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A Greater Community – The National Sexual Assault Conference from One Advocate’s Perspective

All over the United States, there are people hard at work to end sexual assault and rape. We work full-time or part-time. Sometimes we volunteer. We go to hospitals to be with survivors at midnight after an assault. We are there beside victims as they talk to the police. We are the counselors and group leaders who support trauma survivors as they recall grueling memories. We are the educators who work with teens and the schools to stop rape and harassment on campus. We advocate to local, state, and federal government officials to make our society more just. We visit jails and prisons when someone is victimized while incarcerated. We hear heartbreak. We see tears, courage, and strength.

We listen. We believe. We are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

All over the United States, there are people working to end sexual violence. And once a year the people who support sexual assault victims get the chance to come together in one place. We learn and exchange wisdom and ideas; we support each other. We challenge one another to reach further, create change sooner, and spread sexual assault awareness wider.

NSAC GroupThis once-a-year event is at the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC).

This year, it was hosted by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) in Los Angeles, California. I and a couple coworkers from Tri-Valley Haven’s Rape Crisis Center were fortunate enough to be able to attend the event. The theme was “Inspired by Progress, United by Purpose.”

We were definitely both.

I am sure that anyone who attended the conference would have many stories to tell about what they learned. I am only one person, so I will just talk about what I experienced. And what I experienced was… WOW!

I met the most amazing people at the conference…and amazing barely covers it. Participants included survivors who have become teachers and healers in the NSAC Plenarymovement; people who have been fighting the anti-sexual violence fight for their entire professional lives, and people who have just begun; people who work with survivors individually and people who carry on the anti-rape movement to the White House itself. There were young people, lighting the sky on fire with their passion and their vision, and older people who have contributed to decades of change and know there are still mountains to overcome.

The most wonderful part, for me, of going to the conference was that it embodies the same affirmation that means so much to survivors of violence themselves: You are not alone. For those of us working in the Rape Crisis Movement across the country, our world can seem very small sometimes. We work in cities or suburbs or rural communities. We know everybody in the field near us and rely on them for connection and support. To step into a greater fellowship of human beings all working together to make the world a better, safer, and more just place is just plain moving; humbling.

We had a number of topics this year: building safer college and campus communities, fighting back against rape culture, educating our young men and women to bring change now that will echo for years to come.

Another spotlight was put on ending sexual violence in the military. A recent study shows that sexual violence in the military is far higher than previously reported (new data released by the U.S. Defense Department). Collaborations between rape crisis experts and the military to address sexual violence are so very important. Our soldiers in active service and our veterans both deserve better.

NSAC Forge BoothOther topics included serving survivors of sexual assault in detention, working with male survivors and LGBTQ survivors, preventing child sexual abuse, and much more.

At the conference, I concentrated on the Prison Rape Elimination Act “PREA track”. This training dealt with stopping rape and sexual assault in detention – for example, jail or prison, juvenile detention or an immigration facility.

I have spent the past two years working as a Tri-Valley Haven Sexual Assault Advocate and Crisis Counselor, responding to our local county jail when an inmate calls and requests support after an assault. I am glad to say that the jail staff has been universally welcoming to me, good partners with the Haven, and committed to making their jail safer. Even so, responding to the jail carries with it an emotional weight. I felt that I had already heard some arduous stories. With that being said, the stories I heard from survivors at NSAC stayed with me at night.

Sometimes, society seems to think that anything that happens to a person who is behind the walls of a jail or prison is deserved – they broke the law; they’re getting what is coming to them. Here is a truth: Rape is never part of the sentence. Allowing rape to happen to the people we put in detention, turning a blind eye to it, condoning it in society through jokes…does not make our country safer, quite the opposite. It adds trauma on top of trauma, and ultimately makes us all lesser.

PREA SLIDE 2Roxane Gay summarizes what many people feel about victims of sexual assault in her piece, Bad Victims. “People who have been sexually assaulted know there are good victims and bad victims. Good victims, of course, do not exist but they are an elaborate ideal. They are assaulted in a dark alley by an unknown criminal who has a knife or a gun. They are modestly dressed. They report their assault immediately to law enforcement and submit, willingly, to a rape exam. They answer all questions about their assault lucidly and completely as many times as is necessary. They are adequately prepared for trial. They don’t pester the prosecutor as he or she prepares for trial. When they testify, they are modestly dressed. They are the girl next door. They deserve justice because they are so righteous in their victimhood.”

“Good victims” are never prostitutes. They are never men. They are never gay or transgender. They are never drug addicts. They are never mentally ill. Those are allNSAC PREA slide “bad victims.” The worst victim of them all? Someone who is already in detention.

But when it comes right down to it, we are all human beings with flaws and mistakes and dark sides. None of us is perfect. None of us is a “perfect victim.” And nobody, NOBODY, deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. Not even someone in prison.

It was good to meet other people who believe that.

