Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘culture’

She Changed American Culture

An excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

On May 3rd, 1980, Candace Lightner’s thirteen-year-old daughter Cari was hit and killed by a drunk driver as she walked to a school carnival. The man who committed the crime had two previous arrests for driving under the influence. When Ms. Lightner was told about her daughter’s death she remembers collapsing, being carried into the house and “screaming all the way”. Her screams were soon to be heard across the nation.

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After Cari’s death Ms. Lightner’s reactions where not that of passive suffering or resignation, she was outraged! Her anger became the spark that ignited Mothers’ Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and literally changed the climate of American culture by making driving under the influence intolerable. Since leaving MADD Candace has worked with victims of violent crime and, as a woman of Lebanese heritage, with organizations that are trying to stop stereotyping of Arab-Americans.

“It’s funny, because people will say to me in chatting about death, “Oh you are so lucky because your daughter went instantly.” I don’t think there is any lucky or unlucky situation. I mean, you are sort of dealt the hand you’re dealt and do whatever you do with it. I wish I had had the opportunity to have seen her, been with her and had some time together before she died, but that is not what happened. I can’t tell you that one loss is less painful than another. I haven’t had two children die, one slowly and the other suddenly. So, I am always amazed at how people can make judgments, you know, about how fortunate you are.

I remember being on TV once doing a call-in show. Of course you could see my face and expressions. I’m used to doing a lot on radio but not on TV. Someone called in and said, “I just know that God meant for your child to die so you could do this.” I was floored. I didn’t cuss, which I normally did, because I was on TV, but I think I was so stunned that in looking at the tape you can see my eyes get real big. I said, “I don’t think anyone planned for my child to die.” I used to get letters like that too. Like God chose you. Well, why didn’t he choose somebody else? I wouldn’t mind.

If I wouldn’t have gotten mad after Cari’s death I don’t know if I would have made sense of it or not. I think it was the fact that it didn’t make sense, there was no rhyme or reason, no excuse; there was no illness. In this particular case it was a crime that was the most often committed crime in the country and it had been completely and totally ignored. So it kind of doubled my anger, because it was treated so lightly. It wasn’t as if she were murdered, where everyone would have gone, “That’s horrible!” I even had friends of mine who said that. I wasn’t angry with them because I knew that was true. It makes me realize that it was so acceptable that people weren’t shocked and horrified by the fact that she was killed by a drunk driver.

It was like, “How dare they feel that way about my child!” She was very, very special. Everybody should be horrified by it and they weren’t. So I think part of what I did was to make everybody horrified by it. I also think I had far more anger then most people I know. I am a very passionate person and I was literally enraged. I had never been so angry in my life and I hope never to be that angry again.

I don’t know what I would have been like if I hadn’t started MADD. It’s so hard to say because I don’t have anything to compare it too. This is not something I had a choice about, I had to do it. I didn’t think about it, I just did it.

Anger is very focusing, very directing and progressive. It is much easier to focus on anger then it is on grief. That is probably one of the reasons I did it. I was in such horrible pain. I tend to do whatever I can to avoid pain, avoid feeling things. Getting angry was a good way to avoid dealing with the pain and the hurt and it was much easier to focus on the cause or blame. In some ways I was fortunate because I did have someone to blame. I had an individual to blame and I could do something about it. I could hope to have him incarcerated, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t started MADD. I have always tried to get something positive out of anything negative, either through humor, life lessons or whatever.

The full impact of Cari’s loss finally hit me after I left MADD. There were several things I began to notice. The last year I was at MADD I found myself getting very weepy. I was very burned out and wanted to leave. I no longer had the anger, the passion; the things I thought someone needed to do a good job. It just wasn’t there. Then Clarence Busch (the man who killed her daughter) was re-arrested. The similarities were so numerous. He hit a girl the same age my daughter would have been if she had lived. The girl had the same name. Luckily, she didn’t die. When the press showed up in mass I did not want to deal with it. I found myself crying and going through the turmoil again. It forced me to make a decision.

