Posts Tagged ‘violence’

On the horrific events in Newton, CT today

Friday, December 14th, 2012

I wanted to post some of the beautiful, passionate, important things I have been reading from my friends in response to the horrendous school shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. We’re all pretty much on the same page here: we need SERIOUS legislation making gun laws a hell of a lot stricter in this country. We can’t stop people from doing crazy things, not all of the time, although I agree that mental health care should be easier to get and much more affordable at that. And we can’t make our schools into impenetrable fortresses that are as welcoming as jails. This has no educational value, nor is it necessary. Evidence? See the rest of the world. But the number of people who die senselessly in the USA because of guns and an intense lack of courage and will from our leadership to stand up to politics is something about which we should be deeply ashamed. NO MORE. It has to stop.
-Danielle Shapiro, a journalist, lover of all children, and aunt who can’t stop thinking about her nephews today

Now from my friends:
-Liam O’Rourke, a teacher:
I went to work today, a mere 20 miles from Newtown. I walked into a building full of children. I taught nine year olds grammar; I read “The Woman in White” with seventh graders; I discussed the ending of “Moby Dick” with a senior who thanked me for teaching it to her, because (in her words) “this book is everything.” Then at lunch a group of little six to eight year olds came to me with their lunches and begged me to read them the last pages of “Over Sea, Under Stone” because our last class was canceled due to our afternoon holiday party. They sat rapt. They gasped aloud when Mr. Hastings almost got the grail away from Barney, cheered when the children defeated the dark ones, and laughed when Great Uncle Merry scolded the newspaper reporter. Then I stood in the dance studio and watched as 83 kids from 5-18 sang Purcell madrigals in their chorus and later Pat Benatar in karaoke. They danced. They played. They ate cake. Now imagine that someone walked in… I don’t need to finish that fucking unutterably awful thought. Anyone who will not accept that guns and gun violence needs to be taken seriously in this country is a person who, in my mind, is complicit in each and every one of those children’s deaths today. If you are still unconflicted in your support for the right to bear arms indiscriminately, then you are dead to me. Because I promise you that I will choose the brilliant, silly, joyful, spinning, dancing, singing children over your right to bear arms EVERY SINGLE TIME.

-Emily Ziff Griffin, a mother:
Dear President Obama:

I wrote you recently, a month or so before the election to urge you to take a stand on the things that matter to me as a new mother, things I believe also matter to you—the environment, education, food safety and obesity, the mental health of our veterans, and gun control. I received back a lovely form letter detailing the work your administration has done on environmental i
ssues. Thank you for that.

But I am writing again today and have decided that I will be writing you every day for the next year or until you take a serious and effective stand on gun control. I am sitting in my office in New York City watching reports of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting flood the internet while my 10-month-old daughter sits in daycare in Brooklyn. The horror that fills my heart as I look at the pictures of these tiny kids being shuttled into the parking lot, their mouths agape in fear and sorrow is overwhelming. And this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that we are being confronted with this type of image. This keeps happening. And yes, we need to better treat the mentally ill members of our society. And yes ultimately it is “people who kill people.” But Sir, we quite simply need to control, in no uncertain terms, the access people have to these weapons.

You are in a position to help. It is your duty and responsibility to help. I and millions like me re-elected you because we believe you are who you say you are. And that person you say you are would not sit idly by, again, and do nothing to make this issue a priority.

You’ll hear from me again tomorrow.

Thanks for listening,

Emily Ziff Griffin,
American anti-gun mother

-A letter from the parent coordinator at the school in NYC where my friend Valerie Otto’s daughter attends:
Dear 41 Families,

I am loathe to write anything right now on the tragedy today in Newton, Connecticut.

But I send this out to you–hug your child very tightly tonight and speak to him or her of your love. Whisper of grace and awe and joy and hope (and carry in your own hearts and minds the idea that maybe, just maybe, our children will see a world in which those things can somehow take root and cover this heavy darkness.)

Speak softly in your voice….but carry the sound and fury in your soul and scream to the sky……Please, no more.

My thoughts go to the families of those killed, those injured and those who witnessed. For those of us who work in the elementary school system, we are one today.

My gratitude and love goes out to you all…..

Your Grieving PC

-Laila Al-Arian, a journalist, an aunt:
Can’t stop thinking about the children who were brutally and senselessly killed today and can’t possibly imagine what their parents are going through. Gun control, America. We have willingly sacrificed our first amendment for the sake of false security and have clung to false notions of the second for the sake of a powerful lobby.

