Absent Friends (a tea party) by Alan Ayckbourn

Set in a cosy 70’s living room, Absent Friends centres around a tea party at Paul and Diana’s house. It’s a domestic comedy that Ayckbourn is known for, where secrets unfold and relationships hang in the balance. Ayckbourn invites the audience into the lives of six individuals and their two absent friends. There are moments of dramatic tension leading up to disclosures, defused by comedy throughout.

Direction by Ann Atkins is good with symmetry between the actors enhancing the comedy at times. Diana is played by Frankie Night who is a born communicator and sits at the centre of the drama. She is a Brighton Little Theatre veteran: this production is her eleventh with the theatre company. She is very witty and her tea party falls apart when she withdraws.

Paul Morley who plays Paul is married to Diana. He is the ‘bad boy’, frustrated and stifled in his marriage. He injects a fair amount of humour into proceedings and generates quite a lot of sympathy along the way.

Holly Everett is Evelyn and her facial expressions from the moment she arrives on stage are priceless. She is a disinterested young Mum who according to her partner, John, never laughs.

Ciaran O’Connor acts as John and has been a member of BLT since 2004. He is generally happy-go-lucky but watch out for his phobias – they’ll have you in stitches.

Marge played by Kate McGann, is very down-to-earth and quite frankly, a godsend at a dysfunctional tea party. The odd faux pas aside, she looks after people, including Diana and tries to bring secrets into the open.

Daniel Carr acts as the enigmatic Colin – the guest of honour at this tea party. Recently bereaved, he is in much better shape than may be expected. He dominates the audience’s attention, oblivious to the undercurrents and tensions that unfold.

A lot of the actors have acted in A Midsummer Night’s Dream showing their skills and versatility.

Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn is quite simply feel good fun – a production that invites a lot of laughter. Characterisation is very good, the set is excellent and the intimacy of Brighton Little Theatre enhances the audience’s involvement in the tea party.

Four stars ****

Brighton residents gather on the beach welcoming refugees

Brighton has a proud history of welcoming refugees and has become a City of Sanctuary.

People of Brighton & Hove turned out in force yesterday, 17 October 2021, to ‘show they’re all heart’ in support of refugees.  More than 200 people from across the city joined together to form a huge, human, orange heart on Brighton beach – the symbol of welcome to refugees.

The event, organised by Sanctuary on Sea and University of Sussex Student Action for Refugees took place as part of the Together With Refugees week of action, which is taking place between Monday 18 to Sunday 24 October 2021.  Thousands of people across the country are joining forces during the week of action to protest against the Nationality and Borders Bill and to call for a kinder, fairer and more effective approach to how the UK is supporting and welcoming refugees.

welcoming refugees

Paul Hutchings from Refugee Support Europe organised the crowd to form a large human heart which has become a symbol of refuge with Maozya, a student from the University of Sussex who runs ‘Student Action for Refugees’, (STAR) on Brighton beach. The orange heart is a symbol of welcoming refugees. It uses the colours of the refugee nation flag created by refugee Yara Said, for the first ever refugee team in the Olympics in 2016. The colours were inspired by a lifebelt representing hope. The heart was developed in 2021 in consultation with refugee organisations and people with lived experience.

The event was a protest against the Borders and Nationality Bill that has already had its second reading and is in the committee stage of its passage through the House of Commons before going to the Lords.

Mr Hutchings said: “The Bill complies with illegal immigration and does not solve the broken refugee crisis as it is. It proposes to assess people who arrive in the country based on how they arrived not on the basis of need.

“For many refugees, the only way to arrive, is irregularly. Lots of asylum seekers are taken to large processing centres like Napier Barracks where there is a history of mistreatment. There is a provision in the Bill to send people to a third country which resulted in abuses and a legal challenge when they did this in Australia. It’s contrary to international law. I do not want to live in a country that doesn’t respect international law.”

“Today is a sticking plaster. There are no fair, safe routes to seek asylum in the UK anymore. This assumes refugees are not deserving. All the refugees I know have two things in mind: To get somewhere safe to live and to build a better life for their families. Offshore detention centres are a breach of human rights. The UK should be welcoming refugees and compassionate.”

Maozya Murray, President of STAR and co-organiser of the event, said: “It was great to see so many people gather today in solidarity with the refugees, asylum seekers and members of our community who are being violently attacked by Home Office policy.

“This Bill passing through parliament is cruel, inhumane, and a flagrant breach of international law. The existence of the Bill, and the support it has received, is yet another example of the hostile environment policies that seek to dehumanise and oppress people. This country should be welcoming and celebrating difference. We stand with the thousands of people across the country calling for a compassionate, effective and moral approach to this bill. It is clear to me that this could only mean voting against it.”

