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Who is most at risk due to ‘Care’ in our Maternity services?

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Originally posted on Activism and Agitation:

We know that our maternity services are dangerously under staffed, we know there are no national polices for screening and there are other national policies which are also  lacking. It is not just a case of doctors differ and patients die, it is that depending on where you are in the country, the level of ‘Care’ and the consistency of ‘Care’ varies greatly, even in the same units but from week day to weekend.

But it varies even more so if you are woman who is from a minority in Ireland, this has been born out by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre Severe Maternal Morbidity Report 2011


As Sinéad Redmond   a maternity rights activist and an AIMS Ireland committee member said

“This is a link to the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre Severe Maternal Morbidity Report 2011. Page 10 points out that maternal morbidity (severe maternal medical complications occurring during…

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Sex workers are still targeted under the racist Swedish model

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Last week, an appeals court in Sweden upheld a decision in favour of a tavern owner and security staff who had denied entry on three separate occasions to Asian-looking women. The tavern admitted judging these women by their appearance, but said they had barred them in order to prevent prostitution from taking place on their premises. Police had told the tavern owner that this was going on, and that Asian women were involved. These particular Asian women weren’t though, and they brought a discrimination claim.

The women lost in the lower court, and then lost again on appeal. According to my best Google Translate, the appellate court found that preventing prostitution is an “inherently legitimate reason” which justifies the means that was taken by the tavern, even though the effect was to bar women from their premises who had done nothing more than appear to be Asian. That’s not unlawful discrimination, according to the Swedish courts.

There are a couple things going on here. First, of course, there’s the blatantly racist nature of the policy, now formally endorsed and legitimated by a Swedish judiciary which sees nothing wrong with singling out women of colour for whore stigma. It’s not particularly surprising that racialised women would bear the brunt of a policy aimed at a migrant-dominated industry, but the court’s seal of approval institutionalises racism within Official Sweden’s zero tolerance approach. Of such a priority is the Swedish state’s war against sex work that all else can be thrown by the wayside, even principles ordinarily regarded as pretty fucking basic in a supposedly advanced democracy.

The second thing is that this decision exposes the lie that the Swedish law is not about targeting sex workers. Of course it is. They may not be targeted for prosecution, but the Swedish authorities are more than happy to go after them with any other means at their disposal. They go after them with immigration laws, with the power to refuse them custody of their children; they stake out their homes. They have already involved non-state actors in their war, as when they train hotel staff to monitor the habits of female guests; now, it seems, other branches of the service sector are also being drafted into the Prohibitionist Army. Whose policy seems to be one of “shoot first, ask questions later”.

I don’t think there’s much risk of a similar court judgment in Ireland, even should the Swedish model be adopted here. Our Equal Status Act does allow for denial of services where it is believed that serving the person would give rise to a substantial risk of criminal activity, but “discriminatory grounds” are specifically excluded as a valid basis for that belief.  The reason for that exclusion is so that pubs and shops and hotels cannot cite criminality by some Irish Travellers as a reason to deny entry to all of them, so it’s rather unlikely that the courts would allow use of a similar justification to bar all women from ethnic backgrounds popularly associated with prostitution.

But what the Equal Status Act says and what actually happens in pubs and shops and hotels are two different things. And just as Travellers are, in fact, routinely denied entry on discriminatory grounds in spite of the law, women who are seen as being “high risk” for prostitution because of their racial appearance could well find themselves being subjected to a de facto discrimination door policy. This is particularly likely to happen if the law creates “an offence of recklessly permitting a premises to be used for the purposes of prostitution”, as recommended by the Oireachtas Justice Committee and supported by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and its member organisations, several of which operate in the migrant advocacy sector. If this law is passed and migrant women become collateral damage in the Irish war against sex work, as they have in the Swedish and Norwegian wars, will these groups also shrug it off as an “inherently legitimate reason”?

No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland

magdalene

When I was in first year in secondary school in 1997, a girl in the year above me was pregnant. She was 14. The only people who I ever heard say anything negative about her were a group of older girls who wore their tiny feet “pro-life” pins on their uniforms with pride. They slagged her behind her back, and said she would be a bad mother. They positioned themselves as the morally superior ones who cared for the baby, but not the unmarried mother. They are the remnants of an Ireland, a quasi-clerical fascist state, that we’d like to believe is in the past, but still lingers on.

