Wait, wait yet a while..

A reflection on Holy Saturday

 

Wait, wait yet a while

For though the darkness has it’s troubles spun

And sorrows’ ocean feeds upon your tears

Victory by darkness is not won

But by the Love born to transform your fears.

 

Joy and hope walk with you through the grief

Whilst anger seeks command upon your soul

But sprung from grace and peace is Love re-newed

Wait, wait yet a while for that joyous morn.

Dear William Hague: about that ‘Gender Justice’ T-Shirt… An Open Letter to @WilliamJHague

Dear Mr Hague

I was watching Channel 4 News the other night as I was eating my tea, and I was interested to see the coverage of your recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda with Angelia Jolie, part your commitment to make tackling war zone rape a G8 priority.

You know the figures better than I, I am sure. The 400,000 women and girls raped in Rwanda; the 200,000 in the Congo, 50,000 in Bosnia and 64,000 in Sierra Leone. On their own these figures fail to convey the horror, trauma, devastation and brutality of war zone rape or the generations of women for whom life is made a shattered, fragmented nightmare.

You’ve pledged money to this, which is brilliant, because money talks so I can be pretty confident that you are taking this seriously. That money, I know, will help those on the ground – including those who are doing what they can to help these women piece together their shattered lives.

I think it was when I saw you wearing the ‘Gender Justice’ t-shirt that I wondered if you might consider applying that same commitment to gender justice right here in the UK. The 2011 CPS report on VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) showed a 38% rise from 2006/7 to 2010-11 in prosecutions of rape and domestic violence cases: up from 68,930 (of reported incidents) to 95, 257 (of reported incidents).  It is, of course, a positive thing that the CPS are taking more of these cases seriously: in a culture where victims of rape and sexual assaults are so often blamed, the further CPS report on the rarity of false rape accusations I hope will go some way (as Keir Starmer said) to dispel the ‘damaging myths and stereotypes’ that make reporting rape so difficult for victims in this country.

Services here in the UK which support women and girls who have endured rape and domestic violence have, however, come under serious threat recently. Between 2010 and 2012, 31% of local government funding to VAWG services was cut – and when taken in the context of the overall local authority budget cuts of 27%, that’s staggering.  Womens Aid report turning away 230 women in 2011 due to lack of resources, and there is every indication that this number will increase.

Those few figures on their own do nothing to convey the reality on the ground for the women and girls affected: who, when at their most vulnerable, are left without the proper professional support they need to begin to heal from rape and violence.

It is impossible to convey to you what it feels like to be raped: to be so utterly invaded, to be abused in a way that so strips you of your value and identity. It is hard to describe what it is like to feel so isolated, and so ashamed. So I am not sure I can convey how important it is to have that help, and those services, there.

Gender justice is needed everywhere. It is needed here in the UK too.

Thank you for taking the time to read this Mr Hague.

Yours sincerely

Ali.

BBC Newsbeat False Rape Story & Why Their Reply Sucks

On the 13th March, BBC Newsbeat (their online news service aimed at 15 – 24 year olds) ran a story which used, as it’s starting point, the recent CPS report which aimed to show how rare false rape allegations are (1) and quite clearly stated, in the article, that the CPS report showed how common they are. (And before anyone jumps in and starts on about how serious/damaging false rape allegations are let me clear: yes, they are – but that is not why this report was deeply flawed and why a good many people are rightly angry.)

Bad Journalism

First of all this was bad journalism – and it was bad because it used the wrong report to cover a difficult subject in entirely the wrong way. Let’s break it down a bit:

  1. 33% of girls have experience sexual abuse. 25% of girls have experienced physical abuse. 75% of girls have experienced emotional abuse. (2009, NSPCC report).
  2. 12.7% of girls and 6.2% of boys in the 16-19 year old age bracket have experienced partner abuse. (British Crime Survey). (2)

So the target audience of Newsbeat is the group most at risk from violent, sexual and physical crime. This is important to understand because the response from the BBC highlights only too clearly that they don’t and it is vital that they do because – as Chloe Emmott’s article in Huffington Post (3) points out – the Newsbeat article does the very thing that Keir Starmer has warned against and which the CPS report is at pains to point out.

Cherry Picking

In the response from the BBC that we who complained received, the following defence is made:

While some people did say our reporting of false accusations was damaging to real rape victims, on our Social Networking sites false accusations were described as “disgusting”, and one young man told us that he felt the bigger problem was that these claims make life harder for real rape victims to be taken seriously. On Twitter another young male listener told us “Allegations of rape not only waste police time but wreck the lives of those accused!” And another wrote: “My 23-year-old nephew was recently accused of rape. He then killed himself. The girl did it again to another guy.” 

And right there, in the lines I have highlighted, is exactly where the BBC shoots itself in the foot because the point of the CPS report is that false allegations of rape are so extremely rare and that therefore neither society nor the police should feel the need to be cautious about any allegation made.

In the BBC response to the complaint they state:

In the fourth line of our story, we quote the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, who says false rape allegations are “serious but rare”.

But they ignore what Mr Sarmer goes on to say, and which is far more pertinent:

“In recent years we have worked hard to dispel the damaging myths and stereotypes that are associated with these cases. One such misplaced belief is that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are rife.”

If, as is claimed, that they were looking “to help contextualize the story” then the problem is both in the approach to the story in the first place, and the serious mis-use of a vitally important report which ought to help change the culture that allowed Jimmy Saville to get away with systematic and appalling abuse for 40 years.

It’s the same culture that says that leads to young men thinking that the problem for rape victims is false rape allegations, when the problem for rape victims is a culture that shifts the blame from the rapist on to other women.

