Friday, April 29, 2011

While the Wedding Was On...


[Photograph is of a homemade banner, made out of wood, at the anti-Lib Demo with the words Tory Scum painted onto it in black]

NHS hospitals were told to seek 50% more savings and over 50 political accounts were deleted in Facebook purge.

What else was buried in the wedding news? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Paperchase: Now Catering for Sex Offenders?

[Image is a photograph of a greetings card taken in a shop. The card has multi-coloured text, saying "I'm already visualising the duct tape over your mouth".]

Oh Paperchase, what were you thinking? You stock birthday cards, Christmas cards, anniversary cards, every kind of card I could need. But this one, seen by @jocaulfield - really, what were you thinking?

I have no idea who the target audience is supposed to be, because all I can think of is that it's a perfect card for a stalker to send to their victim. Admittedly it could also be used by kinky folk planning their next play session, but other than that it just screams sex offender.

How would you feel, as a woman, to receive a card like that? What if it was anonymous? Or would it actually be worse if it was signed? If I got that in the post I'm just not sure I would see the funny side, if there even is one. I am pretty sure I'd feel scared and intimidated and threatened.

I can't find it for sale on their website. It might be there, but even working out which category of card it would come under is baffling me. Get well soon? Sympathy? Engagement and wedding?

The presence of this card means that Paperchase does not feel like a shop I want to go into any more. It does not feel like a safe place, nor a place that I would like to give money to. If you want to let them know what you think of this card, you can do so here.

Photograph by, and hat-tip to, Jo Caulfield.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On being on benefits while fat

[Image is a vintage food advertisement from 1895. There is a drawing of a young woman with package of Loring's Fat-Ten-U food tablets and package of Loring's Corpula, a fat-producing food. The text says, "Get Fat on Lorings Fat-Ten-U and Corpula Foods".]

David Cameron today has said that taxpayers [feel that incapacity benefit] recipients should be "people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own", that is, not those who are ill because of alcohol or drugs, or because they are overweight.

According to these statistics, the number of people who claim disability benefits because they are obese, is 1,830. Compare this to 398,700 who claim for depression. It is hardly a raging epidemic. There may, equally, be other people who claim benefits for a particular impairment, while also being obese, and this is a whole other matter entirely. Yet here we have a new message of hatred from the government.

I am on benefits and I am fat. I am not on benefits because I am fat, but I am on benefits because I am ill, and I am fat because I am ill. This is many layered, but before I was ill, I was slim. Too thin for a good while, in fact.

Then I started taking psychiatric medication. The more common antidepressants didn't affect my weight, but when I started taking neuroleptic medication the weight piled on. At the time, Olanzapine was the 'wonder-drug' of choice by many psychiatrists, and I was put on it at a time when a lot of other mental health service users were. We all gained a significant amount of weight, very quickly.

I'm not on olanzapine any more, but I take other neuroleptics and a newer antidepressant, both of which have the same effect on weight. I have, at times, wondered whether I should come off them, to lose some weight, but I made a choice to do all that I could to prevent big relapses, and stayed on the tablets. Believe me, I would be costing the state a lot more if I came off all my meds and lost some weight, but spiralled into a paranoid psychosis at the same time.

These days I also have the added issue of more limited mobility, which means that I often can't do any kind of exercise. Many disabled people face this same situation, and many disabled people take medications which can cause their weight to rise - not just psychiatric meds, but steroids, certain painkillers and all sorts of others can affect appetite and weight.

And if I can't stand up for long enough to cook, or manage to chop vegetables or stand near the stove, then I also can't eat well. If I can't go out to buy fresh food, or can't carry anything home, it is virtually impossible to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Now, I don't have a problem with what my weight is. It is how it is, I don't hate it, it's just life. I don't claim benefits because of my weight, but if I wasn't ill or disabled I probably would weigh less. However, I am, and it's a small price to pay for relative mental stability (very relative!).

But because of Cameron today, as well as benefit claimants being written off as lazy, scroungers, liars, exaggeraters and malingerers, the Daily Mail readers of the world will be happy to assume that every overweight person on benefits is on benefits because they are overweight.

I don't have a problem with those who are, by the way, but there are many fat disabled people, just like there are many fat non-disabled people. But those who are believing the hype now have an extra line of attack against the country's benefit recipients. An extra line of abuse for us to receive.

(The image is in the public domain, and was made available by Chuck Coker. This blog post is cross-posted at Where's the Benefit?).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Disabled women and sexual assault.

