Unless specifically noted, the posts reflect the opinions of the individual poster and not the CounterQuo group.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 06/27/13 at 01:21:47 PM
Language matters when we speak about sexual violence. Using language of consent to describe crimes of violence is one of the ways we do a disservice to rape victims and continue to reinforce damaging messages about rape. One example: a child victim of Jerry Sandusky was commonly referred to in press accounts as “having sex with” Sandusky when in fact, the victim was forced to orally copulate the older man.
We continue to focus on language because until we talk about sexual violence in a truthful, accurate way, we as a society will not think about and accept sexual violence in a truthful, accurate way.
Today’s case study centers on the language we use to talk about prostitution and prostituted and trafficked girls and women. Many consider prostitution a victimless crime, a choice that women make, and certainly not a form of exploitation or abuse or violence. The reality is far different. (It’s a much bigger issue than we’re tackling in this post but you can read more about it here.)
The AP filed a story by Ramit Plushink-Masti about Houston’s efforts to rehabilitate people in prostitution. And in their opening paragraph, they referred to a 9 year old prostituted girl as someone who “had a full-fledged career in prostitution...” And the article went on to use more damaging language to refer to prostituted women and girls as "street walkers" and "hookers."
First, almost no 9 year olds have “careers”. But a 9 year old who has been trafficked and exploited by her mother and others, raped and abused by men who buy sex from her????? We continue to minimize and to soften the horror of the crime and the trauma its victims are subjected to when we use language like this, when our words make legitimate and commonplace what is ugly and awful.
As the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation says in its blog post, “This is a giant failure by the Associated Press and Plushnick-Masti to recognize that Tricia Chambers is a survivor of childhood sexual assault. Instead, they continue to stigmatize her and others who are in a program trying to exit prostitution, by calling them “hookers” and “streetwalkers.” This is incredibly offensive and harmful, and reinforces the cultural norm that people in prostitution are to blame, when many are actually crime victims.”
We are joining CAASE in asking you to “Tweet @RamitMastiAP and @AP and tell them they got it wrong. A child in prostitution is a victim of a heinous crime. They must do better in deepening reporters’ understanding of these issues and work to not re-victimize survivors of sexual assault and trafficking. They must edit this story and show that they will do more to educate reporters about the realities of sex trafficking.”
Posted by Katie Feifer on 06/20/13 at 12:14:13 PM
Tennis star Serena Williams is a phenomenal athlete. She is unique in her talent, rare in her dedication to her sport. However, she is a lot like many women and men when it comes to (mis)understanding the circumstances in which rape occurs. And unfortunately, because of her fame, her grossly insensitive and misguided opinions on the subject become national news, reinforcing myths.
On June 18, Deadspin dished on some of what Serena is quoted as saying in an upcoming Rolling Stone issue. As the tv showed news about the Steubenville rape case, she said to the reporter,
"Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don't take drinks from other people. She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different."
USA Today picked up the story. A by now predictable firestorm of criticism erupted as Serena was called out for being insensitive, inappropriate, just plain wrong. And then she issued an apology.
“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.
I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.”
But y’know what? The apology grieves me more than her initial statement. What Serena said to the Rolling Stone reporter is, sadly, no different than what many think and say. Victim blaming, suggesting it was less of a crime (or that the victim was more ‘deserving’ of rape because she might not have been a virgin), sympathy for the perpetrators of a crime, letting them off the hook for the responsibility they have – all that and more is part of the cultural fabric we need to re-weave into something closer to truth. Serena’s a unique athlete but a normal person. Okay.
The apology, though… It’s an apology that really isn’t. The words suggest that she – or possibly her publicist – pulled some apology mantra out of some playbook and threw it out there to appease an outraged public. And that’s sad. Because it demonstrates that Serena really didn’t get why what she said was hurtful. And she didn’t use the occasion of her apology to rectify some wrongs, to use the opportunity to educate (since she has the spotlight), to show that she really did think and learn some.
In Serena’s apology, she speaks as though she views the crime as something akin to an accident: “To be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy!” Well, it’s way more than just a tragedy. And it’s not an accident, or an act of God, or a surprise, which is the note her apology sounds. “To be killed by lightening, and at only sixteen!” that’s an act of God, an accident, a tragedy. In Steubenville, there were agents (young men) involved who perpetrated the crime. How about, “For several young men to have raped this girl, at only sixteen, is a horrible crime and violation of her.” Doesn’t that sound more like someone who gets what the perpetrators did to the girl in Steubenville?
In her apology, Serena demonstrates again that she sees the perpetrators as victims here, too: she’s equally saddened for the families of the victim and the perpetrators. Her statement subtly equalizes their situations - and their culpability, where there should be no equivalence. The girl was a victim of a crime perpetrated by young men who chose to assault her brutally.
And finally, Serena does the apology dance where she avoids owning up to what she said and believed. “What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.” Oh but Serena, you did say those things. Here we see another case of the “If I said that, I’m sorry” approach to apology. Avoiding ownership makes her apology insincere, and shows that she hasn’t actually learned anything other than to be more careful when talking to reporters. Apology not accepted.
How great would it have been, if Serena had apologized by saying
“What I said was insensitive and hurtful. I’ve talked to some experts about sexual violence, and I now realize that I was blaming the victim for a horrific crime that she did not cause. I now understand how comments like the ones I made perpetuate myths. They're the kinds of comments that keep too many rape victims from reporting the crimes that were done to them, comments that keep too many rape victims silent, unable even to reach out to others for help and support to heal from sexual assault. I’ve fought all my career to support women. And I will continue to do so, now armed with a better, truer understanding of some of the realities around sexual violence.”
Now that’s an apology I can accept.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 06/03/13 at 01:18:14 PM
The Bangor Daily News in Maine published an op-ed about sexual assault every single day during April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You can read the op-eds (and share them) here. The result was a giant step forward in raising awareness and educating about the realities of sexual assault and domestic violence. Additionally, members of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault trained staff reporters in how to report on sexual and domestic violence in a more enlightened manner.
One of the prime movers behind this effort was Cara Courchesne, a member of CounterQuo. We asked Cara to share the story of how this month of positive media attention and media training came to be, because it is surely a model that others of us can emulate. Cara writes:
"As advocates, it is difficult to read news stories that don’t talk about sexual violence the way we’d like. It’s easy to get angry, to fire off an email listing all of the article’s issues, and write off the media as ignorant and continuing to perpetuate the cultural supports of sexual violence.
In order to change this dynamic, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA) and the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV) are partnering with the Bangor Daily News (BDN), a statewide news organization with the largest audience in Maine. The project is designed to increase the BDN’s attention to domestic and sexual violence, and to increase the skills of reporters and editors with regard to reporting on these issues.
The crux of our success came from building relationships with BDN staff. MECASA’s work with the BDN began last summer, when a local service provider and I met with their Editorial Page Editor, Erin Rhoda. We asked to meet with Erin because of the BDN’s reporting on a local child sexual abuse issue, none of which included resources for how survivors could contact their local sexual assault support center. We met, talked about how the BDN could have better reported on the issue, and promised to be in touch.
Over the next few months, other BDN reporters reached out, and our reputation as subject matter experts grew. Ultimately, the paper proposed a new project about domestic and sexual violence. With Margo Batsie from MCEDV, we responded with a list of ways the BDN could proactively address these issues. Because we had already started relationship building, we felt like we were in a good place to make a specific ask. These specifics included more attention to DV/SV during awareness months and a training for reporters and editors to better report on sexual and domestic violence.
We got what we asked for. Erin requested four op-eds from community members for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. After Erin received those four op-eds, she wanted more – as in one for each day of the month of April. After picking myself up off the floor from (excited!) shock, MECASA staff considered the range of issues we could address, from prevention to intervention, and asked community leaders and stakeholders to discuss the issues most closely related to their area of expertise.
At the end of April, Margo and I trained all reporters and editors at the BDN over two days. The training was mandatory for staff; the BDN’s commitment to changing the way the paper reported on domestic and sexual violence was clear. The trainings were full of thoughtful conversation, great questions, and of course, pushback. However, even the pushback was a learning opportunity for us, and helped us to consider how we can talk more effectively to members of the media.
The only way we’re going to change the media is to both write for and utilize various media platforms and successfully engage with members of existing, more traditional media. As the advocacy community seeks to increase this work, I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned this spring.
- Meet members of the media where they are. Members of the media don’t think about how to talk about domestic and sexual violence all day – they just do it (and sometimes, it’s not done in a way we’d like to see). The media cover a huge range of issues and most reporters don’t realize that when they call a reported sexual assault “alleged intercourse,” they’re helping perpetuate cultural stigmas we’re actively working against (or making the understatement of the week). Honestly, they’re just trying to make sure Grandma doesn’t choke on her cornflakes while she’s reading the morning news. Supporting them in their effort to be more neutral about their reporting starts with realizing they didn’t write the story with malicious intent. Like everyone else, they are susceptible to all of the cultural issues at play when we talk about sexual violence.
- Think about where they’re coming from. Given our 24 hour news cycle, reporters and editors are pushed to get as much information as they can and get the story out. Sometimes, this results in less attention to language than we’d all like. The media doesn’t report on domestic and sexual violence with a lens similar to ours – their job isn’t to believe or not believe survivors, it’s to report on criminal justice stories. They have to be neutral; the key is to help them understand that you’re not asking them to become a victim advocate – you’re asking them to be more neutral. Helping them understand the difference is crucial.
- What’s in it for them? There are ways you can demonstrate to members of the media tangible outcomes for their efforts. Many reporters and editors are unsure of where to find a good subject matter expert, or what hotline to include. By providing this information for them at the outset, and by continuing to provide them information when they ask, you are demonstrating your utility to their news organization. Also, by pointing out more neutral language for them to use, chances are, you’re helping them solve language issues they struggle with fairly often.
