The Debate on whether Women should be able to Freely Breastfeed in the UK
Chelsea Seals, University of Manchester
There has been uproar this December as a woman, Louise Burns, was asked to cover herself up with a napkin whilst breastfeeding in Claridge’s, London. A group of 25 mothers stood outside the five star hotel and breastfed in protest what they consider to be outrageous and ‘embarrassing’ behaviour by Claridge’s. The group ‘Free to Feed’ organised the demonstration. This is group who believe that women should have the right to breastfeed their child wherever, and whenever it is necessary. Emily Slough, the founder of the Free to Feed organisation started up the movement after she was called a ‘tramp’ for breastfeeding her chid in public. She made the comments ‘We are here to show Claridge’s they are not above the law. But they have said nothing to us, they are pretending we’re not here’. Slough continued, ‘Every time something like this happens, many women are put off for life from breastfeeding. We’re here to challenge that stigma and show women it’s normal and natural’. Claridge’s responded to this by saying that they support breastfeeding, however they would prefer it was done discretely.
The Claridge’s debacle has raised the debate once again as to whether it is appropriate for women to breastfeed in public. Nigel Farage of UKIP commented that women should sit in corners to avoid offending people. However, while the display of breastfeeding is usually discreet in most cases anyway, when celebrities such as Rhianna and Miley Cyrus expose their breasts in public for ‘fashion’ or publicity reasons there is no outcry or offended people. It is hard to believe that many people would be offended at the natural use for female’s breasts which is to feed an infant. One woman carried a banner which read: ‘That’s what breasts are for, stupid.’ She added: ‘No-one has any problem with breasts when they’re displayed in a dress. Boobs are everywhere – people only object when they are used for their normal and natural purpose.’
The 2010 Equality Act makes it unlawful for a business to discriminate against a breastfeeding woman. Therefore after Nigel Farage’s comments, David Cameron responded with a comment reflecting that it was ‘totally unacceptable’ for mothers to be made to feel uncomfortable when feeding their babies in public. Although some people, especially it would appear people from an older generation maybe embarrassed by it, it is a completely natural act, which the NHS supports. Mr Farage later issued a statement to clarify his position: ‘As I said on the radio, and as I repeat now, I personally have no problem with mother’s breastfeeding wherever they want. What I said was – and it is immensely frustrating that I have to explain this – that if the establishment in question, in this case Claridge’s, wants to maintain rules about this stuff, then that is up to them, as it should be.’ From Claridge’s perspective, they are a business and must attempt to attend to all its customer’s needs, and balancing women’s rights to breastfeed with other people’s rights to not be offended while eating in their restaurant may be tricky to balance. It is a natural part of child rearing and so these rights should be taken seriously and women should not be made to feel embarrassed or awkward about breastfeeding if they’re not being ostentatious about it.
CJEU Rules Against ‘Gay-testing’ and other Asylum Application Processes
Sarah Thin, Durham University
On 2 December, the Court of Justice of the European Union (the Court) gave a preliminary ruling on a Dutch case concerning 3 asylum-seekers who feared persecution in their countries of origin because of their homosexuality and whose applications for asylum had been refused because their statements regarding their sexuality were found to be ‘not credible’. They argued, inter alia, that certain aspects of the asylum application process breached their rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the Charter).
Directives 2004/83 and 2005/85 govern aspects of the asylum process for EU member states and both operate under the Charter (recitals 10 and 8 respectively). The Court held, read in light of the Charter, that these directives precluded authorities from accepting as part of their assessment of an asylum claim, ‘detailed questioning as to the sexual practices of an applicant’ (Article 7 of the Charter on respect for private and family life) and ‘evidence such as the performance by the applicant for asylum concerned of homosexual acts, his submission to “tests” with a view to establishing his homosexuality or, yet, the production by him of films of such acts,’ (Article 1 on respect for human dignity).