After I left MADD I really started grieving, for leaving MADD and for Cari. Some said, “Five and a half years after she died? You should be over your grief by now. There is something wrong.” So I went to see a psychologist. told her I needed to grieve for my daughter. I said, “I want you to know I tend to postpone and hide from pain and I need you to help me face this.” I spent six months grieving and crying and grieving and crying and couldn’t stop. I felt like I was going to grieve for the rest of my life.

I don’t deal with the fact that Cari was killed by a drunk driver anymore. When I grieve I grieve for who she was, the loss and love I still feel for her, the missing her, wondering what her life would be like. I look at Serena (Cari’s identical twin) a lot. On Serena’s birthday I always get a little weepy thinking it should be Cari’s too. Serena and I talk every once in a while about what we think Cari would be doing if she was still alive, what our lives would be like. I don’t think, “Oh, she was killed by a drunk driver.”

I was fortunate to be able to see her after she died. I think that the biggest thing the parent goes through with a child is wanting to know that they’re OK. I know that she is. In the first week there were a lot of occurrences that happened, we all sort of felt her. I know she’s fine . . . probably better then the rest of us.

My pain or grieving is more about missing her presence. There is an inside ache. It’s hard to explain . . . just the loving and holding, the touching, the physical. I’ll dream about her. I’ll dream I’m holding her, loving her or something physical, even sleeping in bed with her and holding her. I don’t dream about her often but when I do that is the kind of dreams I’ll have. I will wake up momentarily thinking or feeling that she is alive. That comes from the joy. It’s a good experience. If there is a need in me to hold her and hug her and love her again, I’m assuming that there is, the dream will satisfy that for a period of time.

I didn’t look at it as a life lesson when I started MADD; it was just how I was feeling. People think I’m very altruistic, I’m not. Starting MADD helped assuage my anger and deal with my pain by avoiding it. There was also a fear that it would happen again to my other children, because it had happened once before. It wasn’t because I wanted to save the world. When they interviewed me for the movie about Cari and MADD, the producer said, “Why do you do this?” I said, “You don’t understand. I don’t have a choice.” It was my nature. I never believed you had to accept things as they were.”

Candace Lightner is now the president of We Save Lives.

More profiles and interviews at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Embryo Mama

LastConception-CoverAn excerpt from The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans.

Savarna was the first to arrive at five that morning. She placed her bicycle in the storage room, washed and put on her scrubs. She checked all of the incubators, work surfaces and electronic readouts, to make sure everything was operating as close to body temperature as possible. The machines were on twenty-four seven and alarmed. After all, she and her colleagues literally held the possibility of new life in their hands day after day. If anything goes out of whack, emergency calls are automatically made until someone responds. They have backup systems for backup systems. So far, in her eight years of working at Conception Sciences, the alarm had gone off only once, and that turned out to be a faulty reading.

“Hey, Embryo Mama, how are our babies doing?”

Savarna had just started looking at the results from the previous day when her work partner Johnny Cranston walked in. She’d known Johnny for five years and trusted him completely. If she were ever in the position of their patients, she’d want Johnny to be her embryologist. He was very tech savvy and gave a damn. Personally, he’d been through the ringer, was divorced and had his adored teenage daughter living with him part-time. He’d recently moved to a nice neighborhood just twenty minutes from work. Johnny was handsome, and he knew it, but he never let his guard down, especially in front of beautiful women. He considered Savarna to fall in the category of beautiful, but she was an exception to his well-practiced defenses.

“Good morning Sperm Daddy,” she replied.

“Where we at, darling? Everything cooking at the right temp?”

“I was just checking yesterday’s records and laying out our schedule. Will you take a look and sign off?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

Savarna always noticed the contrasts between them when they stood side by side. He had big hands with long fingers, and his skin was darker than hers. She was brown, like a lightly baked brownie, and he was as black as dark chocolate. He stood a foot taller, had broad shoulders, a muscular chest and shaved head. She had long jet-black hair braided and tied up in a knot for work, a distinguished nose, and hips that seemed to trump everything else from the waist down.

