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Life in the ‘hairy underground’: the lost history of Soviet hippies

It was a subculture shaped by communism, inspired by the west and watched by the KGB. A new documentary charts the movements charismatic leaders, conflicts and future

In 1968, Aksel Lampmann was a teenager growing up in Soviet Estonia. That summer, he went to an international camp, where he met students from Czechoslovakia and began listening to the Beatles. He didnt understand the lyrics (No one spoke English back then), but loved the sound. We had no clue what they were singing about. What a strange vibration!

He learned guitar and grew his hair. By 1969, Lampmann had become a full-blown Soviet hippy. The iron curtain made a road trip to the US impossible, so he hitchhiked from his home in the Baltics to Crimea. Our lives were more colourful, more alive, he says. Other people didnt have the same encounters or emotions.

Lampmann is one of the stars of Soviet Hippies, a film by the Estonian writer and director Terje Toomistu about a lost period in Soviet history. The documentary explores a subculture that was inspired by the west yet distinctly homegrown existing in a society shaped by communism and watched over by the KGB.

In the west, nobody was arrested simply for having long hair or wearing strange clothes, Toomistu explains. The USSR, by contrast, wanted complete control of its citizens lives: how people worked, dressed, or even danced. Anyone who rejected the Homo sovieticus model could be in big trouble, including having their hair forcibly cut.

Watch a trailer for Soviet Hippies on YouTube

The Soviet hippy movement emerged in Moscow and Leningrad around 1966 and 1967, in the early years of Leonid Brezhnevs rule. The first red hippies were the sons or daughters of the privileged Soviet nomenklatura well-behaved kids from elite families. They had access to music from the capitalist world and to jeans. By the early 70s, the movement had grown sufficiently big and unruly to alarm the authorities though it probably only ever numbered a few thousand, Toomistu says. The secret police began tailing the long-haired to school. In June 1971, the hippies were given permission to demonstrate against the Vietnam war outside the US embassy in Moscow.

This was a trap. The KGB rounded up and arrested demonstrators, with the goal of wiping out hippy culture. Some demonstrators were sent to psychiatric facilities and injected with insulin; others dispatched to the army and camps near the Chinese border. The film re-creates this grim clampdown and uses surveillance photos found in KGB archives in Lithuania.

According to Lampmann, harassment by the police and KGB was common. One of my close friends ended up in prison, he says. Hippies were persecuted under criminal rather than political law. They could find themselves sharing a cell with gangsters and murderers. To avoid arrest, Lampmann always kept his documents in perfect order.

By the late 70s, the hippies had developed a counterculture, with Russian slang and a music scene. There was what Toomistu calls analogue Facebook notebooks listing names and numbers of contacts across the USSR, used by travellers seeking somewhere to crash for the night. This network is gloriously animated in the film, which features psychedelic drawings and cartoons.

Vladimir
Ideas from the world outside Vladimir Wiedemann practising yoga at home in Tallinn, Estonia, late 1970s. Photograph: Courtesy of Vladimir Wiedemann

The underground subculture connected people from different social backgrounds, the writer Vladimir Wiedemann says. It included hippies, dissidents, mystics, religious activists and human-rights campaigners. Some embraced spiritualism, others yoga and veganism. All rejected the Soviet regime and thus played a role in its eventual demise.

Wiedemann was exposed to rocknroll culture via Finnish TV and Radio Luxembourg, which he could pick up from his home in Estonia. The iron curtain wasnt that strong, he says. Now based in London, Wiedemann wrote a book on hippies, Forbidden Union, which is currently running as a play, How Estonian Hippies Brought Down the Soviet Union!, on the Moscow stage…

The film features interviews with Wiedemann and other survivors from the hairy underground, as Toomistu puts it. Most are men, still espousing hippy ideas and with beards and hair still flowing but grey. There are fewer Soviet female hippies, Toomistu says; many left the scene to have children. The movements charismatic leaders are largely dead, often from drink and drugs.

Down
Down with the army, say no to war Soviet Hippies. Photograph: Private Collection

These were widely available under Marxism. Forbidden from travelling physically beyond the eastern bloc, Soviet hippies instead became psychonauts, Toomistu says. They consumed weed from central Asia and the Caucasus, opium and poppy tea. Some drank Sopals, a Soviet cleaning detergent containing ether.

Toomistu grew up in post-Soviet Estonia. She was interested in the hippy scene as a teenager, and was a fan of Jim Morrison. She spent half a year in Russia as a student, and wrote a thesis about memory culture. The idea for the film came together after her own road trip in South America, she says. She is currently completing an anthropology PhD. There is little archive material on communist-era hippies, whom the Soviet press ignored, Toomistu says, erasing them from history. She retrieved a box of video footage of festivals and gatherings from a hippy who had to leave Russia in a hurry. In 2017, several of her subjects went to a hippy reunion held every year at Moscows Tsaritsyno Park, to mark the 1971 demo busted by the KGB.

The reunion is poignant. Russias war in Ukraine and its 2014 annexation of Crimea divided opinion. Some hippies support Vladimir Putin and his idea of a great spiritual Russia. Others take a more traditional pacifist view that all war is bad. The film ends with Putins police breaking up the party. It is a metaphor for state-hippy relations, now and then.

  • Soviet Hippies is being screened by Dash Caf at Rich Mix, London, on 23 October.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/oct/23/lost-history-of-soviet-hippies-documentary-communism

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The science of addiction: a personal struggle to kick cocaine gives a neuroscientist unique insights

Having survived a decade of drink and drugs as a young woman, Professor Judith Grisel focused all her determination on writing a book about addiction

When Professor Judith Grisel sat down to write her book Never Enough (a guide to the neuroscience of addiction that has been her lifes work), she didnt expect to share so much of her own story. Nevertheless the resulting chapters are a collision of the personal and professional, detailing the deep links between her work life and the decade of drug and alcohol addiction that almost destroyed her.

On paper, Grisel was an unlikely candidate for going off the rails. One of three children, she describes a privileged upbringing in a progressive, suburban area of New Jersey. With an airline pilot father and a mother who was a registered nurse, Grisel remembers growing up in a perfect-looking family.

As her research would go on to help demonstrate, there was no single factor that predicted her drug problems. Neuroscientists have found a complex blend of nature and nurture at work in addictive tendencies and their research shows that many genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors work together in complex ways that often remain elusive.

Why me? is the question that underpins much of Grisels research, and she continues to wonder why friends who drank heavily with her in high school were spared addiction. In Never Enough she offers a smorgasbord of theories behind her own and others predisposition to addiction: an extreme personality and love of risk-taking, trying drugs at a young age, lower levels of endorphins in the brain, potential hypersensitivity to the neurological rewards of drugs alongside, more surprisingly, her own parents strict response to her behaviour.

If they had just been a little more lax, if I hadnt been the first child, I probably could have been normal, she reflects. Grisel did not experience the childhood poverty, insecure housing or abuse we have come (rightly) to associate with some drug users histories. Instead she believes the misery within her parents relationship and the pressure she felt to keep up appearances had the greatest impact on her trajectory. Their marriage was so dysfunctional that my mother eventually got an annulment from the Pope but we never acknowledged it at the time. As a kid I felt like a prop in this play of the perfect family.

A pivotal moment came when, aged nine or 10, Grisel found her mother crying at the kitchen sink. I asked her what the matter was and she answered that she was crying because she was so happy. My stomach sank a thousand feet because I knew it wasnt true but I also knew there was no way to reach the truth. Her mothers insistence that the family ignored the reality of their problems and instead went along with a pretence of happiness had a profound and negative impact on the way Grisel herself came to understand her own emotions and place in the world.

What I learned to do in that moment, she explains, was to doubt my reality; to realise that what was critical in life was the story, the veneer. And that felt like dying.

So began Grisels search for a way to escape her everyday life, a life that felt false and full of pressure to go along with the pretence, and instead to find a way to feel something that felt like the truth. It started with an obsession with reading books, I would read constantly, upside down if I had to, and then aged 13 (reaching a key developmental point when the teenage brain is primed for risky behaviour) she had her first drink. I thought, this is how people get through life. I can pretend all this stuff, because I can have this little secret where Im nice and warm inside, remembers Grisel. It was the first time in my life I remember feeling relaxed.

Grisel swiftly progressed to the solace of daily drinking, smoking marijuana and regular drug use. I loved being able to connect to my true self and I only seemed to be able to do that when I was wasted, she explains. Unsurprisingly, she was soon in trouble at home and school, trouble that escalated through her teenage years until she was kicked out by her parents when she was 19 dropping out of her first year of college at the same time. After years of trying a range of ways to stop Grisel taking drugs her family now withdrew financial support entirely. As she left home, despite her brawny high school football player brother crying in the street, she felt exhilarated: I felt like all the restraints were off and things got very bad after that.

Increasingly detached from her parents, who she barely saw over the next four years, Grisels life became entirely focused on drugs. I was scraping by on nothing but lies and evasion and my only priority was staying loaded. Now injecting cocaine, her dedication to the next hit led to frequent homelessness and unemployment. When she did find work she stole from the till, she regularly took credit cards from strangers and ruthlessly stole money and drugs from friends. Soon she was facing lunatic dealers and DEA agents with a single-minded determination that she also credits with her subsequent scientific tenacity.

The depravity of Grisels addicted life, described in the memoir chapters of Never Enough, illustrates the vicious cycle of the A and B process she explains in the scientific sections of her book. When humans engage in any mind-altering activity, the effects are known as the A process. Whether its the sedation of alcohol or the rush of cocaine, users often feel pleasure from the initial use of their drug of choice. But as Grisel is at pains to explain, There is no free lunch.

She believes people might make better choices if normal brain function was more widely appreciated. The brain adapts to any addictive substance or activity by producing the exact opposite effect, says Grisel. This opposite state, known as the B process, is led by the brains drive to return to its baseline state and its why hangovers and comedowns are such unpleasant experiences. Our brains are so efficient at returning to normal that with regular use we need more and more of the drug or activity to feel the A process and the oppositional B process kicks in almost instantaneously. Soon, as Grisel herself experienced, we need the drug just to feel normal and without it we only feel the negative impact of the B process.

With addiction rates rising steeply, helping people avoid being imprisoned in this cycle is a priority for many worried parents, case-workers, researchers and Grisel herself. But, just as a simple set of causes of addiction doesnt seem to exist, there doesnt appear to be a magic recipe for recovery either. Grisel describes her own transformation from addict to sober scientist as a collection of coincidences and luck. I was inexplicably fortunate. I think I was carried through by circumstance, she says.

A lucky break led to better housing and a move away from injecting cocaine. After a terrifying encounter with her reflection in the mirror, the final push she needed to start her recovery came from her parents. In a crucial moment of compassion from her father, he told her he wished only happiness for her life and the 23-year-old finally realised just how unhappy she was.

A drug-treatment facility in Minnesota was followed by a three-month stay in a womens halfway house and then Grisel began to repair her life. A key motivation for staying sober was her determination to find a cure for addiction. At the beginning of her career, Grisel and others in her field were convinced they would swiftly find that cure, but as neuroscientific understanding has deepened it has revealed just how much we dont understand. In the book, Grisel reflects, I was shocked that I couldnt say that neuroscience is making great strides. It didnt seem true to me.

Though she cant yet offer a magic switch to turn off addiction, She now believes much of the answer lies not in manipulating DNA but in encouraging human love, compassion and connection. With more high-potency drugs available more widely than ever before, alongside a sea of addictive technology enticing adults and children to fritter away our lives checking updates just like users fritter away their lives snorting cocaine, Grisel believes we need a range of tactics to tackle the global problem of addiction. The people right next to us are an obvious place to start, she adds. Human relationships and connections are the low-hanging fruit.

With her own 16-year-old daughter and grown-up stepsons she and her husband have prioritised staying emotionally connected to their children and, when they are worried about behaviour, sharing their own feelings rather than telling their children what to do. I will say, I love you and Im really concerned about this. If you need help, I will give it to you, Grisel says. But I will also be clear that I am not going to enable the behaviour. Despite choosing to parent differently from the way that she was brought up, Grisel now reflects on her parents with compassion, believing that if you have a child who is an addict, Its an almost impossible situation to be in and very hard to know what to do.

Decades of research and experience have led Judith Grisel to believe that the dominance of addictive substances and activities in contemporary life are leading society to the brink of an addictive black hole and that it is only by connecting with each other that we can avoid being sucked in. Right now were in a rising phase of escapism and pharmacology this epidemic of addiction is really an epidemic of avoidance. Above all we need better ways to cope with life and to be present to our experiences. Despite her concerns, she does have hope. Ultimately you cant avoid yourself. It didnt matter how high I got, I was stuck with myself. I think were soon going to get to that point as a society and then we might finally have our moment of truth. Then, Grisel believes, well discover that the way out of addiction was actually inside us all along.

Never Enough: the Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction by Judith Grisel is published by Scribe, priced 9.99. Buy it for 8.79 at guardianbookshop.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/aug/24/the-science-of-addiction-a-personal-struggle-to-kick-cocaine-gives-a-neuroscientist-unique-insights

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Eni Aluko: We all have moments in life when our morals are called into question

When the striker called out racism in the England camp, it ended her international career. She explains why the fight was worth it

Eniola Aluko is one of only 11 female footballers to have played more than 100 times for England. She has scored some of the Lionesses most memorable goals, was the first female pundit on Match Of The Day, and is a qualified lawyer, having graduated from Brunel University London with a first in 2008. But it is as a whistleblower that she is destined to be best remembered. And, like many whistleblowers, she has spent the subsequent years being rubbished by those she exposed.

Now she has written a memoir. They Dont Teach This is a fascinating examination of her multiple identities British and Nigerian, a girl in a boys world, footballer and academic, a kid from an estate with upper-middle-class parents, a God-fearing rebel. But the book is at its best when she reveals exactly what happened after she accused the England management team of racism, and the Football Association of turning a blind eye to it. Aluko does not hold back and few people from the football establishment emerge with their reputation intact.

Aluko now plays for Juventus in Italy, but we meet at her old stomping ground, Brunel. She has been delayed by traffic, which gives me time to explore the sports centre. On the wall are three huge, framed posters of Brunel alumni sporting legends. Guess who they are, I say to Aluko when she arrives. Mo Farah, definitely, she says instantly. And? Erm oh, Usain Bolt! Obviously! He trained here. And the third? She is stumped. Then she looks. Oh. My. God! It is a poster of her playing for England. Wow! Thats amazing. She looks genuinely thrilled.

Aluko has a small, mobile face with striking features big, brown eyes and a huge, ear-to-ear smile. When she is unhappy, she makes no attempt to hide it; her glare is as forbidding as the smile is winning. And there havent been many times over the past five years that Aluko has had reason to smile.

Eniola
Eniola Aluko playing for England against Germany at Wembley in November 2014. Photograph: Alamy

It all started in January 2014, barely a month after Mark Sampson took over as manager of the Lionesses. Sampson was 30 years old, an inexperienced coach who had never played professional football. At 28, Aluko was virtually an England veteran, a first-team regular and a popular member of the squad who had used her legal skills to champion teammates notably helping to draw up a new central contract for the team. The striker was also a conscientious player, always keen to improve her game.

Her desire to better herself led to her taking advantage of a new system that enabled players to watch back games and analyse their own performance, while hearing the audio from the management team. After a match against Finland, a 3-1 win for England in which Aluko had scored a goal and made another, she reviewed the footage. Aluko had been pleased with her performance which made it more shocking when she heard the audio. The goalkeeping coach Lee Kendall said: Eni is lazy as fuck, and: Shes not fit enough. Then, when I lost the ball, he said: Oh, fuck off, Eni, she tells me. She heard no disparaging remarks about other players, nor any positive comments when she scored and assisted a goal.

Aluko was confused. She was in the form of her life, with six goals in six games for England. And, more to the point, she says, she had never been called lazy before. At the time, I didnt think too deeply about what was being said. I was just like: why is this being said about me on a portal that everyone can access? Then I started thinking about where has this come from. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that there was a racial connotation. Look, lazy is a generic term. Anybody can be called lazy if youre not tracking back. But if youre black and youre called lazy, its different. Some words have real context to them, and this dates back to slavery times. In that split second, Im sure Lee Kendall didnt think about racial connotations, but thats what racism can be.

One coach spoke to her in a fake Caribbean accent. I was tempted to speak to him in a Scottish accent, despite knowing he was Welsh. Aluko is fully aware, as are most football fans of a certain age, how charged the word lazy is in relation to black footballers. In 2004, the former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson was sacked as a pundit on ITV (and as a Guardian columnist) after a microphone picked him up saying the French defender Marcel Desailly is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy thick nigger. Aluko knew Kendalls comment bore no comparison, but she couldnt help thinking about it. She started to feel the management team had it in for her, but kept stumm. What Kendall had said was unpleasant, but it would be virtually impossible to prove it was anything more. If they didnt like her, she would show her worth on the pitch. And she did, finishing joint top scorer among all nations competing for qualification for the European Championships in 2015, with 13 goals.

But the comments continued now to her face. In November 2014, she told Sampson that her family was flying in from Nigeria for a friendly against Germany. He replied: Well, make sure they dont come over with Ebola. (Sampson denied saying this for a long time after.) Aluko says she laughed nervously but was left reeling. She told her England teammate Lianne Sanderson, but said she wasnt going to make a big deal of it. She wanted to focus on her football.

At one point, Kendall, a close friend of Sampson, started speaking to her in a fake Caribbean accent. It infuriated Aluko not least because she isnt from the Caribbean. I was often tempted to speak to him in a Scottish accent, despite knowing he was Welsh, just to make the point.

