Rapists and murderers

I already put together a Storify detailing the first half hour or so of events today in the House. Basically, PM John Key responded to questions about NZ citizens being held on Christmas Island with repeated accusations that the Labour party is supporting rapists. The Speaker held that this was not offensive and did not need to be withdrawn, because the measurement is not whether one member is offended but whether the House is offended. Apparently, the House is not offended by a member accusing the Opposition of supporting sex crimes. This prompted a large number of Labour and Greens MPs to walk out – according to Nathan Simms (@5WinstonSmith5) this was the biggest walk out since Muldoon claimed that Moyle had been stopped by police while gay cruising. That event took place when homosexuality was still illegal, in 1976.

There are some tweets in there regarding a few of the minor crimes detainees were convicted of; here’s a story with more detail about a couple of cases.

At the end of Question Time everyone came back in and Chris Hipkins filed a motion for a vote of no confidence in Carter as Speaker. Unfortunately, since you have to file a motion, even a single objection is enough to block it, and of course National did not allow the vote to be held.

Ironically enough, after this MP Tracey Martin called for an urgent debate regarding police inaction on a group of teenager boys posting photos of them committing sex acts on drunk and underaged girls (I don’t think I need to get more specific than that), which was also denied. By National. Twitter continued in this vein by listing other reasons Key’s accusations were highly hypocritical – defunding of rape crisis centres, for example, or Kelvin Davis’ own history of fundraising for victims through sponsored charity walks.


Personally, my position is staunchly that even if all 40 Kiwis being held on Christmas island were criminals of the worst sort, it wouldn’t matter. They served their time and have been released from jail. They should not still be held, whether in a Correctional facility (which Christmas Island is not) or a detention centre. It’s an abuse of human rights.

And it’s an abuse that is still even worse than what refugees there are suffering. What I very much hope is that if anything comes of the Kiwis being held there it’s that the media starts to pay more attention to the conditions. It’s not that we haven’t had serious eye witness evidence to these camps before, but the way the media in almost any country focuses so intently on the local connection to any situation (a hundred people die and we pay attention to the one Kiwi who hasn’t lived here in 20 years who was nearby at the time, etc), maybe, just maybe, having Kiwis in these camps will make it more real for people. Because we really have a strong moral obligation to call Australia out on this shit and instead we’re pandering to them – partly because they’re our bigger neighbour, partly because they’re in between us and most refugees. Politics and cowardice.

And then compare John Key’s behaviour to that of the actual Kiwis in question, as reported in the Herald of all places. (There’s an autoplay video there you’ll have to turn off.)

The unrest began with upset refugees asking officials what happened to refugee Fazel Chegeni, whose body was found on Sunday following his escape from the detention centre on Friday. “They just wanted straight-forward answers, and weren’t given straight-forward answers,” Mr Hohua said.

The hated ERT were sent in, he claimed, and jostled with the refugees. Mr Hohua claims that one ERT member challenged one refugee to a “one on one” fight.

“That’s when us 501s [convicted criminals with cancelled visas] got involved,” he said. “You can’t f***ing do that. Who are you? You know. We didn’t get involved, as in, throw any punches, but we made sure that he wasn’t going to touch the refugee, or any of them were going to touch the refugee. Refugees don’t fight. Refugees just yell and scream and argue and get beaten up for it.”

I’m pretty proud of the people who are working in defense of refugees – whether they be NZ citizens with criminal convictions in the camps or people like Kelvin Davis and the ordinary people going to protests and speaking out. It almost makes up for how fucking disappointing the government is.

Pissed off

I am pissed off. And sad, but mostly pissed off, at a lot of things. Like this about no funding being available for counseling for two little girls who saw police kill their uncle. Or this, the Department of Corrections saying that they aren’t going to respond to an OIA request about the treatment of trans women in prisons because they’d have to look at their files and they don’t think it’s a good enough use of their funding. Or the violence that whiteness is constantly inflicting on everyone else because I don’t even know why, we’re too fucked up to deal with our own crap without shitting on everyone and shooting up churches.

