TIME People

Michelle Knight Celebrates 2 Years of Freedom After Decade of Captivity

Michelle Knight smiles during an interview in Cleveland on June 26, 2014.
Tony Dejak—AP Michelle Knight smiles during an interview in Cleveland on June 26, 2014.

"Looking forward to happiness, a future, a life I never had"

Two years to the day after her escape from the Cleveland house of horrors of Ariel Castro, Michelle Knight has finally “conquered” her fears.

“This morning I thought, it’s amazing to wake up and not feel like I’m being tortured,” Knight told Fox 8 Cleveland on Wednesday, the two-year anniversary of her freedom.

Knight – along with fellow victims Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry– was held hostage by Castro for about a decade, enduring psychological, emotional and sexual abuse.

After the women and Berry’s daughter escaped on May 6, 2013, Castro was arrested and sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years after pleading guilty to 937 counts of rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder. He committed suicide one month into his sentence.

Now Knight says she is finally “looking forward to happiness, a future, a life I never had. And for two years of my life I was finally able to live.” She also revealed that she has a new boyfriend.

“He’s such an amazing person. He’s sweet-hearted. He’s right there with me all the time and he supports everything that I do.”

Though she has finally begun to heal, Knight still draws from her experiences in captivity in order to help others who are suffering.

She just finished writing a new song called “Survivor” and is also hoping to write a second book.

“It’s going to be about my future and how I triumphed against everything that happened to me and everything that was holding me down; my fears and how I conquered them, because it’s really hard,” she said.

Knight released her first book, Finding Me, last year, and Berry and DeJesus released their joint book Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland last month. (Knight told PEOPLE last year that she parted ways with her fellow captors to help with the healing process. “I love them and they love me. Hopefully we’ll all get back together again.”)

Knight also worked closely with some of the cast and crew of Cleveland Abduction, a Lifetime original movie about her that aired last weekend.

“I had to dig pretty deep to let my emotions go into this movie,” she said. “Because I wanted to give the world something to have hope, courage and strength and know that amongst all the darkness, you can still rise above all that.”

Knight is also considering going to school to become a therapist.

“God definitely had a purpose for my life, and it’s definitely helping people,” she said.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Crime

Arkansas Lawmaker Under Fire for Giving Adopted Daughter to a Man Who Raped Her

Rep. Justin T. Harris, R-West Fork, questions a witness during a meeting of the House Committee on Education at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. on Feb. 26, 2015.
Danny Johnston—AP Rep. Justin T. Harris, R-West Fork, questions a witness during a meeting of the House Committee on Education at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. on Feb. 26, 2015.

She was 6 years old

An Arkansas state lawmaker sent two of his adopted children to live with a man who subsequently raped one of them, according to a new report that has put the local politician on the defensive.

State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted the two sisters, ages 3 and 6, in early 2013, the Arkansas Times reports. They had previously been removed from an abusive family situation. That October, Harris reportedly sent the girls to live with Eric Cameron Francis, a man he later hired to work as a teacher at a preschool he runs. Police say Francis raped the 6-year-old while she was in his care, and he and his wife eventually sent the sisters to a third household, where they remain. Francis is serving 40 years in prison under a plea bargain, the Times reports.

But the newly-disclosed fact that Harris sent the girls away has opened him to criticism in the wake of the Times report.

“Rep. and Mrs. Harris have suffered a severe injustice,” his lawyer said in a statment defending him, KATV reports. “Due to threats of possible abandonment charges, they were unable to reach out to [authorities] for help with children who presented a serious risk of harm to other children in their home. Upon the advice of both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, they were forced to move the children to the home of trusted friends, who had a lot of experience with children with reactive attachment disorder. Rep. and Mrs. Harris are devastated about the outcome of that decision, but faced with no good option, they did the best that they knew how.”

Read more at the Arkansas Times

TIME Sex

Women With Disabilities Are Three Times More Likely to Face Abuse: Report

Violence against women with disabilities is often ignored in several countries

Women with disabilities are three times as likely to be raped, physically abused or sexually assaulted, according to Human Rights Watch.

A resource on gender-based violence designed for people with disabilities, released by HRW ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, states that women and girls with disabilities are increasingly susceptible to violence but are often ignored when it comes to prevention programs.

The organization documented several cases across Zambia, India, Uganda and Turkey, finding a host of problems related to discrimination, vulnerability, accessibility and awareness.

“Women and girls with disabilities are too often the victims of violence, yet get too little information on where to go for help,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, HRW’s disability-rights director.

TIME Addiction

Heroin-Related Deaths Have Quadrupled in America

New federal data reports bad news for America's heroin problem

Correction appended, March 5

Heroin-related deaths nearly tripled in the U.S. within just three years and quadrupled in 13, according to new federal data.

The new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows that from 2000 to 2013, drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin increased fourfold, from 0.7 deaths per 100,000 people to 2.7 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate was about four times higher among men than among women in 2013.

Heroin-related drug-poisoning deaths have increased in all age groups, races and ethnic groups, the data show. Every region in the U.S. also experienced an increase, and the Midwest experienced the biggest jump.

One reason for the spike is America’s growing painkiller problem. The NCHS released another report last month showing that significantly more people over age 20 are using opioids. The number of people who used a painkiller stronger than morphine increased from 17% to 37% from the early 2000s to about a decade later.

CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality.

People who are hooked on painkillers may make the switch to heroin since it’s cheaper and doesn’t need a prescription, according to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer of the Phoenix House, a national nonprofit drug and alcohol-rehabilitation organization. Both drugs come from the opium poppy and therefore offer a similar high. “We are seeing heroin deaths sky rocketing because we have an epidemic of people addicted to opioids. There are new markets like suburbs where heroin didn’t used to exist,” says Kolodny. (He was not involved in the research.)

MORE Why You Don’t Know About the Heroin Vaccine

Prior data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that painkillers are a growing problem. In 2014, the CDC reported that physicians wrote 259 million painkiller prescription in a single year — the equivalent of a bottle of pills per American — and almost 50 Americans die every day from a prescription-painkiller overdose. The agency recommends that states run prescription-drug prescribing databases to track overprescribing and consider policies that reduce risky prescribing practices.

As states and the White House struggle to tackle opioid addiction, some experts are skeptical about whether such efforts are enough to solve the problem. “We are dealing with the worst drug epidemic in our history,” says Kolodny. “There’s no evidence it’s plateauing.”

Read next: Ohio Steps Up Fight Against Heroin Deaths

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the timeline of the U.S. heroin-related death rate.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Teen Dating Violence Harms Both Genders, Government Report Shows

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Getty Images

New data on teen dating violence reveals problems among both sexes

Findings from a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study reveal that nearly 21% of female teens who date have experienced some form of violence at the hands of their partner in the last year—and almost half of male students report the same.

The survey asked about 9,900 high school students whether they had experienced some type of violence from someone they dated. The results, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, showed that about 7% of teen girls reported experiencing physical violence, 8% said they experienced sexual violence and 6% experienced both. Almost 21% said they were the victim of some type of dating-related violence. For boys, about 4% reported experiencing physical violence, 3% experienced sexual violence and 10% experienced any type. Though girls were more likely to experience violence, the numbers show dating assaults affect young boys as well.

The new CDC survey adds to its prior research into the prevalence of dating violence, but the latest version asked updated questions that include sexual violence and more accurately portray violent behaviors, the study authors say.

Most of the teens surveyed reported experiencing such violence more than one time. The findings also showed that those who experienced some form of dating violence also had a higher prevalence of other health risks like drinking alcohol, using drugs or thinking about suicide.

Future research should look at the frequency of violence in teen dating relationships and how that may harm teens’ health, the researchers conclude.

TIME Hong Kong

Abusive Employer Given Six Years in High-Profile Domestic Worker Case

Lo Wan-Tung Returns Home Amid Accusations Of The Abuse And Torture Of Two Indonesian Maids
Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images Police escort Law Wan-tung to her home for further investigation on Jan. 21, 2014, in Hong Kong

Judge Amanda Woodcock said “the defendant had no compassion"

A Hong Kong mother of two who criminally abused her Indonesian domestic helper, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday, concluding a landmark case that drew international attention to the plight of Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers.

Judge Amanda Woodcock said, “The defendant had no compassion for the people she considered beneath her. It is regrettable that such conduct, attitude and physical abuse is not rare.”

Law Wan-tung, 44, was also fined just under $2,000.

Earlier in February, Law was found guilty of 18 counts of abuse. Sentencing was extended because her lawyer filed for a psychological review, but no evidence of psychiatric disorder was found.

Tales of the “near daily abuse” suffered by Erwiana highlighted an international problem, with young women often leaving impoverished countries in Southeast Asia to seek out higher wages but finding themselves in vulnerable legal situations that allow agencies and employers to exercise “slavelike” employment practices.

In Erwiana’s case, she was hit so hard that her teeth fractured, had a vacuum-cleaner tube shoved down her mouth, and was starved, forcing her to escape and knock on a neighbor’s door at 2:30 a.m. to beg for help. She also never received a paycheck from Law.

The 24-year-old Erwiana was listed in the TIME 100 in 2014 for her eventual decision to speak up, despite threats made to her family by Law, and was present in court during sentencing.

Speaking afterward through an interpreter, she said, “I do hope this judgment will send a strong message to the Hong Kong government, and governments around the world, to treat migrant workers like human beings.” She added that she now planned to return to Indonesia to study.

Despite problems with illegal “placement fees” that subjugate helpers to debt bondage, a controversial law requiring workers to live with their employers (making them vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse) and multiple accounts of women working unlawful hours, Hong Kong has better legal protections than other countries where Southeast Asian foreign domestic workers are popular.

Nevertheless, in its State of the World’s Human Rights report released Thursday, Amnesty International said Hong Kong’s domestic workers were “heavily indebted” and castigated the Hong Kong government for failing “to properly monitor employment agencies.”

Judge Woodcock opined that abuses could also be curtailed “if domestic workers were not forced to live in employer’s houses.”

Widespread exploitation of domestic helpers in Asia has prompted Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to suggest that Indonesia should no longer send helpers abroad because “we should have some self-esteem and dignity.” However, the notion has been slammed by activists as unconstitutional.

TIME Hong Kong

Guilty Verdict Handed Down in Landmark Domestic-Worker-Abuse Case

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih
Kin Cheung—AP Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, center, accompanied by her supporters, walks out from a court in Hong Kong on Feb. 10, 2015

The plight of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih shocked the world

A 44-year-old Hong Kong woman and mother of two was found guilty Tuesday of criminally abusing her Indonesian domestic helper, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, whom she beat, refused to pay and even starved.

The case, tried in a Hong Kong court, has drawn global attention to plight of women from countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, who leave home to work as domestics in other countries but are often vulnerable to abuse at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

Judge Amanda Woodcock described Erwiana as a “prisoner” of employer Law Wan-tung, who sent her home after eight months, emaciated, scarred and barely able to walk, and who threatened to have Erwiana’s family killed if she ever reported the abuse.

The 24-year-old Erwiana was listed in the TIME 100 in 2014 for her decision to speak up. The court heard that during her employment Law punched her so hard that her teeth fractured, shoved a vacuum-cleaner tube down her mouth and denied her food until she was forced to knock on a neighbor’s door at 2:30 a.m. to beg for help. Erwiana also never received a paycheck from Law.

“To employers in Hong Kong, I hope they will start treating migrant domestic workers as workers and human beings and stop treating us as slaves,” Erwiana said in a written statement after the verdict. “Because as human beings, we all have equal rights.”

If given the highest possible sentence, Law could receive up to seven years in prison, according to Detective Superintendent David Cameron of the Hong Kong police.

“The message is if you live in a society that can afford domestic helpers, they are still protected by the law and even if there are cultural differences they are still treated equally,” Cameron said.

Sentencing will be on Feb. 27.

With reporting by Yenni Kwok / Hong Kong

TIME National Security

Guantanamo Bay Detainee Details ‘Sadistic’ Abuse

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees
Joe Raedle—Getty Images A Public Affairs Officer escorts media through the currently closed Camp X-Ray which was the first detention facility to hold 'enemy combatants' at the U.S. Naval Station on June 27, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Deprived of sleep, drugged, and forced to watch pornographic footage or videos of other prisoners being abused

A man detained in Guantanamo Bay for nearly 13 years has said he was subjected to “dirty and sadistic” abuse at the prison, days after a Senate report revealed the extent of the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation tactics.

In a first-person account for the human rights organization Reprieve and published on CNN, Samir Naji from Yemen says he was deprived of sleep, drugged, and forced to watch pornographic footage or videos of other prisoners being abused.

Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, was cleared for release in 2009 but remains in detention along with 135 other inmates.

“The dirty and sadistic methods I endured — which were then taken directly to Abu Ghraib — achieved nothing, except to shame that American flag hanging in the prison corridor,” he says in the account. “America cannot keep hiding from its past, and its present, like this. Our stories, and our continued detention, cannot be made to disappear.”

Read more at CNN

TIME China

China Has Finally Drafted a Domestic-Violence Law

Kim Lee
Alexander F. Yuan—AP Kim Lee leaves court after a session for her divorce trial in Beijing on March 22, 2012

But changing attitudes will remain an uphill task

When people speak up about family violence in China, they typically hear one thing: That’s a private matter. Though beating another person is technically illegal, the abuse of your spouse or child is seen as a household, rather than societal, concern; there is no nationwide law prohibiting domestic violence. Solve this yourself, survivors are told, quietly.

On Tuesday, China’s ruling Communist Party finally broke its silence on the matter. After a decades-long push by women’s-rights activists and survivors of abuse, a top government body published a draft for China’s first-ever national family violence law. Though it is just a draft, and far from comprehensive, advocates called it a necessary and important first step. “This was long over due,” says Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. “It is just a draft, and it is not sufficient, but it is important and encouraging that they have actually written something down.”

What authorities outlined, and posted online, is an imperfect but ambitious plan to change the way the state handles abuse. Social organizations and individuals would have the right to report violence and police obliged to investigate claims. Those convicted would face punishment — anything from a written reprimand to up to seven years’ imprisonment should the abuse lead to serious injury or death.

That may sound like a forgone conclusion — of course the police must investigatebut, in practice, it is not. Accounts by survivors suggest that family pressure, shame, and police indifference mean that reporting abuse is rare, and legal recourse almost unheard of. In a searing essay for the New York Times, Kim Lee, an American who was beaten by her Chinese husband, recalls sitting at a police station in 2011, visibly bruised, trying to convince the duty officer to help her. They told her to calm down and go home. “As far as the police were concerned,” she writes, “no crime had occurred.”

Lee went home and posted pictures of her bruised face online. Within hours, the pictures were forwarded by some 20,000 people, she writes, and her case became national news. People took to China’s popular social-media sites to share their own stories and vent frustration. That a relatively privileged woman — a foreigner with a famous husband — could not get help spoke volumes. Like many survivors, Lee worried she would lose custody of her children, and the right to family assets, should they divorce. (In a landmark 2013 case, she was granted a divorce on grounds of domestic violence.)

This week’s draft measures could, potentially, help in similar cases. The All-China Women’s Federation estimates that 1 in 4 Chinese women has experienced domestic abuse. (Estimates from other countries are even higher.) If China pushes ahead with the legislation, makes it comprehensive, and strengthens enforcement, the police and courts would be better equipped to take action. The draft suggests that people could seek physical protection from attackers — a restraining order, for instance — a detail that Feng Yuan, founder of Equality, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to the protection of women’s rights, called “very encouraging.”

But there are gaps. The draft mentions children, which is a good step, but does not include provisions or protections for nonmarried couples (including same-sex couples, who are not legally allowed to marry in China). And how will police officers and courts be trained to interpret and enforce the law? “There are a lot of good laws on the books in terms of rights protection in China,” says Hong Fincher, “yet those laws are not enforced.” She points to countries like India and Bangladesh. Both have decent anti-domestic-violence laws, but have made limited progress curbing abuse.

For the law to mean something, people’s attitudes must change too. Codifying a government response to family violence can help achieve that. “Domestic abuse is not a personal affair,” says Hou Zhiming, director of the Maple Women’s Psychological Counselling Centre in Beijing. “Every person has the right to oppose it, the victims do not need to keep silent.”

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME health

New Global Study Calls Violence Against Women ‘Epidemic’

A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, Oct. 16, 2014.
Siegfried Modola—Reuters A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, Oct. 16, 2014.

Governments need to step up their game to protect women, says extensive new research

When it comes to stopping violence against women, actions speak louder than words. So even though there’s increased worldwide awareness about violence against women, the problem won’t be solved unless countries make significant policy and financial changes to support victims, according to a five-part series of studies in The Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals.

The series, entitled “Violence Against Women and Girls,” calls the violence a “global public health and clinical problem of epidemic proportions,” and the statistics are bleak. 100-140 million women have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide, and 3 million African girls per year are at risk. 7% of women will be sexually assaulted by someone besides their partner in their lifetimes. Almost 70 million girls worldwide have been married before they turned 18. According to WHO estimates, 30% of women worldwide have experienced partner violence. The researchers said that these problems could only be solved with political action and increased funding, since the violence has continued “despite increased global attention,” implying awareness is not enough.

“No magic wand will eliminate violence against women and girls,” series co-lead Charlotte Watts, founding Director of the Gender Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement. “But evidence tells us that changes in attitudes and behavior are possible, and can be achieved within less than a generation.”

One of the major problems highlighted in the Lancet series is that much of the current research on violence against women has been conducted in high-income countries, and it’s mostly been focused on response instead of prevention. The study found that the key driver of violence in most middle-and-low income countries is gender inequality, and that it would be near impossible to prevent abuse without addressing the underlying political, economic, and educational marginalization of women.

The study also found that health workers are often uniquely positioned to help victims, since they’re often the first to know about the abuse.

“Health-care providers are often the first point of contact for women and girls experiencing violence,” says another series co-lead, Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, a physician at the WHO, in a statement. “The health community is missing important opportunities to integrate violence programming meaningfully into public health initiatives on HIV/AIDS, adolescent health, maternal health, and mental health.”

The series makes five concrete recommendations to curb the violence against women. The authors urge nations to allocate resources to prioritize protecting victims, change structures and policies that discriminate against women, promote support for survivors, strengthen health and education sectors to prevent and respond to violence, and invest in more research into ways to address the problem. In other words: money, education, and political action are key to protecting the world’s most vulnerable women. Hashtag activism, celebrity songs, and stern PSAs are helpful, but this problem is too complicated to be solved by awareness alone.

“We now have some promising findings to show what works to prevent violence,” said Dr. Cathy Zimmerman from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “We urgently need to turn this evidence into genuine action so that women and girls can live violence-free lives.”

The study comes just in time for the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on Nov. 25.

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