“Looks like we’ve got a lot of D1 and D3s to switch out today,” Johnny said, as he signed the checklist.

“Yes, and two D5s. I really hope Mrs. Shcneider’s takes this time and her Inner Cell Mass doesn’t get screwed up like her last two attempts. She was so devastated.”

“You got that right. Nothing we could do though. Hear what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know the mantra. Don’t beat ourselves up for what’s out of our control.”

“Well, well. You actually remember your own advice.”

They both chuckled underneath their masks.

Everything in the laboratory had to be done perfectly and on schedule. Mistakes were not allowed, though inevitable.

Day zero, which they referred to as DO, was egg retrieval day. That was when they retrieved eggs from the woman and sperm from the man and put them together in a dish. On Day Two, which they called D1, they checked to see how many of the eggs were fertilized. They looked through the microscope to see if there were two pronuclei inside. If they couldn’t see any or what they saw consisted of only one or three pronuclei, that meant it was a wash and they couldn’t be used.

Day Two is when the embryos start to divide. A healthy embryo consists of two to four cells. That is when Savarna and Johnny would start to grade or evaluate the embryos on a scale of one to five, with one being perfect and five being poor. It takes about one minute to look at fifteen embryos. They had to do it quickly, so they were not outside of the incubator for long.

Day Three should be showing six to eight cells per embryo. If some of these are healthy, they can transfer them on the same day or put them into an extended culture for a Day Five transfer. If they go into extended cultures, they need to move them into a new growth medium that is made for the next stage of development.

On Day Five embryos have grown much bigger and gone from six to eight cells to fifty to one hundred cells. The coating around the egg is very thin at this stage and each embryo has two cell types – the inner cell mass, which becomes the baby and the trophectoderm, which becomes the placenta. This is the day when transfer usually takes place. One to two embryos are transferred to the patient’s uterus. Any extras are frozen or cultured to Day Six. On Day Six, anything that is left is either frozen or discarded.

“You can have the honor of icing any leftovers today,” Savarna told Johnny.

“Thank you, great ice queen. It will be an honor to preserve someone who may one day be our next Albert Einstein or Maya Angelou.”

“Or Charlie Manson or Hitler,” she said, half-joking.

“Not possible. These children are too wanted and adored to turn out like that.”

Freezing embryos is no minor task, though it may appear to be a simple procedure. When a healthy and viable embryo is frozen, it is placed into a computer- driven freezer in liquid nitrogen and is slowly brought down to minus thirty-five degrees centigrade. When cells are frozen, they are made up mostly of water and have to be dehydrated before freezing or ice cycles can destroy them. They are passed through solutions that by osmosis move in and out of a fluid buffer. Freezing takes about an hour and a half. When they are thawed, it is important to get rid of the ice crystals right away, so they are pulled out, held in the air for thirty counts and put in a thirty-degree water bath for forty-five seconds until they are thawed. They are then placed in solutions that reverse the process and put water back in. Within forty minutes of being de-thawed, an embryo can be transferred. Some patients successfully use an embryo that has been frozen for over ten years.

Savarna and Johnny sent out the morning report to all the physicians and case managers by 7:30, so they would know which patients to call to come in for their procedures or which ones needed to change their medications. Then they started working on egg retrievals, sperm analysis and triple-verification with each, to make sure they had the correct specimen for each individual. Retrievals started around 8:00 a.m. and continued every forty-five minutes, while transfers generally began at 10:00 and took place every thirty minutes. By noon, they were inseminating the eggs. Somewhere in the controlled chaos, they tried to make their way to the bathroom and catch a bite to eat. At 1:00 they made a break for the small lunchroom squeezed into the back corner of the two-story medical building.

“What?” she asked, looking up from her salad bowl.

“Come on. I’m about to burst. Did you tell them?” Savarna smiled, took a drink from her homemade chocolate smoothie and sheepishly looked down at her Greek salad. “You’ve got to be kidding?”

