Friday, 28 March 2014

Pornography - Harmless Fun?

We read about the seven and eight year old girls locked in cages and being raped 20 or more times each day and our hearts weep.  It is inconceivable and horrific that such injustices exist in our world today.  We think of the young girls we know, perhaps our daughters or our sisters, and we shift uncomfortably in our seats.  This has to stop, we think to ourselves.  We might even begin to fundraise for an abolitionist charity or raise awareness about trafficking.

And yet, if we are buying or watching pornography either secretly or publicly, we are feeding the demand for this very industry that causes our hearts to break. 
This beautiful girl we met in Kolkata was around
9 years old and lived on the streets, making her
highly vulnerable to being trafficked.
Harmless?  Just a bit of fun?  Not affecting anyone else?
Now is the time to open your eyes and see the truth.
The truth is that viewing porn creates an addiction which trains your brain to expect more each time.  This distorts the way you think about sex and you begin to crave more violent or explicit experiences. 
Porn creates an ‘on demand’ consumer culture for sex which leads to sexual experiences being bought (and sold) regardless of the consequences.
The word ‘pornography’ comes from two Greek words meaning ‘prostituted woman’ and ‘writings’.  “But I’d never have sex with a prostitute” you protest.  If you’ve viewed porn, you already have.  It’s not glamorous, it’s not normal and it’s not acceptable.
Many women and children are trafficked for the purposes of making pornography.  Next time you click that button, imagine this girl is your sister or your daughter who has been kidnapped, brutally raped, probably drugged and definitely held against her will.  Your raging appetite may be silenced.
In a piece of research done by the WHISPER Oral History Project* 80% of prostitution survivors reported that their customers showed them pornography to illustrate the kinds of sexual acts they wanted for their money.  52% of these women said that their pimps used pornography to teach them what was expected of them.  This report was published 30 years ago before the age of the internet, smartphones and wifi.  How much more is pornography feeding this industry today?
Porn is deceitful, degrading and highly damaging.  So, the next time the lustful thirst for sordid sex comes knocking at your door, think about keeping that door firmly closed.  When your sons are old enough, teach them how to treat women respectfully and expose them to the dangers of porn so the next generation doesn’t sneer at the consequences.
We can do more to abolish trafficking this way than any other. 
It’s in your hands.

 *(A facilitator's guide to Prostitution: a matter of violence against women, 1990, WHISPER - Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt Minneapolis, MN)



Friday, 21 March 2014

The day I sobbed over a dying worm....

....was the day I realised I couldn't live a normal life anymore.

I'm not even joking.  The injustices I saw on our trip to India scarred my heart so deeply that everything has changed.  The last two weeks have been spent in a blur of spontaneously erupting tears which were sometimes quite embarrassing.  The rawness of the wound meant that it was easily hurt again (even by a dying worm, baking in the sunshine of our garden - it really was that bad).

The pain and frustration is finally beginning to fade in it's intensity (thank goodness - I don't think my sister could cope with another 'Rock Choir' rehearsal where the song is so emotive that I struggle to hold myself together!) and I am beginning to make sense of all I have seen and heard.

William Wilberforce, the slavery abolitionist of the 1800's famously said this: 

"You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know."

I can't look the other way anymore.  I've seen with my own eyes utterly desperate lives.  I've met the prisoners to a system of evil injustice.  I've watched as a mother washes her children's clothes in a dirty puddle while I sit wearing clothes washed by someone else.  I've chomped my way through delicious mouth-melting chocolate knowing that a young boy has been beaten and taken as a slave to pick the cocoa beans.  I've tucked up my boys into their soft, comfortable beds and kissed the, goodnight knowing that somewhere else under the same stars there are children with no bed, no kiss goodnight and no safety or protection from violence.  I've seen them.  I've met them.  I've loved them.

There's no going back from here now.  

And so over the next few blogs I am going to give you all a view into this world too because I don't want anyone to say they did not know.  

And then you can make your choice as to whether you look away or not.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Picture the scene.  Your son is days away from his tenth birthday.   Double figures at last!  What a milestone!  You've been busy planning the celebrations for weeks and he can't sleep for excitement.  All he knows is that he will have to complete a series of challenges - and ten year old boys love nothing better than a challenge!  Everything is in place for a perfect birthday.

When he wakes up (far too early, of course) on his birthday morning, shaking with excitement, you swear at him.  Not just the odd 'not too bad' swear word either.  In fact, your whole speech is littered with foul language.  He's not sure what to think, but as you're the Dad he goes along with it.