-Jana Winter, a journalist. This is her story today from Newton:

Columbia University SIFA takes on gender violence in the DRC

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Last Monday night I had the opportunity to attend a talk at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs on gender-based violence in the Congo. The assembled panel was an excellent group: Dr. Les Roberts, an Associate Clinical Professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health; Dr. Susan Bartels, associate faculty at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; Judy Ericson Anderson, Executive Director of Heal Africa USA; and Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World.

Though the panelists all shared their observations that the incidences of rape and sexual violence does, in general, seem to be decreasing in Congo, it remains a huge problem. And, they emphasized, it’s a problem not just for the women and girls (and men and boys) who are raped, but it’s a problem for the entire country and its prospects for a future that includes long-term peace, stability and development.

Dr. Roberts began the conversation by explaining some of the roots of violence in Congo – the 1994 Rwandan genocide, fleeing Hutu refugees some of whom carried out the genocide, Rwanda’s pursuit of those individuals into Congolese territory, the shifting alliances between rebel groups and the many sovereign nations involved in Congo’s violence throughout the years, and the constant struggle for control of Congo’s vast mineral resources – those that largely fuel the fighting.

I was especially intrigued by some of the findings Dr. Bartels shared of her study of 4,300 women patients who checked into Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu, between 2004-2008. All the patients she considered in her study had been victims of sexual violence.

On average, she found that women waited just over 10 months after they were attacked to present at the hospital. A few came much sooner and many came much later, even two or three years, after their rapes. The finding is significant, she explained, because what solutions medicine can offer to rape victims – like post-coital contraception and STD preventatives – are highly time dependent. The longer women wait to get help, the less medicine can do. Thus, it makes a big difference if women are aware of the help available to them.

Other findings she discussed:
-Most women were raped in their homes, not on roads, at their farms, etc. This is important information especially for those whose job is civilian protection, i.e. the UN, and should help them determine what tactics to pursue.
-The majority of attacks included two or more perpetrators. They were gang rapes.
-The risk of pregnancy for women was especially high among those who had been kidnapped and held as sexual slaves. (For some stories about women who endured and survived this horrific experience, see my Christian Science Monitor article: Mothers in Congo get help in raising children of rape)
-More than half of all perpetrators of the rapes were soldiers, about 52 percent, though that number could be, and probably is, much higher.
-All types of rape decreased between 2004-1008.
-However, during the same time period, the number of civilian-perpetrated rapes increased 17-fold. This, Dr. Bartels explained, suggests a “normalization” of rape in Congolese society – a truly worrisome development, to be sure.

Judy Anderson focused on the work Heal Africa has been doing to train counselors throughout North Kivu province to work with women who have been raped. One of their main endeavors has been to inform victims about their rights and the services available to them at places like Heal Africa, a hospital based in Goma that provides fistula repair and other gynecological care (as well as other medical interventions). If women know what help is out there they can access it earlier, a significant development given the findings Dr. Bartels discussed earlier.

More than 3,500 women have been trained as counselors, said Anderson, a woman I have spoken to on several occasions for my pieces about Congo. And thus far, more than 30,000 women have gone through Heal Africa’s counselor’s network.

Donovan wrapped up the comments from panelists by first explaining why an Aids organization spends so much time advocating for an end to sexual violence: “We are of the absolute conviction,” she said, that if there was no more gender-based violence and discrimination, “then Aids would be a virus, not a pandemic.” I found this connection intriguing and was grateful for her insights because it’s not something that I think is obvious to many. I admit that it wasn’t to me.

She then shared several more thoughts about the global problem of sexual violence and how it plays out in Congo specifically. Some of her comments included the following:

-“Nothing,” she said, “is working on a national, global or systemic level to end sexual violence.” She suggested that because all responses to sexual violence are “after-the-fact,” or “reparative,” the job of prevention is not getting done – at least not effectively enough.
-Prevention, she added, is never going to happen (really and thoroughly) if men are in all the decision-making (read: power) positions.
-To that end she called for a moratorium on all further UN declarations, treaties, and resolutions on ending sexual violence until those that are currently in place – and that already codify women’s rights to be included at the highest decision-making levels and peace negotiations, that demand gender equality and the protection of women’s rights – are actually enacted.
-Gender training should be a prerequisite for UN peacekeepers. This is a point I’ve heard from other human rights advocates and I think underscores the need for much more pre-deployment training for troops in general.
-It is also important to have many more women peacekeepers, Donovan said, and the UN should therefore give incentives (monetary) for countries to find and train women to take on these roles. If it is twice as valuable to countries to recruit and train women peacekeepers than men, they will do it, she said.
-A serious economic analysis is required to better understand what it will actually cost to solve the problem of sexual violence.

