Hello from Warsaw
Very different walk this time…again…
Daylight hours are nearly half what I had when I started in summer but I’m still walking 40km each day, just a lot faster…
Among the many gifts Rasa gave us in Vilnius was a set of Nordic Walking Poles. I had mentioned how my upper-body muscle mass had changed dramatically. My legs are solid. I could kick a hole in a wall but my arms have disintegrated. I can barely lift a bag of shopping…When I push my finger into my bicep, the muscle is so spongie I can almost touch the bone. The poles mean I now work my upper body as well as my legs when I walk. 80% of my muscles are engaged in the movement, like swimming 🙂 It also means I walk 7km an hour rather than 5.
Having been on TV, the response in rural Lithuania was completely different. Day one, a car stopped in front of me to ask if I needed anything. Rasa had met all of our practical needs so I asked him to tell people that he met me walking through his village and tell them why I am walking. That night, Stig and I were drifting off to sleep when there was a knock at the door. The police had moved us on one night in Holland so I thought perhaps we were parked illegally, but it was just a man from the village. It took nearly half an hour for him to grasp that we really didn’t understand what he was saying. Eventually Stig called a Lithuanian friend and put her on speaker-phone. She listed to him then asked us why we were with him. We weren’t…She explained that he was very drunk and suggested we just close the door. We did. He banged on the windows and shouted for another half hour…Helping me ‘Stop the Silence’ I guess…
Crossing the Polish border, I found myself in forrest for a few days, which was lovely until I saw a sign that meant ‘Wolves’…Luckily, Yvonne’s fuel gauge is among the many things that don’t work, so we didn’t realise (until she died again…) that we needed diesel. I can’t walk unless Yvonne is following me, so we were stuck. In a random forrest…A taxi drove out from the nearest town and took Stig to fetch some fuel but when they returned we managed to drain the battery trying to start her…The kind taxi driver, Andrzej, saw how ‘lucky’ we were and took us back to his own home to charge the car battery. His lovely wife made us soup and tea all day and I signed autographs for his kids, who were of Cbeebies age. (I hadn’t realised the show is even on in Poland…) The scrapes we find ourselves in on the road are always sorted when angels appear 🙂
Yvonne, the ‘Follow Vehicle’, doesn’t really follow me, I follow her. Stig drives about 15km ahead and I catch up 2 hours later, when the kettle’s boiled 🙂 Sometimes he can’t park by the road so I get a text saying where I’ll find him. “I’m on the left 500meters after the prostitute”. I thought this was a an autocorrect mishap but in fact there were ‘sex workers’ stationed quite regularly throughout the forrest. It’s interesting to witness how ‘the oldest profession in the world’ operates in each country. Famously, Amsterdam has established public premises where the workers pay tax and can apply for health insurance (the State has become their pimp…) In France and Germany, they’re parked in Yvonne-like vans on quiet backroads. In Poland evidently, they sit alone on deckchairs by the side of the road, like fruit sellers who’ve sold all their fruit. Prostitution is a very complex and culturally sensitive issue, though it has existed in some form in every society since the dawn of civilisation. Some believe legalising it creates a degree of protection around it’s workers but even then the vast majority of prostitutes have been or are being exploited. A recent US study revealed that 97% of teen prostitutes had been sexually abused. Hear that again, 97% of teen prostitutes were sexually abused in their childhood. You might read this and figure yeah its very likely a teen could be sexually abused while working in the dangers world of prostitution but that’s not what this statistic is saying. Consider this: these teens were once regular kids with their whole life ahead of them then and someone sexually abused them. That first violation altered the entire trajectory of their life. After the decade my uncle abused me, it took another decade and lot of counselling to save me from wandering down a very dark road. Road to Change has shown me that the majority of children in the EU don’t have access to the kind of free counselling service that saved my life. (where I learned that what happened to me doesn’t define me, just because my uncle used me as a sex toy it does mean I am one) So what of the other 3%? The young women (and men) who weren’t sexually abused in their childhood but still ‘choose’ to work as a prostitute. Well, the vast majority of the sex workers in Amsterdam aren’t Dutch, they’re from Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria. Their ‘career choices’ made in situations of poverty and desperation.
Walking walking walking… I usually walk 40km a day, so even months ahead I can anticipate exactly when I’ll arrive in any city (essential for securing Government meetings) but Dr Pamela Pine, Founder and CEO of Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse Inc, was flying in from Washington DC and landing two days before I had planned to get here. Pam is both ‘my boss’ and my friend so I wanted to get there when she did. That meant I had to walk farther each day but with limited daylight it also meant walking in the dark. The night before reaching Warsaw, I was walking alone through the woods in almost complete blackness when suddenly, about fifty meters ahead, I saw two wee mice strangely leaping towards me. I was able to see these wee creatures through the darkness as they were both bright orange. When they got closer I realised they weren’t in fact luminous mice (of course) as the headlights of a passing car momentary revealed the silhouette of a man dressed completely in black (apart from his loud orange shoelaces) Shat myself!!! I slowed my pace but I knew I’d have to pass him. Nervous, I advanced cautiously but when I reached the shadowy figure he put out his arms to grab me. Convinced this moment was the end of my ‘journey’, another passing car illuminated the smiling face of my big brother Mojo 🙂 I had never been more happy to see anyone in my life (actually no, I’m always that happy to see Mojo) He’d flown in too, to spend the week fixing up Yvonne ahead of the winter, with fancy solar panels so Stig and I can charge our phones (without a 50km round trip to find a McDonalds) and curtains for added insulation (handmade by my big sister ‘Wee May’) Mojo also bought a pile of supplies donated by you gorgeous people, see link below. 🙂 Bless you all!