Eniola
Im an optimistic, positive person normally, but I was miserable during that time. Photograph: Perou/The Guardian

Then she started to notice other things happening to black members of the squad. In October 2015, Chelseas midfielder Drew Spence was called up to the England squad for the first time, for a trip to China. Spence told Aluko that, in a meeting of midfielders, Sampson turned to the newcomer and said: Havent you been arrested before, then? Four times, isnt it? Spence was the only non-white player in the room and has never been arrested. After making these remarks, Sampson never picked her again for England; she still has only two caps.

A few days later, the midfielder Jill Scott was feted when she won her 100th cap against Australia speeches were made, she captained the team, a video message was played from her family. In the same match, Sanderson won her 50th cap another considerable milestone, normally celebrated with a special shirt but this was ignored. Sanderson told Aluko she was devastated; with Alukos encouragement, she told Sampson how upset she was, but asked him not to make an issue of it in front of the team. The following day, he addressed the squad, said he had made a mistake in not acknowledging her 50th cap and presented her with a special shirt. Sanderson was never selected for England again.

While Sampson did not drop Aluko, he told her repeatedly that he couldnt rely on her, that she lacked stamina and heart, that she was selfish and didnt play for the team. After Aluko scored a hat-trick in a 10-0 thrashing of Montenegro, Sampson presented her with the ball, telling the team: We all know Eni is a pain in the arse, but she did well to score a hat-trick after I gave her the target of scoring five goals today.

Aluko was still reluctant to draw attention to Sampsons behaviour. As black players, you dont always want to be bringing these issues up. You want to just play football. You know that the accusations of playing the race card are going to come up. So I would bite my tongue. Id see the level of ignorance, roll my eyes and get on with it.

And so it continued. Aluko says the only thing that kept her going was her desperation to reach 100 caps and become the first British-African woman to do so. When it finally happened, in February 2016, the occasion was soured by Sampson. She says he refused to give her advanced notice she would be playing, so she could invite her family. Then, on the morning of the match, Sampson told her she wasnt in the starting 11 because he wanted to field his strongest team. In the end, he brought her on in the second half and the captain, Steph Houghton, handed her the captains band. But by then she was inconsolable.

Three months later, in May 2016, the FA invited Aluko to participate in a confidential culture review about her experiences as a black woman in the England team. She agreed to a phone interview in which she said that she felt demoralised, and that under Sampsons management her negative experiences outweighed the positive ones.

Twelve days later, she was visited by Sampson at Chelseas ground and told she was being dropped from the England squad for un-Lionness behaviour and a bad attitude in the previous camp. A shocked Aluko asked for examples. Sampson told her she had been withdrawn and that her behaviour differed depending on whether or not she was in the starting lineup. Aluko hasnt played for England since.

Eniola
Aluko gives evidence to the digital, culture, media and sport committee in October 2017. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

She was convinced she had been dropped because Sampson had found out about the supposedly confidential culture review. In June, she wrote to the FA with a grievance report. In August 2016, the head of elite development finally replied, insisting the two were unrelated. The FA told her it would investigate her allegations, but at the same time announced that its Integrity Unit was investigating a consultancy role Aluko had with a football agency. The FA concluded that she would have to stop working for the agency or quit football, because she was in breach of FA intermediary roles. Aluko argued there was no conflict of interest, but surrendered her paid role.

She began to think she wasnt simply involved in a spat with the England management, but that she was at war with the FA. And, as far as Aluko was concerned, the FA was playing dirty.

***

Aluko calls herself an accidental whistleblower. She never planned to sacrifice her career on the altar of justice; she just planned to alert the confidential review to inappropriate behaviour. In a way, she says, all she has ever wanted to do is quietly conform and get on with playing football. But Aluko has always stood out.

Her parents, Sileola and Daniel, moved the family from Lagos to Birmingham when Aluko was six months old. Daniel returned to Nigeria to pursue a career in politics, while Sileola worked first as a nurse and then for a pharmaceutical company, bringing up her children in England. From the age of five, Aluko was the only girl on her estate who played football. She and her younger brother, Sone, also a professional footballer, spent their free time honing their skills. Until she went to secondary school, she says, she never had a female friend. Her football-playing male friends called her Eddie, because it was a bit easier than Eni and a lot easier than Eniola.

Some parents were hostile to Aluko playing football particularly as she was better than their sons. The young Eni was told she was different from all the other girls. She knows she should have been proud, but she felt crushed. If I was talking to my young self, Id say: dont be afraid to be individual. Because I was afraid to be different. When the parents at school said: Whys a girl playing football? it made me feel alien.

It wasnt only football ability that differentiated the Alukos. While the other children on the estate spoke with a broad Brummy accent, Sileola insisted Eni and Sone spoke the Queens English. They might have been living a working-class life, but they did not have working-class roots. In Nigeria, their father had become a prominent politician. Meanwhile, at school, she began to learn how complex prejudice can be. I didnt get racism from the white girls, but I got really bad bullying from the black Caribbean girls who saw something in me that they didnt understand. They used to call me African bhuttu, which was patois for unsophisticated. And they called me Coconut because I spoke well and hung around with white people.

At the age of 15, she joined Birmingham City Ladies, where her coach Marcus Bignot labelled her the Wayne Rooney of womens football; like Rooney, she was short and muscular with an explosive burst of pace. That year, she was called up to the England youth squad. At her first camp, her skills made her stand out. I flicked the ball over somebodys head, brought it down and did a Cruyff turn and Hope Powell [Sampsons predecessor at England] stopped the session and said: Its not the Eni show. I remember thinking: well, Im not going to do that again. Ill just get it and pass it. Now she says she wishes she had followed her instincts it would have made her a better player. For her, that was a big difference between the boys and girls games while boys were encouraged to nurture their individuality, girls were scolded for it.

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Aluko was once labelled the Wayne Rooney of womens football. Photograph: Perou/The Guardian

Despite that desire to conform, there was already something unusually forthright about her. After discovering her cousin Fola had become a high-flying lawyer in New York, and reading To Kill A Mockingbird, she decided she wanted to become Atticus Finch and save lives. By then, Aluko says, she saw an injustice lurking on every corner. A boy in her class was bullied for his afro. Rather than defending him, the school banned afros. Aluko was outraged not least because one boy had long, dyed-green hair and nothing was said about it. She went to see the headteacher, who heard her out and told her she was changing the rules enforcing short hair for all the boys. It taught her that justice doesnt always look the way you want it to. That Christmas, the school awarded her a special prize for speaking up for others.

***

After Aluko put her grievance into writing in 2016, an internal investigation cleared Sampson and the management team of any wrongdoing. Aluko threatened to take the FA to court. The FA held a second investigation, this time hiring the barrister Katharine Newton to examine the evidence. In March 2017, it again cleared Sampson and his staff of wrongdoing, but Aluko was paid 80,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

In August that year, the findings were leaked to the Daily Mail, along with information about the settlement. Aluko was horrified by the way she was portrayed. The Mail did not mention the racism, only that Aluko had made allegations of bullying and harassment against Sampson and his staff. It suggested that the FA paid her the money only because it wanted to avoid disruption in the buildup to Euro 2017, that she was making problems because she had lost her place in the squad, and that her teammates didnt like her. In fact, the payout was for loss of earnings.

As for the report itself, Aluko calls it a shambles. It basically said: Eni lied about racism. Mark Sampson never said anything racist. The team is very happy. Weve interviewed a lot of players, and they say its a great culture. How did she feel when she saw it? I was gutted. Gutted. I was publicly being called a liar.

Does she think the FA set out to destroy her? She nods. It wasnt about Mark Sampson any more. It was about Eni Aluko versus the FA David versus Goliath. The PR machine of the FA was Make Eni look as bad as possible. It was a smear campaign.

Did anything ring true? Well, she says, the report was accurate that she had become withdrawn. Im an optimistic, positive person normally, but I was miserable during that time. You have a lot of downtime on England camps, so I was in my room on my own trying to get through it. I didnt really socialise with anybody. How did she cope? I have a strong faith in God. Id watch stuff from my favourite preachers about opposition and how to face adversity. Did she lose faith at any point? No, I think my faith got stronger, because in that period thats all I had.

***

In August 2017, Aluko told her side of the story to Daniel Taylor of the Guardian (she is now a columnist for the sports pages of this paper). She revealed that Sampson had made the Ebola comment and asked an unnamed mixed-race England player how many times she had been arrested. A month later, Spence told the FA that she was the player in question and that everything Aluko had said was true. The Professional Footballers Association called for a new investigation, accusing the FA of holding a sham review that was not designed to establish the truth, but intended to protect Mark Sampson.

Five days after Spence came forward, England played Russia. Every member of the team raced to the bench to celebrate with Sampson after Nikita Parris scored the opener for England in a 6-0 win. Aluko says that was when she finally cracked. I cried my eyes out when I saw that. Players can celebrate how they want, but in the midst of the case I just thought it was too much. I felt really, really low at that point.

A day later, the FA sacked Sampson out of the blue, stressing that it was nothing to do with the racism allegations. It emerged that he was forced out because of a relationship he had had with a player three years earlier when he was managing Bristol Academy. In January 2019, Sampson received a payout from the FA for unfair dismissal.

Eniola
Aluko says she is comforted by the number of female footballers who have spoken out in the past couple of years. Since her case, the American womens team have pursued an equal pay dispute. And Ada Hegerberg, Norways top player has said: I dont like the way things are happening [regarding unequal pay]. Photograph: Perou/The Guardian. Adidas Originals track top 74.95, Adidas Originals, adidas.co.uk.

A third investigation was ordered into Alukos allegations and, in October 2017, Newton concluded that Sampson had racially abused Aluko and Spence. While stressing that she did not regard Sampson as a racist, Newton said: I have concluded that, on two separate occasions, Sampson has made ill-judged attempts at humour, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on the grounds of race within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. The FA apologised to Aluko and Spence.

A month later, the FA was accused of a cover-up after saying that Kendall would not face action, while concealing the fact that he had admitted putting on a mock Caribbean accent to Aluko. Kendall resigned as goalkeeping coach and apologised to her.

This January, 16 months after losing his job, Sampson also apologised to Aluko and Spence, saying: As a white male, I needed to do more and Ive worked hard to educate myself. I spent six weeks with Kick It Out on their educational course for equality and diversity. I need to play a more active role in making a difference. Its something I will do for the rest of my life.

***

How did Aluko feel when she read the final report? Elated. Vindicated. Since the FAs apology, she says, they have been building bridges. After the case, they asked me to be part of the recommendations with UK Sport to build whistleblowing procedures. Where possible, she says, she wants to forgive. Forgiveness is an action, a decision. I had a decision to make. Am I going to hold on to a lot of this pain and frustration with how they treated me, or am I going to try to build a lasting relationship that will impact change moving forward? I had the opportunity to try to do something that was positive with the FA and I did that.

Have fellow players apologised to her? Silence. Erm a few of the Chelsea girls have, yeah. She mentions her former Chelsea teammates Fran Kirby and Karen Carney close friends and women she hugely respects. As for Spence, Aluko says their relationship is stronger than ever. Drew is somebody I probably speak to every other day more than anyone else in football. But Aluko is less forgiving towards members of the squad for not supporting her. To this day, Steph Houghton and a lot of leaders in that team have not come out and apologised to me for what I went through. People say: Dyou want them to sacrifice their careers for you? No, I dont. But I do expect a team of people to say: we do not share these values, we do not accept that what the manager said was correct. She bangs the table as she talks.

Would she go for a drink with them now? No. With quite a few of them, categorically no. Because what they represent is fundamentally the opposite to me. In what way? Just not being able to come out and say: for my teammate to go through this, for racism to be even talked about in this team, is unacceptable.

In June 2018, Aluko left England to play for Juventus. She has enjoyed a hugely successful year there winning the league and cup double, finishing the season as the clubs top scorer. But, despite her impressive form, Aluko did not make the England squad for this years World Cup.

Does she ever think how differently life might have turned out if she had kept her mouth shut? Yes. This summer I was doing media at the World Cup. But Im only 32 and I could have played. I think my England career would have lasted longer than it did. At the point I decided to tell the story, I knew it was going to cost me my England career.

She pauses, then says something surprising. And thats a very powerful position to be in. Why? Because a lot of players, all they can think about is their pay cheque and the fact that they want to play football, so they dont say anything. So they dont end up leaving any legacy for the next person who comes along, and its going to happen to them, too. I would like to think that, next time a player complains about something going on, and not just a black player, it wont be accepted.

One thing that has comforted her is the number of female footballers who have spoken out in the past couple of years. Im not going to take credit for this, but, since my case, both the Australia and New Zealand womens teams have publicly complained about the culture of fear; the American womens team are in an equal pay dispute and probably going to win. Ada Hegerberg, Norways top player and the best player in the world, said: I dont like the way things are happening [regarding unequal pay]. Im not playing in the World Cup. There are many examples of women standing up and saying: were not having this any more.

Unfortunately, this list includes few of her former teammates. Not surprisingly, she says, they now seem uncomfortable when they see her.

Will she ever make up with them? Aluko shakes her head. I dont need to. My life has moved on. Everybody knows what I stand for. That is far more powerful than being an England player who puts on an England shirt and plays well. As much as the England management and the FA, Aluko feels bitterly betrayed by her own colleagues. I would much rather be where Im sat than where theyre sat, because people question them to this day. People say it to me all the time: I find it difficult to support the womens team because of how they behaved. We all have moments in life when our fundamental morals are called into question. In the face of what happened to me, they did nothing. People remember that.

An exclusive extract from Alukos memoir: No one could teach me how to navigate this hyphenated identity

It was being called up to play for England that made me understand I wasnt officially British. Not yet, at least. Not on paper.

A few months after I joined the youth team of Birmingham City Ladies, in 2001, we were scheduled to play a tournament in Warwick, and our coach Marcus Bignot told us England scouts would be there. The final whistle blew on the tournament and I jogged over to my dad, who was visiting from Nigeria. One of the scouts approached, told me Id played well, took my details and said hed be in touch. That was it.

It wasnt long before the first letter from England landed on our doorstep. Mum! I called out. England want me to go to an under-15s trial! Later, she got the letter framed and hung it in the hallway. I think she saw it as something that anchored us even deeper in the UK; one of us could be representing the country.

The trial was at Loughborough University. As the date approached, Mum started to worry about what I was going to wear. Appearances have always been important to her. I told her Id just wear my training stuff, but she wouldnt hear of it. The week before the trial, we went shopping and bought a pencil skirt, a collared shirt, a suit jacket and high heels to match.

The day came and Mum drove me up to Loughborough. Parents were invited to stay for a short introductory briefing with the manager, Hope Powell. We pulled into the car park and I spotted a couple of other girls walking into the building.

Oh, God, I said, horrified. Theyre all wearing tracksuits.

We stepped inside the building, my stomach doing backflips. Thirty or 40 girls sat with their parents, every one of them in a tracksuit and trainers. I swear I heard a murmur ripple around the room, as the girls looked round and nudged each other. I lowered my head and clip-clopped over to a seat in the far back corner. A few minutes later, Powell walked into the room and launched into a business-like introduction. I didnt hear a word she said. The second the talk was over, I jumped up and ran off to change into my training gear. Ive never lived it down.

A few weeks later, a letter arrived saying Id been picked for a week-long camp. I scanned the letter and took it into the kitchen to show to Mum. I began reading it out loud, then I stopped. Oh no, I said. Mum, they want me to bring my passport. What are we going to do? Mum frowned. She had applied to make us all British citizens, but the paperwork, the checks, the tests it all took a long time. It had never crossed my mind I would need to be naturalised as British to play for England. We had leave to remain, which meant we could stay in the country as long as we wanted.

I felt entirely British. Id lived in England my whole life; it was the only home I knew. I was so tired of being the odd one out. I felt a familiar despair rising, one I was coming to associate with my British-Nigerian identity.

Passports were a big deal for the Nigerian community in the UK. A red British passport was a prized possession for those who had been in the UK long enough to own one alongside the Nigerian document, known as a green pali. To hold a British passport was a gateway to the world. Mum mentioned our problem to Dad, to her Nigerian friends and family. Listen, said one uncle, who liked to flaunt that he was a British citizen by birth. If she dares show up with green pali, theyll send that child straight back. She has to be Britico now, dont you know that?

I felt like an alien in my own country. If I wasnt British, then what was I? I thought back to my last visit to Nigeria. I felt like a foreigner there, too.

Every day Id wake up and hope the document would drop on to the doormat. Every day it wasnt there and the camp was another day nearer.

In the end, I took an acknowledgement from the Home Office proving Mum had applied for naturalisation, together with a note she wrote. It was all we had. Thankfully, the coaches were more relaxed than expected.

A few months later, my passport finally arrived. Mum emptied the burgundy books out on to the table, alongside our Nigerian documents. Now you can travel wherever you want, she said.

I saw for the first time what this process meant. Getting a red passport was more than a formality. It was about status. She had been an adult when she first came to the UK, and all this time she had been a foreigner. She had worked hard to forge new paths for herself and her children. I turned over the little red book in my hand and stroked the gold coat of arms on the front. I picked out my old Nigerian passport and held it in my other hand. Two passports, two identities.

No one could teach me how to navigate this hyphenated identity. For me, being British-Nigerian is a tightrope Ill be on for the rest of my life. And whenever I wobble, or feel others are trying to pull me in one direction or the other, I grab on to my hyphen and remember Ill always be both.

They Dont Teach This by Eniola Aluko is published by Yellow Jersey Press (14.99). To order a copy for 10.99, go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK P&P on online orders over 15. Phone orders minimum P&P of 1.99.

