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DV victim silenced using UK libel laws- test case to be heard in Supreme Court

A decision is to be reached shortly on Lachaux v Independent News Print Limited and Another – a vital test case on women’s rights to freedom of expression in the face of violence and abuse.

On 13 November 2018, the Supreme Court will preside over a significant test case on libel law with far-reaching implications for women’s rights. A panel of 5 male judges – Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Sumption, Lord Hodge and Lord Briggs – will hear the case of Lachaux. Its outcome may well serve to shape the future reporting of violence against women in the media. Despite this, for reasons not furnished to us, their Lordships refused an application for permission to intervene on behalf Southall Black Sisters, the Nia Project and the Centre for Women’s Justice.

#Me Too and gender justice

At the heart of the case lies the question of the meaning of ‘serious harm’ under s1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013. It relates to news reports – published in The Independent, the i, and Evening Standard – which featured the serious allegations of domestic abuse made by Afsana Lachaux against her ex-husband Bruno Lachaux. At first instance in the High Court, Mr Justice Warby found – as a preliminary issue – that the published reports contained defamatory statements which had caused or were likely to cause serious harm to Bruno Lachaux’s reputation: a finding that was necessary under the 2013 Act in order for his libel

claim to proceed. The newspapers’ appeal against that finding was unsuccessful in the Court of Appeal, but permission to appeal was granted to the Supreme Court.

This is not just about an issue of media law. A narrow and context-free approach to the meaning of ‘serious harm’ could serve to deny women vital access to the media to highlight the injustices perpetrated against them. It is a case which cannot be divorced from the #MeToo momentum and the reality of the countless women who have no option but to turn to the media to expose, challenge and seek acknowledgement for the acts of abuse and exploitation they have suffered at the hands of men who enjoy the benefit of the full armoury of defamation laws, non-disclosure agreements and emergency injunctions to silence them. In a world where we continue to see high levels of sexism, misogyny and systemic institutional failings – not least within the legal system itself – the media play a vital role in validating the remarkably similar stories of routine violence and abuse perpetrated on women in the workplace, on the streets and in their homes.

Not only can public reporting of all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) lead to investigation and redress for individuals, it can also encourage other victims to come forward, contributing to a much-needed overthrow of public stereotypes, myths and attitudes surrounding violence against women.

Women’s right to freedom of expression

What we seek is a robust analysis of the need to protect women’s right to freedom of expression under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998, whereby the court is required to have specific regard to journalistic freedoms. Indeed, the need in some circumstances to protect even prima facie defamatory statements under the umbrella of freedom of expression has been recognised in a forum no less than the European Court of Human Rights. We say this should apply even more strongly to the particularly egregious forms of harms against women that many of our cases have highlighted.

The case of Lachaux is vitally important, not just for media lawyers, but for anyone with an interest in the rights of women to freedom of expression in contexts where they are not the holders of power in society.

Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters says:

“We are not asking for women to be given a license to conduct trials by public opinion; rather, to show how gender justice is dependent on the public value of enabling women to come forward, rather than simply defending male power and impunity through disbelief and silence. The media present a key democratic space by which to ensure that long-suppressed accounts of domestic and sexual violence and trauma surface and are taken seriously.”

Harriet Wistrich of Centre for Women’s Justice says:

“This case is another example of the worrying trend where wealthy men who are accused of abuse are able to buy victims’ silence. Libel proceedings are extremely costly and few can risk speaking out for fear of punitive costs awards against them despite the huge public interest in exposing serious wrongdoing. In libel, serious harm to reputation seems to be valued more highly than the serious harm of violence against women that may be exposed by victims speaking out.”

Karen Ingala Smith of the Nia Project says:

“The publication of allegations of sexual and domestic violence can be vital in bringing forward other victims and increasing the possibility of achieving a conviction, look at Jimmy Savile and John Worboys for instance.

We already have low rates of reporting of domestic and sexual violence and even lower rates of prosecution and conviction yet we have extremely high rates of both domestic and sexual violence. If women are unable to talk about the violence they experience other than when a prosecution or conviction has happened, then this silences women, enhances impunity for perpetrators and suppresses understanding and facts about the scale and extent of men’s violence against women. The deck is already stacked against women victims of male violence without delivering the press into the hands of perpetrators as well.”

This blog has been adapted slightly from the press release issued by Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Women’s Justice and Nia Project ahead of the court case on 13 November 2018. Women United hope to see justice done for victims of all domestic violence.

