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    Jessie - Sexual Assault Advocate

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.  🙂

#YesAllWomen Blog Roundup…

yesallwomen_largeYou know, I’ve been pondering so many blog posts related to the #YesAllWomen hashtag  (Yes, all women experience feeling unsafe because of their gender, yes all women have experienced harassment, etc.) that has grown out of the Santa Barbara shootings and the discussion of cultural misogyny that has grown around it.  I keep searching Twitter and reading the tweets from thousands and thousands of people, men and women, and their links to articles and blog posts.  It’s been an obsession the last few days.  And every time I think I have something to say… I find a post that says it better, more cogently and more coherently than I could.

As I type this blog entry, I can look to my typing stand on my work desk and see a large stack of what we call “gold forms” at my office.  Gold forms are the forms we fill out whenever we receive a call or request for help from a sexual assault survivor.  Part of my job every month is to compile all the sad, disheartening, tragic, enraging statistics from these forms.  Some of these women and men I have met.  Some I have not.  But their stories are spelled out in brief and spartan handwriting on the double-sided pages.  Every month, the gold forms pour in.  Every. Single. Month.

And you know what?  While some survivors are men – and deserve the same support and and belief and resources that women do! – most are women.  Most… are always women.  And so for that reason, I also say:  #yesallwomen.  After that, my ability to speak gracefully on the topic degrades a bit in comparison to the bloggers below, and so I think what I will do here is try to link to a few of these posts and recommend strongly that you read them if you’ve not already.

There is something fundamentally destructive about the way we socialize young men and boys.  There is something fundamentally destructive about the way we socialize young girls and women.  There is something broken in our cultural dialogue around gender, gender roles, sex, sexual roles… there is something broken.  That something broken contributes to sexual assault… to domestic violence… and to the murders in Santa Barbara.*

*Please note that I am not saying it is the only contributing factor.  One article I read quite rightly points out that the Santa Barbara tragedy can focus as a looking glass, with our perspective on what “caused” it shifting as our own focus or bias shifts – one could implicate gun culture, male socialization, mental health, and numerous other factors and probably not be wrong in any of these cases and more.

Rather than focus this set of links on the mass killing itself, I would like to look instead at the very popular Twitter hashtag and responses to it, and what this all says about the current state-of-the-society.Funny-Not-all-men-are-like-that-meme-t-shirts-Hoodies

The first of the blog posts I’m linking to takes to task the common protest of “Not all men are like that!” that crops up whenever discussions turn to misogyny or street harassment or societal ways in which women are made to feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or simply bodies without minds and spirits inside them.  In fact, #NotAllMen has become a common hashtag used to contradict the #YesAllWomen hashtag.  While it is undeniably (thank goodness!) true that, indeed, “not all men are like that”… it can derail a very important and necessary conversation about how our culture expects men to behave that does and can contribute to violence.

This first post is written by a self-described white, cis-gender male.  He really gets to the heart of why “Not all men are like that!” is an unhelpful and distracting response to a very real issue.  I recommend it highly.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/05/27/not_all_men_how_discussing_women_s_issues_gets_derailed.html

Over the weekend, as the discussion across Twitter turned to these horrible events, a lot of men started tweeting this, saying “not all men are like that.” It’s not an unexpected response. However, it’s also not a helpful one.

This next blog post talks specifically about the idea of nerd-culture and misogyny, but really what it’s discussing is the way we raise boys (who, of course, become men) to feel that their role in life is expected to involve the pursuit and conquest of women sexually at the expense of seeing women as the protagonists of their own stories and their own lives, with the power and right to make their own decisions:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html

I’ve heard and seen the stories that those of you who followed the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter have seen—women getting groped at cons, women getting vicious insults flung at them online, women getting stalked by creeps in college and told they should be “flattered.” I’ve heard Elliot Rodger’s voice before. I was expecting his manifesto to be incomprehensible madness—hoping for it to be—but it wasn’t. It’s a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder.

yesallmenThis post by acclaimed science fiction writer John Scalzi on his blog goes into a sensitive and interesting dissection of the levels of discrimination in society and in the individual that pertains not only to sexism or misogyny, but racism, homophobia, etc.