“So many people oppose this violent act as an abuse of humanity. We are on the beach to show that we welcome people onto our shore. We call for compassion and welcoming refugees onto our streets. The Bill is cruel and inhumane and seeks to criminalise and endanger those of us seeking safety and refuge in the UK.”

Brighton beach

The week comes as MPs return to Parliament to consider the Nationality and Borders Bill currently making its way through the House of Commons.  According to the coalition, the new legislation would mean that most people who would be accepted as refugees under the current rules – meaning those confirmed to have fled war or persecution following rigorous official checks – would no longer have their rights recognised in the UK due to their method of arrival. Half of these would be women and children and includes those left behind in Afghanistan.

The new rules would mean that all those who claim asylum after arriving in the UK through an irregular route would face removal to a third country, with their asylum claim only progressing if removal is not possible.

People who arrive irregularly who go on to be granted refugee status would only receive temporary protection with reduced rights and entitlements.  The vast majority of people who claim asylum, ​are unable to access ‘regular’ routes (entering the UK with a valid visa and/or passport) with their only option being to enter irregularly (by boat or in the back of a lorry).

The Refugee Convention makes it clear that people should not be penalised for entering a country irregularly for the purposes of claiming asylum.

Mel Hughes said; “People don’t want to see this ‘all for nothing’ bill where only people who are deemed worthy, are able to stay. The Government is getting rid of the illegal trade in refugees. The Bill is not stopping the criminal aspect. It’s making people unwelcome and not addressing the problem at source. Britain already has a pretty poor record (about immigration) on a European level.”

Oskar from Denmark said: “The Bill is a violation of human and European rights. It’s just another step in the wrong direction, it has all been anti-refugee, anti-immigration rhetoric in the last few years. It’s a disgrace really in the UK, Europe, humanity really, criminalising refugees and their right to seek asylum which is their human right. The UK has just left the European Union and suddenly it’s OK to breach the EU code on human rights.

Russell and Maria were driving up to Heathrow Airport. They said for them, travel is relatively easy: “We saw a line of young men taken from the back of a truck. They looked very frightened right in front of us, on the motorway. The young men were about our son’s age.”

Anthony from Kenya wanted to show support to refugees. He said: “Often what they’re doing, there’s a lot of stigma in the papers for them to address. People can show support. These are the small wins that we can be proud of.”

Nicola Jackson said: “I have befriended Syrians, given them holidays and campaigned for Freedom from Torture. I have been to Afghanistan in the 1970s. I am against the bill in Parliament. The government treats refugees as if they will be a drain on resources. They are taking away legal routes to get here. People should be able to find new homes where they like and not pushed offshore to claim legal rights to seek asylum.”

Together With Refugees is a growing coalition of more than 300 national and local organisations who believe in showing compassion and welcoming refugees fleeing war and persecution. It was founded by Asylum Matters, British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Refugee Action, Refugee Council and Scottish Refugee Council.

The coalition is calling for a more effective, fair and humane approach to the UK’s refugee system that: 1) allows people to have a fair and efficient hearing for their claim for protection, including those who endured traumas and struggle to get here; 2) ensures people can live in dignity in communities while they wait to find out if they will be granted protection; 3) enables refugees to rebuild their lives and make valuable contributions to their communities; 4) and where the UK works with other countries to do its part to help people forced to flee their homes.

To find out more visit www.togetherwithrefugees.org.uk

Brighton opens a new, black, Afrori bookshop

Just a year after opening online, Afrori Bookshop will be opening its actual doors on Tuesday 26th October 2021 in Kensington St, North Laine.

The crowdfunding campaign aimed to raise £10,000 to fit out the premises at Lighthouse’s charity in the Laines. In just 4 weeks (a week ahead of schedule) the team met the target and the campaign closed on 8th October, having raised a total of £12,460. The charity said: “We can’t think of a better way to occupy the Lighthouse space, than for it to become a home to the only Black-owned bookshop for Black authors in Brighton.”

Carolynn Bain, founder said: “I am completely blown away by the love the public has shown to our dream of making Brighton an anti-racist city. The night we hit the target I sobbed: I was so overwhelmed.”

Afrori Bookshop
Carolynn Bain

The crowdfund attracted a lot of attention from the public and the media. The crowd funding video was shared hundreds of times across social media and was featured on ITV, BBC and multiple other press outlets. They even took over a key social media account for publishing giant Penguin. Afrori was named bookshop of the month by Brighton based Damian Barr literary salon and a top ten start up to watch identified by Business Live.

