It Matters: sexual harassment and silence.

This was first published here and I think appeared in Red Pepper, though i can’t find it now. But I wanted to archive it here to not lose track.


“Are you a hooker?”

Street harassment is ubiquitous enough to usually be little more the white-noise of living under patriarchy but, this morning, stepping outside into quiet, semi-suburban street I’m staying on, a distant horn honk brought those words back into focus.

“Are you a hooker?”

Who said that?

I walked home alone, late, despite suggestions to the contrary; the night was lovely. The downtown music almost drew me into other venues but I wanted night air and stars more than music and drunken stranger companionship. All weekend I had chosen much-needed personal space and peace over protests, parades and parties.

With some ambivalence but a vague acknowledgement of ‘safety I chose a route through well-lit streets rather than through the shadowed park I used to hang out in day and night. In retrospect, it didn’t matter. I was on a well-lit city street when first heard the words:

“Are you a hooker?”

‘Maybe they’re looking?’ I give benefit of doubt. But with all that Canada’s new proposed prostitution legislation will make it harder for people to hire sex workers and make sex-work much more dangerous, no one is going to be soliciting here, on a quiet residential street, a few hours past the resident’s bedtime. Beside that car, I was the only sign of life. Their inquiry was disingenuous so i didn’t respond. Whether or not I’m a hooker doesn’t matter.

“Are you a hooker?”
A different voice; he has a friend.

I’m silent. Out of speechlessness as much as safety. What response is there to this question, hurled like slaps across the peaceful night? What would convey the deep respect i have for sex-workers, the utter contempt I have for men who harass isolated women*, let alone for anyone who thinks the best attack is the word ”hooker”? Asking if I’m a ‘hooker’ does not hurt me—-‘hooker’ signifies an important, often valiant, and dangerous profession–-but I can infer insult and threat in their intention. What can i say to counter their use of that word to erase a right to safety?

“Are you a hooker?”
They slow down, just enough to make sure the words carry.

Despite best intentions, I inventory myself. What a person is wearing doesn’t correlate to harassment: I have been followed, harassed, even stalked wearing platform heels or rubber crocs. My shoes don’t matter. Harassment is not the fault of the harassed. Nonetheless, I check. My platform wedges are tucked in my bag; my feet hit pavement in bland, functional sports sandals. Not that it matters.

I’m at the driveway, reaching for my keys when I realize their attention is still on me. I keep walking, slowly but deliberately, past the house, not wanting them to see where I live. I am grateful for the sandals as I prepare myself to run.

”Are you a hooker?”

Why run? I should yell, curse; chase them down and fight. If it were daylight, I might. But I am still at a loss of words. What sound bite would convey how deeply violent their attitude is towards sex workers; how dangerous such an attitude is for all of society? What words are there to express the anger I feel with the absolute knowledge that if i were, indeed, a ‘hooker’; in fact if i were not holding keys to a door nearby that i could almost certainly reach before they got out of the car, that this twinge of anxiety and readiness–-another background noise of living under patriarchy–-would be panic and fear?

“Are you a hooker?”
Staccato horn honks accompany their words.

I regret that I’m not a good fighter. I have gotten out of many situations by righteous indignation, false confidence, privilege, and luck. Any of those incidents could have turned more violent – even deadly. For many they do. Women sex-workers are 18 times more likely to be killed than other women; 4 times more likely than cops to be killed whilst working and are frequently targeted by serial killers. Aboriginal women*, immigrant women, racialised women, trans women, disabled women, homeless women, queer women are all disproportionately targets of violence and murder, more so when multiply oppressed.

“Are you a hooker?”
The car stops at the corner, 40 metres away their voices and horns still reach me.

They’ve stopped too far to see me clearly but they might back up or turn around. I stop walking. I won’t confront them, wanting to stay safe but quiet, not disturb anyone else. Not prepared to deal with the anxiety it would produce. Knowing that talking about this is less-likely to lead to fighting sexual harassment than it is to lead to more cautions for women not to walk alone at night. For months I’ve supported others who’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted in communities that don’t want to be disturbed by its reality. If I can’t even get my anti-sexist community to deal seriously with sexual harassment or assault, how can I expect others will react?

