In my regular weekly news posts about Syria and Iraq, I write often about the many obscenities committed by the Islamic State.
What those women and children must be going through, physically, emotionally and psychologically, particularly as many will be under-age, beggars belief.
As a psychotherapist I known that the consequences of these experiences, even if they ended today, will be with them for the rest of their lives.
Having worked with many victims of sexual abuse over the years, I can assure you that they do not just “get over it” as many people will exhort them to do.
Sexual abuse deeply damages a victim’s sense of self-esteem and leaves psychological and emotional scars that only prolonged therapy over many years will heal.
Typically, sexual (and physical) abuse victims will be afraid of close or intimate contact with others, particularly with those who look or behave like their abusers, will exhibit hypervigilance and anxiety which monitors everything (but everything) in their environment and be so stressed that normal functioning is almost impossible without the use of anti-depressants or stimulants of some kind.
On top of that, most victims of sexual abuse, male and female, feel so worthless, powerless and inadequate that they will be unable to seek, sustain or afford therapeutic help, even if it is available.
Those very, very brave souls that do undertake the journey of recovery and who are helped to feel and expiate the emotional pain from terror to anger, will do well. But they will never forget.
All the more alarming then that in the 21st century, slavery, and the sexual abuse that often accompanies it, is more prevalent than ever.
Across the world there are currently an estimated 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking. Add to that the estimated 20.9 million trapped in forced labour plus those in bonded labour where they endless work to repay a debt, child labourers working in clothing factories and other places for cents and the estimated 51 million girls that have been forced to marry against their will.
Getting out of poverty, of course, is often the driving force for those that end up in some form of slavery or extreme exploitation, plus the promise of a “better life” that never comes but only gets worse.
If you think this is not happening in your “backyard” – think again.
I guarantee that in your everyday activity you have passed someone who is trapped into servitude or exploitation in some way or you have purchased an article of clothing, a carpet, electronic products, cocoa and many other products that were made or harvested by someone on the poverty line and with no future prospects, for a few cents pay a day if they are lucky.
According to End Slavery Now.org, “The standard price for sex at a brothel in the U.S. is $30.
Typically, trafficked children see 25-48 customers a day.
They work up to 12 hours a day, every day of the week; every year, a pimp earns between $150,000 and $200,000 per child”.
Between 1995 and 2012, judges in the US allowed 178 children between the ages of 10 and 15 to marry in New Jersey, often to older adults and the Tahirih Justice Center reported a suspected 3,000 forced marriage cases across the US between 2009 and 2011.
In the UK, where forced marriage is now outlawed (though most assuredly still takes place in exploitative and closed domestic settings) there have been a number of cases of young Asian girls, who were born and educated in Britain, being taken to Pakistan or India for a “family holiday”, only to discover that they are actually there to be married off to much older relatives they have never met and with whom they have little in common. That is both sexual abuse and slavery.
Other cases in the UK have involved road and driveway laying gangs who have picked up off the streets men with mental health and addiction problems, imprisoned them and forced them to work for little or no wages and minimal amounts of food or illegal immigrants collecting cockles (seafood) in dangerous tidal waters for less than minimum wages while paying back “accommodation and signing on fees” all the time living in appalling, overcrowded and filthy conditions.
Slavery, in one form or another, is still common across the Middle East and especially in the Gulf States.
Although King Faisal abolished slavery in Saudi Arabia in 1962, the “employment” of domestic servants from the Philippines, Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Africa often results in conditions of enforced slavery and sexual exploitation.
Karl Anderson, a former Californian accountant, who became an accidental anti-slavery activist when a Facebook friend from the Philippines asked for help, now aids about 10 women a month escape abuse to go to one of the little-discussed shelters in Saudi Arabia established for “household maids.”
“It is slavery,” Anderson says. “Every day, I see the face of slavery.”
“There is a woman who was forced to eat a child’s faeces out of a diaper because she didn’t clean the diaper soon enough,” he says.
“Women are raped, tortured, denied food, denied water, made to work 20 hours a day, seven days a week. One woman was only allowed to eat the food that her sponsor family left on their plates. They are treated like dogs.”
In Qatar, an estimated 600 workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh are dying every year in appalling conditions and extreme temperatures in the construction industry, including the building of the 2022 World Cup Stadium.
