Posts Tagged law

Abused women and children – too close to home

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After going through some of the most recent media coverage on rape and women abuse, I will talk today of what I know from my own experience or from other ladies. Following accounts which went through court, as well as statistics on women abuse, real life stories come as raw scraps of this gruesome reality many live through, are scared of and even too terrified to do anything about it.

Growing up in a family where no such abuse was present, I might have been inclined to thinks it doesn’t happen too often. But then, while a teenager, I was told by older girls to always stick with a group if I go to the local disco, to avoid the risk of being dragged somewhere and forced to have sex by older boys. A very good friend of mine in my High School years was raped when she was 14. Another Romanian lady I know left her house and lived in a shelter, while she filed for divorce from a drunken abusive husband who’d threatened to kill her.
And then there were the rumors whispered at corners about young girls being touched in inappropriate ways by older men. I heard them occasionally while growing up, and I can confess that I am no stranger to such an unpleasant experience.

Possibly one of the most disturbing such accounts I have overheard growing up was about a girl in our village, never knew whom exactly. A neighbour, an older man, apparently held her in his arms so she could reach and grab an apple from his tree. While doing this, though, apparently he started to touch her vagina through her panties. The girl wore a skirt. He must have done it long enough for her to wet herself, get scared and go home crying as she did not understand what was happening to her. She was of an age when urinating in her underwear was considered embarrassing.
Now I can say I was never intimately touched against my will by anybody so far. Well, that is if you take out that summer day, at 13, when I came back to my grandparents flat from the city and a foreign guy, seemingly a student (or of that age) followed me after I got off the bus and started to touch my breasts on the street, in full daylight. I cannot remember how I reacted on that occasion, my memories are completely blanked from that point on.

But I can say I was once kissed in the train by an elderly man at a younger age, and that a distant relative, then in his twenties, undressed and touched my bottom, then tried to persuade me to let him teach me how to French kiss. I did not allow him, so he gave up and left.
On the train I was with my grandad and my brother, whom both just went to the toilet at the end of the carriage. The elderly, seemingly a very nice person, having played with both of us earlier on the journey, caressed my calf and asked me if I liked playing like that. Then, shortly, he asked if he could kiss me. I took it as a sign of affection from an older person, and agreed. He then pressed his lips against mine and tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. Puzzled by all this, I left and stayed on the carriage hallway with my family. Not much later, when we got off the train, I started to realise what just happened and rage grew inside of me. However, I did not mention anything to my grandad or back home as I felt I was stupid, I should have known better and should not have allowed that horrible old man touch me in any way.

The male relative asked me, before leaving, not to tell anybody about our “game”, it was our secret. Unlucky for him, I was a very talkative and intelligent child, so right away as my mum got home from the neighbours’, I told her. He was never allowed to come again to our house or be in touch with me in any way. Possibly my parents did not report it as in communist Romania of the 80s the case would not have been taken too seriously.

I was 7, if I remember correctly, when the subject of the “secret game” suggested by the man in his twenties. My father was at home, but busy in the garden, I was playing in the lounge with the telly on, and the aggressor was sitting on the sofa, where he managed to drag me as well for a short while.
On the train, I was 8. Fact is I realised what had just happened because in my foggy memory laid that bit of “instruction” about French kissing using your tongue. Otherwise, I might have been confused, but oblivious to the fact I was being sexually kissed.

While in High School, I felt the floor breaking with the heaviness of the news just being dropped on me. My friend was telling me she’d just been raped, by a stranger. She, 14, went to meet her then first boyfriend, a few years older. Actually, I think he was at least 18. She did not see him in the pub where he was meant to be and asked around, so a benevolent stranger, possibly even older than 20, offered to show her to her boyfriend’s. She followed and was lured inside a house where the door was locked behind, and she was raped with a knife at her throat and the threat he’d bring another 5 young men if she didn’t submit to it.
True, my friend did not fight. She was too afraid, not necessarily of the knife used to assault her, but of being then beaten up and punished by her father, then an alcoholic. So there was no bruising or any other evidence she had been raped. When I encouraged her to however go with me and ask for advice personally from one of our neighbours, a policeman, in his off work time, she agreed. First, she was deterred by being told that, considering her age, her parents would have to know. Then, without physical evidence or witnesses on her side, unfortunately there wasn’t much to be done. At most, the man would be accused of sex with an underaged girl, but her parents would have to be present in any investigation.
She gave up on doing anything about it. Our neighbour, the policeman, said he felt like giving a good beating to the rapist himself, but that would not help, in the end.

Most of these stories I know closely have one element in common: the perpetrators were not strangers, but in fact people the victims knew. I am thinking of the lady who went to stay in a shelter, and I do not know how long the abuse was going on in her house. Did she wait for years so their child could grow up and go to University before she did anything decisively? All I know was the husband did not abuse the child. She did not give me much more detail and I did not press on to find out.
I am thinking of my friend who did not proceed with reporting it to the police because she was afraid of her father.

From information I have read last year in Glamour , statistics in the UK show as well that most women are raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know: friend, family member, husband, boyfriend, neighbour. It only makes abuse so much uglier and scaring. Being treated like an object of violent sexuality against your will by somebody you trusted can leave your life in pieces never to be picked up again completely.