It was inspiring to be at the conference with many people who are passionate about this intersection between the world of detention and the world of advocacy. It was also inspiring to see how many of us were at different levels of this journey, from the pioneers, to those who have gotten their toes wet for a few years but are still just beginning, to the people who wish to help and to learn how to do so… and whose journey is about to unfold.

The takeaway for me was that there is no such thing as a perfect survivor of rape. All human beings deserve to live in a world where there is zero tolerance for sexual assault – out on the street, or in a jail or a prison or in an I.C.E. (immigration holding facility). What we do as advocates is to connect with the strength and humanity of every survivor. We remind them of their own assets. We validate that they did not deserve what has been done to them. This is a fact, regardless if we spoke to a victim at our office, in our shelter, at a hospital… or from behind bars.

CALCASA’s National Sexual Assault Conference reminded me that there is a greater community of people working to end sexual assault; my work going into the jail to support survivors reminds me that there is an even greater community than that…the community of humanity itself.

Together, we build a world without violence.

So, I am trying to imagine a world where college women love to report false rapes because…

…they are getting really cool privileges out of doing so.  This is what George Will, columnist for the Washington Post, claims is going on in his recent spew of… um… opinion. Bpu-GTiIgAA_s6_

“…when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”

He helpfully puts quotation remarks around sexual assault to make it clear that, it’s all, you know… lies.

“Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. ‘sexual assault.’ … Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of “sexual assault” victims. It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.

Let’s break this little quote down into some component parts, just for fun.  (Warning… I use bits of colorful language.  Because this is a blog based out of my work, I will be kind enough to insert an asterisk in key locations of the word.)

A.  Rape, a.k.a “sexual assault.”  So a rape is otherwise known as a sexual assault.  Okay.  Except actually, according to him, rape is otherwise known as sexual assault with a knowing, eyebrow-waggling, “we all know this is just bullsh*t” set of quotation marks around it.  Sort of like talking about lynching, a.k.a. a hate crime.  Except it’s in George Will-ese: Lynching: a.k.a. a “hate crime.”  Because really, that’s overstating the matter, right?

(False reports of rape are rare, according to the FBI, occurring only 8% of the time.)

B.  Ambiguities of the hookup culture:  In other words, kids these days.  All they do is scr*w, scr*w, scr*w all day long.  And presumably all night.  Those slutty women.  Those randy, well-meaning fellas.  There are no sexual assaults in colleges, just irresponsible kids.  Except, of course, when guys are irresponsible, it’s just guys being guys and when women are, they are sluts and dressed too provocatively and drank the wrong thing and gave him blue balls and he Just. Couldn’t. Stop.  Right?  So it’s not rape.  He was just defending himself from an epic case of sexual frustration caused by that crazy girl.

(We are all conscious of and able to control our own actions. Perpetrators have the ability to decide not to violate another person. They just choose to do it anyways, and use this as a rationale for their behavior.)

C.  “Cocktail of hormones, alcohol…”  Because young men can’t help themselves, and really the whole problem is just alcohol.  Alcohol makes people do crazy things.  Why, just the other day, I was drunk on my couch and afraid I might get up and stagger into the kitchen and stick a fork willfully into my own eye. That happens to all of us, that terrible fork/eyeball incident, right?  Wait, it doesn’t?  Because it would never occur to me in a million years while sober to deliberately stick a fork in my eye?  Just like it would never in a million years sober occur to someone to stick their sexual apparatus into someone else who was unwilling?  It was just the alcohol?  Uh…hmmm.  Something’s off here.

(Although alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur, this phenomenon does not prove that alcohol use causes sexual assault. Thus, in some cases, the desire to commit a sexual assault may actually cause alcohol consumption (e.g., when a man drinks alcohol before committing a sexual assault in order to justify his behavior). Moreover, certain factors may lead to both alcohol consumption and sexual assault. For example, some fraternities encourage both heavy drinking and sexual exploitation of women…) – (Study done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.)

D.  “especially privileged young adults”:  Spoiled kids will say anything for attention.  Rapes don’t really happen.  It’s just young women who want lots of attention.  Tons of attention.

(According to studies, 42% of rape survivors told no one about the rape.  So much for wanting attention and “privilege”…)

Anyway, I am digressing.  Sorry.  I was getting carried away with other aspects of this idiocy.  Let’s get back to the idea that college women are falsely claiming they’ve been raped to gain special privileges.  My mind spins with possibilities.

  • Special discounts at the campus bookstore – just present a copy of your police report or evidence of a rape kit being done on you!
  • Sit at the front of the class in specially designated “I’ve been raped!” seats, where you can get the best note-taking vantage in the university!
  • Get special attention by all those dreamy, hot campus police officers who will sit you down in a room and demand you recount your sex life to them in detail!