"Come on then!" You shout to him as you prepare to begin the celebrations. "Get in the *%$* car!"

Armed with guns (real ones, not the nerf variety anymore), you set off on the birthday adventure!  First stop?  The local dealer.

No, not the antiques dealer.  You pass a spliff to your son and you both inhale deeply.  Today you're going to need some extra oomph.  First challenge complete.

It doesn't matter that you're now feeling a bit high, you drive off anyway.  Your son takes all his direction from you, and follows your every move.

The second challenge looks exciting!  Flashing lights decorate the doorway and your son wonders where you've brought him to.  Is it a shop that sells Christmas decorations?  Entering the strip-club, you are shown to a room.  Your son sits down with you as two women walk in, clothed only in G-strings, to perform a special birthday dance.  If he wants to touch the women, he is very welcome to.  He follows your lead as you drool and eat up the women's bodies with your eyes.  Second challenge complete.

Your son is a little bewildered.  He's not sure if these were quite the birthday challenges he'd had in mind.  But maybe this is what it means to be a real man.  And he really wants to be a grown up man.

Leaving the strip-club through the back door, you pass a man and a woman in the yard being filmed.  Completely naked, there is nothing left to your imagination.  And your son wonders why they are shouting.  Third challenge complete.

As you climb back in the car, a van screeches round the corner.  There's no time for seatbelts.  You put your foot down on the accelerator and give your son a gun to shoot out the window at the chasing van.  He shoots, several times, and the van veers into the side of the road - a crumpled, bloody mess.  He wonders why the van was following them, but has no time to ask questions.  He trusts you, his dad, to guide him.  You're proud.  Fourth challenge complete.

You park up outside a block of seemingly empty flats.  Your son wonders when he might have his birthday cake, but there's no time as you leap up the stairs to the very top.  He follows you, unquestioningly.  In a deserted room, you find a man tied to a chair.  In this last challenge, your son must extract information from this man in whatever way he can.  He electrocutes him, pulls out teeth and fingernails and waterboards him.  Each time he looks to you for approval, you nod your head and smile at him.  He's just being a boy, right?  Eventually, exhausted and in agony, the man in the chair gives up the desired information.  Challenge five complete.

Driving home after a day of birthday celebrations your son is confused.  What happened to the games and the party bags?  Where were his friends?  Shrugging his shoulders he accepts the fact that if his Dad thinks this was a great way to celebrate a birthday, then it must be ok.

Feeling a little uncomfortable reading this?  Wondering if this Dad should be reported to Social Services?  All these scenes, and more graphic ones I couldn't bring myself to write about, are straight from Grand Theft Auto 5 which is bought for and played by ten year olds and even younger.  If it makes for uncomfortable reading, then it surely must make for uncomfortable playing and viewing.

Dads, you have an enormous responsibility.  Your sons look to you.  They watch what you view on screens, what you read, what you laugh at and the way you treat women.  Whether you like it or not, you are their role models.  You are the ones who have this unique and privileged opportunity to guide the next generation of boys and show them how to be real, compassionate, loving, strong men. 

Please make your opportunity count.  Or we will all have to face the consequences.

(NB - I am very aware that not all video games have such a profound negative effect.  I am simply writing about an 18-rated game that is freely bought (by parents) for such young children who are not in any way old enough to cope with the content.)

Monday, 10 March 2014

Did you have a 'good time'?

If you have asked me this question in the last week you may well been rewarded with a confused face and a non-committal answer.

The short answer?

 I have never been so proud of my boys since becoming a mother 12 1/2 years ago. 

I watched them embrace change like professionals. 

I saw them roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to the middle of lives so far removed from their own.

I saw the love of Jesus being displayed in my own children.

I never knew they were capable of such fierce, practical compassion.

I didn't realise they would throw their hearts open wide with such abandonment to people they never even knew existed before.

I saw the adventurous spirit we have worked hard to deposit in them becoming a reality. 

We laughed, a lot. 

We were in it together, and it brought us closer with shared memories. 

We saw prayers answered - impossible ones too. 

It was truly an incredible walk on water for our whole family.

The long answer?

Faced with the intensity of raw poverty and injustice that isn't even hidden, my heart has been so ripped to shreds that I have no idea how to piece it back together again.  And even if I manage to, it won't ever be the same shape again. 

Common scenes like this one, where pedestrians walk past a tiny little girl fast asleep on the street, haunt my waking hours and my dreams at night.  Stray dogs and stray people litter the streets - treated with the same indifference. 

No value, no love and no hope. 