If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).

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‘Prostitution is seen as a leisure activity here’: tackling Spain’s sex traffickers | Annie Kelly

Its staggeringly big business in Spain, where demand is being met by traffickers. Can a groundbreaking team turn the tide?

On a sunny morning in Madrid, two young women duck down a side street, into a residential block and up to an apartment front door. Then they start knocking. Marcella and Maria spend a lot of time banging on doors and yelling through letterboxes all over the city. Most of the time, these doors never open. When they do, the two women could find themselves in trouble. Their job on the frontline of Spains fight against sex trafficking is a dangerous one; both have been assaulted and threatened. Yet they keep on knocking, because they have been on the other side of those doors, forced to sell their bodies for a handful of euros, dozens of times a day, seven days a week.

To say that prostitution is big business in Spain would be a gross understatement. The country has become known as the brothel of Europe, after a 2011 United Nations report cited Spain as the third biggest capital of prostitution in the world, behind Thailand and Puerto Rico. Although the Spanish Socialist party, which two weeks ago won another term in government, has promised to make it illegal to pay for sex, prostitution has boomed since it was decriminalised here in 1995. Recent estimates put revenue from Spains domestic sex trade at $26.5bn a year, with hundreds of licensed brothels and an estimated workforce of 300,000.

Supporters of decriminalisation claim it has brought benefits to those working in the trade, including making life safer for women. Yet this vastly profitable and largely unregulated market has also become infested with criminality, turning Spain into a global hub for human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Prostitution becomes sex trafficking when one person moves, detains or transports someone else for the purpose of profiting from their prostitution using fraud, force or coercion. In the UK, thousands of women are thought to be trapped in sexual servitude, but the scale of the problem in Spain is staggering. Until 2010, the law didnt even recognise human trafficking as a crime. Now the Spanish government estimates that up to 90% of women working in prostitution could be victims of trafficking or under the control of a third party such as a pimp who is profiting from them. Between 2012-2016, security forces in Spain rescued 5,695 people from slavery but acknowledge that thousands more remain under the control of criminals.

Since it passed its first anti-trafficking laws in 2010, the government has been scrambling to get on top of this crisis, spending millions of euros on an emergency plan to target the individuals and gangs operating with impunity. In 2015, it went further and created formal alliances between security forces, prosecutors, judges and NGOs, to rescue victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Survivors such as Maria and Marcella now find themselves playing a crucial part in bringing the battle to the criminals who once sold and exploited them. But can Spains new alliance of defenders really turn the tide against the traffickers?

***

I meet Maria and Marcella, both in their mid-20s, in the offices of Apramp, an organisation set up to protect, reintegrate and assist women in prostitution. Apramp helped them escape their traffickers, and they are now among its outreach workers. Their day job is to identify potential trafficking victims and try to offer them a way out. They find women they think might need help on the streets, in hostess clubs, and in some of the 400 residences they say are operating as informal brothels in Madrid.

Maria,
Maria, a trafficking survivor who helps others forced into prostitution. You dont have time to realise what has happened to you. Photograph: Ofelia de Pablo & Javier Zurita/The Guardian

Both shrug off the suggestion that they are brave. When Im wearing the Apramp vest at those apartments or on the streets, I dont feel scared, Marcella says. We know from our own experience theyre doing much worse things to the girls and women inside. So it only makes us more determined.

The two poised and eloquent young women, dressed like students in jeans and trainers, have lived through terrible things. Maria, petite and softly spoken, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, was brought to Spain from Romania by someone she trusted: she thought she was going on holiday with her new boyfriend. Instead, he drove her over the border using their EU residency cards and within 24 hours she was on the streets.

It just happens so fast, she says. Its difficult to describe how much you can be broken in such a short time. The shock and the trauma makes you go into survival mode. You dont have time to realise what has happened to you. She spent eight months being prostituted on street corners, in brothels and in strange apartments. Youre alive but youre not really existing, she says. Not one of the men who paid to sleep with me asked me if I was there out of choice, or whether I wanted to be doing this. They didnt care either way.

She was told by her pimp that she would have to pay off a debt of 20,000 before she could go home. With Romanian women, the traffickers threaten to kill your mother or your sister or your children if you dont pay off your debt, she says. People always ask, Why didnt you just run away or go to the police? but they dont know what theyre talking about. You cant just stop a random person on the street and ask for help, because someone you love could get killed. The police in Romania are often corrupt. You think, why should it be different here?

The promise of freedom in return for paying off the debt almost always turns out to be a lie. Maria says that, throughout her time under the control of the traffickers, she was hit with hundreds of tiny charges: shed have to pay for clothes, rent for the corner she worked, for condoms and sanitary towels. If she didnt bring back enough money, she wouldnt eat or shed be beaten.

Debt is invisible, Maria says. Its not a physical chain but it works the same way. She says some traffickers force women to get breast implants and even though the operation costs around 3,000, tell them they have to pay back 10,000. Marcella nods in agreement. She was trafficked from her native Brazil after applying to do a masters in Spain, a university course that turned out to be bogus. She was forced into prostitution immediately after she was collected from the airport. If Apramp hadnt found me, I think Id be dead by now, she says.

The fact that she not only survived but is now able to help others in the same situation has been an essential part of her recovery. The mafia take you and destroy your whole identity. Even now, youre recovering but you can never forget your past, she says. Doing this work really helps.

From
From left: Jos Nieto, Spains leading anti-trafficking law enforcement officer, Roco Mora, director of Apramp, which helps trafficked women, and prosecutor Beatriz Snchez.

Between them, Maria and Marcella have helped dozens of women and girls escape their traffickers. Its a process that takes months, sometimes years. Afterwards, Apramp finds the women somewhere safe to live, offers counselling and legal support, and helps them find work. We have to show them that their lives are worth living again, Marcella says.

Roco Mora, Apramps co-founder and director, sweeps into the room and embraces Maria and Marcella, who are about to start their afternoon shift. The only ones who really understand what we are facing are the survivors, she says. Tall and immaculately groomed, Mora is one of Spains best-known anti-trafficking advocates; her rage at what she sees happening on the streets is raw and visceral. What Spain is facing, she says, is a huge violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls; anyone labouring under the impression that the majority of women working in prostitution in Spain are doing so by choice is deluding themselves. The sex industry profits from the sale of women who are being controlled and exploited through debt, violence or psychological manipulation, she says. Our mobile unit has contact with 280 women a day and almost 100% are victims of exploitation and trafficking.

There are many reasons why Spain has become a hotspot, but for Mora, the biggest single factor is cultural. Spains sex trafficking epidemic is, she says, just the most extreme manifestation of the countrys problematic attitudes to women and sex. There is huge demand for prostitution here. Its become so normalised that its just seen like any other leisure activity.

One survey in 2008 found that 78% of Spanish people consider prostitution an inevitability in modern society. And demand is huge: another survey, conducted in 2006, found that nearly 40% of Spanish men over the age of 18 had paid for sex at least once in their life. Mora has recently seen a radical change in the kind of men buying sex. Before, it was largely older men sneaking away from their families. Now, both the women on the streets and the sex buyers themselves are getting younger. The social stigma isnt the same as it was when I started out, she says. We have a generation of young men growing up believing they have the right to do anything to a womans body if they have paid for it, and they dont have to worry about the consequences.

As a young girl, Mora watched her mother (also called Roco) start Apramp from their kitchen table. At 18, Mora was studying by day and driving a mobile health unit through Madrids red-light district by night.

A
A club in a high-end neighbourhood of Madrid.

When my mother started this work, it was mainly getting health services to Spanish women who were engaged in prostitution to feed their families or a drug addiction, she says. Two decades ago, criminal gangs started to take hold. And it really was a radical change. There was suddenly a lot of violence and coercion men on the streets watching the women and taking their money.

Now, she says, most women in prostitution in Spain are foreigners: Apramp works with women of 53 different nationalities. And the gangs are more sophisticated and more ruthless. They no longer need men on the street, because they are controlling the women through debt, fear and psychological control. This is what makes it much harder to fight, because many dont see that they have a way out.

***

On Calle Montera, one of Madrids busiest shopping streets, eastern European or South American women stand alone or in small groups. Maria and Marcella point out that many of the women they help dont look like trafficking victims: it is easy for people to walk past them and not realise. Maria says many are also acting as human signposts, indicating that there are houses filled with other women nearby. When we get back to our car that evening, flyers have been stuck under our windscreen wipers offering a two-for-one deal on women for the special price of 30.

A short walk from Calle Montera is the HQ of the Centre of Intelligence and Risk Analysis, run by Spains national police. Jos Nieto is its chief inspector and Spains leading anti-trafficking law enforcement officer. As with Mora, anti-trafficking work has become Nietos vocation. He has spent more than 20 years trying to develop an effective police response to a human rights catastrophe that, until 2010, wasnt even included in Spains criminal code.

When I started in 1997, I was part of the brigade that believed all prostitutes did this work because they wanted to, he says. But its like an illness: at first you feel that something is wrong but you havent got a diagnosis. But as soon as you put a name to it, everything changes. You see it for what it really is.

He explains the myriad reasons why Spain has become such a magnet for sex trafficking networks; a perfect storm, he calls it. First, we are fighting a crime that is socially acceptable, because prostitution is accepted and embraced by many people here. Second there is geography: We are at the centre of all major migratory routes. The main victims we are seeing trafficked and forced into prostitution are Romanian, West African and South American. You can cross from Romania to Spain with an ID card. Africa is just 15km from us. We have a historic and a linguistic connection to South America.

As in many countries, a prosecution is almost impossible without a victim willing to disclose their situation and testify against their exploiters. There is great fear among victims that if they tell the police, they will be sent back to their countries with their debts unpaid, Nieto says. It makes policing very difficult; if the women dont ask for help, there is a limit to what you can do. Here in Spain, prostitution itself isnt illegal, running a brothel isnt illegal, so you have to prove that what is going on is more than meets the eye.

A
A sex worker takes a break in Colonia Marconi. There is huge demand for prostitution here. Its become so normalised.

That evening, Nieto, the Guardian photographers and I join an undercover police unit conducting inspections of private clubs in Barrio de Salamanca, one of Madrids most high-end neighbourhoods. Although the police have all undertaken anti-trafficking training, their main job tonight seems to be restricted to checking ID and carting any woman found to be working illegally off to the police station.

At our first location there is a short period of confusion as our two unmarked cars drive up and down the street trying to find a parking space. By the time we enter, the music is already off and the club deserted other than four women sitting silently on bar stools clutching their ID cards and a manager conspicuously cleaning glasses behind the bar. None of them is Spanish. The women all appear to be here on student visas, and shake their heads when the police chief asks them if they need help. There is no evidence that these women are victims of trafficking, but it seems ludicrous to expect anyone to disclose anything in this environment.

At other clubs, a few women who dont have the right ID are loaded into a van. In one, three very young Chinese women sit silent and apparently terrified in their underwear on a cracked fake leather banquette, while police check the damp and dirty premises. A lone punter, a sweaty Spanish man in his 20s, is ejected from a bedroom at the back; outside another, a sexy nurse uniform hangs on a hook. The women keep their eyes fixed on the thickset Chinese man behind the bar as he chats easily to the police and shows them his licence. As we leave, the heavy metal door slams shut with a thud, leaving the women inside. One of the officers runs a hand over his face and exhales. Dios mo, he says. My God.

Yet Nieto believes there is hope and says the new strategy of creating formal alliances between police, prosecutors and frontline services is putting more pressure on criminal gangs. In particular, he cites coordination with Apramps Mora: With her help, were making connections with survivors, were following the money and sending people away. Were making the traffickers understand that the Spanish police are something to fear.

Uniforms
Uniforms in a Chinese brothel. In Spain, prostitution isnt illegal.

Nieto has been working with prosecutor Beatriz Snchez for the past decade. Since 2010 the formidable Spanish lawyer has overseen more than 100 trafficking cases; in 2012, she succeeded in sending Ioan Clamparu, the capo of the biggest prostitution trafficking ring in Europe, to prison for 30 years. She is upbeat, funny and warm, but steely in her determination. Weve made huge advances in prosecuting and convicting human traffickers, she says. But many cases get dismissed or dont go to trial. Snchez says only one-tenth of the trafficking cases she takes on make it to court because the burden of proof is high, requiring witness statements and months of police work. Often cases are organised and transnational, involving the movement of huge amounts of money. They are complex crimes that are difficult to dismantle. Under Spanish laws, you need proof of the use of extreme violence and intimidation to prosecute cases of pimping and coercion. All forms of pimping need to be criminally punishable, she says. Only then can we effectively stop human trafficking.

Snchez says her natural optimism can be blunted by the uphill struggle to get cases to trial. It would be hard if I was doing this alone, but the good thing is I have Roco and Jos were a team, she says. So when you are down and feel like things are hopeless, you have a reason to carry on. The others can pick you up and say: Come on! We must keep going! Snchez keeps in touch with all the women she represents. Seeing them rebuild their lives is as satisfying as seeing their abusers go to prison, she says.

***

We visit one of Snchezs former clients, Helena, at the offices of Proyecto Esperanza (Project Hope), the NGO that has supported her through her court case. Her family is from Ecuador but she was living on the outskirts of Madrid, with a Spanish passport, when she was forced into prostitution in her own neighbourhood five years ago, after falling victim to fraudsters who lent her money. They threatened to kill her small children if she didnt work as a prostitute to pay it back. When I was in that situation I didnt see a way out, and the longer I did it, the more I died inside, she says.

It took years, but in the end her traffickers were sent to prison and Helena was awarded landmark compensation of 100,000 by the state, 92,000 of which was estimated to be what her traffickers had earned from the sale of her body. She is yet to see any of this money, and her debts to family and neighbours remain unpaid. I still owe 12,000 to friends and family from that time in my life, and I have no idea how to pay it, she says. But for now she is surviving. Proyecto Esperanza is helping her find a job and providing counselling. She has a home and is rebuilding her relationship with her children. Despite her experiences, she is trying to teach them that the world can be a good place.

Helena praises Snchez for giving her the courage to do this. Beatriz was always so positive and strong at a time when I didnt believe in myself at all, she says softly. Now I am trying to learn to love myself again. And thats what I want to teach my kids that no matter what other people do to you, it is important to love yourself and to look ahead. That in every terrible situation there can be a light at the end of the tunnel a way out of the darkness.

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Anthony Bourdain’s last interview: Trump, Weinstein and travel

The chef and TV presenter talked about revolution, parenting, abuse and Trump voters in what is believed to be the last interview before his death

Anthony Bordains final interview has shed light on the chefs thoughts on travel, culture and politics. The piece, which surfaced on independent publication Popula on Sunday, includes Bourdains takes on Bill Clintons behaviour in office, Obamas performance as US president and his own daydreams about the demise of Harvey Weinstein (Bourdains partner, Asia Argento, was one of the first to accuse the former movie mogul of rape).

But Bourdain also spoke about other things, such as the joy that comes from friendship, and how to think about parenting. Here are some of the highlights:

On travel

I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes because thats the most important part of travel.

On talking to strangers

You go to a place like Beirut and you find yourself talking to a Muslim woman. If youre a journalist tasked with an agenda, you know, youre there to report a story, and you come right out with it. Youre going right into some very difficult areas. Whereas I have the luxury, Im there to eat! Presumably. Im there to eat, and Im asking very simple questions.

What makes you happy? What do you like to eat, where do you like to go to get a few drinks; you know? What do you miss about the place when you go away? And I find, again and again, just by spending the time, by asking very simple questions, people have said the most astonishing things to me. Often things that would be very uncomfortable for them outside of that casual context.

On property

I know very much what wont make me happy. The perfect car will not make me happy. The perfect house will probably make me sad, and terrified

Im a renter by nature. I like the freedom to change my mind about where I want to be in six months, or a year. Because Ive also found you might have to make that decision you cant always make that decision for yourself.

On luxury

My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; its a story you cant tell. Its a story you almost by definition, cant share. Ive learned in real time to look at those things and realise: I just had a really good moment.

On cycles of abuse

You know a lot of the chefs, all of the really bastard chefs, most the really oppressive ones, the old school ones, were abused children, were abused by their parents, were abused and neglected, physically, mentally, in every possible way, and then became just like their abuser, and would perpetuate the system.

A lot of chefs never really understood, or understood only really belatedly; theyd been powerless for much of their careers. I dont know. For most of my career, chefs were creatures without power. To talk about power imbalance, is in retrospect, there was one. But I think we all saw ourselves at outcasts, as weak, except in our little bubble in the kitchen.

On Trump voters

The contempt and the ridicule which has been heaped on places like West Virginia, which is the heart, demographically, of enemy territory, as far as New York liberals like us are concerned This is something we fucked up in the sixties. We were fighting against cops and construction workers cops and construction workers were exactly who we fucking needed! They were the first to die, in Vietnam. We werent gonna!

On Trump

Somebody at the White House press briefing has to sacrifice their job and say: You utter piece of shit! Do you really expect us to swallow that steaming load of horseshit? How do you live with yourself? You should be ashamed. Give me one guy to throw themselves on a fire like that, lose access, lose the gig at the White House, for that infinitely repeatable meme. Give me that. Just give me that. Someone to stand up.

On not being an artist

From the very beginning Ive always and only made the television I wanted to make, and as soon as I could I told whoever was involved to go fuck themselves, and somehow landed on my feet someplace else, with somebody who was willing to indulge me in even grander fashion. So I havent had to deal with the grim reality of well, you either do the Best Burgers in America show, or you have no work at all! I havent had to live with that. I havent had to be particularly nice to people I dont like. Ever.

