Police in New York and other cities are turning to a bot to imitate women selling sex to men looking to buy it. It’s a new tool in the drive to break up trafficking rings.
The raids also make the chatbots more effective. “Buyers need to feel a credible risk,” said Rob Spectre, the founder and chief executive of childsafe.ai, which built the vice department’s chatbot. “If no one got arrested, no buyer would be deterred.”
The new chatbots are safer and cheaper than in-person operations, and they are always on the job. They can deter far more buyers than undercover operations can — before they buy sex. Lieutenant Sharpe said chatbots were “1,200 percent more effective than full operations.”
The New York police wait several days to send deterrence messages, so that men won’t know which phone number was the decoy. “The perception for the buyer has to be that any ad could be the ad that sends him to jail,” Mr. Spectre said.
What happens when your parents are executed in Saudi Arabia?
8-year-old Beenish says her parents have gone to heaven, but she's already been to the hell of a Saudi jail with them.
Sohail YafatUpdated 3 days ago
Little Beenish does not like to talk to people. When spoken to, she chides the person: “You love to ramble on, don’t you?”
Just eight years old, her expressions are grave, as those of a much older person. Underscored by the dupatta wound tightly around her head, Beenish is a tiny child who never smiles.
She knows only silence and solitude. She often locks herself up in a room in her maternal uncle’s house so that no one can bother her. She does not play with other kids her age and has no interest in their games.
They did not play many games in prison.
Beenish was just five years old when her parents took her with them for umrah to Saudi Arabia. Her father was over the moon, recalls his family.
One of her father’s acquaintances, who claimed to be a travel agent, had arranged their visas and travel documents. His brother, Imdad, says they didn’t even know he and his family had passports.
After all, he was a poor labourer who took on whatever work he got his hands on to get by — he would be a butcher or a mason, depending on the season.
His family figured he wanted to go pray for stability, for a more comfortable life, even for affluence. Little did they know he and his wife will never return.
Related: Pakistani citizens, including children, on death row in Saudi Arabia and Iran
The family of three left their home in July with the travel agent. The extended family later found out they had departed for Saudi Arabia on July 10, 2016. Their best guess is that they boarded the plane from Multan International Airport. This is where the nightmare began.
Upon landing in Jeddah, Saudi authorities detained the family for transporting heroin to the Kingdom. The father was imprisoned separately while the mother and daughter were kept together in Jeddah’s Dhahban Prison.
Their family back home had no contact with them for the first few weeks. They only heard rumours about what happened to him, his wife and their young daughter.
Imdad says they heard so many different versions of what had happened they did not know what or who to believe. But his father recalls telling his son that he was unsure if he would ever get to see him again.
Threatened with death, the family was forced to carry heroin by the travel agent and they were arrested as soon as they landed, as the Saudis found the drugs on them. This is according to the couple's family. There is no way to verify it since the couple is dead and no independent investigation has been done by either the Pakistani or Saudi authorities.
Beenish spent the next six months with her mother in Dhahban. One cannot fathom what impact the incarceration had on the child’s development.
She started speaking less and less. Six months later, she was shifted to a facility for children. Barely old enough to attend grade school, Beenish was made to live in a room with three other girls around the same age, perhaps just a little older.
Here there was a little more freedom. They were allowed to watch television, play basketball in the compound outside and even given treats by their teacher.
Explore: The time to demand Saudi Arabia to treat Pakistani workers properly is now
She picked up Arabic and slowly started conversing with the other girls. But fear often stalked Beenish late into the night. Sometimes she would ask her friend Salma to sleep on the same bed as her.
Beenish and the other girls attended school and Quran lessons outside the facility. She says they were driven to another place in a white vehicle with sliding doors. Apart from that, she rarely left the building.
She only saw her father twice over a period of more than two years there. He was difficult to recognize. His head was shaven and the shackles binding his hands made him look unfamiliar and frightening. She refused to speak to him.
Her meetings with her mother were more frequent. They would meet every month or two. During the meetings, Beenish would not talk in front of the prison guards and her mother often took her to the toilet to coax a word or two out of her.
The mother would remind Beenish of her aunts and uncles back home. Beenish, however, only knew the prison guards at Dhahban and the police officers who visited the facility where she lived. She knew them by their uniforms. She knew that her teacher would cover her face when they arrived.
Around six months ago, Beenish's maternal aunt, whose husband worked in Saudi Arabia, looked into the possibility of bringing Beenish back to Pakistan. Her husband used his contacts and was told Beenish could return to Pakistan given that they produce valid documents to prove their close relation.
The aunt then collected the relevant paperwork and flew to Saudi Arabia to bring her niece back. They contacted the Pakistani embassy which facilitated a meeting with Beenish, who only spoke Arabic and had to be interpreted by a translator.
Her last meeting with her mother was mostly mute. The two elder women wept while Beenish braced for yet another upheaval. After spending over two years in detention in a foreign country, away from her family, she would be going back to her hometown leaving her parents behind.