“I didn’t hear/see anything”
“Did you call the police?”
“Can you prove it?”

Who said that? Was that you?

I double-back, cut along the side to the rear, relieved i have a key for the back door. I stop in the backyard , look up at the night sky. I don’t hear them anymore. I try to let everything go but the stars. It doesn’t work. Not quite, though the breeze is cool and the sky is familiar and comforting. I go inside.

And I look in the mirror.

I know it doesn’t matter that my dress is form-fitting. I’ve gotten catcalls as often wearing oversized waterproofs as when wearing halters and mini-skirts. I’ve been oinked at as a well-coifed size 7 and a disheveled size 20. I have had my breasts commented on, gestured about and groped (unconsensually), in various states of couture and stature, by strangers, acquaintances, co-workers and bosses, since I was 12.

What I’m wearing doesn’t matter but i can’t keep myself from searching nonetheless.

I assess. Is it revealing? Not really. No cleavage. The skirt nearly hits my knees. And a cardigan hovers loosely, hiding the jersey-hugged curves that feminists say i ought to, anyway, be proud of.

“It doesn’t happen to strong women”
“What do you expect if you wear that/ smile at strangers/walk alone”

I disgust myself with these thoughts. For all I’ve done to fight the notion that what you wear, how you look, matters; for all I’ve done to insist that harassment is not the fault of the harassed, i still checked, listening to the past voices echoing in my head.

On principle I’ve long-since made it a point to talk openly about sexual harassment I experience.

For this i am sometimes accused of bragging. Sometimes, but not always in jest; often, but by no means always, by cis-men.

“Are you trying to make me jealous?”
“At least you got some attention”

Who said that? Do you know them?

The news is peppered with politicians talking about “legitimate rape”, with pundits blaming women not just for wearing too little, but also for wearing too much, as when women wearing hijab or niquab are assaulted or attacked. Every complaint of harassment or assault is meticulously scrutinized. Every word, act examined. So much so that we, or at least I, now do it myself.

I fell asleep with my own silence tonight mingling with my friend’s silences around known sexual harassment and assaults that have occurred in my communities. I write this today wondering how many people will doubt my story, or think i am over-reacting, or, indeed, boasting.

What do you say?
“Those guys were assholes”

Do you know them?”
“Not me. Not my mates. We’d never…not really”

Those blokes were friends of someone. How do you know they’re not friends of yours?


* Nearly 700 aboriginal women have gone missing in Canada over the lasts 30 years; despite international pressure, the Canadian government has ignored this crisis.

Since writing this a week ago, I’ve learned that the proposed new Canadian legislation against prostitution is being debated in the House of Commons this week. Find out more about the critiques of Bill C-36 and why prohibition/ciminalization of sex-work is dangerous from the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Reform.

Maggies and Stella are both organizations run for and by sex workers with good resources about violence against sex workers.

Here is some info on violence against sex workers in the UK, though i know less about groups who organize around such issues please do include other links if you know of them.
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – 17th December


No persecution in Bahrain or the UK: Let Isa Al-Aali stay.

This was an update from my piece which originally appeared in Slaney Street.

by Amanda Dorter

“The youth in Bahrain are victims of unfairness and injustice by the regime… Many have been calling for the release of relatives, improvement of the human rights situation and democratic rights. Our demand is to seek justice for impunity in torture cases. If I return, I’m returning to death and torture.”

Isa Al-Aali, in an interview with John Lubbock, May 23 2014 Vice

Sign petition here to keep Isa from being returned to torture.