Partly that’s all just sort of sitting there simmering in the back of my mind and coming out in something really trivial though. I’m pissed off that I just sat the last exams of my degree, which has had me studying constantly for like three years, no summers off, just two or weeks here and there between semesters, no matter how sick or unstable or insomniac I get, which is a fucking huge achievement, and I don’t even get to be proud because I’m too busy being terrified that now I have to face the job market and the punitive welfare system and the patronising “how to look for jobs” programs they make you take. It sucks because as hard as studying was and as burned out on it as I’ve been getting I kind of wish it wasn’t over. At least with university, it’s predictable. You put in the work. You study. You do your assignments. And you earn your grades. It’s all based on what you put in, pre-defined standards, they even give you marking schedules showing what they expect of you.

But looking for work? Especially the specific kind of work I need, most particularly part time work? There’s no control in it. You have to scour through everywhere to even find places you might fit and then you do whatever you can to impress someone who at the end of the day has a huge stack of applicants to pick through and you just have to hope they decide, on some arbitrary criteria that centres around looking at a couple of pieces of paper and hopefully talking to you for ten minutes or half an hour, that you’re the best there is. It would be like if you enrolled at university and then had to go through all the papers looking for the two or three that let you actually get an A grade and then once you’d signed up for them you had to beat everyone else because there’s only one, and if you didn’t manage to do that you don’t get your degree and everyone has the gall to act as though it’s your personal failing, because there are plenty of As out there if you want them. And it’s not just how people judge you, there’s also the government watching over your shoulder reminding you that if you don’t submit enough assignments they’ll take away the only money you have to live on.

I don’t even actually know if WINZ will let me only look for part time jobs without a medical exemption. You’re supposed to be available for full time work. I’m fairly close to needing to go to the doctor again anyway so I can get it, but what a hassle.

I don’t know. I’m just finding the world to be a very terrible place at the moment. There are too many people who don’t care about anyone else’s quality of life, or even their lives at all. The mental anguish, the torture, the terror, the lives taken violently through murder and colonialism and poverty and disinterest, they don’t even mean anything to society at large. It makes it hard, sometimes, to find the motivation to keep going.

Police show their pride side

For those who aren’t watching Twitter tonight, something has just gone down at Pride in Auckland. This is the first year police have been allowed to march in their uniforms, which some people kind of have an issue with. Queer and trans people do not have a good time in our prison system. Trans women are regularly placed in men’s prisons and they’re often targeted by other prisoners and guards. I’d get into it more, but this post isn’t about that.

What it’s about is three people who went to protest the police presence. One of the three, Emmy, is a Maori trans woman (and a friend of mine, full disclosure. I also know at least one of the other protesters and they are both super solid people). Security and police targeted her when the three jumped a barrier. They broke her arm. A bystander was filming this and was subsequently arrested; when they asked why they were told he was “being a twat”. Then they arrested Emmy too. It took forty five minutes of her screaming in pain from her broken arm before they decided to get her medical attention. As of quarter to nine she’s just arrived at Auckland Hospital with one of her fellow protesters, she’s been given gas but is still in pain.

This is such a fucking joke. Police are allowed to march in Pride like the criminal justice system isn’t fucking toxic to queers of colour every single day. Three people protest – three, this was not exactly a big scary riot – and they go after the Maori trans woman.

To make things even better, @GayNZ’s sole coverage of the event was this:

before carrying on with how pretty and fun everything was. No mention what they were protesting (many of the replies to this tweet seemed to assume they were anti-gay protesters!), no mention that the one detained was a Maori trans woman whose arm was broken.

Like, does everyone even remember that the Hero parade used to be a protest? What is wrong with this picture now where the police are on the inside of the barriers and a trans woman is being beaten up for trying to enter? All queer groups in this country really need to take a hard look at what happened here and think about what they can learn from it and who they should be including in events.

UPDATE 9.30pm: They’re still at the hospital. Emmy’s in a lot of pain and her bone may have snapped. RadioLive has expressed interest in doing a story. Hopefully this gets at least as much publicity as someone vandalising a fucking GayTM, ie a fucking object.