Read next: Behind Saudi Arabia
These past six months have been tough for Beenish and her guardians in Pakistan. They find it difficult to communicate with her. Her uncle, who already has several mouths to feed, tries to please her when he can. He says she likes to eat rice and meat and her favourite fruit are strawberries.
Last weekend, Beenish’s grandfather’s house was teeming with visitors. They had come to condole the death of her parents, beheaded by the Saudi government. Her mother was the first Pakistani female prisoner to be executed in five years.
She sits quietly with her younger brother, who did not accompany them to Saudi Arabia, in a corner.
Visitors stream in and out — some curious, others crying, all sympathetic. They inquire about the bodies. The family has no answer. They contacted the Pakistani embassy in Saudi Arabia, but the mission claimed to have no information about the executions.
The family has been pleading to anyone who cares to listen to bring the bodies back — for closure, a final goodbye.
One of the visitors asks Beenish about her parents: “They’ve gone to heaven,” she replies.
TODAY'S PAPER | MAY 03, 2019
The sinner within
Nikhat Sattar May 03, 2019
WE are all inclined to sinning, even though we know that it is wrong. In monotheistic religions, sinning is assumed to be natural for humans, but while Christianity believes in the original sin, Islam considers every person to be born innocent of sin and upon the natural fitrah. It is the external environment and Satan’s temptations that drive humans to sin.
In the Quran, lying, cheating, backbiting, eating pork, consuming alcohol are among the lesser sins, while murder, adultery, usurping rights of orphans, usury, falsely accusing others of adultery and associating partners with God are major sins.
Have we reflected upon what sin is and why Islam has clarified that humans are naturally capable of understanding the difference between being righteous and sinful? The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said: “Sin is that which disturbs your heart and which you do not want people to know about” (Muslim 2553). It causes uneasiness inside one’s breast and one would like to keep it hidden. It produces a sense of guilt, which, in a person who is God-conscious, would lead to repentance and efforts to never commit it again. Sincere repentance after sinning brings one closer to the Creator.
A useful explanation of sin, derived from the Quran, is given by Dr Farhad Shafti, a Quran scholar and teacher. A sin is what one would do against one’s natural self: an act that reduces one’s status as a human being and that degrades one’s soul. God has declared humankind as His vicegerent on earth: He takes pride in his creations, but humans continue to commit actions that go against the requirement of such a role. They dishonour themselves and disrespect the trust placed in them by God.
We oppress and hurt our fellow beings, oppressing our own souls in the process.
Having been blessed with the capacity of differentiating between good and bad, we do often choose the latter, overcome by our weaknesses. Sinning thus against ourselves, we belittle our worth, dignity, aspiration towards transcendence and spirituality. While sinning a few times is natural, committing the same deed again and again renders repentance meaningless.
Most of our sins are against our fellow human beings. We oppress and hurt them in various ways, oppressing our souls as well as the collective society. Our sins take on a multiplier effect. Bringing down this darkness on our own souls is what is so eloquently described in the Quran: “… It strikes and destroys the harvest of men who have wronged their own souls. ...” (3:117). The first prayer in the world was by Hazrat Adam and Eve: They said: “Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: if thou forgive us not and bestow not upon us Thy Mercy, we shall certainly be lost” (7:23). The same prayer was recited by Hazrat Younus when he left his people without instructions from God, and Hazrat Musa when he had inadvertently killed a man.
Each time we commit a sin, our souls lose some purity. Only repentance can remove this darkness, but repeated sinning will only increase it until the soul is no longer capable of being redeemed. This is what the Quran means by “the screen over their hearts” (6:25).
Why do we then sin? The Quran says that it is because we forget and ignore God. Prophets and revelations were sent by God to remind people of Him and give guidance, so that “man could decipher the primordial writing on his heart more clearly and with greater conviction” (Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Quran). If humans forget God, they give in to whims and desires which God has warned against and corrupt their souls. The consciousness of God leads to taqwa, a barrier against sin.
The sins of a person are not visited upon others. If one sins, one corrupts one’s own soul and if one does good, one benefits one’s own soul. No other being shall either be punished or rewarded for the actions of others. God hides the sins of people unless they make them public themselves or they come to light due to other reasons.
Confusion exists between the concept of sin in religion, which is forbidden by God and is repulsive to the fitrah, and crime, which is a legal concept. The two are not necessarily synonymous, although many sins are crimes and vice versa. Crimes may go unpunished in this world but unrepentant sinners must face justice in God’s court.
The best time to buttress ourselves against sin is the month of Ramazan, which is fast approaching. During this month, by the spiritual force of fasting and prayer, we can keep satanic temptations at bay. We clean our bodies by consuming less, our souls by keeping guard over our behaviour and establishing a connection with God through frequent and intense worship. This is the period to restock.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
There’s a lot of overlap between surgery on intersex infants and female genital mutilation. So why do we view them so differently?
