What the Prince Andrew debacle teaches us about how powerful men view sexual abuse

What the Prince Andrew debacle teaches us about how powerful men view sexual abuse


As Prince Andrew retires from royal duties ‘for the foreseeable future’, Olivia Foster asks why did it take him so long to acknowledge Jeffrey Epstein’s victims?

victims
Getty Images

It’s a story that’s gripped the nation and reportedly forced the Queen to ‘sack’ her own son. First the catastrophic Newsnight interview in which Prince Andrew discussed his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and the accusations that he had once engaged in forced sex with a then 17-year-old Virginia Roberts – something which he denies.  While some had predicted it wouldn’t go well – Andrew’s own PR advisor quit just two weeks prior to taping – no one could have expected the car crash that followed.

Amid a storm of criticism, the Prince was forced to announce that he was stepping down from his royal duties indefinitely. In a statement released by Buckingham Palace he revealed his decision had come with the blessing of his mother, the Queen. This followed a week in which the stories regarding his conduct have not stopped rolling. We saw his claims that he never indulges in PDA torn apart by the release of pictures of him all over various women and we’ve seen major companies keen to distance themselves from him, with KPMG, Cisco and Standard Chartered all revealing that they will no longer be working with his Pitch@Palace initiative.

victims

Getty Images

Elsewhere on social media we saw joke-upon-joke about Prince Andrew’s claims that he can’t sweat and that he couldn’t have been with Virginia Roberts at Tramp nightclub on the night she alleged because he was actually at home after going to Pizza Express in Woking. But, as the memes begin to die down, we have to focus on one question. Why, after an hour-long interview, in which the Prince was given ample opportunity, did he only to choose to address Epstein’s victims four days later? And what does it say about the way powerful men view the severity of what the victims of sexual abuse experience?

Speaking with Marie Claire, Lizzy Dening, founder of Survivor Stories, a platform aimed at sharing stories from sexual abuse survivors in their own words, explained, ‘From a legal standpoint we can’t say how far involved he is in all of it but I think what was clear from the interview is that he is not a man who seems to put women first.’ Dening continues, ‘[The interview] was evidence of what happens when you have complete power and privilege from a young age which is that the whole world becomes about him and how events had affected him and his family and his career. It was shocking and yet at the same time not surprising, because we’ve seen this, it’s a common theme with the men who are quite rightly getting pulled up for Me Too. He had plenty of opportunities, it was a very long interview, it was prime time television, he could have used that platform to do some good for someone other than himself.’

Indeed, if we cast our eye back over the Me Too movement then it’s easy to reflect that the main people spearheading the conversation are women. The ones who have come forward and the ones who have supported them, we think of Tarana Burke, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow – it was meant to be a wake-up call for men but their voices of support have been distinctly lacking. But while Prince Andrew is a nuanced example – most men do not have his power or privilege – how CAN men support the movement in a positive manner? Lizzy explains that in the realms of every day discourse, those people whose mother’s aren’t the Queen, it’s about men learning to listen and women being open about how we feel they can help.

victims

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‘The main thing we can do is in small ways, it’s a thousand small ways, it’s pulling up stereotypes around victim blaming, it is questioning in an open way when your friend says something inadvertently victim blamey – and we all do it – it is engrained in society and it’s just having a little bit of self-awareness goes a long way.’ She adds, ‘A lot of it is listening to people and questioning one’s own beliefs; is that right? Should I be saying that? Is there a trickle-down effect that language like that can have on someone who is in a vulnerable position?’

As for Prince Andrew whether this week will fundamentally change the way he operates is yet to be seen. Earlier this week Jane Doe 15 came forward to claim that Jeffrey Epstein had committed a, ‘vicious prolonged sexual assault on her,’ and called for Prince Andrew to voluntarily meet with the FBI. In his statement last night the Prince said he was, ‘willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations.’ Whether he will come good on this claim, only time will tell. Let’s hope so, for his sake and Epstein’s victims.

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Emilia Clarke: 'Fame, fortune and high achievement stakes just aren't the end of the rainbow'

Emilia Clarke: 'Fame, fortune and high achievement stakes just aren't the end of the rainbow'


Last Christmas. Credit: Universal Pictures

Emilia Clarke is one of the most talked-about women in the world, returning to our screens this week in the festive flick of 2019, Last Christmas.

With an all-star cast (we’re talking Emma Thompson, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh) and a George Michael soundtrack, this is set to be the Christmas film of the year, but there’s more to it than festive fluff – this film has a much deeper message.

Following a heart transplant, protagonist Kate is stuck in a downward spiral, lost and disillusioned with life. That is until she meets Tom, a (very) handsome stranger who encourages her to look up and realise how lucky she is to be alive.

Emilia Clarke talked us through the project this week, with the 33-year-old suffering two brain aneurysms at the same age as her character’s heart transplant.

Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with Emilia to talk Last Christmas, the horrors of filming the ice skating scene and what we should all take away from the Christmas film of the year…

Last Christmas. Credit: Universal Pictures

Did your life-threatening aneurysms give you a deeper connection to your character Kate?

