What makes a healthy relationship? – Part 2

We were talking Healthy Relationships at The Kickback on November 20th, which led to a great conversation with so much said that I had split the write-up into two parts.  Part 1 provided insight into our thoughts on what relationships are, what makes them healthy and the idea of agape love.

After speaking about what we think makes a relationship healthy, I asked the question, what do you do when your relationship becomes unhealthy?  For this question, I wanted everyone’s answer to be what they personally do, rather than what they think you should do.

Rhianna told us, “I look for what’s going wrong between me and the person, to see where the fault lies.”  However, Gus feels like the relationship was essentially unhealthy in the beginning, to which Mhairi asked, “What do you do when your relationship with yourself becomes unhealthy?”  Gus responded by saying that he thinks the only thing you can address is your own past.

Tanica shared that she is a massive mover of energy, so she tends to mediate and as she meditates, she breaks down what is going on internally with herself and what’s going on internally with the other person.  Then she will approach them diplomatically and let them know how she feels.

Elisha believes that if a relationship is bad, then you should leave it, while Mhairi said, “I just think everyone needs a time out sometimes.”

Lisa threw in the question, “How do you know when a relationship has become unhealthy?”  Rhianna said, “I’m aware of myself and my emotions in my body.  I’ll feel it in my stomach.”  Mhairi thinks that some people can be oblivious, and Gus thinks that it is about understanding.

I said that I know when someone starts draining me, which I felt strongly with my last boyfriend.  Gus went on to make the interesting point of how the relationship between a mother and their child can be draining, as children can drain their mother.

Next, I referred to the Twitter thread that I wrote a blog post in response to last week and asked to hear what everyone’s thoughts on it were.  Rhianna instantly stated that she agreed with it, and Gus said, “I sympathise with that… In a lot of instances, a no does mean convince me.”  He later went on to say, “I think the problem is that women want the man to be assertive, but to what point or what detriment.”

Rhianna thinks it also depends on the person that it’s happening to, but that it doesn’t justify the way a lot of guys act.  Elisha made the point of saying, “People also pressure,” while Lisa strongly said, “Own your no.”

This got on to a discussion about the murkiness of consent and what consent may or may not look like.  “Why is the onus on women to be assertive and someone that they’re not in certain situations?” Lisa asked.  Mhairi also said, “Under pressure or trauma, you can’t always portray what you want to.”

This month, The Kickback was linked to the White Ribbon Campaign, which is a movement to end male violence against women and girls, so we spent some time speaking about this.  I started by asking, “Why do you think men are violent towards women and girls?”

To provide some background on her answer, Mhairi spoke about the Channel 4 documentary series, Woman, saying that it can be used as a military tactic to break down women, as well as it coming from a place of power, control, money ideas and hatred of women.

Gus really made us all think when he said, “The issue isn’t the men attacking the women.  It’s what’s inside the men. Men are attacking each other… To get to the root of it, you have to understand why men are the way they are.”

As someone who knows men who have been violent towards women, Tanica believes that it comes down to a variety of factors – “Sometimes it’s broken down to religious factors.  Sometimes its culture.  Sometimes its upbringing.”

Lisa said, “There are men who are violent to everybody, and there are men who direct their violence to their partners and no one else, because they know they’ll get away with it.  In their environment, they’ll have power and control.”

I then asked, how do you think we can put an end to violence against women and girls?  Elisha thinks it’s good to talk to the police and let them sort things out, while Mhairi thinks the only thing that is helping is grass-roots communities and groups.

Gus feels that men go for women, because they assume they’re more vulnerable, but if she turns round and kicks him in the head, he’s less likely to attack her.  However, the idea of fighting back makes Lisa nervous – “When we cut out the need to even have self-defense classes, then I feel we’re on the right path.”  Lisa thinks the key is education and awareness.

My final question was, how can we have more healthy relationships?  I’ll leave you with the two responses: Mhairi said, “A shift in society” and Gus said, “A shift in oneself.”

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What makes a healthy relationship? – Part 1

The conversation at The Kickback on November 20th was all about Healthy Relationships, which I knew was going to be a great conversation, but I wasn’t prepared for how great it was going to be.  There was a whole lot of ground covered and a whole lot we couldn’t even get to – we genuinely needed another hour.  With so much said, I’m going to split what we spoke about into two parts, so that your brain doesn’t get too frazzled.

We were joined by Lisa from Tender, which is an arts charity currently in Croydon for two years.  Their focus is on healthy relationships and talking about what domestic abuse is.  “Our aim is to end violence against women and men,” Lisa said.  Tender uses creative ways to talk about relationships with young people, particularly drama – “Drama is an interesting tool to open up that conversation.”

