There have been a few sensational articles in national papers recently about sex in the Jungle. All sounds like good fun but actually they are talking about the jungle refugee camp in Calais and then it becomes a little less funny. Claims have been made that women go over there just to have sex with the residents of the camp, that female volunteers exploit residents in return for sex. I don’t really know where to start on this, there are so many layers of stuff that it is onionesque but, what is shocking, and really shocking, are the comments from so called ‘normal’ people on social media and online.

So, apparently, women are travelling over to the camp to pluck young men out from tents and roger them senseless. I have not seen any of this. This does not mean that it doesn’t happen but I haven’t seen any of it. I have heard of some people having relationships (and I’ll get onto that a bit more in a minute) and rumours on the internet that some people have abused their position of power in return for sex. Well never heard of that happening before… There is not a single centimetre upon this planet where there is not someone exploiting someone else for sex. The difference here is that, allegedly, it is women doing it. That does not make it alright but the comments being made are vitriolic. It terrifies me that you scrape the surface and that is what is lying beneath, these are actually the thoughts that are rattling around people’s tiny brains.

There are reports of women being raped in the camps. Silence. There were articles about children being raped in the camps. Silence. The police are tear gassing children and babies. Silence. But a female volunteer having sex and all hell breaks loose. What the hell is wrong with people? None of it is alright, if it is exploitative, but the disproportianate responses are beyond. I just wonder what travels along the neuron pathways of people who are outraged by this and not by a small child being raped and the comments, I am very sad to say, are largely made by men.

The whole place is laid upon a bed of exploitation. The people are there as a result of governments, including our own, exploiting countries. People are fleeing exploitation of the very worst kind. They then run the gauntlet of exploitation on a journey across europe, being exploited out of thousands of pounds to make the journey. Exploitation, it would seem, is the name of the human game but not by all I am very happy to say. Where people are exploited, where there is misery, hunger and desperation there also emerges kindness and it is in the camps that I have come across the greatest kindness that I have ever known. The vast majority of the volunteers that I have met are kind hearted, courageous, get off their arse kind of people who simply want to do something where our governments have left a gaping hole of need. Any sane thinking person would find it unacceptable that someone does not have food and is being beaten by the very people who are paid to protect. Take any politics or beliefs out of the frame and that is what it boils down to. If anyone thinks that people deserve to die of cold, hunger and violence simply based upon their place of birth then they need to go and sit in a dark corner and give their head a good wobble.

As the camp is not recognised and as there are people who do live by the belief that a person is of lesser value based upon their place of birth then, as a result, there are also many people who are vulnerable. Where there is a vulnerable person, there is also a queue round the block to get to them. It is known that paeodophiles circle the camp rubbing their hands in glee at the children there with no government willing to protect them. It is the same here, it is probably the same wherever you are living. I used to work as a social worker and I know that it happens everywhere. That children and vulnerable adults are exploited by those who seem to believe that they have the right to do so is nothing new, sadly. What does appear to be new is the level of hatred aimed at people in need of help and towards those doing the helping. We are hearing a narrative going on now that even a year ago would have seemed impossible. Not just towards refugees but the comments about women and sex seem to be taking us back towards the dark ages.

A volunteer and a refugee, Sarah and Hamoud, fell in love and are going to be married. There was an article in the media about this and the response has meant that the level of hatred being aimed at them is making their lives a misery. I remember when they met and were all gooey eyed and swooning and still are and good luck to them. They are both fabulous people. Why shouldn’t a love story emerge from the whole sorry mess. And if it doesn’t work out then that will be sad but not massively unusual for a relationship. I read some of the comments after the article and my eyes were glued in a car crash kind of way, horrified and unable to believe that people actually think these things let alone take the time to articulate them. Proper knuckles dragging on the ground, neanderthal, hideously violent comments and pretty much all by men. Why? I don’t get it. Why does this cause such outrage and yet stories of children being raped draws silence all round? I worry that there are people who live near me that actually think like that. Is it the majority of men? Please restore my faith someone. Is it something to do with being a primal response or some such other kind of twoddle? Manners. Decency. Not wishing harm to someone you have never met. What happened to all of that? If people are frightened that the likes of Sarah choose to spend their life with a kind, funny, clever young man who happens to be from another country then what does that mean? I don’t know but I can’t help hoping that more people follow suit as it sounds like our murky gene pool could do with a bit of a swirl. Judging by the hideous comments being aimed just at these two young people it feel as though our dna needs a shake up before it returns to gorilla completely.