The news broke last week of a septic tank filled with the remains of 796 children and babies in Galway. The remains were accumulated from the years 1925 to 1961 and a common cause of death was malnutrition and preventable disease. The Bon Secours “Home” had housed thousands of unmarried mothers and their children down through the years. These women had violated the honour of their communities, by bringing shame on their families through “illegitimate” pregnancy and therefore had to be hidden at all costs, and punished for their transgressions. The children died as they lived, discarded like the refuse of society that the Church considered them and the mothers that gave birth to them to be. Most of the children who survived were put to work in industrial schools under the supervision of perverts and sadists.

Thousands of the healthy ones were sold abroad – mostly to the US –  for “adoption.” For the ones who remained, the outlook was poor. Mortality rates of 50% or 60% were common in these homes.  In the case of  the ones that died, either the Church did not feel they were valuable enough to feed and care for, or they actively worked towards their death. The risk they posed to the social order by virtue of the circumstances of their conception and birth was too great to let go unchecked. These children certainly did not die for lack of money or resources on the Church’s part (they had an income from the children they sold), and the fewer children of this kind there were, the less threat there was to the church’s control over society.

If the Church had allowed them to grow up to be functioning adults in Irish society it would have ran the risk of demonstrating that the institution of marriage was not absolutely integral to the moral well-being of a person. Women were not allowed keep their babies because the shame that their existence brought upon the community would be far too great. They were imprisoned within Magdalene Laundries to atone for their sins of honour, and their babies were removed from them as part of their punishment – women who dishonoured the community were deemed to unfit to parent.

Contemporary Ireland feigned shock when stories of the Laundries and residential institutions emerged. Perhaps the shock of those who were too young to be threatened with being put in one for “acting up” was genuine, because the institutions started to close as the years went on. But people in their fifties and sixties now, will remember how the “Home Babies” sometimes came to schools, and were isolated by other (legitimate) children, and then sometimes never came back. While those school-children may not have comprehended fully the extent of what happened, their parents and teachers, and the community of adults surrounding them knew.

Ireland as a whole was complicit in the deaths of these children, and in the honour crimes against the women. They were the “illegitimate babies” born to the “fallen women” who literally disappeared from villages and towns across Ireland in to Magdalene Laundries. Everybody knew, but nobody said, “Honour must be restored. We must keep the family’s good name.”

The women themselves served a dual purpose in the Laundries. They were a warning to others what happened when you violated the rule of the Church, and they were financial assets engaged in hard labour on behalf of the Church. They were not waged workers; they did not receive payment. They could not leave of their own free will, and their families, for the most part, did not come for them; the shame on the family would be too great. Ireland had a structure it used to imprison women for being sexual beings, for being rape victims, for not being the pure idolised incubator for patriarchy, for not having enough feminine integrity, or for being simply too pretty for the local priest’s liking. Ireland has a long tradition of pathologising difference.

People did know what went on in those institutions. Their threat loomed large over the women of Ireland for decades. On rare occasions when people attempted to speak out, they were silenced, because the restoration of honour requires the complicity of the community. Fear of what other people will think of the family is embedded in Irish culture.

The concept of honour means different things in different cultures but a common thread is that it can be broken but restored through punishing those who break it. We are familiar with the hegemonic concepts of “honour killing” and “honour crimes” as a named form of violence against women in cultures other than ours. The papers tell us it is not something that people do in the West. Honour killings, and honour crimes are perpetually drawn along racialised lines and Irish and UK media happily present them within the context of a myth of moral superiority.

Honour crimes are acts of domestic violence, acts of punishment, by other individuals – sometimes family, sometimes authorities – for either real or perceived transgressions against the community code of honour. However, it is only when there is a woman wearing a hijaab or a the woman is a person of colour, or ethnicised, that “honour” is actually named as a motivation for the act of violence.  It is a term that has been exoticised, but it is not the act itself or the location it occurs, but the motivation behind it that is important in defining it.

