Sunday, 25 August 2013

Open letter to Karen Ingala Smith, NIA

Open letter to Karen Ingala Smith

25 August 2013

Dear Karen

Thank you for your support of Kazuri Minds' project, Women versus The State (UK). This is a platform for women who have been let down by various services, austerity and the privatisation of social services which are now in the hands of brutalist companies, with no concept of a gendered approach. One such example is  Sexual Assault Rape Crisis Centres being run by security company G4S. I hope that Nia, which is a service I respect and admire will encourage your service users to send their stories for a book, which will be launched in the House of Lords early next year. Some stories are also being dramatised for the stage for Women of the World 2014. Kazuri is proud to be part of this women lead revolution harnessing creativity.

Until women are given a voice and gender mainstreaming is the basis for every policy, whether in the public, private or third sector, women will remain outsiders and unjustly affected.

I see you are concerned about a Twitter raucous that took place last night. As the director of Kazuri Homes, I take full responsibility and I apologise unreservedly if any offence was caused. I assure you it was not the intention of the young woman aged 23,  who composed the tweets. I am concerned however, at the level of abuse and tirade of taunts thrown her way. She stood up for someone who was being bullied and trolled. I applaud that. The fact that he is a man is irrelevant.

This was drawn to my attention late last night and this is the first opportunity I have had to look into this.

I have spoken to the member of my team to understand what happened. This is how I understand it.

All day yesterday, Ben Gunn was periodically attacked and (attacked back) by several women who claim to be feminists. Without getting into the details of what was said, the attacks on Ben Gunn became personal and a #murderben hashtag was created.

This is a crime and incitement to murder. Ben makes no secret of his past or that he is on life licence. However that had nothing to do with the work he does for a legal charity which examines miscarriages of justice which caused the dissenting tweets.

Ben is a friend of mine and  a supporter of the company I set up in 2010 as a result of my experiences of being an "offender." I was stigmatised, victimised and retraumatised. It seemed, even long after my prison sentence,  sometimes,  that I would never get beyond being a criminal. It took a lot of love and support from both women and men, to empower me to rebuild a life I valued and didn't want to desicrate.

Part of the ethos of the company is that we provide a judgement free space for people to breathe out and just be.

Some of the women Kazuri has worked have been convicted of violent crimes including murder and sexual violence against children. My personal prejudices have to be put to one side and in order to allow compassion and learning from women whose lives have been shattered by trauma and who may never recover. I have met women who have sexually violated their children and as a woman who was physically and sexually abused as a child, I was often violently sick when I read or heard their stories. It challenges my humanity on a daily basis, to try and hold this judgement free space and I don't pretend to do it all the time or to do it well.

Kazuri is not about judgement or taking sides. We neither condone or accept any form of violence against  women. However, the language used against Ben yesterday was unacceptable.

Name calling, shaming, words like dickhead and prick - have no place in the debate and will not end violence against women. I could only embark on a personal recovery journey by examining what was wrong in me and in the world around me- endemic misogyny and disadvantage against women- to try and change it. I am telling you this because the personal became political.

I was interested to see threats of complaints about the tweets from last night. These were made by men. So, a man doesn't like what an organisation which works with the most vulnerable women in society tweets and threatens to tell its funders. This is patriarchy at its best. The complaint will be reviewed by my board, but isn't this another way to create silos and prevent the empowerment of women, by divide and conquer?

When women like you and Caroline Craido Perez, who do so much for the empowerment of women appear to question why we dare, as an organisation to challenge this potted man hating version of feminism, I ask myself whether a society in which women supporting women can truly exist.

I'm surprised and disappointed by Caroline. She didn't like being trolled on Twitter but she condones it when her friends do it to others because they happen to be men. Given that she has built a considerable platform for herself from her vulnerability and subsequent defiance, I had hoped she would understand when she is being manipulated by agencies which aren't about women's empowerment.  If she now wishes to indulge in and support the Internet bullying of an organisation which  respects the rights of all people then this is her choice. Florence Nightingale must be proud. If Caroline doesn't agree with something, is it her God given right to demean it?