Hopefully by now you’ve heard of Isa Al-Aali, the 19 year old torture survivor fighting to remain as a refugee in the UK, against fears of repeated judicial torture in Bahrain. He got an 11th hour reprieve last week from deportation back to Bahrain, but his struggle is far from over and he could face a renewed deportation order as early as next week. We are asking people near and far to sign and share this petition, calling on the Home Office to release this torture survivor from detention immediately and to grant him leave to stay as a refugee. Letters of solidarity and support for Isa to the Home Office are encouraged and can be cc-ed to: sayed[at]

According to a recent statement made by Al-Aali to Vice following news of a legal injunction against his removal, “I’m still not confident about the next steps for the Home Office. My experience has been miserable, so it’s just a temporary decision”

Part of the peaceful pro-democracy movement in Bahrain following the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising, Al-Aali was first detained by police in 2013 where he was thrown from a moving vehicle whilst shackled, beaten, threatened at knife- and gun- point, including being threatened with having his genitals cut off.

He was detained twice more and fled his homeland after being threatened with death for refusing to turn informant on fellow protestors. Bahrain has a well-documented history of political repression and human rights violations, including using weaponized tear gas and bird shot against protesters and using torture. Bahrain security forces have killed at least 95 people since the 2011 uprisings. Bahrain’s Prince Nasser has recently been accused of participating in torture himself. It should be noted that the UK, in the face of clear evidence of growing human rights concerns, continues to defend Bahrain.

Since coming to the UK, he was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 5 years prison in Bahrain. When the Bahrain government somehow learned that Isa’s asylum claim was turned down, they were quoted in their newspaper heralding his return to Bahrain, claiming that people like him were not political refugees but terrorists who needed to be deterred. They celebrated the UK’s “reason” in refusing his asylum claim. The on-going media attention surrounding his case and the rising exposure of Bahrain’s repressive state put him at greater risk.

He came to the UK seeking asylum from a judicial system that is widely recognized to use “Arbitrary Detentions, Ill-Treatment, and Torture” only to be taken into custody upon landing in the UK and put in detention at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre for the last 3 months. Harmondsworth has been the site of on-going campaigns against poor conditions and negligent-to-violent staff, including the detainee hunger strikes at the beginning of May. A 2014 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found Harmondsworth to be deteriorating, rather than improving, in its care of vulnerable people.

He was put into the Detain and Fast Track (DFT) system, which has been widely criticized since 2006 for not allowing people proper time or resources to adequately represent their claim; Isa certainly lacked proper access to legal support or even translation when first detained. The Home Office also has explicit rules against holding people who have been tortured under DFT and yet here is where Isa remained. Medical Justice calls detained torture survivors “second torture”.

Imagine the torment one would feel after fleeing from psychological and physical violence to the promise of security, only to find that the notion of the UK as a welcome space for democracy and freedom and a refuge for those subjected to persecution at home, is a myth.

This hope of sanctuary from torture is systematically taken away: by being not welcomed but detained at the airport, faced with an obfuscated and Kafkaesque bureaucracy in a foreign language, held in a detention centre known for its neglect and violence, with every hope of freedom shattered in the outcome of his successive asylum hearings. It’s still much better than what Isa faces in Bahrain. After all, who would subject themselves to such a system in the UK if they weren’t at risk of grave physical danger where they came from? But it must come to an end nonetheless – an end that sees Isa finally walking free; free from detention and guards, free from torture, free from persecution, free from fear.


Please help him achieve this. Call on the UK to release Isa immediately from this arbitrary and harrowing detention and grant him leave to remain in UK without fear of persecution or return to torture. Sign and share this today

For those unfamiliar with the case, you can visit the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy for a full background and updates. You can find a piece with broader context, including information and links about Bahrain’s human rights record, The UK relationship with Bahrain, and the UK trajectory on migrant rights on Slaney Street

You can also find out more about the UK’s cozy relationship with Bahrain, as well as more coverage on Isa’s case, human rights in Bahrain, migrant detention and the growing xenophobia of the UK in this annotated list below.


