Russia's LGBT
Russia has been in the spotlight recently for its part in playing host to the Winter Olympics. Hosting the games is an opportunity in which a country can reap the benefits of great publicity and a surge in business from all the people that flock there for the historic event. Russia, however, has had more negative press than positive because of its blatant disregard for ethical treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, causing recent uproar among many.

Many are quick to point fingers and blame President Vladimir Putin for not implementing laws to protect them. While Putin deserves some of the blame, Russia has had a long history of homophobia.

Homophobic laws have been enacted as early as the 17th century, with Peter the Great’s punishing homosexuals by flogging or by male rape. As the years progressed, the law extended to punish any adult man that voluntarily participated in sodomy-like behavior.

In 1835, Tsar Nicholas made sure that ban was still being withheld against homosexuals with them being stripped of their Russian citizenship and exiled to Siberia.

Of all the Tsars and rulers, Joseph Stalin was the most intolerant of the LGBT community. Homosexuals were sentenced to hard labor prison camps for 4 years to 5 years under his reign and made-up propaganda had run rampant. Stalin was a huge proprietor and believer that homosexuals were pedophiles who were constantly lurking for young boys. His paranoia that homosexuals were praying on children and that they had “politically demoralized various social layers of young men, including young workers, and even attempted to penetrate the army and navy” compelled him to have his secret police spy and arrest anyone that was perceived to be gay.

Violence against Russia’s LGBT community has only worsened. Putin endorses violence against the community not only because he sees them as “foreign agents” or as a danger to the well-being of children, but as a political tactic as well. Milene Larson, a United Kingdom-based journalist, states, “Putin is looking for enemies. In Russia, homosexuals and gay rights activists are labeled as foreign agents… You have such a vast majority of people who are Orthodox who potentially feel this way, those are his voters…he is not going to step back and say ‘actually gay people are ok.’”

For anti-gay groups like Occupy Paedophilia, Putin’s views on the LGBT community are green light for vicious mob attacks to try and “cure” them. These mobs upload their videos using WhatsApp (a YouTube like clip-sharing application) to humiliate their victims even further. These groups will pose as a homosexual on an Internet dating site or go to gay clubs where they can find someone that falls under the impression that the perpetrator is interested; the victim is then ambushed or kidnapped.

One horrifying account was of a teenage student from Uzbekistan who was lured by the mob group, kidnapped, beaten, stripped and raped. All of these atrocious acts were being filmed while they were being done, with the group telling the victim that they were punishing him for his own good. Another account tells the story of a 23-year-old man who was killed for coming out to his friends while they were drinking.

Russia’s LGBT community faces physical and verbal harassment every single day. For such a large and diverse country, the LGBT community has few allies. With a leader that will not speak out and condemn these attacks, they have nobody to whom they can turn. They cannot turn to the police for help because police officers often commit the crimes and do not report the issues. While the fight rages on for activists to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community, this is going to be an uphill battle for a long time to come.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: The Moscow Times, The Star, Human Rights Watch, Russia Today
Photo: Peter T. Atchell Foundation