Yeah definitely, because we had it at the same time. It’s all well and good having a character you’re playing that’s had something wrong with them and so have you, but getting an illness when you’re four or when you’re 40 is very different from getting an illness when you’re 22. And it was that singular fact that made it even more relatable for me. You’re at such a crossroads in your life at that point, especially as a woman, and the world can seem unbearably confusing anyway. Throw your own mortality in the mix and it starts to get really sticky and confusing and so that was absolutely something I could relate to and feel on behalf of her.

Most millennials probably need a Kate transformation right now…

If you’re looking at a millennial audience which I think this film should speak to, what Kate does to transform her life for the better is so small. She does not want fame. She does not want fortune. She is not getting those things in this script. Nobody is going to Hollywood. Nobody has won the lottery. It’s really small things that require consideration and space and self-care and all that means is just taking a step back and taking a breath and it’s not even about [puts on American accent] ‘appreciating what you have and being super grateful’ – it’s just breathing. Look up means breathe – that’s all it means. You take a deep breath in and you put your phone down and you take a deep breath out and you keep doing that day after day and you keep making those moments in a day to breathe.

Last Christmas. Credit: Universal Pictures

What message do you hope people will take from the film?

The fame, fortune, high achievement stakes that everyone strives after – that’s not the end of the rainbow. That’s not it. That’s so not it, it’s unreal. I’ve lost my anonymity, but people who haven’t can chat to someone who’s homeless on the street, you can chat to someone who works in the pub, to your cabby, to your bus driver, whoever it is. You can have those human interactions every day and as soon as you do – by saying ‘you alright mate?’ and making eye contact with someone, you realise that there’s someone else in the world aside from you and your phone and whatever twittersphere is going on. I think for certain generations, that would be my takeaway message.

Talk me through filming…

We shot this at Christmas time so it was perfect. We couldn’t put the lights up in Regent Street in July so we had no choice – we literally shot Last Christmas, last Christmas. This is a love letter to London and a lot of it is about acceptance – acceptance of those around us in society. London is cosmopolitan and it’s rich and it’s multicultural and that’s what makes it beautiful. That’s what makes it magical. Accepting yourself and others within it – that is what’s really important.

Last Christmas. Credit: Universal Pictures

Can we talk about your insanely good singing?

I really like singing – I have always sung. When I was 13 there was a moment when I thought I should try and pursue singing over acting but then acting won. Now, as I’ve got older the fear of singing in public is blinding. You could stick me in front of a thousand people speaking Dothraki and it would be nothing but getting me to sing in front of that many people – I genuinely couldn’t handle how nervous I got.

Was singing in public the scariest part of filming?

No, the scariest part of filming was me doing ice skating. I’m not built to go on ice. It’s horrific. Why would anyone choose to do that? It’s 100% the worst thing about Christmas. Date on an ice rink? You’re already dumped.

Last Christmas. Credit: Universal Pictures

What made the Last Christmas project jump out at you?

Well, Emma Thompson wrote the script. As soon as I heard that Emma had written a script, I was like ‘I have to read that script because I love her beyond all reason’. So I did, and then I heard that Paul was attached to direct it and he is a genius comedian and pioneers female leads. The things that draw me to a project are creators and then the character itself and that’s it – anything else is just a cherry on top. So it was Emma and Paul, those two as a combination was pretty winning.

What was it like filming with Emma Thompson?

It was just amazing. We’re sort of pals for life now which is kind of the greatest Christmas gift I could have asked for. We all got on so well. That was Emma and Paul – they’re just really good people at bringing everyone together. They just cast well and we all just got on – there was no reason not to. There were no divas, there was no ego, it was just nice people working together.

Last Christmas. Credit: Universal Pictures

What was your most memorable scene to film?

Emma and I did this scene where she is singing me to sleep – I think it’s called scene 47 – and I looked at the blooper reel and I think we did like 80 takes because we could not stop laughing. She asked to replace me with a pillow because we could not stop laughing. I mean, I was in pain, she was crying, we were like messes – we could not get it done. Corpsing is a massive thing! And there’s lots of people in the room watching you and then the crew get annoyed obviously because they’re like ‘fuck you guys we’ve got lunch – you’re eating into our time’. Basically any scene that Emma and I have together are my most memorable. We would just keep riffing and Paul would be like ‘OK I called cut 10 minutes ago’.

What have you got planned for this Christmas?

In the run up to Christmas you can run but you can’t hide, I’m going to find you and we’re going to have a fucking glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. Your friends and family are around you and everyone gets time off together so that’s why I like Christmas. I’m really looking forward to this Christmas because I won’t be working like I was last Christmas. This Christmas starts December 1st baby!

Last Christmas comes to UK cinemas 0n November 15.