And here’s Stuff’s version of events! “One tweet claimed a transvestite had his arm broken in the incident but this could not be confirmed.” This is not only appalling and offensive, it’s just plain bad journalism. Emmy is not a transvestite and she does not use male pronouns and I have not seen anyone on twitter make this mistake.

10pm: The article has now been corrected after several people contacted the journalist and editor. It now correctly identifies her as a transgender woman, cites multiple people re the broken arm, and has slightly more context on the reason for the protest.

10:30pm: The hospital is being very difficult about pain medication. She is still in huge, huge pain and the staff refuse to give her anything more. They are treating them in quite a hostile manner like they are criminals. On the other hand, Stuff has not only corrected their article but acknowledged the change at the bottom, so credit where due for that.

7am: I’ve just looked through the updates that came in overnight. Here is Justine’s account of what happened. Here is a givealittle to help cover Emmy’s medical and legal costs. X-rays show she is going to need an operation on her arm, it looks like a displaced fracture. Also it now looks like at least two people were prevented from filming. One was grabbed by security who took her phone and threw it on the ground, and the other was the man who was arrested, Nathan Broczek. (If anyone knows how he’s doing, Justine would really like to know!)

11am: Emmy has twittered! She’s still in hospital but it seems she may not need surgery after all. She has a fractured humerus and is still in a lot of pain. Here is what Auckland Pride’s comm person has to say:

Forgetting, of course, that the Hero parade originally wasn’t approved either, and also that protest is still legal (as long as you’re not at sea) and that even if it wasn’t the punishment would probably be a fine, not a fractured humerus. As for “behaving in that manner”, it seems the hostile white cis crowd (some of whom were cheering while Emmy screamed in pain) have been putting out the story that three protesters decided to charge at police, two of them being little tiny people, and one woman claimed she was punched in the chest. Justine says she has video despite the police trying to confiscate it all or break people’s phones.

Boyd-Wilson (TW: Rape Culture)

Don’t get raped.

That’s essentially what the message has been, the last few days. The Boyd-Wilson path is pretty notorious in Wellington and it’s in the news again with two attacks committed there in as many days. The police response has been to tell people to simply not walk there, as though they’re simply ceding that territory to predatory offenders. There’s a lot more that could be done – making sure patrols regularly go past, cutting down the covering trees, installing proper lighting – and in fact those latter two suggestions have been put forward many times… dating back at least nineteen years, according to someone who was targeted there back in 1995.

The problem is that Boyd-Wilson is the best access to a lot of student flats. Some people walk or run there for fun, others do it because they want to go home. Back in the day when I worked Saturday nights at Church Corner and lived in town, if I missed the last bus home I had to walk through Hagley Park, which is at least as notorious in Christchurch as Boyd-Wilson is in Wellington, I’m sure. Once I tried to walk around it and it added somewhere between half an hour and an hour to my trip – and I still ended up on the northern edge. Hagley Park is bigger than Boyd-Wilson, sure, but the principle is the same. It’s a pedestrian thoroughfare where people need to travel and they should be able to do so safely.

Victoria University is responsible for Boyd-Wilson. Their security office (“Campus Care”) can be reached by phone, 04 463 5398, or email, campus-care@vuw.ac.nz. It’s well past time for them to take some action to protect students (and anyone else who uses the area) instead of putting the onus on them to go around it – something which this map shows is more than a minor inconvenience.

Stigma and mental illness

At first I didn’t have words for the story about the Italian woman whose baby was taken by UK social services. Yesterday I was planning things out but back pain took priority. As it turns out I’m glad I waited because there are more pieces out now that fill in some information, including a transcript of the placement hearing. This isn’t because the new information changes my initial reaction, but it does add to it, as do some of the opinions other people have expressed.