After Lisa’s introduction, I began with the question, what is a relationship?  Gus’ response was a “connection between two people, but that may not even be a thing,” which Mhairi backed up by saying that it could be with yourself.

Mhairi also shared that she was thinking about addictions and things that are unhealthy when Gus spoke about having relationships with things.  Lisa took this further when she told us that she hears a lot of children speaking about their relationship with gaming.

When I asked, what makes a relationship healthy, Mhairi said that “most of the time, a healthy relationship is mutually beneficial.”  Gus counteracted this by saying that with a mother, you can give a lot and not necessarily get a lot back.

Tanica’s initial response was agape love – “You don’t ask for anything in return.  Everything comes from the heart.”  This led to extended  time speaking about agape love, as well as our relationships with family and friends.

Mhairi asked, “How often do we see agape love?”  Glenn said, “With family, it’s quite common, but with friends and other people, you’re not really gonna see it.”  However, Tanica shared that her friends have passed that hand of friendship and they are like family – “That’s where I see the love.”

I spoke about my confusion concerning the concept of family, not feeling that some of my blood family members actually felt like family at all, but that there are friends of mine who have become family and I literally see them as blood.

Mhairi feels like “family is very changeable” and that there are many aspects to family in the 21st Century that allow us to bring others in easily.  Lisa also shared, “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that I’ve sort of created my own family… Like, what’s the definition anymore?”

Gus believes that the only way you know its unconditional love is if you’re put through the hardships with that person.  Lisa also thinks that “there’s something about the dynamics of different relationships and it’s important to separate… I don’t think unconditional love comes into romantic relationships.  I would gage them differently to my other relationships.

Other responses about what makes a relationship healthy included:

  • Balance – Rhianna
  • Accountability – Joan
  • Communication – Lisa
  • Understanding – Tanica
  • Respect and trust – Elisha
  • Lessons.  “Someone has to teach me something and I have to teach them something.” – Mhairi
  • Common interests.  “Sometimes we’re just coming together for the sake of coming together.” – Jennifer

Jennifer also said that you’ve got to love yourself how you want to be loved.  On the other hand, Mhairi believes that “some people don’t know what self-love is and still get married and stuff…  I think the idea of self-love has become very confusing.”  This led on to a whole other discussion about self-love, which was getting very deep and looking to go the distance, so I decided to give it a night of its own and we’ll be talking Self-Love in February next year.

Look out for Part 2, so you can get the full picture of our conversation and what was said when we spoke about relationships getting unhealthy, consent and violence against women.

Stay updated with Young People Insight by following @YPInsight on Twitter, following @youngpeopleinsight on Instagram and liking Young People Insight.

Does your no mean no?

As I was scrolling through Twitter one day this week, I came across a tweet that forced me to do a double take and give my full attention to process what it was saying.

Once I fully deeped what I had read, I found myself nodding in agreement and seriously thinking about what had been written, as these types of situations lead to toxicity and a warped way of thinking.  In my mind it was bringing up consent and healthy relationships, which is the theme of The Kickback next week.  It also made me consider the importance of the word ‘no’ and how the meaning of this word has become blurred in certain contexts.

From my own personal experience, I have seen how the word ‘no’ has become blurred, being faced with the question of, “Does your no actually mean no, or does it mean yes?”  I was taken aback when asked this and confused about how this simple word, with such a clear meaning, had become so misconstrued.

I asked myself that if this particular individual was thinking this way, then how many males were thinking the same way as him?  It’s no wonder that when some females say no, and are not particularly forceful when saying it, that certain males nod and continue to proceed with going further in an intimate situation.  A line is quickly crossed, without some men perhaps not even realising they are doing it.

Not that ignoring the word ‘no’ and not getting consent is ever excusable, but it is easy to see how some men may think that it is okay to continue, in their thinking that the word ‘no’ is part of the foreplay.  If some women begin to change the context of the word, who’s to say that all of them have not changed the context of the word?

This is something that we need to be very careful of, because it is not healthy and it certainly is not safe.  Being intimate with anyone is a big step and clear boundaries need to be set out.

Another factor that arises from this is communication and the importance of effective communication, which is key to the health and success of any type of relationship.  It is said that only a small percentage of communication is verbal, with the majority coming from body language and from tone of voice.