Sociologists talk about the social construction of reality — that reality isn’t inherent in an object or person, but what we make of a particular phenomenon. We label something, giving it meaning or a “reality,” which in turn shapes our beliefs and attitudes about that particular thing.
Female genital mutilation is labeled “abuse,” a “brutal” or “barbaric” practice. Intersex surgery, on the other hand, is often referred to as “corrective” or “normalizing” surgery. In fact, the medical profession refers to being born intersex as a “disorder of sex development” (others prefer to use the phrase a “difference of sex development”). Labeling it a “disorder” suggests that intersex children’s bodies need medical intervention and “correction.” Research shows that doctors and surgeons often frame being intersex as a “medical emergency,” which in turn prompts medical staff and parents to make decisions quickly.
Our attachment to the idea of a “normal” body — a body that falls neatly within the gender binary — is driving surgeries on intersex infants and children (absent a true medical necessity). But plenty of biomedical evidence suggests that variability in human bodies, including in genitalia, is much more common than we think, and that “normalcy” is much less a biological reality than it is a social ideal.
In other words, what counts as “normal” is a product of one’s culture. Non-medically necessitated surgeries on intersex children may be perceived as “normalizing” by some in the United States; female genital mutilation may be seen as “normalizing” in Somalia, for instance, and in turn, in Somali communities in America. In each case, parents who want these procedures for their children are doing so because of cultural norms and fear of ostracism.
The footage looks set to prove the 63-year-old’s downfall as it was discovered by a technician who was repairing the camera system. The technician allegedly tried to extort Chand before turning the footage over to the authorities.
Staff accused of gang-raping sedated woman in Indian hospital
Chand’s sprawling bright yellow “house of horror” was known throughout the area as a place where poor children could get treats for free. The police say most of the victims were from poor backgrounds and Chand would lure them to his property with the promise of work.
“He would call these girls in the name of hiring domestic help. He would later provide them food, clothes and financial help,” police spokesperson Nitin Tiwari said.
A neighbor said Chand began feeding poor girls at a local temple after his wife passed away in 2016. “He often used to give money and clothes to them. Happy over freebies, these children started lining outside his house where he would serve them food and give them money and clothes,” Soma Pal told the newspaper.
The police have already traced at least six of the alleged pedophile’s victims. The businessman and one other person have been arrested in connection with the case that has sent shockwaves through the region.
Thousands of children are abused in Senegal’s religious schools
Their parents sent them to learn the Koran. Their teachers beat and starve them
MBAR LIFTS up his trousers and points at the marks where the chains wore his skin away. He was 11 when his father sent him from his village to a religious school on the outskirts of Senegal’s holy city of Touba. His teacher made him recite passages from the Koran in the morning. Then Mbar (not his real name) was sent out to the streets to beg for money for his master until night fell. If he misbehaved, he was beaten or starved.
After two years Mbar ran away to his village. But his father sent him to another school. This time he was not made to beg. Instead, he was chained to the classroom wall. “I couldn’t move. They used to bring me a bucket to pee in,” says Mbar, in a cracked voice.
Senegal is one of Africa’s more successful countries. It is peaceful. Its government functions relatively well and the economy is growing at 7% a year. But along the old boulevards of Dakar, the capital, thousands of talibé—the “seekers” attending nearby religious schools—beg for change. Some boys are as young as four. Many families send their sons to such schools, or daaras, where they memorise the Koran. Some do so for religious reasons but, for many, daaras offer the only opportunity for children to get a basic education. Many marabouts, or religious teachers, respect children’s rights. And begging has long been accepted as a way of teaching talibés humility and funding their education.
But because the system is almost completely unregulated, rackets flourish. A new report by PPDH, a coalition of Senegalese rights groups, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York, documents some of the abuse suffered by the estimated 100,000 children who are forced to beg.
Isolated far away from home, dozens of boys sleep in filthy rooms. They are given just enough food to survive. If they fail to meet their begging quota of about $1 per day, or try to escape, they may be beaten, starved or chained for weeks at a time. Many are sexually abused. According to a psychologist at Samu Social, a centre working with boys in Dakar, many children try to kill themselves or hurt themselves deliberately so they will need medical attention and can get out of the daaras. From 2017 to 2018, researchers recorded at least 16 incidents in which children died from beatings, neglect or poor conditions.
Most of the boys come from farms or villages in Senegal, but some are also trafficked from the Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Mali. Agents go to rural areas and promise parents that the boys will study at the most prestigious religious schools in Senegal. The costs for the traffickers are minimal. They pay border guards about $1 a child to smuggle them in from Gambia, says Issa Kouyaté, who runs Maison de la Gare, a talibé shelter in Saint Louis, a city in northern Senegal. Once they get the boys to the major cities, they can make money.