The basic facts of the case are: an Italian woman, whose name has been given in Italian media but not English, has a history of bipolar disorder. She has two previous children who are in the custody of her parents due to her illness. She has had medication but taken it sporadically, as people with mental illness often do – once the medication begins to work, you feel better, so you think you don’t need it anymore and stop taking it. Rinse and repeat. This is incidentally another symptom of stigma, as people don’t want to accept that they have to rely on medication long term. Accepting that you’ll be taking mood stabilising drugs for possibly the rest of your life is utterly terrifying. Everywhere you hear people talking about “Oh, I don’t want to take drugs for it” and opinion pieces about over-medicalisation and Big Pharma. It’s a point of shame. At any rate, this woman came to the UK in the first part of 2012, while pregnant to a Senegalese national, and while there suffered a bad episode; part of the new information that’s come out indicates that it was much worse than initially reported, though I’d already gotten the impression that it was fairly bad due to familiarity with mental illness. I’m not someone who hears “panic attack” in correlation with “five weeks in hospital” and imagines she just had a couple of hours of being upset. So, on June 13 of 2012 she was committed to care. On August 23, the Court of Protection issued an order giving permission for a caesarian section to be performed. Later that same day, the Local Authority took the baby daughter into care. This is another of the important points of clarification – it was not social workers who ordered the C-section. It was doctors. However, this may actually be worse, because there is also a long history in the medical profession of racism and sexism and often I think people are willing to criticise social workers when they won’t criticise doctors, because doctors can talk about medical necessity that’s beyond what laymen understand. Doctors are also much more able to act on their patriarchal notions. In the first half of the twentieth century, it wasn’t social workers sterilising the mentally ill who were deemed unsuitable to breed, it was doctors. So far I have not seen any discussion for the reasons given for the C-section, and I hope someone finds the transcript of the session in the Court of Protection, because I’d be interested to know. Quite possibly it was for strictly medical reasons, but right now we have nothing that says one way or the other.

So, at some point after the birth the mother returned to Italy. She was still very unwell at that point but kept telling staff at the hospital she wanted to go home. (She also said she wanted her baby, but apparently she was ok to make one decision and not the other.) The judge in the placement transcript is pretty critical of the doctors letting this happen and also because it seems the doctors’ reports indicated at that point that she was in better health than she was, whereas her doctors in Italy gave a quite different picture. During this period of treatment she realised the seriousness of her condition, that she needed to stay on her medication, and that she could not take care of any of her children if she didn’t. By the time of the placement hearing, which was on February 1 in 2013, she was still on her medication and apparently very stable. The transcript repeatedly emphasises how coherent and clear and even forceful she is at conveying her wishes. At this point the daughter in question was nearly six months old, which is apparently the critical consideration for the judge in the placement hearing.

You see, the expert advice is that a child should be in a stable situation by the time they are nine months old. The mother’s suggestion was that if the courts did not agree that she could take her baby home straight away, which she seemed to accept was likely, she could be placed essentially in the foster system for up to perhaps a year so that the mother could prove she was able to stay on her medication. At this point she was also securely employed and housed, had a medical support system, and was on much better terms with her family. Other possibilities were that the baby’s father could take her (this was deemed a “non-starter” as he was an overstayer in Italy) or in one piece it mentions that a family friend in the USA, who elsewhere is named as a relative, was willing to take her. On the other hand, if she was placed into the UK adoption system, finding a suitable family would be complicated by her unusual racial mix, her parents’ different religious backgrounds, and the fact that there may be a genetic tendency towards mental instability. (Possible, future disability.)

So at this point we’re in a court where a child’s birth mother is in complete control of her faculties, she has a stable situation, a secure income, family support, medical support, oh and also she’s not a citizen of this country and doesn’t plan to live there, and the only connection the child has with this country is that she was born there while her mother was visiting. But because it’s ideal that a baby should have a stable situation by nine months of age, and the mother might, sometime in the future, have a relapse, the judge decides the best course of action is to waive the requirement for parental consent to adoption and place the child, permanently, with a British family who do not share her racial or national background. So this woman, despite being basically in the best place she’s been in quite a number of years, has now had to go through a surgery that she did not consent to (which may have been necessary but was apparently not properly explained to her first by her account, as she says she did not know it was going to happen), and had her child placed for an adoption that she did not consent to (because it wasn’t ideal for the child to be placed in temporary foster care while her mother proved she wasn’t at risk of relapsing again).

