2011 - %3, February

More Tips for Kicking Ass Before Yours Gets Grabbed…Or Worse

| Fri Feb. 25, 2011 4:00 AM EST

So you're lying on the floor with your eyes closed, and all of a sudden a guy pins your arms to your side. When your eyes flash open and you start to struggle, he holds you tighter and barks, "Behave!" You do, because you haven't figured out what else to do, and because he's put all his weight on top of you and put his nose to yours. His fingers are tight around your wrists and he's crushing your chest, and you go completely limp.

This non-response response is called Going To Zero. It can be a self-defense strategy if you use it to plan your next move, a fake out. But in this particular case you have just been paralyzed by the awfulness of what's happening and his breath on your face. "You thought you were tough, didn't you?" he coos. "But look at you now with your weak, hot ass."

It's the second eight-hour day of my full-force personal-safety course, an emotional- and physical-self-defense primer on deescalating unwanted advances and surviving a sexual assault. We've come to the So You Are In The Incredibly Unfortunate Position Of Being On Your Back And About To Get Raped module. Here's how to snap out of Going to Zero: Wait for your assailant to start strangling you so you can grab your elbows above your head and then clamp down, trapping his forearms against your chest hard enough to knock the wind out of yourself but long enough to roll him off, walk your way up his body, then kick him in the face. Or wait for him to pull your pants all the way down to your ankles so you can kick him in the face. Pretty much all your options lead to a dirty ground fight in which you'll have to free your legs from his grasp with a move called "pistoning" so that you can land enough heels on his (in this case, elaborately padded and protected) head to knock him out.

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Beware the "Dirty Handshake"

| Thu Feb. 24, 2011 5:12 PM EST

When she heard I might soon be headed for a conflict zone in Central Africa, MoJo digital media mistress Laura McClure stopped by my desk to offer some advice. She lived in West Africa for years when she was in the Peace Corps and has traveled widely on the continent, and thought I could use some tips on comporting myself. From her email of what not to do so no one "interprets [my] normal American actions as sexual invitations":

  • No clothes above the knee, no tight shirts. Long skirts and sleeved, collared shirts best.
  • Don't be out after the sun goes down.
  • Women may hold your hand, men never should.
  • Never hug or kiss a man there. Shaking hands ok, but you risk the "dirty handshake." Remind me to show you this so you can avoid it. [This turns out to be the basic tickle-the-other-person's-palm-with-one-finger move we Catholic school kids always used to pull on each other during the peace shake during Mass.]
  • Never invite any man into a hotel room, or let him invite you into a hotel room. Never, basically, be alone in a room with a man in any context.
  • Limit drinking to your hotel bar, or in the company of women. Most assaults on foreigners in that area involve alcohol.

It all sounds "totally draconian, I'm sure," McClure said, "but the gender rules are very Victorian there." Well, you have to do whatever it takes to help defend against the sexual threats and assault that so plague lady-reporters. Adopting culture-specific decorum is of course far from a guaranteed safe time, but you cross your fingers that working within those boundaries will help. Some of the suggestions have the added bonus of being better for your health, anyway.

  • Don't smoke, unless you're in your hotel bar or alone in your hotel room. Otherwise they'll think you're a prostitute. Seriously.

Why Won't the UN Do Anything About Libya?

| Thu Feb. 24, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Whether you believe the body count of the Libyan government (300), the Italian government (1,000), a French doctor-witness (2,000), or a member of the International Criminal Court (10,000), one thing remains undisputed: terrible, terrible things are happening in Libya.

Yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a statement condemning the violence, saying that "Those responsible for brutally shedding the blood of innocents must be punished."

Those are pretty strong words. But what they are not is a resolution. If you're thinking that the UN is theoretically supposed to actually do the punishing the secretary general is referring to, you would be correct: In 2005, its member nations agreed to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which stipulates that if a government starts slaughtering its own people the UN is responsible for taking "timely and decisive" action. I've blathered at length about cases where the UN has failed to do this, but the Guardian's Carne Ross puts it fantastically in regards to Libya:

What is happening in Libya is the true test of such declarations, and it is for every UN member, including the UK and US, in their positions as permanent members of the council, to declare loud and clear—and now—that this principle must be respected, and if it is not, that consequences will follow.

A possible UN resolution could say that if dictator Muammar Qaddafi doesn't stop the slaughter, the international community will freeze his regime's assets, resort to sanctions, or even force. It must be really hard, though, to get something like that together; with all the states involved and China and Russia predictably pulling the old "we shouldn't interfere with other people's business, especially people who sell oil" card, it certainly takes a super long time to pass a resolution. Right, Ross?