Government officials have repeatedly pledged to deal with the problem but their attempts have been half-hearted, at best. The daaras are powerful institutions and the marabouts can influence the way people vote in elections. Politicians and officials compete for their support and are reluctant to interfere in religious affairs.
In 2013 a law was drafted which sought to establish minimum standards for daaras. It is yet to be passed by parliament. In 2016 President Macky Sall spoke about taking the children off the streets and jailing those who forced them to beg. But official figures show that only about 300 children were helped in 2018. Children often beg openly outside police stations and the marabouts who abuse them rarely face justice.
All this may be storing up trouble for Senegal. “You have a large population of impoverished, abused children, isolated away from their families. I can’t think of a more perfect target population for criminals,” says Jeffrey Bawa of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, a UN agency, adding that the boys were also likely to be future targets for Islamist recruiters.
Mbar was chained to the wall for a month. An older, stronger boy kept the keys for the chains in his robe and disciplined the children when the marabout was away. Mbar saw him rape a younger boy several times. One night when the older boy was sleeping, he left his robe on the floor near Mbar, who found the keys and unlocked himself from the wall. He couldn’t find the key for the chains around his ankles but it was enough. He jumped out of the window and shuffled towards the distant lights of a main road. Strangers helped him out of his chains and took him to a shelter in Dakar. After almost a year of eating good food, he is beginning to grow again and dreams of becoming a footballer. If only Senegal could make similar efforts to leave the talibé system behind.
States that legalize it should set a minimum age of 25 or older.
Recent efforts to legalize marijuana in New York and New Jersey have been stalled — but not killed — by disputes over how exactly to divvy up the revenues from marijuana sales and by worries about drugged driving. Those are both important issues. But another concern should be at the center of this debate: the medical implications of legalizing marijuana, particularly for young people.
It’s tempting to think marijuana is a harmless substance that poses no threat to teens and young adults. The medical facts, however, reveal a different reality.
Numerous studies show that marijuana can have a deleterious impact on cognitive development in adolescents, impairing executive function, processing speed, memory, attention span and concentration. The damage is measurable with an I.Q. test. Researchers who tracked subjects from childhood through age 38 found a consequential I.Q. decline over the 25-year period among adolescents who consistently used marijuana every week. In addition, studies have shown that substantial adolescent exposure to marijuana may be a predictor of opioid use disorders.
The reason the adolescent brain is so vulnerable to the effect of drugs is that the brain — especially the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision making, judgment and impulsivity — is still developing in adolescents and young adults until age 25.
If we are concerned about justice and the mitigation of pain, we must get beyond the just-say-no mentality.
For starters, Christians should easily affirm the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Though recent research has revealed marijuana can have “a deleterious impact on cognitive development in adolescents,” numerous studies have also showcased its remarkable healing potential for adults. This has led more than 30 states to legalize it for therapeutic uses. As a doctor friend of mine in New York recently commented, if medical marijuana was a synthetic pill produced by Pfizer and not a historically villainized substance, it would be fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration and celebrated as a “miracle drug” by every respectable health practitioner in America. In clinical trials, medical marijuana has been shown to be safe and effective in relieving pain, decreasing inflammation, controlling seizures, reducing anxiety and depression, and easing the nausea related to chemotherapy.
America is sick, and the Christian call to compassion obligates the faithful to act. Chronic pain and illness now affect tens of millions of Americans, and in many cases the cause eludes the brightest medical minds. To fight these ailments, Americans have been prescribed mind-altering anti-depressants, highly addictive pain relievers and opioids, and all manner of legal substances with a list of side effects so long that drug commercials feel like “Saturday Night Live” shorts.
Christian ethics has long taught that the faithful must take an active role in caring for the ailing among us. The New Testament repeatedly commands the people of God to engage in “healing the sick,” an act that plays a central role in Jesus’s ministry in all four Gospels. In fact, one of Jesus’s most famous parables, in Matthew 25, lists humans’ willingness or failure to care for sick people as one of the chief criteria upon which they will be judged by God in the afterlife. And in at least one instance, the Apostle Paul, who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else, encourages his protégé Timothy to use a potentially harmful substance for the sake of health and healing. “No longer drink water exclusively,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:23, “but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”
Teenage Brides Trafficked to China Reveal Ordeal: ‘Ma, I’ve Been Sold’
With women far outnumbered by men in China, some Chinese men are importing wives from neighboring countries, and using force to do so.
MONGYAI, Myanmar — She did not know where she was. She did not speak the language. She was 16 years old.
The man said he was her husband — at least that’s what the translation app indicated — and he pressed himself against her. Nyo, a girl from a mountain village in the Shan hills of Myanmar, wasn’t quite sure how pregnancy worked. But it happened.
The baby, 9 days old and downy, looks undeniably Chinese. “Like her father,” Nyo said. “The same lips.”