Although ‘no’ should only mean ‘no’ in an intimate situation, it is important to understand the body language and tone of the person saying no.  Even if a person is under the belief that no is a form of foreplay, there should be a level of awareness to see if the person saying no looks fearful or uncomfortable, or is perhaps stiffening up or reclining away.  Just because someone may have been enjoying a certain level of intimacy with before, it does not mean that they want to go all the way – there should be no obligation.

When we begin to blur the lines and confuse the context of sex or even relationships as a whole, this is when problems begin to occur and situations can become dangerous for all involved.  This is what I find often leads to situations that are not necessarily rape, but are very rape-like and bordering on sexual assault – again, the lines are so unclear that I am not even sure how to label or describe them.

We need to be upfront with our words, set out clear boundaries, communicate effectively and respect the individual, especially when engaging in romantic and sexual relationships.  I believe this will help us to build foundations of healthy relationships as a whole.

We’ll be taking the topic of Healthy Relationships further at The Kickback on Tuesday 20th November.  Raise your points and join the conversation at Project B (1 Bell Hill, Croydon, CR0 1FB) from 6.30-8.30pm.  I would love to hear what you have to say.


Last week, we collaborated with Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT) for a special event to raise awareness of trafficking and modern slavery.  I wrote and shared a poem, created especially for the event, which I am sharing below in the lead up to Tuesday’s Poetic Insight.  It is called Trapped.

He thought he’d get his hands on all he’d dreamed of,
No longer ashamed of his appearance
He’d look prestige.
Decked out in Air Force, Levi’s and North Face
no one would dare to make him feel small again.
They promised,
promised him money and all the name brands in the world;
Promises never destined to come true,
Their words as empty as cardboard boxes without shoes.
Promises like a warm embrace, enticing and drawing him in,
soon twisting into headlock
keeping him terrified and submissive to their demands,
Cannabis forced to be transported and sold by his small hands.
Moved into a house, far from safe,
Decay and destruction all around –
Instead of flashy clothes on his back, he’s clothed in dirty rags.
But how can he leave, there’s nowhere he calls home
and they vowed to kill him if he ever tried to run.
Maybe one day, he’ll make them enough money to finally get everything he dreamed of…
he thinks.

She thought she was leaving for a job,
Walking through an open door that would supply her with money to support her family –
It was all she ever wanted, never to see them hungry again.
They sold her an opportunity,
sounding good enough but not too good to be true
so she put her trust in them, only to find too good to be true was just what it was.
Falsely sold, she was repaid with brutality,
the open door locked shut behind her
sealing off access to normality and family.
Everyday subjected to violence,
forced to endure abuse she could never have imagined,
Losing count of the faces she comes across day to day
eventually morphing into one and the same.
She wants to escape, but how can she run away?
Her family is being fed – as least that’s what they said –
and they vowed to kill her if she ever tried to run.
Maybe one day, she’ll be set free and finally get the job she desperately wanted…
she thinks.

Shaniqua Benjamin

Guest Post: What is Modern Slavery?

“Modern slavery is the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability”

Modern slavery is ubiquitous. It is despairing that in the 21st century a statement such as this rings of truth. We did not confine slavery to the passage of history, instead, it’s become more malicious and calculating in its operations.

Slavery is illegal, it is a crime, it is a human rights violation and yet it prevails. Human trafficking, the means to slavery is one the most profitable industries on Earth, second only to the arms and drugs trades.   Most of us unwittingly come into contact with slavery on a daily basis, it continues unabated in your neighbourhoods and communities.

Croydon has often been described a hub for trafficking and slavery, it has the highest number of modern slavery victims of any London Borough. My work at Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT), a charity that has campaigned for 15 years on this pernicious issue, involves educating communities, training young people to mitigate risks, overseeing the intelligence gathering we’ve been undertaking for over decade on potential sites on exploitation and input into policy, and preventative work locally.

At CCAT our remit has focused on being preventative rather than reactive. We believe by going into the heart of our communities, we bring awareness that helps people spot the signs, reporting procedures and have the opportunity to ask questions on this hidden crime.

It is woefully difficult to capture accurate statistics pertaining to slavery and trafficking – the official government statistics stand at around 13,000 to “tens of thousands”.  These are estimates, much like the international figures which stands at around 50 million, which could be likened to almost 75% of the British population. The figures for the UK are sourced by the National Crime Agency, which rely on victims coming forward to build a picture of slavery in our country.  This has obvious shortcomings however, for the time being it is the system upon which we continue to rely in the absence of a more comprehensible one.