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/04/17/the-four-levels-of-discrimination-and-you-and-me-too/

I’ve been talking about sexism recentlymy own and others — and I have to say I’ve found it increasingly exasperating to see the massively defensive response of “not all men are sexist” that inevitably follows. One, because it’s wrong (more on that in a bit), and two, because the more I see it, the more it’s obvious that it’s a derail, as in, “Holy shit any discussion of sexism makes me uncomfortable so I want to make it clear I am not sexist so I’ll just demand recognition that not all men are sexist so I can be lumped in with those men who are not sexist and I can be okay with myself.”

Finally, because sometimes a picture (or a cartoon) can be worth a thousand words, especially when it can connect with some humor as well as a visual, I leave you with two cartoons by Robot Hugs:

 

How Not to Write an Article About Sexual Assault (Inspiration Courtesy of Rolling Stone, Who Shows Us How It’s Done)

stop-victim-blaming1Last year, a girl named Audrie Pott, a fifteen year old Saratoga High School student, took her own life in the wake of a sexual assault by three boys that involved not only the assault itself at a party, but also photographs taken of her body, unconscious, after the boys had written degrading messages all over it.  This was a local tragedy that assumed national proportions, particularly coming as it did after several other similar cases had already hit the news.  The first was the Steubenville, Ohio rape of a  high school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, who was publicly and repeatedly sexually assaulted by her peers, several of whom documented the acts in social media. The victim was transported, undressed, photographed, and sexually assaulted. She was also penetrated vaginally by other students’ fingers, an act defined as rape under Ohio law.  The second was the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons in Hallifax, Canada–the victim of an alleged gang rape and online bullying campaign that lasted months.

When I fell across a five-page article “Sexting, Shame and Suicide” in the September 26th 2013 issue of Rolling Stone about Audrie Pott, I was at first really excited to read it—I felt certain that an acclaimed magazine like Rolling Stone would present a thoughtful article talking about what had been done to Audrie, about sexism, rape culture… any number of related topics.  I thought, “What a horrible tragedy—but at least maybe some small good can come of the fact that it will help to ignite a national conversation about changing culture away from one that enables assaults like this to happen.”

Boy, was I wrong.

I knew I had to write a blog post about the article.  I’ve sat and stewed about it.  I wanted to make the perfect post.  I couldn’t.  So, finally, I am just writing my reactions and if I come off as angry and appalled, that’s because I am.  In fact, I am appalled enough that here and there I may use “language.”  You are forewarned.  Also, there is “language” used in the Rolling Stone article I am quoting as well.  Doubly-forewarned.

Also, one of the challenges inherent in this blog post is that to really UNDERSTAND what I am posting about, you have to read the Rolling Stone article. And it is on the long side.  But I know you can do it!  Here is another link to it:

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/sexting-shame-and-suicide-20130917

Okay. Now, I am proceeding forward on the assumption you’ve read the article.  (You did, right?  Good…)  Because what I am going to do now is just call out sections of the article that set me back on my heels, made my eyes widen, and my blood pressure go up…and try to talk about WHY they caused those reactions.  Ready?  Here we go!

We will kick off with their introduction of Audrie, who they describe as:

A curvaceous sophomore at Saratoga High School, dressed in the cool-girl’s uniform of a low-cut top and supershort skirt, she looked the same as always, but inside she was quivering with humiliation.

If this were a male victim, would we phrase it, “A well-hung sophomore at Saratoga High School, dressed in the stud-guy’s uniform of rear-hugging jeans that showed his package, he looked the same as always, but inside he was quivering with humiliation”? Also, while we’re at it, “quivering with humiliation” is such a dime-store romance sort of phrase. “On the outside, she was cool and remote, but on the inside, she was quivering…”  Really?

Things keep going downhill from here.  Yes, this article seems to be trying to talk about a party sub-culture in schools and how it can be destructive, but what it really ends up doing is sexualizing a teen-aged girl in such a way that the conclusion seems to be, “Yes, she was sexually attacked, ridiculed and tormented, but considering how she acted and dressed, really what can you expect?”