Apparently some people, including identified feminists, think this is A-OK now. It wasn’t social workers who ordered the C-section, so everything’s dandy. The bipolar was worse than they assumed from the original phrasing, so the mother shouldn’t get a say in her child’s future. The father’s an undocumented immigrant of colour into Italy, so he’s not capable of taking custody. These things apparently make it all good for British doctors and British courts to perform non-consensual surgery on a foreign woman and place her brown child into permanent care in a country she has no connection with, with a family who don’t share her background. Oh, her mother can visit her, but even in Europe where travel is cheaper that’s still a huge cost, and still crosses national borders,  meaning any number of things could prevent free movement. And if this decision caused or causes her mother to relapse I’m sure that will be held up as proof that it was the right decision, not an unfair decision that had a hugely negative impact on someone who was turning her life around.

I have read a lot of the new information on this case today. I’ve read pieces opposed to what happened, I’ve read pieces in favour, I’ve read the original transcripts. Nothing I’ve read has changed my mind. The fact that mentally ill women can have a foreign country perform surgery on them, take their children into custody and place them into adoption without consent is terrifying and shameful, even if there’s a medical rationalisation, even if she had a breakdown, even if the father is a West African overstayer. No where in the transcript does the possibility of the child being placed into care in Italy come up, either. Why is it better for her to be legally adopted by a British family in the UK than by Italians in Italy? Granted, I don’t know what the foster and adoptive system in Italy is like, but this wasn’t even discussed as a possibility. Why did she need a C-section? Did she have complications, was the best medication too risky to take during pregnancy, did the doctors just think a mentally ill foreign woman shouldn’t have control over a baby? No idea. Even if these questions are answered, they don’t materially change how fucked up this case is from the perspective of people who actually know what it’s like to live with a severe mental illness. I imagine it’s worse for POC, because the racial element shouldn’t be overlooked.

A bad day for New Zealand

Today, the worst of the welfare reforms so far kick in. New groups will be required to start seeking full-time work – sickness beneficiaries, widows and mothers who don’t have children under 14. Anyone failing a drugtest will be booted from the benefit, and anyone with an outstanding warrant will have theirs cut to 50% if they have children and removed entirely if they don’t. This is not just people who’ve committed violent crimes, it is people who’ve been caught with pot or who have outstanding fines. In the logic of the government, if you can’t afford to pay back your fine, the appropriate punishment is to remove your main, and possibly only, source of income. It’s not a debtors prison, but perhaps it’s worse – at least prison feeds you and gives you somewhere to sleep.

At the same time, Auckland is passing a bill to ban begging, and Wellington has started a campaign called “Alternative Giving” to encourage people to instead donate to a group of six charities who are supposed to manage the money beggars would otherwise receive directly. There are a lot of issues with this idea, but I’m only going to write about one of them, which is the practicality on the part of the charities themselves. The thing is, getting money where it needs to go is incredibly complicated, especially if where it needs to go is to help vulnerable people. I can absolutely guarantee you from experience in the sector that the charities do not have contact with everyone in need. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, people fall through the cracks all the time, whether because they don’t know what they qualify for, don’t know where to go, or keep getting passed on to more “appropriate” places. Then there are people who are comfortable begging or performing for money, but not comfortable approaching a charity, which can feel more demeaning and less like actually working for it. Or there are people not comfortable with specific charities, such as the Salvation Army, or people who the charities aren’t comfortable with – some groups which make up a disproportionate number of homeless people risk being turned away completely from Christian organisations, or in more subtle cases the individual person they’re dealing with may deliberately or subconsciously not pass on relevant information. Or they might not know what resources are available for groups they don’t typically deal well with, like transgender people. Or there are no resources available because of the specific confluence of multiple factors (as one example, many women’s shelters don’t allow pets, but leaving pets behind in an abusive household is incredibly dangerous for them and in a lot of cases women are hugely unwilling to leave behind an animal that has likely been a source of emotional support). Not to mention the difficulties in forming or maintaining a relationship with someone who may not have any fixed point of contact. While prepaid phones can be fairly cheap now, not everyone has them, whether it’s due to it still being too expensive, not being comfortable with them, not being able to keep it charged, not physically being able to use them (Deaf, HoH, mute, certain physical conditions that affect the ability to press the buttons, etc), or the risk or possibility of having them stolen. And all of that is before considering the neurological, mental or emotional conditions that contribute to a person’s vulnerability and also make them more difficult to deal with for whatever reason.