On revolution

We cannot choose the leaders of our revolutions, theyre all deeply flawed and they will all all revolutions will be corrupted

The minute everybody in the room agrees with you, youre in a bad place, so Im a big believer in change just for its own sake, just to show that you can change, to move forward incrementally, but aint nobody gonna make everything better. Whoever has the intestinal fortitude or the megalomaniac instincts sufficient to lead any kind of a revolution will inevitably disappoint horribly.

The best revolutionaries of course are martyrs who died before they could turn into disgusting, self-serving, corrupt pieces of shit. As they all do.

On parenting

Asia [Argento] said this to me: children create themselves independently of us. All you can do is show, like in my case, my daughter feels loved. She knows shes loved. She has good self-esteem. Very important. And good martial arts skills. So she knows she can take any boy in her age group. Thats all I can do as a father I cant pick her music, her boyfriends, whatever, however shes going to turn out. I can give her these basic things.

On the imagined death of Harvey Weinstein

My theory of how he goes is uh, hes brushing his teeth in a bathroom, hes naked in his famous bathrobe, which is flapping open, hes holding his cell phone in one hand because you never know who on the Weinstein board has betrayed him recently, and hes brushing his teeth he suddenly gets a massive fucking stroke he stumbles backwards into the bathtub, where he finds himself um, with his robe open feet sticking out of the tub, and in his last moments of consciousness as he scrolls through his contacts list trying to figure out who he can call, who will actually answer the phone.

And he dies that way, knowing that no one will help him and that he is not looking his finest at time of death.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jul/18/anthony-bourdains-last-interview-trump-weinstein-and-travel

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Dangerous, growing, yet unnoticed: the rise of America’s white gangs

White gangs are less covered by the media and less punished even though 53% of gang members in Mississippi are white


When he was 13, three white teenage boys beat Benny Ivey. They aimed for his chest as his back pressed against the wall of his friends house in Florence, Mississippi. The skinny blond adolescent had to show he was tough enough to become a Black Gangster Disciple.

It was 1989, the height of the crack era, and many white kids wanted to join black gangs that did not welcome them, so they initiated each other into home-grown copycat versions.

Ivey lived in a trailer park, and the thought of wearing the gangs colors black and blue made him excited to be part of something beyond his chaotic family.

None of them knew the first thing about being in a gang, and yet many kids lusted after it, even some wholived in nice homes with their families, Ivey says now. Others grew up like he did: the child of poor crack and opioid addicts, ripe to be ensnared by a world promising brotherhood, loyalty and respect.

Iveys future was not in a black organization, however it was in one of the oldest and largest white gangs in the US, the Simon City Royals.

A lot of us were raised in the pits, and thats where almost all gang life begins, he says.

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Benny Ivey got the now fading royal shield tattooed on his back about 20 years ago. Photograph: Imani Khayyam for The Guardian


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Ivey, now 41, is muscular and likes to keep fit, even though he only weighs 160 pounds. He sports a buzz cut and has tattoos over much of his body. He proudly calls himself a redneck.

Gesticulating passionately during a driving tour of Jackson houses he broke into over the years, Ivey explains the absurdity of the media fixating on inner-city gangs. The world should know there are whites struggling in hoods as well as any other race, and more often than not those kids become gang members or drug addicts, he says.

Ivey was 12 when he began sniffing Scotchgard. He soon followed his adoptive parents and two uncles all school dropouts into addiction. His dad made $20 an hour as a carpenter, but most of it paid for their habits.

By 15, Ivey had dropped out of school and broken into probably 200 houses, robbed a crack dealer, had a cop kick his face into the pavement, and started selling meth to support his own addiction. He went in and out of juvenile detention and Mississippis notorious training schools that, before being reformed, were near-torture chambers for mostly African American and poor white delinquents.

At 21, Ivey was living with other drug users who helped run dope out of a small rentalhouse. One day, Ivey walked in and found his best friend Jimmy writing a letter to his young son, whose mother had said he couldnt see any more.

gang chart

What ya doin, bruh? Ivey asked him.

Im writing Jordan a letter.

You think he can read it?

He will one day, man.

As Ivey walked toward the kitchen, Jimmy told him: Man, Im gonna go lay down on your bed.

Ivey went to set up the grill, but something felt weird, so he went back to his room. Jimmy was sitting at the front of the bed with a pistol to his head, the letter on the floor beside him. It was the gun Ivey kept under his pillow.

Sheetrock dust busted out of the ceiling when the bullet hit it. Jimmys head slumped to the side, blood seeping into the mattress. Ivey jumped into the bed with him, yelling to the others: Go call the cops, go call somebody!

After Jimmys death, Ivey bottomed out. I didnt give a shit about nothing, I guess. After he killed himself, I went running wild, he says.

He soon pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge for pumpkin-heading a man at a party, breaking his jaw. With a one-year suspended sentence, he stayed free, but he kept robbing until he got caught and was sent to back to jail.

There, Ivey met a Simon City Royalwho called himself True Love.

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The Royals roots date to Chicagos North Side in 1952, when two violent white greaser gangs the Ashland Royals and Simon City guarded Simon Park turf as Puerto Ricans moved in.

Early greasers were immigrants, often Italian, maligned by wealthier whites for greasing machines in blue-collar jobs. In 1968, the greasers united as the Simon City Royals, often rumbling with the nearby Latin Kings as well as the white supremacist Gaylords. (Their rhetoric is familiar: a Gaylords nostalgia website called Latino gangs storage bins for illegal immigrants.)

ALMIGHTY
The Almighty Gaylords are one of the oldest street gangs in Chicago. This card is a particularly heavy version depicting two klansmen preparing to execute a Simon City Royal rabbit another white gang. Photograph: Brandon Johnson

The Royals were one of the biggest and most violent street gangs in Chicago by the 1970s, when they joined the Folk Nation alliance with the Black Gangster Disciples, began admitting Hispanics and, later, women and black members.

But by the 1980s, the gang had weakened after its leadership got locked up or killed.

Strength shifted to prisons, and the brand spread to midwestern and southern states like Mississippi, where the Royals are now one of the largest and most violent gangs in the state.

Surveys of young Americans have shown that 40% identifying as gang members are white, but police tend to undercount them at 10% to 14% and overcount black and Hispanic members, says Babe Howell, a criminal law professor at City University of New York who focuses on crime and race.

Police see groups of young white people as individuals, each responsible for his or her own conduct, and hold young people of color in street gangs criminally liable for the conduct of their peers, she says.

The
An early Simon City Royals business card. In the middle is one of the primary symbols of the Simon City Royals a cross with three slashes above. Behind this is a broken flaming cross representing the Almighty Gaylords (a longtime enemy). Photograph: Brandon Johnson

How law enforcement labels specific gangs may also obscure white membership, a 2012 study published in the Michigan Journal of Race and Law posited.

Jordan Blair Woods researched how the feds had applied the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico) to various gangs. Congress passed Rico in 1970 to target the mafia as organized criminal enterprises. In the early 1990s, the attorney general, Janet Reno, started using Rico to charge criminal street gangs.

Woods explains that law enforcement typically splits gang activity into three groups: white supremacist prison gangs, outlaw biker clubs and criminal street gangs. He concluded that systemic racism often keeps white gangs categorized as prison and biker groups instead of street gangs the category drawing the toughest charges and sentences.

This means white gangs are not typically policed as stringently, he writes, and their members can miss interventions sometimes offered to more publicized gangs of color. That help can include job and life skills training, or interaction with trained violence interrupters, who are often former gang members.

Woods blames the media for underreporting white gangs. He backs up Iveys point about this lack of attention, writing that media may be more prone to cover black and Hispanic gangs because of consumer demands for stories of sensationalized racial gang violence.

How can you help [with a problem] if you dont recognize its there? Ivey says. A lot of white kids, 15, 16 years old, look at white gangsters as rock stars.

Mississippi has recently named the majority-white Royals and the Bandidos a biker club started by a white marine later convicted of murder among its largest criminal street gangs in annual assessments over the last decade. The Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators often points to violent white gangsters to push for tougher enforcement, telling media that 53% of verified gang members in the state are white.

But despite the growth in white gangs, Mississippi public defender Andr de Gruy says from 2010 to 2017, all 97 people prosecuted under current state gang law were African American.


When Ivey met True Love in jail in 1998, he found a brotherhood that understood rednecks like him. His mother didnt have transportation to visit, and he was alone behind bars, so he decided then and there the Royals would be his family.

Like many, Ivey stepped up into the gang from an unstructured life without positive adult influences, looking for what initiates tend to call betterment.

It was about bettering yourself: get a job, go to school, learn communication skills so you can do anything, go to banks, get loans, Ivey says. Most getting into gangs didnt come from environments that know how to write a check or basic life skills.

When
When Benny Ivey retired in 2008 from leading the Simon City Royals in central Mississippi he covered most of his Royals tattoos, but left one of the gangs shield on his leg, inking retired under it. Photograph: Imani Khayyam for The Guardian

New gang members have often already tangled with police. A 2016 study in Jackson, which focused on urban black gangs, showed that not finishing school and being put into a police car are top precursors for a young person committing worse crime as an adult.

Ivey says no one tried to redirect him as he went in and out of juvenile facilities and prison, where he smoked weed every day. They never tried to get me to rehab, they always sent me to prison, he says.

In jail, Ivey vowed to True Love that he would remain loyal to the death and keep Royals rules confidential. Gangsters punched him hard in the chest 12 times and pricked his finger so he could bleed on the gangs six-point star on a birth certificate while guards looked away.

He soon transferred to prison, where he had to defend his new gang allies, the Black Gangster Disciples.

Ivey avoided conflicts with the Aryan Brotherhood who considered the Royals traitors to the white race but he also had to stand up to his own black allies.

In prison, it got to where some Gangsters thought the Royals were their do-boys, he says. I started getting a little bit of rank, and I didnt put up with it. They knew I would go out there with a knife, because Im not gonna be your bitch so they always treated me with respect I didnt never stab nobody, I didnt have to.

During his time behind bars, Ivey studied Royals literature 50 pages of policies and history and started networking. By the time he returned home in 2003, he had claimed the title of Central Mississippi regional captain.

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On the outside, Ivey started organizing the Royals. In 2003, there was no structure, no meetings so I was going around trying to bless people in. That is, he wanted to initiate others into the group. I didnt become Royal because I wanted to sell dope, run the streets It was [about] the brotherhood. I had their backs, they had mine, no matter what.

In 2004, Ivey was locked up for four years for manufacturing crystal meth. He ran his chapter via cellphone (a little gangster would hold it for me) and he sent missive scrolls to Royals on the outside.

Thomasa
Thomasa Spirit Massey was a Royal Queen of the Simon City Royals chapter Benny Ivey ran. She helped administer the shared Royal poor box fund. She also worked as a paralegal until she was arrested. Photograph: imani khayyam/Imani Khayyam for The Guardian

In 2008, he returned to a trailer park where a mother of two called Spirit lived and assisted with operations. She helped Ivey administer the Royals fund; he required each of the 150 members to contribute $12 a month. They could borrow for a child support payment or to keep their lights on.

If they didnt repay, or violated other rules, Ivey assigned Royals to beat them.

His members prided themselves on not being racist. Iveys members were all 100% fine being allied with a black gang, but his Royals werent diverse. It was an all-white organization, he says. Still, he didnt see much bigotry among his members. I think everything depends on the person Hell, a lot of the Royals acted more black culturally than white.

By late 2008, Iveys organization started to unravel internally. His first lieutenant, Kruz, started squabbling with two young members called Smash and Street, whom he suspected were talking to the cops. Soon afterwards, police told Ivey that no Royal better touch their informants. If anything happens to them boys, we coming for you, a local lieutenant warned.

Spooked, Ivey left town for a few weeks, but a mob of Royals beat up Smash and Street while he was gone and were arrested on $1m bonds. When leaders get locked up is a prime time for violence which is now more often intra-gang than between different gangs, Northwestern University sociologist and violence expert Andrew Papachristos reports.

Then 32, Ivey was sent to the private Delta correctional facility because of gang activity. There, he gathered the Royals in the yard.

I have to retire because Im a liability, he said.

Nobody objected.

Law enforcement say the Royals started growing exponentially on the Gulf coast in 2008 the year Ivey retired and are now Mississippis third largest criminal street gang.

They now refer to themselves as Chapter 13 and the Mississippi Combat Legion. Police say the gang traffics guns and narcotics, with some members participating in gruesome violence against snitches.

Ivey had his six-point tattoos covered, but left the Royal shield on his shin, inking retired under it.

It was all a blessing in disguise, he says now. When it all went down at first, I was heartbroken. I thought I was doing something. I wasnt doing nothing but prolonging my miserable existence.

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Still, after leaving the Delta prison, Ivey went to jail again for driving a woman to a drug deal. A friend eventually referred him to Randy Adams, a graduate of drug court who ran the Common Bond Recovery Center in Jackson.

Ivey broke down crying to Adams, who told the cops:Yes, I want him in my rehab. There, Ivey worked out, prayed and wrote his story with pen and paper for eight months.

Thats where I met her, he says now, pointing to a blonde 30-year-old sitting across from him in a puffy recliner.

Kristina Arnold, now Ivey, was visiting someone else at rehab when she met him. I was all anti-him, like, hes just a thug, she says. Her parents were addicts, too, and she had had a daughter at 16. She had kicked her own habit and was studying to be a medical assistant.

Benny
Benny Ivey met Kristina Arnold, who was visiting someone else, at the Common Bond rehabilitation center in Jackson, Mississippi, where he finally kicked his meth habit after 20 years. Photograph: imani khayyam/Imani Khayyam for The Guardian

They talked on the phone and had lunch when she visited. At first, she told Ivey she wasnt interested in more. Well, I just gotta woo you then, he responded.

By then, Ivey was getting clean, writing, praying, working out and trying to imagine his own future. She could sense his sincerity and dropped her guard. I think God put us in each others paths for a reason, Kristina says now.

In February 2012, Ivey rented a house for him, Kristina and her six-year-old, who is now 12. He adopted her on Valentines Day 2013.

Like many gang members, Ivey had never had a real job or even a drivers license, but a friend referred him to a plumbing and remodeling company. He started regrouting floors at KFC and clearing sewer drains for $10 an hour, moving to $15 in five months. When one of his bosses died two years ago, the other made Ivey his partner.

In 2017,the couple bought the 2,100 sq ft home in Rankin County cheap because it needed work.

Who wouldve ever thought? I lived in shacks. I never stayed the night in a house like this ever in my entire life, he says.

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Over the last year, Ivey built a large deck for Sunday cookouts, positioned a flatscreen for Nascar viewing and turned his garage into a workout studio with a large Confederate flag over his weight set.

Im not racist, but I like the flag, he says, calling it defiance of those who put rednecks down. People up north like to make fun of us.

Still, the flag was gone in December when the black photographer he had gotten to know for this article visited. I didnt want to hurt Imani, he says later. The flag is not about racism to me.

Iveys brother Danny, who is now in rehab, had turned Aryan Brotherhood in prison, tattooing a swastika on to his chest. But Iveysays he has spent too much time around black people with similar struggles to think hes superior to them.

He also doesnt believe white privilege is a thing. I think its wealth privilege. I dont care what color you are, if youre poor, you get treated like crap. Because I never had none of that white privilege, he says.

We have the same problems as all other races when it comes to money, social stature, living with nothing, drugs, addiction, poverty, Ivey says. All that is all too real for a lot of us.

Ivey attends a church by the interstate with a few black members. He works on houses in formerly lily-white South Jackson, where race demographics have flipped since his family house-hopped there. But he passed on talking to kids at a Jackson YMCA about avoiding the gang life.

Its all black kids, he says. Theyre not gonna listen to my cracker ass.

Today, many locals are surprised to learn that white gang members ran drugs and kicked in doors for two decades between Jackson and its majority-white suburbs.

We watch the news every morning, Ivey says. My little girl comes in here and says, Why do black people commit so many crimes?

Baby, because we have Jackson news, and theres two-thirds black in Jackson, he tells her. White people do bad, too.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/05/white-gangs-rise-simon-city-royals-mississippi-chicago

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Yes, bacon really is killing us

The long read: Decades worth of research proves that chemicals used to make bacon do cause cancer. So how did the meat industry convince us it was safe?

There was a little cafe I used to go to that did the best bacon sandwiches. They came in a soft and pillowy white bap. The bacon, thick-cut from a local butcher, was midway between crispy and chewy. Ketchup and HP sauce were served in miniature jars with the sandwich, so you could dab on the exact amount you liked. That was all there was to it: just bread and bacon and sauce. Eating one of these sandwiches, as I did every few weeks, with a cup of strong coffee, felt like an uncomplicated pleasure.

And then, all of a sudden, the bacon sandwich stopped being quite so comforting. For a few weeks in October 2015, half the people I knew were talking about the news that eating bacon was now a proven cause of cancer. You couldnt miss the story: it was splashed large in every newspaper and all over the web. As one journalist wrote in Wired, Perhaps no two words together are more likely to set the internet aflame than BACON and CANCER. The BBC website announced, matter-of-factly, that Processed meats do cause cancer, while the Sun went with Banger out of Order and Killer in the Kitchen.

The source of the story was an announcement from the World Health Organization that processed meats were now classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning scientists were certain that there was sufficient evidence that they caused cancer, particularly colon cancer. The warning applied not just to British bacon but to Italian salami, Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst and myriad other foods.

