Remembering the forgotten victims of the Holocaust

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It is essential that we never forget the Holocaust and the horrible mechanisation and normalisation of genocide which it engendered. Six million Jews were killed, and when we remember the Holocaust we rightly remember these six million and the unbearable suffering they all endured.

However, we tend to forget the five million others whom the Nazis tortured and killed. This article gives an incredible list: homosexuals, priests (particularly Catholic ones), Roma gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trades unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples and resistance fighters.

These people were tortured, saw their loved ones killed in front of them, slept amongst dead bodies to keep warm, were forcibly sterilised and/or experimented on…the list goes on and on and is no different to the experiences recounted by Jewish survivors.

So why do we hear so rarely about them? The last gay survivor of the Holocaust died last year, and there was barely any coverage in the media. I have a theory. I believe that if we could have ignored the six million Jews who were persecuted, we would have done. We don’t like the idea that we are capable of this type of persecution ourselves.

Gad Beck, the last gay survivor of the concentration camps, spent many years after his liberation fighting for the right to live his life free of persecution. Homosexuals all over the world still suffer persecution. Only a few weeks ago, some media outlets were reporting that the so-called “Islamic State” terrorists threw gay men off a cliff as punishment for their “crimes”.

Gypsies are still persecuted by authorities all over the world, their encampments broken up and their people verbally and physically abused by those in authority and members of the general public.

In fact, I challenge you to find any one of the minority groups involved in the Holocaust who have not remained persecuted somewhere in the world since World War II. Not to mention all the other minority groups we have added to the list over the last seventy years.

We’re ashamed of this on a deep level, so we refuse to acknowledge that these other minority groups were persecuted by the Nazis too. That way, we can continue to pretend that we are not like the Nazis. That this type of persecution for who you are and what you believe doesn’t happen today.

This is why it’s so important to remember all of the victims of the Holocaust. That way, we can begin to challenge the persecution we see every day, in every corner of the world.

Posted in Conscientious Objection, Crime, Disability, History, Holocaust, LGBT, Media, Politics, Religion, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The boobs are dead, long live the boobs!”

The above quote appears in this article on the Guardian website, in a short piece written by well-known writer and radical feminist, Bidisha. This is in response to The Sun quietly deciding to cover up its famous “page 3 girl” with underwear yesterday, thus signalling the end to a decades old tradition of naked models posing on page 3 of the newspaper every day.

But it’s not really the end. Simply adding underwear doesn’t stop the paper from continuing to value women only for their looks. And the demise of page 3 seems like a drop removed from the ocean of female objectification in other publications and online. Even The Sun itself will still feature “hot page 3 girls” nude on its website. The boobs live on.

Some former and current page 3 models have claimed that it is their choice to pose nude and surely feminism is all about women having the choice to do what they want? This is a difficult issue. In theory, this is exactly what feminism is about; but it is also about educating women. It’s about making it possible for women to see how posing nude objectifies them. It’s about women learning that by doing this, they are contributing to the everyday sexism which women encounter and the drip, drip of messages that both men and women are receiving throughout there lives, telling them that sexism is fine. It’s just a bit of fun. We shouldn’t take it so seriously.

I think it’s very serious that one in three women will be sexually assaulted or raped in her lifetime. I think it’s very serious that children are developing image-related illnesses like anorexia and bulimia at ever earlier ages. I think it’s very serious that men are increasingly becoming sex objects too. I think it’s very serious that we are being told constantly that our bodies are not good enough – we have too much hair in the wrong places; we’re allowing ourselves to age; we’re not toned enough, too fat, too thin…the list goes on and on. Page 3 may seem like a bit of fun out of context, but it contributes to all this, and children seeing this at the breakfast table, being bombarded with it from every angle in fact, is extremely serious.

We are a culture obsessed with appearance, and it seems an unstoppable tide. However, we must fight on. Every small victory (and this is one, despite what I’ve written here) is a step forward and I do believe the battle can be won if we fight hard enough.