Why is it such a threat to feminists that other women defend someone's right NOT to be demeaned, despised and scorned, just because they are a man.

Planet Cath was abusive to Howard Johnson, a top legal advocate as well as Ben Gunn a former criminal. What the member of my team did was to hold up a mirror to that abuse.  I don't personally condone the use of profanities on social media in the public domain ( which is why my personal Twitter account is locked) but in this instance I understand why it was done.  To shock.  And make Planet Cath consider the impact of her language on others. Language can create worlds and words are spells.  It's the abc of parenting, if you tell a child she is naughty or bad, guaranteed, she will fulfil your prophecy.

Both Mr Johnson and Ben Gunn fell under the tarnished category of "men like you." I will not be an apologist for men in general but there is no such thing as "men like you" and within such narrowness  the dialogue, opportunity for debate and solutions is negated.  All the old prejudices of "feminazis" come flooding back and we are responsible, by not being able to contain our own prejudices against all men, for being the co authors of the hagiography  of the women's movement. Why can't women talk to other women with respect? We don't have to agree with each other.  Would men descend into this type of cat fight on Twitter?

Whatever we think of another person's actions and thoughts, whatever we feel about the gender persecution of women, slamming the door in the face of debate negates the possibility for finding a common space in which women are equal but different.

By being contentious and inflammatory, as Planet Cath is with  Ben and others, who she simply doesn't agree with,  we step into the bleeding  wound and exacerbate the problems.  By allowing a space for debate away from the cartoon of "ranty man hating feminist" we  create a possibility for something different. I know where I'd rather be.

Planet Cath's  debating tactics are questionable. I understand that @planetcath did not create the #murderben  hashtag, and I'm happy to clear up that misunderstanding. Equally clear is that her on line harassment,  libelling men as being rape apologists and woman haters, does serious harm to the vital work of empowering women and the supportive men who stand tall.

There are two sorts of women. There are those women who wallow in self pity and label men as rape apologists, poisoning any effort at dialogue and change. And then there are the others. We recognise the suffering and challenges of women but use this energy to bring about change and empowerment.

Kazuri has taken the issues of women in prison and women in asylum housing straight to the heart of government, with high profile events supported by male MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and Geoffrey Robinson. A recent report on the G4S housing for asylum-seekers has contributed to an inquiry of G4S and Serco provision of housing under the COMPASS contract by Margaret Hodge MP's  public accounts committee and the National Audit Office.  This was with the direct support of Michael Turner QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association. A "man like you."

This outburst leaves me sad, because it perpetuates what most people believe about the feminist movement in Britain. It's ranty and shouty, it's man hating and it eats its young. If there is no room to challenge and grow, it's something that will kill itself.

I am also personally disappointed by Planet Cath because her efforts contributed to exposing that ridiculous fake Hope bakery last year, by 2 silly boys pretending to raise money for vulnerable women to bake cupcakes. They were covered in all the national press because they were at the front of the queue for a new iPhone which they were going to auction to kickstart their seedy venture. By women like Planet Cath and others standing up and facing off this blatant attempt to profit from the misery of women who had gone through domestic violence, we shut down their ambitions.  Women working with women have a much greater impact than when we're trying to tear each other apart. Women attacking other women because they don't agree with them is unacceptable.

I leave you with the wise words of my friend Selma James. Selma told me a long time ago, "avoid anyone who says they are a feminist. It's a label on a tin and we don't ever know what is really inside."

We will be making no further statement on this matter. I have asked for the Tweets which contained profanities or were factually incorrect to be taken down.

Kazuri will not be silenced on issues which matter and will continue to pull up discrepancies in the debates which matter to us. In the same way we hope the women's sector will continue to engage in a positive and challenging manner.

Farah Damji
Kazuri Properties CiC


  1. I don't really understand your comment or what you are trying to say. I have given you the space to put your side of the story but you violate MY respect and trust by saying my post is ridiculous. You are of course entitled to your opinion but your deliberately vexatious, incoherent rant eliminates the possibility or likelihood of constructive debate. At no time have I abused you or been rude to you. Kindly extend the same civility.