 So, after starting with describing her sexual assets and dress, the article moves on to portraying her as a budding lush:

The summer before her death, Audrie had started to change, moving away from the kids she’d hung out with since middle school. She had started to drink a little and had dated a slightly older guy. When she drank, the self-consciousness that had afflicted her since junior high melted away. She loosened up. Sometimes, she loosened up a lot.

And we all know what happens to loose women.  Right?  So she drank and may have been with an older guy.  Which apparently makes it okay for her to be sexually assaulted by three unrelated young men and have derogatory things written on her body and photos of it passed around to public ridicule.

 Now the article decides to describe some of Audrie’s friends, and it can’t resist commenting on their physical virtues as well:

 Sara – 15, pretty, slim and blond – and Audrie had become close that summer and were exploring a new realm of boys, bottles and small parties, preferably at parent-free houses, that the Saratoga kids call “kickbacks.”

And we need to know that Sara is slim, pretty and blond…why? Interesting to note that nowhere in this article are there physical descriptions (or descriptions of any kind) concerning the boys.  Granted, they are minors and get some legal protection because of that, but it does still bring up the point of, “Why go describing all the girls in the first place?”

 Now we move on to the party at which Audrie was assaulted by the three young men.

 Eventually, 11 kids showed up, many of them to sip vodka and Gatorade cocktails. They all belonged to their class’s popular clique, the girls dressed as provocatively as possible, even by the loose standards of California high schools.

Here we are with the description of “loose” again.  What is interesting is how sexualized the prose is.  Loose can be “informal” but “loose” is also a term meaning a woman who sleeps around.  And again, we all know what happens to loose women.

The mixer of choice was Gatorade, or downed straight. Audrie drank hardest of all.

Which clearly means that whatever happened next, she brought it on herself because she chose to drink. Because if you drink and are female, you have no right to determine what happens to your body, and no right to be treated to basic respect.  Right?

Audrie was already stumbling and incoherent, taking shots and making out with different boys on the living-room couch.

Adding to the whole “slut-shaming” tone of this article.  This article reads like a cautionary tale  “See girls, if you dress like a slut and drink a lot, the inevitable conclusion will be that several teenaged boys will sexually assault you, draw degradingly on your body, the school as a whole will shame you, and you will have no choice but to end your pathetic, over-sexualized little life and later, a magazine will write about you and highlight everything about you it thinks is inappropriate.  Because really, you brought it on yourself.”

 Now the article talks about the actual assault:

Police interviews with the partyers pieced together what allegedly happened next. One of the boys Audrie made out with was so drunk he started crying and screaming. He threw up in the kitchen sink – into which someone had already tossed Audrie’s iPhone. Audrie was too blitzed to notice.

As far as I can tell, this detail about the iPhone only made it into the article for the “yuck” factor and to point out again that Audrie was really drunk.  (Although, she’s not the one who yakked on her phone so… the relevance sort of escapes me.  Moving on…)

Then three boys she’d known since middle school – Bill, Joe and Ron – and one of their friends, Mary, helped her upstairs into a bedroom (the names of these four have been changed because of the boys’ status in a juvenile case). Mary appears to have left the room when the boys started pulling off Audrie’s clothes and drawing on her with Sharpies. In interviews with police later, they admitted, to varying degrees, coloring half of her face black, then pulling down her bra, taking off her shorts and drawing scribbles, lines and circles on her breasts and nipples. Bill wrote “anal” above her ass with an arrow pointing down.

You know what is really interesting here is that this is the first time that “Bill”, “Joe” and “Ron” have shown up in the story and we’re about a third in.  Up until now, we’ve heard a lot about the way that Audrie dressed, the way she drank, the way she was making out with others.  We’ve not heard a thing about what they were wearing, drinking, or how they were acting.  By making this article all about Audrie and her possible foibles, it puts the burden of what happened that night squarely on her, when they are the ones who committed the assaulting and battery, (child) pornography and other crimes.