Several more important points came up during the Q & A session that followed. Dr. Roberts emphasized the need to focus on preventing the exploitation of Congo’s minerals. Anderson and Bartels addressed the importance of including men in the fight against sexual violence.

Most significant to me, however, was one of Donovan’s remarks, what she cautioned might be “unforgivably cynical.” She said that the problem of sexual violence in Congo continues because Black, African women from strategically unimportant countries don’t matter to most.

If she’s right, then I’ll end with a thought and a plea. To me, these women, who are among the most invisible people on the planet, do matter. Their lives and struggles matter and their survival matters. Their courage, as I’ve seen it, is exceptional and their strength is inspiring. It’s why I keep going back to Congo because they have so many stories to tell.

And so my plea is to please make them matter to you too. Visit the sites of the organizations listed here and see what help you can contribute. Or simply read about the Congo here or in other blogs and newspaper and magazines. Then send the stories onto your friends and family. One of biggest challenges is getting more people to be aware of the Congo and the daily challenges the Congolese experience. Until we care, a lot of us, these problems will persist and victims of rape will continue to suffer.

CPJ call to action

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Tomorrow evening I will attend the Committee to Protect Journalists annual awards dinner honoring four courageous reporters with the 2010 International Press Freedom Award. I look forward to this night all year long — it continues to be one of the most inspiring evenings I have ever experienced. Tomorrow’s honorees include journalists from Venezuela, Iran, Ethiopia and Russia. Each have risked everything — often even their lives — to bring us the truth that we, as readers and citizens, deserve.

This year I want to post an appeal I received by email from Joel Simon, CPJ’s Executive Director, for contributions to CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Program. The program supports journalists who have been brutalized for doing their jobs by those who are enemies to truth and freedom. CPJ is an excellent organization and their work is vital to us all. I believe in their work wholeheartedly. For more information, visit their site.

Here is Joel’s note about the Journalist Assistance Program:

Help journalists in need: An appeal
By Joel Simon/CPJ Executive Director

Mikhail Beketov is lucky to be alive, although I’m sure there are days when he doesn’t think so. On November 13, 2008, the environmental reporter who campaigned against a highway that would have destroyed a forest in Khimki, a town outside Moscow, was beaten nearly to death by men with metal bars. The attackers made a special effort to destroy his hands and left him to die in the November cold. He would have if neighbors had not noticed him and called the police 24 hours after the attack.

Today, Beketov is confined to a wheelchair. He can no longer speak. He can no longer write. His mind appears intact, however, and he took great joy when we visited him at his Moscow hospital during a recent mission to Russia. CPJ board member Kati Marton described the afternoon we spent with him in a very moving blog. In a most outrageous development, while Beketov’s attackers walk free, the disabled editor is being dragged to court by Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko–the official who sponsored the highway Beketov so sharply criticized. Strelchenko–whom Beketov’s colleagues and friends suspect to be the man who ordered the November attack–filed a criminal defamation suit against the journalist. Reports tell us that despite serious health concerns, Beketov is being forced to appear in court, driven in an ambulance.

Through our Journalist Assistance program, CPJ has been providing Beketov with financial support since the attack. But it became clear to us during our visit that he will need care for the rest of his life. We pledged to help Beketov find the care he needs. We are currently researching options for underwriting long-term help, but in the interim CPJ will provide financial assistance.

We are seeking donations to CPJ’s Journalists Assistance Fund, which will be used not only to support Beketov, but dozens of journalists around the world who are victims of violence and repression.

Here are a few examples:

CPJ helped Kalundi Robert Sserumaga, a well-known Ugandan journalist and author, with his medical bills and general support after local authorities detained him for four days on charges of sedition. While in state custody, Sserumaga was beaten, threatened with death, and denied medical attention.

Syrgak Abdyldayev, a Kyrgyz reporter, was stabbed and beaten in March 2009 by an unidentified attacker. Abdyldayev, a political reporter and commentator with the independent newspaper Reporter-Bishkek, was hospitalized with 21 stab wounds, two broken arms, and crushed shoulders. CPJ sent funds for medical treatment and general support.