Women of colour, and Muslim women, are constructed as the “other;” we are told these women are given in marriage at a young age by controlling fathers who pass on the responsibility for controlling them to husbands. “Protection” of women is maintained through a rigid sytem of controlling their sexuality in a framework of honour and shame. When these women transgress the boundaries of acceptable femininity they are abused and shunned by their community. Punishments range from lashing to death, but include physical beatings, kidnappings and imprisonment.

Imprisoning women in the Magdalene Laundries deserves to be named as an honour crime because of a cultural obsession that believed the family’s good name rested upon a woman’s (perceived) sexual activity that either her father or husband or oldest brother was the caretaker of. Her sentence to the Laundry was to restore the family honour.

Recently a friend of mine tweeted when the verdict was returned in the murder trial of Robert Corbet. Corbet was convicted of murdering Aoife Phelan, a woman from Laois he had been seeing, who told him she was pregnant. He hit her, then strangled her, then fearing that she was not actually dead, he put a black bag over her head and fixed it with two cable ties and buried her in a barrel on the family homestead. The next day he got on a plane to New York to meet his ex-girlfriend to attempt to repair their relationship. My friend had outlined the case and on twitter referred to Robert Corbet attempting to have a “dirty weekend away” in New York.

Following this, my friend received unsolicited mail to her facebook account, from a person claiming to be the cousin of Robert Corbet’s ex-girlfriend saying: “….how dare you say a dirty weekend in new york and speak about my cousin who is his ex girlfriend like that . you don’t know what happened when he went over or why he went over you don’t know my cousin so how dare you say that it was a dirty weekend away.”

The point of mentioning this is certainly not to make anything of Corbet’s ex’s character or actions, but his intentions after he killed a woman, as well as the the mentality of the person who sent this mail. That message is a symptom of rural Ireland’s chronic obsession with shame and the keeping of a person’s “good name” at all costs; a stranger made a post on the internet about a man’s probable intentions after murdering a woman, and someone else’s immediate reaction is not to read what she said concerning the murder of a woman, but to attest to the moral purity of her cousin. There is something very wrong with that.

There was something wrong in Listowel when a parish priest gave a character reference for Danny Foley, a man convicted of sexual assault, whose victim was refused service afterwards in bars and shops. When the verdict was returned, fifty people (mostly middle-aged men) formed a queue in the courthouse to shake the hand of Danny Foley. Journalists happily took quotes from locals saying what a shame it was, as this wasn’t his character; he was a good man, from a good family. The victim did not matter. The priest said of her, “Well she has a child you know, and that doesn’t look good.” John B. Keane wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

We have not come so far from the Magdalene Laundries. Robert Corbet initially lied to the guards about where he had buried Aoife Phelan because he “wanted to protect the family home place.” The need to keep the family name intact is embedded in Ireland so much, that there are even other women happy to be complicit with, and benefit from patriarchy. They are the girls in my school who wore their “pro-life” feet pins (one of them is now a doctor I am told). They are the women who shook Danny Foley’s hand. They are the women who condemn other women for doing things that would have landed them in a Magdalene Laundry a few decades earlier. Let nobody question their honour.

Irish culture has had a traditional focus on eradicating troublesome women and their offspring. For years unmarried pregnant women were punished and hidden away in homes. Women who need abortions travel in silence to have them in secret in England, or they have secret home abortions here. Government ministers actively engage in policies that make it more difficult to be a single mother, and to speak out against it is deemed immoral and not of value to the community. A person sending unsolicited emails to a person concerning a third party’s moral purity, and then publicly tweeting in relation to it demonstrates her own value to the community by positioning the importance of women’s role in public morality above that of the murder of an individual woman – a woman who was buried in a barrel to protect the family home.

We are told to be silent and not talk about things. Difference, and naming difference in Ireland is pathologised. Even those who are meant to be the good guys are not exempt from the cultural effect of this. Women when they are abused in activism or online are told not to retaliate. We are called “toxic and hostile” for having the audacity to name misogynist abuse where we see it.  We get death threats for speaking out about abortion. But we are told to “be kind” at all costs. When people abuse victims of domestic violence online, we are told to leave their abusers alone. Women must never appear to be angry. We must be nice to those who abuse us. We must be always nice no matter the cost to us; we must not bring shame upon the community.