Victims that are fortunate enough to have sought help arrive from over 100 countries with the main ones being Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania and the UK. Slavery and trafficking of people is very much a national issue too, it prevails in our very own communities and cities. People are exploited across a myriad of sectors including car washes, nail bars, take away shops, cleaning companies and hospitality industries.

Women are sexually exploited and enslaved on bustling high streets, residential areas and local hotels. Industries across the world participate in dubious labour activities from fast fashion, chocolate, coffee and fisheries sectors to name but a few.

The main forms of slavery are sexual, whereby people (men, women and children) are bought to the UK often across several countries to be sold into brothels. Labour exploitation, which is the foremost form of slavery in the UK, having overtaken sexual slavery some years back, permeates many industries such as construction, fisheries, agriculture, beauty, hospitality and restaurant trades.

Traffickers recruit groups of people to work in any number of these trades using threats and coercion to subdue them including threats of violence to family in their home country which is more widely known as debt bondage. This is especially prominent among young Vietnamese boys bought to the UK for purposes of harvesting cannabis on drugs farms.

Domestic servitude involves young people, as well as adults, to be forced into working as house slaves undertaking tasks such as cleaning, cooking, child minding and on occasion sexual exploitation in domestic settings.

Slavery manifests itself into many forms such as enforced begging, forced criminality and organ trafficking which is particularly malevolent whereby people are trafficked for the purposes of having their organs removed to be sold on covert markets. This provides a snapshot of the nature of activities that are taking place in our neighbourhoods.

Traffickers exploit vulnerable people, inveigling them into a life of degradation and slavery.  They lure them with dreams of prosperity and comfort to sell them into a life from which they cannot find a way back.

The UK enacted the seminal Modern Slavery Act in 2015 which regulates the crimes that come under the ambit of slavery and trafficking as well as introducing life sentences for traffickers, the level of prosecutions has been woeful and the number of people imprisoned even more so. Clearly there is a long way to go.  We need to work towards building more robust statutory responses to victims and especially those remain hidden.

There are many destitute and desperate people that have no voice, which is why the work of charities such as CCAT is so vital, to create spaces for people to talk about this issue to learn more about it, gather intelligence and encourage people to campaign. Slavery is rife, the widespread nature of this crime means it can only be overcome by a large-scale effort that involves the statutory sector, charity organisations and our communities. Victims are here and they are hidden in plain sight, so please report if you suspect something amiss.

If you suspect modern slavery, please contact the modern slavery helpline, even if these are ‘just’ suspicions, as only by reporting can we start to process of investigating and rescuing. The national Modern Slavery Helpline is 08000 121 700 (https://www.modernslaveryhelpline.org).

If you’re interested in learning more about a community-led grassroots charity such as CCAT or if you’d like to support our work please get in touch on manager@theccat.com

Saima Raza is the Manager at Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT), who will be leading out in our event on October 16th at Project B from 6.30-8.30pm.

Why I Am Taking Time Out to Heal

If you read last week’s blog post, you would have seen that the events taking place this month were going to be the last YPI events for a little while.  It’s not that YPI is going anywhere or quickly disappearing – I am simply in need of a break.  An extended one.

For the past few months, it has honestly been the thought of an extended break that has kept me going, through all the busy-ness and numerous events I have been putting on.  Knowing that I will have time to genuinely relax, clear my head and refresh has provided me with some kind of new found balance, which I have desperately needed.

Since launching YPI as a physical platform, I have barely taken time to stop and breathe.  There has been little moments of reflection here and there, as well as little breaks, but no substantial time for recovery.

As well as developing YPI over the past two years, I have been participating in TCFT and then putting on TCFT Croydon, working part-time, going on poetry courses, writing and performing poetry, crowdfunding, attending numerous meetings and events, consistently sending and responding to e-mails, putting on workshops and writing articles, as well as some other things.

This doesn’t even include my return to counselling, the grief caused by the death of three family members, the continued heartbreak from friends, the hurt caused by guys, my mental health struggles, and the consistent battles to stay positive, believe in myself and grow in confidence.

It has been a lot and I have gotten incredibly exhausted.  I found myself lost, my mind has been all over the place and I was beginning to shut down, which was not okay.

That is why I need this extended time away from YPI, to heal, reflect and work on myself.  I want to give my brain the opportunity to switch off a little, because it whirls around way too much, making deep, refreshing rest difficult to achieve.  I also want to spend a little more time focusing on the issues of my own heart, which are often neglected and need to be addressed.

I also intend on taking some of the time to give consideration to YPI, so it can continue to improve and reach more young people.  This platform is special and can do great things, but improvements and developments are very much-needed.