The Court also noted that authorities must assess applicants on an individual basis (Article 4 of Directive 2004/83) and that interviewers should take into account ‘circumstances surrounding the application, including the applicant’s cultural origin or vulnerability, insofar as it is possible to do so’ (Article 13(3)(a) of Directive 2005/85), and that therefore authorities were precluded from lines of questioning which were ‘based only on stereotypical notions concerning homosexuals’ and from finding that the applicant’s claim lacked credibility because (s)he failed to raise the issue of sexual orientation at the first instance since this reticence may be due to cultural sensitivity over such matters.
This is a welcome development following the CJEU’s ruling last year that fear of persecution for sexuality was grounds for an asylum claim in the EU (holding against the astonishing argument by the Netherlands state that homosexual people in such countries could simply ‘exercise restraint’). It is also highly relevant to the UK who will now have to abide by this judgment. Documents leaked earlier this year revealed ‘shockingly degrading’ questioning in asylum interviews, resulting in the commissioning of an investigation into the handling of asylum claims based on homosexuality in the UK.
It has been argued that another solution to this problem would be greater efforts to eliminate persecution of homosexuality in the countries of origin. While this would evidently be highly beneficial, we must not make the mistake of overlooking the endemic problems in our own system. It is easy to point the finger at others; less so at ourselves.
The ‘World’s Most Dangerous’ Hospital
Charlotte Adamson, Durham University
A hospital in Guatemala has been described as the world’s most abusive and dangerous mental health institution. An undercover investigation by the BBC into the Federico Mora, Guatemala’s only state-run psychiatric facility, shows heavily sedated patients lying in the courtyard, wandering around naked, or lying on broken beds in their own faeces. The investigation also revealed that there is frequent sexual abuse at the hospital. One woman revealed how she was raped by a male nurse while heavily sedated; she was 17 at the time and a virgin. Another former patient, Ricardo, comments that the “police officers and the male nurses, and some doctors too” took advantage of women while they were sedated, and “put the prettiest girls aside for them at night”. He also says he was raped throughout the three years he spent there. Fearful staff claimed that they witnessed sexual abuse every single day and that “abuses committed in the hospital by the guards are common knowledge”, and the Director himself admitted that he is aware patients are still being sexually assaulted.
The Federico Mora hospital first came under scrutiny when the US campaign group Disability Rights International (DRI) published a report in 2012. They described the hospital as “the most dangerous facility our investigators have witnessed”, and stated that the widespread sexual abuse made the place “one layer more horrific” than any seen before. This evidence was taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which issued an ‘emergency measure’, effectively ordering the government to address the issues raised in order to ‘save lives’. They urged the Guatemalan government to take “[i]mmediate preventative measures aimed at protecting all patients, particularly women and children, from physical, psychological and sexual violence by other inmates, guards and hospital staff”. Authorities agreed to launch an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, however this BBC documentary highlights that 2 years on, nothing has changed.
There is evidence from many jurisdictions that those with mental health issues are more vulnerable to victimization, and this can be particularly acute when a psychiatric patient is placed under the control of another person. This vulnerability is clearly illustrated at the Federico Mora hospital. The Guatemalan government acknowledges that three quarters of the patients don’t actually need to be there, and could be living in the community. A prominent disability campaigner, Silvia Guan, claims they are only there as a result of outdated attitudes towards mental illness. Stigmatisation of mentally disabled people exists worldwide, but in Guatemala the extremity of this results in abandonment by families and subsequent treatment below that any human being should expect. As Eric Rosenthal, DRI’s founder, comments, these people are “being locked up for the crime of having a disability”.
As a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the UN Convention Against Torture, the Guetmalan government is legally obligated to ensure the mental and physical integrity of all its citizens, including the patients of the hospital. They told the BBC that they had received no reports of sexual abuse or rape, but have ordered an internal investigation. However, campaigners have heard this before, and the DRI is currently bringing a legal case against the Guatemalan government to have the hospital closed down. This will be heard in the autumn of 2015.