Human Rights Watch released a report on February 13th 2014 entitled, “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. Rape is rampant in many parts of Somalia, especially in the capital city of Mogadishu. Here women and girls live in constant fear of rape and sexual assault, which are considered a normal parts of life. The report outlines strategies and interventions for the government and donor agencies to prevent sexual violence and provide support to victims. The research for the report was qualitative in nature. Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 women in Mogadishu who survived rape, often several attacks. Maryam, a 37-year-old single mother had been gang raped twice while staying in a shelter in the Wadajir district. She was pregnant during one of these attacks and when she went to report to incident to the police the next day she was miscarrying and bleeding heavily. Instead of helping her police handed her a mop to clean the blood off of the floor and told her to go home and clean herself. Rape is common in the camps for displaced persons in Mogadishu. Maryam commented that just the night before her interview she had listened to a woman in her camp being attacked. She told researchers that when women in her camp greet each other they say “Were you raped today?” Two decades of civil war and state deterioration have left Somali women very at a high risk for sexual violence. Displaced individuals and marginalized minority groups are especially vulnerable to rape. Police and government armed forces sexually assault, rape, beat and stab women and girls living inside camps and go unpunished. Women report that they are afraid to report these attacks to authorities because of fear that they will be stigmatized and the knowledge that nothing will come of their reports as rape perpetrators are rarely charged or prosecuted. In December of 2013 a 19-year-old female reporter of the UN-funded Kasmo radio station in Mogadishu was sentenced to a six-month sentence after she reported that journalists at the state owned radio station Radio Mogadishu had raped her at gunpoint.  She was interview by a journalist from Radio Shabelle. The woman, the journalist and the director of Radio Shabelle were all charged with defamation. The woman was allowed to serve her jail time at home but the journalists were sentenced to twelve months in jail. The United Nations estimates that 800 women were raped in Mogadishu alone in the first 6 months of 2013. There were at least 1700 attacks on women in internally displaced persons settlements in 2012. 70 percent of these attackers were armed men wearing government uniforms.  Girls as young as 13 years old are being raped, a third of rape victims are under the age of 18. These women and children have already fled their homes because of armed conflict and drought and are living in with sheets of plastic for walls. Now they are being further traumatized by the threat and occurrence of sexual violence that no one is willing to do anything about. Human Rights Watch suggests a five-point roadmap for prevention and intervention of rape in Somalia:

  1. Physical prevention – Increased security for women in displaced communities
  2. Emergency health services – Medical, psychological and social support for victims of gender based violence
  3. Access to justice – Women should have access to a justice system that meets international standards
  4. Legal and policy reform – The government should enforce laws prohibiting violence against women
  5. Promotion of women’s equality – Equality should be promoted through education, political participation, and women’s social and economic equality

Rape should not be normal anywhere. – Elizabeth Brown Photo: Genocide Memorial Project Sources: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Al Jazeera

A 20-year-old woman, accompanied by her mother, entered her local police station in Labhpur, India last week to report having been sentenced to gang rape by her tribal leader when she was unable to pay an arbitrary fine.

Her village of Birbhum, devoid of electricity or a operating school, is one of the small communities where Bengal’s Left government made an attempt to allow civil disputes to be handled by local leaders. This endeavor has resulted in cases of kangaroo courts (known as “shalishi sabhas”) where the villages fall under the power of corrupt leaders who have no regard for the law.

Allegedly, the young woman had fallen in love with a young Muslim man from another village. When he came to visit the family on Monday evening, he was taken by members of the community and kept until the next morning, when the couple was dragged out and tied to separate trees while the ‘court’ (made up of nearly all the males in the village, including children,) held a trial before the rest of the village.

It was decided that the couple would each owe the ‘court’ 25,000 rupees (roughly $396) for breaking tribal tradition, to be paid immediately. The young man was released when he promised to pay, but when the girl’s family explained that they didn’t have the money the community head, referred to as the ‘moral,’ told the members of the court, “If the family does not pay up, go and enjoy yourselves.”

The girl’s helpless parents and 15-year-old brother were confined to their home 50 meters away while the girl was raped by 13 members of the community, including the moral. When she was allowed to return home, her family took her to the block hospital in Labhpur for preliminary treatment. Her mother then took her to the police station, where she was admitted to a district hospital that later verified she had indeed been violently raped.

A slow response to this claim has called up a similar case in March 2013, when a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped, resulting in heightened laws for sex-related crimes. Memory of this recent embarrassment spurred government officials to take action in punishing these new perpetrators to avoid criticism for further negligence.

Police have met with denial and obstinacy from the village whose women defend their men, saying they are innocent and being framed as part of a conspiracy. None of them will testify to seeing the rapes; they claim the girl was simply asked to leave the village.