- Realize you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need! Members of the media come from an entirely different place than we do. You’re going to have different opinions about specific phrases and what is appropriate for a reporter to write about and what isn’t. Having thoughtful conversations may help sway a reporter, and it may help you understand what is happening with a specific story. You may not reach a common understanding, but you’re building the relationship needed to get there.
- Praise what they get right. Like most people, reporters and editors respond well to praise. It’s important for us to note what good reporting looks like so we can provide examples for other reporters and editors. When we see great work on sexual and domestic violence reporting, let’s say so!
It’s not easy to work with the media. It involves dedication to relationship building and work on dicey language issues. It’s time consuming and doesn’t always coincide with your free time (because we all have so much of that!). But if they’re going to get it right, we have to be willing to help them get there. Their job is to report on the news – our job is to help them do it better. Working with the media means that we work together to change culture and the way we talk about sexual and domestic violence – one story at a time."
Posted by Katie Feifer on 05/28/13 at 09:29:45 PM
We can change rape culture. One piece at a time, until we reach a tipping point.
"Today, we are pleased to announce that Facebook has responded with a important commitment to refine its approach to hate speech. Facebook has admirably done more than most other companies to address this topic in regards to content policy. In a statement released today, Facebook addressed our concerns and committed to evaluating and updating its policies, guidelines and practices relating to hate speech, improving training for its content moderators and increasing accountability for creators of misogynist content.
Facebook has also invited Women, Action & the Media, The Everyday Sexism Project and members of our coalition to contribute to these efforts and be part of an ongoing conversation. As part of these efforts, we will work closely with Facebook on the issue of how Community Standards around hate speech are evaluated and to ensure best practices represent the interests of our coalition."
Read the full WAM article about the action and its effects here: WAM!
And here’s what the New York Times had to say: Facebook Says It Failed to Stop Misogynous Pages - NYTimes.com
Many of our CounterQuo organizations signed the original Open Letter to Facebook last week. Many of us tweeted, emailed, and shared with our networks. The collaboration had an impact.
Several advertisers, including Nissan, said they would stop advertising on Facebook until it changed their policies. We know that advertisers can put pressure on sites like Facebook to do the right thing. And we as consumers can pressure advertisers to do the right thing. We have some power.
Sadly, others like American Express, Zappos and Dove, would not sever their relationship with Facebook in the face of the site’s allowing deeply anti-women content. That’s disheartening, and especially ironic in the case of Dove. That company prides itself on celebrating real women and “real beauty.” And yet, it seems not to care about how real women are actually treated and portrayed.
The success of this action reminds us that we can change rape culture. We don’t have to accept the status quo. This is an important reminder, because it can be very easy to become worn down, and to believe that nothing we do can really have an impact. Until something we do has an impact.
And today, it feels really nice to have some good news, to see some bit of progress.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 05/28/13 at 09:27:00 PM
For years, advocates for women have been complaining to Facebook about the pages they host which condone and promote rape and other violence against women. Facebook has a policy in place that allows them to take down pages that are racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and Anti-Semitic. Its moderators are on the lookout for hate speech and pages that don’t fit their community guidelines.
And yet…despite protests and complaints, pages like Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won't make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs and Raping your Girlfriend are allowed, because they fall into the category of “humor.” We see nothing funny about pages like that. Nor do we find it funny to see images of women beaten, gagged and bleeding with captions like “This bitch didn't know when to shut up" and "Next time don't get pregnant."
Time for a new approach. Our friends at WAM (Women, Action & the Media) have written an open letter to Facebook, and have prepared an Action Page, calling on all of us to contact advertisers whose ads appear next to gender-based hate content to demand that they withdraw their advertising from such pages. We urge you to contact the advertisers yourself and register your protest.
Perhaps Facebook will stop finding these pages so funny if they lose some advertising support. Perhaps companies like Dove, American Express, zipcar and audible.com won’t find it good business practice to have their brands associated with “Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus.”
Posted by Katie Feifer on 05/22/13 at 12:47:46 PM
Seldom do real life events so quickly prove the key point that an author makes in her book. Professor Jody Raphael, of DePaul University College of Law, has recently published "Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion and Victim Blaming are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis.” This book, which Kirkus Reviews calls "[A] meticulously researched and passionately argued rebuttal of those who would deny the reality and alarming prevalence of acquaintance rape" illuminates the forces in our society that make victim blaming and distortion of facts about sexual violence normative, and how that fuels a crisis in which women’s rights and lives are adversely affected and serial rapists are empowered to continue to offend.
As if designed to prove her point, a group has recently launched an organized campaign to discredit the book and Professor Raphael. They are doing so in an effort to deny the truth of what she wrote about some of the facts in the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child sexual violence case. The attack has so far caused the book’s Amazon.com rating to sink from 5 stars to 2 ½ (with a stated goal to get it to 1 star), and has led Professor Raphael to take steps to protect her safety professionally and personally, including removing her profile from the university’s faculty listings.
We are sickened and outraged by these attacks, and the attempt to silence Professor Raphael’s important work. Sadly, though, we are not surprised.
The attack is merely more evidence of what Professor Raphael thoroughly documents in her book – denial of rape to protect a beloved institution. We know that when it comes to social media, which is increasingly driving what many consider "facts", those who speak most loudly "win." The impact of this campaign – the lowering of the book’s rating in amazon.com to effectively silence and censor Raphael’s voice of truth – will only work to continue to promote our rape culture and cause more harm to current and future victims of sexual violence.
Here’s how the campaign began and evolved, to the best of our knowledge: a Penn State supporter group found out about Raphael’s reference to the Sandusky case via a Google alert. A member of the group posted on a message board, BlueWhiteIllustrated.com - Message Boards . He urged readers to sink the book with one star ratings.
"I and others have been posting negative comments on the Amazon site where the book is being sold. As a result, the rating for the book has dropped from 5 stars to 2. Please go to the site and add your comments. Let's drop the rating to 1 star. BTW, Ms. Raphael is a law professor - hard to believe."
Prior to the posting of this message, the book had seven 5 star ratings. Within 24 hours, there were still seven 5 star ratings, and 29 one star ratings. Many referenced only the supposed “lies” that Raphael wrote about the Sandusky case. Others didn’t even bother with that, and simply made assertions about what a bad book this was, and how horrible Raphael was.
"9 of 15 people found the following review helpful 1.0 out of 5 stars Clueless, May 1, 2013 By Earl - See all my reviews This review is from: Rape Is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming Are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis (Paperback) How could one believe one word this women writes? She did not do any research for this book. This book should be removed from anyones library."
"28 of 45 people found the following review helpful 1.0 out of 5 stars Facts?, April 30, 2013 By Cyndi (USA) - See all my reviews This review is from: Rape Is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming Are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis (Paperback) It's unfortunate the author claims this to be factual, when she gets the Sandusky case so wrong. I agree this could be a helpful resource, if I could believe she actually did any research beyond reading headlines and incomplete investigation reports. Sad to know that even the educated refuse to check their facts and sources properly. Who knows what else she has wrong."
We always encourage our colleagues to read and talk about books that we believe present accurate portrayals about sexual violence in our culture. In this case, we would also ask those of you who read Raphael’s book also to consider writing a review on amazon.com, based on your honest, thoughtful opinion of the book.
Posted by Anne Ream on 07/10/12 at 06:05:09 PM
I recently began blogging for Thomson Reuters Foundation, on issues affecting women and girls. A recent post, "Sex Trafficking: The global problem that is far more local than many Americans think,” considers "The Price of Sex," Mimi Chakarova's award-winning film on international sex trafficking, while contrasting the global realities Mimi explores to the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls in the United States.
This is also a piece that considers how and why the NoVo-funded "End Demand Illinois" campaign, which is fast emerging as a national model for addressing domestic sex trafficking, has been so effective. "End Demand" is being driven by a handful of Illinois based agencies and CounterQuo partners, which is yet another reason why this is of interest.
A special thanks De Gray and our allies at Human Rights Watch for connecting us to Mimi and her beautiful, important film. Here's hoping that it can be a force for global and local change.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 06/26/12 at 04:40:06 PM
Our colleague Roger Canaff has hit the nail on the head again with his commentary on “delayed reporting” of sexual assault crimes and what it really means.Matt Sandusky’s “Delayed Report” and What it Really Means « Roger Canaff
In the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky trial, when the defense tried to cast doubt on the veracity of Sandusky’s victims' accounts of long-ago sexual assaults, Canaff correctly points out that most victims of sexual assault who do report the crime (and that’s a minority of victims) do so after some time has passed. They stay silent for various reasons – fear of being blamed, of friends’ and families’ reactions, needing time to deal with the shock and trauma they experienced. And when they do report the crime, their reports are triggered by something – an event, a stressor, a circumstance in their lives.
We will reflect the reality of sexual violence more accurately once we stop using the inaccurate and un-nuanced phrase “delayed report” and start using “triggered reports” to describe the claims of those who finally (and bravely) come forward to speak about the violence perpetrated against them.
We all need to readjust our thinking to acknowledge that the norm in sexual assault cases is for victims to remain silent for a time or forever, especially when the perpetrator is someone known to them – the vast majority of cases. And our laws and policies need to reflect that as well. So we hope that Pennsylvania will finally take the leap into the 21st century and get rid of the jury instruction that allows jurors to potentially discount the validity of accusations of sexual assault because the “ordinary” person would make a prompt outcry.
As Canaff writes, “Few places are lonelier than the heart of a survivor living with sexual abuse, or having been the victim of a sexual attack, who feels he or she can’t reveal it. The struggle is titanic, and usually the decision is made to simply bear the abuse and move on. Again, this is changing, but slowly. And survivors who decide to remain silent are blameless for it and should never be judged. But when a trigger finally does compel a survivor to speak out, the mere fact of a delay in the interim should not cast doubt on it.”
Posted by Katie Feifer on 04/20/12 at 11:38:21 AM
Recent news about U.S. Secret Service men patronizing prostituted women and girls while in Colombia advancing a trip for the President has brought the bright light of media attention to the global problem of sex trafficking and sex tourism.