This is not so far away from the mentality that locked women up in homes and threw children in septic tanks to be forgotten. It absolutely depended on complicity of wider society. It could not have existed without the collaboration of the whole community; the teachers; the priests; the nuns; the people that ran the undertakers; the local councillors; the people who brought the laundry to the nuns; perhaps your grandmother who cuddled you to sleep at night.

We are told it was a different time, and things are different now.

Youth Defence still sell their pins online. Joan Burton continues her crusade to paint single mothers as lazy and worthless. National newspapers will freely print opinion pieces denigrating them. 796 dead children will get a memorial but no one will be held to account for their deaths. Those who ask for it will be told to be kind. The religious orders who put them in a septic tank will continue unquestioned. Those who put the women in Magdalene Laundries will continue to work for “fallen women”. Women will be denied control over their own bodies. They will die for the want of medical care.

It must be so. To do otherwise, would bring shame on the family. But when we look the other way, and allow the lie that we live in a modern progressive democracy to breathe, we allow our authoritarian Catholic past to continue to cast its shadow.

#YesAllWomen: What difference does it make?

Finola Meredith has a piece in The Irish Times today bemoaning the #yesallwomen hashtag on twitter. When I saw the headline “The Twitter surge #YesAllWomen is a useless weapon against endemic misogyny” I laughed. What’s a better weapon? An Irish Times feature with a Breda O’Brien riposte the following day?

May the liberal force of Fintan O’Toole be strong in you, Irish Times Columnists.

Meredith’s issue with the hashtag is that she believes that tweeting that is about as useful as going outside in the street and shouting “sexist men are bastards” and it will make no difference. Tempted as I am to go and stand outside Coppers this Saturday night to disprove her point (Just imagine the real life “NOT ALL MEN!!” screams you’d hear afterwards), there is an important point hidden in here concerning major media outlets that dominate, such as The Irish Times, who have a role in shaping political discourse; as John Waters has said before, he does not write for an online audience, which he has referred to as the “lurking mob.” The reason people like John Waters don’t like social media, and other writers perpetually undermine it, is because twitter and social media platforms are a bit too democratic for their liking. They don’t get to dictate the content, or delete the straight-up unpalatable, or too-critical-of-government/themelves comments afterwards.

Dismissing and undermining those who take to twitter, positions those who are lucky enough to get an opinion piece in a broadsheet as being the only ones capable of articulating the voice of those who are oppressed. Opening up the prospect of an individual having the ability to coherently narrate their own oppression would compromise the legitimacy of the mainstream media approved writer’s position as The Harbinger of Official Truth, which opens up questions about the mainstream media’s role in the replication of oppressions.

Meredith states that “…it’s true that there’s barely a woman alive who couldn’t come up with an example of sexist behaviour she has encountered…we could all add something to this list…” but then later goes on to say that there is an issue with the hashtag’s “authenticity” asking “how do we know they are telling the truth?”

Right. So we can really all add something to the #yesallwomen list, but writers in turn will take to the national press to question whether in fact, we are actually just making it all up in the first place.

For the benefit of the (paper of) record – we are not.

This action is exactly the type of “ancient urge to shut women up” or “to silence them completely” that Meredith bemoans in her opinion piece  - which will have a readership of thousands. If a woman cannot publicly tweet her experience of being groped without her truthfulness being questioned, then what makes people think she could report if she was raped or beaten.

It’s a silencing wolf dressed in feminist’s clothing.

Meredith believes that unless these campaigns are sustained and developed, they are useless. For a start, #YesAllWomen started last week. Give us a chance. It had 250,000 tweets in the first 24 hours – that’s far more people than will ever read a single Irish Times column. Women who may never have considered the connection between the microagressions we suffer, misogyny, and patriarchal society read and participated in those tweets.