Japanese law and social mores still treat users of soft drugs severely
Woe betide any celebrity caught with a spliff
Until his dramatic mea culpa in June, Junnosuke Taguchi was just another pop star-turned-minor actor. Dressed in funereal black, Mr Taguchi (pictured) prostrated himself in contrition before a scrum of reporters after his release on bail for drugs charges. A police raid on his apartment in Tokyo had uncovered rolling papers, a seed-grinder and 2.2 grams of marijuana (enough to roll a couple of joints).
While other countries legalise marijuana or instruct the police to turn a blind eye to casual use, Japan maintains strict prohibition. Possession is punishable by up to five years in prison—seven if the intent is to profit from distribution. Teams of detectives are dispatched to raid the homes of pot-smokers in remote rural areas. Every summer police comb the cooler northern countryside for wild cannabis, methodically pulling up millions of plants and incinerating them in bonfires.
Strict enforcement of the Cannabis Control Act leaves most young people with little exposure to the sort of drug-taking that is commonplace elsewhere, says an official with the justice ministry, and so narrows the “gateway” to harder substances. Hard drugs are indeed vanishingly rare: police reported only 14 heroin-related crimes last year. But the anti-cannabis regime is not purely punitive. Nearly half of offences go unprosecuted, and even those that are often end in suspended sentences. The emphasis, at least for young, first-time offenders, is on rehabilitation.
How Do You Dress a Six-Year-Old to Protect Him From Sexual Abuse and Murder?
And other grotesque questions Pakistanis ask in the face of rampant pedophilia.
KARACHI, Pakistan — Hang him in public, cut him into pieces, put those in a box, and when they begin to rot, burn them and throw the ashes to the winds, said the mother of an eight-year-old who was raped and murdered in Chunian, a small town in eastern Pakistan, last month. Her son, Faizan, was one of four boys targeted by a suspected serial killer.
The desire to inflict pain on and obliterate the killer of your child is completely understandable. And we have been here before.
Last year, Zainab, a six-year-old girl, was raped and killed and her body thrown on a trash heap in the same district of Kasur. Her angelic face was all over TV and social media for weeks. There were protests, and two people were killed when police fired on the crowd.
Zainab became an emblem of our national shame and outrage. Many of us Pakistanis demanded a public hanging back then, too. Her killer was caught and hanged; not in public, but still, and considering the generally slow pace of the Pakistani justice system, he was dispatched swiftly.
But we had been here even before that.
In 2015, reports emerged of a child pornography ring — also in a village in Kasur. Initially, there was mention of several hundred child-abuse videos, involving some 280 victims, and links to international child-porn rings. More than a dozen people were arrested and investigated. In the end, though, the police concluded that there was no organized group at work and claimed that about 20 children had been assaulted.
In the media, journalists and talking heads called all these perpetrators things like beasts and jungle animals. But the truth is that no beast known to man, existing or extinct, videotapes its young while it is abusing them.
“Kasur” has become a byword for child abuse in Pakistan because of the grisly stories that have come out of there, but let’s not pretend the problem is confined to that one district. It is rampant across the country, in all of our backyards.
Alcohol firms promote moderate drinking, but it would ruin them
Governments are growing more suspicious of Big Booze
Of all the substances people intoxicate themselves with, alcohol is the least restricted and causes the most harm. Many illegal drugs are more dangerous to those who use them, but are relatively hard to obtain, which limits their impact. In contrast, alcohol is omnipresent, so far more people suffer from its adverse effects. In 2010 a group of drug experts scored the total harm in Britain caused by 20 common intoxicants and concluded that alcohol inflicted the greatest cost, mostly because of the damage it does to non-consumers such as the victims of drunk drivers.
No Western country has banned alcohol since America repealed Prohibition in 1933. It is popular and easy to produce. Making it illegal enriches criminals and starts turf wars. In recent years governments have begun legalising other drugs. Instead, to limit the harm caused by alcohol, states have tried to dissuade people from drinking, using taxes, awareness campaigns and limits on where, when and to whom booze is sold.
The alcohol industry has pitched itself as part of the solution. In Britain more than 100 producers and retailers have signed a “responsibility deal” and promised to “help people to drink within guidelines”, mostly by buying ads promoting moderation. However, if these campaigns were effective, they would ruin their sponsors’ finances. According to researchers from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, a think-tank, and the University of Sheffield, some two-fifths of alcohol consumed in Britain is in excess of the recommended weekly maximum of 14 units (about one glass of wine per day). Industry executives say they want the public to “drink less, but drink better”, meaning fewer, fancier tipples. But people would need to pay 22-98% more per drink to make up for the revenue loss that such a steep drop in consumption would cause.
Health officials have taken note of such arithmetic. Some now wonder if Big Booze is sincere in its efforts to discourage boozing. In 2018 America’s National Institutes of Health stopped a $100m study of moderate drinking, which was partly funded by alcohol firms, because its design was biased in their products’ favour. And this year the World Health Organisation and England’s public-health authority banned their staff from working with the industry.