Thankfully, in the midst of media coverage that seems aimed at titillation or attempts to discredit the President or the Secret Service, we are seeing blogs and articles that steer our attention where it really ought to be: on the global epidemic that is sex trafficking and sex tourism.
Men are buying thousands and thousands of prostituted men, women and children who are little more than slaves: indentured, tortured, and forced to work against their will in a multi-billion dollar industry that is highly profitable to those who control the prostituted people.
We appreciate media coverage like the article by Rachel Durchslag of Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) in Huffingtonpost.com that rightly calls us to action to stop the demand for prostituted women, girls, boys and men. Those men who buy children or adults for sex, whether in Colombia, Thailand or Chicago, must be stopped. Their behavior is morally reprehensible and criminal – never ever something any of us should condone. And by staying silent about their behavior, we are condoning it.
And we are glad to see articles like the one in USA Today by Kirstin Powers decrying our lack of outrage: “We have a global epidemic of sex trafficking, and President Obama and members of Congress should take this opportunity to express the outrage that should be the natural reaction to slavery.”
And so should we all.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 12/14/11 at 05:12:13 PM
In the wake of the deeply disturbing accounts of how Jerry Sandusky, a coach at Penn State and a boys’ mentor and advocate at (now closed) The Second Mile molested and raped young boys over many years, whose assaults were witnessed and discussed with authorities but never stopped, many are writing about the impact sexual violence has on its victims. And several writers are writing eloquently about the effects of the silence so many victims live with, unable to disclose the harm done to them. Others are writing about the effects many victims live with when they do disclose the harm that was done to them.
Sexual violence hurts and wounds its victims, without a doubt. Even talking about it can hurt survivors.
Jane Brody, writing in the New York Times about The Twice Victimized of Sexual Assault notes “More often than not, women who bring charges of sexual assault are victims twice over, treated by the legal system and sometimes by the news media as lying until proved truthful.”
On the other hand, not talking about it can hurt survivors. Donna Jenson writes powerfully about this in a Chicago Tribune article Speaking Out About Staying Silent, “My silence had layers. The first layer was fear. The second got formed from believing it was somehow my fault; this wouldn't happen to a "good" child. Another was shame for having come from a family that would abuse and not protect its children."
And Roger Canaff, in a blog post about the repercussions from Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes coming to light noted “Victims are usually never more alone than after the abuse is discovered, whether they purposely revealed it or not. Siblings, non-offending parents, even grandparents are suddenly distant or much worse. The victim, after all, has “torn the family apart,” interrupted possible financial support, brought shame upon the family because of a ‘splash effect’ that will surely color the whole clan, etc, etc. The fact of the perpetrator’s utter and sole guilt for all of these depredations simply gets lost…”
A classic case of being damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
We believe that using survivor testimony is critical if we are to change our laws and our culture around sexual violence. When we listen to individuals tell their stories, we can be moved to change even more than when we simply read statistics.
Anne Ream, director of The Voices and Faces Project, was recently quoted in a Chicago Tribune article Shedding Light on the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors: "A story can be a conduit to change people's minds and hearts about public policy, about institutions, about the way we look at victims of sexual violence and trafficking. The only way we can challenge and change the way the world responds to sexual violence is to bring these stories to the attention of the public."
We believe one of the reasons why shifts in attitudes and cultural norms about sexual violence have been so slow in coming is that those who can persuade us best, the survivors themselves, are too often silenced. Those of us who speak out are applauded by supporters for being brave and courageous. And in this climate, we are.
We are also all working toward a time when it won’t require bravery to tell family, friends, and authority figures when sexual violence is done to us. One first step toward that end is for all of us to listen with respect to the survivors who are speaking out and testifying. All of us can meet that challenge by reading and ‘listening’ to articles like the ones quoted here, and to encourage our own social circles to do the same.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 11/08/11 at 12:51:08 PM
We are passionate about ending “victim blaming” for sexual violence. We are insistent that we focus on the perpetrators when we talk about rape and hold them accountable for the crimes they commit, emphasizing their actions rather than the victims’.
Yet we continue to do ourselves a disservice when we absent the perpetrators from the way we describe rape. We set our efforts back every time we refer to sexual violence like we do “acts of God” that we can’t control or prevent.
When perpetrators are invisible in our descriptions and only the victim is present, we are at worst inadvertently placing responsibility for rape on the victim, or at best not holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. And when we speak of sexual violence as we do earthquakes and floods – events that simply happen without agency – we are again letting perpetrators off the hook.
Consider the differences between the following pairs of statements:
“A woman was raped at knife-point while she was hitchhiking.” vs “A man raped a woman at knife-point after he picked her up in his car.”
“A rape occurred last night in a wooded area behind the high school.” vs “An unknown assailant raped a woman in a wooded area behind the high school.”
“I was raped over 20 years ago.” vs “Steven Kaczmarek raped me over 20 years ago.”
It can sound and feel awkward at first when we shift our language to make a perpetrator the subject of a sentence rather than the victim, and when we speak of rape as a deliberate act rather than as something that just happens. The awkwardness some feel may reflect the discomfort we have with accurately describing sexual violence. It is necessary, I believe, to get over that awkwardness if we’re to make a difference in how our culture thinks about sexual violence.
Thanks to Claudie Bayliff, CounterQuo member and Project Attorney for the National Judicial Education Program at Legal Momentum for raising consciousness about how the language we use can help us hid perpetrators from accountability for sexual violence.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 09/28/11 at 11:29:19 AM
H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion" Act currently before the House with 173 co-sponsors, is a horror for women and children and for all those who care about them. We urge you to learn more about this bill, and to share your concern and outrage with friends, family and your elected officials. We strongly believe this bill must not become law. You can read more in columns in Mother Jones and Salon. But here is a brief outline of what the bill seeks to do, and why we believe it is so harmful.
Under current law, federal funding for abortion is unavailable except for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The proposed law denies federal funding unless the pregnancy results from "forcible rape" or in the case of a minor, incest. The horrors of this bill are both practical and symbolic.
First the practical. The only federal standard for "forcible rape" exists in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. That definition is considered by many, including many states’ law enforcement, as very narrow. It does not reflect what most state laws include in their definitions of rape. Since the 1970s, states have (rightly) defined rape around the issue of consent, rather than whether force was used in the crime. States have different definitions of “forcible rape”, and some have no definition. How is one to define "forcible rape?" Let alone who is to define "forcible rape." Passage of this bill would mean that "every rape survivor who finds herself in need of abortion funding will have to submit her rape for government approval." (Sady Doyle, Salon)
Children who are raped by someone not their father or grandfather would have no support under the proposed legislation unless the rape was "forcible." So the 13 year old girl raped and impregnated by her father's friend who attacked her while she was sleeping? No funding to help her terminate her pregnancy.
Studies have shown that most rapes do not utilize what the FBI's Uniform Crime Report defines as "force." Rapists coerce, threaten, prime with alcohol and drug their victims. They rape women and girls who are sleeping. They take advantage of women and girls who are mentally, physically or developmentally disabled. Roughly three quarters of rapes would not qualify as "forcible," based on research.
And which women and girls would be most harmed in practical terms? Those who are most vulnerable already. The poor, many of whom rely on Medicaid for health care. Native women, whose health care is often covered by a federal agency - Indian Health Service. The wealthy among us would have more options, like privately funded abortions.
And what of the harm itself? Quoting from a statement issued by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, "Every area of a victim’s life is affected by sexual violence whether it is a child sexually abused by a family member, a teenager coerced into sex by an older man, a college student drugged and assaulted at a party, or an adult raped by a stranger or by her ex-husband. Advocates at 1300 rape crisis centers across the United States bear witness to the trauma of sexual violence every day and see the torment caused by the loss of power and control over one’s body—one’s most intimate self—that is at the heart of sexual violence.
We know that at least 1-5% of sexual assaults results in pregnancy. In 2008, the Supreme Court of California upheld that pregnancy resulting from rape constitutes great bodily injury. Most of us can’t imagine what it would be like to face that pain."
Symbolically – but with very real ramifications, the proposed legislation is a heartbreaking move to un-do women's hard-won rights not to have to demonstrate "utmost resistance" in order to be considered a "real" rape victim. Either inadvertently with careless use of language, or very deliberately, the bill's sponsors are attempting to re-define "real rape" back to standards that existed in the 1600's, which we presumed we'd ridded ourselves of 40 years ago. Although the language appears in a bill about abortion funding, its impact will be widespread. What the law now defines as "rape" - and what we know as survivors, advocates and caring people - would, with casual ease, mostly be erased.
We cannot allow this to happen. What can you do? Educate yourself, call your legislators, share blogs and articles, and sign a petition. One of several we like was drafted by MoveOn.org. Please act now.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 09/26/11 at 09:51:04 AM
Sexual violence is global issue, of course. Daily we hear of horror stories of women raped from around the world; it can seem as if the problem is too big, too entrenched, and just too damn difficult to make any headway against. But sometimes there are simple steps each one of us can take that can make a difference: that can raise awareness, put public attentionand pressure on a horror that needs to be dealt with to support women who are victims of rape, and that can help bring perpetrators to justice and begin to change a culture's attitudes toward sexual violence.
We urge you to sign the Change.org petition that is currently circulating to demand that the government in Nigeria investigate the brutal gang rape of a university student that was videotaped, and that they provide support for this rape victim.
This simple step can make a difference in the life of a rape victim, and the culture in a country.
"There's a desperate search on for a female university student in Nigeria. Some want to silence her. Others want to protect her.
On August 16, the unidentified woman was gang-raped by five male students at Abia State University -- for hours, as she begged first for mercy, and then for her rapists to kill her because of the pain. And it's all on video.
Change.org member Adetomi Aladekomo has joined bloggers and activists working to bring the victim to safety and her rapists to justice by starting a petition to Abia State University (ABSU) and state officials. Sign Adetomi's petition to demand a full investigation into the videotaped rape in order to prosecute and convict the "ABSU 5" gang-rapists.