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Eve Ensler’s letter to all white women who support Brett Kavanaugh

Dear white women who support Brett Kavanaugh,

Last night when I saw Donald Trump mock Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I couldn’t help focusing on the women behind him who cheered and laughed. I felt like I was falling into a familiar nightmare. It compelled me to reach out to you.

When I was a child my father sexually abused and beat me. My mother did not protect me. She sided with my father, just like these women sided with Donald Trump, and I understand why. She sided with him because he was the breadwinner. She sided with him because of her need to survive. She sided with him because the reality of what was happening in front of her was so terrible, it was easier not to see.

She sided with him because she was brought up never to question a man. She was taught to serve men and make men happy. She was trained not to believe women. It was only much later, after my father died, that she was able to acknowledge the truth of my childhood and to ask for my forgiveness. It was only then, too late, that she was able to see how she had sacrificed her daughter for security and comfort. She used those words. I was her “sacrifice.”

Some people when they look at this video of women laughing at Dr. Ford, will see callousness. I see distancing. I see denial. I have worked on ending violence against women for 20 years. I have traveled this country many times. I have sat with women of all ages and political persuasions. I remember the first performances of my play The Vagina Monologues in Oklahoma City, when half the women in the audience came up to tell me they had been raped or battered. Most of them whispered it to me, and often I was the first and only person they had told. Until that moment, they had found a way to normalize it. Expect it. Accept it. Deny it.

I don’t believe you want to have to choose your sons and your husbands over your daughters. I don’t believe you want the pain that was inflicted on us inflicted on future generations.

I know the risk many of you take in coming out to say you believe a woman over a man. It means you might then have to recognize and believe your own experience. If one out of three women in the world have been raped or beaten, it must mean some of you have had this experience. To believe another woman means having to touch into the pain and fear and sorrow and rage of your own experience and that sometimes feels unbearable. I know because it took me years to come out of my own denial and to break with my perpetrator, my father. To speak the truth that risked upending the comfort of my very carefully constructed life. But I can tell you that living a lie is living half a life. It was only after telling my story that I knew happiness and freedom.

I know the risk others of you face who have witnessed those you love suffer the traumatic after-effects of violence and those who worry for both your sons and daughters that may someday face this violence

I write to you because we need you, the way I once needed my mother. We need you to stand with women who are breaking the silence in spite of their terror and shame. I believe inside the bodies of some of those women who laughed at that rally were other impulses and feelings they weren’t expressing.

Here is why I believe you should take this stand with me. Violence against women destroys our souls. It annihilates our sense of self. It numbs us. It separates us from our bodies. It is the tool used to keep us second-class citizens. And if we don’t address it, it can lead to depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating and suicide. It makes us believe we are not worthy of happiness.

It took my mother 40 years to see what her denial has done and to apologize to me. I don’t think you want to apologize to your daughters forty years from now. Stop the ascension of a man who is angry, aggressive, and vengeful and could very well be a sexual assaulter. Time is short. Call your senators. Stop laughing and start fighting.

With all my love,

Eve

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Kavanaugh’s confirmation proves that testimonies of sexual assault survivors are worthless

Every single news channel today (6 October 2018) has been leading with the story that has dominated the US news cycles for weeks; the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s handpicked nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the Supreme Court.

For some, mainly Republicans, the confirmation (which is likely to be confirmed the next few hours) will be seen as a long expected victory, albeit held up for a few weeks to satisfy the powers that be that a sexual assault allegation is nothing really serious, honestly. For others, not just the Democrats but survivors of sexual assault and women rights activists, too, this will be a bitter but not too unexpected pill to swallow given that that our American brothers and sisters managed to vote Donald Trump to the presidency despite his ‘grab ‘em by the p*ssy’ attitude to women.

The feeling that no matter what happened, Trump’s nominee of a Republican faithful as a Supreme Court judge would be confirmed,  was consistent, despite the fact that a credible and trustworthy witness came forward to claim she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh as a teen.

We all watched last Thursday as both Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, and Kavanaugh himself gave nearly 9 hours of testimony at Capitol Hill regarding the incident. Despite the fact that Dr Ford did not want to be thrust into the unrelenting glare of the world’s stage, she did not flinch, or become hysterical or give flippant, belligerent answers. She knew what was at stake; her credibility not only as a survivor but as a woman. When you contrast that with Kavanaugh’s highly strung performance that followed, which veered from overly emotional, shouty, and downright rudeness, it became apparent that, sexual assault allegations or not, this man was simply not suited to sit on the highest court in the land that could possibly decide the outcomes of cases that may involve controversial and sensitive topics such as abortion, same sex marriage, migrant worker rights etc. His outbursts, his arrogance and dismissive attitude to the proceedings he was involved in belied a man who is unstable, and overly emotional. Now, had these terms been applied to a woman, there is no way she would ever progress past the proverbial typing pool. As it currently stands, Kavanaugh serves as a circuit judge for the Court of Appeals in Columbia, his evidently fragile emotional and psychological state not a barrier or a hindrance.

Today’s outcome will serve only to galvanise and further motivate a movement that began over two years ago with Donald’s Trump’s nomination as the GOP candidate for the 2016 presidential elections. I know of many Americans who, the day after waking up to President Trump instead of President Clinton, asked themselves if what they did was enough, and what did the future now hold. Today’s verdict should serve as confirmation that those fears and concerns people like myself and others expressed were well founded and valid.

The partisan lines have never been more vividly drawn or more viciously defended. But the real battle has been between America’s ability to walk away from a man accused of sexual assault or to give in to the age old ‘he-said-she-said’ cop out and elevate a man to an even higher office. As we saw with Trump’s presidency, it has been and maybe always will be the latter.

Despite everything that has happened since Trump’s presidency began, I believe that this moment will be seen as the watershed.

Why? Because this is the point where the fight for women’s rights, the fight for survivors of sexual violence to be heard let alone believed, the fight for the existence of women full stop, has gone beyond that of no return. We cannot stay silent while men in positions of power abuse us or allow their compatriots to abuse us. We cannot allow those men in power who have abused us, then use their power to elect other men accused of abuse to further positions of power. Some of my sisters in the US have organised get togethers with each other for support, solidarity and reassurance in light of the bleak landscape that is prevailing us right now. Others are organising marches and demonstrations as I write (Womens March have announced they will be marching in Washington on 21 January 2019 on the second year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration) Some, such as myself, can only write and express our disgust and outrage. What binds us all is the belief in sisterhood despite being thrown under the bus by the many millions of women who support and vote for men like Trump and Kavanaugh.

By coming forward, today was very day Christine Blasey Ford had tried to stop from happening. Instead, today will be the day she helped to relight the fires for millions of women who refuse to stop fighting and campaigning for the rights of women, no matters how dismissive and contemptuous their opponents.

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Tesco’s evasive response does not hold much water for customers facing criminal record for buying water

My response to Tesco, after they responded to my letter asking for clarification of their water buying policies:

Dear Mr Mitchell,

Many thanks for your response.

You say that you ‘have a policy in our stores which limits buying big quantities of any single product’

In what way was this policy communicated to you customers? Through posters or signs within the stores? On your website? At the start of each transaction when the customer’s go to pay at the checkout?

When you say ‘If a customer does want to purchase lots of a single product’  what do you mean by ‘lot’? Is there a numerical value? If so, how is it communicated to your customers?

Can you also address the questions raised in my previous email to you (I have re-attached my original letter to this email a gesture of goodwill) as these still need addressing as a matter of urgency. In addition to point 6 in my letter (prohibition of recording on Tesco premises) I note that a previous customer of yours had taken a photo of two women shopping in your store in their pyjamas and uploaded it to social media. Can you please confirm that you admonished that customer and evicted him from your store? It would have been fairly easy to identify him due to CCTV etc at the time.

You say that a full investigation has been carried out. As the incident involved three of your customers, I would like to see the results of this investigation urgently.

Finally, I would like an explanation from you into the conduct of the store manager Pam Taylor, who was filmed during the incident attempting to stop other customers from filming in store, despite the fact that two of your customers were being manhandled and abused by the police. If that is how your store managers treat the welfare of your customers then frankly, I would not want to risk shopping at Tesco ever again.

I hope that you will respond with speed and this time answer the points I have raised in my original letter to you.

Kind regards

Aisha Ali-Khan

From: customer.service@tesco.co.uk <customer.service@tesco.co.uk>

Sent: 02 October 2018 10:55

To: akalixxxx@hotmail.com

Subject: Re: Rochdale Store- Urgent letter for your immediate consideration << Reference ID: 7446884 >>

Dear Aisha,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

We’re very much aware of the incident and as a priority have carried out a full investigation.

We’d like to explain that to ensure good availability for all our customers, we have a policy in our stores which limits buying big quantities of any single product. If a customer does want to purchase lots of a single product, we encourage them to place an order with our customer services team in store. I hope you will understand our store was carrying out our policy and meant to cause no offence.

Regrettably on this occasion, the situation escalated. We are unable to give more information due to the ongoing police investigation.