Producers are ready to fend off regulators. In 1999 alcohol firms invested half as much on lobbying in America as tobacco firms did. Today they spend 31% more.
The latest research suggests it’s not far-fetched at all — especially when you consider all the societal and cultural factors that make today’s games so attractive.
Charlie Bracke can’t remember a time when he wasn’t into video games. When he was 5, he loved playing Wolfenstein 3D, a crude, cartoonish computer game in which a player tries to escape a Nazi prison by navigating virtual labyrinths while mowing down enemies. In his teenage years, he became obsessed with more sophisticated shooters and a new generation of online games that allowed thousands of players to inhabit sprawling fantasy worlds. Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls — he would spend as much as 12 hours a day in these imaginary realms, building cities and fortifications, fighting in epic battles and hunting for treasure.
During his childhood, Bracke’s passion for video games, like that of most young Americans, didn’t cause him any serious problems. At school, he got along with just about everyone and maintained straight A’s. His homework was easy enough that he could complete it on the bus or in class, which allowed him to maximize the time he spent gaming. After school, he would often play video games for hours with his cousin and a small group of close friends before going home for dinner. Then he would head to the den and play on the family computer for a few more hours before bed. When his parents complained, he told them it was no different from their habit of watching TV every night. Besides, he was doing his homework and getting good grades — what more did they want? They relented.
When Bracke went to Indiana University Bloomington, everything changed. If he skipped class or played games until 3 in the morning, no one seemed to care. And only he had access to his grades. After a difficult breakup with a longtime high school girlfriend and the death of his grandmother, Bracke sank into a period of severe depression. He started seeing a therapist and taking antidepressants, but by his junior year, he was playing video games all day and seldom leaving his room. He strategically ignored knocks at the door and text messages from friends to make it seem as though he were at class. Eventually, he was failing most of his courses, so he dropped out and moved back in with his parents in Ossian, Ind., a town of about 3,000 people, where he got a job at Pizza Hut.
His life there fell into a familiar rhythm: He woke up, went to work, returned home, played video games until late and repeated the whole cycle. “It did not strike me as weird at all,” he recalls. It felt a lot like high school, but with work instead of classes. “And the time I used to spend hanging out with friends was gone, because they had moved to different areas,” he says. “And I kind of just thought that was the way of the world.”
3 Afghan Schools, 165 Accounts of Students Being Raped
An advocacy group says it has documented systematic sexual abuse by teachers, principals and other authorities of dozens of boys in one rural area.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The 14-year-old Afghan boy said his teacher had asked him for “a little favor” in return for not failing him on his final exams. Then the man took him to the school library, locked the door and raped him, the boy said.
At the same school, a 17-year-old boy reported similar treatment from the school’s principal. He said the man had threatened to kill him if he told anyone.
But the boys did talk, giving their accounts to a child advocacy group in their province and repeating them later in interviews with The New York Times. The advocacy group discovered that those two boys were not the only victims. From just three schools in one area of Logar Province, south of the Afghan capital, the group said it had taken statements from 165 boys who said they had been sexually abused at their schools, or by local officials they went to for help.
Now, Afghanistan is again caught up in discussion of rampant sexual abuse of children, and of a deep reluctance by many officials to deal with the issue at all.
Video Games and Online Chats Are ‘Hunting Grounds’ for Sexual Predators
Criminals are making virtual connections with children through gaming and social media platforms. One popular site warns visitors, “Please be careful.”
When Kate’s 13-year-old son took up Minecraft and Fortnite, she did not worry.
The video games were hardly Grand Theft Auto — banned in their home because it was too violent — and he played in a room where she could keep an eye on him.
But about six weeks later, Kate saw something appalling pop up on the screen: a video of bestiality involving a young boy. Horrified, she scrolled through her son’s account on Discord, a platform where gamers can chat while playing. The conversations were filled with graphic language and imagery of sexual acts posted by others, she said.
Her son broke into tears when she questioned him last month.
“I think it’s a huge weight off them for somebody to step in and say, ‘Actually this is child abuse, and you’re being abused and you’re a victim here,’” said Kate, who asked not to be identified by her full name to protect her family’s privacy.
Sexual predators and other bad actors have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes.
The criminals strike up a conversation and gradually build trust. Often they pose as children, confiding in their victims with false stories of hardship or self-loathing. Their goal, typically, is to dupe children into sharing sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves — which they use as blackmail for more imagery, much of it increasingly graphic and violent.
Reports of abuse are emerging with unprecedented frequency around the country, with some perpetrators grooming hundreds and even thousands of victims, according to a review of prosecutions, court records, law enforcement reports and academic studies. Games are a common target, but predators are also finding many victims on social platforms like Instagram and Kik Messenger.
