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Charlene Masterson to campaign to help those suffering abuse

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A daughter who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her father has told of how she plans to campaign for greater awareness and support for individuals suffering abuse.

Charlene Masterson (32) said she waived her anonymity in a bid to highlight the difficulties she faced.

Last week David Masterson (56) was jailed for 17 years for sexually abusing his daughter over a 7½-year period after first blackmailing her.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Masterson went on to defile three girls, having sexual encounters with two teenage girls and entering into a sexual relationship with a third, who lived with him for a period of time.

The court heard this occurred after his daughter reported the seven years of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father to her mother in 2014 and he left the family home.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Friday, Ms Masterson – who waived her right to anonymity – said if her friend, who was training to be a social worker, had not confronted her about the abuse she did not know what would have happened.

Since the court case, during which she delivered a devastating victim impact statement, Ms Masterson said she had taken a number of educational courses on domestic violence awareness. Such information should be freely available, she said, adding that a lot what was available was not relevant in an Irish legal context.

‘Massive stigma’

She said there was still a “massive stigma” in Ireland about rape, and sexual assault and she wanted to change the system to develop a message, like the FAST alert for cases of stroke, which could pinpoint things for individuals to look for in people they suspected may be facing domestic violence.

Ms Masterson said her abuse took place for seven and a half years and she had had seven years since to “process it. I’m out the other side now” and said she now wants to try and help others.

Asked if she had any regrets about waiving her anonymity, she replied: “not one.”

Her main aim had been to help people and this was “one step of the journey.”

The abuse started when she turned 18, she said, but it was only afterwards she realised her father had been grooming and controlling her from her early teens.

Later she also realised he had been tracking her phone which was why he always knew where she was and what she was doing.

When the blackmail started, she said her father had been “cool and collected” and told her she would have to do as demanded. “I would never have guessed it was my dad.”

Her father had told her he would be with her and would not let anything happen. On a number of occasions there was another person involved in the abuse who she said knew that she was his daughter.

The court heard the abuse began in 2007, when she started receiving anonymous text messages, which later transpired to have been sent by her father.

The messages began demanding that she do sexual things with men while threatening to send information to her father’s work regarding her previously talking to boys on an online chatroom for teenagers.

When she told her father about what was happening, he told her that she would have to do these things because his job was at risk.

It was arranged that her father would let a person into their home and she would do whatever this person wanted while wearing a blindfold and earphones playing music. She was then sexually assaulted.

Father’s role

Ms Masterson said she finally discovered her father’s role in the abuse when she attempted to assist her grandmother install a programme on her laptop and found a DVD with a recording of two of the abuse incidents, which she knew had been recorded as it had been a “bargaining chip.”

She knew then her father was her abuser but did not know what to do. The person to whom she should have been able to turn to for assistance, was the person who was abusing her. “I didn’t have anywhere to turn.”

When she confronted her father “a row broke out” and her father asked how she could think it was him, but she did not receive any text messages after that.

But the abuse continued and spiralled into “open abuse” and sexual harassment, she said. If she did not do as he demanded “there was hell to pay.”

Ms Masterson said her father followed her to her part-time job and eventually forced her to give it up. The rape and violence continued. “He was never happy.”

In March 2014, aged 25, Ms Masterson went on a weekend away with friends. “He didn’t want me to go.” Throughout the weekend her father sent texts threatening her, saying he had people he wanted her to meet.

At that stage her friend asked if her father was abusing her and Ms Masterson replied that he wasn’t. She knew that he thought what he was doing was “completely normal”. At one stage she left out a magazine with a story about incest for him to see, “I thought this will trigger him, but he laughed it off.

“In his head he thought this was completely normal.”

‘Petrified’

Ms Masterson explained that she was “petrified” of her father and that it was “easier said than done to walk away.”

The friend, who was training to be a social worker, “kept pushing”.

By that stage her father knew that her friend knew and told her “you won’t see her again.” Eventually her friend, who was due to leave the country, said she would not go “until she knew I was safe.”

By that stage Ms Masterson said she realised her father did not care that other people knew and had held her by the throat up against a wall one night when there was another friend staying over.

Her trainee social worker friend continued to question her and said she would not leave until she had answers. “This time I said ‘yes’”, when asked if her father was abusing her.

As soon as her mother heard what had been happening she told the father to “get out” and there has been no contact since that day.

Ms Masterson said that she saw her father at his mother’s funeral and on three occasions in court.

When she saw him for the first time in court she had been thrown to see that he had not changed at all physically. She had thought that the impact of what he had done might have caused him to lose weight. “Seeing him for the first time, I thought he might be frail, older. But he hadn’t changed at all, it had zero impact.”

Ms Masterson said she made eye contact in court and “stared him down. That last time I felt absolutely nothing.”

Sentence

Ms Masterson said that despite the length of sentence imposed on her father – 24 years, reduced to 18 because he pleaded guilty with one year suspended, he would not serve “all those years” because of the system.

The judge in the case had been very kind, she said. “All cases of this nature are horrific.” The judge had realised the magnitude of what had happened, she said.

While she had tried counselling, speaking to eight counsellors, she found that it did not help, “I thought I was weird.” It was not until she spoke to another person who had a similar experience that she felt she could do something to help change the system. “I want to help survivors.”

Ms Masterson thanked the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre for their support during the court case and afterwards. She had considered not giving her victim impact statement herself. But she felt it was something she would regret if she did not deliver it herself.

While there could not be a template for victim impact statements, Ms Masterson felt there could be guidance provided along with support for the friends and family of abuse survivors.

Her mother carried great guilt for not being aware of the abuse, but she said even if her mother watched her for 23 hours a day, her father would have gotten to her for that last hour. “I wasn’t safe anywhere.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact the national 24-hour rape crisis helpline: 1800 778888 or One in Four at 01 662 4070

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DiverXo: Spaniard Dabiz Muñoz named best chef in the world | Culture

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Spanish star chef Dabiz Muñoz was awarded the prize for being the best chef in the world at the fifth edition of The Best Chef Awards 2021 on Wednesday. The owner of DiverXo, a restaurant in Madrid with three Michelin stars, accepted his award at a live event in Amsterdam. At a press conference following the award ceremony, Muñoz (previously known as David Muñoz) said that chefs around the world are in a “hard” situation “due to the coronavirus pandemic,” which saw strict restrictions on the hospitality sector.

The Best Chef, a project created in 2015 that is dedicated to celebrating culinary talent, also released a list of its top 100 chefs, which includes 13 Spaniards. Muñoz said these types of awards not only “help restaurants, but also the people of the country” that feature on the top 100 list. “What comes to me, comes to Madrid, which to me is one of the most exciting cities in the world today for gastronomy,” said the DiverXo owner, who added that the recognition will help the Spanish capital “to continue to grow.”

Last March, Muñoz appeared at a culinary conference called “Dialogues in the Kitchen” in San Sebastián, where he talked about the “disruptive” way he had overcome the challenges that emerged as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant owner told the audience that the experience had made him “renew his vows” with DiverXo. But the same could not be said for Muñoz’s restaurant in London, StreetXo, which was forced to permanently close last December, five years after it was opened.

The Swedish chef Björn Frantzen came in second place on the top 100 list, and also won The Best Chef Voted by Chefs Award. Basque chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, from Mugaritz restaurant, came in third place, while Joan Roca, from Catalonia, took home the Science Award. At the ceremony, Roca said his team “is strongly committed to science and sustainability,” and added that such awards “benefit the country more than the chef,” as the prize-winners represent “a structure, products, producers.” He also said that chefs strengthen the tourism industry and the work of local producers.

Italian chef Alfonso Iaccarino won The Best Chef Legend Award; Fatmata Binta, from Sierra Leone, received the rising star award for her work at Fulani Kitchen; Italian chef Franco Pepe won the prize for the best pizza and Vicky Lau, from Tate restaurant in Hong Kong, was awarded the food art award.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Commitments to end direct provision ‘already behind schedule’

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Government commitments to end direct provision are “slipping”, the State’s chief human rights and equality commissioner has warned.

Sinéad Gibney, chief of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), said slippage meant delays and “people continue to languish in this system which deprives them of so much”.

She was addressing the Oireachtas committee on public petitions on progress implementing the Government’s White Paper on ending direct provision. Published in February by Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman, it envisages closing all direct provision accommodation centres by the end of 2024 and replacing them with a new system of accommodation and supports.

Ms Gibney said “relatively simply fixes”, such as ensuring asylum seekers had the right to apply for a driving licence, were “already behind schedule”. The White Paper had promised legislation would be introduced before summer 2021.

“As we appear today the commission is not aware of any specific legislative amendment having been introduced to allow applications for driving licences . . . Being barred from even being able to apply for a driving licence is a massive State-built barrier to securing or seeking employment,” she said.

“The right to seek employment was hard won for asylum seekers in a Supreme Court case by a determined Burmese man . . . That victory is made hollow by such administrative barriers as access to driving licences.”

IHREC, she continued had “concerns” that an independent inspection regime of accommodation centres had not yet begun.

Before the White Paper the State had been in breach of EU directives by not ensuring vulnerability assessments were conducted on every asylum seeker on arrival.

These were now happening but at far too low a rate. “Figures provided to the Oireachtas in April this year show that 258 applicants had entered the vulnerability assessment process with 151 assessments completed and 107 then ongoing. This obviously needs to be significantly scaled up given there had been 886 applications received this year alone,” said Ms Gibney.

Stephen Kirwan of the Law Society’s human rights and equality committee, described “frustrations” among colleagues that clients in the asylum process were often not getting legal advice until “a very late stage”.

One of the “most significant obstacles to the White Paper being realised” was delays in the processing of international protection, or asylum applications, said Ihrec commissioner Colm O’Dwyer SC.

At the end of July there were more than 5,000 people awaiting a “first instance” decision on the applications and the median time to get a decision was 26.9 months, he said.

Ms Gibney called for a “mindset change” in the whole international protection system.

“It’s about moving towards informing our system with a mindset that we are lucky to welcome in many of the aspirant citizens . . . We need to invite them. We need to offer them integration from day one. We need to see and value the contribution they can make to our society and I think when we do that we do start to then see a system that is informed by trauma, that understands the trauma that some of the people have been through [and] that provides wraparound supports tailored to their needs.”

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Q&A: What is the British government doing to help Brits in Italy overcome post-Brexit hurdles?

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On Wednesday the British embassy in Rome organised a town hall-style question and answer session to allow British residents in Italy to raise concerns and put their questions to Minister Wendy Morton and British Ambassador to Italy Jill Morris.

After the session, The Local was granted a brief interview with the minister to discuss some of the major issues for UK nationals in Italy that we’ve been reporting on this past year.

From residency rights to driving licences, here are the minister’s answers to our questions about the post-Brexit rights of British citizens in Italy.

How is the UK government assisting British nationals struggling to access the new carta di soggiorno elettronica?

UK citizens living in Italy have been encouraged by the British government to apply for a carta di soggiorno elettronica, a new biometric card that proves their right to live in Italy under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

While the card is not required by the Italian government, it’s strongly recommended as the simplest way for Brits who have been resident in Italy since before January 1, 2021 to demonstrate their rights of residency and ensure they can continue to access essential services.

Some UK citizens, though, have had trouble accessing the card due to processing delays or the fact that their local police station, or questura, hasn’t yet got set up to issue the document – and have run into problems obtaining work contracts and applying for driving licenses as a result.

Anti-Brexit protesters on September 22, 2017 in Florence, Italy. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The minister said that the British embassy in Rome has been holding regular online meetings to listen to residents’ concerns about the card, and also provides updates via a newsletter.

“Our ambassador has a newsletter that is a way of communicating regularly to British citizens, so they can sign up to this, as well as signing up to the Foreign Office’s ‘Living In…’ guide, to get up to date information on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Ambassador Morris highlighted that the British embassy is collecting reports from British citizens who have experienced problems accessing the card (as well as any other issues) via a contact form on its website.

“We encourage British residents in Italy to report to us when they have any difficulties exercising their rights, whether that’s related to healthcare, whether that’s at the questura to get the carta di soggiorno elettronica, or any other issues people may have,” the ambassador said.

“We log the individual cases; we also look for trends, so when we see there’s a trend of a problem, for example stamping passports at a particular airport, then we target the authorities at that airport to give them information and make sure all the border guards have that information.”

The embassy sends a monthly update to the Italian authorities to alert them to ongoing issues, she added.

You can find the embassy’s contact form here.

The ambassador also noted that the British embassy has worked with Italy’s national association of mayors, Anci, to distribute a booklet to comuni across the country laying out the post-Brexit rights of British citizens.

Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement on reciprocal driving licenses before the grace period expires at the end of this year?

After Britain left the EU at the end of last year, British residents who hadn’t yet got around to converting their UK license to an Italian one were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to use their British license in Italy.

Many hoped that Italy and the UK would later come to an agreement which would allow drivers to continue using their British license beyond that point.

But with less than four months to go before the grace period expires, Brits are now wondering whether to gamble on the two countries reaching an accord by the end of this year – and risk being unable to drive come January 1st – or to undergo the time-consuming and expensive process of retaking their driving test in Italy.

When we raised this issue with Ms. Morton, she said: “We absolutely are continuing to negotiate with the Italian government on the right to exchange a UK license for an Italian one without the need to retake a driving test, and I can assure you it’s our absolute priority to reach an agreement before the end of the grace period which is at the end of this year.”

REAL ALSO: Reader question: Will my UK driving licence still be valid in Italy after 2021?

Photo: Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

What is government doing to help British-Italian families wanting to return to live in the UK?

UK nationals wanting to return to live in Britain with their EU partners have until the end of March 2022 before the bar for being granted a spousal visa will be significantly raised. That deadline is fixed and will not be extended, the minister confirmed on Wednesday.

“If they want to apply, it’s important that they apply before the deadline,” she told The Local.

“Close family members of UK nationals who return from living in the EU by the 29th of March next year can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme as long as that relationship existed before exit day,” said the minister.

“It’s also worth remembering that family members of individuals from the EU, from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Lichtenstein, as well as the families of British citizens may also be eligible to apply for a family permit under the EU Settlement Scheme, which will make it easier to travel with a family member to the UK.”

READ ALSO: Brits with EU partners warned over future problems returning to live in UK

Some EU-British couples, however, are already experiencing problems having their right to live together in the UK recognised, with reports coming out that the Home Office has denied some applications on seemingly flimsy or technical grounds.

“The fundamental thing here is that British citizens can return to the UK at any time. And it’s important that we remember that,” the minister said when asked about this issue.

In case you were wondering.

For British-Italian couples in Italy experiencing problem, “the first port of call should be our team here in the embassy; it may be that they then need to be signposted if it’s a Home Office issue,” said the minister.

“The Home Office has made a whole range of advice available online, and can also be contacted by telephone and by email.”

See The Local’s ‘Dealing with Brexit‘ section for the latest news and updates.



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