Over the past two weeks, bloggers and individuals around the world have put up reward money and used video imaging software to try to identify the victim and the rapists -- when the police should have been doing this all along. Unbelievably, state authorities have so far stymied efforts, preferring to deny the rape ever even happened under their watch. Local women's groups fear that they're even out to silence the victim, perpetuating a culture of fear and shame around rape in Nigeria, where such crimes are dramatically under-reported and under-prosecuted.
Adetomi, who grew up in Nigeria until she was seventeen, knows that international outcry around the gang rape at ABSU will be decisive in protecting the victim and bringing justice. With the whole world watching, the victim may have the courage to come forward and press charges -- and other women who’ve been raped may come forward, too, when they previously would not have.
In fact, it was because of Change.org members and international outcry earlier this year that a woman who had created a Change.org petition from inside a Cape Town safe house was able to come out and seek justice for her partner, who had been gang-raped and killed to 'cure' her of being a lesbian.
Global pressure is as important today as it was then. Demand the "ABSU 5" gang-rapists who videotaped their own crime pay for it with prison time. Sign Adetomi's petition now, and then send it to everyone you know."
Posted by Samir Goswami on 09/12/11 at 09:40:07 AM
This was originally published in HumanGoods, dedicated to understanding today’s global slave trade.
On August 24, actor Ashton Kutcher went on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote his new role in the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. For those of us dedicated to the anti- human trafficking movement, this in itself was an interesting career choice for Kutcher. He’s replacing Charlie Sheen, who played the role of a hapless womanizer who often frequented strip clubs and paid women for sex. As in real life, on Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen was a John.
Over the past few years, Kutcher has explicitly pronounced himself a “real man,” which he publicly defines as someone who does not pay for commercial sex because prostituted girls are victims of human trafficking. He doesn’t believe that girls should be bought and sold for male gratification.
In his interview with Letterman, however, Kutcher admitted to enjoying “the live thing” when asked whether he preferred “strippers or porn stars.” It is not controversial to state that strip clubs and pornography commodify the female body; in fact that is their commercial purpose. However, Kutcher’s professed preference for “the live thing” should raise some eyebrows.
Kutcher is a co-founder of the DNA Foundation, whose mission is “to raise awareness about child sex slavery, change the cultural stereotypes that facilitate this horrific problem, and rehabilitate innocent victims.” For the past few years, Kutcher and his wife and co-founder of the foundation, actress Demi Moore, have been raising funds and awareness about human trafficking. Together they have made numerous appearances on TV and at forums, particularly denouncing child sex slavery—and men’s demand for it—as part of their stated efforts to “change the cultural stereotypes that facilitate this horrific problem.”
Kutcher often tweets about the issue to his million plus followers and was a driving force behind the foundation’s “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” PSA campaign, an effort to discourage men from buying sex. “The ‘Real Men Don’t Buy Girls Campaign’,” the Huffington Post noted, “contains a message he [Kutcher] hopes people are willing to pass around; one that specifically addresses the male psyche, while also being entertaining and informative. ‘Once someone goes on record saying they are or aren’t going to do something, they tend to be a bit more accountable,’ says Kutcher. ‘We wanted to make something akin to a pledge: ‘real men don’t buy girls, and I am a real man.’’
Although opinions about the efficacy of this campaign vary, Kutcher’s involvement in anti-trafficking efforts has been welcome, celebrated, and seemingly authentic. Before embarking on his advocacy, Kutcher took the time to learn: He read the research, talked to women and girls who had been trafficked, and consulted with NGO and government experts. He has spoken eloquently and knowledgeably about the issue in most of his public appearances. In short, Kutcher used his fame and charm to educate and model positive male behavior that redefines masculinity as respecting women—not commodifying them.
He has positioned himself as the anti-Charlie Sheen.
On his show, David Letterman predictably asked Kutcher a “gotcha question”: “Do you prefer strippers or porn stars?”
After a pause and a chuckle, Kutcher responded, “I have a foundation that fights human trafficking, and neither of those qualify as human trafficking. You know the live thing is nice, there’s nothing wrong with a live show.”
Not all prostitution or other commercial sexual services like stripping, aka “the live thing,” are connected to sex trafficking. However, Kutcher’s foundation recognizes a link in stating, “Men, women and children are enslaved for many purposes including sex, pornography, forced labor and indentured servitude.” The DNA Foundation’s website links to various studies and research reports that document significant connections between human trafficking and “the live thing.” Law enforcement officials throughout the country are increasingly recognizing this connection as they listen to survivors who tell us that, yes—they were indeed trafficked against their will to gratify men in strip clubs, massage parlors, and escort agencies. As a result of this evidence, state governments are clamoring to create public policies that ensure potential victims, wherever they are exploited, have a real opportunity to identify themselves as such.
I am not a famous person. The paparazzi do not follow me. I have never been in a situation where millions watch me as I respond to a “gotcha” question. However, as a longtime advocate for exploited women and girls, I have spoken to many survivors who were trafficked through strip clubs and used in pornography, and I frequently speak about their exploitation at public events. I have often had to defend my own definition of masculinity, one that is not predicated upon the Hobson’s choice of “strippers or porn stars.”
We tolerate, in public discourse, a willful ignorance of the role that men who pay for sexual experiences play in fueling the human trafficking industry. We fear that any condemnation will be labeled anti-sex. It’s difficult to go against this grain and take a principled but unpopular stance—one that contradicts an accepted norm that purposefully makes invisible the real harm done to real people for profit.
But difficulty is not an excuse. I don’t have the public pressures that Kutcher’s fame stimulates and I also don’t have the same opportunities. Kutcher has taken this fame and molded it for the positive, and I respect him for that. He carved out a well-informed role for himself in a movement dedicated to ending slavery. Although there are many who may not agree with his tactics, most appreciate him as someone who has tried to inform—and inspire—men who are unaware of the venues through which women get trafficked. Kutcher went beyond just talking about the how and the where, but challenged conventional definitions of masculinity itself. That is the tremendous value Kutcher brings to this movement.
And that is why I really wish that when the momentous opportunity presented itself, Kutcher would have stood up as the “real man” he professes to be. I wish that he would have challenged David Letterman for asking a question that trivializes the experiences of many trafficking survivors, whose stories have moved Kutcher to action. I wish he would have explained to Letterman that patronizing strip clubs supports an industry that perpetuates the consumption of women’s bodies and regularly profits from the trafficking of young girls—which goes against his definition of what a “real man” is.
Strip clubs monetize engrained male attitudes toward women by offering men access to them for a fee. Kutcher could have implicated these attitudes, instead of supporting them, by explaining the close connection between men’s desire for (and language about) paid access to viewing and touching women’s bodies, and the millions of women and girls for sale worldwide.
However, Kutcher’s response to Letterman’s impossible question betrayed a troubling ignorance that is not founded in a man who actually has taken the time to listen and learn. No one expects him to have it all figured out, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a modicum of courage to express a higher sense of awareness and sensibility, or at least an honest admission of confusion.
Sexuality is complex and confusing. We are all attracted to and stimulated by other physical bodies for various and often inexplicable reasons. Those of us who profess to be defenders of human rights, and gain considerable attention and favor for it, have to hold ourselves to a high standard of introspection and public accountability. Kutcher didn’t just lower that bar for himself. He broke it. Along with it, I suspect that he also broke the trust and admiration of many in the anti-trafficking movement.
Sexual attraction may be challenging and situational. Respect for women should not be.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 09/02/11 at 12:51:10 PM
It's back to school time and at campuses across the country college students are getting "orientations" about sexual assault along with talks on alcohol and the computer systems. It seems that this year, more loudly than in the past, pundits and attorneys are weighing in about the "outrageousness" of the processes campuses are required to follow to pursue complaints of sexual assault. We find that many of these pieces are full of falsehoods and backwards thinking. It tends to make us feel that we're living in an Alice in Wonderland kind of world. One egregious example of getting it wrong appeared in the Wall Street Journal recently. Our friends at the Victim Rights Law Center responded with a letter to the editor, not published by WSJ. We think it's worth hearing the response, so we're posting it here.
"Peter Berkowitz’s op-ed (“College Rape Accusations and the Presumption of Male Guilt,” Aug 20, 2011) is rife with misinformation. At the Victim Rights Law Center, a nonprofit dedicated to meeting the needs of rape and sexual assault victims; we have worked with hundreds of victims who are pursuing their education rights. We serve these victims every day and know all too well what happens in school disciplinary hearings. We can assure Mr. Berkowitz that not only is there “no presumption of male guilt”, but rather the discrimination often runs in the exact opposite direction. Mr. Berkowitz cavalierly suggests that the hearings are biased against men, however, we have had fact-finders inquire about the preferred sexual positions of our victim-clients, their sexual orientations, their manner of dress and “could [she] demonstrate how [she] danced that night?” As if any of this is relevant to whether a victim was raped. Of course, similar questions are never leveled at the accused.
Mr. Berkowitz is also terribly confused about the definition of due process. Under the law, due process is the right to notice and a fair hearing. Nothing less and nothing more. The April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter in no way diminishes or encourages schools to diminish the due process rights afforded to both parties. It is simply wrong to suggest otherwise.
Ironically, it is Mr. Berkowitz who criticizes a process that helps ensure due process – the right to an appeal. Education cases are governed by civil, not criminal, law. In any civil case, both parties have equal rights to pursue an appeal. The double jeopardy clause applies only to criminal prosecutions and the Dear Colleague letter does not pertain to criminal cases. If Mr. Berkowitz were familiar with how campus cases are routinely handled, he would know that many campuses and universities allow only the defendant – and not the complainant – to appeal the outcome. Some schools do not even inform the victim that an appeal has been filed or new “evidence” submitted, thereby denying the victim any opportunity to respond.
