seen rapid growth in women’s incarceration rates—a rise of 646 percent since 1980 compared with a 419 percent rise for men”

“Incarceration rates have increased more rapidly for females than for males since the early 1970s. In 1972, the prison and jail incarceration rate for men was estimated to be 24 times higher than that for women. By 2010, men’s incarceration rate was about 11 times higher. Women’s incarceration rate had thus risen twice as rapidly as men’s in the period of growing incarceration rates.”

“Approximately 1 of every 14 prisoners in the United States is female. In fact, the incarceration rates of white and Hispanic women in particular are growing more rapidly than those of other demographic groups. Compared with men, women are sentenced more often to prison for nonviolent crimes: about 55 percent of women sentenced to prison have committed property or drug crimes as compared with about 35 percent of male prisoners. Women also are more likely than men to enter prison with mental health problems or to develop them while incarcerated: about three-quarters of women in state prisons in 2004 had symptoms of a current mental health problem, as opposed to 55 percent of men.

“Women’s prisons historically have been under resourced and underserved in correctional systems, so that women prisoners have had less access to programming and treatment than their male counterparts. Women prisoners also are more likely to be the targets of sexual abuse by staff.”

“A majority of women prisoners are mothers, who must grapple with the burden of being separated from their children during incarceration. In 2004, 62 percent of female state and federal inmates (compared with 51 percent of male inmates) were parents. Of those female inmates, 55 percent reported living with their minor children in the month before arrest, 42 percent in single-parent households; for male inmates who were parents, the corresponding figures were 36 and 17 percent.”

“Although female inmates make up only about 10 percent of the correctional population, they have higher rates of disease than male inmates and additional reproductive health issues. Rates of mental illness are substantially higher among female than male inmates, particularly because they have high rates of childhood sexual abuse and PTSD … 18-30 percent of male prison inmates exhibited alcohol dependence/abuse, only slightly in excess of figures for the U.S. general public, while at 10-29 percent prevalence, female prisoners were two to four times as likely as nonincarcerated women to have alcohol dependence/abuse.”

“As the rate of women’s incarceration has grown, so has the risk of maternal imprisonment. One in 30 children born in 1990 had a mother incarcerated by age 14, compared with 1 in 60 born in 1978… Nearly two-thirds of mothers in state prisons were living with their child(ren) prior to their incarceration, many in single-parent households.”

As you watch, listen to, or read discussions about this report, remember the women prisoners. They’re in the report, as much as they’re absent in the press coverage. The report says they matter. And they do.

 

(Photo Credit: FemaleReport.wordpress.com)