What will become of this little girl, so cherished by her Maker yet so ignored by society?

What will happen to the family who live in a car-boot liner outside the gate of our guesthouse?  No home to speak of, yet wide smiles for us as we gave them our pizza.

What will happen to the delightfully bright street-girls to whom I taught English?  Who will protect them from being sold into prostitution?  Some as young as eight....

Who will love the unlovely?

Who will bring justice for those who face violence every day?

How can we turn the other way now we have seen with our own eyes?

And so, rather than having answers, I am faced with yet more questions.  Questions which burn at my already inflamed heart and for which I have no reply.  Ferocious questions which punch me in the stomach and leave me gasping for breath.  Unrelenting questions which produce tears from a deep well inside me I didn't know was there.  Questions which I can't even begin to put into words.

So, if you ask me if I had a 'good time' and are baffled by my answer.  So am I. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Dear Mr Gove

Dear Mr Gove,

During their half term week, their two days of unauthorised absence and their five days of 'difficult to authorise but ok then we'll do it' absence my three boys have been on a learning curve of a lifetime.

A trip to New Delhi and Kolkata in India has taught them more than they could ever have learnt during a week trapped in the prison of the classroom becoming robots to pass exams.

We've compiled a list for you, just in case you thought that classrooms were the only environment in which children can learn.

1. Science.  Having never flown on an aeroplane before (no, we are not in the habit of taking them to exotic places during term time) they were extremely interested in the workings of the aeroplane, the levels of oxygen at different altitudes and the engineering which went into making a heavy metal object fly so high in the air without falling.

2. Maths.  Oh yes, maths can be learnt without sitting down!  Having fun haggling in the markets in a different currency forced them to think quickly.  Mental maths at its finest!  And one particular child who struggled with telling the time has learnt how to not only work out different time zones but also can now tell the time at home too.  

3. Geography.  Well, this goes without saying.  Exploring the plants and animals in a completely different country was fascinating.  Geckos, chipmunks, parakeets and all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures were discovered.  

As soon as we left the airport and they saw the signs that said 'No spitting', the realisation hit them that other people live very different lives to us.  

The cultural exposure was life-changing as they helped at a school for street children, caring for their physical needs as well as teaching them Maths and English.  The students became the masters and they loved it.  

4. Language.  There's no substitute for being immersed in a foreign language in order to learn it.  All three of them learnt and used Hindi.  No boring lists of verbs and adverbs here.  It was real, alive and exciting.  Body language was also a challenge as they discovered that not everyone nods their heads in order to say 'yes'.  

5. PSCHE. This is the biggie, Mr Gove.  Children can't learn about personal, social, citizenship and health tied to a chair and a desk.  They need to see and serve those around them.  

Everyone knows about 'Delhi Belly'.  My boys finally (and to my enormous relief) learnt that personal hygeine is vital.  Instead of waving at the tap before mealtimes, they actually washed their hands with soap because they knew that if they didn't they'd be sick.  

They grew in a confidence I have never witnessed in them before.  To quote my nine year old "I'm braver than I thought!" They met new people, tried new foods, embraced change like true Indians and unlocked new capabilities that were hidden beneath the layers of textbooks and spelling tests.

Safety.  My three boys are extremely adventurous and safety is not something they usually prize - rather the opposite actually.  But visiting a crowded city full of danger, they learnt that being safe is important.  Crossing roads with seemingly no traffic rules brought a new meaning to 'road safety' too.

Serving those who live with injustice, poverty and degradation, they learnt to love the supposed 'unlovely'.  Society gives no value to the street children, but my boys helped to bathe them, feed them, dress them, teach them and they played with them as though it was the most normal thing in the world.  The lessons they learnt on that day with children who live such different lives to themselves will stay treasured in their hearts for the rest of their lives.

6. English.  You wouldn't believe it, Mr Gove, but my boys actually hold a passionate hate for writing.  They've been put off, you see.  Packing notebooks for them to record their adventures, I wasn't convinced they would ever be used.  But used they were.  I have never seen them write so much!  Opening their eyes to a whole wide world inspired them to write, and write, and write!  Sometimes I had to force them to stop - a new experience for me.

And so, Mr Gove, I hope I have managed to show you the benefits in the education for children who might be forced to have 'unauthorised absence' on their school record.  Education is so important, but if is a choice between sticking like superglue to your narrowly focused rules and stifling classrooms or giving my children the opportunity to have their eyes opened to the world around them and learn lessons of a lifetime, I'll take the latter.  Every time.

More than sincerely yours,

Helen Hodgson