It’s the same culture that means our young people are at the greatest risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of a partner.

It’s the same culture, where false rape allegations are 0.02% of reports made, that means that this:

For clarity we have changed a word in the second sentence from “common” to “unusual”.

– is what passes for an apology from the BBC.

 

*I have emailed this as my response to the BBC. If they reply, I will update here.

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/21016808

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/19/teenage-victims-domestic-violence-definition

(3) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chloe-emmott/false-rape-allegation-statistics-bbc-newsbeat_b_2878392.html

Pineapple Head – She Was My Sister (Part 2): This may be controversial…

There’s a great line in the West Wing, spoken by the character of Leo McGary talking about his addiction to drink and pills – addicts, he says, don’t lack will power in the same way that an anorexic doesn’t have an over inflated sense of vanity.

Which is true.  He might also have said that addicts don’t choose the addiction – they choose the drug because they want to make the pain, the sorrow, the violent self-doubt, the guilt, the shame, the gnawing self-loathing or whatever the feeling is which causes them more pain they are able to process, to simply go away. But I appreciate it doesn’t quite trip off the tongue in the same way.

Because I am a realist, I also know that addicts also choose to get high but let’s be clear – there is no gradation (in my mind) between addiction to caffeine and addiction to morphine.  The difference is not in the level of addiction: the difference is in the impact on the addict and their family, and the way in which the addict and their addiction is viewed and treated by the rest of society.

Lets face it: how many of you get a headache if you go without coffee for a day? Or how many of you smoke? How many have a stash of chocolate somewhere? How many of you start to fiddle with your hands when your smartphone isn’t working or has been left at home for some reason? The only difference between your addiction and that of a heroine addict is that your addiction is socially accepted, enabled and encouraged because you’re addictions make someone else a great deal of money.

Don’t get me wrong: as a smoker and caffeine addict, I’m not here to judge anyone or make some sweeping statement about society. I am not on some puritan rant and don’t want to see some Mormon-esque laws made which will see any of these things outlawed. That’s not my point.

My point is that we are all broken. All of us. We all need something to get us through the day, even if it’s just scented candles. We all hurt – we all need something to relieve of us of the hurt, if only for a while until we can find some healthier way to process that.  And everyone makes bad choices in their lives. When Jesus said ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ to those judgemental blokes who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, he was getting right in their patriachal faces about their own appalling hypocrisy.

Addicts dont want to spend their lives feeling like shit about themselves. They dont. Addicition is not a choice. Those I have known who battled addiction would not wish it upon their worst enemies. My sister, in her more lucid moments, knew the damage she was doing to herself and was eaten with guilt for the damage it was doing to her children, her family and her friends. She may not have understood so clearly that it was just as alienating and isolating for us as it was for her, because we were tainted with the same judgement by society that she was.

There was a lady I knew who was in all other respects quite lovely and we got on well – but if you mentioned drug addicts she would get very worked up and start spitting out words like ‘scumbags’ and ‘wasters’. And I would look away and try and change the conversation because hearing my sister and friends referred to in such a way hurt like buggery.  Pineapple Head was a talanted musician, who wanted to be able to teach. She had it in her to give back. And the same is and was true of those I know and knew with similar issues.

There is a painful truth that not everyone can be saved. But there is a bright reality too – that many can. And it is not some emotional cry of the heart to say so.  Consigning people to the dustbin is expensive, and the cost is too high for society to keep doing that. With all the appalling changes to the benefit system being undertaken by this government, this country is sliding backwards and creating an underclass that will rival anything from the Victorian era.

And that will damage all of us.

When 140 Characters Just Wont Do…

There are some days, as a Christian, where I can only take a very *very* deep breath and pray for the patience of Job when it comes to some of my fellow Christians, and most usually it is on those well pressed, hot button issues of women bishops and equal marriage.

It is not, of course, that I don’t understand their argument (although when conversation with them is ventured I am frequently left with the impression that I should, in fact, consider myself completely dumb when it comes to scripture).

I am not going to pick through the well-worn scriptural argument here – at least not in this post. I will say briefly that I know the passages concerned but I do not believe that, when taken with the whole context of God’s Grace and Christ’s life, death and re-birth, that it is either accurate or even ‘scriptural’ to suggest that the staunch ‘gay is sin’ is anywhere close to the representations of God’s love and view on the matter.  And it is not as though all conservative Christians remain opposed to things like equal marriage for the LGBT community.  Steve Chalke has –  (and rather bravely). Earlier this year he came out in favour of gay marriage. You can read the article on the Oasis UK website here: http://www.oasisuk.org/inclusionresources/Articles/MOIabridged – it’s the abridged version, but the longer version is also available there.

I try to patient when some conservative Christians proclaim their position so loudly that all anyone else can hear is hate, because we are all struggling after God – because nobody is perfect and because we all screw up.  *But* none of that can allow me to look the other way when people are being hurt, because we are not called by Christ to hurt people but to love them; and it saddens me deeply when people are condemned by other Christians, using the God I believe loves us all.

I struggle with that. I want to shout and scream in righteous indignation to get them to understand the hurt being done… but ideologues are entrenched for a reason. And I wonder if my time is not better spent giving my energy and my love to the people who welcome it, rather than those who patronise me and put me down.

So to all those lovely twitter folk I follow who do not share my beliefs, but have gone out of their way to include me and love me anyway – I want to thank you. I am sorry that not all those who share my faith cannot see the hurt and anger they sow. Forgive us – for sometimes we know not what we do.

*I have updated this post to include a link to Steve Chalke’s article, which may not yet have much popular support amongst conservative Evangelicals, but which I pray paves the way for a more prayerful, thoughtful and loving approach. 09.03.2013