All of this has a long history of course. Slaves almost certainly built the Pyramids in Egypt and most other ancient buildings that survive throughout the world.
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire, which had been instrumental in shipping Africans to its sugar producing colonies in the West Indies for years, in 1833. The USA made slavery unconstitutional in 1865. The French abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848.
In my travels I have stood several times below a monument in Mozambique in southern Africa where “unruly” African slaves captured by British and Arab traders were hurled off the cliffs onto the rocks below, not unreminiscent of the behaviour of the Islamic State.
The sea there, where whales can be often seen migrating offshore, is wild and the noise, the blasting spray and the jagged rocks make you think; wondering what it must have been like for those young men and women to be ripped away from their families and tribes and set down in a completely alien environment after a very long and appalling sea journey shackled in the most terrible conditions.
Slavery is now illegal in all countries of the world, but in practice it continues in many places in many forms.
The fact is that there are now more slaves in the world today than ever there were at the height of the transatlantic slave trade to the West indies and the southern United States.
President Obama declared January 2016 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
That’s a start, but let’s bring some more consciousness into our own lives.
First, let’s be more aware of how we treat others, particularly those who are weaker or less powerful than ourselves – and especially when we are angry or upset.
Secondly, let’s be more aware of others who may be the victims of exploitation. If you suspect something is going on, there are help or tip-off telephone lines in most developed countries.
And thirdly, if you want to discourage slave-worker exploitation you can find a list of slave-labour free companies by putting in your email address, (scroll down) HERE: and/or follow @EndSlaveryNow on Twitter.
PETER CLIFFORD 20th January 2016
Writing in recent days about the siege of Madaya in Syria, where 28 people were deliberately allowed to starve to death, made me ponder on the dark shadow of human cruelty that always hangs over our daily lives.
What is it that makes a presumably intelligent, well educated couple like President Assad and London-born wife Asma, who have 2 healthy children of their own, stand back and let other people’s children 30 miles away die from malnutrition and lack of food?
The Assads had the power to change that in an instant.
They could have supplied medical assistance that would have kept the starving alive, but chose not to do that either, because of politics and religion – the victims all belonged to wrong (Sunni) sect.
By contrast Alawite/Shia, supporters of the regime, trapped by an opposition siege in Kefraya and Al Fuah have received fairly regular airdrops of food and other supplies.
Similarly, what makes members of the Islamic State in sickening acts of cruelty, behead people, burn them alive or suicide bomb innocent tourists to death?
The acts of cruelty in war are endless. It’s as though the state of war “gives permission” for common humanity to be completely and illegally suspended – though the boundary between war combatants and non-combatants is becoming increasingly blurred.
And it is not just in war that cruelty manifests, we see it around us almost every day.
Take the cases of acid attack victims. More than 200 in the UK over the last 2 years and an estimated 1,000 a year in India, many of them there never officially reported or treated.
They also occur in the USA and South America and across Europa and Asia. In Bangladesh there have been 3,512 people attacked with acid between 1999 and 2013 alone, though annual numbers are at last reducing.
Acid attacks melt distinctive facial features like noses and ears that most of us take for granted, disfigures bodies, take away sight, cause deafness and ruin lives. The emotional and psychological damage is immeasurable.
Iqbal in Pakistan, a very handsome young man, was just 15 years old when he was attacked with acid.
He was a passionate dancer and danced professionally with his parents in wedding processions.
One night, Iqbal was approached by another man who sexually propositioned him but Iqbal said he wasn’t interested.
While sleeping at home along with his family, Iqbal had acid poured over his head.
He was left blind in both eyes by the attack and his lips and neck burned so badly that eating and drinking are extremely painful.
Iqbal is from a family of poor wood cutters, who dance to earn extra income.
Now aged 20 he is at last receiving treatment for the first time in 5 years. (You can read more and/or donate at Acid Survivors Trust International)
It is not just our fellow humans that human beings are cruel to. It is also animals.
The reports of animals starved and beaten to death are endless on the Internet, including many animals that were supposedly “pets” or destined for our dinner plates.
And then you have the bizarre phenomena of people who lovingly care for their pets but starve or are cruel to their children.
All of which goes contrary to our natural instincts.
From a biological point of view, newly born and young children and animals are “cute”, innocent and appealing precisely to trigger an affectionate and protective bonding response from those around them, particularly their parents.