She shook her head. “My Mom was–”

“This is crazy… after all these years. They’re adults. They’ll understand.”

“Let me explain.”

“What’s there to explain? You chickened out again.”

“No, I didn’t. We were interrupted. My mother was trying to get me married off for the umpteenth time and just as I was about to tell her why I would never marry a man, the rest of the family burst in. There wasn’t any good time after that. It was her birthday after all, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“Ruin it?”

“You don’t understand.”

“Try me.”

“In Indian culture marriage is the biggest and most important celebration there is.”

“And you don’t think that’s true for other cultures?”

“Well, yes, of course,” she replied, taking a deep breath and looking him straight in the eyes. “But in India it can actually be a matter of life and death. Women are still defined by whom, when and if they marry. I don’t care if this is California and my parents have lived here for decades. I don’t think they even realize how deep this tradition is ingrained in their psyches.”

“So, its fair to keep them in the dark and keep hoping?”

“Of course not, but I’m not always as strong or as confident with my family, as I am with you. I don’t want to hurt them.”

“I think you’re hurting them more, let alone yourself, by not standing up and letting yourself be counted. They just want you to be happy, and they see marriage as the means to attain that happiness. We both know it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be, but I don’t see anything wrong with them hoping it’s the answer for their spinster daughter whose childbearing clock is ticking.”

“Spinster, my ass.”

“Tell them I’ll take you off their hands, but only for a good dowry.”

Savarna raised her glass, as if to throw it in Johnny’s face. He backed up his chair in mock surprise. Savarna’s phone rang. She put down her cup, laughing, and took the call.

“Hi, Magdalena. What’s up?”

Johnny winked.

“Tonight? It’s only Monday.”

Savarna closed her eyes for a moment as she listened.

“Which club?”

She nodded, “OK. OK. Pick me up at nine.” She clicked her phone shut and put it on the table while Johnny went to the sink to put away his plate.

“She’s a wild woman,” he said upon returning to the table.

“It’s fun. Nothing serious.”

“Yeah, I know about fun, but is that all you want?”

Her phone rang again.

“Hey, Charley. How ya doing?” Johnny rolled his eyes. “This weekend? I don’t know, I’m usually pretty wiped out by then.”

She turned away slightly in her chair, as if to keep the conversation private.

“In that case, let’s do it. I’ll call you later. Take care.”

“Wish I had that many women calling me up,” Johnny wisecracked, as they stood and both prepared to re-gown and get back to work. “Where to this weekend?”

“Charley got a great deal on a bed and breakfast place in the redwoods over in Santa Cruz. She says it’s just what I need for some rest and relaxation.”

“So, you really prefer men after all.”

“You know Charley is–”

“I know, I know. Just goofing. You know my offer is always good. If you ever want to get turned around, I’ll show you what a real man is like.”

“Yeah.” They both laughed. “You and a thousand other men.”

“Hey, did you hear what one egg said to another when they saw millions of sperm on the horizon?”

“Only a zillion times,” she said. They made their way down the hall and entered the pressurized lab. “But if it floats your boat, go ahead and give me the punch line. I’ll act like I’ve never heard it before.”

“Now you’ve ruined it,” he said.

The automatic door opened and she went ahead. A cartoon they had taped on the door had two eggs and millions of sperm surrounding them. The caption next to the first egg read, “This doesn’t look good, I think the odds are against us.” The other egg said, “Looks good to me. It’s just what the doctor ordered.”

The Last conception:

Passionate embryologist, Savarna Sikand, is in a complicated relationship, with two different women, when she is told that she MUST have a baby. Her conservative East Indian American parents are desperate for her to conceive, in spite of her “not being married”. They insist that she is the last in line of a great spiritual lineage. In the process of choosing her lover and having doubts about her ability, or desire to conceive, Savarna begins to question the necessity of biology and lineage within her parents’ beliefs and becomes forever fascinated with the process of conception and the definition of family. Threads of Dan Brown (DaVinci Code), Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Sister of My Heart) and the film The Kids Are All Right, are tied together in this colorful tale of awakening, romance and mystery.