‘Uber’ Driver Accused of Rape in India
Gita Keshava, Durham University
An Indian ‘Uber’ driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, is currently in police custody on the accusation of raping a 26 year old woman last weekend. She had requested a taxi through the online car service app ‘Uber’, which was considered by some as safer than other methods of transportation in Delhi. Yadav has been allegedly accused of the same crime at least twice before, and is currently awaiting trial in four cases in his home state.
Delhi has banned Uber and other web-based taxi companies in response to the incident and the advice from India’s Home Minister. In addition, Uber has apologised and issued statements on steps they will take as a result of this crime. However, this is not the first time Uber has encountered cases of violence from their drivers and concerns about passenger safety. For example, last year a driver allegedly raped a female passenger in Washington, D.C.
This event comes at the second anniversary of the Delhi rape case, where a young woman was gang raped in a bus in December 2012. It illustrates the continuing issue of sexual violence as well as state corruption that allows the issue to perpetuate. Although Uber is required to check the criminal records of their drivers, this check is meaningless due to the fact that the record check can be obtained by a small bribe. Alternatively, some drivers are not checked at all. Even though Uber has been banned by the government, it seems that they intend to remain in business, essentially relieving them of any duties to ensure passenger safety.
Same Sex Marriage Regulations come into force in England and Wales
Jesse Bachir, Durham University
As of December 10th, within England and Wales, same-sex couples can now convert their civil partnerships into marriages. Before the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act took effect, those couples who were already in civil partnerships were unable to marry nor covert their civil partnerships into marriages.
Following complaints, Parliament reconsidered the issue and, on the 18th of November, the House of Lords passed a revision to the Act allowing same-sex couples in civil partnerships to either have their civil partnershipss converted into marriages at a register office, or have a ceremony at a venue of their choosing. Baroness Thornton commented “We welcome these orders and I congratulate the Government on bringing them forward in time for all the happy events to take place before Christmas.”
The new regulations also have a positive effect for couples wherein one of the individuals is currently undergoing gender transition and will be or is seeking legal recognition. Previously, for couples already married or in a civil partnerships, a condition for receiving a GRC (gender recognition certificate) for the legal recognition of the transitioned-to gender was that the couple would have dissolve their marriage or civil partnership and then either marry or obtain a civil partnership.
In order to legally transition and obtain a GRC for couples who were opposite-sex when they originally married, this meant dissolving their marriage and obtaining a civil union; for couples who were same-sex when they originally obtained a civil union, this meant dissolving their civil union and then obtaining a marriage. This requirement was frequently criticized as unjust and unnecessary, as it would negatively impact upon, for example, benefits contingent on marriage and the length of the marriage. Now, couples no longer need to go through this process and can remain married.
During the passage of the new regulations, Lord Paddick, being himself in same-sex marriage, commented: “I say that we are nearing the end of the legislative road as far as equal marriage is concerned but it is to be regretted that equal marriage is still not possible in Northern Ireland.”
Police and False Rape Reporting
Bethany Houghton, Durham University
It comes as no surprise to many when new reports of police inadequacy in sexual offences cases arise; however, a recent article telling of the violation of rape victims’ human rights is still distressing.
The police in Britain appear to have an active policy of prosecuting those who have made statements to police, not as wasting police time, but as the much more serious offence, of perverting the course of justice. Britain stands alone in western democracies in carrying out such prosecutions.
A 2013 CPS report on the subject of false reporting in sexual and domestic violence emphasises the small number of women charged with the offences. However, at the same time, it also picks up on the vulnerable circumstances many of the women are in. Most are young, many have mental health issues. One woman even confessed that she falsely reported rape so that she would be provided food and shelter. There is also the issue of double retraction, where the woman makes a statement of rape but later falsely retracts it, sometimes due to pressure from the perpetrator. As a result of this, a victim of a serious crime could be the one serving a custodial sentence. Policies such as the one reported only serve to further victimise and alienate already extremely vulnerable women. The justice system is not serving these women in any capacity.