Posted in Body Image, Feminism, Media, Mental Health, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

B is for Bolivia – Child Sexual Assault

Hope for Her

B is for Bolivia

In his book The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen sheds light on the horrors of sexual violence in Bolivia:

“In [Bolivia], a country of 10 million people, where tens of thousands of sexual assaults against children occur every year, from 2000 to 2007 the criminal justice system was able to convict fewer than three perpetrators of child sexual assault per year. If you sexually assault a child in Bolivia, you are more likely to die slipping in the shower or bathtub than you are of going to jail for your crime.” – The Locust Effect

According to a recent UN study, Bolivia has the second-highest level of sexual abuse in all Latin American countries. By some estimates, less than one percent of child sexual assault cases actually end with a sentence.

Things are changing though, here is Yulisa’s story courtesy of International Justice Mission

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Taking care of our own planet before looking at others

I read this morning that a British led consortium of space scientists is planning to crowd fund a mission to land an unmanned probe on the moon and bury a time capsule. People who donate funds will be able to put personal text messages, audio, photos or videos into the time capsule, and even a strand of their own hair. The mission will also drill down below the moon’s surface and analyse samples taken. They also aim to survey the moon’s south pole to see if a human base could be set up there in the future.

I applaud the main aim of this project, which is to engage ordinary people in science and inspire new young scientists, but I’m afraid this whole idea seems like so much fluff and nonsense. As one commenter on the BBC article says:

“UNICEF States that £10 will enable 10 families in Africa to have kits to enable them to collect, store and purify water…. So £500 million donated to UNICEF… Now that’s a whole lot of people with access to clean water!”

I am increasingly alarmed by how we, as a species, seem to be looking beyond our planet when so much is wrong here that needs to be fixed. Lunar Mission 1 will aim to bury something under the moon’s surface that will survive “after we are extinct”, but seems to be doing nothing about the very real threats which may well make us so in a relatively short space of time.

Look at climate change and our gradual destruction of our ecosystem, wildlife, air quality, seas…and the list goes on and on. We blithely continue to pollute, destroy, deforest, hunt to extinction etc. with little apparent thought, globally, for what we are going to do when our planet can no longer support us. And I mean when, not if.

In this country, we continue to argue about immigration; our leaders barrack each other in parliament like schoolboys, vying to make each other laugh and grasping for the next perfect sound byte.

But we’re not actually doing anything. When the issue of climate change comes up, politicians globally start to hum and haw, claiming that “we’ll do it if they do it too” and trapping us in an endless cycle of blame and chronic inaction. Carbon emission targets get pushed back another decade, and in the meantime our planet is choking to death. In the last 40 years, global animal species have reduced by approximately 50%.

Looking to the skies and the universe beyond our atmosphere is like sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “la, la, la, I can’t hear you”, whilst our planet screams for our attention and help. Give your money to an environmental or social charity, and try to save our planet and its species (including homo sapiens) before you immortalise yourself on another.

Posted in Climate Change, Health, Lunar Mission 1, Natural Disasters, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ABC’s of Sexual Violence Around the World

Hope for Her

Woman in Herat, Afghanistan via Woman in Herat, Afghanistan via

Well it is officially Fall! After taking the summer off, its back to blogging!

This year I want to go on a little journey around the world highlighting the different forms of sexual violence that women and girls face every day. There are many “hot spots” around the world when it comes to sexual violence but the plight of females in many countries goes unnoticed. I hope I can highlight some of these. As you come on the journey with me I want to make two things clear. 1. Sexual violence whatever form or perceived extremity is horrific, playing comparison games is futile and cruel. 2. Sexual violence is a global, local and familial problem for us all. We need each other if we are to end it. On that note…lets start at the beginning….A!

A is for Afghanistan – Rape and Punishment

Rape and domestic…

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The new wave of misogyny and sexism

Recently, I read this excellent piece by Alison Graham in the Radio Times, lambasting sexism in advertisements. Then my parents passed on this little gem by Michael Hogan from The Observer a week or so ago.

Sexism is alive and well, and seemingly growing by the day. Not only are our children being brainwashed into believing that everything from toys to nappies can be “for girls” or “for boys”, but we are being increasingly bombarded with advertising which should have gone out with the ark.

How many times do you see a male actor extolling the virtues of air freshener, cleaning products or even bed linen? (I’ll give you a clue: never.) Female sexual arousal is used to sell everything from yoghurt to shampoo (I’m looking at you, Nicole Scherzinger), and Proctor and Gamble love mothers above all else.