Tika Bista, a reporter for the Nepalese local daily Rajdhani, was critically injured in a knife attack in December 2009. CPJ sent funds for emergency medical treatment and also helped support her family during her recovery.

All contributions to CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Fund will go directly to journalists in need. CPJ already covers the full cost of administering the Journalist Assistance program, including researching cases, delivering financial assistance, and providing non-financial support including help with resettlement.

What this means is that every dollar that you contribute–whether its $500, $100, or $10–will go directly to journalists in need. And the entire amount is tax deductible. Please make a donation now to support CPJ’s vital work.

Your gift may be worth double. If this is your first donation to CPJ, or you give more now than you’ve given before, CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger will match your contribution up to $500.

Sara and Baraka

Thursday, October 21st, 2010


Nothing has even come close to lifting my spirits as the sight of 15-year-old Sara and her 1-year-old daughter Baraka did today in Bukavu. I wrote about them last March when I did the piece on children born of rape for the Christian Science Monitor. Sara was abducted and raped and had a child when she was 14. She has no family. If I remember correctly, her parents were killed. I am not sure what happened to her one sibling.

She lives now in a group transition home for women who had been patients at Panzi Hospital. She remains there, but is set to move soon, I believe, to another of the hospital’s homes.

My interview with Sara many months ago, really moved me, as most of those I conducted with young rape victims did. But her face and her child stayed with me better than the others. First because of her deep love and affection for her daughter, even after what she had been through, and second because her daughter is such a happy, lively child. None of that has changed. Baraka continues to giggle and gurgle and smile constantly. She was afraid of me, unfortunately, perhaps because I look so odd to her. But she is a gaggle of happy energy for others. And Sara is still a profoundly kind and big-hearted young girl. She laughed at her daughter’s frightened reaction through her own slightly bewildered eyes.

My heart swelled when I saw her. The minute she saw me, and the instant of recognition passed between us, her smile opened and she ran to me, Baraka on her back, and we hugged. She was so excited and surprised to see me. It was instantaneous joy and totally sincere and unscripted and real and again, Sara managed to move me, nearly to tears. I am sure after our interview she never did expect to see me again. And I was so thrilled to see her. I never forgot her and there seemed something very important to both of us in knowing that.

It’s often so difficult as a journalist here for me to hear about such horror and then simply walk away. I know all I can promise is a story and I believe deeply in the power and potential of journalism to change lives; to change the world. But that does not often translate for a girl whose lost her whole family, her childhood and any real semblance of security. So to be able to come back, and to see how much my doing so meant to her, and to realize how much it meant to me as well, was a profoundly important experience. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who felt some tie, some connection. Sara felt it to.

Sara is now in school, fourth form, something she wanted desperately. I’m ecstatic. She is healthy, Baraka is healthy; Sara has friends in school, she is learning French and Swahili, and math and she seems happy. We were able to communicate in French a bit, she knows some basic phrases, and after much prodding, she shared with me her new English too: “Good morning! How are you?” She was so shy and sweet and could barely look at me and keep from giggling as she said it. But I know she was happy to share. She also showed me her school notebooks, paging through slowly, so I could see as her writing in French had improved since September and how she has gone from measurement conversions to simple geometry in math.

Before parting I left her with some money for school uniforms, notebooks and pens, and little extra to get her hair braided. It costs $1 and she likes to do it twice a month. I am more than happy to support such vanity. She’s a beautiful girl, thoroughly, in her core. I can’t wait to see her again. In fact, I’m sad to leave her.

Getting Away with Murder…

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Earlier this week the Committee to Protect Journalists released their latest Impunity Index — a ranking of “countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes” — i.e. the worst places in the world to be a journalist. Their annual report, the third of its kind, is an integral tool in the fight against government cover ups of crimes against the press, tacit approval of violent tactics used to silence dissent or disregard for the lives of those whose work is essential to balanced governance.

This year 12 nations made the list, with Iraq at the top. Only those countries with five or more unsolved murders in the last 10 years are included.

The list does not include those places where journalists are routinely threatened, attacked or have their offices ransacked. Perhaps because that list would be too long? It does, however, make the significant point that 90 percent of those murdered — targeted really — are local journalists. This issue has been on my mind a lot lately since coming home from Congo where I rely so heavily on locals to help me in my work. A vigorous dialogue about the responsibilities of the foreign media towards the local press, without whom we could report almost nothing, is in order.

I hope people will read this list and that the governments of countries included therein will be shamed into action.