[A photograph of a bright pink, hand-written placard against a brick background, which says "I hate rape". There is a marker pen in the background.]

The Guardian has published an interview with Kier Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, about restoring rape victims' confidence in the criminal justice system.

Rape Crisis reports that
Only 15% of serious sexual offences against people 16 and over are reported to the police and of the rape offences that are reported, fewer than 6% result in an offender being convicted of this offence.
The lousy conviction rate is a key reason that many women do not report being raped. It can feel like a waste of time to even report, when the likelihood is that it will go nowhere?

In recent years, new concerns have emerged among women who are raped, as we hear of more and more being imprisoned themselves when their rape allegations were not proved in court, and perhaps most high profile, a woman who was imprisoned for retracting true allegations. With regard to this specifically, Starmer has now requested that all perverting the course of justice cases that involve retracted rape and domestic violence allegations should be submitted to him for approval.

It seems he is taking action, and I am very glad of that, as it is sorely needed. And Starmer insists that the 25% funding cut to the CPS will not affect sexual or domestic violence services.

One group of women that has been overlooked in these efforts to improve reporting of rape, is disabled women. Around 10 years ago I spoke to a specialist sexual assault police officer about having been raped. It did not go well, and we both decided that I should not proceed with making a formal report. This was initially because I was unable to tell her the details of what had happened. From my point of view, she was a stranger, a quite intimidating one at that, and I had never told anyone the intimate details of what had occurred (and in fact, I still haven't). From her point of view, if I couldn't tell her, then I would never be able to stand up in court and tell a roomful of strangers. I agree. The other reason, however, was that she found out I had mental health diagnoses. She said that this would make me an 'unreliable witness' in the eyes of the court, and my word would not be believed. There was no acknowledgement of cause and effect - that in fact sexual violence may have caused my distress. Many women experience mental distress after rape. If that automatically means we are not 'reliable witnesses', then it needs looking at urgently.

And it is not just women with psychiatric diagnoses who have difficulty reporting rape, or being taken seriously in the judicial system. Women with learning disabilities face similar prejudice, and may have difficulty communicating that any abuse has taken place at all. Disabled women can have more difficulty leaving an abusive relationship, particularly if they rely on the abusive partner to assist them with communication or mobility, and very few refuges are fully accessible even if they can leave.

In terms of domestic abuse, as well as physical, sexual and emotional abuse, there is an extra layer of abuse which can happen to disabled women. Their partner can withhold medication, over-medicate, refuse to assist the woman at all, or refuse dignified assistance options, if the partner is also the woman's carer. They can withhold communication aids, and limit mobility and outside contact considerably.

And it is not just that disabled women are less likely to be taken seriously, and less likely to have access to support and judicial services, we are also much more vulnerable to abuse.

As many as 83% of women who have been disabled since childhood have been the victims of sexual assault, 49% of whom experience 10 or more incidents. 40% of physically disabled women in one study reported have been sexually assaulted, and for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, the rate of violent criminal victimization including sexual assault was 2 times greater than in the general population. 45% of female psychiatric outpatients report being sexually abused during childhood, and horrifyingly, lifetime risk for violent victimization was 'so high for homeless women with severe mental illness (97%) as to amount to normative experiences for this population'. (Statistics all from Wisconsin Coalition against Sexual Assault - the sheer dearth of figures available about sexual assault and disabled women other than these from WCASA, is very telling in itself).

If these efforts to encourage women to come forward, and efforts to support women following sexual assault, do not start addressing the specific issues faced by disabled women, then they are doing all women a disservice. If there is a space in a refuge, but the steps into the building prevent a disabled woman from taking that place, then we are letting women down. If nobody checks with the woman who is unable to speak, whether her assistants are taking care of her with respect and not hurting her, we are letting women down. And if somebody doesn't believe the 'unreliable' learning disabled or mentally ill woman who talks about abuse, then we are letting women down. If disabled women do not have the same access to justice as non-disabled women, then women do not have access to justice.

(Photo by Steve Rhodes. Article cross-posted at The F-Word blog).

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Je me relève

I lived in Aix-en-Provence for a year in 1997-98, and on the radio constantly was a version of Chumbawamba's Tubthumping which they had sung in French. Once I left France I told people all about this, but could never find any recording of it anywhere. I have spent 12 years trying to prove that this existed, and this morning I have made the momentous discovery.

Enjoy, Tubthumping in French.