One woman, whose husband was among those arrested, said angrily to police, “It is this under-construction school that has brought shame to our village. It’s here that the two met. She has brought disrespect to our community.”

Hambram, a graduate from India’s Institue of Technology, agrees that this case has brought shame on the small village, but for different reasons. “In our tribal community, the will of a woman is respected. What happened in Birbhum is a crime. No tribal custom advocates brutality like rape.” What happened in Birbhum was clearly outside the jurisdiction of the village court and contrary to the model of rural life in Bengal.

-Lydia Caswell

Sources: Daily Mail, First Post, IBM Live, The Telegraph
Photo: India

On January 14, the United States government took a strong step toward combating modern-day slavery. The White House released its Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking 2013-2017 in the United States — the first of its kind — on Monday. The Plan’s release is a timely one, as January marks National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

According to White House blog writer Cecilia Munoz, the Plan “describes the steps that federal agencies will take to ensure that all victims of human trafficking in the United States are identified and have access to the services they need to recover and to rebuild their lives.” The federal government anticipates increased coordination, collaboration and capacity across multiple agencies over the span of five years.

More than 15 federal agencies were involved in developing the Plan, with public feedback from concerned stakeholders; the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security spearhead the efforts.

While the ultimate aspiration – identification of and access to services for all trafficking victims – is ambitious, the Plan is broken down into four more succinct goals: align efforts at the federal, regional, state and local levels, improve understanding through amplified research and data evaluation, expand access to services via outreach and training and improve both short- and long-term outcomes for victims.

Concise methods and action steps for achieving these goals are delineated throughout the document.

Victim sensitivity and empowerment are the cornerstone of the government’s action plan. “Meaningful engagement with survivors,” states to the Plan’s core values, “in all aspects of program development, implementation, and evaluation is critical in order to develop effective service networks.”

Furthermore, the Plan will focus on increased public awareness and sustainable solutions for trafficking survivors.

Reiterating the importance of a victim-centered approach, President Obama offers an encouraging and personal sentiment in the opening pages of the release: “To those who are suffering and have suffered the horrors of human trafficking, our message remains: We hear you. We insist on your dignity.” This statement sets the tone for the goals of the Federal Strategic Action Plan and carries a message of justice to activists, advocates, victims and survivors across the country and the globe.

Mallory Thayer

Sources: White House Blog, Office for Victims of Crime
Photo: News One

Whenever there is mention of Italy, one is usually prompted to daydream to the romantic capital of Rome, to splendid and sunny Sicily, or even to the venerable Vatican. Seldom does poverty come to mind – thus, it may come as a surprise that Italy has, in fact, the highest amount of impoverished children in Europe—in which it is also the third largest economy.

As many as two million children are estimated to live below the poverty line in Italy, many of whom never even get the chance to attend school; those who do, on the other hand, often drop out to pursue a minimum wage job. Sex trade is, furthermore, rather common here, while access to hot water and other basic amenities is not.

According to UNICEF, a staggering one in two children in Italy live in “absolute poverty,” their parents unable to supply them with even the simplest of items such as Band-Aids. The aforementioned Sicily, a population tourist destination for its beaches, tanning and shopping, houses 32 percent of the poorest of Italy’s population. There is also a pressing lack of public child care services, which reportedly receives but 1.1 percent of the country’s total GDP. The ongoing economic crisis has only fostered these issues; however, UNICEF, among other concerned organizations, deems the country’s inattentiveness to its children’s futures as detrimental to the entire nation as a whole.

The divide among wealth is particularly evident within the northern and southern regions, the latter being the poorest area. Notably, the majority of sick children, regardless of origin, receive treatment in northern facilities, indicating the lack of- and poor quality of such in the south.

Moreover, in a study conducted in 2013, it was determined that a total of nearly five million Italians (or eight percent of the entire country’s population) live in absolute poverty. Despite Italy being filled with sunshine the year round (unlike some other countries in Europe, such as the ever-successful Sweden,) it is evidently one of the most unhappy nations out there. In this year’s World Happiness Report – surveying 156 countries – Italy places in at 45; while the United States (considerably bigger and more diverse, thus expected to do worse statistically rather than better than Italy,) comes in at 17.

Although nine out of 10 of the world’s poorest countries are currently located in Africa, and although Asia and India are other regions that are highly impacted by poverty, Italy, often perceived as luxurious and comparatively well-off, is also in current need of aid. It is suffering and while not being third-world, certainly remains below the current acceptable quality-of-life level, particularly so in Europe.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: The Local, The Daily Beast
Photo: RT

Around the globe, tens of millions of women and young girls are currently employed as domestic workers in private households. In 1999, 98.5% of domestic and migrant workers employed in the United States were women. Their duties consisted of cooking, cleaning, caring for other young children, watching after elderly family members, and other essential chores for their employers. Working 14-18 hours daily with pay well below minimum wage, domestic workers are the most exploited and abused workers in the world.

During the times of their employment, they may be locked within their workplace and made victims of physical or sexual violence. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), children and migrant domestic workers are often the most vulnerable individuals.

In June 2011, an international treaty known as the Domestic Workers Convention (DWC) was adopted as the first global standard to protect domestic workers.

With an estimated 53 million domestic workers worldwide, the pressure to protect them has been increasing drastically. In the last two years, over 25 countries have improved legal protections for domestic workers.

Among some of the strongest reforms are those that were created in Latin America. However, the European Union has proven to give the most challenges towards legal reforms.

Due to the growing elderly population in the EU, it has become extremely dependent on the care of domestic workers for these individuals. The Middle East and Asia have also experienced minimal change, with the worst cases of abuse. Regardless of the essential services that the domestic workers provide, the inequality and discrimination they endure is viewed as abhorrent. The influence of domestic workers’ rights movements is emphasized by the International Labour Organization and the DWC.

On September 5, 2013, the DWC was initiated into legal force. This entitles domestic workers to the same rights as those that are guaranteed to other workers. Uruguay, Philippines, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Italy, Bolivia, Paraguay, South Africa, Guyana, and Germany have all put the DWC into effect.

Despite the progress, there are still obstacles to be overcome. Although child labor has declined, child domestic labor increased by 9% between 2008 and 2012. Often times, domestic workers also become victims of forced labor and even trafficking.

Individuals have taken advocacy campaigns for unions into their own hands, however. Through meetings with government officials, social media campaigns, and various alliances, civil society groups promoted the Domestic Workers Convention.

Some countries prevent workers from organizing unions or joining ones already established. Bangladesh, Thailand, and the United States are among the countries that prevent domestic workers from forming unions.

– Samaria Garrett

Sources: Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Guardian

violence against women
In 1999, the UN General Assembly declared 25 November as International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. The designation invited governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to “organize activities designated to raise public awareness.”

On Monday, November 25, 2013, leaders around the world urged a re-commitment for ending violence against women and girls. This year’s theme focused on wearing orange to raise awareness. The ceremony involved commending leaders for their efforts to enact and enforce laws to ultimately help victims of gender-based violence.

One may wonder what kind of violence the day calls for. The gender-based violence takes many forms including physical, psychological, economical, and sexual. UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri described gender-based violence as “a gross human rights violation,” and a “pandemic.” Additionally, Puri points out how it is less safe for women to be in conflict or post-conflict times, than be a soldier, because rape is being used as a war tool. Finally, Puri explains the most common place for a woman to be raped is at home, and often under the veil of a cultural ritual.

A recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported one in every three women have experienced violence—physical or sexual—from her partner in her lifetime. This shows this is not a regional problem, but a problem women from all over the world are facing. UNAIDS Director of Rights, gender, Prevention and Mobilization, Dr. Mariangela Simao says, “Lots of gender-based violence is sexually related. There is a lot of data right now showing that most of violence against women happens in the context of intimate partner violence—domestic violence. And many times it takes the face of non-consensual sex, which is a polite way to say rape.”

Closely related to sexual violence comes the forced infection of HIV/AIDS. According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, 50 young women are infected with HIV every hour. More than 603 million women live in nations where rape and domestic violence are not legally considered crimes. These facts can be hard to believe, and this is why the UN is calling for action.

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator said, “This is not acceptable: better laws and their enforcement are needed.” The Day also called for education in school that teaches human rights and mutual respect among all people regardless of gender. Leaders urged prevention must address gender inequality as the cause of the violence.

Looking toward ways to end the violence, officials agree empowering women, educating women about their rights will assist in the progress to ending violence. Furthermore, discussion of ending violence against women and girls must include men playing a role to solve the problem as well.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: The Guardian, All Africa, UN, Voice of America

New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith and his congressional team traveled to the Philippines earlier this week to meet with victims, aid workers and government officials in the regions hit by Super Typhoon Hayian.  The U.S. government has spent $50 million in emergency aid to the Philippines, providing much needed food, water and emergency medical care. However Smith says that rising human trafficking in the Philippines is also a major issue. The Philippines is a large source for both sex and labor human trafficking. The poor are especially vulnerable to human trafficking in the aftermath of natural disasters when they have lost their homes as well as their communities and are looking for a way out.

Congressman Ed Royce hosted a house committee on foreign affairs hearing in Fullerton California on November 27, 2013.  One of the speakers was Angela Guanzon, who traveled to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2006 in hopes of a better life. “I worked 18 hour days and had to sleep on the floor in a hallway,” Guanzon said. “My co-workers and I were threatened if we tried to escape.”

Human trafficking is what the State Department, law enforcement officials and NGOs are calling “modern day slavery.” Following narcotics, it is the second most profitable criminal enterprise worldwide and the Philippines has the second largest victim population. Many poverty stricken Filipino women leave their families in the hope supporting them from abroad.

Approximately 1 million Filipino men and women migrate each year, currently there are 10 million Filipinos living abroad. Many of these workers are subject to forced labor and harsh conditions, not just in the U.S., but in Asia and the Middle East as well.  Women who work in domestic positions often suffer violence, sexual abuse and rape. Traffickers use local recruiters in villages and urban centers who often pretend to be representatives of government sponsored employment agencies.  Furthermore, victims are required to pay “recruitment fees” that leave the workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage and prostitution.

Many Filipinos live in poverty and are often swayed by recruiters who offer work and a better life. Furthermore, the vast majority of victims are also women and girls; 300,000-400,000 are women and 60,000 -100,00 are children; over 80% are females under the age of 18.

To combat this, the Philippines government created the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and has made minor improvements since then. For example, it increased funding to the anti-trafficking agency from $230,000 to $1.5 million and went from eight full time staff members to 37. They were also able to repatriate 514 Filipinos from Syria in the winter of 2012, 90% of whom were trafficked. Even with an upgraded version of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, much work still needs to be done in the Philippines and in the U.S. to ensure that women and the poor in the Philippines are not vulnerable to modern day slavery.

– Lisa Toole

Sources: CNN,, ABS CBN,
Photo: The Guardian

A teenage girl in Morocco committed suicide last month after being forced to marry her rapist. Her death occurred amidst debate over a controversial article of Morocco’s Penal code which allows rapists to avoid a jail sentence if they marry their victim.

The article in question, Article 475, received global attention after a similar case in March 2012 in which Amina Filali, 16, drank rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist. At the time, activist Abadila Maaelaynine said on Twitter, “Amina, 16, was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law.”

In Moroccan society, a woman who loses her virginity – even by rape – is considered unfit to marry. “There’s a mentality that says that a girl that’s no longer a virgin is worthless,” said Khadija Riyadi, President of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH). She went on to say that families feel like they cannot support an “unmarriagable” daughter and to make her marry her attacker seems like the only solution.

