Sunday, 26 May 2019

"I am not safe" by Clara Caldero Delgado

"I am not safe" by Clara Caldero Delgado exposes the reality of sexual exploitation of young refugees and migrants in European cities

Thierry Geoffroy Colonel, "I am not safe" at Victoria Square, April 8th 2017. Part of the contemporary art exhibition Documenta 14 in Athens.

Life unfolds as usual in Victoria Square, a public space in central Athens, next to Pedion tou Areos Park. Passers-by rush home, to the shops that surround the square or to grab their diary caffeine dose at Coffee Island. A woman takes her dog for a walk, young refugees sit in a bench awaiting for an old man to offer them money or food in exchange for sex, and kids play football all around. Business as usual, nothing outrageous to highlight, right?
This article will try to bring some light to how it has been possible that abuse and sexual exploitation of young refugees and migrants have been naturalized as part of the city life,  rendering this outrageous form of violence invisible in the eyes of diary witnesses (and of politicians who receive reports about it sitting behind  their bureaus in other capitals).
In Athens, Victoria Square and its surroundings have been the epicentre of the so-called “refugee” crisis (“political will” crisis would be a far better name) since refugee and migrant arrivals peaked in 2015. By November 2018, 67,100 refugees and migrants are stuck in Greece, being 3,400 of them unaccompanied children (93’5% boys). A huge shortage of accommodation leaves 2,363 children without official shelter, and forces hundreds to live in the streets.
As the Greek asylum system remains collapsed, and the European Union’s (EU) relocation system cracked due to EU member states unwillingness to take in refugees (last data on relocations can be accessed here), refugees and migrants face eternal bureaucratic procedures while they do not have any means at their disposal to ensure survival. Some of them do not even have hope to be granted protection nor relocation: The 2016 EU-Turkey agreement put all those who arrived after 20th March 2016 at risk of deportation. The same is true for all those considered to come from ‘’safe’’ countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, from which most of unaccompanied children in Greece come from.
No shelter. No food. No school. No work. No way to move forward. Nothing but their body to get the money they need to pay smugglers and reach another European country. Many of the unaccompanied children living in the streets of Athens, as well as those in official shelters, are facing commercial sexual exploitation. It is taking place in open public spaces, mainly Victoria Square and Pedion tou Areos Park, in a way that its made self-evident to local authorities and Athenians, while academics, UNHCR, local NGOs and social workers point at it repeatedly in their reports. Last January 2017, Harvard Center for Health and Human Rights published a throughout study on the topic. However, political responses remain absent.
In the words of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Fillipo Grandi, ‘’there is a lot of survival sex that is happening, there is sexual harassment and sexual abuse. I think that this is something we cannot tolerate, in particular in the European Union.” But we do. At this point, estimated reader, I would ask you to just Google ‘’male refugee sexual exploitation greece’’ to navigate through some personal accounts of the tragedy, so numbers become to you actual people, with a name, a face, a story.
The first reaction: How can this be happening, nowadays, here, in the daylight, in front of us? How can this have been happening since 2015, or even before? This article argues that the normalized presence of this form of violence is not circumstantial, exceptional, or something to be isolated from the rest of social interactions and norms, but constitutive of Greek (and may we say European?) society. In order to do so, we will use two simple conflict analysis tools: Galtung and Riches’ triangles (to find more about them, just click on the links!).
Galtung’s triangle of violence is useful to our analysis because it allows us to realize that the acts of sexual exploitation are just a manifestation of deeper structural and cultural violences, which are invisible. In our case, structural violence would be refugees and migrants’ deprivation, caused by the failure of asylum seekers’ protection system and the socioeconomic conditions that make for them impossible to find a job. Cultural violence would have to do with the value system that nourishes this sexual violence, such as racism, xenophobia or classism, a dehumanization of “the other” mixed with specific gender understandings.
In Victoria Square and its surroundings, the three types of violence come into play and their interaction results in a very particular outcome. They can help us explain why even if sexual exploitation of young refugees and migrants is a well-known secret, there is no general public nor governmental response to it. Even if young boys are seen to engage in transactional sex with old men, it is not perceived as violence. Structural and cultural violences have not only fed, but also made invisible direct acts of violence in the eyes of the public.
Here is where Riches’ triangle of violence enters the scene. Perception is essential to the understanding of violence because it is what constitutes a violent act as legitimate or illegitimate, or as our case proves, going even further, as violent or non-violent. In this particular case, the witnesses are not able to see the act as violent because, in their biased perception, being subject to sexual exploitation is part of victims’ identity, having sex with old men is something they are used to. As it is natural for them, they are not actual victims (See outrageous interview to UNCHR consultant regarding the myths about Afghan boys).
Finally, it is also interesting to apply Riches triangle to this particular case because it allows us to see beyond the perpetrator as the individual who engages in transactional sex, and point at the Greek state as the actor enabling the conditions for this violence to take place. Going even further, we can also claim responsibility to the European Union for the imposition of austerity policies that weakened welfare provisions of Greece, as well as the all-encompassing securitization of migration flows and borders that resulted in the protracted “refugee” crisis in countries of arrival.
In short, the fact that sexual exploitation of refugee and migrant children has been integrated in daily life routine in a European capital raises important moral and political concerns. Looking at it throughout the lens of conflict analysis helps us to identify issues of perception and responsibility. What remains now is only the hope that understanding brings consciousness, and consciousness, social change.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Misdiagnosing knife crime: the ‘epidemic’.