Sadly, men are not immune from this aggressive marketing either. The latest hair removal adverts imply that men should remove hair not only from their chins, but also from their arms, chests and necks. Men are also told to moisturise, wear specially designed perfumes and always strive towards that six-pack. They are also used as sex objects (although not as often as women are).

However, outside the world of advertising, the media are really no better. Michael Hogan’s piece (see link above) brilliantly makes this point by subjecting male politicians to the sort of catwalk treatment that female politicians receive in our tabloid media. You’re more likely to be told what a woman is wearing, or how many children she has, before you hear what she’s there to do. David Cameron’s latest cabinet reshuffle was widely dismissed as a cynical ploy to get more women into the cabinet before the 2015 general election. Very little was said about whether these female politicians might have been chosen because they were good at their jobs.

Most of us are not aware of the pervasiveness of the media and advertising. As savvy consumers, we think we’re immune to this type of brainwashing. However, I would love to know how many of my female readers shave their legs, always wear make-up or have a bikini wax now and then; or how many of my male readers use male hygiene products and moisturisers, habitually remove the hair on their chests or lust after a great six-pack. I have absolutely nothing against any of these things per se, and if you want to do them, then go right ahead. I myself like my hair to look a certain way and always wear earrings.

All I’m asking is that you stop and think about why you do them.

Posted in Activism, Advertising, Body Image, Feminism, Hair, Health, Media, Politics, sexual exploitation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rolf Harris and unreliable memories

I have to admit that, as a survivor of child abuse and a victim of groping in my teens, I was really pleased to see Rolf Harris convicted and given a prison sentence last week. Every time this happens, it gives me hope that, one day, my abusers might be brought to trial too. I feel huge relief on behalf of the victims.

However, I was then directed to this blog post. I read it with increasing alarm, not because it casts doubt on Rolf Harris’ conviction, but because of all the references to uncorroborated memories as evidence. For me, this is the main reason why I have never reported the abuse I suffered.

In 2006, the school where I was abused conducted an “independent” internal inquiry into the reports of abuse there in the 1970s and 80s. As a part of this inquiry, I was asked to write a submission, detailing as far as I could all the abuse I had suffered, giving dates, places and names where possible. I found this very difficult. The abuse I suffered happened when I was between the ages of four and fourteen. As Mr Rothbard says in his blog post:

“Consider for a moment, what you can accurately remember from when you were eight? I am not as old as the witness but I can’t remember the name of my best friend, my teacher, my birthday party, frankly anything. I have a childhood scar, it must have been caused by a significant trauma. I remember it hurt and bled a lot, but I can’t remember how it happened, let alone where, when or who was with me at the time.”

All my memories were like this. I could remember the specific details of the acts of abuse I suffered, but I found it impossible to remember exactly how old I was when the abuse occurred or what year it was. That ten-year period is like a continuum in my brain, with specific incidents strung along it in only a very vague order. Even though I believe that each incident is clear in my memory, that is also impossible to prove.

This is the problem which faces the judicial system when something like this case arises. My main issue with the Libertarian View blog post  is that Mr Rothbard is basing his assumptions on what has been reported in the media. Even his links to other sources are to online newspaper articles. I find it hard to believe that any jury, faced with only the “facts” that have been reported in the media, would have been able to convict Rolf Harris beyond reasonable doubt. I don’t think any of my abusers would be found guilty on my evidence either. There must have been something else which swayed the jury’s decision. Of course, it could well be that this is a massive miscarriage of justice, but one can’t assume that based only on the fact that the victims’ memories are unreliable.

I believe that we have to be careful how we judge our judicial system when we don’t have all the facts. The only people who know what really went on at Rolf Harris’ trial are those who were in the courtroom. Unless one of them decides to tell all, we will never know what evidence was presented to the trial which the media were not allowed to see/report on.

By all means cast doubt on a conviction, but using only media reports of the trial to do so is lazy, and disrespectful to those of us who suffered abuse in childhood. Our memories may well be fragmented, but that does not mean the abuse did not happen.

Posted in Crime, Media, My Life, Politics, The Law, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments