End Bullying: Being a Superhero in Real Life (IRL)

Dr. Janina Scarlet- Pop Culture Hero Coalition and Brandon Routh – DC Legends of Tomorrow

In 2008, a Yale University study established a causal link between suicide and bullying. Their research concluded that bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. Current research states one in five students reported being bullied, but the research also concludes a large percentage of victims do not make a report at all. A movement is underway to help improve peer-to-peer supports by using pop culture and comic book fictional characters to help kids and adults identify how they can be impactful in real life.

After WonderCon 2017, I was able to interview Dr. Janina Scarlet about her appearance on the End Bullying: Being a Superhero IRL panel with “Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Legends of Tomorrow), Anne Wheaton, Dr. Janina Scarlet (author, Superhero Therapy), Dr. Andrea Letamendi (Under the Mask Online, The Arkham Sessions), Matt Langdon (Hero Round Table), a rep from Amnesty International, and welcoming back NOH8 Founders Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley. Moderated by Chase Masterson (Star Trek, Doctor Who: Big Finish)”.

Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, full-time geek, and a member of the Pop Culture Hero Coalition. She is a Ukrainian-born refugee who survived the Chernobyl radiation and persecution. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her family and later, inspired by the X-Men, developed Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Janina has written multiple publications on this topic and has given talks both domestically and internationally on her book, “Superhero Therapy” released on December 1, 2016, in the U.K. and on August 1, 2017, in the U.S.

SWH: How did the End-Bullying: Be a Superhero IRL (In Real Life) campaign come about?

The Coalition started a few years ago when a woman named Carrie Goldman, an anti bullying advocate, wrote a post about her daughter, Katie, who was bullied for liking Star Wars.

Chase Masterson, an actress and an anti bullying advocate, who was already working with Home Boy (largest program for gang intervention) reached out to Carrie, along with Jenna Busch (the creator of Legion of Leia), demanding justice for Katie. The response was incredible. Katie was receiving support from all over the world, including Lucas films. Over time, Chase Masterson and Carrie Goldman joined forces along with other members to use pop culture icons to prevent and reduce bullying, misogyny, and inequality of any kind, as well as to promote acceptance and understanding. Chase was able to bring the Coalition to San Diego Comic Con, becoming the first ever Coalition to be present at a comic con, and then joined forces with United Nations.

SWH: How does the incorporation of superheroes in addressing anti-bullying resonate with kids?

Many kids (and adults) identify with fictional characters, such as superheroes and want to be more like them. The Coalition serves as an educational system of how people can support themselves during adverse events, as well as how to recognize and stand up for others in such situations by using superhero role models.

SWH: What is the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, and how can people support it?

We are a non-profit organization, which uses pop culture characters to help people overcome bullying, discrimination, and other forms of adversity. One of the best ways people can support us is to spread the word about our organization and to donate: http://www.popculturehero.org so that we can continue to bring our programs and interventions to places where they are needed the most.

SWH: What resources do you recommend for those struggling with being bullied or to help a bully who wants to reform?

I recommend the book Bullied by Carrie Goldman, which is “a highly-researched guide on responding to bullying, social conflict, and peer victimization”. There is also the Boys Town National Hotline, a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential hotline staffed by specially trained counselors. Teens, parents, and others can get help with bullying, abuse, anger, depression, school issues and more. They can be reached by dialing 1-800-448-3000.

Additionally, the Teen Line is a teen-to-teen helpline with listeners trained to handle suicide, depression, LGBTQ, sex, and much more. No problem is too big or small. Open 6PM-10pm PST nightly at 310-855-4673. However, the Crisis Text Line is free, 2/47, confidential text line available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Text “START” to 741-741.

What Michael Flynn’s Resignation Says About the Trump Administration

U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned this week amid growing concerns over the ties between the Trump administration and Russian officials.

In a statement released today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee said, “Michael Flynn’s resignation is a long overdue acknowledgment of threats posed to our national security by this Administration’s connections to Russia. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The American people deserve to know the extent to which the Russians meddled in our election, as well as any evidence of coordination between President Trump, his campaign or Administration, and the Kremlin.

“I am deeply concerned about these revelations and I call on the White House to immediately release the transcripts of General Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador. Furthermore, my Republican colleagues in Congress should support the call for a bipartisan and independent commission to fully investigate Russia’s influence on this Administration and the election”, said Lee.

Melvyn Levitsky, professor of international policy and practice at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, also discussed the resignation and its implications for the current administration. He spent 35 years as a U.S. diplomat under eight different presidential administrations and served as officer-in-charge of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations and as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. For those who are unclear what this resignation may mean, Levitsky provides further explanation.

Q: What do we know so far about the resignation?

Levitsky: Although we do not have all the facts, it seems clear that General Flynn discussed sanctions and quite likely indicated to the Russian ambassador that sanctions would be lifted at some point. The Russians—and the Soviets before them—always have reciprocated U.S. expulsions of their embassy and UN mission personnel. It is unlikely that they would have made the decision not to reciprocate unless they were given a strong commitment that response would make it more difficult to have sanctions lifted.

Q: Do we know what the president and vice president knew about these conversations?

Levitsky: The fact that the president knew at least generally about Flynn’s conversations and that the vice president was not informed is further indication of a disorganized and perhaps divided White House pulled in different ways by the president’s various advisers.

It is more than strange that Flynn, who had headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, would be unaware—or perhaps naive—of the fact that the FBI would monitor the Russian ambassador’s telephone conversations, email and text exchanges.

Q: Will Flynn’s resignation put an end to the criticism that the White House is too close to Russia or will it give opponents more ammunition?

Levitsky: Bottom line: This is a real mess with a future flow of investigations, congressional hearings, further leaks from disgruntled staff and with diversion from any effort to implement President Trump’s commitments on the policy front.

World Day of Social Justice: Promoting Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies


February 20th marks the World Day of Social Justice established by the United Nations (UN), and this year’s theme recognises environmentally sustainable economies and societies. The World Day of Social Justice brings together the fundamental values that all societies should have: equality, harmony, solidarity and social justice. The United Nations holds social justice at the core of its mission to promote development and human dignity.

Governments have made a commitment to the creation of a framework for action that promotes social justice not only a national level, but internationally. In addition, Governments around the world have also pledged to promote equal distributions of income and resources and have recognised that a society for all needs to be based on respect for all human rights.

The World Day of Social Justice places an emphasis on civic duty, engagement and solidarity which is a new politics that will bring a society defined by utilitarianism. That which is fair, moral and just is that which a civilization must decide in order to assure social justice. A day in which the General Assembly will recognise that social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security amongst nations. Social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security, or in the absence of freedom.

Oxfam reported that 80% of the world’s richest people had the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people. The effects of economic inequality can have drastic results, even in the UK there is a growing divide between the life expectancy of the richest and poorest within society.

In 2008, the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization was adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in an effort to show its commitment to social justice. The Declaration posits that achieving improved and fair outcomes are necessary for the aspirations of a just society.

“In this crucial year for global development, as Member States work to craft a post-2015 agenda and a new set of sustainable development goals, let us do our utmost to eradicate all forms of human exploitation. Let us strive to build a world of social justice where all people can live and work in freedom, dignity and equality.”  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Whilst globalization and interdependence are opening opportunities through trade, investment and capital flows which encourage the improvement of living standards around the world, there are still severe challenges such as insecurity, poverty and inequality amongst societies which places barriers to further integration and participation in the global economy.

In June 2014 the International Labour Conference voted overwhelmingly to adopt a Protocol and a Recommendation that provided specific guidance on effective measures to be taken that would help eliminate forms of forced labour. In 2015, the International Labour Organization held a panel discussion on modern forms of forced labour and human trafficking and the impact this had on national and global social and economic development.

In order to advance social justice, societal barriers must be removed. These include gender, age, race, religion, culture and disability. The 2015 theme for the World Day of Social Justice was ending human trafficking and forced labour. Forced labour takes different forms including trafficking and debt bondage. Victims of this are usually women, migrants or sweatshop workers.

Whilst unemployment has been falling in developed countries, the job crisis is not likely to end in the short term, especially in emerging countries. Unemployment rates are expected to rise by 2.3 million, reaching 199.4 million in 2016 with an additional 1.1 million forecasted to be added to the global tally by 2017.  This means that both males and females are likely to have to accept lower paid jobs, both in emerging and developing economies.

Urgent action should be taken to increase the number of work opportunities in order to alleviate tensions. Policies need to focus more on strengthening employment and tackling the inequalities. Furthermore, vulnerable employment is concerning high in developing economics with peaks in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Keep up to date with the World Day of Social Justice on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #WDSJ2016! Additionally, there are many resources online for teachers including lesson plans about social justice too!

The Top Twelve Grand Challenges Facing Society Today

Last year, the Society for Social Work and Research Conference in Washington, DC, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) unveiled its 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work with a bold call to action to help solve the toughest problems facing our society today.

When we reflect and take inventory of our ever changing society, a path of progress towards justice and equality can be seen on the horizon. However, we must be diligent in identifying those challenges and barriers that may retard our progress and growth while increasing inequality for our most vulnerable citizens.

In September 2015, the United Nations unveiled 17 Global Goals for Sustained Development in an effort to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix global climate change by 2030. The idea behind the global goals was to identify areas with the ability to affect the most change. Then, microtarget those areas through individual, organizational, and governmental action in order to maximize impact and improve outcomes.

However, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare have narrowed down their target areas even further by identifying 12 Grand Challenges in which they believe social workers both domestic and international can directly impact to improve outcomes for those we serve.

“This critical effort identifies and seeks to address the full range of major challenges facing society, from ending homelessness and stopping family violence to promoting smart decarceration and reversing extreme income inequality.”

Twelve Grand Challenges for Social Work

1. Ensure Healthy Development for All Youth

“Each year, more than six million young people receive treatment for severe mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Strong evidence shows us how to prevent many behavioral health problems before they emerge. By unleashing the power of prevention through widespread use of proven approaches, we can help all youth grow up to become healthy and productive adults.”

2. Close the Health Gap

“More than 60 million Americans experience devastating one-two punches to their health—they have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.”

3. Stop Family Violence

“Family violence is a common American tragedy. Assaults by parents, intimate partners, and adult children frequently result in serious injury and even death. Such violence costs billions of dollars annually in social and criminal justice spending. Proven interventions can prevent abuse, identify abuse sooner, and help families survive and thrive by breaking the cycle of violence or finding safe alternatives.”

4. Advance Long and Productive Lives

Increased automation and longevity demand new thinking by employers and employees regarding productivity. Young people are increasingly disconnected from education or work and the labor force faces significant retirements in the next decades. Throughout the lifespan, fuller engagement in education and paid and unpaid productive activities can generate a wealth of benefits, including better health and well-being, greater financial security, and a more vital society.”

5. Eradicate Social Isolation

Social isolation is a silent killer—as dangerous to health as smoking. National and global health organizations have underscored the hidden, deadly, and pervasive hazards stemming from feeling alone and abandoned. Our challenge is to educate the public on this health hazard, encourage health and human service professionals to address social isolation, and promote effective ways to deepen social connections and community for people of all ages.”

6. End Homeless

“During the course of a year, nearly 1.5 million Americans will experience homelessness for at least one night. Periods of homelessness often have serious and lasting effects on personal development, health, and well-being. Our challenge is to expand proven approaches that have worked in communities across the country, develop new service innovations and technologies, and adopt policies that promote affordable housing and basic income security.”

7. Create Social Response to a Changing Environment

“The environmental challenges reshaping contemporary societies pose profound risks to human well-being, particularly for marginalized communities. Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.”

8. Harness Technology for Social Good

“Innovative applications of new digital technology present opportunities for social and human services to reach more people with greater impact on our most vexing social problems. These new technologies can be deployed to more strategically target social spending, speed up the development of effective programs, and bring a wider array of help to more individuals and communities.”

9. Promote Smart Decarceration

“The United States has the world’s largest proportion of people behind bars. Mass incarceration and failed rehabilitation have resulted in staggering economic and human costs. Our challenge is to develop a proactive, comprehensive, evidence-based “smart decarceration” strategy that will dramatically reduce the number of people who are imprisoned and enable the nation to embrace a more effective and just approach to public safety.”

10. Reduce Extreme Economic inequality

“The top 1% owns nearly half of the total wealth in the U.S, while one in five children live in poverty. The consequences for health and well-being are immeasurable. We can correct the broad inequality of wealth and income through a variety of innovative means related to wages and tax benefits associated with capital gains, retirement accounts, and home ownership. Greater lifelong access to education will also provide broader economic opportunities.”

11. Build Financial Capability for All

“Nearly half of all American households are financially insecure, without adequate savings to meet basic living expenses for three months. We can significantly reduce economic hardship and the debilitating effects of poverty by adopting social policies that bolster lifelong income generation and safe retirement accounts; expand workforce training and re-training; and provide financial literacy and access to quality affordable financial services.”

12. Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice

“In the United States, some groups of people have long been consigned to society’s margins. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge. All of this work is critical to fostering a successful society.

How will academics, practitioners, schools of social work, governmental and NGO social welfare agencies respond to the call? As a practitioner, we have all seen grand action plans created only to sit on the shelf and never see implementation. Will they provide information to impact change, then wait for someone else to spring into action to implement, or will the experts in our profession lead the charge by engaging in public debate on the issues social workers have the most direct impact?

Together, the 12 Grand Challenges define a far-reaching, science-based social agenda that promotes individual and family well-being, a stronger social fabric, and a just society.

The Sixth Annual Social Good Summit Will Inspire World Action


Since 2010, the Social Good Summit has grown substantially aided by the increasing popularity of social media and technology. Mashable in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly decided to bring people together global leaders to discuss how to utilize technology to eradicate poverty. People over the globe are becoming empowered to share their voices in an effort to be heard, and the Social Good Summit has committed to listening to those diverse voices.

The Social Good Summit is a two day conference discussing the impact of technology and media on current social good initiatives. Starting today on September 27th, days after the United Nations ratification of its Global Goals, the goals aim to eradicate poverty, inequality, increase access to education and protect the environment.

It is hoped that these goals will create sustained growth of the bottom 40% of the population to empower and promote their general welfare. These goals will guide policy and funding, and the purpose of the Social Good Summit is discuss the coordination of these goals globally. With now over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, it is clear why the UN has a youth focus to work towards the eradication of poverty by 2030.

The venue for this year’s Social Good Summit is 92nd Street Y which is a world class cultural and community centre that encourages people to connect through culture, the arts, entertainment and conversation. This year’s speakers include Kathy Calvin and Pete Cashmore, the CEO’s of the United Nations Foundation and Mashable respectively, as well as Sienna Miller, Charlize Theron and Savannah Guthrie. Using the hashtag #2030Now, social media and live streaming will definitely allow everyone to get involved!

In 2014, over 170 countries were connected through video and social media, with 65 countries and counting for 2015 it is thought this year could be even bigger. Jamaica, Turkmenistan and Guatemala have signed up and for the first time ever will be involved in the Social Good Summit. Global meet-ups will play a huge part in the Social Good Summit and allow people around the globe to take part and discuss how communities are using the digital tools to build a brighter future.

Also in 2014, #2030 trended at number one globally, breaking down any language barriers between the 45 different languages involved! The Social Good Summit is surrounded by a week of related events which provide encouragement to take action and identify innovations that can create the world we want. Two days of jam-packed sessions, including ‘The Tipping Point for Human Rights’, ‘Sustainable Cities’ and regular global meet-up check-ins, to keep everyone involved.

The voices of global citizens will be a necessary force for change, and the Social Good Summit has taken on the role of helping to facilitate conversations with UN officials, pop culture icons, activists and entrepreneurs around the world who want to create this change. Be a part of the Social Good Summit in helping to create the kind of world we all want to make a reality. Watch the summit via live stream at https://livestream.com/Mashable.

Solitary Confinement is a Whole Other Monster Especially for Juvenile Offenders


A correctional facility is a difficult situation to be in, but solitary confinement is a whole other monster.  There’s no getting away from the pounding sounds resonating endlessly, the animalistic cries coming from all ends of the unit, and the pained screams of frustration gone ignored by the correctional officers.

Granted, solitary confinement was created for a reason. However, if a juvenile offender was deemed a risk to the safety of other inmates or prison staff, the corrections officers were instructed to use all force necessary to stop whatever dangerous behavior the juvenile offender was engaging in and place them in solitary confinement. To be surrounded by those sounds for 22 hours or more a day, locked in a small cell with little to no light of day behind a steel door, and for months or years at a time is cruel and inhumane.

Isolation can cause serious psychological, physical and developmental harm  to these young offenders, often times leading to the development of serious mental health issues and attempts of suicide. The psychological impact of solitary confinement is so great, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry even published a policy statement on the topic, saying that the consequences of solitary confinement on juvenile offenders, due to their developmental vulnerability, include depression, anxiety and psychosis and put them at risk of adverse reactions.

The American Psychological Association adds that additional reported mental health problems as a result of being in solitary confinement include panic, insomnia, paranoia and aggression. The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty & the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry both agree that the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities for juveniles should not be an option.

With all these well-respected organizations clearly stating how detrimental solitary confinement is to the psychological development of a youth, why is there nothing being done to enforce a change in the current solitary confinement policies?

Like any great social movement, change takes time. California Senator Mark Leno (D) introduced Senate Bill 124, which, if passed, will impose stricter restrictions on the use of solitary confinement as punishment in juvenile correctional facilities. SB 124 would only allow the use of solitary confinement if the juvenile offender poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to themselves, others or the facility security, not as a result of a mental disorder, and other less restrictive options have been used and proven ineffective.

The bill would also ban the use of consecutive periods of solitary confinement, restricting it to the minimum required time, but no longer than 4 hours, to address the threat without putting the mental and physical well-being of the juvenile offender at risk. Additionally, it restricts the use of solitary confinement entirely with juvenile offenders who are a danger to themselves or others as a result of a mental disorder or who are gravely disabled.

Juvenile offenders who fall in this category will be transferred to a designated mental health facility for evaluation. Correctional officers will be prohibited to use solitary confinement as a form of punishment, intimidation, convenience or retaliation if the bill is passed. Finally, the bill would also mandate each state and local juvenile facility to document the usage of solitary confinement to prevent it from being misused.

Although solitary confinement is not being completely eliminated, Senate Bill 124 is a fair compromise by allowing it to still be used, but with humane restrictions and in a way that will not hurt the juveniles psychologically or developmentally.

Fighting Violence Against Women Must Become A Top Priority


Violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations which takes place every day, and intimate partner violence is still among the major causes of non-accidental death, injury and disability for women. This tragic situation stems from a variety of social, economic and cultural reasons, but a common background condition is glaring inequality between men and women.

On August 1, 2014, the Istanbul Convention, a landmark treaty of the Council of Europe dedicated to preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, went into force, and it could not have come at a better time. The Convention has the potential to become a powerful driver in making progress on this pressing human rights issue of violence against women.

If we look at available data, we can better grasp the urgency of the situation. It is estimated that at least 12 women are killed by gender-related violence in Europe every day. In 2013, available statistics showed that domestic violence claimed the lives of 121 women in France, 134 in Italy, 37 in Portugal, 54 in Spain. In the United Kingdom, between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013, 84 women were killed by a partner or ex-partner.

In Azerbaijan, 83 women were killed and 98 committed suicide following cases of domestic violence, while data collected by the media in Turkey reported that at least 214 women were killed by men last year, mainly because of domestic violence and often despite these women having asked the authorities for protection. Available data covering the first six months of 2014 in many European countries continue to show such alarming figures.

A recent UN study indicates that lethal domestic violence accounts for almost 28% of all intentional homicides in Europe. Women are more likely than men to be killed by people close to them: while intimate partner or family-related violence is responsible for 18% of all male homicides, the number rises to 55% when it comes to women.

These rates vary from country to country, but the phenomenon is present across Europe, with 89% of women killed being murdered by a partner or family member in Albania, 80% in Sweden and 74% in Finland. If we look at non-lethal domestic violence, the picture is equally grim: in Ukraine, for example, 160,000 cases of domestic violence were registered in 2013 and a survey showed that 68% of women suffered abuse in the family. In Ireland, in 2012 almost 15,000 cases of domestic violence were registered.

Violence against women is not limited to inter-partner and family relationships, a fact largely recognised by the Istanbul Convention, which also addresses forms of gender-based violence such as stalking, sexual harassment, sexual violence and rape. As shown by a representative survey published last March by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), one in five women (22%) has experienced physical violence by someone other than their partner since the age of 15.

As concerns stalking, which nowadays includes cyber-stalking, in the EU-28, 18% of women have experienced stalking since the age of 15, and 5% of women have experienced it in the 12 months before the survey interview. This corresponds to about 9 million women in the EU-28 experiencing stalking within a period of 12 months. 45% of women in the EU have experienced sexual harassment at least once during their lifetime.

The entry into force of the Istanbul Convention is to be welcomed also because it will contribute to ending forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and forced abortion and sterilisation. Europe is not immune to these forms of violence: in its 2012 Resolution, the European Parliament estimates that around 500,000 women and girls live with female genital mutilation in the European Union while 180,000 others are at risk of being subjected to the practice every year.

However huge, these are only conservative numbers as women tend to underreport cases of violence, mainly because of little trust in law enforcement bodies. This is understandable as all too often state institutions have been unresponsive to those women who find the courage to report. As the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights shows, states not only often fail to protect them, but they also fall short of their obligations to duly investigate cases of gender-based violence, to offer effective remedies and to adopt adequate measures to prevent further violence. An illustration of this failure is a recent case where the French state was ordered by a national court to pay compensation to the family of a young woman killed by her ex-partner because the “wrongful and repeated failure of the gendarmerie (constituted) gross negligence directly and unquestionably linked with the murder”.

This lack of sensitivity to victims among the police is illustrative of states’ neglect of women victims of violence. A recent analytical study carried out by the Council of Europe shows that, although initial vocational training on violence against women is provided to the police in 44 of its 47 member states, only 29 of them offer further specific training to their police officers. This lack of training may well be one of the reasons for the poor record of the police in many countries in dealing with victims of domestic violence.

Reports show that in some cases police officers tried to persuade women not to file a complaint. In other cases, their behaviour showed both contempt for human dignity and their own sense of impunity. A telling example is what happened in the United Kingdom, where two police officers offended in a vulgar manner a 19-year old woman who intended to lodge a complaint for domestic violence. The case prompted public outrage and political condemnation and the officers are currently under investigation. But the damage remains and an unfortunate signal has been sent to women by the police. Moreover, a report shows that the lack of police responsiveness to victims of domestic violence in the UK is far from being confined to this individual case.

This lack of responsiveness is further compounded by inadequate victim support. Places in women’s shelters are largely insufficient and the austerity measures adopted in many countries have further reduced them, thus increasing women’s vulnerability. In Sweden, statistics show that 60% of abused women are denied a place in shelters. In the UK, too, funding cuts risk exposing thousands of victims to new or repeated cases of violence.

Reduced resources also translate into more threats to the health of women who are victims of violence. As the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned, “violence has a range of adverse physical, including sexual and reproductive health, and mental health outcomes for women and girls”. This evidence-based assessment led the WHO member states to adopt a resolution aimed at strengthening the response of health systems to violence against women last May.

All this evidence points to the need for more resolute state action in combating violence against women and domestic violence from a victim’s perspective. Responding to this need, the Istanbul Convention offers a holistic set of measures to take action where it is needed, and in this sense, it is truly unique. Specifically dedicated to several forms of violence against women, it is victim-centred and contains a comprehensive array of practical tools to help improve the response of all relevant actors.

It clearly states that Parties have an obligation to prevent violence, protect victims and punish the perpetrators, and measures in these regards need to form part of a set of integrated policies. This is crucial, because we can hope to end violence against women only if gender stereotypes and roles are deconstructed, attitudes are changed, laws are amended, women are empowered and justice is within reach. Crucially, the Convention also establishes a specific monitoring mechanism in order to ensure the effective implementation of its provisions by the Parties.

To date, 13 Council of Europe member states have ratified the Istanbul Convention[1]. In addition 23 indicated their political will by signing it, leaving 11 member states with no action on this at all[2]. It is my hope that this important Convention will not only be ratified by all Council of Europe member states, but by many other countries around the world and by the EU.

This will not increase women’s safety overnight, but it would definitely mark a turn in the right direction, giving a strong signal of commitment to millions of women.

[1] Albania, Andorra, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

[2] Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation.

U.S. Will Soon Stand Alone in Failing to Ratify Rights for Children with the United Nations

In recent news, Somalia became the 195th country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  The CRC is the most widely ratified international human rights document in history and was officially adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1989.

l-61-Hands-with-unicef-logoThis landmark treaty includes the promises of civil, political, social, economic, cultural rights and freedoms, including the right to health and healthcare, education, leisure and cultural activities, and numerous special protection measures for children.

When a country ratifies a UN convention like the CRC, it can be held accountable by the Committee on the Rights of the Child to its terms.  Countries then use the treaty as a measure to assess and also improve its policies and programs to better support children and their families.

To date, there are just two UN member nations who have not yet ratified the CRC – South Sudan and the United States of America.  It should be noted, however, that South Sudan only became an independent country and joined the UN less than five years ago and it has since passed a bill to move toward ratification.

While the United States was one of the primary contributors toward drafting this document, it has never made efforts toward ratifying it.  Soon, the United States will be the only UN member country who has not ratified this child and family focused human rights treaty.  The only one! Years ago while campaigning, President Obama said this was embarrassing and that he would review this, but there’s been no momentum toward doing so.

Why should we care?

The U.S. is a world leader and what we do affects other countries.  Ratifying the CRC would send a strong message across the globe that children’s rights should be primary.  Also, how can we promote children’s rights in other countries when we have not yet made this commitment?

This documents clearly enumerates the many human rights specifically relevant and meaningful to children.  At a national level, ratification of the CRC can be used to help strengthen families’ and children’s human rights within our own country.

Using just one example from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24 of the treaty recognizes:

“the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health,” “to diminish infant and child mortality; to combat disease and malnutrition,” through the provision of adequate nutritious foods,” “taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;” “to ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;” “to have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, to develop preventative health care…”

This article refers to a basic foundation required for children to be raised in an environment that protects their dignity and supports their physical, mental and emotional growth and potential.  Yet, from birth, the United States violates children’s human rights and fails its children and their families.

Research shows that infant mortality rate (IMR) is valid indicator of the overall health of a nation.  According to a CDC report, the United States ranked behind 25 other countries in IMR; this, despite the fact that we spend more money per person than any other country on healthcare costs.

Sadly, we do lead the world in many things that violate the human rights of our children, such as:

  • Production of GMO crops and relatedly,
  • Exposure to Glyphosate (the world’s #1 pesticide/herbicide)
  • Global Warming Contributions
  • Youth Offenders Servings Life Sentences Without the Possibility of Parole
  • Relative Child Poverty Rates Among Economically Advanced Countries

It’s time for us to rethink the United States’ record on human rights, especially when it comes to children and families.  Establishing a commitment to the ratification of the CRC would be a step toward doing so.  We must remember that the articles within the CRC layout “human rights,” not needs or wants or ideals.  Using a rights-based perspective is a more powerful way to engage individuals, groups, communities, and even governments to increase accountability and force change.  A human-rights approach empowers children, parents, families, and communities to better understand, advocate, and demand their rights be realized.

You can join the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC and the sign its petition asking President Obama to send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the U.S. Senate for ratification.

Nick Hedges Photographs of Poor Housing in Britain: Make Life Worth Living

‘Make Life Worth Living’, a photography exhibition by Nick Hedges, is currently on display at the Science Museum in London. It was commissioned by Shelter, a charity working against homelessness to raise consciousness about the poor living conditions many Britons experience. The photographs were taken between 1968 and 1972 and are an intimate glimpse in to the human cost of bad housing.

Make Life Worth Living 3For all the poetry and romantic imagery about the concept of “home”, there are two ideals that it incorporates which are essential for human prosperity: those ideals are safety and stability. The importance of cerebral discussions about these two topics becomes ever clearer when we consider the corporeal fragility of homeless human beings.

What does it mean to have a home? Have you ever really thought about it or have you ever really needed to think about it? ‘Home’ is a much discussed term, not only in literature, but in the fields of sociology, anthropology, psychology and many others. It is a multidimensional concept most commonly associated with the ideas of a house, family, a haven, travelling and a sense of self. When we think of “home”, some of us think of a place, or many places, others think of a feeling, some think of people or practices. Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “Home is the nicest word there is.”

We know that without a safe and stable living situation, adults and children alike are at a much increased risk of developing mental health problems, long-term physical health problems, drink addictions, drug addictions and are much more likely to be victims of physical assault, sexual assault and an early death. Having worked with homeless young people for many years, I know first-hand that safety and stability does not simply equate to owning a bricks and mortar building. It requires adequate space, clean living conditions and an environment in which one can really feel the value of their human worth.