Jake Tacchi tackles the way that knife crime is portrayed and analysed in his blog:

Misdiagnosing knife crime: the ‘epidemic’.

The House of Commons recently published its latest statistics on knife crime, showing a radical 8-year high, whilst also reflecting the mounting wave of knife offences around the UK, beyond the usual epicentre: London. The problem is not just growing, but spreading.

This has led to many labelling knife violence an ‘epidemic’. News outlets are, unsurprisingly, at the forefront of this. The overuse of ‘epidemic’, alongside phrases like ‘war on our streets’ and ‘child soldiers’ reflect an age-old willingness for reporters to draw on a hyperbolic, apocalyptic repertoire; words usually associated with Famine, War, Conquest and Death, seem to sell papers best. Although seemingly trivial, the overuse of this term creates issues, namely in the clear semantic links it creates between violence, and disease. Furthermore, this link is also permeating policy, where a shift to treating violence as a public health issue is becoming increasingly popular.

In turn, certain individuals, typically from the medical profession, have been catapulted to messianic roles at the forefront of violence-prevention-policy. An example is Gary Slutkin who, following decades of experience working with disease outbreaks, focused his attention to the gun violence in his hometown of Chicago. In TED talks and academic papers alike, Slutkin is quick to equate Chicago’s gun violence with the outbreaks of infectious diseases he has experienced first hand. The Cure Violence model he developed is based on methods used to prevent AIDS, cholera and tuberculosis, and sees interpersonal violence very much like disease. As such, responses look to reduce ‘transmission’ and change community norms, by using ‘violence interrupters’ to cool and mediate conflicts, alongside community education and organisation. The approach has proved to be a policy makers dream. In all the communities using the Cure Violence approach, a 41-73% fall in shootings has been recorded. Slutkin’s model clearly makes a difference; and, importantly for policy makers, that difference is immediate and tangible.

A similar approach was also adopted in Glasgow, which, in 2005, held the title of Europe’s most violent city, but has since seen a drastic reduction in the levels of interpersonal violence and, in particular, knife crime. Some have argued the main reason for this has been the work of Karen McCluskey and the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) she spearheaded. McCluskey sees violence ‘like an infectious disease’ which you can ‘catch’, and looked to include public-health-style approaches amongst the work of the VRU. McCluskey’s success and growing profile has led her to urge London to also treat knife crime as a ‘disease’. Her calls have been answered. At the end of September, Sadiq Khan announced his plans to establish a Violence Reduction Unit, drawing on ‘Glasgow’s success’.
If London, with its large and diverse population, can replicate the success of Glasgow and Chicago, it will be a great thing. All violence, and in particular knife violence, takes huge tolls on communities, families and individuals, both physically and, as is becoming more and more prevalent, mentally. Any methods that can bring about tangible reductions should be welcomed.

However we must be wary. The proliferation of public health approaches, and the use of disease-related terminology has become more universal, and, as such, disease is creeping into the accepted lexicon as an explanation for why knife violence occurs. We are starting to see knife violence as if it were a disease epidemic. Undoubtedly, this provides an ease of explanation and, at times, a fitting metaphor, but it drastically oversimplifies various complexities and hinders a willingness to better understand the issue and thus prevent it.

Infectious disease is indiscriminate; violence is not. A disease-based reading of violence does not explain why the majority of those who are exposed to an environment where knife crime is prevalent, do not, themselves, engage in knife crime. Nor does it explain why others who have lived in seeming ‘quarantine’ from knife crime may engage in it. Similarly, knife violence does not spread exponentially, as an epidemic would. Nor does it necessarily grow more quickly in areas with higher populations. Although growing, knife crime still remains in pockets around the UK: areas typically blighted by deep-rooted socio-economic issues. Knife violence is clearly endemic in many areas, but it does not behave like an epidemic.

Public health approaches, like Slutkin’s, also assume the majority of violence occurs as a result of ‘heat of the moment’ passion, where primitive instincts supersede reason and sweep through communities. This only captures part of the picture and leads to an ultimately classist and racist reading of the types of violence it hopes to prevent. Does it not assume that those in areas with high levels of violence (typically poorer areas with higher numbers of ethnic minorities) are unable to make level-headed decisions, and instead act on animal impulses without any regard for consequences?

Unquestionably, Chicago and Glasgow are testament to the fact that public health approaches can help. However, we cannot sit back comfortably thinking that they ‘immunise’ against violence. Violence occurs for a variety of reasons. Often it is a calculated decision, involving intricate incentive structures, that leads people to carry a knife, and to use it. Undoubtedly it affords people a level of control and respect within their environment, something to which Omar Sharif, a former gang member, alludes. Furthermore, The Economist has highlighted the growing economic incentives surrounding knife crime, especially following the boom in the supply of crack cocaine to the UK. Individuals make the decision to carry a knife, to suggest otherwise misrepresents both the issue and its perpetrators.

Perhaps arguing for a more thoughtful definition as to why violence occurs is merely a semantic squabble that trivialises the horrific effects of knife crime. However, we must be wary of reductive understandings that hinder future prevention and misdiagnose issues. We should embrace public-health-style approaches to help curb the knife violence, so long as we accept they will not fix the problem. These approaches may also need a rebrand. Save the term ‘epidemic’ for diseases.

State-sanctioned sexual violence against women in the Egyptian revolution

Following from last week's post, this is another video submitted as a piece of group work by some of last year's MSc VCD students....