Just what are these privileges he thinks women who report rape are getting?  And let alone any MEN who report, god forbid?  Here’s a look at some of the more real-life “privileges” of being raped (taken in part from the National Women’s Study on the Mental Health Impact of Rape):

  • Of those rapes reported to the police (which is 1/3 or less to begin with), only 16% result in prison sentences. Therefore, approximately 5% of the time, a man who rapes ends up in prison, 95% of the time he does not.
  •  30% of rape survivors contemplate suicide after the rape and rape survivors are 13 times more likely than people who have not experienced rape to attempt suicide.
  • Almost one-third (31%) of all rape victims developed PTSD sometime during their lifetime; and more than one in ten rape victims (11%) still has PTSD today.
  • 30% of rape victims had experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetimes, and 21% of all rape victims were experiencing a major depressive episode at the time of assessment: By contrast, only 10% of women never victimized by violent crime had ever had a major depressive episode; and only 6% had a major depressive episode when assessed.
  • Seventy-one percent of all victims and 66% of victims within past five years are concerned about relatives finding out about the rape.

In conclusion, the study summarizes:  “The stigma of rape persists. Victims are greatly concerned about others discovering they were raped. Service providers and criminal justice officials should endeavor to maintain the confidentiality and respect the privacy needs of victims.”

Stigma.

Of.

Rape.

Does this really sound like something college women would lie about in order to get the privileges listed above?

Really?

Really?

How much of this idiocy has to be spouted before everybody throws their hands up in the air and says, “Okay, enough.  Just… enough.  Go sit in a corner and think a bit about what you’re saying.  Try not to be a jerk.”

For more articulate and succinct responses to this, check out the hashtag:

#SurvivorPrivilege

As one poster succinctly put it:  “my is PTSD, flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, and shame…. almost 6 years later”

Yeah.  That kind of privilege.

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* While I am an employee of Tri-Valley Haven, the views in this blog and the sarcasm with which they are presented are my own.  🙂

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month – Here’s what the Tri-Valley Haven is doing to Help!

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)

We are mid-way through the month of April already!  It’s amazing how time flies! Halfway through April also means halfway through Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  While in some ways, it might seem nice to be halfway through a month of an emotionally difficult topic, SAAM is such a valuable means of raising awareness about sexual assault – how often it happens, who it happens to, the effects it can have on survivors and the family and friends of those survivors, and what we can do to help.  You know someone who has been affected by sexual assault – as sadly common as it is, the odds make that a guarantee.  That person could be someone you only know in passing, or a coworker, a neighbor, a friend, a best friend, a relative, a parent, a child… or you.  Whoever that person is, he or she deserves support, someone to listen to their story, someone to remind them that sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, and access to resources for healing.  Read on for more information about SAAM.

Tri-Valley Haven’s SAAM Activities Still to Come

April 23rd – Denim Day. 

Join us and Rape Crisis Centers Nationwide.  Wear denim on April 23rd and tell people why!  For great ideas on how to spread the practice and teachings of Denim Day, go to the Denim Day Official Resources Page!  You can also connect with the #denimday online movement to end sexual violence.

April 24
Tri-Valley Haven and Los Positas Health Center Team Up for SAAM 

Tri-Valley Haven, in collaboration with the Las Positas Health & Wellness Center, will be hosting a Las Positas SAAM event at the college on Thursday, April 24th from 11 AM to 1 PM. There will be a Tri-Valley Haven table full of resources and information outside in the Quad near the student cafeteria.  Not only that, we will have a traveling display of our Clothesline Project with us as well!

April 25th – Candlelight March in Livermore
 

 Every year in April, supporters, volunteers and staff of Tri-Valley Haven converge on downtown Livermore to honor survivors  , celebrate our newest volunteer advocates as they graduate from our three-month, intensive training, give out information on services and resources, take strength from our united presence, and raise awareness of our mission to build a world without violence.  Previous guest speakers at Tri-Valley Haven marches have been Senator Ellen Corbett, Senate Majority Leader and great supporter of women’s issues, and other local luminaries. 

This year’s march will start at 7:00 PM on Friday, April 25th.  Meet us at Lizzy Fountain Park in downtown Livermore, at the corner of First Street and North Livermore Avenue.  This is a family-friendly event and everyone is welcome!  Come see the display of t-shirts from the Clothesline Project, get your candles, and join us in our short march along First Street.  The weather is always beautiful and we would love to have you join us. 

April 25th – The Clothesline Project


The Clothesline Project (CLP) is a program started on Cape Cod, MA, in 1990 to address the issue of  violence against women. It is a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt. They then hang the shirt on a clothesline to be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against women. With the support of many, it has since spread world-wide.

Last year, the Clothesline Project took off at Tri-Valley Haven.  Haven supporters, staff and volunteers all made shirts in support.  Most importantly, however, residents at our shelter and members of our support groups created t-shirts detailing their experiences and their hopes for the future.  These powerful works of art were displayed at our Candlelight March, at Las Positas College, and in front of the Tri-Valley Haven Community Building during the month.