Afrori bookshop aims to be a community space drawing in authors and young creatives from across Sussex and nationwide. They have plans for creative writing evenings, a book club, children’s story times, training to help teachers integrate diverse books into classrooms and much more.

Ms Bain and her team are also committed to employing ‘the unemployable’ on a fair wage and are seeking staff from marginalised groups who have found it difficult to find employment.

For the next few weeks, it is all go with the shop fitting and stocking taking place at the moment. Team member, Ysabel, said: “This is the best kind of busy.”

Afrori’s mission statement is: ‘Support black authors. Create diverse bookshelves. Be a voice against injustice.’

Carolynn said: “Changing the way people read is fundamental to affecting their outlook and reading habits for life, and it is through reading that we can have the greatest impact on attitudes to racism in the future. Afrori Books is changing the world, one book at a time.”

Afrori bookshop opens in Kensington Street, North Laine on Tuesday 26 October.

Rape and Murder of Sarah Everard

A British Police officer, PC Wayne Couzens, has been convicted of kidnapping and raping Sarah Everard, a 33 year old marketing executive this week. She went missing while walking home from a friend’s house at around 9pm near Clapham Common. A week later her body was recovered in a bag in woodland in Kent, following a massive Police search.

Unofficial vigils were held for Sarah across the UK and the Police were criticised for manhandling peaceful mourners, mainly women. Police were accused of arresting women and pinning them to the ground. Broadcast media suggested the Police used disproportionate force during peaceful vigils. An inquiry requested by the government said the Police had used considerable restraint.

Sarah Everard’s murder resonated with many women who believe they have every right to walk home unaccompanied at 9pm, we may call this freedom of movement. The grief and outrage was partly because a Police Officer attacked and raped Sarah which is a clear abuse of power. Women expect to be able to turn to the Police if they are in trouble.

PC Couzens was a highly trained and screened fire arms officer working in the Westminster-based Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, which protects VIPs and guards national sites. Couzens was nicknamed “the rapist” while serving in Kent for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. He was not on the sexual offenders register in spite of successive incidents of indecent exposure.

Couzens was not vetted again after these offences before he was armed with a gun and authorised to protect embassies in London and the Palace of Westminster for the Metropolitan Police. He was nicknamed “the rapist” but no one questioned whether he was a fit and proper person to carry out his job.

In court, Couzens pleaded guilty to kidnapping Ms Everard “unlawfully and by force or fraud” and raping her. In March he did not enter a plea for her killing but he has now accepted responsibility for her death.

At the heart of this investigation is how Police officers could think it is acceptable to call a colleague a rapist and continue to send him out onto the streets to protect women. This is not one rogue Police officer but a culture of misogyny at the heart of British policing.

According to the Guardian, 81 women in the UK have been killed since March and 109 this year, 2021. Before the pandemic in 2019 there was a 10% increase in women killed with the annual figure jumping from 220 to 241. According to the ONS three women are killed every fortnight by their partner or ex-partner. Seven months after Sarah Everard’s death, the body of schoolteacher Sabina Nessa was found in Cator Park, south-east London and a man from Eastbourne, East Sussex is facing charges.

Government response to sexual offences

In June 2021 an Observer analysis of thousands of convictions showed that between 2013 and 2020, almost one in three adults were given suspended or community sentences.

Government has been battling to withstand criticism following a sharp decline in convictions under her watch, including where the victims are under 13 years old. Police cuts driven by ten years of austerity and a loss of expertise go some way to explaining the fall in convictions. Government has promised the figures will be kept under six monthly review.

Prosecutions in 2016/17 fell 60% in four years to 2,102 in 2019/20, even as the number of reports to police increased, raising concerns about the decriminalisation of rape. These concerns make therapeutic relationships even more important.

According to the Guardian in 2018 victims were routinely required to give access to highly personal data including mobile phone messages and social media content to the Police. These can be retained for up to 100 years for a case to proceed which enhances the sense of personal violation already experienced by victims.

Sophie Wilkinson argued powerfully in Vogue in March that the Police fail because they are not looking for patterns of sexually inappropriate behaviour. They treat each case of rape, including Sarah Everard’s case, as an isolated incident.

Ms Wilkinson said the Police should have immediately investigated the indecent exposure by PC Couzens days earlier and while in Kent. They should be documenting the many signs of harassment, often in public, that precede rape and other sex attacks to identify the pattern of sexual offending early and prevent crime.

