Archive for October, 2012

Where are the disabled Labour activists?

October 19, 2012

Where are the disabled Labour activists?
Life on Incapacity Benefit is a lifeststyle choice, reiterates countless Government spokespersons.
Benefit cheats! Scroungers, bellow the tabloids. George Osborne announces the intention to cut welfare benefits by another £10B.
Its not fair, Government ministers say, and ask why benefit recipients should be able to live in expensive accommodation that people with jobs cant afford?
Meanwhile, on behalf of the government, ATOs throws disabled people off benefits, expecting even those undertaking debilitating cancer treatment to look for a job when they are often too sick to get out of bed some days. For some, this final blow is the one that ends their lives.
The government plans to abolish the Disability Living Allowance (the non-means tested benefit designed to meet some of the additional cost of being a disabled person in our society) and replace it with personal Independence Payments with a significantly reduced budget. They fan the flames of tabloid fuelled disability envy promoting the lie that disabled people are getting something for nothing in non-means tested benefits. They falsely assert that Disability related benefit fraud is at endemic levels despite evidence to the contrary.
1 in 3 disabled people live in poverty. Its not just through the benefit reforms that Disabled people are under attack. The austerity frenzy hits services that make disable peoples independence possible and without which, imprisons them in their own homes or even throws them out onto the street. Its a fight to the death say disabled people at a recent State of the Movement conference organised by Inclusion London and other disabled peoples organisations. We commit to a manifesto and ongoing campaign to fight back. We ask of the Trade Union Movement and political parties, who will join us?
Ive been a member of the Labour Party since 1994 and a Labour supporter since 1975. I stood as a Labour List member for the last GLA lection in London and was instrumental in influencing Ken’s agenda including on disability. I got little support as a disabled candidate and had to pay sighted helpers to meet my access needs. Such was the intensity of the Ken campaign that I felt guilty asking the party for support.
I know a couple of Labour ex-activists and two Labour Councillors. But where is disability policy being debated? What do we as disabled Labour Party members think of welfare cuts, social care reform or disability aspects of mainstream policies such as housing or employment? Are these conversations happening at all?
If Labour is to be elected in 2015, the party needs to get its head around the thorny issues of the cost of welfare, social care and the NHS. It needs to have a view on the disability implications to all its major policies. How are disabled members influencing any of these issues?
I found the now defunct Laborabilty web site the content of which must have been at least 15 years old. A link on the site directed me to an email address on the Labour Party main web site which I immediately emailed. The fact that it hasnt bounced back yet, I consider to be hopeful indication that there might be someone there.
The Labour Party website mentions disabled access but means access to the website not anything else. If the Labour Party believes in policy being informed by self-organised groups, where is the self-organised disabled members group? Who is talking about those thorny issues of welfare benefits, social care, the NHS and the disability implications for mainstream policies on housing, employment etc?
Im up for doing this work in the party. Who will help me?
We cant rely on a handful of exhausted Labour politicians who spend considerable energies trying to make sure they can get through the door” and then do their job, to lead. The disability movement have thrown out the challenge to the Labour Movement. What will the Labour Party do to stand with disabled people as we fight for our lives?


The Downfall of Saint Jimmy

October 7, 2012

The downfall of Saint Jimmy?
So, that yodeling, marathon running, charity supporting, handicapped helping national treasure Sir Jimmy Savile has been unmasked as a serial abuser of young girls. At last, 40 years on, women who were not in a position to speak up when they were young are now speaking out about Savile’s predatory behaviour. Good for them!
Savile created opportunities in which he could get close to teenage girls. Handing out much prized tickets to TV shows, brought the girls in, for in the seventies, a ticket to Top of the Pops meant you could get close to pop stars, and dance on national TV. Who knew what might result from all that.
Every day, someone else comes forward to tell a similar story. Everyday others working in Light Entertainment at the BBC corroborate the women’s stories. Some of Savile’s former colleagues regret not speaking out before; others make excuses, talk about a prevailing culture, or how they felt powerless in the face of Savile’s colossal good guy image.
Everyone appears to have been dazzled by his fame and reputation as a great charity fund-raiser. These girls trusted him, looked up to him as a seemingly kind man who they believed cared about them. He would bring them cigarettes, sweets and cosmetics. He would take them out in his Rolls Royce. But there was a price for all this kindness. It was sexual molestation and rape.
And there they are, the classic tactics of the sexual abuser: First, shower your victim with kindness. She will often believe this is love. Second, persist and repeat the abuse until the victim is acclimatized to it and either compliant or too terrified to say “no”. Third, use power and unimpeachable reputation to discredit the victim and silence any protests. .