However, I am only one person and I cannot keep this platform going on my own, especially if I want it to grow.  Doing so much on my own is part of what brought me to the point of exhaustion and has made me want to give up on so many occasions.  It truly is a lot.

Across August, it is going to be a full on YPI break, with no events, blog posts, newsletters or social media posts at all – apart from the 1st to the 3rd August after our final July event.  However, our presence will return on social media towards the end of September, and then events, blog posts and newsletters will be back in October.

Don’t worry though, I’m not disappearing off the face of the earth.   I’ll be around to hang out with and my phone will be on, so you can catch me by text, WhatsApp or on social media.  This is actually a great opportunity to get to know more of you on a social level, which is an important element of YPI.

So try and make yourself available to come along to at least one of the YPI events this month, before the long break.  We’ve got:

  • TCFT Croydon 2018 performance at 6pm on Sunday 15th July at the Lansdowne Hotel
  • Poetic Insight: Thornton Heath Arts Week at 6pm in Thornton Heath Library
  • The Kickback: Let’s Talk About Goals at 6.30pm in Project B
  • Poetic Insight: Dreams & Goals at 7pm in Project B

The events are all going to be amazing and I’m excited for them, although I am more excited about the break that’s following.  I cannot expresses how much this time out is necessary, and I would recommend that you take time out for yourself to reflect and recuperate, because it is so important for your emotional and mental state.  Hopefully I will see some of you soon.

Developing Connections Through Young People Insight

Whenever I describe what Young People Insight is, the tagline is always a platform that empowers the voices of young people and encourages community engagement.  However, there is a lot more to it than that.

One of the things at the core of YPI is developing connections, which essentially stems from the community engagement element.  I want young people to build connections that would have been otherwise missing if they did not attend a YPI event, expanding their creative, cultural and personal networks.

It is creating a caring, nurturing environment where friendships are formed and people feel not only loved, but able to be themselves.  That is why I refer to anyone involved in the platform as part of the YPI family.  Once a part of the YPI family, always a part of the YPI family.

I do my best to look out for all of the young people involved and show support in any way I can, whether that is through congratulating them on their achievements, wishing a happy birthday or attending a poetry night where they are a feature.  The personal aspect of YPI is key, and I believe it is one of the ways that makes it stand out.

It also manifests in making young people aware of or providing them with various opportunities, which include job openings, the chance to share their poetry in different settings, and having their voices heard in different forms.  I want to ensure that young people are aware of the opportunities available to them – too often, information is not shared or readily available, meaning that young people miss out.

During the last festive season, it meant a lot to be able to give three young poets who had shared their work at Poetic Insight the chance to be part of Croydon’s Festive Fantasia, with their words projected and heard (I was fortunate enough to read their reads) in Croydon Town Centre.  It is important for me to act as a connector between the young people who engage with YPI and the rest of the world outside of YPI.

However, what I most love is seeing the different connections that form between individuals who attend the events.  Sometimes I worry that I am not making a difference or having enough of an impact, so watching those connections and friendships grow provides me with evidence that YPI is actually making a difference in the lives of others.

I smile when I listen to the great conversations continuing after The Kickback has formally wrapped up.  I am filled with joy when I see personal exchanges taking place at Poetic Insight, which I did not even want to stop last month despite having poetry performances to get on with.  Yet what I love most is hearing about and seeing evidence of friendships being solidified outside of the monthly events.

There are quite a few that have built over the past two years, but I want to highlight the most recent friendship that developed at last month’s Poetic Insight.  Samirah and Mhairi did not know each other, but the both of them were coming to a poetry night for the first time.  They ended up sitting next to each other, eventually started talking and then did not stop.

When I saw Samirah and Mhairi at a poetry night in Croydon on Tuesday (Samirah got up on the open mic and smashed it in her first ever sharing of her poetry, which made me really proud), they were sitting together behind me and told me that they had also been to a poetry night together on the Sunday just gone.

I later learned that they had been in regular contact, which I thought was beautiful – two people who were initially complete strangers became friends because they came to my poetry night.  For me, that is what YPI is all about.  I want people to be able to make friends through meeting new people that would not have come into their orbit without The Kickback, Poetic Insight or even TCFT Croydon.

We live in a technological age where physical human connections and interactions are being lost, which I think is incredibly sad and can also become a danger to well-being.  That is part of the reason why I started YPI and believe that the events are essential to young people in so many ways.  I’m glad that I can play just a small part in connecting others and making meaningful links.

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