Vice Interview with Isa


Update on Isa’s current situation at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Update from Bahrain Watch


Initial articles about Isa’s removal order:


Pieces putting Isa’s case in context of Bahrain human rights record, Bahrain/UK relationship and the Fast Track system  for asylum claims in the UK:
Facebook group
Twitter #SaveIsa #SaveIsaAlAali

Migrant strikes against conditions in detention and “detain and fast track” system

Piece on migrant detention and fast-tracking, following hunger strikes by migrants in detention centres, including Harmondsworth, where Isa is being held

June 7th protest at Harmondsworth against Fast Track and Detention

“second torture” of detaining migrant torture survivors

UK Home Office notes on Rule 35 prhibiting vulnerable people from being detained and fast tracked

Deaths of migrants in custody

High Court on DTF for torture survivors


Exposé on allegations of torture by Prince Nasser by the Financial Times (behind a paywall),Authorised=false.html?

and in the Independent

UK’s analysis of Bahrain, including acknowledgement of use of torture and repression of freedom of expression

UK “mission” and “priorities” with regard to Bahrain

2014 Human Rights Watch report documenting “regression” of human rights in Bahrain

Experience of other Bahraini dissidents living in the UK

Critiques of the UK relationship with Bahrain and Isa’s removal order ;


15 year old boy killed last week by police with birdshot in Bahrain
Torture of journalist Nazeeha Saeed

Account of torture from Bahrain

Release of political prisoner from jail in Bahrain
Bahrain Watch

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

(more links coming soon)


first published with ASIRT, circa April 2014

– by Amanda Dorter

I arrived to my first volunteer shift at ASIRT‘s weekly drop-in clinic to a group of people already waiting; 17 people had had signed in before 10am and they, alone or with  their children, friends and family, filtered in as we opened the doors. And then they waited some more. First for an initial intake, then again for more in depth support in trying to understand and navigate through the opaque and Kafkaesqee Home Office bureaucracy within which they were trapped.  Over35 people signed in for the clinic that day whilst the 6 of us, three staff members and as many volunteers, engaged holistically with empathy whilst trying to see everyone in a timely manner, a nearly impossible contradiction to resolve given the convoluted nature of most people’s needs. But most people come to ASIRT as a last resort. What can they do but wait, all day if needed, in hopes that when they leave they will be one step closer to realizing their rights or, at least, one step closer to food and shelter for the coming few days.

As they waited, a volunteer came by with lunch, (the only meal that some of them would have that day), supporting each other in keep their babies happy, their toddlers occupied and arranging to get their older kids picked up from school. They found solace, advice, and interpreters among each other, sharing a sense of camaraderie that is built through adversity and waiting rooms.

“Adil” was new to Birmingham, being forcibly relocated from his hometown of more than a decade in Leicester, where his solicitor, family and friends were. He had come in to try to establish support in his new city. When i asked if he had secure housing and money for the time being he said  “I don’t know”, and showed me a recent ruling that denied him Section 4 support (£36/wk on a non-transferable Azure swipe-card, valid at a restricted list of chain-stores for a restricted list of items and housing). He didn’t understand the decision, let alone know why, getting the results of the decision but not the rationale; Adil was very confused. Fortunately, a seasoned ASIRT worker speculated that his this decision might be due to a problem with his claim, and that we should try to track down if that was true and what it might be. Were it not for this insight, he’d never have known there was a problem with his newly-filed asylum claim.

I spent over 2 hours with one phone on redial, trying and failing to get through to various UKBA offices, whilst i used my mobile to call the courts, his solicitor and a Leicester-based charity he’d accessed, to track down various pieces of this puzzle that had left him destitute and unaware of the status of his claim. Without credit for his phone or money for the train, he couldn’t possibly have tracked this information down himself.  We eventually got a copy of the decision to deny him funding which, in everyone’s opinion, was illegal. But through it we learned that his claim had been submitted to the wrong office, despite having a receipt saying his claim had been received. He had no idea that his claim was therefor rejected, pending a new submission to a different office. We figured this out with unanswered rings to the UKBA telephone number as a monotonous and relentless soundtrack. His next step, to make an appointment to resubmit his claim to an office in Liverpool, required a train ticket and an appointment. ASIRT can get access to funds for such a ticket, but the more difficult matter will be the appointment. I’m told some people have wrung that office for 3 days straight without getting through. And that they only answer the first 30 calls in a day.

