Jan 26, 2007

Celebrating larger women

larger women

Ever since Twiggy appeared on the modeling scene in the UK in the 60's we have had a never-ending line of models who look as though they are in the grip of chronic anorexia. When you watch some of the more ethereal specimens on the catwalk, you half expect a spontaneous fracture or dislocated pelvis from pressure of strutting - so much bone, so little tissue.

Rake thin models look androgynous, which I suppose is the point... the mystery of sexual ambiguity. Some look like heroin users - others like walking Oxfam ads. It can get tragic too. Models Luisel Ramos and Carolina Reston, both died due to complications arising from their low weight.

There have been moves in Europe to change the perception that thin is chic. In Spain the government and fashion chains have reached an agreement that female store mannequins should at the very least be a size 10. The move is also an attempt to cater to reality. Most women don't look like Gemma Ward, so it seems counter-productive to use ultra-skinny models as a retail incentive.

The measures being taken by the Spanish go beyond window displays. Models have actually been banned from working for being too thin. Last year two fashion shows banned models whose body mass index was below 18. In the case of a model who is 1.75 meters (5 ft 7 inches), she has to weigh at least 55 kg.

The average woman on the streets of N. American cities has been entirely unrepresented by the glamor end of a fashion industry that for years has been appealing to a race of rail thin space aliens.

Jan 25, 2007

Lack of action on sex trafficking in Israel

women trafficked into Israel and forced to work as prostitutes

When Israeli officials are challenged about sexual exploitation and forced labor involving abducted foreign women held in "debt bondage," they usually cite a litany of reasons why it's tough to rein in the trade. Red tape, laws that don't cover it adequately, overburdened court system, pressing national security concerns etc.

Some Israeli officials take the view that these women are criminals. Amazing to anyone with knowledge of the way in which sex traffickers operate. The claim is also made that the women came to Israel willingly.

Naturally when a smooth talking recruiter, often a woman, hypes great jobs in Israel or Turkey or the UAE it seems an attractive proposition. Many young women in east European countries with tough economies and few prospects are understandably tempted to go for it. Even when recruiters offer work in prostitution, some women agree to sign up on the basis of the rosy and glamorous picture that is painted for them.

Once they commit and are on the road, they quickly learn that they are property to be bought and sold. They also learn to do as they are told. Nothing that follows is voluntary. To imply that east European women trapped in brothels in Israel are willing migrants is a self-serving fantasy on the part of officials who prefer not to feel either guilt or responsibility.

As a result of the brutality many of these women fall prey to a type of Stockholm syndrome. They begin to identify with their abusers. Even on release some claim nobody forced them, out of fear that if they implicate their handlers they will be killed.

Israeli NGO's, journalists and activists have been demanding action on this issue for some time. The victimization of these women has nothing to do with prostitution, which is legal in Israel. A woman who works in a voluntary capacity as a sex worker can't be compared to women who have been ruthlessly broken and sexually victimized. The pimps and clients who use these women are partners in a crime, as the book "Natashas" by Canadian investigative journalist Victor Malarek makes clear. The blurring of the lines between sex crime and prostitution is a feature of the denial and justification that seems to come easily to Israeli authorities when dealing with this issue.

Almost all the women I have seen interviewed claim they were deceived. By the time they realized the fix they were in, it was too late. Power and control had shifted to their handlers. By no measure of justice is a woman trapped in that predicament "a criminal."

Jan 24, 2007

Israel's dirty little secret


exploitation of foreign sex slaves in Israel


Zehava Galon is a member of the opposition Yahad Party in Israel. In 2005 she headed a Committee Against Trade in Women that undertook a four year investigation into the problem of sexual exploitation. In the words of Galon the inquiry revealed how women are smuggled into Israel and "along the way, raped, beaten and then sold in public auctions."

Currently there are estimated to be 10,000 sex slaves (most from Eastern European countries) being held in Israeli brothels. This statistic comes from Israeli YNet news. The total number of women trafficked since the start of the trade is much higher. These women, many of them teens, are held as virtual prisoners and viciously exploited in a country that has as it's centerpiece a memorial to Holocaust survivors.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has named Israel as one of the worst offenders in the world when it comes to the crime of human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

This trade in the weakest and most vulnerable has been routinely covered up and soft peddled by Israeli authorities. Fortunately there are also Israeli activists who are confronting the problem head on. The human rights organization Isha L'Isha based in Haifa is one such group. However despite the work done by these groups, until the government gets serious about this problem the trade will continue to flourish.

The captive women are often teenagers, some as young as thirteen, who have been lured with false promises and fake contracts. They are smuggled into Israel via Egypt in most cases. En-route they are subjected to rape and abuse before being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Depending on the girl and her "attributes" she can be sold to an Israeli pimp for as much as $10,000. These girls are then held in private clubs or private establishments and forced to service clients day and night.