Health scares are ten-a-penny, but this one was very hard to ignore. The WHO announcement came on advice from 22 cancer experts from 10 countries, who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat covering epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people. It was now possible to say that eat less processed meat, much like eat more vegetables, had become one of the very few absolutely incontrovertible pieces of evidence-based diet advice not simply another high-profile nutrition fad. As every news report highlighted, processed meat was now in a group of 120 proven carcinogens, alongside alcohol, asbestos and tobacco leading to a great many headlines blaring that bacon was as deadly as smoking.

The WHO advised that consuming 50g of processed meat a day equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime. (Eating larger amounts raises your risk more.) Learning that your own risk of cancer has increased from something like 5% to something like 6% may not be frightening enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for ever. But learning that consumption of processed meat causes an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year is much more chilling. According to Cancer Research UK, if no one ate processed or red meat in Britain, there would be 8,800 fewer cases of cancer. (That is four times the number of people killed annually on Britains roads.)

The news felt especially shocking because both ham and bacon are quintessentially British foods. Nearly a quarter of the adult population in Britain eats a ham sandwich for lunch on any given day, according to data from 2012 gathered by researchers Luke Yates and Alan Warde. To many consumers, bacon is not just a food; it is a repository of childhood memories, a totem of home. Surveys indicate that the smell of frying bacon is one of our favourite scents in the UK, along with cut grass and fresh bread. To be told that bacon had given millions of people cancer was a bit like finding out your granny had been secretly sprinkling arsenic on your morning toast.

Vegetarians might point out that the bacon sandwich should never have been seen as comforting. It is certainly no comfort for the pigs, most of whom are kept in squalid, cramped conditions. But for the rest of us, it was alarming to be told that these beloved foods might be contributing to thousands of needless human deaths. In the weeks following news of the WHO report, sales of bacon and sausages fell dramatically. British supermarkets reported a 3m drop in sales in just a fortnight. (It was very detrimental, said Kirsty Adams, the product developer for meat at Marks and Spencer.)

But just when it looked as if this may be #Bacongeddon (one of many agonised bacon-related hashtags trending in October 2015), a second wave of stories flooded in. Their message was: panic over. For one thing, the analogy between bacon and smoking was misleading. Smoking tobacco and eating processed meat are both dangerous, but not on the same scale. To put it in context, around 86% of lung cancers are linked to smoking, whereas it seems that just 21% of bowel cancers can be attributed to eating processed or red meat. A few weeks after publishing the report, the WHO issued a clarification insisting it was not telling consumers to stop eating processed meat.

Meanwhile, the meat industry was busily insisting that there was nothing to see here. The North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, called the report dramatic and alarmist overreach. A whole tranche of articles insisted in a commonsense tone that it would be premature and foolish to ditch our meaty fry-ups just because of a little cancer scare.

Nearly three years on, it feels like business as usual for processed meats. Many of us seem to have got over our initial sense of alarm. Sales of bacon in the UK are buoyant, having risen 5% in the two years up to mid-2016. When I interviewed a product developer for Sainsburys supermarket last year, she said that one of the quickest ways to get British consumers to try a new product now was to add chorizo to it.

And yet the evidence linking bacon to cancer is stronger than ever. In January, a new large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that consuming just 9g of bacon a day less than a rasher could significantly raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The studys lead author, Jill Pell from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University, told me that while it can be counterproductive to push for total abstinence, the scientific evidence suggests it would be misleading for health authorities to set any safe dose for processed meat other than zero.

The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didnt have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we havent been told including by the WHO is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.


How do you choose a pack of bacon in a shop, assuming you are a meat eater? First, you opt for either the crispy fat of streaky or the leanness of back. Then you decide between smoked or unsmoked each version has its passionate defenders (I am of the unsmoked persuasion). Maybe you seek out a packet made from free-range or organic meat, or maybe your budget is squeezed and you search for any bacon on special offer. Either way, before you put the pack in your basket, you have one last look, to check if the meat is pink enough.

Since we eat with our eyes, the main way we judge the quality of cured meats is pinkness. Yet it is this very colour that we should be suspicious of, as the French journalist Guillaume Coudray explains in a book published in France last year called Cochonneries, a word that means both piggeries and rubbish or junk food. The subtitle is How Charcuterie Became a Poison. Cochonneries reads like a crime novel, in which the processed meat industry is the perpetrator and ordinary consumers are the victims.

The pinkness of bacon or cooked ham, or salami is a sign that it has been treated with chemicals, more specifically with nitrates and nitrites. It is the use of these chemicals that is widely believed to be the reason why processed meat is much more carcinogenic than unprocessed meat. Coudray argues that we should speak not of processed meat but nitro-meat.

Parma
Prosciutto di Parma has been produced without nitrates since 1993. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Pure insane crazy madness is how Coudray described the continuing use of nitrates and nitrites in processed meats, in an email to me. The madness, in his view, is that it is possible to make bacon and ham in ways that would be less carcinogenic. The most basic way to cure any meat is to salt it either with a dry salt rub or a wet brine and to wait for time to do the rest. Coudray notes that ham and bacon manufacturers claim this old-fashioned way of curing isnt safe. But the real reason they reject it is cost: it takes much longer for processed meats to develop their flavour this way, which cuts into profits.

There is much confusion about what processed meat actually means, a confusion encouraged by the bacon industry, which benefits from us thinking there is no difference between a freshly minced lamb kofta and a pizza smothered in nitrate-cured pepperoni. Technically, processed meat means pork or beef that has been salted and cured, with or without smoking. A fresh pound of beef mince isnt processed. A hard stick of cured salami is.

The health risk of bacon is largely to do with two food additives: potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre) and sodium nitrite. It is these that give salamis, bacons and cooked hams their alluring pink colour. Saltpetre sometimes called sal prunella has been used in some recipes for salted meats since ancient times. As Jane Grigson explains in Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, saltpetre was traditionally used when brining hams to give them an attractive rosy appearance when otherwise it would be a murky greyish brown.

In earlier centuries, bacon-makers who used saltpetre did not understand that it converts to nitrite as the meat cures. It is this nitrite that allows the bacteria responsible for cured flavour to emerge quicker, by inhibiting the growth of other bacteria. But in the early 20th century, the meat industry found that the production of cured meats could be streamlined by adding sodium nitrite to the pork in pure form. In trade journals of the 1960s, the firms who sold nitrite powders to ham-makers spoke quite openly about how the main advantage was to increase profit margins by speeding up production. One French brand of sodium nitrite from the 60s was called Vitorose or quick-pink.

Nitro-chemicals have been less of a boon to consumers. In and of themselves, these chemicals are not carcinogenic. After all, nitrate is naturally present in many green vegetables, including celery and spinach, something that bacon manufacturers often jubilantly point out. As one British bacon-maker told me, Theres nitrate in lettuce and no one is telling us not to eat that!

But something different happens when nitrates are used in meat processing. When nitrates interact with certain components in red meat (haem iron, amines and amides), they form N-nitroso compounds, which cause cancer. The best known of these compounds is nitrosamine. This, as Guillaume Coudray explained to me in an email, is known to be carcinogenic even at a very low dose. Any time someone eats bacon, ham or other processed meat, their gut receives a dose of nitrosamines, which damage the cells in the lining of the bowel, and can lead to cancer.

You would not know it from the way bacon is sold, but scientists have known nitrosamines are carcinogenic for a very long time. More than 60 years ago, in 1956, two British researchers called Peter Magee and John Barnes found that when rats were fed dimethyl nitrosamine, they developed malignant liver tumours. By the 1970s, animal studies showed that small, repeated doses of nitrosamines and nitrosamides exactly the kind of regular dose a person might have when eating a daily breakfast of bacon were found to cause tumours in many organs including the liver, stomach, oesophagus, intestines, bladder, brain, lungs and kidneys.

Just because something is a carcinogen in rats and other mammals does not mean it will cause cancer in humans, but as far back as 1976, cancer scientist William Lijinsky argued that we must assume that these N-nitroso compounds found in meats such as bacon were also carcinogens for man. In the years since, researchers have gathered a massive body of evidence to lend weight to that assumption. In 1994, to take just one paper among hundreds on nitrosamines and cancer, two American epidemiologists found that eating hotdogs one or more times a week was associated with higher rates of childhood brain cancer, particularly for children who also had few vitamins in their diets.

In 1993, Parma ham producers in Italy made a collective decision to remove nitrates from their products and revert to using only salt, as in the old days. For the past 25 years, no nitrates or nitrites have been used in any Prosciutto di Parma. Even without nitrate or nitrite, the Parma ham stays a deep rosy-pink colour. We now know that the colour in Parma ham is totally harmless, a result of the enzyme reactions during the hams 18-month ageing process.

Slow-cured, nitrate-free, artisan hams are one thing, but what about mass-market meats? Eighteen months would be a long time to wait on hotdogs, as the food science expert Harold McGee comments. But there have always been recipes for nitrate-free bacon using nothing but salt and herbs. John Gower of Quiet Waters Farm, a pork producer who advises many British manufacturers of cured meats, confirms that nitrate is not a necessary ingredient in bacon: Its generally accepted that solid muscle products, as opposed to chopped meat products like salami, dont require the addition of nitrate for safety reasons.

Bacon is proof, if it were needed, that we cling to old comforts long after they have been proven harmful. The attachment of producers to nitrates in bacon is mostly cultural, says Gower. Bacon cured by traditional methods without nitrates and nitrites will lack what Gower calls that hard-to-define tang, that delicious almost metallic taste that makes bacon taste of bacon to British consumers. Bacon without nitrates, says Gower, is nothing but salt pork.

Given the harm of nitro-meat has been known for so long, the obvious question is why more has not been done to protect us from it. Corinna Hawkes, a professor of Food Policy at City University in London, has been predicting for years that processed meats will be the next sugar a food so harmful that there will be demands for government agencies to step in and protect us. Some day soon, Hawkes believes, consumers will finally wake up to the clear links between cancer and processed meat and say Why didnt someone tell me about this?


The most amazing thing about the bacon panic of 2015 was that it took so long for official public health advice to turn against processed meat. It could have happened 40 years earlier. The only time that the processed meat industry has looked seriously vulnerable was during the 1970s, a decade that saw the so-called war on nitrates in the US. In an era of Ralph Nader-style consumer activism, there was a gathering mood in favour of protecting shoppers against bacon which one prominent public health scientist called the most dangerous food in the supermarket. In 1973, Leo Freedman, the chief toxicologist of the US Food and Drug Administration, confirmed to the New York Times that nitrosamines are a carcinogen for humans although he also mentioned that he liked bacon as well as anybody.

The US meat industry realised it had to act fast to protect bacon against the cancer charge. The first attempts to fight back were simply to ridicule the scientists for over-reacting. In a 1975 article titled Factual look at bacon scare, Farmers Weekly insisted that a medium-weight man would have to consume more than 11 tonnes of bacon every single day to run the faintest risk of cancer. This was an outrageous fabrication.

But soon the meat lobby came up with a cleverer form of diversion. The AMI the American Meat Institute started to make the argument that the nitrate was only there for the consumers own safety, to ward off botulism a potentially fatal toxin sometimes produced by poorly preserved foods. The scientific director of the AMI argued that a single cup of botulism would be enough to wipe out every human on the planet. So, far from harming lives, bacon was actually saving them.

In 1977, the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture gave the meat industry three months to prove that nitrate and nitrite in bacon caused no harm. Without a satisfactory response, Coudray writes, these additives would have to be replaced 36 months later with non-carcinogenic methods. The meat industry could not prove that nitrosamines were not carcinogenic because it was already known that they were. Instead, the argument was made that nitrates and nitrites were utterly essential for the making of bacon, because without them bacon would cause thousands of deaths from botulism. In 1978, in response to the FDAs challenge, Richard Lyng, director of the AMI, argued that nitrites are to processed meat as yeast is to bread.

The meat industrys tactics in defending bacon have been right out of the tobacco industrys playbook, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. The first move is: attack the science. By the 1980s, the AMI was financing a group of scientists based at the University of Wisconsin. These meat researchers published a stream of articles casting doubt on the harmfulness of nitrates and exaggerating the risk from botulism of non-nitrated hams.

Does making ham without nitrite lead to botulism? If so, it is a little strange that in the 25 years that Parma ham has been made without nitrites, there has not been a single case of botulism associated with it. Almost all the cases of botulism from preserved food which are extremely rare have been the result of imperfectly preserved vegetables, such as bottled green beans, peas and mushrooms. The botulism argument was a smokescreen. The more that consumers could be made to feel that the harmfulness of nitrate and nitrite in bacon and ham was still a matter of debate, the more they could be encouraged to calm down and keep buying bacon.

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A bacon sandwich at a diner in Michigan. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters

The botulism pretext was very effective. The AMI managed to get the FDA to keep delaying its three-month ultimatum on nitrites until a new FDA commissioner was appointed in 1980 one more sympathetic to hotdogs. The nitrite ban was shelved. The only concession the industry had made was to limit the percentage of nitrites added to processed meat and to agree to add vitamin C, which would supposedly mitigate the formation of nitrosamines, although it does nothing to prevent the formation of another known carcinogen, nitrosyl-haem.

Over the years, the messages challenging the dangers of bacon have become ever more outlandish. An explainer article by the Meat Science and Muscle Biology lab at the University of Wisconsin argues that sodium nitrite is in fact critical for maintaining human health by controlling blood pressure, preventing memory loss, and accelerating wound healing. A French meat industry website, info-nitrites.fr, argues that the use of the right dose of nitrites in ham guarantees healthy and safe products, and insists that ham is an excellent food for children.

The bacon lobby has also found surprising allies among the natural foods brigade. Type nitrate cancer bacon into Google, and you will find a number of healthy eating articles, some of them written by advocates of the Paleo diet, arguing that bacon is actually a much-maligned health food. The writers often mention that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates, and that human saliva is high in nitrite. One widely shared article claims that giving up bacon would be as absurd as attempting to stop swallowing. Out of the mass of stuff on the internet defending the healthiness of bacon, it can be hard to tell which writers have fallen under the sway of the meat lobby, and which are simply clueless nutrition experts who dont know any better.

Either way, this misinformation has the potential to make thousands of people unwell. The mystifying part is why the rest of us have been so willing to accept the cover-up.


Our deepening knowledge of its harm has done very little to damage the comforting cultural associations of bacon. While I was researching this article, I felt a rising disgust at the repeated dishonesty of the processed meat industry. I thought about hospital wards and the horrible pain and indignity of bowel cancer. But then I remembered being in the kitchen with my father as a child on a Sunday morning, watching him fry bacon. When all the bacon was cooked, he would take a few squares of bread and fry them in the meaty fat until they had soaked up all its goodness.

In theory, our habit of eating salted and cured meats should have died out as soon as home refrigerators became widespread in the mid-20th century. But tastes in food are seldom rational, and millions of us are still hooked on the salty, smoky, umami savour of sizzling bacon.

We are sentimental about bacon in a way we never were with cigarettes, and this stops us from thinking straight. The widespread willingness to forgive pink, nitrated bacon for causing cancer illustrates how torn we feel when something beloved in our culture is proven to be detrimental to health. Our brains cant cope with the horrid feeling that bacon is not what we thought it was, and so we turn our anger outwards to the health gurus warning us of its hazards. The reaction of many consumers to the WHO report of 2015 was: hands off my bacon!

In 2010, the EU considered banning the use of nitrates in organic meats. Perhaps surprisingly, the British organic bacon industry vigorously opposed the proposed nitrates ban. Richard Jacobs, the late chief executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, an industry body, said that prohibiting nitrate and nitrite would have meant the collapse of a growing market for organic bacon.

Organic bacon produced with nitrates sounds like a contradiction in terms, given that most consumers of organic food buy it out of concerns for food safety. Having gone to the trouble of rearing pigs using free-range methods and giving them only organic feed, why would you then cure the meat in ways that make it carcinogenic? In Denmark, all organic bacon is nitrate-free. But the UK organic industry insisted that British shoppers would be unlikely to accept bacon that was greyish.

Then again, the slowness of consumers to lose our faith in pink bacon may partly be a response to the confusing way that the health message has been communicated to us. When it comes to processed meat, we have been misled not just by wild exaggerations of the food industry but by the caution of science.

On the WHO website, the harmfulness of nitrite-treated meats is explained so opaquely you could miss it altogether. In the middle of a paragraph on what makes red meat and processed meat increase the risk of cancer, it says: For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds. What this means, in plain English, is that nitrites make bacon more carcinogenic. But instead of spelling this out, the WHO moves swiftly on to the question of how both red and processed meats might cause cancer, after adding that it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased.

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The typical British sausage does not fall into the processed meat category. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

This caution has kept us as consumers unnecessarily in the dark. Consider sausages. For years, I believed that the unhealthiest part in a cooked English breakfast was the sausage, rather than the bacon. Before I started to research this article, Id have sworn that sausages fell squarely into the processed meat category. They are wrongly listed as such on the NHS website.

But the average British sausage as opposed to a hard sausage like a French saucisson is not cured, being made of nothing but fresh meat, breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and E223, a preservative that is non-carcinogenic. After much questioning, two expert spokespeople for the US National Cancer Institute confirmed to me that one might consider fresh sausages to be red meat and not processed meat, and thus only a probable carcinogen. (To me, the fact that most sausages are not processed meat was deeply cheering, and set me dancing around the kitchen with glee thinking about toad in the hole.)