As to whether the “accused should be able to question or cross-examine the accuser,” Mr. Berkowitz misses the mark by one important word – “directly.” The “Dear Colleague” letter strongly discourages schools from allowing the defendant to question or cross-examine the complainant directly. It in no way suggests that the defendant be prohibited from questioning the complainant. Rather, it recommends that questions be addressed to a neutral third party, so as to eliminate the potential for harassing or intimidating behavior.
Finally, Mr. Berkowitz once again confuses the civil and criminal laws when he criticizes the burden of proof required. Civil matters routinely require a “preponderance” showing, in contrast to the criminal justice system’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Schools cannot hold a rapist or sex offender criminally liable for his acts. They do not incarcerate defendants, impose jail or prison time, or otherwise inhibit a defendant’s fundamental rights.
Mr. Berkowitz complains that the preponderance standard allows the campus disciplinary board to become “judge and jury.” This is a routine practice in administrative proceedings throughout the United States. There are hearings everyday in state and federal agencies conducted in this manner with as high stakes. Are the standards and procedures employed in hearings that address legal issues such as the right safe housing, retirement benefits, or keeping ones job not good enough for college and university academic disciplinary hearing? We think they are.
As victim attorneys, we do not ask that everyone agree with our perspective, deliver victim-centered services or put victims first. We do not ask that colleges and universities favor one party over the other. What we demand is fairness. We demand that both parties be allowed their due process – and rather than mask irrelevant and degrading questions about sexual positions, sexual orientation and the color of the victim’s underwear – we demand that campuses and universities provide balanced and equitable responses to both parties. In other words, we expect them to follow the law.
Stacy Malone, Esq., Executive Director, and the attorneys of the Victim Rights Law Center- Boston, MA and Portland, OR"
Posted by Katie Feifer on 08/28/11 at 03:56:13 PM
Christine Herrman, JD, Executive Director of the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force of the Oregon Attorney General’s office, wrote the following in an email to some colleagues in CounterQuo.
She simply, eloquently and persuasively (in my opinion) gets to the heart of the matter of one of the most vexing and troublesome issues in the case of Dominque Strauss Kahn – former head of the IMF – who allegedly raped a hotel maid. It’s a troublesome issue in our culture: we too seldom believe a victim of sexual assault when s/he reports it. It’s important to persuade our society that in fact, victims generally don’t lie about rape. We need to keep saying it, in as many different eloquent ways as possible, until people get it. So, with permission, here’s what Christine had to say.
“I don’t mean to suggest that DSK knew all these facts about the victim; there’s no indication of that. My point was simply that he was rewarded for good victim choice. But let’s look at what he DID know.
He knew she was a lowly maid.
He knew she was a woman of color.
He likely was able to ascertain, if she spoke, that she was an immigrant.
He knew he was the head of the IMF.
He knew he was rich.
He knew he was unlikely to be held accountable (again)
And, sadly, he was right.
As for trying difficult cases … I generally try to avoid stepping into the shoes of another prosecutor. We seldom have the full picture of what the prosecutor knows. In this case, though, it’s very hard to believe that there’s anything we don’t know, thanks to the 25-page motion to dismiss. So, with full knowledge that I am but one opinion and sheltered by the awareness that I don’t have the whole world watching my every move, I’m comfortable with saying that yes, I would have gone forward with this case. This is provided, as has been reported, that the victim was fully apprised of the risks of acquittal and wished to proceed. However, it’s worthy of note that I *do* believe her. And these prosecutors made a point of saying that they don’t.
I’m not naïve, and I can’t for a second argue that the inconsistencies in her various accounts wouldn’t be really damaging. What I can argue, though, is that her report of the assault, as well as her actions after it, are largely consistent. Where they aren’t, a simple education about trauma offers explanation. And jurors can handle this – if we give them the opportunity. A robust voir dire, and an expert in trauma and counterintuitive victim behavior would be essential, of course.
The other lies/inconsistencies in her personal history, if they came in, would also hurt, no doubt. But the account given by the prosecutors in that motion is incomplete. The complete story is damning still – but far less so. And again, well-chosen, well-educated juries can handle it.
And let’s not forget that there can only be two options here: a sexual assault, or a consensual encounter. We cannot discount the absolute absurdity of this being consensual. DSK might assert that he paid her for her services – but if this is the case, where was the money she received? And why, why, why would she tell anyone? As noted by the prosecutors, there’s no indication that she even knew who he was before this encounter. And, of course, in his statements to the police, he never mentioned anything of the sort.
Would a trial result in a conviction for DSK? Who knows (we never will, that’s for sure). But would it be worth it, if for no other reason than to establish that the community will not simply stand idly by and fail to object to this kind of behavior? I absolutely believe so.”
Posted by Katie Feifer on 08/04/11 at 11:55:33 AM
Roy Black, a noted criminal defense attorney who helped William Kennedy Smith get an acquittal on rape charges in 1991, recently wrote an essay in Salon.com that began with a good point and then veered so seriously wrong that we were stunned (but not surprised.) And then shocked into responding.
Black's good point is this: there is no justice served in humiliating and convicting men accused of rape before they are tried in court. We do not condone "perp walks" and public smearing of reputations. We want civility and fairness in our treatment of those in the news. We agree that there should be no "rush to judgement" and that rape cases are not well-served when they are tried in the media. So far, so good.
But then, in the name of "equality" between rape victims and those they accuse of rape, Black goes off the rails in his rush to judge rape victims as women who routinely falsely accuse men of rape. Utilizing discredited research and playing upon prevailing myths about "women who cry rape" he argues that we ought to eliminate most of the protections for victims we enacted since the 1970s. These were put in place to make it easier for women who were raped to report to police and cooperate in the prosecution of rapists. The idea that more prosecutions would results in more convictions, and that more rapists would be in prison, making society safer.
In Roy Black's world, the only way to protect the privacy and reputationof men accused of rape would be to make it even more impossible than in already is for a woman to bring a rape accusation to police. In Black's world, a woman would have to have corroborating evidence of a rape taking place, which we know seldom occurs. In this world, a woman would have to prove "a clear element of force or the threat of force."
In fact, the rates of false rape accusations are quite low: reputable research puts it at 2-8% of accusations - a level no different than for other crimes. In fact, the vast majority of women who are raped NEVER report it to the police. Conviction rates are excceedingly low. We invite you to read some of the reputable research reports in our reference materials section.
Also, take a look at how Susan Brownmiller, who in 1975 wrote the groundbreaking book "Against our Will", took Black to task in a pointed response printed in Salon.com.
We believe that adopting Black's "modest reforms" will only make things more "equitable" for men accused of rape by further depressing the number of women who bravely come forward to accuse someone of raping them. It's so clearly the wrong solution to the problem he poses, it makes us wonder: why would this prominent defense attorney even suggest this?
Because he's a brilliant defense attorney. His Salon.com argument will make it even easier for him to gain acquittals for men accused of rape, because he perpetuates so many myths about rape victims. Decrying the media trial of men accused of rape, he uses the media to put on trial those women who make rape accusations. Sickening, but a brilliant defense strategy. Prosecutor Roger Canaff eloquently argues against the myths and points out Black's fallacies in his blog.
The myths about rape and its victims are among the most resistant to squelch. Perpetuating these myths serve many powerful people and powerful purposes. We continue to fight against these myths, and once again urge our readers to arm yourselves with the facts, and use them to discredit these myths whenever and wherever you hear them.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 07/20/11 at 02:22:22 PM
The allegations of sexual assault made against Dominique Strauss-Kahn by an African immigrant working as a hotel maid should help focus our nation's attention on the danger and the vulnerability they face working in this country. Our earlier blog post, written and informed by several CounterQuo members, touches on that aspect of the case, as part of our broader perspective on where our public reaction misses the reality of sexual assault.
Two recent pieces, one by CounterQuo founding member Monica Ramirez of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and another by Betsy Reed printed in The Nation, shine the spotlight on how deeply vulnerable immigrant women are to sexual assault and workplace harassment, and how their situation - limited English, lack of credibility with authorities in this country, fear of losing their job or worse - conspire against their ability to remain safe or to see perpetrators of injustice against them held accountable.
We are troubled at reports of victimization of women by men who hold power over them. However, we have a responsibility to use the stories of these cases to help us all learn what these women face. It's a first step to taking action to remedy a disgraceful situation.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 05/21/11 at 01:34:46 PM
While the recent headlines detailing both a hotel maid’s account and past allegations of sexual assault by IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn came as a shock to some, for those who work with victims of sexual assault – and victims of workplace sexual violence in particular – these facts are nothing new. Sexual violence in the workplace is an all too common occurrence. It happens with alarming regularity across our country and is perpetrated by employers, supervisors, co-workers and third parties, such as hotel guests and other business clientele. Many victims are met with skepticism, blatant indifference, or a myriad of victim-blaming excuses or accusations. Abuse of power in the workplace can manifest itself through cheating shareholders, harassing subordinates, and yes, sometimes by sexually violating someone with less power. In fact, tragically, far too often women who clean hotel rooms fall victim to sexual violence in the very rooms that they are paid to clean, just like the woman, an immigrant from Africa, who has reported Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault. Immigrant women are especially vulnerable to such abuses of power, whether working in hotels, agriculture, factories, homes or offices. Because they are immigrants and may be isolated, have limited English proficiency, and/or fear law enforcement, few of these victims ever report the crimes that they suffer to authorities.
If we want to end sexual violence we must assure that strong sanctions become the norm. Law enforcement officials must be willing to believe victims when they make a report. We commend the New York City Police Department’s swift and diligent response in this case. Sadly, the NYPD’s response is all too often not the typical response of a law enforcement agency. Victims of sexual violence must have information about and access to existing civil and criminal legal remedies so that they may have the opportunity to seek justice for what they have suffered.
We must also hold the media accountable for their reliance on innuendo and salacious details in lieu of objective journalism. Finally, we must confront the thinly-veiled smear campaigns against reported victims at the same time that we rush to the defense of the accused.
Constant speculation about the motives of those who report these devastating crimes is damaging to the victims in those cases, to anyone who ever finds themselves in a similar position, and to our social understanding of and response to sexual violence as a whole. It is no wonder that the reporting rate for sexual assault is so dismally low.
