Saturday, 22 September 2012

Open Letter to the Press Complains Commission

Feather Mews
89 Fieldgate Street
London E1 1DH

September 22 2012

ref Crowdfuelled and recent press coverage


I write somewhat disturbed at the level of inaccuracy and lack of responsible reporting concering Crowdfuelled, a so called social enterprise start up which appear to have come from nowhere but launched themselves at the head of the queue for the new iPhone 5  which was released in London last week. The plan, allegedly, was to sell their seats to the highest bidder and give the money to a bakery for  abused women, in order to provide training and some sort of  safe space for women "to reflect on how they got themselves there" presumably having chosen to be raped , battered and demeaned.

The story of these 2 photgenic young men, 23 and 30, Richard Wheatcroft and George Young was soon picked up by the media and pieces followed in the Evening Standard. The article by Lindsay Watling  in the Evening Standard which can still be seen here states
It reads:

"He said: “It will offer woman employment, training from a top chef and help build their self-confidence by being around good male role models.
“I want it to be a safe, positive, friendly working environment for them.”
Business partner Mr Horne, 23, added: “This is just part of the funding process – we are going to try to get match funding. Hopefully we will get a lot of support, but at the very least we are raising awareness.”
As well as flogging the seats, people can donate to the cause and those who do will be rewarded with a free cake once the bakery is up and running.
It will begin as a pop-up enterprise, but longer-term the pair will be looking for a permanent site which will be staffed by different charities each day of the week."

However there is no determination of how any of this will happen or what track record these men have working with vulnerable women. Indeed the article reads as an endorsement of something already  almost up and running. Sadly this is not the case at all and Wheatcroft and Young had not spoken to a single women's charity, although they promised they would  provide names of same when pressed, nothing has been forthcoming. A journalist bears the responsibility to check how far something is tangible, maybe speaking to supporters and partners might have been a way to measure whether Crowdfuelled were the best thing since sliced bread with their women's bakery and not  accept that because it is stated, that it is fact, which was so far from the truth in this case. 

Photo from 20/9/12

The Daily Mail states on 14 September 2012 in an article written by Mark Prigg,

George Horne and Richard Wheatcroft hope to use their place at the head of the queue to raise awareness for their charity 'The Hope Boutique Bakery' that helps vulnerable women find employment and training.
Quite clearly this gives the impression that the Hope Boutique bakery is already up and running, not that it is still unestablished, and in fact, when questioned Crowdfuelled admitted it would not be a static building but a "pop up" in various London  markets. So very soothing and therapeutic then,.  Why did the journalist not do any kind of background checking on whether the bakery existed or not? This is not journalism, this is fairy tales.
Daily Mail journalist Mark Prigg did not bother to check the facts printed. The Hope Boutique Bakery does not exist, the traning and employment pathways for these women do not exist and this is all a piece of PR, on the backs of women who have already suffered trauma and pain. 
 The online news site Huffington Post  carries a piece by contributor by Cllr Stephen Canning
Stephen Canning appears to be rewriting  from a press release. The same blurb, this is all for a good cause, it is about raising the profile for women who have been abused. But the T shirts and all the sponsorship around this was to do with a mobile app platform, which was meant to  collate bids for the seats at the front of the queue for iPhones.

These 2 young men  guys , George Young and Richard Wheatcroft were not doing anything for abused or battered women and in fact it has all been a huge publicity stunt (failed) on the back of women who have already suffered trauma and violence to raise their own profile and  that of the company which was meant to get the auction bids to sell their places in the queue for an iPhone.

They were also featured on the BBC and I will write separately about that once I have located a link to the piece. 

 Where is The Daily Mail,  The Huffington Post, The Evening Standard,  the BBC's editorial integrity in this matter? Did any one bother to check  which charities they were working with or whether the Hope Boutique Bakery actually exists? We need to address the systemic mysogeny which exists and which allows un-facts such as these, to pass without muster and become newsworthy thus detracting from the real story which is that every single women's shelter in the UK faces closure because of funding cuts and the real story of domestic violence. .

The violence against women agenda is an important one and while this Government struggles to find viable solutions, and continues to make cuts to existing providers with proven success in tackling the issues,  and take risks with  new untried ones in cost efficiency measures, safeguarding  must be put in place. The press have  a responsibility to represent the truth and the facts not reproduce glossy press releases.  

Wheatcroft and Young have absolutely no understanding of violence against women, I assure you we do not chose it. Women  who suffer don't "choose" to put themselves in vulnerable situations.