They are seeing the connections between the unwanted hand on your arse in a nightclub that other men condone, and the man who murders a woman because she says she’s pregnant, dumps her body in a barrel and flies to New York to try and get busy with his ex-girlfriend. And between the man who calls a woman a slut for rejecting him on OK Cupid, and the man who decides to shoot women because they rejected him in a forum outside of the internet. There is a broad spectrum of violence against women, and if others make those connections, while happening to “blow off steam” at the same time, that is a very useful thing in terms of naming the problem of misogyny in order to address it. Online misogyny is the same as offline misogyny, it’s just the medium we combat it in is different. The internet, despite what the Irish Times would like us to believe, is still real life.

And to be fair to feminists and activists and ordinary women who have participated in the #yesallwomen dialogue, there’s more chance of the world remaining “blithely indifferent” after an Irish Times piece that undermines women and questions the veracity of their experiences than after a hashtag conversation starter that has had over a million tweets since Friday night.

 

We need to talk about Tubridy.

Listening to Ryan Tubridy is annoying in the same way that stepping on a bit of lego is annoying. It happens, it’s irritating and sore for a little while, then you forget about it and go about the rest of your day. But if you got up and stepped on a piece of lego at 9am every weekday morning it would, no doubt, begin to have an impact. It would eventually start to leave a bruise, kind of how his insidious daily sexism has an impact on the people listening to it. Repeated everyday, it eventually leaves a mark.

I’m sure underneath it all Ryan Tubridy is a nice person but his brand of entertainment is about as amusing as a dose of thrush. Then again, his show is not aimed at me. It’s aimed at people who think that a Carry On Celtic Tiger smarmy sense of humour is funny. What is problematic is that other, quite reasonable, people listen to it too. He has a massive platform to promote his views which range from slut-shaming women; to thinking that women should find being harassed in the street a compliment; comparing public breastfeeding to urinating in the street; and he once gave a platform to a man convicted of domestic violence so that he could demonstrate his super-machoness by telling said abuser he would break his legs if he ever did that to any of his women. No you wouldn’t Ryan. When people know that women are being beaten by their husbands, they don’t intervene. They save the big-man talk for the pub, or their radio show. Performing that brand of masculinity generally doesn’t happen if men have to follow through. Were his comments on breastfeeding and street harassment fair to women? No. Was his interview with an abuser entertaining? Edgy? Informative? A learning experience? No. It was just shit.

Today Ryan Tubridy on his 2FM show started advertising for entrants to a pageant. It’s not the usual pageant based on tiaras, glitter, fake eyelashes, tits, arse and stillettos; this one is based on ‘personality.’ Except this is only half true because according to the 2FM blurb, the contestants of Miss Personality go to the Miss Ireland final where they will wear swimwear during a ‘closed door judging’ session. It’s also unclear why it’s only the chosen few who get to objectify entrants and not the public at large. ‘Closed door judging’ sounds like something that would have cropped up during the Operation Yewtree investigations. Anyway, during this, the contestants are allowed wear kaftans or sarongs if they wish, “if someone wants to cover up, they absolutely can.” Presumably the subtext of this is that if you’re over a size 8 you can still apply. Unfortunately I still can’t enter as the flux capacitor in my time machine to bring me back to 1965 is broken. In other parts of the contest, Miss Personality must wear evening wear. Because we all know that the best way of showing off your personality is in a flattering evening dress. I always find wearing something backless and with a boat neckline shows off my sparkling wit and charm best.

Joking aside, 2FM has a listenership of hundreds of thousands, and casual sexism and reducing women to the sum of their kaftans or bikinis, there to be judged by Ryan Tubridy and his Miss Ireland pals, isn’t just harmless fun. The women who have complained about this aren’t whinging killjoys. This competition isn’t a coup for feminism because women are supposedly judged on their personalities. Women are being brought in to a room to be judged. Even if the swimsuits and evening wear weren’t a part of it, women are still being judged by standards set by men. Not only do we now have to achieve a particular patriarchal body standard, we have to ensure that we have a sunny disposition too. It’s lazy, tired old sexism that should die in the entertainment dustbin of history along with Love Thy Neighbour and the last season of Battlestar Galactica.