At some point, Mary returned to find Audrie in her underwear and put a blanket over her, then left the room again. With Audrie still sprawled out on the bed and unresponsive, the boys allegedly fingered her and took pictures on their phones.

So now we have the actual sexual assault. Classy, right?  Never in this article is the question addressed directly of what the boys thought they were doing, whether they thought it was right or wrong, or how we socialize boys that leads to situations like this seeming “okay” in their point of view.  No, we keep hammering on Audrie and clothing choices, appearance, and party-going ways instead. 

 Now we’re at the next day:

Back in her room, Audrie wasn’t so nonchalant. She was engaged in a frantic attempt to discover what had happened to her body.

By putting this in the passive form, it seems like something that magically “happened” to her body.  It would read differently and more accurately if it said, “She was engaged in a frantic attempt to discover who had assaulted and defaced her body.”

Audrie wrote that the “whole school knows. . . . Do you know how people view me now? I fucked up and I can’t do anything to fix it. . . . One of my best friends hates me. And I now have a reputation I can never get rid of.”

Writing to another boy on Facebook, she said, “My life is over. . . . I ruined my life and I don’t even remember how.”

The tragedy here is that her big “fuck-up” here was underage drinking—which everybody at the party was doing, apparently, and allegedly making out with various people, which one can also presume others at the party did.  She said her life was over—horribly prophetic—and that she ruined her life.  Guess what?

 SHE WASN’T THE ONE WHO RUINED HER LIFE.

Three boys ruined her life by thinking that it would be funny to sexually assault her when she was unable to defend herself, to scrawl graffiti on her like she was a bathroom wall, and to take photographs and share them around.  It is doubly shameful that a prestigious magazine like Rolling Stone then decided to–by implication–lay the blame on her after her death by centering an entire extensive article about her life and death on how her behavior and appearance apparently invited this behavior in others.  Wrong.  Wrong.  WRONG.

 Okay, take a deep breath.

 By about page three, things get momentarily a little less heinous in the reporting department.  The article takes some time to talk about some other high profile recent cases of teen gang rapes/sexual abuse and suicides, the discusses sexual assault statistics.  Then the article reports:

Rape stats may be no higher than in years past, but the numbers are as shocking as ever. Every two minutes, a sexual assault happens in the U.S., and nearly 50 percent of the victims are under the age of 18, according to Katherine Hull, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: “The demographic of high school- and college-age women is at highest risk for sexual assault.” More than half of the incidents go unreported, advocates say […]

Yeah.  And maybe one of the reasons more than half the incidents go unreported is that when the incident IS reported, the victim can look forward to reactions similar to the writing in this article—“Oh, look how much she was drinking.  Oh, look how tight her clothing is and how short her skirt was.  Oh, look at her dreadful judgment and all the things she did wrong…”

The dreadful judgment that really matters—the decisions by her attackers to molest, rape or assault her—take second fiddle to the self-righteous tongue clucking of people who shake their heads over young girls these days and their behavior.

 Now, do I think that we need to have a talk about under-age drinking?  Sure.  A talk about clothing standards… er, possibly.  But should those discussions essentially TAKE THE PLACE OF talking about how a human being (in this case three of them) decided to sexually assault, scribble on the body of, take photographs of and share around said photographs of another human being whose only crime was to be participating in a party?  I don’t think so.

 Then the article takes on way that the photos of Audrie’s assault were shared around.  It says:

“It’s a perfect storm of technology and hormones,” says lawyer Lori Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology in Chicago. “Teen sexting is all a way of magnifying girls’ fantasies of being a star of their own movies, and boys locked in a room bragging about sexual conquest.”

Um… okay, whatever, Lori.  Maybe.  But in this case, AUDRIE’S PHOTOS WERE SENT WITHOUT HER KNOWLEDGE OR APPROVAL.  A “fantasy of being a star in her own movies” doesn’t even come into play here, so why the heck was this quotation even included?  It implies again that somehow Audrie was this sexed-up little budding-alcoholic tart who secretly would have loved to have nude photos of her passed around, when in fact, having photos of her passed around (after a sexual assault) contributed to her SUICIDE.

 So, now Rolling Stone earnestly attempts to discuss What To Do About All This:

Prosecutors all over the nation are facing the same social and legal quandary: How do you protect young women from not just sexual assault but the magnification of those assaults via the Internet? How much punishment can they mete out to boys, who in many cases are only a year or two removed from childhood, who seem to think they are committing pranks with phones and passed-out girls, and for whom the ultimate charge – rape – means the end of their lives before they start? Finally, how do you instill in impulse-driven teens of both sexes the knowledge that whatever they record on their phones and send can reach the entire world and stay public forever?

Okay, some real concerns are raised—valid ones.  No problem with that.  Except… waaaait…

 How do you protect young women from not just sexual assault but the magnification of those assaults via the Internet?

Here’s a nice place to start—just a thought.  Maybe we could protect young women from a culture that automatically links any sexual assault they suffer to what THEY drank, what THEY wore, what THEIR reputation was, rather than linking the assault to what their ATTACKER did?  And maybe we could protect them from big-name magazines who victim-blame them in their articles, thus “magnifying those assaults via the Internet”?

 How much punishment can they mete out to boys, who in many cases are only a year or two removed from childhood, who seem to think they are committing pranks with phones and passed-out girls, and for whom the ultimate charge – rape – means the end of their lives before they start?

Huh… interestingly enough, I’d say that maybe if the media and the culture PUT THE BLAME WHERE IT BELONGS… on the decisions of the attackers… that would (again) be a good start.  Is there more to this situation than just that?  Sure.  Am I saying that is the only element of a solution?  Of course not.  But the fact that an article out of a major magazine, theoretically trying to get to the bottom of a crime story, makes the whole emphasis about the foibles of the victim rather than about the crimes of the attackers sorta makes my point for me.

Okay, I’m basically disgusted enough by this article now to be nearing the end of my unusually long blog post.  I’d like to leave you with the thought that we are now only on page 3 of this 5 page article and right after talking about statistics and fretting about Why All This Is Happening, Rolling Stone leaps right back into the article with a discussion of Audrie Pott’s breast size.

No.  Really.

By the time she was 13, she’d sprouted 34DD breasts.

Yeah.  Because we really needed to know the exact size of a minor’s breasts after she is dead.

Then it finally talks a bit about the 3 boys who allegedly committed the assault and other crimes.  We’ve had three pages now, primarily discussing Audrie’s looks and behavior.  What do we get on the boys?

 According to Audrie’s friends, one of the three boys eventually arrested for the assault, Joe, was a leader of the teasing pack in middle school and especially sadistic. “He would pick one person to make fun of for a few weeks, then move on to another,” Amanda says. Bill had a reputation as a troublemaker, while Ron was more of a “sweet” guy.

Yeah.  That’s it.  That’s basically as deep as it goes.  Because who cares about the behaviors or motivations or socializations or past history of the alleged perpetrators… because they’re just the people who committed the crime, right?  (Yes, yes, I know… they are juveniles, blah blah.  But seriously, this is all that is said?  This is the extent of the journalistic digging?)

 Attorneys representing the boys have claimed that their clients had nothing to do with Audrie’s suicide and work to portray Audrie as a desperate, troubled young woman.

Ya mean, kind of the way this article does? And, after all… think of the futures of these poor boys.

 It’s a sentiment shared by many parents around town. “These boys are not bad boys!” says the mother of a friend of one of the boys at the party. “They are goofy and silly. If there is a sleepover, one of the boys might put whipped cream on someone’s hand. They are not malicious, mean criminals. This is costing their families thousands and thousands of dollars, and we are not all rich.”

Maybe as a society we should be raising boys whose idea of silly IS whipped cream on someone’s hand and not sexually fingering and assaulting an unconscious girl, writing and scribbling all over her body, and then sharing those images amongst friends.  Because, you know, there IS a difference.  A basic level of human empathy, for one thing.  And that’s something we as a society are not doing a great job of teaching.

In conclusion, some final quotes:

In response to Audrie’s death and the arrests, Saratoga’s teachers opened discussions with students about the case that had fractured the affluent suburban veneer of the high school. “In every single class, somebody raised their hand and said, ‘Well, wasn’t she drunk?'” says Hayes. “And ‘I thought she was drunk.’ And ‘She made out with two boys.’ ‘She was drunk and I’m sure she liked it.'”

It is tragic that the teens in the classes had, as their first thoughts, the ways in which they believed the blame rested with Audrie.  We can shake our heads over that all we like.  But Rolling Stone, by implication, has basically said all the same things by concentrating on what she did, what she wore, what her breast size was, and who she may or may not have made out with.  Congratulations, Rolling Stone.  You have showed all the maturity and empathy of those kids.  Except they’re KIDS.  They learn how to be adults by what we, as a society, teach them by example.

 YOU, Rolling Stone, are a powerful media voice in society.  And you should damn well know better.

I’m glad that non-profits like the Tri-Valley Haven and other domestic violence and rape crisis centers around the State and nation work all the time to do healthy dating relationship and anti-date rape classes in local junior high and high schools.  I am proud that we do bystander intervention trainings and the hard, day-to-day work of trying to change society to make acts like this unacceptable.  Because, quite clearly, things right now are broken.  Become involved.  Be an active bystander.  Let your voice be heard.  Support the people doing the work and let’s make this world a better place for our kids.

Before we lose another.

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.

One Billion Rising – It’s not just one bystander getting involved…!

(Warning, the short film linked here has scenes of violence that can be triggering.)

One In Three Women On The Planet Will Be Raped Or Beaten In Her Lifetime. One Billion Women Violated Is An Atrocity. One Billion Women Dancing Is A Revolution.

Join V-Day on
02.14.13
in a global strike to demand an end to violence.

This blog is called “Prevention, Power and Peace.”  I can think of few other people who have struggled so hard in the past few decades to bring the issues of violence against women to light – to spread prevention, power and peace – as Eve Ensler, who created the play “The Vagina Monologues” and founded V-Day.

This year, my agency–the Tri-Valley Haven–is putting on a production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”.  This isn’t a new thing for us.  We’ve put productions on for the past several years, nearly all to very full audiences.  I’m thinking about auditioning–I’ve been in a few productions already.  Being in the play or attending it are ways of being a helpful bystander, because it helps to give voice in a public space to people who have been raped and abused.  More practically, productions raise funds for our agency and many other agencies around the world involved in the work of ending domestic violence and sexual assault.  Also, it’s just an awesome play–by turns funny and heart-breakingly sad and always challenging.  I love some monologues and have an uneasy relationship with others.  It’s a powerful work, a flawed work, a work that sparks debate and anger and life-changes.  Not everybody loves it, but the fact remains that productions of it have done a HUGE amount to raise funds, awareness… and hope.

This year, Eve Ensler’s movement, V-Day, is based around the concept of One Billion Rising.  I urge you to view the film (with the caution that it COULD be triggering, so do not watch if that is a concern!) and to visit the One Billion Rising website.

Step up!  Don’t stand by!

 

 

The “Fantasy Slut League” …

Before I begin holding forth about how I feel about the discovery of a long-running “Fantasy Slut League” in a Bay Area (Piemonte) high school, I’d like first to throw this article out there to my (few, but hopefully growing!) list of readers!

It says that the league was created by varsity student athletes. Female students are “drafted” and male students earn points for “documented engagement in sexual activities” with female students.  What I find especially interesting–beyond the jaw-dropping activity itself–is the reactions of parents, students and others in the comments section of the Piemonte Patch.

Here is a link to the original article on the Piemonte Patch complete with extensive comments.

The comments range from outraged on behalf of the girls who are tallied up in the “Slut League”, often without their knowledge, to outrage on behalf of the boys who are just “bonding” with other varsity team members or playing a game.  Some students claim the activity is horrible.  Others claim that worse things happen all the time and this is no big deal.