Alcohol Deaths Have Risen Sharply, Particularly Among Women
An analysis of death certificates over nearly two decades contained several troubling findings.
The number of women drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol is rising sharply in the United States.
That finding was among several troubling conclusions in an analysis of death certificates published Friday by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The analysis looked at deaths nationwide each year from 1999 through 2017 that were reported as being caused at least partly by alcohol, including acute overdose, its chronic use, or in combination with other drugs.
The death rate tied to alcohol rose 51 percent overall in that time period, taking into account population growth. Most noteworthy to researchers was that the rate of deaths among women rose much more sharply, up 85 percent. In sheer numbers, 18,072 women died from alcohol in 2017, according to death certificates, compared with 7,662 in 1999.
“More women are drinking and they are drinking more,” said Patricia Powell, deputy director of the alcohol institute, which is a division of the National Institutes of Health.
Still, far more men than women die from alcohol-related illnesses, the study showed. In 2017, alcohol played a role in the deaths of 72,558 men, compared to 35,914 in 1999, a 35 percent increase when population growth is factored in.
Like much research of its kind, the findings do not alone offer the reasons behind the increase in alcohol deaths. In fact, the data is confounding in some respects, notably because teenage drinking overall has been dropping for years, a shift that researchers have heralded as a sign that alcohol has been successfully demonized as a serious health risk.
What Does It Mean to Have a Serious Drinking Problem?
Alcohol was my stress reducer, my reality fighter, the conferrer of artificial joys. It was also wreaking havoc on my life.
Alcohol was also medication. I drank to quiet angst or because I was lonesome. I drank, it took years to realize, because I had clinical depression. Eventually I treated the depression but kept drinking. Alcohol was my stress reducer, my reality fighter, the conferrer of artificial joys.
Life changed in my 40s. I married, and with my husband, adopted our beloved daughter, now 17. Working from home, I made dinner, drinking wine with a neighbor mom. My morning-after headaches were worsening, though. Nights, rather than reading or chatting with my husband, I’d crash. I feared my drinking was destroying brain cells. I’d written about how alcohol is harder on women than men and that worried me, too.
Some years ago, to prove I had control, I cut down to five nights a week. It was tough. How could I not drink after a rough day? I couldn’t manage two consecutive sober nights. Achieving my two sober nights was always an exercise in military-level strategizing. But every Sunday, I felt virtuous. An actual alcoholic couldn’t skip any nights, I thought. But I could.
What does it mean to have a serious drinking problem? The answer is surprisingly vague.
“Alcoholism” isn’t an actual diagnosis. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association’s authoritative Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders established two different classifications: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. In 2013, the D.S.M. combined the categories to create “alcohol use disorder,” a spectrum ranging from mild to severe, based not on how much someone drinks but on how many of 11 behavioral or psychological symptoms a person has.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own standards, focused more on quantity of alcoholic consumption. Seven drinks per week or fewer is considered safe for women, 14 or fewer for men. But guidelines fluctuate internationally, according to a Stanford University study from 2016. In Canada or France, you can drink more weekly and be considered “low risk.”
Moreover, a recent study in The Lancet concluded alcohol is so tough on health that there’s no safe level.
Child labour in Pakistan is the employment of children for work in Pakistan, which causes them mental, physical, moral and social harm. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that in the 1990s, 11 million children were working in the country, half of whom were under age ten. In 1996, the median age for a child entering the work force was seven, down from eight in 1994. It was estimated that one quarter of the country's work force was made up of children.
Worldwide 218 million children between 5 and 17 years are in employment.Among them, 152 million are victims of child labour; almost half of them, 73 million, work in hazardous child labour In
absolute terms, almost half of child labour (72.1 million) is to be found in Africa; 62.1 million in the Asia and the Pacific; 10.7 million in the Americas; 1.2 million in the Arab States and 5.5 million in Europe and Central Asia.Among 152 million children in child labour, 88 million are boys and 64 million are girls.
Domestic abuse is an age old and deep-rooted issue in society, affecting both women and men. The current restriction to movement and the socio/economic pressures brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic has led to a huge surge in domestic abuse cases worldwide.
“Never forget that walking away from something unhealthy is brave even if you stumble a little on your way out the door.” ― Unknown
For some, ‘Home’ brings to mind a space where one finds physical and psychological safety. Yet, for those who experience domestic abuse, ‘Home’ is experienced as a place of silent suffering and hidden ‘homelessness’ (Burke:1998).
In abuse, one of the tactics used by the abuser is to isolate the victim from family and friends. When the abuse takes place, the victim can feel very frightened, sometimes for their life, and of those around them. Victims feel trapped and forced to stay in the relationship because they think there is no escape, and that they are to blame. Sometimes the abuser will seem genuinely regretful. Things may remain stable for a while, and then the cycle of abuse repeats itself, causing distress and confusion.