Unfortunately, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s recent arrest has brought out the typical responses we’ve come to expect when a wealthy or high-profile man is accused of such a crime. We hear things like, “Why would a successful, powerful, and rich man NEED to rape anyone? He could have almost any woman he chose, or at the very least he could pay for the services of someone.” This logic seems to conveniently and consistently miss the point: Sexual violence is about dominance and abuse of power.
Why is it easier to believe in the intrinsic dishonesty, vindictiveness, and opportunistic nature of alleged rape victims than to believe in a sense of entitlement, and lack of respect and judgment among alleged rapists? In the Strauss-Kahn scenario some are even willing to accept an elaborate conspiracy theory (that this was a set-up by supporters of French President Sarkozy) rather than embrace the possibility that a man with a documented history of sexual coercion, exploitation and – according to recent reports – prior sexual assaults could possibly attack a woman with very little power or status.
Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn deserves the presumption of innocence afforded to all alleged criminals in this country. We long for the day, however, when we show equal restraint before labeling alleged victims as liars and swindlers. So yes, we are willing to suspend judgment on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s guilt or innocence. By the same token, we are willing to look at the mounting number of accounts from women who speak of their own exploitation or abuse by Strauss-Kahn over the years. We hope the truth prevails and the public can stop being influenced by the far too common knee jerk reaction that disbelieves victims as the case proceeds.
Anne Munch Consulting
ART WORKS Projects
The Feminist Wire
End Violence Against Women International
The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force
Rape Victim Advocates
RH Reality Check
Sociologists for Women in Society
Victim Rights Law Center
The Voices and Faces Project
Women, Action & the Media Women in Media and News
Women’s Media Center
Posted by Katie Feifer on 04/13/11 at 01:40:33 PM
It can be difficult to explain to people what we mean when we say we live in a "rape culture." In part, it's because the attitudes and values that define it are so deeply engrained that many hardly notice it. Think of the adage about fish trying to describe water.
However, a recent blog post in Ms Magazine provided two really good examples of rape culture in action, one of which was most interesting for how inadvertent its use was.
The article is a victim-supportive report on a civil suit brought by a rape victim against several men in San Jose. All defendants were cleared of all charges, including rape. The article details many of the victim blaming attitudes that came into play to help the defendants win the case.
The story of the case and its outcome is, unfortunately quite common. Too many people believe that if a woman drinks and flirts with men, she "wants it" and even "is asking for it" despite the fact that at the time of "it" - an attack by several men - she was either semi or unconscious and unable to provide consent to the acts they perpetrated on her.
What struck me, though, was the title of the article itself. Inadvertently (I believe), Ms Magazine participated in a bit of victim blaming, playing on the very attitudes of rape culture that we are trying to change. The title is long: "She Drinks, She Flirts, She Passes Out... Is it Rape?" But even with its length, please notice what's missing: any mention of the men who sexually violated her, or their acts. The title, like our rape culture, focuses solely on the victim and her actions. If we're talking about the crime of rape, we should talk about the rapists and their acts.
Examine how your thinking shifts if I re-title the article like this (n.b., I don't know the specific charges so I'm hypothesizing on the specifics based on the charges): "Several Men Penetrate and Sexually Abuse an Unconscious Teen Who'd Been Drinking and Flirting... Is it Rape?"
Posted by Alisa Miriam Roadcup on 04/13/11 at 01:40:22 PM
Today is my final day at UN Women and it's hard to believe my experience here is coming to an end. Another member of Amnesty International's Women's Human Rights Coordination Group (WHRCG), Lyric Thompson, will be arriving tonight also representing Women for Women International.
All of the sessions and parallel events have been extremely informative and useful. Many of the stories of violence against women I’ve heard are country and region specific, yet a recurring theme persists: violence against women affects everyone and when a woman is harmed through rape and violence, the entire community suffers.
On Saturday I attended “Celebrating UN Women: The Way Forward” held at the New School and sponsored by the Women’s Learning Partnership. The day featured an impressive lineup of three expert panels and a keynote address from Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women.
A few hundred women were gathered in the auditorium of the New School, yet somehow the space felt closer and more intimate than any other session I'd attended. Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership delivered the welcome and introduced Madame Bachelet.
Madame Bachelet addressed the hopes and challenges for UN Women, posing questions to the audience and taking Q&A at the end. How can a stronger link be made between UN Women and NGO’s? What channels can we create for women’s groups and networks in guiding UN Women’s strategic direction? Ms. Bachelet cited the Oxfam report released a day before the official launch of UN Women, The Blueprint for UN Women, which outlines views of the role UN Women should play in women’s human rights, gender equality and social justice. The survey findings call for UN Women to deliver on its promise and work with governments and civil society to ensure accountability for delivering rights equality and development for women. The report also states, “UN Women needs to stand out from the traditional ways of operating to have impact on the ground by leaving the UN’s comfort zone of doing business as usual.” I have heard this sentiment expressed many times over the course of this past week. Women are calling for a new paradigm.
The panel of speakers represented the countries of Nigeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Afghanistan and Lebanon. The presenters were seated next to Ms. Bachelet on the stage and responded to Bachelet’s address with their individual perspectives on “Our Vision for UN Women: Views from the Field.” This format provided a face-to-face opportunity for these distinguished panelists to voice their concerns openly and to ask M. Bachelet their pressing questions and concerns.
Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning spoke to the findings in the Oxfam survey that the UN, up to this point, has “largely failed women in the developing world. Seventy per cent of people living in poverty are women, 60% of people living with HIV in sub-Sahara Africa are women and girls, and violence against women continues to be at alarming levels.” In a humble and quiet voice, Dr. Yacoobi stated, “Afghan women need to have a peaceful and secure life. Afghan women need security.”
Mallika Dutt, President and CEO of Breakthrough then spoke, “My dreams and hopes from UN Women are for women to transform the shape and form of the political table. We need you (UN Women) to be a tipping point, a turning point, not just for all the women of the world, but for all humanity.”
Sindi Medar-Gould, Executive Director of BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights stated, “The women of Africa join voices with women from around the world in congratulating UN Women on the coming in to being of this entity that we fought for with our sweat, our tears and in some instances, our blood. We look to your leadership to help bring to meaning the true meaning of gender mainstreaming. We are looking to you and to this entity to bring in feminist re-interpretations of what is meant by these resolutions and conventions. Let’s push the envelope forward. We are ready to stand with you shoulder to shoulder to make things happen on our continent.”
Madam Bachelet responded collectively to the panelists saying, “I am not a magician, but I will work as hard as possible to fulfill your dreams and the needs of women and girls of the world. It was enriching to hear your needs. The challenges you have named are the challenges that I understand and I know they are my challenges. I can be useful but I know these challenges are very complicated and very complex. How do we pass from rhetoric to action? How do we transform politics? I believe in commitments, not promises. Because women’s rights are human rights, we need to think as decision makers to build a strong economic, social and political case on why empowerment of women is important in these three realms. Parliamentarians need to know what is in the balance, cost, and benefit. We need to build a strong case. Women’s rights as human rights have not been the key to opening doors. We need new arguments. We need to build a case. We need effective strategies. You have in UN women an open, transparent and upfront dialogue. Together, we can work harder and stronger to improve the lives of women and girls.”
If you had one question for Madame Bachelet, what would it be?
Posted by Alisa Miriam Roadcup on 04/13/11 at 01:40:11 PM
I’m at the Vienna Café in the United Nations building, nursing a cup of coffee. To my right, a Liberian Ambassador is being interview on the struggle for women’s empowerment in her country. State delegations clad in colorful dress drift by en route to their sessions. It’s day three of the 55th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Today brings the official launch of UN Women, the UN organization for gender equality and the empowerment of women. I’m here as a delegate for Amnesty International’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group (WHRCG), a newly formed committee responsible for advising AIUSA’s Women’s Human Rights in order to promote and protect women's human rights around the world.
With the launch of UN Women tonight, an atmosphere of anticipation saturates the hallways and shared spaces. I’ve encountered genuine enthusiam and also a cautious optimism in my conversations with delegates, staffers and NGO representatives.
On Tuesday, the first official day of the 55th CSW, I had the pleasure of meeting with Polly Truscott, AI’s Deputy Representative to the United Nations. We discussed the issues most pertinent to the WHRCG priorities: I-VAWA, Indigenous Rights, CEDAW, Maternal Mortality and UN Council Resolution 1325. I discovered how AI is playing an important role in the Global Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign, a global network of over 300 women’s human rights and social justice groups which have been working for five+ years to establish UN Women. Now that UN Women is a reality, GEAR is focused on ensuring that women's rights groups play a role in the future work of UN Women.
Madam Bachelet, former president of Chile and Under-Secretary-General of UN Women has demonstrated real commitment to women’s empowerment. Yet there is still critical work to be done. In the corridors, word is out that planning sessions on UN Women’s global strategy are happening, but no one is clear which women’s groups have been invited to be part of this process. Shouldn't the establishment of UN Women call for a new, collaborative paradigm? Can there be closer consultation with women on the ground, women who are carrying out this work in their communities? Will their voices be heard? In the celebrations of this historic day, let’s not lose sight of what really matters: ensuring accountability, efficacy and collaboration from UN Women.
GEAR is calling for UN Women and all other UN agencies to implement an effective system of consultation at national, regional and international levels because women’s rights groups and NGO’s need to have a voice in the strategic planning process.
UN Women shouldn’t be business as usual. Women are waiting.
For those interested in the official UN Women meetings, webcasts can be found at the following link: http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/index.html
Get involved in the GEAR campaign! Help build a world that works for all women.