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‘Testicular cancer left my 28-year-old fiancé infertile’

‘Testicular cancer left my 28-year-old fiancé infertile’


When Stefanie Inman-Shore’s now-husband Matt was told testicular cancer had killed all his sperm, their future drastically changed. Here, she shares their story of grievance and gratitude

Movember
Supplied by Stefanie and Matt Inman-Shore

We were at a party the day before our lives changed forever. I distinctly remember Matt being off and he wouldn’t tell me why. The next day my 28-year-old fiancé admitted he’d felt a lump in his testicle while showering the day before – the party was officially over.

Matt’s dad, grandad and uncle all survived testicular cancer, so it wasn’t an unimaginable shock for him to discover the disease. But it was for me. Aged 30, both my auntie and nan had died from cancer, so I knew it always tried its best to destroy lives and I was terrified of losing Matt.

Days after his first GP appointment in August 2017, he was fast tracked to the hospital for tests (Matt was insistent given his family history). I thought the worst, especially when hospital staff brought up the word ‘cancer’. Doctors found the disease in both testicles and the only option was to have a bilateral orchiectomy, which was both testicles removed. It was incredibly scary to see the man who’d I’d been engaged to for 10 months become so vulnerable, but I did my best to be the strong, dry-eyed support he so desperately needed.

One thing I’ve never been able to forgive myself for is not being at the hospital appointment when Matt was told he couldn’t have biological children. I’d just started a new job and he was adamant I didn’t take any time off – I think because it was one part of his life he could control. It’s my biggest regret and my voice still breaks when I relive it. When I eventually got hold of Matt he sobbed down the phone, saying he’d let my parents down because he couldn’t give them grandchildren. My heart broke for him and our loss.

testicular cancer

In November, Matt – who I met through my job in sales back in 2015 – had one session of chemo (I spent mornings cleaning sick out the shower, which was lovely). Now he’s in remission and will be on testosterone injections for the rest of his life, but he’s lucky the cancer was caught early and hadn’t spread.

Because we haven’t had a child, I don’t know what it’s like to miss one – but I know what it would be like to miss Matt, and that’s an unthinkable thought. At first he thought I would leave him, but we are a team. Always.

We married in April this year, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it was an incredibly emotional day. When Matt thanked me for standing by him I allowed myself a little weep. Today, we are actively looking into adoption and sperm donation, an overwhelming and exciting option. It’s definitely not been easy, especially as after Matt’s op he found being around children really hard, and he cried when we went into a family pub and saw kids running around.

How has cancer changed us? We’re far more open with our feelings, and this has extended into our friendship group. All of Matt’s mates now regularly check themselves and express their emotions regarding health, work or money stress.

Since he was diagnosed, Matt has raised £26,000 for the Movember Foundation, through a variety of fundraising projects. This month, he’s taking part in the MoRunning Nottingham event on 17 November, and he’s even training for his first half Iron Man next year.

Matt, you’re my hero, and I wouldn’t want to do life without you.’

testicular cancer

Matt: ‘Having cancer made me a better human being’

‘To be told I wouldn’t be able to have children of my own made me break down in tears. I thought with today’s technology it would be straightforward to freeze my sperm and use it later in life, but that wasn’t the case.

Even now when my wife and I are out walking and there are children around I feel guilt, even though it is out of my control and we have exciting plans in place to extend our family. I’m currently leaning more towards using a donor, instead of adoption, because I want Stef to experience the beautiful process of pregnancy.

Cancer has stripped me of so much, but strangely, it’s given me more in return. I’m a better human being with more perspective because of it.

Please remember, cancer doesn’t care if you’re 25 or 85 – it will try to kill you. You can take that power back by doing regular checks.’

testicular cancer

Did you know?

 

  • Movember is the leading charity dedicated to changing the face of men’s health in the UK. Globally, men are dying six years earlier than women due to health issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide.

 

  • According to Cancer Research UK, men whose fathers had testicular cancer are around four times more likely to develop it and those with a brother affected are around eight times more likely to develop it.

 

  • Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men aged between 25-34. Although the outcome for most cases is positive, a 95% chance of survival is of no comfort to the one in twenty who won’t make it.

 

  • Movember returns today with its annual month-long fundraiser, challenging men across the UK to grow a moustache and raise vital funds. Mo Bros can sign up at movember.com and start with a cleanly shaven face on Friday 1st November.

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The best puffer jackets to keep you toasty this winter

The best puffer jackets to keep you toasty this winter


puffer jackets

Let it not be said that puffer jackets can’t be stylish. Thanks to the likes of A.W.A.K.E, Burberry, Chloé and even Chanel, the practical piece is now a full-fledged trend for autumn.

And who wouldn’t be into it? Being comfortable and on trend is the ultimate fashion goal, isn’t it? And trendy they are.

At Burberry, Chanel and Stella McCartney, fans of minimalism rejoiced at the chic quilted monochrome, padded navy and fluffy patent black options. Taking a more maximalist take on proceedings, Tory Burch, Acne Studios and Marques ‘Almeida, were all about colour blocking: cobalt blue, burnt orange, hot pink commanded attention (however you can always go down the camel or khaki route for a more subtle take on this).