Opponents of Article 475 pressured U.S. president Barack Obama who met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on Friday to urge the king to repeal the article.

A move to protect women from violence was submitted to the Moroccan parliament earlier this month, a year after the initial idea was proposed. Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid told Al Jazeera, “Until now, it’s still just a law project that’s being considered by parliament but hasn’t been rectified. We have not yet formally edited the article.”

“Delays in legal reform in Morocco are leaving women and girls exposed to abuse,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International. “Unless the gap is closed between the authorities’ rhetoric about improvements to the law and their delivery of these changes, more lives will be at risk.”

– David Smith

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, All Africa

Every 30 minutes, a woman or child is raped in Kenya. Sixteen year-old “Liz” (a pseudonym used to protect her identity) was one of them. Walking home from her grandfather’s funeral at night, she was approached by six men between the ages of 16 and 20. They beat her and took turns raping her. When they were finished, they discarded her broken, screaming body in a sewage ditch.
Neighbors, having heard Liz’s screams, found the teenager and helped her home. They also aided in rounding up three of the rapists–whom Liz recognized and knew from school–and corralling them to a nearby police outpost in the village of Tingolo. Once there, officers arrested them and at daybreak, served their sentence. Handed machetes, the attackers were instructed to cut the grass around the compound. Hours later, they were released.
Meanwhile, Liz’s family took her to a nearby pharmacy for care. When the rudimentary pharmacy’s antibiotics and paracetamol did little to relieve Liz’s injuries, her mother sold the family chickens–the family’s only source of income–in order to pay for medical care at a clinic in a different town. When the treatment she received there also fell short, her mother leased the family’s land to allow Liz to seek care at a more advanced clinic. Here, it became clear Liz’s 12 foot fall to the bottom of the latrine had broken her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed. Further, her brutal attacks caused a fistula, leading to double incontinence.
The gross injustice in Liz’s case is not due to a lack of rape legislation in Kenya. The Sexual Offenses Act, passed in 2008, introduced minimum sentencing rules for rape and stipulated that those convicted of rape face prison sentences of ten years to life. Anyone convicted of raping a child under the age of 11 is eligible for a life sentence.
However, police apathy and incompetence, as demonstrated by Liz’s case, often allow rapists to act with impunity. Improper handling of investigations and the cavalier attitude many police officers have toward sexual crimes also dissuade children and women from even reporting assaults. Many that do leave police stations burdened with shame and no closer to justice.
Though the situation is bleak, huge progress toward securing rights for girls in Kenya was made earlier this year. Three years ago, a group of 160 girls between the ages of three and seventeen sued the government of Kenya for failing to protect them from rape. Kenyan high court Judge J. A. Makau announced his decision in the case on May 27: “By failing to enforce existing defilement laws, the police have contributed to the development of a culture of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence against girl children and impunity.” The judge had sided with the girls, thus holding the state accountable for police failures in cases of sexual violence.
Though at an inconceivable and unconscionable cost to Liz’s life and well-being, there is more hope emerging for the girls of Kenya. Liz’s June 26 attack was reported in Nairobi’s Daily Nation and caught the eye of women’s rights activist Nebila Abdulmelik. In response, Ms. Abdulmelik launched an online campaign with the group Avaaz in which she asserts: “Letting rapists walk free after making them cut grass has to be the world’s worst punishment for rape.” Since the campaign’s launch, more than one million people around the world have signed, calling for the “immediate arrest and prosecution of [Liz’s] rapists and full disciplinary action for the police officers who dismally failed to handle her case.”
When the 160 girls who successfully sued the government marched in front of the courthouse where their fate would be decided, they chanted “I demand my rights.” Under the scrutiny of the global community spurred by Liz’s attack, let us hope that the Kenyan government heeds these cries. It is the very least the children of Kenya deserve.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, All Africa, AVAAZ, Huffington Post, BBC