An investigation by PHS staff revealed:

  • “General recognition that over the past 5-6 years such a league has existed in one form or another as part of “bonding” for some Varsity Teams during their seasons of sport.
  • “Many students (male and female) were aware of it and participated. Male and female students felt pressure to participate and/or lacked confidence to overtly stop it.
  • “Participation often involved pressure/manipulation by older students that included alcohol to impair judgment/control and social demands to be popular, feel included and attractive to upper classmen.
  • “A commitment from current Varsity Team members that there is none of the activity going on now (at least from this point forward).
  • “Fear that participation in the league could have in-school discipline consequences and affect future college acceptance.”

I will follow up this blog post next week in more detail, but I want to throw it out there to you all… is this an outrage?  No big deal that is being inflated into an outrage?  Is this sexual assault?  Harassment?  Kids having fun?  Appropriate?  Inappropriate?  How does this make you feel?

More later, folks!

An Awesome Bystander Moment – From Victim to Survivor… to Teacher

My Body Is Not Public SpaceSo, I was sitting here at my desk, dredging my brain for blog posts.  You’d think I’d be a natural blogger—I can blog for MYSELF like nobody’s business (years of me rambling on LiveJournal can attest to that).  But I find when I am blogging for an agency, I get the writing equivalent of tongue-tied (finger-twisted?).

I came up with and discarded a few approaches—how about that “binders full of women” comment from the debate last night?  Well, that’s not really about bystanders, is it?  I looked at news-feeds on women’s issues, I got myself some tea… I thought some more. What came into my head was a strong memory about an amazing woman.  So I decided to share the memory.

About a year and a bit ago, I was running a group at our domestic violence shelter.  The week before, I had done a class about awareness and assertiveness skills.  This week, I had just asked the group members whether something had happened to them between that group and this one that had given them a moment of inspiration or hope.  People who come to stay in a shelter are in hard and stressful times of their lives… sometimes hope is hard to come by.  I wondered what—if anything—any of the women would have to say.  I thought it might be awkward if there was just a sad and stolid silence.

Instead, all the women had amazing stories!

The first story is the one I want to share – this woman… we’ll call her Sarah (I don’t use real names) stuck her hand up in excitement and said, “I have something!  Let me go first!”  She said, “I was standing at a BART stop,” (Bay Area Rapid Transit—a sort of subway-like setup, for those out-of-area readers) “…and while I was waiting for the train, I watched this young girl.  She was maybe 20, looked shy.  And there was this older man who was making comments at her, talking about her legs.  You could tell she was really not liking it but she was too scared to say anything.”

Sarah was animated when telling her story, gesturing with her hands, really bringing the scene to life. You could just see the shy young woman and the man standing in her space, being too close, making her feel intimidated and uncomfortable.

Sarah added, “So at one point, the guy turns away to take a phone call on his cell.  I remember our class last week about assertiveness being ‘teaching someone else how you want to be treated.’  So I go over to the girl and I say, ‘Excuse me, but it looks like that guy is bothering you.  Is he?’  The girl nods and says yes…”

Sarah paused for effect, then said proudly, “So I told her, ‘You don’t have to put up with that!  If he bothers you again, you can look him in the eye and say, “When you talk like that to me, you are really bothering me.  I need you to stop or I will call BART security.”’

The whole class—and I—were really excited for her.  Sarah had been in a domestic violence relationship for years—she said the idea of standing up for herself had never been an option.  But here she was, helping a total stranger out by paying forward what she’d learned about assertiveness.  It would be pretty cool if the story stopped there, but it didn’t!  Because then Sarah said…

“The guy got off his cell-phone call and went right back to harassing the girl.  AND SHE TURNED TO HIM AND SAID, ‘I need you to stop harassing me or I’ll call security!’”

“WHAT HAPPENED?” we all asked in the group.

“He LEFT HER ALONE!” said Sarah… and she laughed in pride and amazement.  And we all broke into applause.  I will never forget her—her courage and her open heart.

Being a good bystander can be so many things.  ONE thing it can be is not only helpful and healing to the person who is being harassed… it can be empowering and healing for the bystander AS WELL.

Do YOU have any stories about a time you stood up for somebody else?

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