In terms of hemlines, whilst the original waist coat is always a crowd pleaser, we’re going the extra length with ankle grazer and midi styles which are just like leaving the house with your duvet wrapped around you. Here. For. It.

Over on the high-street, there are plenty of affordable options too. Special shout out to ARKET, GAP and Uniqlo for filling that particular gap in our wardrobe.

In terms of styling, the trend is actually much easier to wear than you think. The street style set are big fans of dressing a puffer up with a floaty skirt and dad trainers, or even a checked suit and heels.

You could make like the DKNY models and pair yours with some vegan leather for a more casual vibe – I recommend this Nanushka jumpsuit.

However if you’re asking me, the outerwear goes perfectly with another handily cosy trend this season: the hiking boot. Just add a pair of jeans and start planning your next skiing holiday.

Shop my edit of the best designer and affordable puffer jackets available to buy now.

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The founder of #MeToo has set up a new hashtag that you're going to want to get behind

The founder of #MeToo has set up a new hashtag that you're going to want to get behind


Me too

The #MeToo movement was a watershed moment for women, rippling across the world and changing history in a way that few campaigns can.

And while the high profile figures who spearheaded the movement are well-known, someone who doesn’t get as much credit as she should is the hashtag’s founder, Tarana Burke.

‘If you are ready to change the world, if you are ready to join this movement, if you are ready to do the work that’s necessary to end sexual violence, I can only leave you with these two words: Me too,’ the 46-year-old civil rights activist famously announced.

Now, Tarana has created a new spin-off hashtag, and unsurprisingly it already has a huge following.

Introducing #MeTooVoter – a hashtag determined to mobilise voters ahead of the 2020 US elections and pushing for sexual violence and harassment to be part of the discussions and debates on the campaign trails, something that is yet to happen.

This is something that Tarana and her new movement aims to change, with the founder writing in an essay for Time, ‘Candidates have a responsibility to address the rampant sexual violence that permeates all of society’s systems and structures, including government.’

‘#MeTooVoter means you pledge to lift up the #MeToo framework and demand policy, legal, and cultural change. It is the first step of a new era in our movement,’ read a tweet from the new movement.

‘October marks the 2nd anniversary of the #MeToo hashtag & the start of a monumental shift,’ Tarana posted to her Twitter. ‘It rose awareness, but we demand more. I wrote this op-ed for @TIME in light of the upcoming #DemDebate. We are voting for accountability in 2020. #MeTooVoter’

Is there nothing this woman can’t do?

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'Being stuck in a woman's body was a prison sentence'

'Being stuck in a woman's body was a prison sentence'


Chris Edwards knew from early childhood he was male, but had to wait two decades before he could transition. Here, he reveals his remarkable physical and emotional journey as a transgender

transgender

The first time I saw blood on my underwear, I felt like my world was falling apart – a sinking dread that I really was going to be stuck in a woman’s body for the rest of my life. Getting your period is difficult enough for a teenage girl. But when you’re a guy inside, it’s like a prison sentence. Imagine your brother or boyfriend suddenly menstruating – they would feel like a freak.

I’ve always known that I was born in the wrong body. I came out to my grandmother when I was just five years old. I didn’t even know I was doing it, but when she called my sisters and I down for dinner with the words, ‘Come on, girls, dinner’s ready,’ I didn’t respond because I genuinely didn’t see myself as female. ‘Didn’t you hear me calling you?’ she asked. ‘I’m not a girl,’ I replied, insulted. ‘Yes, you are,’ she said gently. ‘No, I’m not. I’m a boy,’ I snapped back. Even then, I realised I was not like my sisters.

Since everything about me was boy-like – my clothes, my toys, my obsession with all superheroes – I was determined that the only thing lumping me in with the girls was my hair length. Girls had long hair; boys had short hair. So to clear up any confusion on the matter, I told my mother I wanted my hair cut ‘like Daddy’s’. Many parents would have been reluctant, but my mother wasn’t too concerned with gender stereotypes. She may have been traditional when it came to family, but she was relatively hip and liberal.

As I approached puberty, I used to pray at night that my penis would grow. When I was forced to put on a dress, it was like being made to wear drag. I was miserable. Things hit a particularly low point during my teens. A familiar nausea would sweep over me when it was time to go to parties where everyone was making out. I’d have to pretend I liked somebody out of reach – like the senior quarterback guy. All the girls wanted to be Olivia Newton-John and had a huge crush on John Travolta. For me, it was the other way round. But the frustration was that I didn’t have a vocabulary to explain how I felt. This was Boston in the early 80s. The only word that existed to describe my feelings was ‘transsexual’, which was negatively charged, thanks to movies that portrayed transsexual characters as deviants and serial killers. This made me even more afraid to tell my family. I knew they loved me, but I feared what that word would do to them.