This week, the whole team have been hosted in the lovely home of Marina Łunarska-Sienkiewicz. She had emailed us out the blue last month, inviting us all to stay with her when we reached Warsaw. I didn’t realise until we got here that she is a friend of David Engel, the man who’s wallet I found while walking down the road in Latvia. Marina has introduced us to authentic Polish cuisine and taught us how to drink Vodka. She is a deeply kind soul and we are so grateful to receive her generous hospitality, though she keeps saying she isn’t doing anything, food and accommodation for a whole week, for FOUR of the Road to Change team (Amanda our Project Manager also flew in this week) is such a massive contribution that its hard to fully express our gratitude. I know we’ll all miss her so much when I set off for Prague but we hope she’ll come walk with me somewhere sunny next year 🙂
So Warsaw…Trying to effect any kind of Change here has felt like running through treacle…First, I was invited to lunch at the British Embassy to meet Ambassador Robin Barnett and a representative of Poland’s largest child protection organisation ‘Nobody’s child’. Normally I attend these meetings speaking on behalf of Dr Pine but this time she was here 🙂 Mr Barnett gave us his impressions of Poland today, conjuring the image of a very conservative, staunchly catholic society still recovering from its recent Soviet influence. He explained how a scandal surrounding a Catholic Bishop had done more for raising national awareness of child sexual abuse than the Road to Change could ever hope to achieve in Poland but described our efforts as another bomb hitting the wall of silence. Like ‘Dam Busters’ he said, each voice that speaks out against sexual abuse lands a crack in the wall and eventually it will all come crashing down.
Despite the vast flourish of TV, Radio and Press coverage Road to Change had received in our last country, only one Polish newspaper agreed to speak to me. No TV or Radio and no one from the Government of Parliament responded to us either. It’s beyond depressing, as from what I gather the Statute of Limitations here is 23 years old. Worst legal situation for victims I’ve found in Europe so far. It is 25 in the last country (Lithuania) and 28 in the country before that (Latvia). It’s really frightening but it almost appears that the further south I walk the less rights the victims seem to have 🙁
Thankfully, the one news article we got was in a main national paper. The interview was as usual except I was asked what I thought about chemical castration as a punishment for child sex offenders. It is enforced in Poland but my answer was that it isn’t the answer. It has not proven to be an effective deterrent and it also acts on the assumption that all sexual attacks on children are motivated solely by sexual desire, derived from the individual’s predetermined sexual orientation. Are they? The debate rolls on and on with that one (among researchers, psychologists and paedophiles…) I do not believe Wikipedia to be a reliable source for any factual information but (as many others seem to…) it’s worth noting that their definition of Paedophilia is a ‘psychiatric disorder’ not a sexual orientation.
The published article mentioned nothing of my contrary views to the country’s penal code. A nice summary of Road to Change’s aims and achievements so far and my own story of being sexually abused by my uncle. I was fascinated by the public’s comments on their website. “Scots guy with eggs.” Not sure what that meant but it seemed positive, from all the ‘Likes’ the comment received. “Maybe he wants to put up the gay flag and kiss some uncles”. This comment received around thirty ‘Dislikes’. Some readers seemed very angry about it and chastised the man who wrote it, but it also received some ‘Likes’. I wasn’t offended, I was pleased Road to Change had sparked yet another debate in a public forum. Stop the Silence…
It was interesting that reader assumed that I am gay. The article certainly doesn’t say anything of the sort. Perhaps he was confused by the picture of me in a ‘skirt’. Maybe it was because the story explained how often my uncle had sex with me. This seems a common misconception in many religiously conservative nations. There is a definite stigma that assumes boys who are sexually abused by a man become gay. The fear of being associated with anything homosexual stops many male survivors from coming forward to receive the legal and therapeutic help they need. While in Luxembourg, I learned of a book for survivors that says being sexually abused can make you gay. It can not. It can certainly cause sexual confusing, even leading to sexual experimentation as the victim’s fractured mind searches for a meaning to the trauma but I strongly believe sexual orientation is genetic and can not be altered by sexual abuse. The notion is as absurd and offensive as ‘correctional rape’, used to ‘cure’ lesbianism in some countries…
I delayed setting off for Prague for a day as I was invited to the Polish Ministry of Social Affairs, to attend a conference by British child protection professionals, sharing ‘best practice’ with teachers and local police from across the country. Very interesting day. Britain has made a important development in tackling child sexual abuse abroad. Previously, convicted child sex offenders from the UK were traveling to other EU countries after their prison term, seeking employment in contact with children where their criminal record was unattainable. Now UK has established an international certificate which employers anywhere in the world can request when hiring a UK national.
I did try to be brief this time 🙁
Below: the Polish News Article and a link to the lovely new boots etc donated to Road to Change by angels everywhere who follow us on this crazy journey.
And now to Prague…
Thank you so much for reading,