Kind regards

Peter Mitchell

Tesco Customer Service

Tesco Customer Engagement Centre

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Tesco has serious questions to answer after customers arrested over attempting to buy bottled water

After distressing footage emerged of an Asian couple roughly manhandled and later arrested at a Rochdale branch of Tesco, there were some serious questions raised that regular customers such as myself need urgent answers to. Here is a copy of the letter I sent to Tesco customer services. I hope to receive a response soon and will post it online when I get it.

Keighley

West Yorkshire

BDXXX

Tesco Customer Service Centres

Baird Avenue

Dundee

DD1 9NF

28th September 2018

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I am a campaigner and co-organiser for Women’s March London and write to you in relation to a shocking video that was uploaded to various social media platforms last week, filmed in your Rochdale Store.

The video shows a couple being manhandled and then arrested by two police officers. According to press reports and a statement released by one of the individuals involved, Nasir Hussain, he and his partner had attempted to buy an amount of bottled water but were stopped at the checkout by one of your managers who claimed it was “unfair” on other customers as they would be left without sufficient water to purchase.

The video has raised a number of questions for which I, along with our readership, would like an answer to.

1 How much bottled water does your Rochdale store keep on its premises at any one time and on average,  how many units are bought per customer?

2 What is the official limit of bottled water per customer and was this clearly signposted in your store? If customers have exceeded this limit (if it is indeed in place) what is the official policy of Tesco towards the customer? Are they asked to leave the store immediately?

3 Why is this the store policy and is it in line with the store policies of your other stores?

4 How many other customers has this policy been applied to and under what circumstances?

5 What is your policy of refusing to sell your goods to your customers? For example, do you tell them to leave if they do not agree? Do you then notify the police after the customer has refused to leave or before you ask the customer to leave?

6 After numerous customers (including Mr Hussain’s partner Mahira Hussain) began to film the incident, they were informed to stop as they were on ‘private property’. Can you please send me your policy regarding the use of mobile phones on your premises as well as signage prohibiting customers from using their phones to record in your stores.

As you can imagine, I, along with many others, are concerned about the manner in which your staff members behaved towards  your customers and look forward to receiving your responses to the above questions as a matter of urgency. Until then, I will not be shopping at any of your stores due to serious concerns over the violations of our basic human rights until this matter has been cleared up.

Kind regards

Aisha Ali-Khan

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The Bodyguard shows that Muslim women need more nuanced representation on screen 

The Bodyguard’s season finale was a real tense affair, with a lot of great twists and turns right to the bitter end. Finally, the BBC drama that didn’t depict a Muslim woman (Nadia) as a weak, subjugated woman living in fear and carrying out orders on the say so of a controlling, oppressive man. Sadly, what they depicted instead was a homicidal, jihadist who decided to use her engineering degree to create and sell complex bombs for the highest bidder.

So why are writers for mainstream TV dramas consistently failing to get it right when it comes to Muslim women? It can’t certainly be for a lack of access or information?

When I look around me, I know of many female teachers, accountants, lawyers, property developers, businesswomen, doctors, neurosurgeons and even vets who also happen to be Muslim but are neither oppressed or secret jihadis hating the West. These are simply amazing women who have normal everyday lives as mums, daughters, wives, friends and sisters.

Why can’t Muslim women be portrayed in this way on our screens?

Such nuanced characterisation would help normalise Muslim women, to bring them into the fold.

Recent reports have shown Muslim women bearing the main brunt of Islamophobic attacks in the wake of a re-emergence of the far right. We are clearly seen as easy targets by some, and this is not helped by mainstream TV programmes constantly ‘othering’ us by offering single dimensional characters that viewers simply cannot relate to.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some very good BAME characters in the Bodyguard: Louise Rayburn (Detective Sargeant) Deepak Sharma (Detective Inspector) and Tahir Mahmood (PR advisor to Home Secretary) We also had many female characters in strong leadership roles such as Julia Montague (Home Secretary) Anne Sampson (Head of Counter Terrorism) and Lorraine Craddock (Chief Superindentant) too so the landscape wasn’t all dominated by white, podgy, middle aged men (unlike in real life)

But the only Muslim protagonists in the Bodyguard were all linked to or victims of illegal terrorist activity (Nadia and her strange husband who had allegedly helped to strap her into her suicide vest at the beginning but wasn’t a committed enough jihadi to grow his beard plus the ones who blew themselves up outside the primary school) Tahir Mahmood, a victim, was initially suspected of being the bomber who blew Julia Montague (and himself) to Kingdom come but was cleared after footage showed he was merely responsible for triggering the bomb (made by Nadia and sold to crime boss Luke Aitkens, who must have been storing it on ice until planting it under Julia’s feet)

So what can we do to address the lack of plausible, everyday Muslim women on TV? Some writers I know are writing their own scripts and plays but they still face the uphill struggle of getting through the doors of production companies who will agree to turn their more diverse stories into fodder for the small screen.