Alisa M. Roadcup, former Stop Violence Against Women Campaign Coordinator for Amnesty International USA and PhD Candidate in International Psychology at The Chicago School for Professional Psychology is a delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women this week. She’s blogging about her experiences for Amnesty International USA, CounterQuo.org and the United Nations Association of Greater Boston.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 02/07/11 at 08:12:50 PM
A new public awareness and education campaign developed by End Violence Against Women, International entitled "Start by Believing" fits quite well with the mission of CounterQuo: to challenge and change the way our society responds to sexual violence. "Start by Believing" is premised on the notion that every step a rape victim takes on the path to healing, and every step our authorities take to hold rapists accountable for their crimes, is predicated on people believing the victim, and acting accordingly. When someone doesn't believe - when, for example, a police officer doesn't believe and refuses to conduct an investigation, or when a victim's friend doesn't believe it was "really rape" and tells her it wasn't a crime and she just needs to "get over it", we fail. We fail to support victims. We fail to get rapists off the street - which means more crime, because we know that the "average" rapist attacks six times.
So, "Start by Believing." Know the facts and share them. And recognize what are, indeed, facts and what are merely opinions and myths about rape.
For more on that, read Roger Canaff's blog on the "Start by Believing" campaign. Among the many facts he cites (and sources with real, credible research - unlike those who would claim otherwise) "... in the vast majority of cases, there is no reason to doubt the victim making the allegation. Further, even if one believes the victim, blaming her for "her part" in inviting her victimization is both wrong-headed and counter-productive."
We can't say it enough, and we invite you to keep saying it too, using the facts at your disposal through Roger's blog and the "Start by Believing" campaign, as well as through the resources here at CounterQuo.org.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 01/31/11 at 12:14:52 PM
On December 1, we wrote about the tragedy of Lizzy Seeerg, a college freshman who accused a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her. Days after making her prompt, thorough report and cooperating with authorities, she died. Notre Dame and the local police did next to nothing to investigate. Notre Dame, in particular, showed great insensitivity and disregard for the young woman's charges, failing even to bench the football player while they looked into the charges against him. Much was written on this case, by us and others. Today, five months after Lizzy Seeberg was traumatized by the Notre Dame football player's assault, CounterQuo member Roger Canaff updates us on the case and reminds us to continue to advocate for women like Lizzy, calling universities like Notre Dame to make their actions live up to the promises they make on paper and the values they claim to endorse.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 12/10/10 at 01:29:29 PM
When Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was recently arrested on charges of rape, the media had a field day. Not surprisingly, given the rape culture in which we live, only a small part of the chatter and discussion focused on the seemingly politically-driven timing of the arrest. Far more prevalent in the media were wrong-headed opinions masquerading as fact, continuing our long-standing practice of blaming rape victims for being raped and denying them any semblance of sympathy for having been victims of a traumatic crime.
Jaclyn Friedman uses this latest example of a celebrity rape case to explain - once again - where we go wrong when we talk about rape in The American Prospect, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape." She notes the emergence of "...Rape Apology Day, on which every way you can imagine to blame or discredit a woman's allegations of sexual violence is not only fair game but celebrated."
The ritual has become commonplace now. And this fact requires even more of us to demand that it stop by vociferously objecting to the falsehoods pervading our media coverage about sexual violence and letting people know the truth. Sharing articles like Jaclyn's and making its points your talking points is one way to make a dent.
Posted by Samir Goswami on 12/05/10 at 04:40:18 PM
In 1995 a California jury convicted a 16-year-old girl, Sara Kruzan, for fatally shooting her pimp and trafficker, George Gilbert Howard. Howard was 31 years old when he began abusing an 11-year-old Sara and started selling her to men when she turned 13. After spending the last 15 years in prison, Sara has appealed to Governor Schwarzenegger for clemency and currently there is a fervent national advocacy campaign to urge him to free her.
She deserves to be freed. Freeing Sara may also prove to be a monumental turning point in our cultural understanding and political acceptance of how the United States should treat victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. Freeing Sara will also be a step towards countering the political fears that elected officials have about being labeled “soft on crime”. Despite the perceived political risks, I think Governor Schwarzenegger will free Sara.
Please see “Don’t be a Clemency Girly-Man Governor,” originally posted on Human Goods.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 12/01/10 at 03:17:44 PM
We advocate. We prosecute. We litigate. We write and lobby for legislation and policy change. We teach and preach, we write and write and talk and talk and talk and keep at it because the cost of not doing so, is people's lives.
The recent suicide of St. Mary's College student Lizzy Seeberg 10 days after she reported being sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player has touched and angered many. We are touched - and heartbroken - because a 19 year old young woman apparently felt so much pain and had so little hope for moving past the horrific pain that she chose to end her life. And we are angered because Notre Dame and local law enforcement agencies were and are callous and cruel and unconscionably wrong-headed in how they responded (actually, how they didn't respond) to Lizzy's allegations.
Two CounterQuo members, Roger Canaff and Jaclyn Friedman, have each written about this case. Jaclyn takes aim at yet another example of our rape culture at work: "the structure of decisions, actions and inactions that protects a football player from even being investigated on a credible allegation." Roger, in a moving "Letter from a Prosecutor to a Young Woman" posted on his blog and at Jezebel, grapples with the ignorance and insensitivity that allows a Catholic university to place greater importance on keeping a football player accused of a heinous crime on the field and stonewalling investigation than taking seriously the word of a young woman who "did everything that could possibly have been asked of you."
We will continue to write and talk and advocate and litigate to change our rape culture and make our world safer from sexual violence. Please add your voice to ours. Talk, write, re-post, share... until we don't need to anymore.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 11/09/10 at 01:14:03 PM
The Supreme Court of Canada is about to rule on a case that centers on the issue of whether a person can give "advance" consent to sex. The specifics involve a woman who consented to participate in a specific sex act with her partner. She passed out; he penetrated her anally, while she was unconscious. She never told him she was okay with anal penetration. Did her consent at one point in time, for one particular act, render her consenting to any and all acts with this partner?
We, like many others, say no, no and again NO. We need to do a lot more educating and awareness raising on this point: consent is not something that, once given, applies to any and all acts for a night, a day, a weekend, or an entire relationship. 'Sex' is not a single thing or act that you say yes or no to once, and then are stuck with being committed to.
As we know, 'sex' is a series of activities engaged in by two (or more) people each of whom should be enthusiastically consenting to each act or activity s/he participates in. You can't consent if you're not awake. And even if you are awake, consent can be withdrawn even after freely given.
Jaclyn Friedman, writer, activist and founding member of CounterQuo, brilliantly educates us all on the issue of consent - again - in her latest on Amplify: "Consent is Not a Lightswitch."
Spread the word.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 10/21/10 at 10:49:56 AM
Male child sexual abuse happens. A lot. We don't know exactly how prevalent it is because, even more than with female child sexual abuse, victims are unable or unwilling to speak about what was done to them. Estimates are that 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse need our support and understanding just as much as female survivors do. When male survivors do speak out, giving us a glimpse of what they've gone through, it's a gift for all of us - an opportunity to learn.
Roger Canaff, a founding member of CounterQuo, has recently called our attention to a film done by Kathy Barbini and Simon Weinberg, called "Boys and Men Healing." The 60 minute documentary focuses on the stories and journeys of three men who were sexually abused as children. One of those men, David Lisak, is one of the most important and insightful researchers in the field of sexual violence.
Roger's blog on the film and the issue of male childhood sexual abuse, titled "Vertigo" is beautifully written, and a compelling read.
The film, "Men and Boys Healing" is well worth seeing. And fortunately, you can buy or borrow it (for free!) from 1in6 - itself a valuable resource for those interested in the issue of male sexual abuse.
Posted by Samir Goswami on 10/07/10 at 07:12:25 PM
For the first time India is playing host to the Commonwealth Games, a major sporting event for countries once colonized by Great Britain. The Games are held every four years to commemorate continued friendship and collective progress. During my visits to New Delhi, my home city over the past few years, I've been awestruck by its dizzying rate of growth and development. Talking with my Delhi friends while wandering through bazaarrs, visiting temples, or while at the many fancy restaurants and clubs the city has to offer, I have been consistenly impressed by the sense of optimism for prosperity that they profess. Sadly, the organizing of the Commonwealth Games have shed light on an underbelly of labor and sexual exploitation, and corruption that still plagues my country, sixty years after we became a democratic republic.
I wrote about what India's failure to turn Delhi into a "world class city" for the Commonwealth Games can teach us all about progress, illusion and collective responsibility in "Let the Games Begin."
Porn on Campus - Where's the Dialog About What Pornography is and Does? It's More Than Just a Free Speech Issue
Posted by Samir Goswami on 08/03/10 at 12:04:58 PM
Last week the University of Maryland made headlines when a student group screened the XXX rated pornographic film, The Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge on campus. As expected, the Washington Post and CNN.com highlighted this "controversy" by only focusing on the usual debate about pornography as a free speech issue. The coverage pitted the student defenders of free speech against members of the Maryland State Legislature and their public attempts to "uphold morality."
I find it hard to believe that these were the only two perspectives that students on campus were debating--especially when the discussion is about pornography. Surely there is room for more dialog that many students on campus would like to have engaged in.
I asked Valerie Chepp, a student at Maryland, to reflect on the matter. Please read “Pornography Reduxxx” for her very thoughtful insights about the desperate need for a complex debate at her college that this screening represents. Ms. Chepp is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland whose work focuses on feminist and social theory, media and popular culture, and African American studies.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 04/28/10 at 04:19:36 PM
Those who have been sexually assaulted recognize how difficult it can be to continue to work after they've been assaulted. Unfortunately too few employers and co-workers consider how difficult it can be for a survivor simply to come to work, let alone to perform. Without support, flexibility and understanding on the part of employers, many survivors face job loss as they try to continue to work while coping with the trauma of their assault. The impact is especially critical for those who were sexually assaulted at their workplace, or by a co-worker or employer. A recent blog by Robin Runge and Marcy Karin highlights the needs of sexual assault survivors in the workplace, and offers ideas and resources for employers - and co-workers - to help survivors in the workplace. If you work with others, this is well worth reading.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 04/21/10 at 11:37:42 AM
Roger Canaff, CounterQuo member, former sex crimes prosecutor in Virginia and New York and currently a Highly Qualified Expert with the U.S. Army assisting in investigation prosecution of sexual assault cases within the armed forces, has just written a powerful and insightful critique of the recent decision by Fred Bright, the Georgia D.A. who recently decided not to charge Roethlisberger with rape.