Throughout college, I suffered episodes of suicidal thoughts. Pretending to be a girl was exhausting and when I looked to the future, all I was able to see was more frustration and pain. Eventually I made an appointment to talk to my doctor because I didn’t know who else to turn to. This was before the internet – nowadays, stories about being trans are commonplace and we have lots of public trans role models such as Caitlyn Jenner. It was virtually impossible to get any information. My doctor told me I wasn’t a man; I was just a masculine woman, and probably a lesbian. Crushingly, she simply diagnosed me with hirsutism – excessive hair growth. I was referred to a psychologist who also told me that my feelings about being a man were wrong and that I couldn’t do anything to change my situation.

Caitlyn Jenner for Vanity Fair

Eventually, I managed to find an understanding therapist, who encouraged me to open up to my family, which after agonising over, I finally did. When I broke the news, it was a huge relief to unburden this secret I’d been keeping for years, though they had trouble comprehending it. Their first reaction was that I must be gay, but gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with; gender identity is who you go to bed as. I had to explain how it felt to be in the wrong body.

My mother asked whether I might feel better about my body if I lost a few pounds and toned up, and offered to help me. When my parents finally got the message a few weeks later, they were cautiously supportive, but tried to persuade me not to transition. They were worried I was going to be worse off because the surgery was so new and they feared I’d lose my friendship group.

The turning point finally came when I managed to build up the courage to tell my friends. They were fantastic and totally supportive. All parents really want is for their child to be able to live a full and happy life – once they saw that my friends still accepted me, they embraced the change. I know I’m lucky though – 57 per cent of trans kids who don’t have supportive parents attempt suicide.

But there was another hurdle. After two years working with the same ad agency, I finally announced I was transgender to the executive board. It was extremely tough, and people were shocked, but it could have been a lot worse – thankfully, my dad was CEO of the company, so at least I knew I had job security. Other people in my situation could be discriminated against or even fired.

Once I’d come out openly, I was finally able to start my journey towards physically transitioning. I made it a gradual process, so it wouldn’t be too jarring to people. I threw out all my bras, went shopping for new clothes and got a more masculine haircut – it was liberating.

I remember a really big moment one day: I had given some change to a homeless man. When he said, ‘Thank you, sir,’ I was overjoyed. It was the first time I had been called ‘sir’ and that’s when I knew I had passed. That was a huge deal for me.

But this was a tough time. Despite there no longer being anything remotely feminine-looking about me, my family was going through a huge transition of its own. They would often slip up and say ‘she’ or ‘her’ in reference to me. It was frustrating because it would happen in front of other people, but I realise now that my mother and older sister, especially, had to mourn the loss of their daughter and sister. I’d been my mother’s daughter for 26 years and her son for only two; it was bound to take time to accept.

After two months on testosterone injections, my periods stopped, which was another milestone. My friends dragged me camping and I had a pad-burning party. It was a real high moment. Thirteen years after that awful night aged 13, when I first saw blood on my underwear, I was free.

Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards photographed by Maureen Sargent

The journey is a long one, though. The downside to the hormones is having to go through puberty all over again. I had bad acne – 26 years old and I was shopping for Clearasil in the skincare aisle with teenagers and my hair had started to recede. But I’d rather be a guy and put up with those things than have gone back to being who I was. Besides, there are lots of guy rituals I came to enjoy – like being able to pee standing up and skipping the long queue for the girls’ bathroom. And shaving. Most men see it as a pain in the ass. I’d tell my friends, ‘You think that’s a pain? Try shaving your legs and armpits and bikini line.’

Not everything about being a man is great. It’s certainly a step down using the men’s room. When you go to the ladies, you flush, make noise with the toilet paper – anything to try to disguise it. In the men’s room, it’s loud and proud. It’s a culture shock. But going in there for the first time and learning the etiquette was a big step. Once I was accepted there, it felt like I’d made a breakthrough, that I was part of this club.

After my periods had stopped, the most significant moment in my journey was having top surgery. It’s usually what makes the most difference to those who are going from female to male. Before, when I hugged people, I wouldn’t get close because I didn’t want them to feel my breasts and I developed a hunch in order to try to disguise them. Finally, I could pass for male. I was in my mother’s bathroom when we took off the bandages. My chest was bruised and uneven, but she looked at me and was crying and said, ‘Now you look right.’

It took five years to get my penis and involved roughly 23 procedures. It was a gruelling process and there were times when I couldn’t get out of bed, I was in so much pain. You can’t do something like this alone. But I was lucky to have family and friends who looked after me, and was able to openly take medical leave from work. Having the full surgery was important to me. I wanted to be as close to a biological male as possible, so I had a hysterectomy as well.

Chris Edward, Family Photograph

A family photograph

It has now been 21 years since I transitioned, and I have had great relationships in that time with women who know about my past. The tricky part is knowing when to tell someone you’re dating who doesn’t know. My goal was not to let my gender define me, but I’m struggling now because I’ve just written a book, which is like outing myself all over again. I don’t regret writing it, though. I wouldn’t wish being transgender on my worst enemy. But I wanted to make it easier for others going through the same thing and to show parents that there are regular everyday success stories, so they’ll be more supportive of their transgender children.

It’s funny. People often ask me if the day I got my penis made me feel like I’d completed my journey, that I was finally fully a man. But for me, the real completion will be when I find somebody and get married. I’m still looking for that.

Balls: It Takes Some To Get Some by Chris Edwards (£19.26, Greenleaf Book Group) is out now

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‘I grew up in a sex cult’: surviving the Children of God abuse

‘I grew up in a sex cult’: surviving the Children of God abuse


When Rose McGowan spoke out about the childhood abuse she suffered within the Children of God organisation, it shone a spotlight on a global cult engaging in the widespread exploitation of children. Fellow survivor Christina Babin tells how she too overcame the trauma to rebuild her life

children of god
Getty

My earliest memory is of living in Jamaica aged four and looking out of the window at the children playing in the street. I was amazed to see them running and laughing – they seemed so free. Despite the sweltering heat and my longing to feel the fresh air on my face, I knew, even as a child, that I was a prisoner. We left the Children of God compound just once a week to hand out food to poor children. Every other minute was dedicated to working for God.

I was just a baby when my mother naively joined the organisation with my brother and me, looking for a pure, simple way to live. She didn’t know that the Children of God was, in fact, a global cult founded on sexual abuse and violence – on the surface, it seemed like a warm community that embraced families. Set up by paedophile David Berg in California in 1968, it merged traditional Christian beliefs with communal living, and sexual contact with children from the age of 12 (Berg had sex with his own daughter at this age). High-profile members included Rose McGowan’s family, River and Joaquin Phoenix’s mother and Jeremy Spencer’s (Fleetwood Mac guitarist) family.

Whatever country we lived in, and we moved a lot, the strict routines and degree of violence we experienced were the same. Every night, I fell asleep in the desperate hope of not wetting the bed. Clearly a sign of how disturbed a child is, it was considered by the cult as demon possession and could be beaten out of you. Physical punishment was the only real constant I knew. There was no limit to how far the adults in charge would go; one boy frowned instead of smiling and was thrashed. I saw children thrown through windows, and even babies were beaten. Such abuse was followed up by hugs – totally disorientating for a small child. We were told the punishment was because the organisers loved us and it was for the good of our soul. We were made to thank them. I learned to cope by taking whatever ownership I could. I remember staring at an adult abusing a friend and thinking, ‘I’ll remember this’. It was a small thing, but all I had. All this abuse existed behind closed doors, and the conspiracy of silence and our ingrained fear of the outside world stopped the truth about what was going on from being discovered by authorities for decades.

Looking back, my childhood days pale into one repetitive cycle. We woke up at 7am in the sterile ‘children’s room’. Nuclear families were not allowed to live together, so we had to be with the kids and adults of other families, leaving us open to abuse. Then, it was straight on to your knees for prayers. After a small breakfast and more prayer, the children were allowed out for a limited period with a chaperone from the community to beg. These precious moments gave me tantalising glimpses of the outside world – of other children, shops, communities. A world we were told was corrupt and venal, where everyone was vicious to each other and deeply unhappy. Our afternoons were spent at the Children of God compound and dedicated to exercise. Competitive games were forbidden and enjoyment was banned. Exercise was simply training – it was about physically preparing us to be an army for God. There were no bedtime stories. Instead, we heard gruesome tales of how the world was about to violently end, how as martyrs we’d either burn at the stake or be shot. We went to sleep in a state of fear.

 

children of god

It was when I was about eight (we didn’t celebrate birthdays, so it’s hard to be sure) that the cult’s ideology shifted in a disturbing new direction – towards sex. A policy of ‘flirty fishing’ was introduced, which meant female cult members had to go out and have sex with men to convert them. In truth, this was prostitution and the cult took the profits. Then, in a disturbing twist, a letter arrived from the Children of God leader, ‘Moses David’, encouraging adults to teach children how to have sex, claiming it was healthy and good. And so the sexual abuse began. I was violated in this way from the age of 12 too many times than I care to remember, but sex was encouraged with children who were far younger. Even being isolated from TV or outside contact, deep down, I still knew it was wrong. All the children did. We also knew it wasn’t right to see adults having sex in front of us, yet were powerless to stop it. I remember Mum refusing to take part in any of the sexual behaviour, which caused lots of problems. As a result, we were split up and moved around to other communes.

At 12, I was sent to a Children of God ‘reprogramming (propaganda) camp’, then to Japan and, aged 15, to the Philippines with my older brother. For a year and a half, I never stepped outside the gate of our compound, which was surrounded by armed guards. In effect, like the other children there, I was a slave. It was a place of unchecked abuse and vicious control. The regime was brutal, and there was no talking at all. If you laughed, they’d put tape over your mouth. We were forced to fast for days, they publicly beat us, and children would disappear for months, emerging bruised and silent. My mum now had no idea where I was, my passport had been taken and there was no hope of escape.