Ultimately, we’re creating a situation that simultaneously removes a major source of support from a huge number of people, demands way too much of even more, while also forbidding them from attempting to use alternative channels because they make middle class and well off people uncomfortable. It’s terrifying, even moreso because it’s being framed in terms of how much money it will save. It would save even more to refuse to treat the resulting health problems and just let all of those affected die, but un/fortunately I don’t think the staff in emergency departments would go along with that idea, nor would that compensate for the related rise in crime as people lose legal means of survival.

A relationship in the nature of marriage

So the newest beneficiary bash involves extending legal responsibility for relationship fraud to the partner. So there’s been some discussion of abusive relationships, and in Question Time today Jacinda Ardern (I think?) asked about whether women in abusive relationships would have that taken into account.

In response, we were told that “an abusive relationship is not a relationship in the nature of marriage”.

This is an interesting position to take. There’s no specification of whether this means just for the purposes of this policy or in general, and if the latter, I would be extremely worried. In New Zealand de facto relationships have the same benefits as those who are legally married, for example, and especially regarding divorce and separation, many of the legislations set up were about protecting the partner who has been financially disadvantaged, usually the woman – especially in an abusive relationship. If abusive relationships hold a special category where they’re NOT regarded as similar to a marriage, does that leave grounds for someone to claim they don’t have to pay alimony? Particularly if the victim/survivor does not wish to lay charges, or if the abuse does not involve physical violence (or very little) – though I’m not confident about the government’s willingness to recognise the existence of emotional abuse – it seems like the main thing stopping people from doing this would be the implicit admission of abuse, but in my experience abusers are willing to do all sorts of seemingly self-destructive things purely out of bitterness if their victim finds a way to get away from them.

ETA: Further questions:

Does this mean that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they are allowed to tell WINZ they’re single?
What does this mean for the legal validity of abusive marriages? Does it render a divorce unnecessary?*

*This is clearly in a hypothetical world where an answer in Question Time is an accepted method of law interpretation rather than judges’ decisions.


The #INeedMasculismBecause hashtag is a thing of wonder. Aside from masculism being a ridiculous word, it’s been taken over by sarcastic non-MRAs saying things like “I want to be the first ever male President of this country” and “the lack of a Bechdel test for men is obviously discrimination by feminists” and “feminists keep flaunting their dead and injured when I express my hurt feelings”.

I made one submission before going outside to feed my rabbits, and lo and behold, when I returned I had a reply!

#INeedMasculismBecause I’m too lazy to look up the actual statistics on child custody court cases.

The response was telling me that in the US it’s 70% women, 10% men and 20% split. While I only have the New Zealand statistics to hand, I spent several tweets questioning what those US ones actually measured and giving the NZ ones as a comparison.

See, in New Zealand, of all the custody cases that go to family court, there are three different ways of reaching an outcome. 75% are decided through mediation. 20% are decided by a judge when one parent doesn’t bother showing up. 5% are decided by a judge when both parents do show up. Remember here, first of all, that these only go to court when the two parties can’t decide by themselves, so those 20% who don’t even show up is a pretty significant number who apparently can’t come to an agreement with their ex but once the legal system is involved suddenly don’t give a fuck. That’s eighty percent of the cases that go to a judge.

Of those that go to mediation and are decided on by both parents, 65% go to the mother, 11% to the father, 12% to a third party and 12% shared.

Of those decided by a judge, 19% go to the father, much higher than the 11% when the two parties decide by themselves.

The real kicker though is when you look at the percentage of male applicants and the percentage of female applicants who are awarded custody. That is, the person who brings the case to court because they want more than their ex-partner wants to give them. Of all female applicants, 69% are awarded custody. Sound like a lot? You might be surprised, then, to find that of all male applicants, 65% are awarded custody, nearly the same amount. (I suspect from the context that this is only a measure of sole custody, not shared, but could be wrong.)