I spent four and a half years negotiating resolutions on the Middle East at the UN Security Council. When it wishes, the council can make decisions in hours. We agreed a resolution condemning the 9/11 attacks in less than an hour, the morning after the attacks took place.

Alright, well, there's that. When it comes to the lack of meaningful UN action on Libya, it's not disorganization, or excessive bureaucracy to blame—just a healthy dose of sacklessness.

What Journalism Might Learn from the Lara Logan Story

| Tue Feb. 15, 2011 10:08 PM EST

On Tuesday CBS released the horrifying news that correspondent Lara Logan "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" while on assignment in Egypt last week. First: Mad props to Logan for so bravely going public, and our thoughts are, insistently, with her. Second: Let us in the face of this high-profile tragedy acknowledge, finally, that too many journalists have suffered similar horrors.

For many journalists sexual assault is, as Ann Friedman puts it at Feministing, "a risk that comes with the job." (That's why I've gotten up at six in the morning the last couple weekends in a row to drag my ass to a dojo to drill through attack simulations.) But as Judith Matloff, who worked as a foreign correspondent for two decades and teaches a course at Columbia University on journalist safety, explained to me a couple of months ago, there are "no sections on sexual harassment and assault in the leading handbooks on journalistic safety, by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists." In a 2007 article, Matloff argued that sexual assault of female correspondents is all but ignored in the industry. Sometimes, it's even made light of, as when NYU Center on Law and Security fellow (and MoJo contributing writer) Nir Rosen completely lost his mind today and forgot that "joking" about rape falls into the category of NOT EVER FUNNY. (Update: Rosen has since resigned from his fellowship.)

This afternoon, I asked the Committee to Protect Journalists (an organization that does great work, hence its winning last month's Sidney Award for outstanding journalism) why its safety handbook ignores the issue of sexual assault. (It contains, for example, tips for other important but probably less common problems, like keeping your spirits up while you're hiding in a basement from Sierra Leonean rebels who want to kill you.) The response from CPJ's communications director was encouraging:

The CPJ Journalist Safety Guide was published in 2002. I am not aware of what the discussions were at the time regarding a section on sexual harassment and assault, but we could look into this. Nonetheless, the guide is undergoing a broad revision and the new edition is due to be published towards the end of this year. It will include a section on sexual assault and we will work with reporters globally (the handbook will be available in different languages as the current one is) to promote implementation of these safety measures.

It's about damn time. Hopefully that inclusion and today's headlines will lead to a broader push by the Fourth Estate to protect correspondents against assault. Because that's its obvious responsibility. And because it will protect, too, the crucial stories—including those about sexual violence—that reporters are dispatched to cover.

Two Unsettling Conversations About Upcoming Assignments

| Tue Feb. 15, 2011 4:47 PM EST

"You're gonna wanna have a car and driver. It's not that safe."

"We're going to have to figure out where we could possibly interview people. We're seeing them disappear on a regular basis, the ones who have the courage to talk about it."

Looks like I'm probably headed out of town again in early April. This trip is going to be even more sensitive than most, and if I were having any doubt about that, two preparatory conversations I just had with sources made it crystal clear.

Tips for Dick-Kicking

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 6:00 PM EST

Something perhaps obvious but still unexpected that I learned this week: Kneeing somebody in the balls as hard as you can 47 times makes your thigh sore. But it's important to do it as repeatedly as possible. The more you practice it, the easier it—and asking someone not to get in your face and sounding like you mean it, and dropping someone to the floor with an elbow across his jaw—gets.

There are six physiological responses to crisis: flight, fight, freeze, collapse, disassociate, hypervigilance. Freezing is incredibly common. It is, in fact, the reason the "full-force" personal safety course I started on Sunday was invented. Its founder is a black belt in karate who was stunned to find, one horrible day, that when it came down to it, she couldn't defend herself against being beat up and raped. She was an expert at fighting—in theory. All the highly skilled kicking and chopping she'd done had been in controlled spars, not under the influence of survival adrenaline, which can overwhelm cognitive function. The 13 women between the ages of 20 and 60 who were at the Oakland dojo with me either have had a similar paralysis or anticipate they might if something bad went down. They enrolled in this Impact Bay Area training because they want to practice deescalating threatening situations and, in case that doesn't work, fighting a way out of violent ones. They came because they want to feel safer in general or have a better chance next time. Or because, let's say, they went to Haiti for a reporting assignment and disassociated while watching a recent rape victim have a screaming meltdown and/or froze while being dangerously harassed, then came home and were diagnosed with PTSD and couldn't get out of bed for kind of a long time, and are addressing their own and their editors' preference that they have more on-the-ground crisis-coping tools before soon being dispatched to the rape capital of Africa.