This year, we invite you to make shirts and bring them to the Candlelight March to add to our display (see below).  New shirts from the shelters and other supporters and survivors will join the traveling exhibit at Las Positas College on April 24th and in downtown Livermore on April 25th.  All the rest of the month, the shirts will be on display every day outside our Community Building on Pacific Avenue.  We urge you to participate by making a shirt, or coming to see and be moved by the shirts made by others.

Tri-Valley Haven’s Newest Advocacy Efforts – Santa Rita Jail and the Prison Rape Elimination Act

Prisoner rape is a national human rights crisis, but it’s a crisis we can end. Every year, at least 216,600 people – more than a quarter of the population of San Francisco – are sexually abused in U.S. detention facilities. That’s the number of people who are abused, not the number of incidents; each victim is assaulted on average three to five times a year
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Sexual abuse is never an appropriate punishment and never part of the sentence, no matter what the crime. This type of abuse is also not inevitable. Over the last decade, a growing number of people – including many corrections officials – have begun to agree with what advocates have been saying all along: We

can stop prisoner rape.Now, thanks to a landmark law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), we have the tools to do just that.  Within the past six months, Tri-Valley Haven has begun to collaborate with the staff of Santa Rita Jail to provide sexual assault advocacy services for incarcerated survivors of sexual assault.  This collaboration part of the PREA standards passed last year which have given the law (which has been around since 2003), some real practical ability to address the problem of sexual abuse of persons in the custody of U.S. correctional agencies.

  Among its unprecedented provisions, the standards mandate strong protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates; a ban on routine pat-down searches of female adult inmates by male staff; strict limitations on the housing of youth in adult facilities; and a requirement that all facilities undergo independent audits every three years.The standards also require that facilities offer survivors access to rape crisis counselors – trained experts who provide crisis intervention and emotional support in the aftermath of an assault. In other words, in the case of Santa Rita jail… Tri-Valley Haven advocates.

Within the six months since Tri-Valley Haven has begun responding to reports at Santa Rita, we have been able to provide outreach, crisis intervention, and resources for multiple inmates. We are glad to have the opportunity to reach these individuals, who are – by the nature of the system – vulnerable to assault, and who also – by the nature of the system – may not have many opportunities to get support after an attack.

How Big of a Problem is Sexual Assault Against Inmates?
  • 1 in 10 former State inmates reports having been sexually assaulted while incarcerated.
  • About half of these assaults are perpetrated by other inmates, the other half by staff.
  • Perpetrators tend to target people living with a disability or illness, those with a previous history of trauma or sexual assault, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or gender non-conforming inmates.
  • Prisoner rape, either by other inmates or by staff, is regarded as torture under international law.  
How You Can Help
Tri-Valley Haven receives no additional funding for this outreach into the detention system to help survivors of sexual assault behind bars.  Donations by our supporters are always gratefully accepted.

Why People Don’t Report Rape

This is mostly just a reblog of a blog post by Sexologist on Tumblr.  The blog itself was posted to my personal Facebook wall by a friend who knows I work at a Rape Crisis Center and exploding-headit languished a few days without my seeing it, because… you know… Facebook.  (The way Facebook decides whether or not to notify about new posts is a subject for another blog and not one related to the subject matter of this one.)  Anyway, when I did read it, I found to my dismay that my brains had exploded all over the walls of my office.  It was quite a mess.  I am still cleaning up.

Because… HOLY MOLY did darned near EVERYBODY do EVERYTHING wrong.  Thankfully, toward the end, some Good Stuff ™ happened, mostly due to the Rape Crisis Advocate who eventually came out to the scene… but nearly every other component to this endurance-race of a report was horrible.  This is a great reminder of why we, who work at Rape Crisis Centers, need to be on top of our game not just most of the time, but ALL the time.

As a sanity check for myself and my agency, I’d like to say up front that our agency does quarterly police briefings with all three local police departments in order to increase police awareness of what we do and the role of sexual assault advocates.  We also have a system where at any time, day or night, not only do we have a volunteer (highly trained in our 65-hour training) advocate on call, but we have a staff back-up to step in if the advocate for some reason can’t respond to a call, and above that person is the head of our Rape Crisis Center, who could also go out on a call in a pinch.  (Although in all the 12 years I have been here, I don’t know of a time we’ve had to fall back to that response.)

So I would fervently LIKE to think that NOBODY who reported to our local PDs or to our agency would EVER have an experience like this.  But the truth is… systems can break down.  People can become tired, or cynical, or have an off-day.  But the fact of the matter is, we can’t afford that.  Not ever.  Because one off-day for us in this support web can equal a complete emotional disaster for someone who is already struggling with one of the hardest challenges of their lives.

Without further ado… here is the original blog.

I accompanied someone to the police station to report a sexual assault, and this is what happened

SART (And The Importance of Assertiveness)

imagesThis awesome post is by one of our recent graduates from our 65-hour advocate training. She is a great writer and will be a tremendous advocate to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I loved reading her reflections on one of the trainings (detailed here) and wanted to share with you all! 🙂

Thoughts of a Thinker

Two blog posts in 24 hours- an impressive feat, I know. If you read my first post today then you already know I went to Highland Hospital this evening as part of my training with the Tri-Valley Haven (TVH). This training session was by far the most interesting and informative of all the training classes we have had and I wanted to share some of what I learned in hopes of spreading some sort of awareness and also just to keep you guys informed. I know a lot of you are really interested in my training and what I would be doing as a volunteer and I have not been keeping you guys as informed as I had originally planned. So hopefully this post catches you up a bit.

Tonight we met with a physician’s assistant who gave a presentation detailing the entire sexual assault medical examination: the process, general…

View original post 1,211 more words

In Memory of… (Bullying, Rape, Slut-Shaming, and Rape Culture)

541166_467460256628136_1991560879_nWhen I was twelve years old, I was bullied.  A lot.  One night, my mom had left to go to a party and I was in the house alone.  I spent the evening in my room, probably reading a book or drawing.  When my mom got in, she came down the hall almost angry and demanded of me what the hell all the stuff on the garage door was.

What stuff on the garage door?, I asked.

She led me outside.

In the orange street light glow, the garage door had been completely defaced – Christmas tree flock was sprayed all over it, spelling out “Bitch” and “Cunt” and “Skank” among other things.  In a surreal touch, the person or persons who had done this had also cut out pieces of pink and blue construction paper in little circles and taped them (carefully, with a loop of tape on the back) to the surface of the door as well.  The front yard tree had been thoroughly draped in toilet paper.

I started to shake.

Not only had I just been humiliated completely, and terrorized—because I knew that the people who had done this were likely the ones who threatened every day to beat me up, who followed me down the street as I walked home from school, shouting insults and theories on my sex-life and who I was attracted to and what they would do to me if I made the mistake of standing up for myself or making eye-contact—but because this had all happened and I hadn’t even known it.  I had been in the house the whole time, awake, and this person or persons had come and scrawled these hateful, terrifying things all over the front of my house and I hadn’t even been aware.

My mom demanded to know who had done this—I just shook my head.  I didn’t know.  Even if I had, I could not have told her.  To speak of the bullying would be to admit how afraid I was, how unpopular, how I lived every day in fear and in the belief that somehow it was all my fault, that I was wrong and bad and stupid and ugly and all the things these fellow students told me every single day of my school life.  I couldn’t tell my mom because I was already getting bad grades.  I was already disappointing her.  I was already wrong and bad.  This would just prove it, make it worse.  And now she was angry because I hadn’t even been alert enough to realize someone was vandalizing the house.  In retrospect, she was probably afraid, too.

When I was twelve years old, I went to therapy—not for this incident, or the bullying per se, but because of an isolated (thank goodness) molestation incident.  I found out years later from my mom that the therapist once described me as having the lowest self-esteem of any child she had worked with.

I never tried to kill myself, although the thought crossed my mind.  Thankfully, I was able to come through that terrible time, make it to high school, eventually build up a social circle, adapt to what was socially expected of me, and eventually to heal.

Some people are not so lucky.

And some people suffer far FAR worse.

I am thinking of someone in particular right now.  She has been in the news a lot.  And she is dead.  She is dead because the humiliation and the fear were too great.  She took her own life.

Her name was Audrie Pott.  She lived in California’s Bay Area, not too far from where I grew up.  She was just 15 years old, and what happened to her is infinitely worse than a little garage door domestic terrorism.  You see, she was at a party where there was a lot of drinking.  She also drank.  Lots of girls do—and guys.  But in her case, three teen men decided that her being passed-out drunk was an invitation to rape her.  And they did.

And then… they wrote on her unconscious body, took photos, and shared the photos with others at the school.

Let me say this again: they took a girl who was incapacitated with drink, raped her repeatedly and WROTE ON HER BODY, then shared the photos.

The report says the attackers pulled off her shorts and partially removed her bra, exposing her breasts, the newspaper reported. Markings were found on her chest, legs, back and near her genitalia.

“They wrote ‘Blank Was Here,’ on her leg,” said family attorney Robert Allard, not using the actual name because the suspect is a juvenile. “They marked her.”

“The whole school knows… my life is ruined,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Eight days later, Audrie hanged herself.  Her suicide is not unique.  Earlier this month, Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17 year-old Canadian girl, also endured continuous bullying from classmates after being raped at a party.  She hanged herself as well and died several days later after being removed from life support.  And in Steubenville, Ohio, two teen football players were convicted of raping a nearly passed-out 16-year-old girl at a party. A teammate testified that he videotaped one of the suspects penetrating the girl with his finger.

In the wake of these terrible, unconscionable assaults – all at parties, all with teens – I hear many people over and over say, “How could those boys have done something like that?  They must be sick!”  “Monsters!  Sociopaths!”

Sadly, I do not think that’s the case.  I think the reality is even worse—that the culture we live in places so little value on empathy, so little value on women’s bodies and lives, so little value on treating others with respect and kindness, that these horrific, unforgivable acts of violence and humiliation are “simply” progressions of “everyday bullying.”  And, in fact, the family of Audrie claims that a year before the rape, they had spoken to the school, trying to get the school to take action because Audrie was being bullied.  No action was taken.  The school denies the meeting even took place.

How far can bullying go?  What are the intersections between bullying, sexual harassment, and a rape committed on an unconscious girl?

When I was a tween, my classmates came in the night, when I was unaware, to my home.  They terrorized and humiliated me, marked me publically as a subject of scorn by defacing my garage door for everyone to see.  The bullying was sexual in nature, defining me in those terms entirely.  In the vast scheme of things, and certainly in comparison with these terrible cases I am talking about now, that act is of miniscule impact.  And yet, it is part of a continuum of disregard for the emotions and well-being of others that leads, in its extreme, to raping another teen, writing on her body to mark her publicly as an object of scorn, and then passing photos of this around to friends.

I did not commit suicide over what happened to me.  But I thought about it.  And I endured considerably less than Audrie Pott, or Rehtaeh Parsons, or the many teenaged girls who have been raped at parties, by their classmates, where they should have been safe and then were criticized and made fun of by classmates who chose to see them as sluts rather than their attackers as criminals.

When we attempt to brand the rapists in these stories as sociopaths or monsters, I believe we miss an even more frightening and likely possibility—that these are “normal” teens, caught up in a culture and society that does not teach them to value the lives, emotions, or worth of other people.  A culture that ultimately leads them to believe there’s not much difference between writing humiliating phrases on a bathroom wall and writing them on the body of the girl they just raped.  A culture that asks the victim of rape, “Why did you go to that party?  Why were you drinking?  Didn’t you know better” instead of asking the rapist, “Why did you think that assaulting an unconscious girl, writing on her body, and passing those photos around was an ok thing to do?”

As of today, the three boys accused of raping Audrie have been returned to their homes and families, wearing ankle bracelets to monitor their movements.  They are out and about in the world.  Audrie is still dead.  They hadn’t even been expelled from their school for the rape.  The school claims it had no authority to do so—all it could do was kick them off the football team.  For the three teens accused of raping, writing on and passing photos around of an unconscious girl, their life has changed: they don’t get to play football anymore.  For the teen who was raped, her life has ended.

Rape Culture is defined as a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.”

Audrie, Rehtaeh, and other girls who are raped are not only victims of the individuals who rape them, but also victims of Rape Culture – a culture that spends more time shaming the victims of the crime than it does bringing consequences to the ones committing it.  A culture, where instead of receiving help and support from their peers, they are instead slut-shamed, bullied, made fun of, and hounded literally to their deaths.

At Tri-Valley Haven, our educational department focuses on attempting to change the culture inside schools.  We do presentations at high schools and junior high schools, we form clubs such as My Strength for boys and Be Strong for girls, attempting to engage the students themselves in social change, in challenging the beliefs and stereotypes that support and condone bullying and rape.

Change cannot happen too soon.

For Audrie and Rehtaeh and many others, it is already too late.

A Special Thank You for VAWA (Spreading the Love from YouTube to You!)

The “Herstory” of the Anti-Rape Movement

Last week, I talked a little bit about early women’s rights, Sojourner Truth, and some of the beginning threads that led to the tapestry of the anti-rape movement.  This week, I wanted to cross-post an excellent and short overview article on the history (or herstory, if you will!) of the Rape Crisis Movement.  The article is written by Gillian Greensite, Director of Rape Prevention Education at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  While I toyed with totally trying to write it all up in my own voice, I realized that really the best thing to do would be to post it in her words, with citation, rather than try to reinvent a perfectly good wheel.

Next week, I hope to talk a bit about the founding of my own “mother” organization, the Tri-Valley Haven, and some of the events and people that shaped it. Women making history!  It can be on scales both large and small!

The article follows below:

The earliest efforts to systematically confront and organize against rape began in the 1870s when African-American women, most notably Ida B. Wells, took leadership roles in organizing anti-lynching

The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes.

The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes.

campaigns. The courage of these women in the face of hatred and violence is profoundly inspiring. Their efforts led to the formation of the Black Women’s Club movement in the late 1890s and laid the groundwork for the later establishment of a number of national organizations, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Although women continued individual acts of resistance throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the next wave of anti-rape activities began in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the heels of the civil rights and student movements.

The involvement of other women of color accelerated in the mid-1970s. Organizing efforts brought national attention to the imprisonment for murder of a number of women of color who defended themselves against the men who raped and assaulted them. The plight of Inez Garcia in 1974, Joanne Little in 1975, Yvonne Wanrow in 1976, and Dessie Woods in 1976, all victims of rape or assault who fought back, killed their assailants, and were imprisoned, brought the issue of rape into political organizations that had not historically focused on rape. Dessie Woods was eventually freed in 1981, after a long and difficult organizing effort.

The earliest rape crisis centers were established around 1972 in major cities and politically active towns such as Berkeley, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. As more and more women began sharing their experiences of rape in consciousness-raising groups, breaking the silence that had kept women from avenues of support as well as from seeing the broader political nature of rape, a grassroots movement began to take shape. The establishment of rape crisis centers by rape survivors brought large numbers of middle-class white women into political activism. Although women of color were still involved, their visibility and efforts were made largely invisible in the absence of critical attention to racism within the movement and by white women’s taking the center stage. Gradually the rape crisis movement became to be and to be seen as a white women’s movement.

During the latter half of the 1970s, due to increasing frustration regarding the exclusion of women of color, a number of radical women of color and white women within the movement began arguing for and organizing for an anti-racist perspective and practice. Tensions increased and the dialogue was frequently bitter, but the groundwork was laid for confronting racism within the movement. These efforts are ongoing and need constant attention. The number of women of color in the movement grew visibly between 1976 and 1980. Women of color are now major figures and leaders within the movement, but the dominance of white women within the power structures of most rape crisis centers is still a reality.

The character of the early rape crisis centers was significantly different from that of their counterparts today. The early centers tended to be grassroots collectives of women, predominantly survivors of rape, which may or may not have had an actual building or center, with no outside funding, making decisions by consensus with no hierarchy or board of directors. Many saw their anti-rape work as political work, organizing for broader social change. They increasingly made connections between the issues of sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia. Many articulated a radical political perspective, which often unwittingly excluded all but younger white women who were neither mothers nor fulltime workers.

take-back-the-night-logoThe tactics used to address rape were often creative. Confrontations, in which a woman supported by her friends would confront and hold a man accountable in a public setting, were a feature of the more radical collectives. Description lists of men who raped were published, and there was general suspicion toward the police—which was well-deserved in many cases. Self-defense classes began to be offered and “Take Back the Night” marches were organized.The first march was organized in San Francisco in 1978, bringing together 5,000 women from thirty states. A huge march followed in 1979 in New York. This heralded the beginning of an event that has spread across the country. Today, “Take Back the Night” marches are organized in many communities and at most major universities in the United States as well as in other countries.

The 1980s saw the beginnings of anti-rape education spreading into universities and an increase in feminist academic research around the issue of rape. Myths about rape were seriously critiqued and the facts supported by a growing body of research. A clearer picture of the extent and seriousness of rape began to emerge. Heated debates centered on a need for sensitivity in language and awareness of the politics of language, as illustrated by the successful effort to replace the word victim with survivor. The hard work of so many dedicated feminists, most of them survivors, began to bear fruit. An understanding of the reality of acquaintance rape grew. The extent and seriousness of child sexual abuse began to be uncovered. New laws were passed that attempted to better serve survivors; police departments were educated to improve their training and protocols; a few hospitals began to provide special examining rooms and trained nurse examiners.

Not everything was positive in the 1980s. The decade also saw a backlash against the reality of rape being exposed by the anti-rape movement. The media elevated to prominence those writers who challenged the research and statistics about acquaintance rape.(3) Funding for rape crisis centers became scarce. Meanwhile, many of the politically active radical feminists had graduated, disbanded, or been forced to find paid work. The movement became more fragmented. Many centers moved politically to the center to secure support and funding from established sources.

A look at the anti-rape movement of the 1990s and a comparison of writings from the late seventies to the late nineties reveal some significant changes. The dominance of a shared political analysis of rape and a strategy for social change has eroded. It still exists, but in fewer and fewer places. In some ways it has been absorbed. For example, many aware students and other women and men assume that rape is an act of power without it having to be spelled out for them. The changes in the anti-rape movement also reflect a decline in the radical politics of all social activism.

The establishment of rape crisis centers across the nation is a testament to the hard work of countless women. The resources available to survivors from such centers is without question one of the CALCASA-Logo_350x228most significant and tangible results of the anti-rape movement. As is common within all movements, the daily challenge of providing a critical service with limited resources makes maintaining a conscious political analysis very difficult. The existence of a national organization, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA), and a statewide coalition, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), from the early days has helped to keep a political edge and has provided critical resources and connections to often-struggling local programs and centers.

However, many within the movement feel there needs to be more discussion and debate at the local, state, and national levels around important political issues affecting the future direction of anti-rape work. Some examples of these issues that need careful analysis are the effects of the increasing state and federal legislation concerning rape; the redefinition of the issue of rape away from a political model toward a health model; the strategy for building a bigger movement toward the elimination of rape and the role of rape crisis centers within this effort; the impact of the growing number of males within the movement.