Here is a description of one such auction cited via Something Jewish:

There, Yosef took Anna to a hotel, and ordered her to strip in front of a roomful of men. The ordeal is known as an "auction." Like traders in a cattle market, the traffickers inspect the "goods" and bid for the women they want to buy. The woman is made to stand naked in the middle of a room. The traffickers touch her breast, her ass. They check her tongue, her teeth, to see if she's healthy. They touch her private parts. They tell her, 'walk forward, backwards, strike poses like a model, wiggle it honey, bend over. Lower. Let's see what you're worth.' Traffickers are not necessarily picky about the venue of an auction. In one case a woman was stripped, inspected, and sold for $6,000 in the men's room of a McDonald's.


Ex-Soviet satellite countries  have been dealing with tough economic situations. There is a large underclass that is trapped in poverty. The traffickers target the young and the impressionable - teens who are already facing many hardships. They betray the trust of these women - luring them with false promises and subjecting them to criminal assault and intimidation.

The sentences handed out to the few perpetrators who are actually convicted in Israeli courts is a joke. Some of the traffickers get community service and the clubs they run are often only temporarily closed. Some mysteriously re-open and carry on with business-as-usual. It is estimated there are close to 300 brothels in Tel Aviv alone, many of them holding women in conditions that could be likened to slavery.

In a Jerusalem Post article the writer, Isaac Herzog, documented the conditions these women face in transit  Herzog says the police have surveillance recordings of this "herding" of women across the desert, and he claims people simply would not believe what actually goes on. Hundreds of captive women have been route marched across the Egyptian desert into Israel. Any who break down on the way, or who become exhausted are simply abandoned - in Herzog's words like "a dying freight animal."

The article Israel Sex Slavery Thrives from the Israel News Agency contains the following statement from a victim named "Anna" :

As early as Egypt I found out that I was going to engage in prostitution in Eilat ... I tried to run away but a Bedouin got hold of me and beat me. In the evening, four Bedouin raped me, one after the other....I was bleeding and I couldn't walk, it hurt me so much between my legs....I wanted to die.

A number of Jewish writers and commentators in the US and Canada have written of the impunity of Israeli pimps and gangsters and the unwillingness of the Israeli government to crack down on the trafficking. Here in Canada the respected investigative journalist, Victor Malarek, exposed the underside of the trade in his book "Natashas".

There is a strong racist element to the trade in Israel. Leah Gruenpeter-Gold, a co-director of the Awareness Center in Tel Aviv, claims that young Eastern European women are being sacrificed to the sexual needs of males in a culture that protects the virtue of the Jewish female.

Gruenpeter-Gold and her associate spoke of their disgust at the manner in which some Orthodox Jews take advantage of these captive women. The haredim crowd into Tel Aviv brothels on Friday mornings and afternoons for pre-Shabbat whoring. In the area of the Stock Exchange and Diamond Exchange this activity is particularly in evidence. Since the Orthodox cannot masturbate according to religious law, they must have sex with a woman. Their law prohibits them from using condoms, so they pay the pimps more for 'the privilege.'

Grunpeter-Gold claims the victims are being sacrificed ..."because these women are not human beings ... they are foreign women. The religious prefer it to be with foreign women because then they don't wrong Jewish women."

Amnesty International contends the Israeli government and the police have largely turned a blind eye to the sex trade going on under their nose. Exactly how a nation that arose on the back of a history of victimization can be so slow to root out the systemic exploitation and abuse of smuggled females within their own society is a mystery that is difficult to fathom.

Jan 18, 2007

Sex workers at risk

new laws needed to rpotest sex workers

The trial of pig farmer Robert Pickton is about to start in Vancouver. The trial judge has issued the warning that it will be like watching a horror film. DNA of some 31 missing sex workers has turned up on Pickton's farm. The imagination balks at what these women were put through before being delivered from their hell-on-earth.

Vancouver's downtown eastside is the stomping ground where sex workers ply their trade in the shadows. This lifestyle puts them at high risk. Many of these women are from abusive family backgrounds, have drug/alcohol dependency issues and find it difficult to hold down a regular job.

So-called "community standards" ... derived in part from a Christocentric view of what is deemed morally acceptable, has resulted in provincial governments putting band aids on the challenges rather than getting serious about dealing with the reality of prostitution. Instead of acknowledging prostitution as a fact-of-life that is never simply going to simply "go away" authorities continue to turn a blind eye, while resorting to counterproductive police action and overburdened social services.

There's nothing morally inconsistent for someone with objections to prostitution, to nonetheless stand up for the humane treatment of sex workers. This is an issue less about the profession itself, than it is about rights and dignity.