I felt nothing but a sense of numbness when, 18 months after arriving in the Philippines, my brother and I were released and driven to the airport to go home to the US. In my hand were two reports about us, with strict instructions to pass them on to the next Children of God commune and not to read them. Realising we were alone for the first time ever as we sat on the plane unaccompanied, we opened them. Mine said I was compliant, but my brother’s was full of lies about his waywardness. We looked at each other and ripped them to shreds. It was a turning point, and yet I still wasn’t strong enough to escape, even when we landed back on US soil. It took me another two years to find the courage to leave. I know it’s hard for people to understand why I didn’t run when I had the chance; why, when I met my husband in the cult at 19 and he begged me to leave with him, I refused. But I was terrified of the outside world. I had taught myself to read but had no education, no idea how to speak to anyone and was scared after a lifetime of propaganda. I was living in mental chains.

Freedom finally came when I was 20 and he convinced me to visit his family at their home. There I saw them sit and eat, laugh and hug. I remember watching them, waiting for the beatings to start, but they never did. Six months later, on our next visit, I made the decision never to return to the Church of God. I was 21. I’m now 43, have four children and my family live normal lives. I’m angry about the years I spent in captivity, but have carved out a bright future. My revenge has been to raise intelligent, independent kids. Through my book, I’m hoping to tell victims that they don’t have to be defined by what’s happened to them. My life filled with joy, hope and love. I am a survivor.

Babin is raising money to self-publish a book about her life. Find out more at gofundme.com/cult-outsider.

Words by Kate Graham. Photograph by Craig Mulcahy

The Children of God today

Despite the arrests of cult leaders on child sex-abuse charges over the past three decades in countries across the world – including Mexico and the UK as recently as last year – the Children of God, which also refers to itself as the Family International, is still going and claims to have over 2,500 members in 80 countries. Having been reorganised and rebranded, the group is now led by founder David Berg’s widow Karen Zerby. After a series of image makeovers, the organisation now refers to itself as a church with wholesome family values, as religious organisations cannot be held accountable for the behaviour of individuals, who could be said to have misinterpreted teachings. In a bid to distance themselves from the group’s past, members argue Berg’s writings do not reflect the group’s fundamental beliefs or policies, and reject the concept of the entire membership being blamed for the wrongdoing of individuals, even those at the highest levels of leadership.

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On International Day of the Girl 2019 we look into how body image has become an education barrier

On International Day of the Girl 2019 we look into how body image has become an education barrier


Getty Images

Today marks International Day of the Girl, a time for us to highlight the challenges that girls face across the world and push for empowerment and fundamental human rights for all.

This year, we look at the body image concerns that young girls face on the regular in the UK, with global children’s charity Plan International UK publishing a survey today that revealed shocking statistics.

According to their survey, body image concerns in young girls have started to obstruct education, with one in six girls missing school or work due to worries about their appearance.

The poll, based on 1,000 girls between the ages of 14 and 21, found that a huge majority feel a great deal of pressure to look a certain way. 89% of the girls interview admitted to feeling pressure to fit an ‘ideal’ face and body type, whilst 25% admitted to feeling ‘ashamed or disgusted’ by their body.

According to Plan UK, ‘these overwhelmingly negative feelings over body image are holding girls back from fully participating in society and achieving their potential’.

19% of young women in the survey have avoided public speaking due to their body image concerns, while 9% have not attended a job interview and have avoided participating in lessons, with 27% choosing to not even leave the house.

57% of girls worry about their appearance in school or college every week, and 39% worry about their appearance in school every day. 69% of girls have avoided at least one social, school or work activity in the past 12 months due to body image concerns.

This equates to 2 million (2,030,706) girls aged 14-21. This is unacceptable.

‘I got bullied through all my years at school,’ one girl featured in the survey, 18-year-old Sarah from South Wales explained. ‘I was called fat because of my weight and I wore jumpers and jackets to cover up myself and my body. Eventually, I stopped going in – I didn’t get any GCSEs, and the bullying gave me anxiety and depression. It’s really affected my future – my education stopped simply because I didn’t feel comfortable.’

Plan International UK is calling for society to recognise body image concerns as a gender inequality issue that affects girls’ ability to reach their potential, above and beyond the harmful impact it has on their perception of the way they look.

Today, on International Day of the Girl, the charity is asking members of the public to pledge to do one thing – to encourage girls to reach their potential, without being held back by appearance worries. This might be by complimenting a friend, sister or daughter on who they are and not how they look, doing something themselves that they’ve always avoided due to worries about their appearance or sending a message of solidarity to the girls Plan International UK works with at www.plan-uk.org/pledge.

‘We know that girls and young women experience huge pressure on their body image in every area of life, from the images they see in the media to hurtful comments at school,’ explained Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK. ‘But these new statistics show this is having a frightening impact on their futures, affecting their ability to take advantage of opportunities and, in some cases, preventing them from their basic rights to access education and earn a living.

‘On International Day of the Girl, we want to send a clear message that society needs a makeover. Body image worries should not simply be a ‘normal’ part of growing up for girls. We need everyone to recognise this, listen to girls, and elevate their voices to create a society where girls have every chance to succeed.’