 From their own website, their Hope Boutique bakery which doesn't quite exist , "will be a place where they can earn a living and find an alternative to what they might have been doing in the past which caused them to get to the vulnerable state."

Survivors of DV don't get themselves into a vulnerable state, the system in which we live allows perpetrators to operate and exploit women, much the way these  two  have, and this  is where we need to look at alternatives and consequences when misunderstanding and intentions are allowed to converge and create chaos and danger.  When pressed, Crowdfuelled were unable to provide any names of any charities they were working with , any business model , any training or employment pathways, or indeed any safeguarding measures for these "vulnerable women" for whom they were claiming to fundraise.

The Huffington Post has a good international reputation for reporting the news fairly and with accuracy. This is a piece of puffery about Soqquini, as can clearly be seen from the branding on the t shirts below and had nothing to do with violence against women. People like this are very harmful to the whole ending violence against women sector and actually do a lot of damage by diverting funds (they claim to have raised over 2k pounds on their site), yet not a penny was raised for vulnerable women.

The Sooqini T shirts have been professionally designed and printed, the board claiming theor cause looks like an afterthought on a whiteboard, quite literally.

With the words domestic violence being bandied about like this season's black, we simply ask that you write to the papers and specifically the journalists concerned and ask that  they check their facts more efficiently and offer retractions and indeed apologies to  the millions of women in the UK who have sufered any form of abuse and do not deserve to be treated like this, as if some half brained idea about baking cupcakes is going to heal the deep inner wounds and will have the great curing effect promised.

I write with the support of the following, but I also write in my on capacity as a survivor of domestic  violence and currenmtly on the front line of providing housing and tenancy support services to  women who have suffered trauma.

We look forward to hearing from you and are grateful for your investigation into this matter.

Yours sincerely

Farah Damji

Friday, 21 September 2012

Crowd Fooled and perpetrators

Battered women and domestic abuse are really sexy, right now,  so sexy in fact that Home Secretary Theresa May is even finally paying attention and has widened the definition of domestic  violence to include honour killings, forced marriages, financial exclusion , power players,  etc.

Two young men Richard Wheatcroft and George Horne, are allegedly employed and promoting their charity from up north of Camden somewhere (Leicester?) and they  are camping outside the Apple store in line for the new iPhone 5 or whatever ( I am not interested in gadgets, they bore me and tend to make my life  more complicated). They  wanted to sell their seats  at the front of the queue to the highest bidder to secure the first iPhone sold in London and raise the awareness of their crowd funding campaign to create a  boutique bakery (couture cupcakes?)  to train up vulnerable women and survivors of abuse.  Do people really do this stuff? Is it people who have nothing else to do who want to sleep outside in the street and feel virtuous about it?  Fuck's sake, give your Sealey posturepedic sprung divan to a homeless person who lives on the street and give up your gap year delusions of thinking you are the best thing since sliced bread. 

Not surprising really that people are coming up with all sorts of innovative ways to grease the wheels of enterprise (nothing wrong with that at all) and try and raise the profile of the plight of these vulnerable  women. However, throughout the course of yesterday evening I watched their definition of vulnerable women change from prostitutes, to homeless women, to women who had experienced DV and  I realized the lack of any gendered analysis of the problem and the way that all abused women were being thrown into one murky female  fish pond to be plucked out and rescued at random, by putting them  in some sort of baking finishing school where they could come in for a chat and a cupcake, was not only demeaning it  had the potential to be extremely damaging.     At one point they tweeted about how they were helping raise the profile of women who had been raped and I wondered if they had downed some MDMA on that long line on Regent Street.  Poor poppets, out in the cold, surely mummy would be bringing a flask of Horlicks soon and relieve us of the torture...sadly not.

Someone asked me why they shouldn't be allowed to tweet about rape and what about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech has nothing to do with this. Protecting vulnerable women and not allowing traumatic experiences of rape to be commercialised,  are more important than someone's right to tweet to allegedly raise the profile of  a very sensitive subject which opens wounds in scores of women.  As a survivor of rape and someone who deals regularly with women who are trying to get over the lifelong emotional trauma inflicted by rape, I find it disgusting that they can take this issue and  spin it for some muddled and damaging PR.  It made me physically ill last night. 