Available at: Melange Books and Amazon.

S.E.E.I.T.

Everything happens so fast. In the blink of an eye, sensations, emotions and thoughts come and go. We usually remain unaware of these reactions to internal and external experiences, and remain as slaves to our conditioning from culture, family, and ourselves. To break these unconscious chains, we can learn to pause, look closely at what is happening and make choices. Psychologist (and holocaust survivor) Victor Frankl summed up our situation, and opportunity, when he said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.”

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Mindfulness meditation can be one of the ways to take that pause, that moment or breath, to stop and look at what is happening. But, what if what we witness, or observe, is overwhelming and/or jumping from one thing to another? What do we do when the sensations, emotions and/or thoughts are arising and passing, seemingly all at once, or in rapid secession?

One of the means that can be used to decipher, and simplify our experience is by naming or labeling what we see moment to moment. There are a number of aphorisms and techniques that are available for such practice. Here is one called S.E.E.I.T., which can define and refine our observation and understanding of what we are aware of.

S.E.E.I.T. encompasses everything and anything that may come into our consciousness or awareness. S stands for Senses. E is for Emotion. The second E denotes Emptiness. I is the letter for Intention. And T is our Thoughts.

Senses include all that can be felt, heard, tasted, smelled, spoken or seen.
Emotions are a spectrum including sadness, joy, grief, pain, laughter, anger.
Emptiness is when there are no emotions, thoughts, senses or intentions.
Intention arises as desire and/or wishes and motivations.
Thoughts can be seen as P.U.F.F. (Past, Unfolding, Fantasy or Future).

Each of these aspects of our mind, and our experience of living, can be separated further into more distinct categories, and labels for objects of our awareness, but S.E.E.I.T. more than suffices for beginning and experienced practice. It is a way to remember, a means to slow down, pause and see what is happening in our body moment by moment. It can assist our understanding that what is going on internally and externally is not who we are, but what we are experiencing in the present. It is a step towards not only creating “space” between stimulus and response, but also identifying what happens in that space and giving us insight and freedom to choose.

Recommended Reading

LastConception-CoverReview of The Last Conception
Onely: Single and Happy
13 September 2014

“To my mother. To my wife. To my husband.” Authors commonly dedicate their books this way. Nice, but boooring. (To everyone, that is, except the mother, wife, or husband.) Gabriel Constans dedicates his book The Last Conception “To Love, in all its manifestations.”

We here at Onely are interested in all aspects of the single experience and particularly like to learn about single people from different backgrounds than ourselves (Lisa and I self-identify as white, upper-middle-class, agnostic, heterosexual women). The beginning of Constans’ novel allows us into the world of single scientist and first-generation Indian-American lesbian Savarna, whose parents–still unaware of her sexuality–have been pressuring her for years to marry and give them a grandchild. Any unmarried, child-free reader whose parents have pressured them in this way will wince along with Savarna as her parents become increasingly fervent in their matchmaking–all while Savarna is trying to figure out her relationships with two different women. (I refer to her as “single” because initially she is not part of an “official” couple.)

Appropriately, as an embryologist, Savarna spends her working hours manipulating eggs and sperm to help women conceive. She herself, however, doesn’t feel the tick-tock of her biological clock. If she did, this book wouldn’t exist. (Or it would be very boring.) We have several layers of tension going on throughout the story. Savarna the happily child-free woman vs. her grandchild-wanting parents. Savarna the American vs. her Indian parents. Savarna is not religious, but her parents who travel to India once a year for some ceremonious gathering that Savarna has never attended and vaguely considers cultish.

Through the course of the book these subtle battles wage, peak, resolve and eventually weave together into an ending so satisfying I really wish I could share it here. I’m afraid to say much more because I don’t want to put out any spoilers. Let’s just say that ultra right-wing conservatives would hate this book, especially the conclusion. (All the more reason to read it!) One of our favorite words here at Onely is amatonormative, which means the normalizing of a few specific kinds of love relationships while marginalizing all others. The Last Conception kicks amatonormativity in the ass.