In general, if you ask a cancer scientist to distinguish between the risks of eating different types of meat, they become understandably cagey. The two experts at the National Cancer Institute told me that meats containing nitrites and nitrates have consistently been associated with increased risk of colon cancer in human studies. But they added that it is difficult to separate nitrosamines from other possible carcinogens that may be present in processed meats like bacon. These other suspects include haem iron a substance that is abundant in all red meat, processed or not and heterocyclic amines: chemicals that form in meat during cooking. A piece of crispy, overcooked bacon will contain multiple carcinogens, and not all are due to the nitrates.

The problem with this reasoning, as I see it, is that it cant account for why processed meat is so much more closely linked to cancer than cooked red meat. For that, there remains no plausible explanation except for nitrates and nitrites. But looking for clear confirmation of this in the data is tricky, given that humans do not eat in labs under clinical observation.

Most of what we know about processed meat and cancer in humans comes from epidemiology the study of disease across whole populations. But epidemiologists do not ask the kind of detailed questions about food that the people who eat that food may like answers to. The epidemiological data based on surveys of what people eat is now devastatingly clear that diets high in processed meats lead to a higher incidence of cancer. But it cant tell us how or why or which meats are the best or worst. As Corinna Hawkes of City University comments, The researchers dont ask you if you are eating artisanal charcuterie from the local Italian deli or the cheapest hotdogs on the planet.

I would love to see data comparing the cancer risk of eating nitrate-free Parma ham with that of traditional bacon, but no epidemiologist has yet done such a study. The closest anyone has come was a French study from 2015, which found that consumption of nitrosylated haem iron as found in processed meats had a more direct association with colon cancer than the haem iron that is present in fresh red meat.

It may be possible that epidemiologists have not asked people more detailed questions about what kind of processed meats they eat because they assume there is no mass-market alternative to bacon made without nitrates or nitrites. But this is about to change.


The technology now exists to make the pink meats we love in a less damaging form, which raises the question of why the old kind is still so freely sold. Ever since the war on nitrates of the 1970s, US consumers have been more savvy about nitrates than those in Europe, and there is a lot of nitrate-free bacon on the market. The trouble, as Jill Pell remarks, is that most of the bacon labelled as nitrate-free in the US isnt nitrate-free. Its made with nitrates taken from celery extract, which may be natural, but produces exactly the same N-nitroso compounds in the meat. Under EU regulation, this bacon would not be allowed to be labelled nitrate-free.

Its the worst con Ive ever seen in my entire life, says Denis Lynn, the chair of Finnebrogue Artisan, a Northern Irish company that makes sausages for many UK supermarkets, including Marks & Spencer. For years, Lynn had been hoping to diversify into bacon and ham but, he says, I wasnt going to do it until we found a way to do it without nitrates.

When Lynn heard about a new process, developed in Spain, for making perfectly pink, nitrate-free bacon, he assumed it was another blind alley. In 2009, Juan de Dios Hernandez Canovas, a food scientist and the head of the food tech company Prosur, found that if he added certain fruit extracts to fresh pork, it stayed pink for a surprisingly long time.

In January 2018, Finnebrogue used this technology to launch genuinely nitrate-free bacon and ham in the UK. It is sold in Sainsburys and Waitrose as Naked Bacon and Naked Ham, and in M&S as made without nitrites. Kirsty Adams, who oversaw its launch at M&S, explains that its not really cured. Its more like a fresh salted pork injected with a fruit and vegetable extract, and is more perishable than an old-fashioned flitch of bacon but that doesnt matter, given that it is kept in a fridge. Because it is quick to produce, this is much more economically viable to make than some of the other nitrate-free options, such as slow-cured Parma ham. The bacon currently sells in Waitrose for 3 a pack, which is not the cheapest, but not prohibitive either.

I tried some of the Finnebrogue bacon from M&S. The back bacon tasted pleasant and mild, with a slight fruitiness. It didnt have the toothsome texture or smoky depth of a rasher of butchers dry-cured bacon, but Id happily buy it again as an alternative to nitro-meat. None of my family noticed the difference in a spaghetti amatriciana.

Nitrite-free bacon still sounds a bit fancy and niche, but there shouldnt be anything niche about the desire to eat food that doesnt raise your risk of cancer. Lynn says that when he first approached Prosur about the fruit extract, he asked how much they had sold to the other big bacon manufacturers during the two years they had been offering it in the UK. The answer was none. None of the big guys wanted to take it, claims Lynn. They said: It will make our other processed meats look dodgy.

But it also remains to be seen how much consumer demand there will be for nitrite- or nitrate-free bacon. For all the noise about bacon and cancer, it isnt easy to disentangle at a personal level just what kind of risk we are at when we eat a bacon sandwich. OK, so 34,000 people may die each year because of processed meat in their diet, but the odds are that it wont be you. I asked a series of cancer scientists whether they personally ate processed meat, and they all gave slightly different answers. Jill Pell said she was mostly vegetarian and ate processed meats very rarely. But when I asked Fabrice Pierre, a French expert on colon cancer and meat, if he eats ham, he replied: Yes, of course. But with vegetables at the same meal. (Pierres research at the Toxalim lab has shown him that some of the carcinogenic effects of ham can be offset by eating vegetables.)

Our endless doubt and confusion about what we should be eating have been a gift to the bacon industry. The cover-up about the harm of meat cured with nitrates and nitrites has been helped along by the scepticism many of us feel about all diet advice. At the height of the great bacon scare of 2015, lots of intelligent voices were saying that it was safe to ignore the new classification of processed meats as carcinogenic, because you cant trust anything these nutritionists say. Meanwhile, millions of consumers of ham and bacon, many of them children, are left unprotected. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this controversy is how little public outrage it has generated. Despite everything, most of us still treat bacon as a dear old friend.

In an ideal world, we would all be eating diets lower in meat, processed or otherwise, for the sake of sustainability and animal welfare as much as health. But in the world we actually live in, processed meats are still a normal, staple protein for millions of people who cant afford to swap a value pack of frying bacon for a few slivers of Prosciutto di Parma. Around half of all meat eaten in developed countries is now processed, according to researcher John Kearney, making it a far more universal habit than smoking.

The real victims in all this are not people like me who enjoy the occasional bacon-on-sourdough in a hipster cafe. The people who will be worst affected are those many on low incomes for whom the cancer risk from bacon is compounded by other risk factors such as eating low-fibre diets with few vegetables or wholegrains. In his book, Coudray points out that in coming years, millions more poor consumers will be affected by preventable colon cancer, as westernised processed meats conquer the developing world.

Last month, Michele Rivasi, a French MEP, launched a campaign in collaboration with Coudray demanding a ban of nitrites from all meat products across Europe. Given how vigorously the bacon industry has fought its corner thus far, a total ban on nitrites looks unlikely.

But there are other things that could be done about the risk of nitrites and nitrates in bacon, short of an absolute veto. Better information would be a start. As Corinna Hawkes points out, it is surprising that there hasnt been more of an effort from government to inform people about the risks of eating ham and bacon, perhaps through warning labels on processed meats. But where is the British politician brave enough to cast doubt on bacon?

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/01/bacon-cancer-processed-meats-nitrates-nitrites-sausages

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Hundreds of thousands living in squalid rented homes in England

Estimated 338,000 properties rented by under-35s likely to cause harm


Hundreds of thousands living in squalid rented homes in England

Estimated 338,000 properties rented by under-35s hazardous and likely to cause harm

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/28/hundreds-of-thousands-living-in-squalid-rented-homes-in-england

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Migrants are more profitable than drugs: how the mafia infiltrated Italys asylum system

The long read: Crime families have cashed in on the refugee industry

Joy, a young Nigerian woman, was standing in the street outside the sprawling, overcrowded Cara di Mineo reception centre for asylum seekers in central Sicily, waiting for someone to pick her up when I met her. It was late summer 2016, and the weather was still hot. She said she was 18, but looked much younger. She was wearing a faded denim jacket over a crisp white T-shirt and tight jeans, and six or seven strings of colourful beads were wrapped around her neck. A gold chain hung from her left wrist, a gift from her mother.

As we spoke, a dark car came into view and she took a couple of steps away from me to make sure whoever was driving saw her, and saw that she was alone. There were a handful of other migrants loitering along the road. The approaching car didnt slow down, so Joy came back over to me and carried on our conversation.

The oldest of six children, Joy (not her real name) told me she had left her family in a small village in Edo state in Nigeria at the age of 15, and gone to work for a wealthy woman who owned a beauty salon in Benin City. She had since come to suspect that her parents had sold her to raise money for their younger children. They probably had no choice, she said as she looked down the road toward the thick citrus groves that hid the coming traffic.

There were six other girls who worked for the woman, whom Joy said they called their maman, meaning mother. When Joy turned 16, she went through a ceremony that bound her to the mamanby a curse: if she disobeyed the maman, her family would die. A few weeks later, she was told she was moving to Italy, where she would work for her mamans sister. She believed she would be working in a hair salon. She was given 45 (40) and a phone number to call once she got to Italy but no name, no address, and no documents.

Joys new life would turn out to be nothing like what she had expected. Instead of working for a hairdresser, she fell into the trap set by traffickers who lure women into slavery and prostitution. More than 80% of women brought to Europe from Nigeria are unknowingly sponsored by sex traffickers who have paid for their journey, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The rest will have paid the smugglers to get them to Europe, but once they get there, will be unlikely to escape the sex-trafficking rings.

After an appalling journey, via Tripoli, which took nearly three weeks, Joy arrived at the port of Augusta on Sicilys east coast. She had no papers or passport. All she had was an Italian phone number, which her maman had stitched into the sleeve of her jacket. When the migrants got off the boat, an armed military policeman in a bulletproof vest stood guard as another patted them down and took knives from some of the men. Those with documents were taken to a large tent lined with army cots. One woman handed out shoes and flip-flops, and another gave them bruised yellow apples from a large metal tub. An officer used a black marker pen to write a number on the migrants left hands. Joy was number 323.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/feb/01/migrants-more-profitable-than-drugs-how-mafia-infiltrated-italy-asylum-system

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The Texas boys were beaten, abused, raped. Now all they want is an apology

The youngsters at Cal Farleys Ranch in Texas were subjected to years of abuse. But the institutions feeble response has been a slap in the face to survivors

Steve Smith was just eight when his mother left him in the care of Cal Farleys Boys Ranch, a Texas institution for at-risk children. From the moment he got there in 1959, the place didnt sit right with him.

I cried probably more than any boy that I know that came out [of] there, just homesick, and I didnt take it very well.

Almost immediately upon his arrival, Steve was subject to the first of many beatings. For the following decade, he endured regular and arbitrary violence at the hands of staff. He also had to watch helplessly as his younger brother, Rick, was beaten by adults until he couldnt stand.

Along with the physical punishment, Steves pets were killed, and his friends were worked to the bone in atrocious conditions. Some boys, including Rick Smith, were also sexually abused while under the care of the ranch.

The ordeal has permanently damaged their lives.

At the kitchen table in his immaculate home in the Amarillo suburbs, Steve, now almost 70, goes through all of the details of what happened to him without showing much pain. Hes a tough man he served in the Vietnam war and was wounded in the line of duty and his piercing blue eyes only sprout tears twice.

The first time is when he describes how a succession of dogs he owned, all called Boots, were killed by staff members. The other is when he talks about what happened to his younger brother Rick, and how powerless he was to help him.

Rick, Steve, and six other men the Guardian spoke to named staff members responsible for the abuse, which lasted from the 1950s until at least the early 1990s. They say the abuse went beyond them, and was systemic, affecting hundreds of others who went through the ranch.

They say Lamont Waldrip, a long-serving superintendent, was one of the worst abusers. Last month, at the behest of a wealthy donor who wrote a cheque for $1m to build a new dormitory, the ranch named the new building Waldrip House.

The ranchs current CEO, Dan Adams, acknowledged the weight of the accusations against Waldrip, who died in 2013, but he said that other boys had had very different experiences with him and admired and liked him.

For the survivors who want to make the ranch accountable for the abuse and have been encouraged to break their silence after Steve Smith brought them together in a Facebook group this is an unbearable affront.

A very wealthy ranch and a revolt

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A postcard of Cal Farleys ranch that Steve Smith has kept. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

Cal Farleys Boys Ranch is accustomed to the generosity of well-heeled donors, but is less used to having its reputation called into question. Almost since its foundation, the Christ-centered but nondenominational institution has been a byword in Texas for juvenile reform and a can-do spirit. There is no suggestion that there is abuse at Cal Farleys now indeed, there is broad acknowledgment, even from advocates for the men, that current practices at the ranch are in line with the best in the sector.

With 100 direct employees and 526 across its subsidiaries, it is no small fish, and notable individuals from the ranching and oil industries queue up to serve on its board. Cheques like the one that funded Waldrip House are not unusual: the most recent publicly available tax filings show an annual income for the ranch just north of $56.8m. About $43m of that came from contributions and grants. The ranch also owns parcels of land as far away as California.

The ranchs founder, Cal Farley, was a professional wrestler and Amarillo businessman. He had been a prominent college athlete before he moved to Amarillo, where he gained prominence as the owner of a tire shop. Throughout the 1930s, he ran a sporting club, The Mavericks, which tried to channel the energies of troubled and abandoned boys in the panhandle. Eventually he was gifted land in Tascosa, a ghost town, by a local rancher, so he could set up a more permanent home for the boys.

But for all their organizational success, Farley and his staff had no special training to deal with wayward children. In 1950, the superintendent was overpowered and thrown in the river by a group of boys who staged an effective revolt, and for a brief moment they were running things to suit themselves.

In an otherwise laudatory biography of Farley published in 1959, A Shirttail to Hang To, this moment is presented as a major crisis for the ranch. The situation demanded immediate attention. One revolution or mass runaway would mean that Cal would never again win public support for his project.

Faced with a risk to the ranchs prestige, Farley replaced his superintendent with a professional wrestler named Dorrance Funk, who turned to violence as a solution to the discipline problem at the ranch.

In A Shirttail to Hang To, author Beth Day writes that in the wake of the revolt, Funks immediate problem was to command their respect and obedience. He would invite the big boys to work out with him on the wrestling mat Funk illustrated wrestling holds and techniques, and also managed to get over to each boy the suggestion of potential power After a round apiece with Funk on the mat, not one of the leaders of the embryo revolution suggested they might throw *him* in the river.

By the time Rick and Steve Smith arrived in 1959, there were about 250 residents, and Texas courts had taken to diverting young offenders out of the juvenile justice system and into the ranch. Those boys were thrown together in dorms with others who had never committed a crime, but whose parents could not take care of them.

They made me run in front of horses

Ed Cargill lives in New Mexico now, after a stint in the US army and some years of riding motorcycles all over the south-west. His time in Cal Farleys overlapped with Rick Smiths.

After years of living in what he calls a paradise for adult abusers, he made repeated escape attempts. Each time he was caught, and punished. On one occasion, he says, Lamont Waldrip delivered a punishment straight out of the Old West.

I ran away on foot and got about halfway to Amarillo when they caught me, using a helicopter. Lamont Waldrip and another staff member then took me 10 miles away from the ranch, and made me run in front of these horses all the way back. Anytime I floundered, theyd hit me with coiled-up rope or run over me with the damn horse.

Several of the men say that another escapee was dragged for miles behind two horses back to the ranch. Again, one of the horses was ridden by Waldrip. The man in question talked about the incident in a private survivors group on Facebook, which was set up by Steve. His comments were seen by the Guardian.

Cruel punishment wasnt the only ordeal students had to endure. Sexual abuse also happened, and Rick Smith says he was raped by another boy while under the care of the ranch.

The way Steve tells it, his brother has been nervous all his life, like he was hiding something. Just in the last year he told me that when he moved into Maynard [his dorm], one of the bigger boys said hed beat the hell out of him if he didnt sleep with him that night. Hes had it bottled up in him all that time.

Cargill says that the wife of a staff member was having sex with him and three other boys in effect, statutory rape. Its only in retrospect he has come to realize how damaging this was. I didnt realize how bad it was fucking me up. And, she was committing a fucking felony, he says.

As for Steve Smith, he recalls seeing a dorm parent make a boy take his penis out and hit it with a ruler.

He was screaming and begging and I couldnt do anything

For decades, the men say, a culture of abuse prevailed at Cal Farleys.

Martin (not his real name) was sent to the ranch in the early 1980s aged five after being brutally abused and mutilated by his father. Of that time, he says, if you wanna know what its like to die over and over again and watch yourself die in the mirror I know that.

On his first night at the ranch, an older male student dragged me out of the bed, and I went into the bathroom and he basically stuck his dick in my mouth.

Steve
Steve Smiths standard release form from Cal Farleys. Photograph: Steve Smith

When he committed a minor infraction not long after, Martins female dorm parent ordered him to jump in a trash can and scrub it in freezing weather.

When you put a little kid whos been tortured inside a trash can, upside down, and make it like a little prison cell and have him scrub You know, you got these tiny little holes at the top just to let a little light in, youre scared, youre freezing, you know?

Cargill says that his dorm parent would also encourage other boys to administer physical punishment. I saw him hit two boys with his fist and then tell the rest of the dorm, You better finish what I started or its all gonna happen to you.

So I watched as they literally beat these two guys half to death, and me and another guy tried to intervene. We didnt get beat up as bad, but we got beat up.

Cargill says their only crime is they were gay. Which, thats not my place to judge, or my place to punish.

Steve Smith remembers his helplessness while his brother was beaten mercilessly. A staff member did it. I heard Rick screaming at the top of his lungs so I ran down there. I looked into his room and the guy was beating the hell out of him with a belt. My brother didnt even have clothes on, just his underwear. He was screaming and begging and I couldnt do anything.

Afterwards, Ricks nervousness at being at the ranch led to a pattern of behavior that only led to more beatings.