I was  sent the link to them on twitter, the scourge of modern living and I asked the person who manages our social media for the company at which I am director and where we procure decent homes   primarily for vulnerable women leaving prison, on license or existing gang violence, refuges and supported housing to find out  some more and we exchanged a few benign tweets with @crowdfuelled , two  photogenic young white boys. I am not being racist, I am making an observation. However, realistically,  your chances of suffering DV in the UK are substantially higher  if you are a black or ethnic minority woman than if you are a young white guy. I believe services around domestic violence and indeed any kind of trauma inflicted on women should be designed, deployed and delivered by WOMEN. Of course men can be champions of a cause and without men, (where the power inequality lies and is furthered), we won't get too far. No rocket science there then. When asked about their business model, a bakery, to offer training and "become a top chef" and safeguarding policy, they went  quiet and huffy.

By now, my back was up and the hairs on my arms were prickling with alarm and I decided to look into this myself a little more closely. They claimed to be a charity, then they changed that to be a social enterprise. they claimed to have a building in London for their Hope Boutique Bakery (yukk, I know) and then it was going to be  a pop up in various London markets run by different charities. Had they formed partnerships with any charities? Had they even spoken to anyone? I contacted some of the well known refuges we work with and Eaves and of course NO ONE had heard of them and no one knew anything about them.  The website content has   been changed  today to reflect the New Truth.

They have no discernible links to any womens orgs. They are behaving like perpetrators,   violence against women is not just  physical, it's also financial, sexual, emotional, through exploitation,  and to me the prospect of all sorts of abuse  through this completely ill thought out PR stunt had the potential to manifest. What if they said they were raising money  for starving kids in Africa but didn't know what country / what charity / NGO or who  would benefit from their fundraising? Why  is this ok, now that there is money being thrown at the EVAW sector  to come in and say and "do" these intangible "ideas" when there is no chance of  longevity or success? Why do we tolerate it as women? If it was starving African Kids, you'd have Trading Standards and possibly the fraud squad all over them.I know if I did it , I would be writing to you from Holloway Prison right now.

Two young men, with no understanding of the deeper issues around violence against women and its systemic and inherent  nature and how it is established in all our institutions and furthered by women who should know better. What do  they think,  these little boys and their little camping expedition for an iPhone on the back of abused women. And who are these abused women Crowdfuelled claim to be helping, are they prostitutes, women who have suffered violence or  abused women? This isn't one huge pool of damaged women to fish in, the treatment of the symptoms, the psychosocial interventions and resettlement and recovery needs of each  group, and also of each woman, is completely different. But hey, check out one of those forecasting almanacs and cupcaked and DV are right up there.

Start ups are great, the buzz around and from getting loads of publicity is also great, I've been there and know it well and am asked almost weekly to  be profiled or do something to raise the plight of women who have suffered violence or resettled  as ex offenders successfully. I don't do it,  because I have to check my own agenda against the greater one, which is about confronting situations like Crowdfuelled, against the instant hit of publicity, when photo ops or eager journalists approach me.  All the research says that services lead by women for women, designed and deployed by and for women are much more successful than those run by men allegedly for women. There is a huge risk of abuse being heaped on these women AGAIN by male lead services. There is no gendered analysis in  the way a man will design a service for a woman and there is little understanding of the longstanding and far reaching effects of multiple exclusion and trauma specifically faced by women. To me, these guys are frankly scary amateurs with the potential to do a lot of harm.

I have been working on a report with Imran Khan (human rights lawyer), Flo Krause ( leading female criminal defence barrister)  and Julia Gibby (Senior research fellow at Kings College London) in response to the Justice Committee's call for evidence into women in the criminal justice system. Stats show that 87% of women who have been to prison have suffered some sort of violence or been abused. Our report reflects on the lack of provision for women who have suffered trauma and violence  who end up in prison, and asks for systemic change in the way services are designed and delivered in order that they suit women's needs, not men's needs to superimpose their will on women.

I have 3 simple questions fro the founders of Crowd Fooled:
What is their training model? How will they recruit?
What kind of safeguarding has been put in place  to protect their female staff and service users?
What is their referral route? No charities I spoke to today (we work with most of the refuges and shelters across London) had ever heard of them.

And where is my locus standi in this? As an ex offender who had to put up with shitty services run by men and was almost raped in one of them, I have  a personal issue with male perpetrators fronting as something else. Poppetiesques,  I noticed you changed your website and took away all the guff about the bakery, so what is it then? A great idea or a PR stunt?

And if you want to support a crowdfunding venture, please support  this  and you're most welcome to come and check out what we do.