We have all probably done cruel things to people, animals or insects at some time in our lives, however “good” we try to be.
I have to confess that I once worked in a zoo where we had to feed the owls and other birds of prey with day-old-chicks.
If we had put live chicks into the cages for the birds to kill there would have rightly been a public outcry, so every week a box of freshly hatched little miracles would arrive at the zoo – and one by one we killed them by breaking their necks and storing them in the fridge.
After a short while, a friend and I could no longer do it – every death felt like an emotional knife wound and eventually such cruel actions became impossible.
Human cruelty and lack of care, which in regard to the young or the elderly can also be cruel, is a result of a disconnect with our feelings to one degree or another. The less we truly feel, the more we can separate ourselves from and ignore what goes on around us.
And we stop feeling of course when we are so full of pain and distress ourselves that feeling it threatens our functioning. Depression, is precisely that, pressing down our painful feelings, but those suffering depression are more likely to harm themselves than be cruel to others.
The dangerous ones are those that are so disconnected from their feelings that they act them out without taking responsibility for those actions. Rage, jealousy, rejection, fear, feelings of inadequacy or other strong emotions can trigger acts of cruelty, often on the weaker and most vulnerable.
Facing up to cruelty of many kinds in our world is not an easy thing to do. It is noticeable with my blog that when I write about people “starving to death” for example, the views of the site immediately go down and when I write about “battles and victories”, the number of views goes up! (It will be interesting to see how this article fares)
Extraordinarily, at the other side of the human coin, sometimes out of cruelty, pain and suffering some good things come.
Laxmi Saa, one of the acid victims mentioned above, was attacked when she was 15 years old merely because she rejected an offer of marriage. Her attacker got just 3 years for disfiguring her for life.
Despite her injuries, Laxmi is well known in India for her campaign to get the sale of acid regulated, because it is far too easy to buy and misuse it.
Now a designer clothes company in India, Viva N Diva, is employing and empowering her as a model for its latest range. Kudos and respect to the company and to Laxmi for her bravery and determination. (You can read more at the BBC)
Finally, what can we do in our own lives to lift the dark shadow of human cruelty hanging over the world?
We can certainly challenge, report and remove cruelty from our own life in whichever form it appears.
As I always say, if you can’t be right, be kind. No-one, animal or human, deserves cruelty.
When you ask the question “What do our children need most?”, the answer depends rather a lot on where they are.
I often write about violent countries such as Syria and Iraq and what the children need there most is food, water, protection, security and stability.
These things should be a given staple of life for any society but unfortunately in a 21st century wracked by conflict they are still too often not.
But wars are started and carried on by adults, not children; adults who were themselves children once, perhaps not getting their own needs met.
Clearly our childhood shapes hugely what sort of adult we turn out to be, though over the years there has been an ongoing debate over whether the adult we become is the result of “nature” or “nurture”.
Personally, I think it is a combination of the two, with “nurture”, how we are brought up, influencing us the most.
“Nature”, our genetic inheritance will give us pre-dispositions for certain potential character traits and modes of behaviour, both positive and negative – but which of those comes to the fore, for good or for evil, depends largely on the influences we experience throughout our childhood.
Some psychologists say that our basic character and the way we interact with the world is already formed by the age of 3.
From my professional experience working as a psychotherapist with many adults with recurring problems, I would say that is largely true.
We can modify our behaviour later and become subject to an enormous range of influences during the next 15-year journey into adulthood, both at school and in our local environment, but whether we relate to others assertively or aggressively, passively, dominantly or cooperatively, and act with confidence or reticence, for example, is already set.
The biggest and most powerful influences on our childhood, from both a biological, proximity and intimacy point of view (and for both good and bad) remain our parents – or if we have lost our parents (a devastating event in itself), those who take over that role.
Therefore, being a parent is perhaps the most responsible (and difficult) job going. Where’s the training? Only the quality of our own childhood experience.
Not only are our parenting skills crucial to our child’s future but to the world’s future too.
We as parents, have a major role in shaping future adults who are confident without being arrogant and cooperative and peace-loving without being fearful, aggressive and conflicting – plus all the degrees in between.
We can infect them with our negative prejudices or encourage them to be open, reasoning adults who will think for themselves and make up their own mind what is best for them and the general good in any given new situation.