Which is why it gets one thumb up from our blog. The other thumb is busy turning the pages for a second read-through.

–Christina

Read entire review and more at Onely: Single and Happy.

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The Last Conception Is Born

LastConception-CoverMy novel The Last Conception was just born at Melange Books.

The description and some kind words from best selling, nationally recognized and award-winning novelists, follow (below).

I hope you’ll get a copy or two and tell your friends, family and colleagues. If you enjoy the story, don’t hesitate to leave a good review.

Available in print and eBook formats at: Melange Books
Kindle edition available at: Amazon

With Gratitude,
Gabriel

The Last Conception
By Gabriel Constans
Melange Books – 179 pages
Published: July 17, 2014

A successful embryologist (Savarna) must make difficult and life-changing choices. Should she continue devoting her soul to work and party with her girlfriend Magdalena or settle down with Charlemagne (Charly) and have children? If she decides to have children, how and when will they start the process and what will it take to convince her conservative East Indian mother to stop trying to marry her off to a “good man”? If that isn’t enough pressure, throw in the bomb her parents plant when they tell her she MUST have a baby because she is the last in line of a great spiritual teacher who reportedly never had children!

Advance Praise for The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans.

Gabriel Constans’ inspiring new novel delves into the framework of our purpose in life; explores the tenuous balance between destiny and personal truth and the struggle we undergo when those forces are at odds. Constans weaves the two together seamlessly and in the end, we are certain that love surpasses tradition, destiny and our own selfish wants.
Syd Parker, best-selling author of Secrets of the Heart, Love’s Abiding Spirit and Immediate Possession.

Often, when tradition and technology meet they collide without forgiveness. Gabriel Constans manages to bring these opposites together with an open heart and the result is a story of compassion, love and the gifts that a generous partnership can provide.
Joan Tewkesbury, award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. Author of Ebba and The Green Dresses of Oliva Gomez in a Time of Conflict and War.

The Last Conception is a delightful read! It depicts a family muddling its way through a mire of personal, cultural, and generational differences, and reminds us all to slow down and remember – what else – love. Besides, what good are agendas when the dance of life is out of our control?
Clifford Henderson, author of acclaimed Spanking New and Mae’s Request.

“The Last Conception” is a bhakti-fest of love and loss, hope and courage that comes in unexpected packages. Take a peek into the lives of an Indian-American family faced with an unusual demand of their medical professional unmarried daughter whose job and personal life intersect in unanticipated ways. Although happy endings are never guaranteed, it seems that one is in the offing for this savory literary masala.
Edie Weinstein, author of The Bliss Mistress Guide To Transforming the Ordinary Into the Extraordinary.

The Last Conception is an engaging and unexpected tale of a young American woman whose choices about partnership and parenting have significant implications for her East Indian parents. According to them, it is Savarna’s destiny to have a child, to continue the lineage of an ancient spiritual teacher. The novella is well written and fast-paced and evokes important inquires into spirituality and the true meaning of birth.
Donna Baier Stein – author of the novel Fortune and award-winning short stories, including The Yogi and the Peacock, El Nino, The Jewel Box, Coming Clean and Lambada.

In The Last Conception, Gabriel Constans reaches into everyone’s heart and mind. He explores the essence of religion, not as something prescribed, but as a suggestion of loving connectedness beyond time.
Arny Mindell, author of The Dreammaker’s Apprentice and The Shaman’s Body.

The Last Conception is a compelling read. The mystery at the heart of this tale about the complicatons of conception lures the reader to examine the deeper issues facing the characters: telling the truth about one’s needs and desires, the urge to have children, the pressures of family ancestry, and the power of love. Suspenseful and sweet, there’s always an unexpected twist, all the way to the end.
Marcy Alancraig – author of A Woman of Heart, accepted by the National Jewish Book Awards and Lambda Awards for a debut novel.