Here was a shoe-string budgeted charity in which workers are somehow making time to see over 35 people in a day, trying to reach a fully-funded government agency that can’t even answer the phone to book an appointment. It’s baffling, but indicative of the increasing need for charities like ASIRT to exist and be able to continue to see every person who walks through the door, and spend the time needed to sort out the intricacies of each person’s needs.

Adil’s circumstances are far from rare. In many cases, in fact, people with young children find themselves in similar circumstances, and end up couch-surfing or sleeping rough for weeks, months, even years, until they find themselves at ASIRT, where they manage to access temporary food and shelter, and start the process of getting greater stability.

Adil’s circumstances also illustrate why so many people want support for even some of the simpler aspects of being a migrant in the UK. One error can lead to disastrous results, and so people even with relatively secure status came in with forms to fill out, terrified of making a single mistake lest they be sent back to the beginning of this bizarre nightmare of bureaucracy, and have to endure more waiting, destitution, and possibly face detention or deportation.

One, a permanent resident who had lost her documents in a fire had been waiting for the Home Office to send back her file, so that she could essentially submit it back to them to get new documentation from them to prove her existing status. In the interim, she received the ubiquitous communique from the UKBA’s bumbling bounty-hunter firm, Capita, indicating that she may be subject to removal and should leave as soon as possible.  She came in full of questions: “Who are these people? Is this legit? Does this mean there’s another problem with my file? It doesn’t seem real because why on earth wouldn’t they send an official letter. What would have happened if this had gone to a spam folder? Are they just trying to intimidate us, because, if they are, it’s working.”

She was not alone in her wait to get documents back from the UKBA, many long past the 40 day deadline to respond to such requests.

Still others were waiting on files from ex-solicitors, including the firm Blackmores, an office that was shut down controversially, after experiencing some financial struggles due in part to policy changes including those that make legal aid increasingly difficult to access. With Blackmores gone people are struggling to find someone else with the needed expertise and qualifications who can become familiar with their case. With changes to legal aid rendering 93% of immigration cases no longer eligible, finding new solicitors will be nearly impossible for most. Yet claims are 50% more likely to succeed with legal representation. People using ASIRT are increasingly relying on pro-bono legal services or support from the Birmingham Law Centre –which came close to closing this winter due to lack of funds—to deal with some aspects of their case. ASIRT itself is not immune to this decade’s economics; charities like ASIRT have seen average reductions of 20% in funding over the last year, and funding sources as well as individual donations continue to diminish. The current economic climate is conspiring with on-going changes to polices around legal aid, judicial review and immigration policies to deepen the pool of destitution, with fewer and fewer ways to keep afloat and a decreasing number of organizations able to help people navigate their way out. Which is why, I suppose, so many people were so patient while they had to wait.

And after all,  people who come to ASIRT are sadly used to waiting, having often been in and out of limbo, waiting for claims and appeals to be ruled on, for new ones to be filed, fighting sometimes for well over a decade, for basic human rights here, enduring destitution, violence and unrelenting fear in the UK as a better option  than any other alternative they may have. And so, after weeks, months, years of this, they were willing to endure 8 hours longer in the hopes that this will lead to eventual security, if not for ever, at least for a little while.

And that is why ASIRT so needs the support of us all in continuing to both intervene at policy levels and provide the tireless service committed to helping out everyone who comes in, with an unwavering sense of care, respect and solidarity for the services users, as well as for each other—something that is rare and hard to maintain in understaffed, stressful, front line work. I have to say in my short time there it’s been one of the more supportive and collaborative environments i’ve worked. I wish circumstances were such that ASIRT had no reason to exist, but I appreciate the work that they do and the opportunity I’ve had to be a part of it so far.

I’ll be back for my third volunteer shift this Thursday, but this Sunday I’ll be participating in a walk to help raise money for ASIRT. Every dollar raised will be matched by the Midland Legal Support and will go directly towards maintaining the services that so many people wait for week after week. If you can help support us in any way, by donating to ASIRT, joining us in the walk, and/or spreading the word to your communities, please do. Please help ASIRT continue it’s work, giving hope to those dispossessed and destitute by our system, so that, at least for some, the wait for justice and security can come to an end.