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Hanging with the Robber Barons of Haiti

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 7:00 AM EST

For a guy who feels he needs to be armed at absolutely all times, Mike says he's feeling "perfect" surprisingly often. Like this morning, when he picks me up in a cushy silver truck from my Port-au-Prince hotel, early on a muggy Saturday: "How are you doing?" "Perfect." And there are two extra ammunition clips on the cup holder between us and a loaded .45 in the driver's-side door. "You never know," he says, smiling, when I express skepticism that all this is really necessary; we are just going to the beach. "I wished I'd had extra ammunition when we were firing and firing a few weeks ago." The half-Haitian, half-Puerto Rican, American-born 34-year-old stops smiling and shakes his head slightly when he says, "You don't know what it takes to do what I do."Mike's Texaco station in Martissant.: Photos by Mark MurrmanMike's Texaco station in Martissant. Photos by Mark Murrman

Well-Spent Dollars in Afghanistan

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 12:00 PM EST

I had a really patriotic experience while reading one of the stories from our current issue that just went live on the site. It's about a tough Afghan prosecutor, Maria Bashir, who's trying to protect the rights of her countrywomen even though that means she needs more protection than anyone. A few pages (print-version-wise) in, this little piece made me super proud to be an American:

In a city where the council of clerics has issued a fatwa against women leaving the home without an appropriate male escort, [Bashir] began to feel alone and exposed. She requested around-the-clock security, but the government refused. She asked for a bulletproof car and was denied. Then, in 1997, her house was bombed.

Now, as she leaves her office, Bashir's clicking heels keep pace with the rolling gait of four armed guards—hired by the American government, not her own.

U! S! A! I was so overcome with pride in American power, which doesn't come so easy to war-haters in wartime, that I actually choked up a little. I have a similar experience when I watch the part in The Saint when Elisabeth Shue is running away from evil Russians and hurtles herself toward the American Embassy guards yelling "I'm an American! Open the gates! Open the gates I'm an American!" and then they do and then she's safe in the arms of corn-fed soldiers and anti-communism.

You should read the article. It's heartbreaking, but somehow simultaneously hopeful.

Priorities! Or, Malawi's Flatulence Law

| Wed Feb. 2, 2011 8:48 PM EST

I don't know how I missed this, but it's really important, so in case you did too: The Malawian government has proposed a bill that would criminalize passing gas in public. The new local courts established to prosecute such impolite infractions would also arraign challengers of duels and insulters of women's modesty.

For those keeping track: Still legal in Malawi? Making immigrant detainees stand for 16 hours a day in overcrowded prisons.

 

 

UN Memo: Just in Case Haiti Blows Up...

| Tue Feb. 1, 2011 8:31 PM EST

In December, when electoral officials announced the results of Haiti's presidential election, people rioted. Following much outcry and many accusations of fraud on the part of President Rene Preval's party, an Organization of American States panel conducted an investigation. The OAS panel recommended election officials drop Preval's handpicked and deeply unpopular candidate, Jude Célestin, from the upcoming runoff ticket; election officials said they may or may not. So, now you're up to speed on why the UN, which has a huge peacekeeping force in Haiti, is worried about what's going to happen tomorrow when election officials finally announce which candidates are advancing to the next round. Check out the memo the UN sent to its in-country staff, below. 

To all UN personnel,

SITUATION: The announcement of the result of the presidential elections is expected to take place on Wednesday, 2nd February 2011. This may impact on the security situation in Haiti and on UN staff and operations.

MOVEMENT RESTRICTION: In case the security situation deteriorates a 'Restrictions of Movement' may be put in place, which will only allow a few essential movements. Staff members will be not allowed to travel to the beaches or to other leisure locations.

PREPARATIONS

Critical Staff: All designated 'Critical Staff' may be requested to stay in the office for several days without having the opportunity to travel to their residence starting morning of the 2nd February.

Therefore, all Critical Staff is requested to make preparations to have their 15Kg Emergency Bag with sufficient supplies, sleeping bag, change of clothing and toiletries at hand.

International and National staff: Those staff members that are NOT determined 'Critical Staff' may be requested to stay at their residence until further notice.  Staff members must ensure that they have adequate supplies (food, water, and gas, medications) to last for one week at least.

Vehicles: Ensure that vehicles are in good order & fully fuelled and the radio is working. All UN vehicles, especially during the night, have to be parked in secured compounds.

COMMUNICATION: Radios must be monitored at all times.