This is no condemnation of the women who might want to enter Miss Personality, or Miss Ireland or the Rose of Tralee or the Lovely Girls competition or whatever. Women are taught from childhood that beauty and what you look like are core essentials of womanhood and femininity, and we are here to be judged, so why wouldn’t a woman want to compete in that arena? This is no different because it has the word ‘personality’ in the title; the second you dictate what a woman should wear in this competition, it’s the same as every other pageant; ultimately it’s about how physically appealing she is, it’s just this time, you need to be a bit of a laugh as well as having nice tits. Oh and you can’t be married or have a child to enter, because presumably childbirth and a non-intact hymen have too much of a negative impact on your ‘personality.’ Or maybe it would just make a woman appear too human.

Ryan Tubridy might come across as harmless, like an embarrassing uncle telling “get back in the kitchen” jokes at a wedding that everyone is too polite to tackle. But this pageant and those jokes are another microaggression of sexism that women have to face. Men aren’t being judged here. We are told by Ryan and people like him to laugh it off. It was a joke. It is meant to be funny and if we complain, we just don’t get it.

But there are too many its that we are expected to laugh off by the likes of Ryan Tubridy, with his massive platform. Of course, they are not intended to hurt women, and that’s why it’s socially awkward to tackle the embarrassing uncle – no one wants to make a scene or be the buzzkill. And Tubridy’s interview with a person who inflicted domestic violence was surely not meant to hurt women – but it did. It hurt the women who have been on the receiving end of domestic abuse who have never been given a platform to tell their story. The it of comparing women breastfeeding to urinating shames women and hurts them. The it of Miss Personality validates the gendered basis of the ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes. The totality of the its demean women despite how well intentioned they might have been. Everyday the jokes, the casual sexism and the judging of women continues, women’s inequality is continued. So Ryan, if you happen to be reading this, it’s irritating and I would like for it to stop.

The Moral Outrage of the Damned: Public reaction to the plight of Sabrina McMahon

Sabrina McMahon is 36 years old. She has three children, ages 5, 3, and 1. She and her three children currently live in her car. Sabrina has lived in her car for the past week after her “temporary” arrangements, which lasted a year, broke down. She formerly worked as a dental nurse and as a carer. She keeps her buggy, nappies and possessions in the boot of her car and her groceries in the front. She avails of the kindness of friends so she can wash and clean her clothes. Her children sleep in the back. When the baby wakes for a bottle she switches on the engine to keep her warm. A Sinn Féin Councillor Maire Devine, has been making representations to South Dublin County Council on her behalf for the past year while she went from relative to relative over the months since her relationship broke down. When SDCC were contacted by the Irish Times for comment, they said they were “aware” of the case but didn’t wish to say anything further which was unsurprising.

Unless they were going to say, “We are deeply ashamed that we have failed to show basic human decency to this woman and her family and find her a home” they were probably better off to say nothing. No landlord will accept rent allowance from her. She presented at the Dublin Central Placement Service and was told to go back to Kildare, where she had previously lived, but she wants to live near her family.

If was I was living in a car with three small children I would want to live near my family too.

Her story was on the front page of the Irish Times and it covered on all the major radio stations. On Newstalk this morning, texts flooded in saying that Sabrina was a bad mother; that she should have her children taken from her; that she shouldn’t have even had her children in the first place; that she was irresponsible and only “using” the media to get a free ride on the back of taxpayers. Social media users had a field day in condemning the parenting skills of a woman who is literally living on the margins of society. Very little was said about her former partner. However, the level of misogyny and hatred directed at her in those texts and comments was a slightly more ignorant representation of the structural misogyny directed at her from the state. The state shows its disdain for women like Sabrina by failing to provide for her needs. The tweets condemning her are this simply this same attitude refined to 140 characters.

There are 98,000 families waiting for social housing in this state and the comments levelled at Sabrina McMahon are not unusual. In fact, Sabrina’s situation is not unusual. People are fooling themselves if they think that Sabrina McMahon is the only person in Ireland living in her car right now. And the comments about her are the same type of comments made about poor and homeless women who become pregnant and have families because they generally pathologised as people who made bad decisions, lack male authority, and exist without morals or values. They are believed to be selfish and parasitic and rearing children in their own rough image. It is the stock depiction of the very poorest working class women.