He Who Doth Protest


On Saturday I went on a protest march at Yarl’s Wood detention centre near Bedford. Yarl’s Wood is one of around thirteen detention centres in the country that ‘houses’ mainly women and children. The reports of the treatment towards people staying there has long since raised concerns and controversy. In 2006 an investigation found that 70% of women had reported being raped by staff and that is shocking by anyone’s standards. People are held there for an indefinite length of time awaiting deportation with often little recourse to legal advice. It is certainly no place for a child to be whatever your opinion is on anything. People are often held on the basis of who they are rather than what they have done, imprisoned due to a lottery at birth. It is impossible for a person to be illegal but we seem to be managing it.


People arrived from up and down the country and the rain arrived in stair rods. There were people from every walk of life all standing together and the sight of the human spirit stomping through the rain, in the name of a cause in which they truly believe, is thoroughly soul restoring. What does a demonstration achieve? We don’t really know, maybe nothing at all. I am always a bit conflicted about protests, are they just symbolic? Maybe, but symbolism has a value and a place in being able to shout about, talk about and express any idea and ideals. Whether a protest achieves something or not, the right to protest is one of intrinsic human need and nature. Many countries, Syria being the latest example, are not able to protest without risking their lives, quite literally, and I have spoken with many people who have paid the consequences of standing up and speaking out against a regime that quashes and kills their people.

Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights outlines the right to protest and freedom of association. That is freedom of speech, a right to say what we believe, what we think and what we do not agree with. The very Human Rights Act that is currently under threat and, in recent years, a whole heap of measures have been introduced that undermine the right to protest and freedom of speech. Drip, drip, drip and before we know it we are not allowed to stomp through the rain with placards and drums and chanting about what we believe is wrong. We are inches away from that.

There were a few police there but they were pleasant enough and kept to themselves. They probably pulled the short straw having to stand out in the rain and stand by when they would quite likely have wanted everyone to just go away and shut up. Long may it continue. A sad day for everyone it will be if people are not allowed to jump up and down angrily at the blatant mistreatment of fellow humans. Protests are a brilliant way of being angry, a bit like a football match I guess, and I am a big fan of people being allowed to let the world know that they are angry as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process. There is huge value, and even healing, in letting the world and yourself know that you are indeed very very angry. Shouting, especially in unison, can be fun. Unity is fun and people get unity from protesting. Unity is exactly what powers that be fear and despise and that is why protests must be so carefully guarded and kept safe from the clutches of those that wish to do away with the Human Rights Act. Protests show strength in numbers and love and respect for fellow men and women is a huge part of this. Scary stuff if you are trying to divide the nation.

The actual stomping through the rain is the tip of the iceberg. The demonstrations, the protests, the video clips of people shouting, this is just what is visible to outsiders just like the tip of the iceberg. Underneath, what the protests are built upon is a foundation of reaching out to others, phone calls, messages, organising, meetings, fundraising for the coaches to get people there, planning and more planning, communicating, education, research, conversations between zillions of like minded and not like minded. All hard work and not particularly glamorous but necessary to create a day when people can pitch up with placards and become a group that comes together in the name of a cause that lies close to people’s hearts. Authorities hate that. They hate that the tip of the iceberg is built upon a solid network of people who give a shit and will not be swayed in face of being told otherwise. Everything that is being fed to us by the media is trying to create a narrative that makes people doubt the validity of protests, the humanity of certain people and the power of the everyday person to be able to make a difference.

Media reaches us in so many forms now and the reliance upon newspapers to provide ‘news’ is no longer what it was. As media bombards us from every angle and tries desperately, and at times it feels as though it is succeeding, to decide the narrative of the nation maybe the power of protest will become even more important. Or maybe people feel that the physical protest is outdated and they feel that they are doing their bit of protesting online. Maybe the Iraq protest in 2003, meant to be the biggest demonstration worldwide in recent history, was the last gasp of the previous generation. I have heard many people say that it made no difference, nobody was listening so what is the point? I don’t have an answer to that apart from that we must not give up. We have a voice. We still have a voice. We have a duty to use that voice on behalf of those who currently do not have a voice. Whether that is for the people in Yarl’s Wood, people with disabilities, the homeless, women, victims of abuse and violence, children. There are many people who do not have a voice for so many different reasons and at the flip of a coin that could be each and every one of us.

In the words of the pastor, Martin Neimoller:  First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.


Photos courtesy of Penny Barritt