A bus ride through Vancouver's eastside is gut wrenching. Some of the run-down streets and alleyways are grim, with people using syringes in public view. It's the type of environment that attracts predators like a magnet. These women are often targeted precisely because they are viewed as "disposable" by many. Just to demonstrate how pervasive this throwaway attitude is - consider that the first reports to police about missing Vancouver sex workers were made in 1991 and it wasn't until 2002 that police raided Pickton's farm.

The problem is the attitude toward commercial sex on the part of those who continue to demonize a profession that isn't going to go away any time soon. It is this constituency with its sin hang ups that gets in the way of progressive legislation that would create safer environments for sex workers.

Armageddon in more ways than one

climate change threat

People think of Armageddon as a great war of the end times - cataclysmic and terminal. That scenario is of course a growing possibility with our entry into a second nuclear age. The complicated spider's web of proliferation these days makes the cold war stand-off between the US and Soviet Union seem almost pedestrian by comparison. The threat possibilities now are a lot more difficult to both predict and contain.

Arguably, an even greater threat than nuclear proliferation, is the rapidly deteriorating state of our global environment. Recently the eminent theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, spoke candidly about his concerns at the University of Cambridge. Hawking referred to the twin dangers of nuclear weapons and climate change, and called on governments to act now because in his view without concerted and focused action the planet is in grave peril.

A spokesperson for BAS, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, that operates the Doomsday Clock, warned that the environmental threat is as critical as the threat posed by nukes. Over the next two decades the world could be facing "irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival.”

Our lifestyle is at the root of the problem. In addition to the environmental hazard of industrial emissions, the huge livestock industry is proving to be a threat to biodiversity - polluting land and water resources and contributing to the greenhouse effect. Recent statistics indicate that livestock is responsible for 18% of gas emissions... higher than transportation which emits some 13.5%.

People often attribute this emission level to the livestock itself, but fertilizer and feed production, manure management methods and the vast tracts of land that have been deforested in order to create pastures are also factors.

Livestock occupies some 26% of the earth's land surface. The speed with which deforestation is taking place only adds to the problem. For example 70% of the land reclaimed in the Amazon region is now being used for raising livestock.

Developing nations such as China, are also a concern because they are on a technological fast-track. China has one fifth of the world's population. It is also the world leader in coal production. The use of fossil fuels still plays a major role in its economy.

Despite Kyoto and dire warnings from scientists, politicians have been slow to respond to the growing threat posed by climate change. Some like Professor James Lovelock, in his book The Revenge of Gaia, argue that it may already be too late.

We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses the temperature will rise eight degrees centigrade in temperate regions and five degrees in the tropics ...

Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert; before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs that survive will be in the Arctic, where the climate remains tolerable.

Jan 14, 2007

Child soldiers

exploitation of child soldiers by paramilitary organizations

Children are being used as soldiers in many conflicts around the world. Although the use of child soldiers is most often associated with Africa, youths under the age of 18 are being recruited (mainly forced) to fight in military campaigns currently underway in some 85 countries.

Amnesty International estimates that more than half a million children worldwide have been recruited by paramilitary and civil militias. One reason children are being used in this fashion is because modern lightweight semi-automatic weapons can be handled by a trained child fighter with relative ease.

In Uganda the rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army has abducted thousands of children. In the Congo children make up 40% of some fighting forces. Up to 11,000 Congolese kids are unaccounted for; 40% of this number are girls - many of whom are sexually exploited in addition to being forced to fight. The total number of children being held by Congo militias is estimated to be around 30,000.

In Chad and Sudan the problem is also extensive. In the Darfur region of western Sudan the problem is aggravated by the use of rape as a weapon.

Links beneath with more info:

http://www.alertnet.org/

http://www.amnesty.org/

Jan 7, 2007

Jesus Camp

Kids indoctrinated at Jesus camp

The documentary "Jesus Camp" doesn't try to influence the viewer one way or the other - it just records what goes on.

Pastor Becky Fischer's rhetoric is charged with "them and us" characterizations. She informs the kids they are in "God's army" and that Harry Potter is evil and "an enemy of God." She goes on to tell her charges ... "had he been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death!"

Of course it doesn't take Fischer long to start on the guilt and sin routine. She asks the kids if they are living "two separate lives." She insinuates that they might be doing sinful things at school and how they ought to be ashamed.

At one point in the film a cardboard cutout of President Bush is dragged out and placed in front of an American flag. The kids are instructed to bless him and speak in tongues for him. They deliver like trained circus performers.

Evangelist Ted Haggard shows up (this was before he had been outed for purchasing drugs from a gay prostitute), and is filmed delivering one of his never ending mega sermons.

The overall impression created by the documentary is of a movement dedicated to appropriating the gospel of Jesus in the interests of ideology and mind control. That they have begun targeting young children in camp environments speaks to a determination to control recruits before they have a chance to think for themselves.

The following statement by Fischer says it all.

I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places... excuse me, but we have the truth.