The effects of abuse are varied including, but not exclusive to anxiety, depression, forgetfulness, anger, difficulty in inter-personal relationships, low self-esteem, eating disorders and addictions. In children, issues can include developmental, behavioural and academic problems. These effets need addressing, in some cases it can take time to overcome.
Seeking help might feel scary. Stigma, shame and worries about what people will think, and the fear that the partner may take the children away also play a role in remaining in an abusive relationship. Yet, getting help might be the best way to protect your children, yourself and your future generations. Reaching out to a trusted relative or friend, our Jamati institutions, the police, or our local domestic abuse helpline, may be the beginning of the journey to end the abuse. Examples of domestic abuse include:
• Physical abuse or threats of physical abuse
• Sexual abuse or a threat of sexual abuse
• Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse
• Destructive criticism, belittling or name calling and verbal abuse
• Pressure tactics
• Financial and Economic abuse (including not paying household bills, selling/giving away property without the others consent, withholding money)
Domestic abuse occurs in all socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and at various stages in our lives. Abuse in any form can affect everyone involved, including children.
If you are experiencing abuse, you can speak to your GP, health visitor, midwife or call:
UK Police: 999 press 55 when prompted if you can't speak
National Domestic Abuse Helpline
Telephone 0800 970 2070
Slavery was a cruel institution that can’t be excused by its era.
On the issue of American slavery, I am an absolutist: enslavers were amoral monsters.
The very idea that one group of people believed that they had the right to own another human being is abhorrent and depraved. The fact that their control was enforced by violence was barbaric.
People often try to explain this away by saying that the people who enslaved Africans in this country were simply men and women of their age, abiding by the mores of the time.
But, that explanation falters. There were also men and women of the time who found slavery morally reprehensible. The enslavers ignored all this and used anti-black dehumanization to justify the holding of slaves and the profiting from slave labor.
People say that some slave owners were kinder than others.
That explanation too is problematic. The withholding of another person’s freedom is itself violent. And the enslaved people who were shipped to America via the Middle Passage had already endured unspeakably horrific treatment.
One of the few written accounts of the atrocious conditions on these ships comes from a man named the Rev. Robert Walsh. The British government outlawed the international slave trade in 1807, followed by the United States in 1808. The two nations patrolled the seas to prevent people from continuing to kidnap Africans and bringing them to those countries illegally. In 1829, one of the patrols spotted such a ship, and what Walsh saw when he boarded the ship is beyond belief.
The ship had been at sea for 17 days. There were over 500 kidnapped Africans onboard. Fifty-five had already been thrown overboard.
The Africans were crowded below the main deck. Each deck was only 3 feet 3 inches high. They were packed so tight that they were sitting up between one another’s legs, everyone completely nude. As Walsh recounted, “there was no possibility of their lying down or at all changing their position by night or day.”
Each had been branded, “burnt with the red-hot iron,” on their breast or arm. Many were children, little girls and little boys.
Not only could light not reach down into the bowels of those ships, neither could fresh air. As Walsh recounted, “The heat of these horrid places was so great and the odor so offensive that it was quite impossible to enter them, even had there been room.”
These people, these human beings, sat in their own vomit, urine and feces, and that of others. If another person sat between your legs, their bowels emptied out on you.
These voyages regularly lasted over a month, meaning many women onboard experienced menstruation in these conditions.
Many of the enslaved, sick or driven mad, were thrown overboard. Others simply jumped. In fact, there was so much human flesh going over the side of those ships that sharks learned to trail them.
This voyage was so horrific that I can only surmise that the men, women and children who survived it were superhuman, the toughest and the most resilient our species has to offer.
But of the people who showed up to greet these reeking vessels of human torture, to bid on its cargo, or to in any way benefit from the trade and industry that provided the demand for such a supply, I have absolute contempt.
Some people who are opposed to taking down monuments ask, “If we start, where will we stop?” It might begin with Confederate generals, but all slave owners could easily become targets. Even George Washington himself.
To that I say, “abso-fricking-lutely!”
George Washington enslaved more than 100 human beings, and he signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, authorizing slavers to stalk runaways even in free states and criminalizing the helping of escaped slaves. When one of the African people he himself had enslaved escaped, a woman named Ona Maria Judge, he pursued her relentlessly, sometimes illegally.
Washington would free his slaves in his will, when he no longer had use for them.
Let me be clear: Those black people enslaved by George Washington and others, including other founders, were just as much human as I am today. They love, laugh, cry and hurt just like I do.
When I hear people excuse their enslavement and torture as an artifact of the times, I’m forced to consider that if slavery were the prevailing normalcy of this time, my own enslavement would also be a shrug of the shoulders.
I say that we need to reconsider public monuments in public spaces. No person’s honorifics can erase the horror he or she has inflicted on others.
Slave owners should not be honored with monuments in public spaces. We have museums for that, which also provide better context. This is not an erasure of history, but rather a better appreciation of the horrible truth of it.
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