Mindfulness IS the News

Mindfulness IS the News
from Wild Divine Newsletter
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Last week, with the Time magazine cover featuring the trend of mindfulness in US culture and the world, you can see that indeed a sea-change has occurred. With mindfulness being addressed at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland we can see from this article that there are several approaches to the subject, its importance, and a diversity of support within the world business community and elsewhere.

In Barrington, RI meet Police Chief John M. LaCross who has been leading an 11-minute meditation utilizing deep breathing and visualization to comfort grieving families who have lost loved ones. He is also a Reiki master, and has put his focus on using mindfulness as part of police work to help individuals and communities. “It’s about compassion, respect for others, treating people with dignity,…..It’s a very difficult job being in public safety. You have to be strong in times of crisis. You can’t show emotion,” he said. “We’re all human, we just wear different clothes to work.”

And, on another side of the law, read here about law Professor Charles Halpern at the University of California, Berkley, where he teaches a popular course called “Effective and Sustainable Law Practice: The Meditative Perspective.” He also offers retreats for legal professionals of all sorts to enhance listening skills, focus attention and help legal professionals make more empathic to others they interact with.

Japanese Culture of Silence

End the Japanese “culture of Silence” toward crimes against women!
Stalker Zero

by Ikumi Yoshimatsu

As a victim of stalking and intimidation in Japan, I am asking Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take action to change the culture of silence toward crimes against women in my country. To help encourage the Japanese government to address this issue, I’m also asking US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy to speak out and join these efforts.

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I am the first Japanese woman to be crowned Miss International in the 52-year long history of the pageant. Since winning my crown in October 2012, I have been the victim of stalking, intimidation, threats, extortion and blackmail by a powerful Japanese talent agency executive known to have ties to organized crime. This man tried to abduct me from a TV studio, made threatening calls to my family, and hired private investigators to stalk me, peep into my windows and photograph my home.
The Japanese organizers of the Miss International 2013 world grand prix even asked me to “play sick” and “keep quiet” in order to appease my stalker after he made threatening phone calls to their sponsors. Because of this, I became the first Miss International titleholder in the 52-year history of the pageant prevented from passing my crown to my successor. I fear for my life and require 24hr security.

I went to the police with more than 30 exhibits of evidence including recordings and photographs. As is typically the case in Japan, the police did nothing more than offer to increase patrols in my area. They did nothing to assure my safety or to punish my stalker.

In an unprecedented move, I became the first Japanese women ever to publicly name her tormentor and went public with my story. In sharp contrast to strong global coverage in the foreign media, not a single Japanese newspaper or TV station has covered the story out of fear of reprisal from my stalker who is linked to organized crime. My blog has been read by millions of people and thousands have written messages of support and shared their own stories of fear, intimidation and violence.

SIGN IKUMI’s PETITION

Japan is plagued by a “culture of silence” toward crimes against women that has been the standard for centuries. Out of all the industrialized nations, Japan is one of the lowest ranking countries on Gender Equality — a disgraceful 105 out of 136 countries.

At the same time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been a strong and vocal supporter of women’s rights. He has called time and time again for a “society in which women shine.” His strong leadership on this issue would be a game-changer. As the first female US Ambassador to Japan — and a long-time supporter of human rights and women — Ambassador Kennedy can help encourage my government to do more by speaking out in support of my campaign.

As a first step, I’m asking that the Japanese government establish a task force to investigate stalking and violence against women with the objective of laying out an immediate national strategy to address these issues and offer real protection for women.

We need strict anti-stalking laws and strong punishment for perpetrators of crimes against women. We need a police force that will protect women and immediately act to prevent stalking and intimidation. We need restraining orders granted by the courts for any woman who has been threatened, BEFORE she is actually harmed, murdered, or forced to commit suicide. We need media that report on these issues without fear. Without protecting the women of Japan, our country will never enjoy the economic and moral benefits of a truly equal society.

SIGN IKUMI’S PETITION

Ikumi Yoshimatsu
Miss International 2012
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