And I hear the skeptics say:
“The girls didn’t complain.”
“Perhaps they really wanted it?”
And I hear the excusers say:
“Girls were throwing themselves at people like Savile; any normal man would naturally be tempted.
Any *normal* man? I read the details of what he did to those young girls and I feel sick. A sense of entitlement pervaded his action. He took what he wanted, coldly and purposefully. He planned opportunities to abuse and because he had fame, money and status, what he did was either not seen, ignored or accepted as normal behaviour. He wasn’t put off by the risks that he might be discovered. It was his habit to grope and kiss girls in public and no one remonstrated with him, no one told him this behaviour was not on because “that’s what it was like back then”. Oh really? Oh, so that’s ok then is it?
When I was 17and newly blind, I went to the recording of Savile’s Radio One chat show “speakeasy”. The show’s theme was blindness. Half a dozen girls from my school and I were in the audience.
After the show, Savile strode across the auditorium, plonked himself down next to me, and without warning seized me in an iron-grip and uninvited, stuck his tongue in my mouth in a too-long cigar- tasting fat, wet kiss. He was a strong man. I could not free myself until he had finished. This was no chaste affectionate peck. It was overtly sexual; a kiss of possession by a man who saw nothing wrong in groping girls. My disgust was tempered though by gratification, for Jimmy Savile was a famous person. I had been kissed by a star! Even if I didn’t like what he did, what was there to complain about, it was just a rather sloppy kiss? During the seventies and eighties, Savile was hugely powerful. He could do no wrong. He was trusted because of his work with charities especially Youth clubs and disabled people in particular. He volunteered one day a week as a hospital porter. He looked after his elderly mother. He made people’s dreams come true every week on national TV. As a charity brand mascot, he was worth millions and he had powerful friends. And worst of all, he had a whole institution, the BBC behind him. He could and did have anything he wanted including sex with underage girls on demand. . Savile’s behaviour assumed an entitlement to use girls for his own sexual gratification, whether they consented or not. This “virile manliness” was approved and even celebrated in popular culture. A woman’s place was preferably as subservient to her man or for that matter, any man. Women weren’t even paid equally. It was legitimate to discriminate against women in all spheres of life. Sex romps in the dressing rooms, posh cars, hotels and anywhere else convenient was condoned, even when those girls were underage.

In the seventies, being disabled was regarded as a very negative thing. I for one believed that the discrimination I experienced based on my impairment was my fault. I didn’t believe that I was lovable and sometimes I put up with treatment which was less than respectful because I wanted to be liked.
Children’s residential institutions were uncaring, regimented and often dangerous places to be. Physical and sexual abuse behind their high walls, and refusals to believe whistle-blowers were common place. Stigmatized by placement in such institutions, the residents were assumed to lack capacity or not to deserve fair treatment. So what if a famous person such as Jimmy Savile came in and groped a few girls? His contact with the institution was otherwise believed to be a good thing, wasn’t it?
Under cover of his charity work, Savile gained access to girls made vulnerable by their circumstances, because they were disabled, in residential care, or temporarily or permanently away from their families. Savile’s attention may have made his victims feel special, as his kissing me made me feel special, even if I didn’t really enjoy it.
So how could his victims object to the abuse? Their peers might even be envious of the attention they were getting from such a man as Savile. The adults around them complacent in believing Savile had the best interests of the girls at heart. Everyone would think that the girls were making up stories or were mad to complain.
Commentators say we live in different times, they say that what Savile did could *never* happen now. Sex with underage girls is no longer condoned. Measures such as Sex Offender Registers and Safeguarding Children risk assessments have been put in place. There is now legislation that outlaws gender and disability discrimination.
Yet sexual abuse in and outside the nuclear family is still alive and kicking. Girls are raped as a form of social control, to punish their boyfriends and as part of rites of passage in gang culture. Groups of men get together to systematically abuse young girls. If the girls dare to complain, they are disbelieved. Because they are often in care, disabled, black or working class, they are not believed to be credible witnesses. Women’s bodies are still seen as men’s property. Being opportunistically groped on a crowded tube train continues to be commonplace. The increasing sexualisation and merchandising of young girls such as through the production of make-up and bras for toddlers gives permission for them to be seen as sexually available. Misogyny is still an everyday fact of life. And meanwhile every day, somewhere in a hotel, a big car, a trailer, a dressing room or some other private or not so private space, another young girl is being abused by a rich and powerful man while others look on unable or unwilling to stop it. The fact that she may seem willing at first, dazzled by his fame and what it might offer her, is NOT consent. The fact that she may put herself into danger believing she will be loved is NOT consent. Whatever has brought her to this situation, her seeming cooperation and compliance is not consent. When trust is violated and power is abused, there *is* No possible consent.
“Why rake this up now? Jimmy Savile is dead” someone on the radio says. No, we can’t undo what happened to Savile’s victims. But we *can* make a bid to change the culture. Let’s make it NOT okay to objectify girls as sex objects. Let’s make it NOT ok for any man to sexually abuse girls. We have law and company policies to prevent and tackle sexual abuse wherever it occurs, let’s put these into practice. And let’s begin by listening to the whistle-blowers and blowing the whistles ourselves when we come across sexual abuse instead of ignoring it or hoping that someone else will speak out.
To the women who have spoken up about how Jimmy Savile abused them, I say to you: I hear you. I believe you. Thank you for having the courage to speak out.
Kirsten Hearn
C 06/10/12