    Furthermore,the issue is NOT how many times Ben tweeted you, or the content of those tweets, it's the venom and venting which pours forth when someone dares to challenge the potted feminist polemic.

    If people are going to label men rape apologists and are challenged fir such insults, they deserve to be called on their representations.

    For the record, I have 2 close friends, one an investigative reporter for a Sunday broadsheet and another a leading human rights barrister. Both men were falsely accused of rape. In both cases, the women made up the allegations and eventually admitted it. I watched these 2 men become emotionally, professionally and psychologicaly come undone until the false allegations were retracted.

    Does that make me a rape apologist too?

    I'm not entering into further debate about this. I have aopologised for the misunderstanding about the hash tag. Why don't you ask your friend @zeeblebum to apologise for his appalling threatening behaviour? Reporting someone to their employer and threatening to impact MY company because you don't like their tweets is about as patriarchal as it gets.

    I stand by what is written above. I have nothing further to add. The issue is not Ben Gunn, it's unacceptable behaviour by you and others which quickly becomes bullying and threatening if people refuse to comply with your world view.

  2. I wasn't involved in any of the above but, as both a feminist (regardless of what it says on the tin) and a committed desister, there is dynamic here that is not being respected.

    There is a considerable level of freedom (although gradually becoming less) to how we, as people - not just women, behave when we've never been through the CJS as offenders. I know because I once enjoyed that privilege - there were things I could say without a second thought because there was little or no comeback. These are not words or attitudes I can express anymore, not if I want to be taken seriously and respected. If there is one thing the entire CJS system does, it brings home the message that we have to be responsible for our actions.

    In Farah's position - where she is running an organisation to help women find their way out of the brutal systems we have been subject to - I would have felt the need to post something very similar. We are always under constant observation by the system and anything like the dog's breakfast described above has to be addressed openly. It's got nothing to do with personal opinions or strongly-held beliefs and everything to do with maintaining a service for extremely vulnerable women at a time when all such services are under attack from a deeply cruel and patriarchal system. When women ex-offenders operate our own services in order to meet seriously un-met needs, the pressure on us to be impeccable is so great as to be impossible at times.When we do make mistakes or get into bother, we have to sort it out openly if we are to hold the very hard-won ground we stand upon.

    I make these points not to elicit sympathy but to point out that this dispute is occurring on a very unlevel playing field. The behavioural standards applied to women ex-cons are incredibly high and mean we can't respond in the same way as those who don't experience the same pressures on their own behaviour. We have to be very careful how we reply and, always, we have to stay far away from anything that might be viewed as criminal behaviour. To be an ex-offender in this country means we are NEVER forgiven and a part of society will always be watching us for the recidivism they are certain is there - that becomes a double burden when we are women.

    Shouting and ranting by women ex-offenders is a highly dangerous game that those of us, like Farah and I, cannot indulge in if we want to improve on what few services exist for us. It's tough enough to address these very real problems without having to navigate ranting behaviour from others who don't understand the already existing pressures upon us. This is not meant to disrespect any of the powerful feelings being expressed but it does ask for understanding when we respond in the way we do. We don't enjoy those privileges anymore.

    If there is one thing I am quite certain of, Kazuri Homes does not engage in bullying or threatening behaviour because it daren't - there are too many vulnerable women dependent on their services to risk it. However, we desisters reserve the right to express our opinions regardless of whether others agree or not but we have to do it lawfully.

    We already know the price we pay if we don't.

  3. If you repeatedly ask someone to stop tweeting you and they ignore you, why not just block them? Of course people should respect a request to leave someone alone, but if they don't, there is a remedy.

  4. I don't know if Farah will allow me to respond to Kirsten's question which would be the honourable thing to do, but I did block him, however he was trolling my TImeLine, and then tweeting me. I was receiving emails telling me he had tweeted me, and the contents of the tweets. I have currently asked him to stop 25 times, he's blocked and I've had to lock my twitter profile to stop him reading my TL. He's had conversations with my friends. He has spent the last 3 days ranting about me. Meanwhile I have finished an essay about integrative criminology and started one on prison as an effective form of punishment and rehabilitation. Ask who is trolling and bullying who,