According to these statistics, the argument that judges award custody to women willy-nilly despite the father’s earnest yearning to be with his kids is bullshit. Judges are much more likely to award the father custody than fathers are themselves in agreements between partners. If they don’t, there’s probably a reason – the children don’t want to live with the father, the father is not fit to be a parent, the father is constantly at work, the father has never once had a hand in their care before.

So it seems this argument in support of institutionalised misandry has a pretty simple solution. If you want custody, ask for it.

When government fails

Some months back, a seasonal Victorian firefighter was injured on the job. He suffered serious internal injuries and burns, bad enough that he was admitted to intensive care and had to spend months in rehabilitation. Then he was told that he would not be re-hired for the next summer. He was offered a week’s pay in settlement on the proviso that he not speak publically about the whole thing.

Money ran out and the ex-firefighter, Joe Brown, his partner Ben and their two cats became homeless. While the Fire Service claimed they were providing support, Joe says that he only ever had one meeting with Parks Victoria, that they underpaid him, and that he had been cleared to work by a doctor. He hasn’t been able to find work, and after losing their home it became a struggle just to keep up with living costs.

Here’s where Joe and Ben got lucky. Twitter user @Jamus_ set up a curation account in the style of @sweden, @PeopleofNZ and @WeAreAustralia, specifically to feature the homeless population of Melbourne. First Joe and then Ben each spent a week using the account to share their story. It helps that in many ways they fit into the model of the “deserving poor”, an ideal that has an extremely long history. Their situation was not of their own doing. Joe had held a frontline job in an extremely highly regarded profession, and was injured in the pursuit of that work. Neither of them have drug or alcohol problems or mental illness (with the exception of Joe’s likely PTSD, which he’s said is an effect largely of how he was treated while in recovery rather than the accident itself). They’re literate and well-spoken. In short, their problems couldn’t be attributed to any moral failing on their count – and if this could happen to a firefighter, a noble protector of the people in a country where fire is a seriously big deal, it could happen to anyone.

While tweeting from the account, Joe and Ben found an estate agent who’d let a flat to them. All they had to do was come up with the $600 bond. They went to Victoria’s DHS and it seemed they’d be able to get the money from them. However, the next week they were told that Joe had an outstanding $450 debt dating from 2004, and until it was repayed they wouldn’t be able to get any help. Joe says he’d repaid it, and even if he hadn’t they hadn’t heard anything about it in the nine years since, but short of getting the decision reviewed there wasn’t much they could do. There was an hour left on the deadline to raise the bond.

In New Zealand the banks were already closed for the day, and none of them would process a payment in less than a day anyway. I offered to repay anyone in Melbourne who’d be able to put up the bond money, but an hour ticked by with no response. It was too short notice.

Today, though, everything fell into place. The agent was still trying to find out if Joe and Ben would be able to pay, and now more people were becoming aware of the situation – even @Asher_Wolf, a well-established Australian activist, was tweeting about it. While I was still researching the best and fastest way to get money out of New Zealand on Waitangi Day, the internet was stirring, and shortly after I decided on Western Union Joe tweeted that someone had donated the $450 needed to clear the debt with the DHS. I still don’t know everyone who donated, but I know there have also been offers of further help and the word put out to source things like furniture and manchester. One person even said that when they got a fridge they’d be receiving a lemon meringue pie. They don’t have the power on yet, or cleaning products, but they have some money for food and are discussing renting a van to pick up the furniture they’re able to get through donations (whether directing or using donated money). With a home base they’re now much more employable, as well as under much less stress, not having to spend so much on nightly accommodation or sleep in their car, able to get out of the heat during the day and generally just in a much healthier environment.

This is a fantastic outcome. There is absolutely no questioning that. It does raise questions, though, of what makes one person’s crisis go viral when another’s doesn’t. It’s a question that applies on multiple scales, right up to human rights abuses and genocides. There is simply so much suffering in the world that we will never hear about all of it, and the processes that make certain narratives make it into the wider consciousness while others fade away with barely a murmur are somewhat less than transparent.