In solidarity with the students of Quebec

Before the end of the night Bill 78/Loi78 will pass, basically revoking all rights to expression, assembly and protest, imposing economic punishment on people for speaking out against economic oppression in the first place (#classwar). Such a law is a desperate last-ditch effort from the government to force submission after all other means, from legal process to lethal force have not been able to stop this student uprising.

It seems so incredibly unconstitutional and will be struck down and probably in a few years, a bunch of people will sue the cops for all of this and win. But in the meantime, the Charest government believes this ploy will deflate the movement and let them get away with all the crap that hundreds of thousands of people have been fighting against for the last 3 months. I hope people will stand against such a repressive and vicious attack.

As Bill C 309 is also up for debate – further criminalizing masks at protests, the government is unmasking itself. it is showing to the masses what many communities – indigenous communities who’s treaty rights have never been honoured; migrants for whom basic security let alone access to status is a crapshoot at best; Black and disabled people who are used as target practice by the police – have long known: that the laws and so-called democratic processes of the state are just arbitrary rules written to ensure the wealth of the 1%, the power of the state, the control of society remains unchallenged. This mask has long been lifted elsewhere in the world, but Canada has liked to pretend that it was a fair and just land. And though it’s ridiculous that the architects of apartheid (canada’s reservation system was the blueprint for South African and Israeli apartheid, after all) could get away with that image for so long, at least it seems finally to be revealed From the Charest gov’t response to the student protests to the revelations of the police “misconduct” at the G20 demos, from Harper’s election tampering/buying to his draconian refugee exclusion act Canada can no longer pretend to be the moral beacon of the world.

But perhaps we can mobilize this sense of righteousness and entitlement, instilled in us to perpetuate the myth of moral kkkanada, against this latest onslaught. Once they quiet the protests, once they stop the strike, much will be lost, regardless of all the lawsuits that will follow. A look at the G20 is a good example of how they will use, even make up, laws to stamp out protest, and deal with the consequences, however embarrassing or expensive, later, because at least they defended the immediate target of the protest, they broke the momentum and they wore people down through physical, public and legal attacks.

Living abroad at the moment i can’t say what is strategically the best way forward. i can only say that i hope those in Canada manage to stand against this ridiculous law, in solidarity with each other. That thousands of people will call for mass demos every day, every night. That people will see the tactical advantages that less than 10 people can have in some actions, and that people will believe they cannot and arrest and fine every organizer if everyone who is out on the streets is indeed an organizer – of yourself – of your peers – not over people but alongside of eachother. Hell, call demos under my name. i am not affiliated with any association. And i’d like to see them collect on their fines. Or extradite me from the UK. But more importantly please, stay strong. Refuse to be intimidated by them. Let these desperate acts of the police and the state invoke your anger, not your fear. And never surrender to an unjust demand.

In solidarity.

Consensus Decision-Making


This guide (click the link above)was written a few years ago and some of my analysis has changed, though i think the tools are still sound.

It attempts to give you a basic framework and some tools for working within a consensus environment. It can be applied to modified versions of consensus as well as other democratic decision-making structures. I feel passionately committed to finding ways for people to work together horizontally, (that means no leaders, no strati) refusing formal hierarchy and undermining informal ones, fighting against domination and oppression in our organizing as we fight against it in the world.

I believe that the best decisions are ones that have broad input, and are tested against the concerns and critiques of those who will be implementing the decisions. I believe the best actions are decided up and carried out by those directly affected. I think that the tools contained within help create a context in which people’s voices are heard, creativity is pushed, and ideas are valued.

It is a work in progress and the result of years of practice and discussion with many amazing people and learning from the most productive and most frustrating experiences in various contexts, generally in grassroots militant organizing, including mass consulta and spokescouncils but also working within not-for-profits, corporate settings and just living in a community with a people with a broad range of experiences, beliefs and styles of communication and decision-making.

It’s based on workshops i’ve given in the past and might be useful for other people’s workshops. I’ve put it under a creative commons license to ensure no one uses it commercially or profits from it and that anyone amending or building upon continues to keep it non-commercial and shares it freely. If you correct the typos, all the better!