Make Life Worth Living 1“The thing about people living in slum housing,” Nick Hedges’ states, “is that there is no drama… it’s about the absolute wearing down of people’s morale in a quiet and undemonstrative way.” It is that quiet wearing away of hope that these photographs capture so brilliantly. Living in the UK where homelessness is currently dramatically increasing and housing stability decreasing, this exhibition is more poignant than ever.

Last year, United Nations rapporteur, Rachel Rolnik, reported that whilst Britain has previously been a powerful inspiration when it comes to housing, the progress made is now being eroded and British people “appear to be facing difficulties in accessing adequate, affordable, well-located and secure housing.”

To look at Nick Hedges’ photographs is to remind ourselves of why good, affordable housing is a human right and what we stand to lose if we do not fight for it. “Home” is an active state of being in the world and we must ensure that we do not allow our fellow citizens to sink any further in to the depths of hopelessness. In 2014, we want all human beings to be filled with the sense that life is worth living which starts at home.

‘Make Life Worth Living’ is at the Science Museum until 18th January 2015.

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation


As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sexual Exploitation in the UK and the Need to be Loved

The National Crime Agency released figures last month which stated that over the past year, 56 UK-born children were trafficked around the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation; a figure that has more than doubled from the previous year. It was acknowledged that this figure only marks those cases that have been recorded and that there are likely to be numerous more unidentified cases.

barnardoOther charities such as Barnardo’s have released snapshot figures stating that in 2012 they worked with over 140 child victims of sexual exploitation. The drastic difference in the figures exemplifies the complete lack of clarity we have on the scale of sexual exploitation in the UK. It is only through the prosecution of high-profile sexual exploitation grooming rings, such as those in Rochdale and Oxford, that public and political awareness has grown.

As a trainee Social Worker, one of my first cases was a beautiful, funny and intelligent 16 year old girl called Eva who was being sexually exploited by a 35 year old male. Eva had been referred to my service as she was homeless and was in need of accommodation.

Eva was at my office every day, making any excuse to see me. Sometimes she needed help with a problem; other times she just wanted a cup of tea and a chat. At the root of it all, Eva was a 16 year old girl who had been abandoned by her family at a very young age and who ultimately just wanted human contact and affection. Having worked with Eva, and subsequently working with many other young people who have been trafficked and exploited, it comes as no surprise to me that we are yet to grasp the true scale of the problem.

As a Social Worker who has spent six years working with criminals, I am reluctant to use inflammatory language about any sort of criminal behaviour. However, what strikes me most about sexual exploitation is just how much of a truly cruel and opprobrious crime it is. Exploiters spend years and years building a relationship with a young person, to the end aim of that young person falling hopelessly in love with them. They use the most powerful of forces, that of teenage love, to ensnare children and subsequently trap them in a life of violence, drugs and rape. It is not a quick crime. It is calculated and unforgiving.

Consequently, many young people, such as Eva, do not recognize that they are being exploited. The exploiters are their boyfriends. Eva would defend her exploiter above anything else, by repeatedly lying to Police and professionals, because she genuinely loved him. And as a young girl who had been denied love from a young age, she had no basis from which to compare and realize that love does not involve violence and rape.

If a young person does eventually realize that they are being maltreated, they are left with very few options. Some are so entangled in a life of sex and drug addiction that they permanently make the transition to adult sex worker. Others, have had their self-esteem shattered so disastrously that they do not believe that help is available to them and will never disclose their long ordeals. And those who do choose to stand up to their exploiters and inform the Police are likely to face threats of murder and rape until they back down.

In the UK we are only at the genesis of solving the problem of sexual exploitation. The more cases that come to the attention of the Police, the more information we have to learn from to prevent further abuse. However, disclosures to the Police will only ever continue to drip through and so progress will remain slow.

What is clear, is that whilst the majority of victims continue to be vulnerable children, often from care homes or broken families, a lot of time and energy needs to be focused on teaching these young people that they are loved and that nobody who claims to love them will physically or mentally hurt them. How we manage that, when those who are meant to have loved them the most, their parents, have often abused or neglected them as children, is an even greater challenge and one that not just Social Workers, but the whole community must rise to.

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