At the same time, British media reported on how it has been suggested that a person accused of rape would need to show they had the consent of their sexual partner. It does make sense. True, on one to one accounts, without physical evidence or any witness, a new regulations like this introduced in the law would not make much difference. However, it could make the case if somebody was deliberately given alcohol or drugs so that they could not object later to whatever was done to them. And this would be a
step forward.

A small step, which would leave a lot of work to be done: acknowledgement, awareness, education, solidarity. Still a long way to go to make this world better for women and, unfortunately, even children.

 

 

 

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The year of the Water Snake, Romanians and the floods

On the last day of the Chinese year recently ended, I woke up with such a good vibe. I could almost feel it flow in my veins and everything ran smoothly that day. Then, sometimes during the first day of this Chinese year, which was 1st of February, I realised it. Please let me share with you this revelation extracted from the ancient Far East pot of wisdom.
From 10th of February 2013 to the 31st of January the Water Snake dominated the year Chinese astrology. And I don’t know of you realise this, BUT… apparently, according to information from the news (heard it on the radio), it has been the wettest year in records at least for Hampshire and Dorset. Also, don’t you see how popular the word “flood” has become during this year? Mainly associated with Romanians and Bulgarians, but doesn’t this make us think what if astrology actually works? It’s almost as if the crappy side of the British media and politics, as well as many people buying into it, were hypnotised by the power of the snake and their minds have been beamed with a flow of cosmic energy making them obsessed with “floods, floods, floods, floods”.
Sorry, I’m not trying to hypnotise you myself.

Now, ancient cosmic theories aside, should I feel like a drop in an ocean of Romanians flooding Britain to the brim? I highly doubt it. And I find it quite unlikely that many of the people back in my home country would “invade” the shores of the UK from now on, as there is actually not much reason for them to do so.

(Photo: In London for the first time, March 2011)

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  For starters, I would refer to myself and my family. Apart from my two cousins who live in         Germany since 1991, as their mother was a German ethnic and as such granted the   right to        move there even when Romanians still needed a visa to cross the borders into Western Europe, I am the only one who decided to go abroad. As much as I fought the idea of one day settling in another country, it has finally happened. And to think years ago, when I was studying on a scholarship in Denmark (2000) or when an Au Pair in the US (2003-2004), it never even crossed my mind to stay there. On the contrary, I completely rejected the idea.

It’s not that my brother and sister-in-law wouldn’t even consider moving abroad. It’s just that they really have what they need back in Romania. Ok, we’re not talking of a bright financial situation, jobs paid at a Western European rate, or anything like this. But they do have jobs, they have a family, they have friends and maybe even prospects of working on a small private business. They’ve got debts as well, but manageable.
 I can’t see my brother deciding to go and live thousands of kilometres away from our parents, from the place we grew up in. Not to say that he also stays with our grandmother, helping her at the same time (she’s over 80 now), and helping my parents renovate the house for when they’ll move in when my dad becomes a pensioner, in couple of years from now.

That is one particular case, of course, of me and my family back in Romania. But from my own experience I can say that it’s unlikely that much more Romanians would come to work in the UK. The evidence I have about this might be anecdotal, but it makes sense as well, it’s much more logical than the obsessive political speech of UKIP leaders “they will flood, they will scrounge, they will plunder and pillage” (yes, apparently some people’s speeches haven’t evolved much since the Middle Ages).
First, the British public is mostly uninformed. I guess it wasn’t serving the political agenda to give the whole information and not mislead them. On my surfing through comments over articles I have seen numerous time people who had no idea on the reality of Romanians rights to settle and work in the UK since 2007. When saying I myself am a Romanian working and living here, I was asked how do I do this if it was illegal for me until 2014. People clearly didn’t know and some of them still don’t. Only yesterday I’ve read the same commentator on Huffington Post stating twice that Romanians needed visas in the 2007-2014 period of time.

The reality is that Romanians who wanted to come and work in the UK had a lot more opportunities to do so than the public knows. First, they could be self-employed, and this was not so difficult to do in industries like construction. Yes, it was recommended that they came with some money upon them to buy tools and a van, but sometimes all it took was another fellow countryman who would have these available and would offer somebody else the opportunity to come and work with them. When I first came to the UK, I was hosted by some friends of my partner’s, whom he used to work with in construction back in Bucharest for years.
Then people could come here through different job agencies based in Romania. Many of the ones enrolled at the same college as me for a qualification in Health and Social Care did just that. Paying such an agency was a bit of a rip off, and sometimes they wouldn’t really do much for you. This path implied people having money to pay the agency (around £600), pay for an overpriced plane ticket offered by the same agency (around £200 one way at least), pay to enrol college (£500), have between £600-£1000 to deposit in the bank needed in order to apply for a work permit and then have money on them so they could rent a room while studying and waiting to be able to get a job. That’s quite an investment, isn’t it? I just skipped the agency part, fortunately, going straight to college, and being helped by friends to start with.