I pissed the bed till I was probably 10, and for that they beat the hell out of me till I bled, he says.

Bill Varnado, who was there at the same time as Steve Smith, says you really didnt have to get in trouble for them to beat the hell out of you. Normally, he says, they used a belt, but as you got older they used their fists on boys.

Joe Stroud, who was there in the 1980s, says the ethos of punishment at Cal Farleys went all the way from how people treated themselves, down to how people treated animals, to how people treat anything. It was a culture of violence.

Its not that I dont believe it, its just that its past

Janet Heimlich, a former journalist, now runs a nonprofit in Austin called the Child-Friendly Faith Project. Through her work and in a book, she has worked to expose religious groups that abuse children. I am always in search of faith-based organizations that are really great, she says.

When she first wrote about Cal Farleys, she used it as an example of best practices in youth care. She still maintains that currently Cal Farleys appears to be in keeping with modern and humane standards of childcare, and says they run a flagship program for cutting-edge child therapy.

In 2015, after she published a laudatory post about Carl Farleys on her blog, Steve Smith left comments. He wrote about the constant abuse, and the beating meted out to Rick. Alarmed by what she was reading, Heimlich got in touch with Adams, the ranch CEO.

I asked Dan, Is what this guy is saying true? He said, Yes. But were evolved.

Heimlich decided to help Steve talk it out with Adams.

Their first conversation was a two-and-a-half-hour meeting on 23 March this year, which Heimlich attended as an observer via Skype. She observed that Adamss attitude to Smith was sympathetic. We were both blown away with what Steve was telling us. Every so often Dan would reach out and touch Steves shoulder.

On 7 and 8 April, the three of them met in Amarillo, first at a coffee shop, and then the next morning for breakfast. At this point, she started to become concerned about how the ranch was going to deal with Smiths allegations.

I thought that meeting was his opportunity to say, Heres what were going to do, but I was getting nothing from him.

At breakfast, she presented a draft letter suggesting the approach Cal Farleys could take. These included investigating allegations of abuse, setting up a fund for survivors medical needs, and ensuring that information on their website and in their marketing material was truthful and not misleading.

Adams, she says, was uncomfortable. Most of all, he was resistant to the idea of going public with any it. He thought that involving the media would not bring the men the healing they were looking for, she says.

At the same meeting, Adams told Heimlich that the ranch was planning to name a new dorm after Lamont Waldrip.

For survivors, she says, it was a slap in the face.

In conversation with the Guardian, Adams acknowledged that abuses had occurred in the past, but also reaffirmed his stance.

I cant deny Steve or anybody else their experience, he said. When asked if the behavior of staff at the time sounded like abuse, he responded, absolutely, no doubt about it. But he stressed that practices had changed, including the phasing out of corporal punishment since he took over in 1996.

I knew Lamont. And there are guys today that had very different experiences with Lamont and admired and liked him. In his early days, I think he probably was way over his head in terms of knowing how to deal with all those kids any time you have a system thats scantily staffed, and not trained, abuse happens.

Adams has no plans to change the dedication of the new building.

I do think when it comes to honoring founders or former employees, thats a collective thing, thats bigger than me, its not arbitrary. I think [a public apology] can be disruptive, because Ive got 260 kids out there that were working very well with, and we have a lot of younger people whose experience has been good at Boys Ranch, and a lot of families that count on us.

I dont say its hearsay and I dont deny it. Its not that I dont believe it, its just that its past.

I want somebody to stand up and say, Hey, Im frickin sorry

The men the Guardian spoke to say they have carried the scars of this experience for decades, as well as a sense that their lives have been misshapen by their time there. Many talked about extensive substance abuse, suicide attempts,
and incarceration among alumni.

Bill Varnado wants to be very clear that theyre not looking for any monetary deal out of this. What we would like is an apology from those people for treating us the way they treated us.

Martin asks: What did Boys Ranch take from me? I dont know. My sense of security, my sense of self, my sense of being comfortable in my own skin.

Arnold Wells says hes still not sure hes an adapted person in adulthood. It got ingrained into me for a period of five years that violence fixes everything, he says.

Ed Cargill says: I want somebody to grow a pair of balls, stand up and say, Hey, Im frickin sorry.

For all the abuse Rick Smith endured, he is more concerned to talk about his brother, and the years it took him to live down what happened to him, and to get past his drinking and anger.

Let me tell you, hes just so proud he didnt let it get him down. Because it was for a while, and he overcame a lot. He was headed for the wrong, wrong place.

Hes skeptical that they will ever receive an apology. Its not gonna happen. Because they are committed to the hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. Theyre committed to that.

And because of this lack of closure, he also doubts he and his brother will ever get over it.

Steve and I will die. Well go to our grave and Ill guarantee you itll be one of the things we think about when we take that last breath: how they got away with it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/20/texas-cal-farleys-boys-ranch-stories

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What happened when I discovered my brother was a sexual predator

Unravelling the central mystery of my childhood taught me the uncomfortable truth about toxic male behavior and what I, as a man, must do about it

Ive fallen out of touch with a lot of childhood friends, but how it happened with my Christie was different more sudden, and at the time, inexplicable.

Christie was my best friend. Her mother, Suzanne, was my mothers best friend since high school. In adulthood, they would get together for coffee once a week. I can still remember the times I spent listening to both of them hold forth on politics and relationships at the kitchen table while Christie and I would play hide and seek.

But one day, Suzanne stopped returning my mothers calls. Christie stopped coming over too.

My mom struggled with depression and it was a hard blow for her. I was always protective of her growing up, and I remember feeling angry, blindsided and hurt. Christie was my best friend, after all.

After a long decline from early-onset dementia, my mother died two years ago. She and Suzanne had never reconciled.

A year later, my half-brother Todd died at the age of 52 from a heroin overdose.

When I was in town for Todds funeral, Christie got in touch and soon afterward, her mother invited me over for dinner. And over glasses of beer and wine, Suzanne told me a series of painful truths that helped unravel one of the central mysteries of my childhood.

In the same conversation, I learned that my brother was a sexual predator, and that my mother was a rape victim.

Suzanne told me that Todd and a group of his friends had sexually assaulted Christies half-sister, Denise, in our home. Denise would have been about 11 at the time.

Suzanne couldnt bring herself to tell my mom because my mom was fragile, dealing with continuous conflict between my father and my two half-brothers, and had herself been raped as a teenager by an ex-boyfriend.

Not knowing what to do, she decided to cut ties and stopped talking to my mother. Christie, meanwhile, said she felt pressured at the time into not talking to me.

After our conversation, I felt numb for days. I pushed it to the back of my mind and did nothing for months. But then the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke out.

It prompted me to asked myself some hard questions. There have been women in my life I could have treated better, and missed occasions where I could have stepped up to the plate to be a better man.

Then I thought about my mother, who started a feminist book club when I was a child; womens rights were important to her. What Suzanne had told me that my mom had been raped, and that her parents refused to believe her or act on it made sense to me, and I was able to confirm parts of it by talking to her sisters. What could I, as a man, do to seek a small amount of justice for the women in my life?

Ultimately, it was a tweet from @sansdn, a feminist Twitter user in Sydney, Australia, that spurred me to action.

San (@sansdn)

It’s easy as hell to call people like Trump and Weinstein monsters. It’s not easy, however, to critique the men in your lives the same way.

October 16, 2017

I decided to do just that.

First, I spoke to a few of Todds friends. I didnt tell them about Denises story, but asked if they could share anything about Todds relationship with women when he was young.

One friend jokingly told a story about how his girlfriend woke one morning after a party to find Todd on top of her, and that he had to pull Todd off her. Man, Todd could be crazy! he said, thinking Id laugh with him.

I didnt.

In his book The Macho Paradox, Jackson Katz argues that sexual assault is a mens issue. Men commit the vast majority of rapes, and men have a special responsibility to hold both themselves and other men accountable for how they treat women and girls.

Men have to think about what role they play, and how they can use whatever platform of influence they have to make it unacceptable for men to act out in sexist and harmful ways, Katz told me. Not because they are nice guys, helping out the women, but because they have a responsibility as men in a sexist society. If they dont speak out, and they dont use whatever influence they have, then in a sense they are part of the problem.

But, as San pointed out, its all-too-easy to do that in a tweet or a Facebook post, when the man in question is a celebrity who is being publicly shamed.

The real work begins where you can have most impact closer to home.

And so I reached out to Denise, and she told me that she wanted to tell her story. As she would explain to me later, she wanted other victims to know about the importance of speaking up quickly about sexual assault so they can find the support they need.

We agreed to meet in person at her home in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, not far from where I grew up.

It was time to go home again. I caught a flight the next day.

Whenever we threw cookouts at our home, the adults would gather at the backyard patio, while the kids would go off and play, sometimes in Todds room in the basement.

Denise isnt sure exactly how old she was when it happened, but as far as he can remember, Todd was about 15, and she was 11 or 12. She knew Todd and his friends, and trusted them. She recalls Todd as the leader when a group of his friends encircled her and pinned her to a chair.

I didnt know what to do. It was very scary. All I see is me on the chair and all their hands everywhere on me, Denise told me. I dont hear what theyre saying. I got to the point where I was actually gonna threaten to spit on them. They didnt like that, but then I thought I cant really spit on them cause then theyll get mad at me, so again I felt powerless.

Jared
Jared Goyette and his friend Christie. Photograph: Jared Goyette

She isnt sure how long it went on for, but the memory of the emotions she felt then is still raw, many decades later. Fear, anger, and guilt, because she thought that she had brought it on herself.

When the boys paused for a moment, she bolted out of the room, and to her mother. But she was afraid to say anything directly.

I just remember going outside, trying to get my mom to notice that perhaps something was wrong, but not making it so obvious that all the adults would notice. I didnt know what to do and it was an instinct of mine learned from society that I couldnt say anything about it, because I didnt want the grownups to get mad.

Her mother told her to go play back inside, back to the room. Denise obeyed.

There, the assault continued.

At a moment when some are rushing to downplay the alleged sexual assaults committed against young girls by Roy Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama, its worth saying that what happened to Denise in the basement of my childhood home was a life-altering event for her.

The shame and guilt she felt in that moment lingered, and grew, and spread. At 11, she played piano, the harpsichord, the violin, and sang in the church choir, but suddenly, her interest in music faded. Her mother knew something was wrong, but couldnt figure out what had happened.

She was extraordinary, and that ended, Suzanne said. She had to be talked into going to choir practice or talked into practicing. She just went into this little cave of her own making. And I thought it was because of something that was happening at school. I didnt understand what the impetus was that began that.

Denise described her descent as a domino effect: Your whole perception changes about how you think people look at you.

Years would go by before she would tell anyone.

There was another person I had to talk to while I was home: my other half-brother, Chris. Im 35, and hes 51, a year and half younger than Todd. He would have been about 13 around the time it happened, and I needed to ask him what he knew.

We met a restaurant. When I broached the topic, he asked not to be recorded, and the conversation grew heated. Later though, we talked over the phone, and he agreed to go on the record.

First, he denied knowing anything about it. I have no memory whatsoever of seeing this go on, or hearing about it, nothing, he said.

He did not speak fondly of Todd, however, recalling a time when he tried to bring a girl home only for Todd to make a move on her. He remembered Todds attitude toward women as being very confident and aggressive.

Im telling you, the culture was different in those times. Todd was jock, handsome. Of course he always thought the girls wanted him. Boys will be boys, Chris said.

Chris generally had two lines of thought. On one hand, he said that if what Denise described did happen, there was nothing right about it. But he also continually tried to shift the responsibility back to her, recalling times she did things that he said could have been interpreted as suggestive. There may have been a little promiscuity going on. Right? he said at one point. (Again, Denise was about 11 at the time.)

The conversation moved to our mother. He began by saying that he believed the story of her being raped as a teenager, and that hearing what our mother went through had upset him. For a moment, after what had been a draining conversation, I thought that we had finally found common ground.

But again, he shifted.

I think that sucks, but the other thing I remember now Ive heard a couple of different people, throughout the years is that our mother was a little promiscuous when she was young, he told me.

My heart sank. I mean, really? This was our own mother he was talking about. As we went back and forth, I concluded that the tendency to shift the focus back to the accuser was reflexive and almost hardwired in him, as I think is often the case for men of his generation. This is something many women know and have known, but I was discovering it first-hand.

Some of my earliest memories are of Chris swinging me by my feet as a child. He loves his wife and they have a solid relationship. Hes my brother and I love him. But what I found in our conversation was a painful example of the kind of attitudes that made Denise and Suzanne, as well as countless other victims, reluctant to come forward. And if I were to stay silent about it, or just shrug it off as the kind of thing guys say sometimes, I would, in essence, be participating.

I choose not to participate.

Denise slowly began her healing process, and eventually got married and then separated. She has a daughter in college and a son in high school. Both live with her, and all three perform together at church Denise and her daughter Cassandra sing in the choir, while her son Colin plays in the bell choir. Her children were in the room as she told her story. She wanted them to be there.

What I hope people get out of this is, that they should not be embarrassed about it. They should tell somebody as soon as it happens, so that you can get the help that you need and you can start to move on from it. And you can move on from it, Denise said.

I would say a lot of me has been able to move on, but theres still parts of me that need to be fixed. Knowing that these things happen, I feel that I have been able to be very open with my children. Let them know that if anything happens to them, they can come and ask me and I will not judge them and I will try and help.

I think people need to know that there are people out there that will help them and support them, she said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/28/my-brother-sexual-predator-assault-weinstein-roy-moore

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Portugals radical drugs policy is working. Why hasnt the world copied it?

The long read: Since it decriminalised all drugs in 2001, Portugal has seen dramatic drops in overdoses, HIV infection and drug-related crime

When the drugs came, they hit all at once. It was the 80s, and by the time one in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners Portugal was in a state of panic.

lvaro Pereira was working as a family doctor in Olho in southern Portugal. People were injecting themselves in the street, in public squares, in gardens, he told me. At that time, not a day passed when there wasnt a robbery at a local business, or a mugging.

The crisis began in the south. The 80s were a prosperous time in Olho, a fishing town 31 miles west of the Spanish border. Coastal waters filled fishermens nets from the Gulf of Cdiz to Morocco, tourism was growing, and currency flowed throughout the southern Algarve region. But by the end of the decade, heroin began washing up on Olhos shores. Overnight, Pereiras beloved slice of the Algarve coast became one of the drug capitals of Europe: one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction at that time, but the number was even higher in the south. Headlines in the local press raised the alarm about overdose deaths and rising crime. The rate of HIV infection in Portugal became the highest in the European Union. Pereira recalled desperate patients and families beating a path to his door, terrified, bewildered, begging for help. I got involved, he said, only because I was ignorant.

In truth, there was a lot of ignorance back then. Forty years of authoritarian rule under the regime established by Antnio Salazar in 1933 had suppressed education, weakened institutions and lowered the school-leaving age, in a strategy intended to keep the population docile. The country was closed to the outside world; people missed out on the experimentation and mind-expanding culture of the 1960s. When the regime ended abruptly in a military coup in 1974, Portugal was suddenly opened to new markets and influences. Under the old regime, Coca-Cola was banned and owning a cigarette lighter required a licence. When marijuana and then heroin began flooding in, the country was utterly unprepared.

Pereira tackled the growing wave of addiction the only way he knew how: one patient at a time. A student in her 20s who still lived with her parents might have her family involved in her recovery; a middle-aged man, estranged from his wife and living on the street, faced different risks and needed a different kind of support. Pereira improvised, calling on institutions and individuals in the community to lend a hand.

In 2001, nearly two decades into Pereiras accidental specialisation in addiction, Portugal became the first country to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that were available to them.

The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates. HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The data behind these changes has been studied and cited as evidence by harm-reduction movements around the globe. Its misleading, however, to credit these positive results entirely to a change in law.

Portugals remarkable recovery, and the fact that it has held steady through several changes in government including conservative leaders who would have preferred to return to the US-style war on drugs could not have happened without an enormous cultural shift, and a change in how the country viewed drugs, addiction and itself. In many ways, the law was merely a reflection of transformations that were already happening in clinics, in pharmacies and around kitchen tables across the country. The official policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for a broad range of services (health, psychiatry, employment, housing etc) that had been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to work together more effectively to serve their communities.

The language began to shift, too. Those who had been referred to sneeringly as drogados (junkies) became known more broadly, more sympathetically, and more accurately, as people who use drugs or people with addiction disorders. This, too, was crucial.

It is important to note that Portugal stabilised its opioid crisis, but it didnt make it disappear. While drug-related death, incarceration and infection rates plummeted, the country still had to deal with the health complications of long-term problematic drug use. Diseases including hepatitis C, cirrhosis and liver cancer are a burden on a health system that is still struggling to recover from recession and cutbacks. In this way, Portugals story serves as a warning of challenges yet to come.

Despite enthusiastic international reactions to Portugals success, local harm-reduction advocates have been frustrated by what they see as stagnation and inaction since decriminalisation came into effect. They criticise the state for dragging its feet on establishing supervised injection sites and drug consumption facilities; for failing to make the anti-overdose medication naloxone more readily available; for not implementing needle-exchange programmes in prisons. Where, they ask, is the courageous spirit and bold leadership that pushed the country to decriminalise drugs in the first place?


In the early days of Portugals panic, when Pereiras beloved Olho began falling apart in front of him, the states first instinct was to attack. Drugs were denounced as evil, drug users were demonised, and proximity to either was criminally and spiritually punishable. The Portuguese government launched a series of national anti-drug campaigns that were less Just Say No and more Drugs Are Satan.