This policy is merely a reflection of the endemic and systematic failings of the police. Coupling a failure to conduct full investigations and believing the victim with investigating suspected cases of false reporting “defies logic”. It is not enough for the CPS to argue that only a small number of cases end with a conviction. The policy stands as a further deterrent to the reporting of rape and other sexual violence. Victims should have full confidence of a proper investigation by the police, rather than worry that they themselves may be charged.
First Conviction for California’s ‘Revenge Porn’ Law
Michael Passaro, Northumbria University
California’s new ‘revenge porn’ law has seen its first conviction this month and it’s starting a firestorm of conversation on the internet. Officials are hailing the conviction as a victory with Los Angelos City Attourney, Mike Feuer, stating, “California’s new revenge porn law gives prosecutors a valuable tool to protect victims whose lives and reputations have been upended by a person they once trusted.” State Senator, and author of the law, Anthony Cannella, says, “I am happy to see my legislation doing what it’s supposed to do — protecting victims.”
While this official praise is strong and positive, the law has had critics from its inception. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was initially critical of the bill (and revenge porn laws in general) citing loose wording as an issue along with a concern for such regulation on free speech. Still, Feuer claims this conviction is sending a strong message to the people that such “malicious behavior will not be tolerated.”
Sadly, the sentiment expressed in response to this conviction has not been nearly as optimistic. Overwhelmingly people are looking to find someone other than the man to blame. Too often the adage, “maybe if you didn’t take naked photos this wouldn’t have happened,” is cited. It would seem that reservations about the effectiveness of such laws are justified.
At least a partial defence of such laws could be that they are still in their infancy. Only 12 states have passed laws on revenge porn; maybe as more adopt similar policies we will see a change in attitudes. More likely though is that the attitude will remain pervasive like victim blaming still is despite rape laws being almost universal.
The victim blaming is only part of the problem with revenge porn laws. But as the conversation grows, we need to be mindful of the way we approach these topics. As they are considered in more jurisdictions, including the UK, we have a renewed opportunity to challenge this narrative and to finally bring the law on this matter into the 21st century.
China Looks to Reform its Domestic Violence Law
Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University
This week China published a draft Bill aimed at improving the law surrounding domestic violence. Marriage law was amended to recognise domestic violence as grounds for divorce in 2001, but until now it the term has remained without legal definition. If accepted into law, article 2 of the legislation would define domestic violence as referring to “physical, psychological or other infractions committed between family members”. In its current form, the draft legislation would also streamline the process for obtaining restraining orders for victims of such violence.
While the inclusion of psychological violence could be seen as progressive, the proposed definition has been criticised. Julia Broussard, country programme manager for UN Women, said that “our concern is that some of the violence is not going to be addressed”. The main motivation for this concern is that the definition will only acknowledge violence in family relations. Any violence between unmarried, cohabitating or divorced couples will not be covered, arguably leaving a gap in the law. Additionally, Zhang Rongli, a lawyer at China Women’s University in Beijing, argues that the term is too narrow because “sexual and economic violence are not included.” While the definition appears to cover some forms of sexual violence which can be considered physical or emotional, economic abuse will not generally fall into these categories.
A further criticism has been levelled at the proposed methods of streamlining the procedure for restraining orders. This is due to the requirement that a victim who is granted a restraining order will have to begin a lawsuit within 30 days of the order being granted or it would lapse. Broussard argues that this is problematic because “victims are not necessarily at that point of seeking divorce or some other kind of legal action that would be required to maintain the legal protection ruling”. To lapse a protective order after such a relatively short period of time could, therefore, be viewed as a failure of the law to properly account for the situation of the victims.
While the draft legislation is clearly a step in the right direction for Chinese domestic law, it is not perfect. It is also not certain these proposals will materialise. Citizens have a month to tell the government what they think of the draft before it enters the legislative process. Thus there are still many opportunities for the draft to change form.