So there was also the path I took. Get the information, go join college, study every day for a month, then qualify through a work placement. It was quite easy for somebody who had the guts, had some support and was ready to go and work even in other parts of the country, other than London. Work placement was also essential for studying, that is why when joining college all of us applied for a Yellow Card, which was giving us the right to work as students, full time in the industry as an essential part of the vocational training. And in Health and Social Care it is, one needs work related experience to get the qualification.
When I finished the daily training in London, ready for distance studying now, I went to the students’ welfare person at the college and asked him to help me with work placement. My English was really good, I was a driver, I had a good CV, so I got a job in less than a month and moved to the South, where I still live today. After one year of legally working and paying taxes, I could apply for a Blue Card, which was the proof I was by law entitled to work without restrictions in the UK. I am pretty sure most of the British public don’t have a clue about these laws, as most of the employers didn’t either, unless they sometimes worked with such colleges when in desperate need to fill in some job vacancies nobody seemed keen on.

Now when I got my job here and I moved in the area I was greeted by a Romanian co-worker. He came to the UK with his then girlfriend, now wife, the same way as I did. We all support people with learning disabilities either in a residential setting, or supported living, as employees of a big company working nationally, with a few homes locally open in New Forest. The Romanian who has worked for the longest in these homes has been around for about 5 years. Then there came the couple, then another Romanian lady and me. The last of our nationals came here through an agency and only for temporary work, as he needs to save money to buy a family home back in the country.
The people who have been the longest with the company are all British English. This is for me a good barometer for the fact that they don’t prefer foreign workers over local ones. Also, during the three years I’ve been here there have been more than six British locals employed, more than us, the Romanians who came here over a time span of 7 years.

Knowing all these, it’s so difficult for me to buy into the whole “foreigners steal jobs of British people” thing. The same happens with the other arguments given, that we work for illegal low payment and we live in crammed shared houses. The only ones here (out of the mentioned people) who have quite a bunch of house mates of many different nationalities are me and my partner, and we only do this as we’ve saved for studying further and starting a small business and, after all, we don’t have a family yet.
Also, us the Romanians working for the company have the same hourly payment as all the young British people who were recently hired.

I must say that, not even one year in the field, one of my colleagues went on a maternity leave and at that time, February 2012, it was a nightmare getting somebody else for a job. The manager had to struggle to find somebody, a young local, in the end. For couple of months I’ve done loads of overtime to help cover, but the money came handy as well. Ever since, it has been easier to find locals for the jobs. Only at the end of last year there were many applications for another job vacancy recently open.

The information I have from UKBA, where I had to apply for my work permits, which now are no longer required, and my own experience tell me that indeed there must have been some kind of a cosmic snake playing with people’s minds into making them believe they would be drowned in vast numbers of Romanians.
As I said before on other blogs and discussion boards, a very high percentage of people who wanted to find work in another country already did so. Many of them have moved back to Romania now from Spain and Italy, having saved enough money to buy a house, to start a business, or even live off bank interests on their deposits. Even the ones who never really imagined to do this and used to think of themselves changing our home country (like I did) have ended up in the UK and elsewhere. The ones who stayed either have a situation, family, friends that they don’t want to leave, or don’t have means to do the big leap and get better jobs in Western country.
It’s really difficult to imagine Romanians from deprived regions somehow getting the money to buy plane tickets and live in London or another British city/town until they find a job.  The most poverty stricken of them (I came to hate the phrase because of over-usage in political propaganda) live in the countryside. Still, in their humble homes and worn out clothing, they have a vegetable garden which helps feed themselves and their families, chicken in the yard, a cow in a barn. They have neighbours they can always go over for a shot of rachie or tuica, the national plum brandy, to curse the Romanian government and discuss the hottest topics in the news and in low-quality tv shows. Even the safety of your own poverty in the village you grew up in is better than going to another country where you would be seen as a filthy beggar, thief or benefit scrounger. And with no clear prospects to get a job, who’d want to burrow couple of hundred quid just to fly and risk living on the streets of London, such a big city, where nobody could understand them, nobody would give a rotten penny on them and, on the contrary, they might become subjects to crime and violence?

Now let’s hope that the Water Snake gone, so will the floods. Maybe this Chinese year of the Wooden Horse will bring more action, energy and pro-activeness, that if we believe in cosmic forces beamed over our heads. Astrology or no astrology, it all depends on us, in the end. I am this incurable believer in the capacity humanity has to evolve and control its own destiny in the end.
Wait… wooden horse… are those hordes of foreigners now preparing to take over Britain by ancient means of trickery? Might be, as we’re already here. No need for paranoia though, most of us (over 99%, according to figures offered by the Romanian Ambassador, whom I found to be the most reliable source over 2013) work, pay taxes, contribute, are in the prime of our lives, fit and healthy, skilled and ready to work. Everything which was invested in us back home through education and FREE medical care (I was save numerous times by Romanian doctors, no payment involved, from death by asthma attack or pneumonia or complication due to bronchitis, but since here never once had the flu even) now pays off in British taxes. If anybody is ready to take off their dark glasses of fear they might discover some great people to have a pint with at the local pub or to share some baking, travelling or motoring tips with. 

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