Key to producing caring, reliable children who will turn into adults that respect others and the planet, as well as themselves, is “time”.
The amount of time, quality time, we give our children is vital to how they self-define their value as a person.
If as a parent you don’t spend positive quality time talking, listening, playing, interacting and demonstrating love for your children, they in turn, especially when small, will learn that they are not worth your time spent on those things – and by extension not worth much as a human being (that’s how children think).
And children that grow up to be adults that believe they are not worth much will either become very insecure or compensate by becoming overly aggressive (to one degree or another).
Following on from a worldwide survey they conducted in 2009, the market research company FK&Y, on behalf of furniture giant IKEA (probably commissioned for commercial reasons), ran an updated one in 2014 to determine both adult and child attitudes to “play”.
The Play Report 2015 pointed out that “play” is really important for learning about life. “It fuels development. Makes us more creative, stronger and more active. It teaches us to work together and care about each other. It sparks curiosity”.
The report goes on to say that, “Play is a state of mind. A way of finding fun in everything you do – especially those normal, everyday activities that are such a big part of our lives at home”.
The 2015 report interviewed 29,199 people from 12 countries on the continents of America, Europe and Asia, including the states of Russia, China, India and South Korea.
Of the 29,199 interviewed, 16,174 were adults, 6,235 were children aged 7 – 12 and 6,790 were 13 – 18 years old.
The most striking things from the survey were that overall 51% of children said that they would like to “spend more time with their parents” and 71% of parents felt their home should be “a place of fun and play”, yet 49% of parents admitted they “did not spend enough time playing with their children” and felt guilty about it.
51% of 7 – 12 year olds reported that their parents “always seem to be in a rush” and 41% of 13-18 year olds.
Interestingly, it is now emerging countries like India, China and South Korea where parents say most that they “do not have enough time to play with their children”. In India it was 60% of those parents interviewed, whereas in the Netherlands it comes down to 33%.
(The Netherlands has also been recognised by the UN as one of the best countries for children to grow up in, more families eating and sharing activities together than anywhere else.)
Other research shows that parents actually spend more time physically with their children now, than they did in the 1970’s when many of today’s parents were born. That’s possibly because back then we as children spent more time playing outside with friends than many parents would allow, for security reasons, now.
However, it is “quality time” that is missing. Entire families sitting around a table in a restaurant all playing separately with their smartphones is not an uncommon sight.
In other households a reaction to digital overload has provoked a ban in using all mobiles for an hour or so each evening so the whole family can interact more effectively, humanly and face to face. The choices are ours to make.
Nor is the attraction of digital devices all pervasive.
No less than 80% of children covered by the Play Report said they preferred playing with friends rather than watching TV (19%) or using the Internet (17%) and 51% said they would like to spend more time with their parents, as previously mentioned.
Though as parents we often want out children to change their behaviour, our children unsurprisingly want the same from us. The top 10 changes that children want their parents to make are as follows:
1. To come home earlier from work.
2. To spend time outdoors together.
3. To join in playing with toys.
4. To play video games together.
5. To play board games as a family.
6. To find time to read together.
7. To cook and bake together.
8. To help them with homework.
9. To watch TV as a family.
10. And to set time aside just to talk.
If we take on the responsibility of being a parent, is that too much to ask, especially given the consequences of not responding to these requests? I don’t think so. And I am horribly aware of the stresses of having to work to earn money to make ends meet. Too often life does not seem fair.
31% of parents in the Play Report said that when they do play with their children they are too stressed to enjoy it, while others admitted that they are bored – which says a lot about the quality of that relationship.
Conversely, children obviously find play therapeutic, nearly 50% of 7 -12 year olds saying that when they play they do not worry about things. Clearly a lesson for us all there.
The Play Report emphasises that play is important too for our children’s physical, social and cognitive development.
If it is also good for relaxation and stronger, more fulfilling relationships both now and in the future – perhaps more fun and play should be on all our agendas.
I therefore suggest that “More Fun, Play and Quality Family Time” should be our top resolution for 2016! (And if you haven’t got family, then with good friends.)
It sounds a lot less difficult than losing weight and more healthily compulsive in a good way that will benefit the whole family in the short term and eventually, with luck, the rest of the planet in the long term.
Peter Clifford 6th January 2016
My thanks to Ikea’s Play Report 2015 for providing resources for this article.