That is why we can’t rely on charity to form a social safety net. Charity has always been plagued by “morality”, particularly in the name of religion, which can be a very toxic kind of help – or, in some cases, refused outright on the basis of who is asking for that help. LGBT people (like Joe and Ben and I) are especially vulnerable to this. That’s where government should come in. And that’s where austerity fails. Victoria is fighting that oh-so-familiar battle against “bloat” in the public service – cutting public employee numbers by 4200, something that perhaps contributed to the decision not to re-hire a contract employee who’d been injured, no matter what the doctors said. Welfare is stretched thin and no longer nearly as generous as it once was.* For every Joe Brown there are countless more who aren’t as lucky, and it’s highly probable that we’ll never know their names.

*A disclaimer here that I’m far more well-versed in the history of welfare in New Zealand than in Victoria, or Australia in general.

This is the real story on mental health

Every time a white man commits mass murder, we see the inevitable: mental illness blasted into the headlines, debates about mental health provisions, discussions about how to solve a problem that, largely, doesn’t actually exist.

This isn’t to say that better access to mental healthcare isn’t needed, because it definitely is. But not as the solution to the frequency of mass murders. Taylor and Gunn (1999) finds that: “There was little fluctuation in numbers of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide over the 38 years studied, and a 3% annual decline in their contribution to the official statistics.” I’ll just say that again to be clear: 3% annual decline in the proportion of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide. This is over a period of time that began when the mentally ill were regularly institutionalised rather than in the community, and granted it was a study in England and Wales where there is much less access to guns, but that increased access to guns applies to everyone. So does legislation like “stand your ground” laws, which you’d have a hard time convincing me are mostly invoked by the mentally ill. There may be an argument that normalising mental illness would provide an outlet for those people who are not mentally ill but who are driven to extremes for other reasons, but that’s not the argument anyone seems to be having.

On the contrary I’m sure everyone has heard the line that people with a mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. But do you know to what extent? Coz it’s pretty appalling. Teplin et al (2005) found that more than a quarter of people with a severe mental illness had been a victim of violent crime in the past year (discounting murder, as the participants in the study were still alive). Depending on the crime they were anywhere from 6 to 23 times more likely than the general population to have been a victim. That’s a lot. Twice as likely would be a lot. Twenty three times more likely is a HELL of a lot. And that’s not covering murder, which is a huge problem for people with disabilities, including mental illness, and which is often treated as less serious than the murder of a healthy person with otherwise similar characteristics. It’s labeled as a mercy killing, justifiable because they were a burden, a cause of stress, with a life that was probably miserable anyway.

Or they were killed by police. Police killings are generally vehemently defended as well, and (this one isn’t a proper study, sorry), in the US in 2012 through to the end of September about 1 in 8 police killings involved a victim who was mentally ill or in severe mental distress. (I’ll also note that this examination seems to include things like autism, which aren’t really mental illnesses but could be mistaken for them by some people in some circumstances.) Of the 428 police killings according to available reports (and bearing in mind that these are vastly under-reported), 30 victims had been the subject of a 911 call because they were suicidal. Why are the police being sent, armed and ill-prepared, to calls for help for someone who’s suicidal? Fuck if I know.

Really there are two problems here. One is the stigmatisation of mental illness and the funding cuts that go hand in hand with it – it’s easy to cut services for someone who’s regarded as less than everyone else. The other is the way the media operates, relying on ratings and hits and page views to generate revenue. Which is one of the reasons public service tv channels are so important, incidentally, because they’re not centered around the pursuit of profits. That, however, is a sideline. The creation and packaging of spectacle is the thing that needs to be re-examined, because to some degree the media is itself responsible for many of the problems in our society. (Just look at the Cunliffe “coup”, which largely consisted of him being a bit impolitic in response to being repeatedly asked the same question, over and over.) It also ensures that you’ll never see the real story – honestly, just read the entirety of that last link for some examples – because the real story doesn’t sell well.

The sad thing is that so many people profess to know this. And yet, still, every time a white man commits a mass murder, they bring up mental health.