While Sabrina has some bread rolls in the front seat of her car, her problem is that she isn’t a consumer. She just wants somewhere to live that’s safe. It’s one of the most basic things a person can ask for. She isn’t economically productive, and therefore doesn’t warrant the concern of the state. She is a mother and a carer so not considered to be engaging in “real work.”

Women do the lion‘s share of unpaid household and care work. But it isn’t considered “work” because there are no wages, it’s just what women do. It is a bizarre attitude from a state that has a Constitution that specifically assigns a woman’s role to the home. But the very structure of capitalism, depends on women doing the majority of this form of work without payment.  Neoliberal capitalism neglects to acknowledge that women working within the home (or from their car in the absence of having a home) are economically productive as it allows the State to not provide public childcare infrastructure or other supports for childrearing. It is just something that women are expected to do, but it isn’t good enough for the terms of capitalist patriarchy.

Unfortunately Sabrina lives in a place where the government department responsible for welfare, the Department of Social Protection, aim to restructure the lives of poor women like Sabrina, in both a physical and a moral sense. It was not by mistake that it was the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald was out commenting on this story today, to address the concerned masses’ cries of “won’t somebody please think of the children?” rather than the Minister for Social Protection or the Minister for Environment, who ultimately have the responsibility for Sabrina’s situation.

It is unlikely that those who had the luxury of sending a message from their smartphone to a radio station to condemn and blame Sabrina for her situation, stopped to contemplate the precarity of their own situations; how many of them are only two, three or four pay packets away from homelessness themselves.

Not only was Sabrina demonised as a bad parent – but through their commentary, the very value of her existence was questioned. Caring for three small children in the back of a car isn’t valued because it is unpaid labour, although it is probably fair to say that if those who condemned Sabrina were forced to do it, they would think it was pretty hard work indeed.

SPARK ran a campaign last year against a programme forcing lone mams to work when their children turned 7, which had been introduced by Minister Joan Burton. You couldn’t have people remaining economically unproductive now could you? The rationale is that the state cannot allow people to exist in a way that does not overtly benefit capitalism. The point of that programme was to redeem the women who do not have male authority in their lives by forcing them into a situation where they would live within a patriarchal system that would give them male authority in the form of employment. The likelihood is, if they even managed to get a job, their boss would be a man. It is the state’s antidote to these dreadful welfare recipients of getting something for nothing. This particular form of workfare is branded an “activation measure” but it is punitive. It punishes women for not conforming to a life that involves a man who is a breadwinner.

Women don’t become poor in a vacuum. Women like Sabrina don’t live in cars for the fun of it and as austerity continues to destroy Irish society, we will continue to see more Sabrinas living in more cars and cardboard boxes, and sadly, more people willing to condemn them for it.

Sex Offenders and Vigilantes: You can’t beat up a structural problem

A few weeks ago while on a bus going through Cabra I noticed some posters pinned to trees alerting locals to the fact there was an alleged rapist in the area. They included his photo. This kind of thing always reminds me of a media story a few years ago about a bunch of headers in England kicking in the door of a paediatrician mistakenly thinking that paediatrician has the same meaning as paedophile. An unfortunate mistake for all concerned. The thought occurred to me while travelling through Cabra, that it wouldn’t end well.

Last night I noticed something on facebook. Someone had liked a public status update from Cabra based city councillor. As it was public and I presume that this Councillor uses this to communicate to his constituents, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest he won’t mind me reposting this here (I have however, not included his name in order to prevent whining from The Left (™) that I’m criticising politicians for my own nefarious political ends):

 

Attack on House on Attracta Road

 

The disgraceful attack on the house on Attracta Road on Sunday night has completely undone the positives of the community uniting against the presence of serial rapist Trevor Byrne in our area. The female occupants of the house were once again terrified by people claiming to be against violence to women. Byrne hasn’t been positively identified in the area for almost a week and wasn’t in the house when the raiders burst in and searched it.