March is National Women’s History Month – Sojourner Truth & the Rape Crisis Movement…

The history of the Rape Crisis Movement in the United States is – among other things – an excellent reminder that in order to fight one kind of oppression, one has to stand in solidarity with those fighting other kinds of oppression.  The denigration of one group of people is often inextricably linked with other kinds of tyranny.  In the case of the Rape Crisis Movement, the oppression of women in general and the oppression of African-American women in particular are closely bound together, and the first stirrings of what would become the Rape Crisis Movement came from within that group.

The following paragraphs come from Gillian Greensite’s History of the Rape Crisis Movement.

During slavery, the rape of enslaved women by white men was common and legal. After slavery ended, sexual and physical violence, including murder, were used to terrorize and keep the Black population from gaining political or civil rights. The period of Reconstruction from 1865 to 1877, directly following the Civil War, when freed slaves were granted the right to vote and own property, was particularly violent. White mobs raped Black women and burned churches and homes. The Ku Klux Klan, founded in 1866 in Tennessee, was more organized. The Klan raped Black women, lynched Black men, and terrorized Black communities. Propaganda was spread that all Black men were potential rapists, and all white women potential victims. The results and legacy of such hatred were vicious. Thousands of Black men were lynched between Emancipation and World War II, with the false charge of rape a common accusation. Rape laws made rape a capital offense only for a Black man found guilty of raping a white woman. The rape of a Black woman was not even considered a crime, even when it became officially illegal.

Perhaps the first women in the United States to break the silence around rape were those African-American women who testified before Congress following the Memphis Riot of May 1866, during which a number of Black women were gang-raped by a white mob. Their brave testimony has been well recorded.

Sojourner Truth was the first woman to connect issues of Black oppression with women’s oppression in her legendary declaration, “Ain’t I a Woman” in her speech at the Women’s Rights Conference in Silver Lake, Indiana, challenging the lack of concern with Black issues by the white women present at the conference.

The earliest efforts to systematically confront and organize against rape began in the 1870s when African-American women, most notably Ida B. Wells, took leadership roles in organizing anti-lynching campaigns. The courage of these women in the face of hatred and violence is profoundly inspiring. Their efforts led to the formation of the Black Women’s Club movement in the late 1890s and laid the groundwork for the later establishment of a number of national organizations, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Although women continued individual acts of resistance throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the next wave of anti-rape activities began in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the heels of the civil rights and student movements.

During the month of March, I will add more blog entries, talking about the history of the Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence movement in the United States.  In a month that is dedicated to National Women’s History, it seems only appropriate to touch on the events and people that gave birth to the Rape Crisis Centers, the Domestic Violence Shelters, and the other support services that exist today, and otherwise might never have come to pass.  Many women and children, and the adults the children became, owe their lives to the women who came before us.

In closing for this blog entry, I will leave you with the words of Sojourner Truth, for whom we at Tri-Valley Haven named our own homeless shelter ten years ago.  She was born a slave around 1797 in New York and escaped to freedom in 1826.  Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech was given in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.   I repeat them here:

Ain’t I A Woman?*Sojourner-Truth-9511284-1-402

Wall, chilern,
whar dar is so much racket
dar must be somethin’ out o’ kilter.
I tink dat ‘twixt de nigger of de Souf
and de womin at de Norf,
all talkin’ ’bout rights,
de white men will be in a fix pretty soon.
But what’s all dis here talkin’ ’bout?

Dat man ober dar say
dat womin needs to be helped into carriages,
and lifted ober ditches,
and to hab de best place everywhar.
Nobody eber halps me into carriages,
or ober mudpuddles,
or gibs me any best place!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

Look at me!
Look at my arm!
I have ploughed,
and planted,
and gathered into barns,
and no man could head me!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

I could work as much
and eat as much as a man —
when I could get it —
and bear de lash as well!
And ar’n’t’ I a woman?

I have borne thirteen chilern,
and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery,
and when I cried out with my mother’s grief,
none but Jesus heard me!
And ar’n’t I a woman?

Den dey talks ’bout dis ting in de head;
what dis dey call it?
‘Intellect,’
(whispered someone near).
Dat’s it, honey.
What’s dat got to do wid womin’s rights
or nigger’s rights?
If my cup won’t hold but a pint,
and yourn holds a quart,
wouldn’t ye be mean
not to let me have my little half-measure full?

Den dat little man in black dar,
he say women can’t have as much rights as men,
’cause Christ wan’t a woman!
Whar did your Christ come from?
Whar did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.

If de fust woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn de world upside down
all alone,
dese women togedder ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!
And now dey is asking to do it,
de men better let ’em.

Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me,
and now ole Sojourner
han’t got nothin’ more to say.’

* An interesting thing to note is that Sojourner’s words have been reported in dialect and NOT in dialect.  She was, in fact, born and raised in New York and it is unlikely she spoke with this heavy Southern accent.  In fact, the first account of her speaking does not have portray the dialect, and later ones do.  Yet again, we see intersections of oppression and stereotype.  For more information on this aspect of the speech, this Wiki article has some good information.

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