I only ask that TV bosses allow Muslim women a chance to show a more human, relatable side that doesn’t want to either hide from nor blow up the world.

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Germaine Greer wants to mollycoddle her rapist. We just want her to shut up.

Before I start writing this, I feel I have to point out a few facts. I grew up reading Germaine Greer’s works, I studied her seminal book ‘The Female Eunuch’ at college and then later at University. I was impressed with her passion and fight for equality between the sexes and felt inspired enough to be the campaigner and proud feminist I am today. Sadly, for someone who was held in such regard by many many people, Greer is singlehandedly trashing the very reputation that she has worked hard for decades to create. Her latest essay, ‘On Rape‘ should be renamed ‘How to kill off any remaining credibility I have’ and just be done with it.

In the latest of her offerings supporting and apologising for rapists, Greer claimed “I’m not saying that its not damaging. Trauma is something that is dictated by the sufferer. I can’t bear huntsman spiders. Its not their fault”. Before I go any further, can I just take a minute out to apologise to all huntsman spiders. I don’t know what you guys have done wrong to be compared to rapists by Greer but I’m pretty sure its not because of your brute force, your inability to take no for an answer and your complete lack of remorse for weaponing your penis and causing victims of sexual violence long lasting damage emotional and psychological damage.

Perhaps if Greer had asked any survivor of such sexual assault, they will tell you how terrible it felt, how afraid they felt, how violated, how brutalised. Because for the majority of rapists, rape is never about sex. It is about control, about satisfying their own needs, about causing their victims maximum degradation and humiliation. I would, therefore, forgive the outrage when she tells rape survivors that they are merely choosing to feel traumatised & violated if I was her.

As part of the same huntsman spider analogy, Greer further claimed that “women are encouraged all the time to be terribly, terribly frightened, and nearly always of the wrong thing.”

Hmmm. “Encouraged to be terribly, terribly frightened?” Who encourages us? Society? Media? Our friends? Or maybe the crime statistics that show a year on year increases in the level of sexual crimes being reported compared to the rates of actual convictions. The Crime Survey for England alone shows more that 510,000 women experienced sexual assault between early 2017-early 2018 and the number of recorded sexual offences are now the highest since records began, according to the ONS (Office for National Statistics)

So you can see, Ms. Greer, there is a really valid reason why women are encouraged to be frightened. It is because  sexual violence is a reality for women, in both the UK and all over the world. Trust me when I say this, the majority of women do not see their attackers as some sort of ‘lost men’ who need mollycoddling for being such predators. What these brutes need is to be exposed and reported to the relevant authorities so that they can be taken off the streets and not pose further risks to other potential victims.

Greer goes on to mention her own violent rape when she was only 19 years old. She didn’t report it because she didn’t want her rapist to be treated like a “mad dog” by the authorities despite the fact that he had, indeed, behaved like a ‘mad dog’. She has also advocated reducing the sentence for rapists if the bar used to convict them is also lowered. Let me tell you as a survivor of sexual violence, reducing the bar will not increase the numbers of convictions for rape. What all survivors want is justice for what their sexual attacker did to them. No one I have ever met or worked with as ever said to me that they would be happy to accept lesser sentences for their rapists in exchange for a lowering of the standards used to convict. We want to see longer sentences so that our attackers are not back on the streets, terrorising women again. If Greer cannot see this glaring truth then she has no right to speak on the behalf of women or for women. She lost that right when she started to defend not only her own rapist but other rapists as well.

Despite her own traumatic experience, Greer wants us to give our rapists a free pass but why should we when they don’t give our bodies a free pass? Rapists inflict their need to control, subjugate and sexually satisfy themselves against our unyielding and unconsenting bodies but we are being encouraged to, turn the other cheek, to protect them and to understand their needs? Isn’t this what patriarchy always told us to do? To ignore the injustices we suffer at the hands of men while ensuring our perpetrators are never held to account? And yet, Greer continues to call herself a feminist.

No thank you. I, along with many others who fight daily for the rights of women, who campaign for laws that stop our bodies being violated and who stand as role models for both young boys and girls, cannot and will not give rapists a free pass. And Germaine Greer is nothing short of Judas in feminist garb for asking us all to put the feelings of rapists above the trauma of their victims. It’s time for her to shut up now.

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