Sexualised trauma

Sexualised trauma includes trauma caused by someone close to you like a partner and encompasses many aspects of domestic violence. Most of the time sexualised trauma is caused by people known to the victim. Often there are no convictions in these cases. Rape sentencing tends to assume the attackers are strangers in parks, like PC Wayne Couzens.

This is often not the case. Most sexualised trauma takes place within the home, most child abuse is carried out by someone known to the child.

According to the Crime Survey for England in the year ending March 2020 7.1% of women aged 16 to 74 had experienced sexual assault or rape by penetration (including attempts) and only 0.5% of men.

“For the years ending March 2017 and March 2020 combined, victims who experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration since the age of 16 years were most likely to be victimised by their partner or ex-partner (44%). This was closely followed by someone who was known to them other than a partner or family member (37%), which includes friends (12%) and dates (10%) (Appendix Table 1). More than one in seven women (15%) reported being assaulted by a stranger, whereas this was true for almost half of male victims (43%) (Figure 2).”

I have talked mainly about women throughout this article because sexualised trauma is different for men and women. Men are more often attacked by strangers. Transgender people often suffer a disproportionate amount of discrimination and harassment, including from feminists. Attacks on men and transgender attacks will be addressed separately elsewhere.

Rape is not the only form of sexualised trauma – there is a whole menu of being cat-called, stared at or wolf-whistled to touching, up skirting, groping and grooming as well as taking and circulating sexual photographs, forced viewing of pornography etc. Violence is not always part of the attack.

Harassment is necessarily subjective and occurs when the individual is made to feel unsafe, humiliated, or intimidated. Rape during sleep is common among partners. Harassment and rape among pupils in boarding schools has hit the headlines this summer.

#Metoo campaign went viral following allegations against Harvey Weinstein and called out celebrities for widespread harassment in the media and film industry in October 2017. It sparked a national conversation and an increase in reporting of sexual harassment in the UK and abroad.

It is clear that sexualised trauma is a widespread phenomenon that deserves much more attention from society as well as the Police.

Harassment is particularly prevalent among young women. Research published in March this year from the All Party Parliamentary Group on UN Women in the United Kingdom showed 97 percent of British women aged between 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment in public.

Sexual harassment online is booming due to the pandemic. According to the Revenge Porn Helpline, they found calls about explicit imagery being shared without consent rose by 87% between April and August 2020 versus the previous year.

When understanding if sexualised trauma has taken place, a therapist or teacher will have to consider issues of consent and be mindful of any misuse of power, particularly if a young person is involved. Sex can become a powerful weapon in the wrong hands.

The impact of sexualised trauma and how therapy can help

In 2010, the Equality Act defined sexualised trauma as: “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

Humiliation is a key aspect of identifying sexualised trauma. Victims commonly feel dirty, they may suffer guilt, shame or even self-blame. In the aftermath clients may be more stressed, more anxious, suffer from panic attacks and feel generally less safe, as well as avoid sexual intimacy or in some cases feel de-valued and become more promiscuous.

If not addressed quickly after an attack or at the end of an abusive relationship, memories of sexualised trauma can ripple under the surface causing negative effects for years to come.

Some of the reactions are physiological causing changes to the chemicals in the brain resulting in unconscious or unintended behaviours such as aggression, fight or flight, depression, anxiety, panic attacks etc.

Early therapy helps address the roots of the trauma before the neurological pathways change irreparably in negative ways. Anti-depressants may also help to stabilise a traumatised client in the short-term but should not be taken for more than six months and should be monitored by a GP.

To address the root cause of the trauma, therapy provides a confidential space that a client pays for which is safe and non-judgemental. It’s a place for clients to unpack the cocktail of emotions outlined above. Therapists may find that recent experiences of sexualised trauma trigger childhood trauma or deficits in client’s attachment too, although most therapy is now person-centred.

Clients can talk freely about their fears, shame, self-blame and any flashbacks, insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks. They will address the root causes by calmly and safely re-living the attack, accompanied, not alone, in a therapeutic setting.

The aim is to look at the facts of the attack and make them conscious to prevent the unconscious from anticipating threats that are not there and imagining false scenarios which hold the client captive in dark places.

A skilled therapist will conclude every session to make sure the client does not dwell on the attack after the session and to reduce the likelihood of unsupervised flashbacks.

Ultimately in every therapeutic relationship you want to reach the point, after months, often years of tears, transference and/or in the film aggression, summed up in Good Will Hunting: When the therapist, (Robin Williams) embraces Matt Damon (his client) and simply says: “It’s not your fault.”