Informal treatment approaches and experiments were rushed into use throughout the country, as doctors, psychiatrists, and pharmacists worked independently to deal with the flood of drug-dependency disorders at their doors, sometimes risking ostracism or arrest to do what they believed was best for their patients.

In 1977, in the north of the country, psychiatrist Eduno Lopes pioneered a methadone programme at the Centro da Boavista in Porto. Lopes was the first doctor in continental Europe to experiment with substitution therapy, flying in methadone powder from Boston, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, rather than the Ministry of Health. His efforts met with a vicious public backlash and the disapproval of his peers, who considered methadone therapy nothing more than state-sponsored drug addiction.

In Lisbon, Odette Ferreira, an experienced pharmacist and pioneering HIV researcher, started an unofficial needle-exchange programme to address the growing Aids crisis. She received death threats from drug dealers, and legal threats from politicians. Ferreira who is now in her 90s, and still has enough swagger to carry off long fake eyelashes and red leather at a midday meeting started giving away clean syringes in the middle of Europes biggest open-air drug market, in the Casal Ventoso neighbourhood of Lisbon. She collected donations of clothing, soap, razors, condoms, fruit and sandwiches, and distributed them to users. When dealers reacted with hostility, she snapped back: Dont mess with me. You do your job, and Ill do mine. She then bullied the Portuguese Association of Pharmacies into running the countrys and indeed the worlds first national needle-exchange programme.

A flurry of expensive private clinics and free, faith-based facilities emerged, promising detoxes and miracle cures, but the first public drug-treatment centre run by the Ministry of Health the Centro das Taipas in Lisbon did not begin operating until 1987. Strapped for resources in Olho, Pereira sent a few patients for treatment, although he did not agree with the abstinence-based approach used at Taipas. First you take away the drug, and then, with psychotherapy, you plug up the crack, said Pereira. There was no scientific evidence to show that this would work and it didnt.

He also sent patients to Lopess methadone programme in Porto, and found that some responded well. But Porto was at the other end of the country. He wanted to try methadone for his patients, but the Ministry of Health hadnt yet approved it for use. To get around that, Pereira sometimes asked a nurse to sneak methadone to him in the boot of his car.

Pereiras work treating patients for addiction eventually caught the attention of the Ministry of Health. They heard there was a crazy man in the Algarve who was working on his own, he said, with a slow smile. Now 68, he is sprightly and charming, with an athletic build, thick and wavy white hair that bounces when he walks, a gravelly drawl and a bottomless reserve of warmth. They came down to find me at the clinic and proposed that I open a treatment centre, he said. He invited a colleague from at a family practice in the next town over to join him a young local doctor named Joo Goulo.

Goulo was a 20-year-old medical student when he was offered his first hit of heroin. He declined because he didnt know what it was. By the time he finished school, got his licence and began practising medicine at a health centre in the southern city of Faro, it was everywhere. Like Pereira, he accidentally ended up specialising in treating drug addiction.

A
A nurse hands out methadone to addicts in Lisbon. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

The two young colleagues joined forces to open southern Portugals first CAT in 1988. (These kinds of centres have used different names and acronyms over the years, but are still commonly referred to as Centros de Atendimento a Toxicodependentes, or CATs.) Local residents were vehemently opposed, and the doctors were improvising treatments as they went along. The following month, Pereira and Goulo opened a second CAT in Olho, and other family doctors opened more in the north and central regions, forming a loose network. It had become clear to a growing number of practitioners that the most effective response to addiction had to be personal, and rooted in communities. Treatment was still small-scale, local and largely ad hoc.

The first official call to change Portugals drug laws came from Rui Pereira, a former constitutional court judge who undertook an overhaul of the penal code in 1996. He found the practice of jailing people for taking drugs to be counterproductive and unethical. My thought right off the bat was that it wasnt legitimate for the state to punish users, he told me in his office at the University of Lisbons school of law. At that time, about half of the people in prison were there for drug-related reasons, and the epidemic, he said, was thought to be an irresolvable problem. He recommended that drug use be discouraged without imposing penalties, or further alienating users. His proposals werent immediately adopted, but they did not go unnoticed.

In 1997, after 10 years of running the CAT in Faro, Goulo was invited to help design and lead a national drug strategy. He assembled a team of experts to study potential solutions to Portugals drug problem. The resulting recommendations, including the full decriminalisation of drug use, were presented in 1999, approved by the council of ministers in 2000, and a new national plan of action came into effect in 2001.

Today, Goulo is Portugals drug czar. He has been the lodestar throughout eight alternating conservative and progressive administrations; through heated standoffs with lawmakers and lobbyists; through shifts in scientific understanding of addiction and in cultural tolerance for drug use; through austerity cuts, and through a global policy climate that only very recently became slightly less hostile. Goulo is also decriminalisations busiest global ambassador. He travels almost non-stop, invited again and again to present the successes of Portugals harm-reduction experiment to authorities around the world, from Norway to Brazil, which are dealing with desperate situations in their own countries.

These social movements take time, Goulo told me. The fact that this happened across the board in a conservative society such as ours had some impact. If the heroin epidemic had affected only Portugals lower classes or racialised minorities, and not the middle or upper classes, he doubts the conversation around drugs, addiction and harm reduction would have taken shape in the same way. There was a point whenyou could not find a single Portuguese family that wasnt affected. Every family had their addict, or addicts. This was universal in a way that the society felt: We have to do something.

Portugals policy rests on three pillars: one, that theres no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individuals unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.

The national policy is to treat each individual differently, Goulo told me. The secret is for us to be present.


A drop-in centre called IN-Mouraria sits unobtrusively in a lively, rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Lisbon, a longtime enclave of marginalised communities. From 2pm to 4pm, the centre provides services to undocumented migrants and refugees; from 5pm to 8pm, they open their doors to drug users. A staff of psychologists, doctors and peer support workers (themselves former drug users) offer clean needles, pre-cut squares of foil, crack kits, sandwiches, coffee, clean clothing, toiletries, rapid HIV testing, and consultations all free and anonymous.

On the day I visited, young people stood around waiting for HIV test results while others played cards, complained about police harassment, tried on outfits, traded advice on living situations, watched movies and gave pep talks to one another. They varied in age, religion, ethnicity and gender identity, and came from all over the country and all over the world. When a slender, older man emerged from the bathroom, unrecognisable after having shaved his beard off, an energetic young man who had been flipping through magazines threw up his arms and cheered. He then turned to a quiet man sitting on my other side, his beard lush and dark hair curling from under his cap, and said: What about you? Why dont you go shave off that beard? You cant give up on yourself, man. Thats when its all over. The bearded man cracked a smile.

During my visits over the course of a month, I got to know some of the peer support workers, including Joo, a compact man with blue eyes who was rigorous in going over the details and nuances of what I was learning. Joo wanted to be sure I understood their role at the drop-in centre was not to force anyone to stop using, but to help minimise the risks users were exposed to.

Our objective is not to steer people to treatment they have to want it, he told me. But even when they do want to stop using, he continued, having support workers accompany them to appointments and treatment facilities can feel like a burden on the user and if the treatment doesnt go well, there is the risk that that person will feel too ashamed to return to the drop-in centre. Then we lose them, and thats not what we want to do, Joo said. I want them to come back when they relapse. Failure was part of the treatment process, he told me. And he would know.

Joo is a marijuana-legalisation activist, open about being HIV-positive, and after being absent for part of his sons youth, he is delighting in his new role as a grandfather. He had stopped doing speedballs (mixtures of cocaine and opiates) after several painful, failed treatment attempts, each more destructive than the last. He long used cannabis as a form of therapy methadone did not work for him, nor did any of the inpatient treatment programmes he tried but the cruel hypocrisy of decriminalisation meant that although smoking weed was not a criminal offence, purchasing it was. His last and worst relapse came when he went to buy marijuana from his usual dealer and was told: I dont have that right now, but I do have some good cocaine. Joo said no thanks and drove away, but soon found himself heading to a cash machine, and then back to the dealer. After this relapse, he embarked on a new relationship, and started his own business. At one point he had more than 30 employees. Then the financial crisis hit. Clients werent paying, and creditors started knocking on my door, he told me. Within six months I had burned through everything I had built up over four or five years.

Addicts
Addicts waiting for methadone at a drug treatment project in Lisbon. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

In the mornings, I followed the centres street teams out to the fringes of Lisbon. I met Raquel and Sareia their slim forms swimming in the large hi-vis vests they wear on their shifts who worked with Crescer na Maior, a harm-reduction NGO. Six times a week, they loaded up a large white van with drinking water, wet wipes, gloves, boxes of tinfoil and piles of state-issued drug kits: green plastic pouches with single-use servings of filtered water, citric acid, a small metal tray for cooking, gauze, filter and a clean syringe. Portugal does not yet have any supervised injection sites (although there is legislation to allow them, several attempts to open one have come to nothing), so, Raquel and Sareia told me, they go out to the open-air sites where they know people go to buy and use. Both are trained psychologists, but out in the streets they are known simply as the needle girls.

Good afternoon! Raquel called out cheerily, as we walked across a seemingly abandoned lot in an area called Cruz Vermelha. Street team! People materialised from their hiding places like some strange version of whack-a-mole, poking their heads out from the holes in the wall where they had gone to smoke or shoot up. My needle girls, one woman cooed to them tenderly. How are you, my loves? Most made polite conversation, updating the workers on their health struggles, love lives, immigration woes or housing needs. One woman told them she would be going back to Angola to deal with her mothers estate, that she was looking forward to the change of scenery. Another man told them he had managed to get his online girlfriends visa approved for a visit. Does she know youre still using? Sareia asked. The man looked sheepish.

I start methadone tomorrow, another man said proudly. He was accompanied by his beaming girlfriend, and waved a warm goodbye to the girls as they handed him a square of foil.

In the foggy northern city of Porto, peer support workers from Caso an association run by and for drug users and former users, the only one of its kind in Portugal meet every week at a noisy cafe. They come here every Tuesday morning to down espressos, fresh pastries and toasted sandwiches, and to talk out the challenges, debate drug policy (which, a decade and a half after the law came into effect, was still confusing for many) and argue, with the warm rowdiness that is characteristic of people in the northern region. When I asked them what they thought of Portugals move to treat drug users as sick people in need of help, rather than as criminals, they scoffed. Sick? We dont say sick up here. Were not sick.

I was told this again and again in the north: thinking of drug addiction simply in terms of health and disease was too reductive. Some people are able to use drugs for years without any major disruption to their personal or professional relationships. It only became a problem, they told me, when it became a problem.

Caso was supported by Apdes, a development NGO with a focus on harm reduction and empowerment, including programmes geared toward recreational users. Their award-winning Check!n project has for years set up shop at festivals, bars and parties to test substances for dangers. I was told more than once that if drugs were legalised, not just decriminalised, then these substances would be held to the same rigorous quality and safety standards as food, drink and medication.


In spite of Portugals tangible results, other countries have been reluctant to follow. The Portuguese began seriously considering decriminalisation in 1998, immediately following the first UN General Assembly Special Session on the Global Drug Problem (UNgass). High-level UNgass meetings are convened every 10 years to set drug policy for all member states, addressing trends in addiction, infection, money laundering, trafficking and cartel violence. At the first session for which the slogan was A drug-free world: we can do it Latin American member states pressed for a radical rethinking of the war on drugs, but every effort to examine alternative models (such as decriminalisation) was blocked. By the time of the next session, in 2008, worldwide drug use and violence related to the drug trade had vastly increased. An extraordinary session was held last year, but it was largely a disappointment the outcome document didnt mention harm reduction once.

Despite that letdown, 2016 produced a number of promising other developments: Chile and Australia opened their first medical cannabis clubs; following the lead of several others, four more US states introduced medical cannabis, and four more legalised recreational cannabis; Denmark opened the worlds largest drug consumption facility, and France opened its first; South Africa proposed legalising medical cannabis; Canada outlined a plan to legalise recreational cannabis nationally and to open more supervised injection sites; and Ghana announced it would decriminalise all personal drug use.

The biggest change in global attitudes and policy has been the momentum behind cannabis legalisation. Local activists have pressed Goulo to take a stance on regulating cannabis and legalising its sale in Portugal; for years, he has responded that the time wasnt right. Legalising a single substance would call into question the foundation of Portugals drug and harm-reduction philosophy. If the drugs arent the problem, if the problem is the relationship with drugs, if theres no such thing as a hard or a soft drug, and if all illicit substances are to be treated equally, he argued, then shouldnt all drugs be legalised and regulated?

Massive international cultural shifts in thinking about drugs and addiction are needed to make way for decriminalisation and legalisation globally. In the US, the White House has remained reluctant to address what drug policy reform advocates have termed an addiction to punishment. But if conservative, isolationist, Catholic Portugal could transform into a country where same-sex marriage and abortion are legal, and where drug use is decriminalised, a broader shift in attitudes seems possible elsewhere. But, as the harm-reduction adage goes: one has to want the change in order to make it.


When Pereira first opened the CAT in Olho, he faced vociferous opposition from residents; they worried that with more drogados would come more crime. But the opposite happened. Months later, one neighbour came to ask Pereiras forgiveness. She hadnt realised it at the time, but there had been three drug dealers on her street; when their local clientele stopped buying, they packed up and left.

The CAT building itself is a drab, brown two-storey block, with offices upstairs and an open waiting area, bathrooms, storage and clinics down below. The doors open at 8.30am, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Patients wander in throughout the day for appointments, to chat, to kill time, to wash, or to pick up their weekly supply of methadone doses. They tried to close the CAT for Christmas Day one year, but patients asked that it stay open. For some, estranged from loved ones and adrift from any version of home, this is the closest thing theyve got to community and normality.

Its not just about administering methadone, Pereira told me. You have to maintain a relationship.

In a back room, rows of little canisters with banana-flavoured methadone doses were lined up, each labelled with a patients name and information. The Olho CAT regularly services about 400 people, but that number can double during the summer months, when seasonal workers and tourists come to town. Anyone receiving treatment elsewhere in the country, or even outside Portugal, can have their prescription sent over to the CAT, making the Algarve an ideal harm-reduction holiday destination.

After lunch at a restaurant owned by a former CAT employee, the doctor took me to visit another of his projects a particular favourite. His decades of working with addiction disorders had taught him some lessons, and he poured his accumulated knowledge into designing a special treatment facility on the outskirts of Olho: the Unidade de Desabituao, or Dishabituation Centre. Several such UDs, as they are known, have opened in other regions of the country, but this centre was developed to cater to the particular circumstances and needs of the south.

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A man receives clean syringes after being given methadone at a clinic in Lisbon. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

Pereira stepped down as director some years ago, but his replacement asked him to stay on to help with day-to-day operations. Pereira should be retired by now indeed, he tried to but Portugal is suffering from an overall shortage of health professionals in the public system, and not enough young doctors are stepping into this specialisation. As his colleagues elsewhere in the country grow closer to their own retirements, theres a growing sense of dread that there is no one to replace them.

Those of us from the Algarve always had a bit of a different attitude from our colleagues up north, Pereira told me. I dont treat patients. They treat themselves. My function is to help them to make the changes they need to make.

And thank goodness there is only one change to make, he deadpanned as we pulled into the centres parking lot: You need to change almost everything. He cackled at his own joke and stepped out of his car.

The glass doors at the entrance slid open to a facility that was bright and clean without feeling overwhelmingly institutional. Doctors and administrators offices were up a sweeping staircase ahead. Women at the front desk nodded their hellos, and Pereira greeted them warmly: Good afternoon, my darlings.

The Olho centre was built for just under 3m (2.6m), publicly funded, and opened to its first patients nine years ago. This facility, like the others, is connected to a web of health and social rehabilitation services. It can house up to 14 people at once: treatments are free, available on referral from a doctor or therapist, and normally last between eight and 14 days. When people first arrive, they put all of their personal belongings photos, mobile phones, everything into storage, retrievable on departure.

We believe in the old maxim: No news is good news, explained Pereira. We dont do this to punish them but to protect them. Memories can be triggering, and sometimes families, friends and toxic relationships can be enabling.

To the left there were intake rooms and a padded isolation room, with clunky security cameras propped up in every corner. Patients each had their own suites simple, comfortable and private. To the right, there was a colour room, with a pottery wheel, recycled plastic bottles, paints, egg cartons, glitter and other craft supplies. In another room, coloured pencils and easels for drawing. A kiln, and next to it a collection of excellent handmade ashtrays. Many patients remained heavy smokers.

Patients were always occupied, always using their hands or their bodies or their senses, doing exercise or making art, always filling their time with something. Wed often hear our patients use the expression me and my body, Pereira said. As though there was a dissociation between the me and my flesh.

To help bring the body back, there was a small gym, exercise classes, physiotherapy and a jacuzzi. And after so much destructive behaviour messing up their bodies, their relationships, their lives and communities learning that they could create good and beautiful things was sometimes transformational.

You know those lines on a running track? Pereira asked me. He believed that everyone however imperfect was capable of finding their own way, given the right support. Our love is like those lines.

He was firm, he said, but never punished or judged his patients for their relapses or failures. Patients were free to leave at any time, and they were welcome to return if they needed, even if it was more than a dozen times.

He offered no magic wand or one-size-fits-all solution, just this daily search for balance: getting up, having breakfast, making art, taking meds, doing exercise, going to work, going to school, going into the world, going forward. Being alive, he said to me more than once, can be very complicated.

My darling, he told me, its like I always say: I may be a doctor, but nobodys perfect.

A longer version of this piece appears on thecommononline.org. Research and travel for this piece were made possible by the Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/05/portugals-radical-drugs-policy-is-working-why-hasnt-the-world-copied-it

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