As part of Plan International UK’s girls’ rights programmes, the charity is working with The Body Shop who will be donating £25,000 to support Girls Out Loud – a safe, closed space on existing social media channels, moderated by Plan International, where girls can share and discuss the issues that matter to them, including body image.

The research was conducted online by Opinium Research amongst a representative sample of 1,004 14-21 year-old girls in the UK from 13 to 22 August 2019.

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I’m swapping my usual slip skirt for these three midi skirts this season

I’m swapping my usual slip skirt for these three midi skirts this season


midi skirts

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of slip skirts – and dresses for that matter. I lived in them last winter, wearing them with an oversized sweater and boots.

However this season I fancy switching things up a bit, and lucky for me there are plenty of gorgeous midi skirts that mean that I can upgrade my wardrobe without veering from my usual style too much.

The flouncy skirt

Shop now: PENELOPE Full Circle Khaki Silk Skirt for €580 from Piece of White


Whilst I love the fitted silhouette of the traditional silk skirt, this autumn/winter I’ve fallen in love with the flouncy skirt. A bit more 70s, and more twirl-worthy, I’ll be wearing it with a white puff sleeve shirt and cowboy boots. This khaki skirt by Piece of White is the right shade for autumn too.

The pleated skirt

Shop now: Printed pleated skirt for £49.99 from Mango

Pleated skirt are back in a big way. Long deemed too schoolteacher too be trendy, they’re now a must-have for anyone wanting to add a touch of chic to their wardrobe. This checked Mango skirt will look great with clashing checks, whether that’s a cosy knit or a fitted blazer.

The knitted skirt

Shop now: SOFT-TOUCH SKIRT for £19.99 from ZARA

My love for all things 80s doesn’t stop at clothes, in fact for the past couple of winters I’ve invested in one of the essentials at the time: knitted separates. Zara especially has an excellent offering of midi skirts with matching jumpers. I’m going all cream with this one, right down to my slouchy boots. Inspiration: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

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STOP EVERYTHING: This product sorted out my cellulite

STOP EVERYTHING: This product sorted out my cellulite


BRB just off to bathe in it

Augustinus Bader The Body

I am obsessed with Augustinus Bader products. Which is saying a lot as there were currently only two in existence – The Cream and The Rich Cream.

Until now.

Now there’s a third product – The Body Cream. And it is just as glorious, and more importantly efficacious, as his previous creations.

If you missed the phenomenal buzz around the creams last year, it was something to behold. The brand, at under a year old, took the market by a storm. The cream was heralded by make-up artists, celebrities and beauty editors across the globe as a game-changing product. What set it apart? The science. Augustinus Bader is a Director and Professor of Applied Stem Cell Biology and Cell Technology who specialises in burns research. He found that much of his findings on the treatment of burns could be transferred to the treatment of skin concerns. And the rest, as they say, is history. People, including myself, were shocked by how good the results were. The brand saw such success earlier this year that it was recently revealed by the Business of Fashion as the most googled name in skincare.

And now the focus is on the body…

Augustinus Bader The Body Cream, £130

augustinus bader the body cream

Buy Now

Whilst I am totally aware that £130 is a huge amount to ask anyone to pay for a body cream, much like his skincare, there is good reason behind the steep price. Bader has created something called the Trigger Factor Complex (TFC8®) which he includes in all of his products. This active ingredient creates the optimal environment in skin for regeneration. Basically, it kick starts your skin cell renewal process.

There are clinical trials on the way, but an initial small study revealed that 92% people said that their cellulite had been reduced after 28 days of use; 90% said their stretch marks had improved, whilst a whopping 98% said that the texture of their skin has been transformed.

I conducted my own trial – OK there were no scientists there to verify the results, but the mirror never lies does it?!

I have cellulite – there’s no point denying. It’s there. I’m not keen on the way it looks, in fact getting me into a swimsuit take a lot of persuasion. However, I only have myself to blame. Do I exercise? Of course I bloody don’t – I hate being out of breath. Do I eat a cracking diet, staying away from sugars and salt? Nope. In fact that’s pretty much all I look for in a meal or snack. So yeah, I have quite a bit of cellulite.

I used this cream on repeat morning and night for a whole month and I promise you the change to my thighs was incredible. My skin looked healthier – it is a rich, luxurious cream so it’s inevitable that the shea butter and candeia oil will help improve the appearance of skin. But I also noticed that the lumps and bumps at the bag of my legs were less pronounced.

I don’t believe that this cream will completely cure my cellulite – I’m not sure any product can make that claim – but it does feel so different to the other products on the market that promise a lot. Because it has the ‘trigger factor’ technology, it is sending signals to your cells to get moving and prompt renewal.

I’m a huge believer in dry body brushing – it’s the only thing other than this cream that has caused any improvement in my cellulite – so imagine the combo of both?! I meant talk about a dynamic duo…

I’m sold. Mainly, because it means that my super-duper healthy exercise and diet regimen can continue…YAY!

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