 

The peaceful community campaign appeared to be working as Byrne was keeping his distance. Local residents leafleting the houses in the area warning about his presence and putting up posters put real pressure on Byrne and the Gardai monitoring him. The rally on the Cabra Road on Saturday, while poorly attended, did keep the pressure on Byrne. Ironically, the occupants of the attacked house were at the rally supporting their community against Byrne only to find themselves attacked the very next day.

 

This attack has done untold damage to the community campaign to have the right to know about sex offenders in their areas. The Gardai and the local politicians will claim the attack as proof that working class communities could not be trusted with sensitive information about sex offenders.

I want to be really clear about this from the outset, and say that my sympathy does not lie with rapists and sex offenders.

Everyone’s priority should be keeping communities safe, so it’s completely understandable when a tight-knit community hears there’s a rapist in their midst that they will want to organise and protect one another. In saying that, I think it’s fair to ask what exactly the organisers of this rally thought was going to happen when they organised it.

The purpose of a rally is to engage people, give them something to do, demonstrate the importance of an issue and increase a level of solidarity. It would be absolutely foolish to think you could have a rally designed to highlight a rapist’s presence in an area without some kind of vigilantism potentially happening as a result. It is in no way “ironic” that “the occupants of the attacked house were at the rally supporting their community against Byrne only to find themselves attacked the very next day.” It was completely predictable. To write it off as ‘just one of those things’ is a little disingenuous.

The problem with this kind of vigilantism is that it creates exactly the level of hysteria in a community that leads to women in house cowering in fear as a bunch of men enter and demand to know where a rapist is because someone, somewhere along the line made a mistake as to the rapist’s whereabouts. And this Councillor is of course correct, it is the exactly the sort of thing that is listed by the Gardai, and politicians as a reason not to notify people when there are sex offenders living nearby. But he also leaves out that Barnardos, the NSPCC, and even the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland are against giving this sort of information to local communities in general too. Because it results in the doors – or worse, the heads – of the paediatrician and innocent bystanders being kicked in.

There are of course other problems with it. When the community focus is turned towards a convicted serial rapist that everyone knows about, it perpetuates the myth that women are more likely to be dragged down an alleyway in the dead of night by this particular man and viciously attacked. While there may be a risk of that happening, the fact is that women are far more likely to be raped by someone that they know. Over 80% of rapists are known to their victim. It is often someone that they trust. Children are more likely to be raped or abused by a family member or a friend than a stranger in the street. One in four women will be raped or assaulted in their lifetime and only one in ten of those rapes are ever reported. It’s a staggering statistic and it shows that abuse and assault is sadly embedded within our society, so when there’s a pursuit of one rapist, the vigilantism has a smack of “Don’t touch our women” about it. Because even when the motives are genuine and sincere, and those who act do so out of genuine love for, or solidarity with the women in their lives it really does leave a very big question as to where the regard or solidarity is for the women in the next community that the sex offender is pushed in to.

Communities taking justice into their own hands doesn’t always work out so well; Trayvon Martin was shot by a vigilante. However, there are situations where people cannot for one reason or another, engage with the police or gardai. When communities are abandoned by the state, and are used to fending for themselves, it is not unforeseeable that they will take matters into their own hands and such situations will arise where they will find and punish someone who has perpetuated an awful crime. When the justice system that exists will not address the needs of its constituents, they will find a way to seek their own justice. There are still ‘no-go areas’ in Dublin for the Gardai. But Cabra certainly isn’t one of them and this group was not comparable to the Gulabi Gang of India.

I am not qualified to assess whether there is a genuine risk to a community because of a convicted rapist’s presence, but the fact remains that even if he has been driven from Cabra, the 1 in 4 statistic tells us that there’s still a few more sex offenders in Dublin 7 whether they are known to the community or not. It probably would have been far better if this could have been used as an opportunity for a community conversation on sexual violence and how and where it usually happens, issues of consent and how to negotiate it, breaking down some of the myths around rape, and how we might prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place. It certainly would have been more productive than having a gang of blokes storming into a house to terrify the very women they purport to protect.  

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