Canaff notes that he doesn't know all the facts of the case, and so can't base his comments on that. However, he rightly excoriates the D.A. for his publicly stated reasoning for declining to file charges in the case, noting "your reasons... should stand as a training tool in how not to evaluate a sexual assault case."
After pointing out some of the major reasons why D.A. Bright failed in his duties, Canaff concludes "I don’t believe you dropped this case in any sort of deference to a celebrity. I think you ran from it because you’re thoroughly unschooled on how to prosecute anything like it. Thus, you have failed this woman, the citizens of your jurisdiction, and the wider world beyond it. You have allowed a repeat sex offender to escape, let loose to rape again, which he almost surely will, despite your admonitions to him to “grow up.” Ben Roethlisberger is grown up, Mr. Bright. He’s a grown up rapist, and he has permanently altered and forever scarred the life of more than one woman."
We share Roger's belief that when prosecutors ignore the realities of conditions under which most rapes occur and the way many victims typically react immediately after the trauma they've endured, and use that ignorance as a basis for declining to prosecute, the ramifications run far and deep.
We urge you to read this important post, and share it broadly.
Posted by Samir Goswami on 02/10/10 at 01:59:52 PM
On February 3 2010 Scott Lee Cohen won the Democratic primary to become a candidate in the general election for Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. On February 4th, Chicago’s news media flooded the airwaves and newsprint with revelations that he abused his ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend. Since then, Scott Cohen has dropped out of the race; however, this would not be the first time that a political figure in Illinois has been in trouble for violence against women.
Blair Hull, a candidate for U.S. Senate was arrested for domestic battery. Mel Reynolds, a U.S. Congressman was convicted of sexual assault of a minor. Scott Fawell, chief aide to former Illinois Governor George Ryan, exchanged government contracts for lobbyists and arranged visits to prostituted women in Costa Rica. Alexi Giannoulias, currently Illinois’ State Treasurer and Democratic nominee for Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat authorized loans from his family run bank to a convicted pimp.
As the nation has amply witnessed, much media and public attention is focused on public corruption in Illinois, little on how elected officials treat women, which is a disservice to Illinois voters. Violence against women, whether it is domestic battery, sexual assault or the exploitation of women in prostitution is as pervasive among politicians as it is in the rest of society.
Do we want our elected officials to simply disregard, and in some cases perpetrate acts of harm against women? Do we want these men to run our state and represent us? How does that affect their votes on legislation about women’s safety, health and well being? What message does that send to young boys throughout the state? These are key questions that voters of all political backgrounds should ask because the answers matter.
In the 2010 Illinois budget funding for domestic violence programs was cut by nine percent, funding for sexual assault programs was cut by 19 percent and no funding was provided for preventing abused children from being further victimized by pimps and traffickers. Each percentage point of funding that is cut means that hundreds of women will not be able to flee abusive partners because they have nowhere to go. Hundreds of victims of rape will not be helped and thus their rapists not prosecuted and taken off the streets, and more children will have to suffer and endure child abuse in silence. A state’s priorities are reflected in its budgets. These are not the actions of a state that prioritizes addressing violence against women in any meaningful way.
How did we get here—how did we get to a point where an issue that affects one in four women in Illinois gets such little investment? We got here by willfully ignoring the many, many stories about abusive men that stare at us in the face every day. Actually, Scott Cohen told Illinois voters in the very beginning of his campaign that he had been arrested for battery. Despite this revelation by a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the fifth most populous state in the nation, Illinois’ news media did not adequately cover the story, his opponents did not make an issue out of it, and apparently the few voters who voted in the primary did not think that his propensity towards harming women mattered.
Violence against women does matter. It is the news media’s duty to adequately report it, it is all of our duty to work against it, and it is our civic obligation to ensure that our elected officials, rather than being perpetrators themselves, champion measures to end sexual harm. We have gotten to a point in Illinois that the message we send to a victim is that the violence that was perpetrated against you, the horror that you had to endure, is only important if it serves a higher political purpose. And that is simply not acceptable.
Samir Goswami is a 2010 Chicago Community Trust Fellow and a Chicago Foundation for Women “Impact Award” winner.
Posted by Anne Ream on 12/03/09 at 02:41:44 PM
Amy Dickinson, a nationally syndicated advice columnist wrote on November 27, 2009 responding to a request for advice from “Victim in Virginia,” a young female trying to determine whether she had been raped at a fraternity party. We were deeply dismayed by Ms. Dickinson’s response.
Ms. Dickinson displays an all-too-common ignorance of the dynamics of non-stranger sexual assault, the law and the appropriate ways to advise a survivor of such violence. Because such misperceptions have an effect not only on victims but also on public safety, and because Ms. Dickinson’s widely heard voice is an important one, we are compelled to make several key points.
Ms. Dickinson’s apparent disdain for the judgment of the advice seeker (“Were you a victim? Yes. First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment”) is as painful a display of victim blaming as we have seen in some time. The first response to this clearly struggling young woman should have been one of empathy, not shame or blame. Even if consuming alcohol, agreeing to spend time alone with a peer, or attending a fraternity party are indicators of “bad judgment,” rape is not a justifiable consequence. Neither do these choices justify shifting responsibility for this crime from the assailant to the victim. Insinuating otherwise is not only punishing the young woman who is at the center of this case but is problematic from a public education standpoint.
Despite the fact that the advice seeker clearly indicated that she said “no” and was coerced by the alleged perpetrator, Dickinson suggests that what was by legal standards a rape may have in fact been merely a misunderstanding fueled by alcohol consumption. In suggesting that the consumption of alcohol is a great neutralizer, one that morally equates the sexual violence victim and the perpetrator, Dickinson ignores current law and decades of rape education efforts. She also ignores this fundamental truth: alcohol lowers inhibitions that might otherwise prevent behavior that is nevertheless consistent with the desire of the inebriated person (in this case, that of the alleged perpetrator). It does not unleash a heretofore non-existent urge to violate a resisting woman who has protested her attacker’s advances.
Dickinson’s imprecise use of language is equally troubling. She conflates “unwise” sexual conduct with “unwanted” sexual conduct, implying that a victim might choose (because of her attendance at a party and the voluntary consumption of alcohol) to “engage” in either or both. In fact, one does not “engage” in unwanted sexual conduct anymore than one “engages” in being robbed at knife point. Describing sexual violence as a contract negotiation gone wrong sends the wrong message to victims and the broader community, fueling social attitudes that make the world less safe and less just. Indeed, when over 80% of the rapes committed in the United States involve people who know each other – and many of those rapes involve alcohol – the symbolic and practical impact of Ms. Dickinson’s ill-considered advice is potentially quite large.
Most troubling to us was Ms. Dickinson’s assertion that the alleged rapist should be involved in discussions with his victim “in order to determine what happened.” One problematic aspect of this particular piece of advice is the presumption that this young woman cannot know what happened to her – only the accused perpetrator can tell her. From a legal standpoint, such advice is ill conceived and irresponsible: one does not direct the victim of a crime to confront the perpetrator of that crime after the fact, and on her own time. This is what the legal system is for. From an ethical standpoint, advising a victim to reach out to her alleged perpetrator is cruel, unreasonable, and likely to be traumatic (as well as ineffective). It is also, for the victim, potentially unsafe.
There is a wealth of important information available on rape and sexual abuse — information that we hope might inform future “Ask Amy” columns. Indeed the most helpful and accurate aspect of Ms. Dickinson’s answer was the information that she included from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Now we encourage her to learn more. The website of one of our Chicago-based CounterQuo partners, The Voices and Faces Project (www.voicesandfaces.org), includes the names, faces, and stories of women and girls who have lived through rape and abuse. Information about the legal response to rape and sexual assault is available from the Victim Rights Law Center (www.victimrights.org). We hope that after reading the testimony of victims with experiences not unlike the “Victim in Virginia,” Ms. Dickinson will be less likely to blame those who have lived through sexual violence for the damage that has been done to them.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 11/24/09 at 04:47:43 PM
A recent New York Times article on NFL star Larry Johnson's signing with the Cincinnati Bengals discusses the troubling message that signing sends. Johnson was released from the Kansas City Chiefs after a long history of what might charitably be labeled "bad behavior" - including separate accusations that he assaulted women, and pleading guilty to disturbing the peace at a Kansas City club.
Johnson landed with a much better team, and stands a good chance of being in the NFL playoffs. He's getting another chance to make good. But is his new team making it clear that they will not tolerate bad behavior off the field as well as on? Or is the message he (and we) are getting that if you're a football star, you can be excused from acts of violence and abuse? We fear it's the latter, and it will become another example of talented athletes - role models for many boys and men - being lionized and rewarded in spite of (or even because of) their abusive, violent treatment of women and others.
Neil Irvin, CounterQuo founding member and the vice president of programs for Men Can Stop Rape, urges "If you absolutely believe that this is the person for your franchise, you should have a clear expectation that there is a zero tolerance for any kind of bad behavior."
Unfortunately, there's no evidence from the Bengals or the NFL of zero tolerance. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. You beat up women? Welcome to the team! We're glad to have you.
Read the New York Times article here. Please let the writer know your thoughts, and add your comments here as well.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 11/05/09 at 12:10:49 PM
A recent blog post by Meg Stone in Bitch laid out, in eye-opening clarity, some of the key reasons why our culture fails to treat sexual assault like the pandemic public health issue it is. We're expending much effort to prevent the spread of H1N1 in this country. Widespread, coordinated efforts. Our government and community responses to H1N1 are the way public health initiatives are supposed to work. Media, government, schools, communities - all working together.
She wonders, "What would our media, our public discourse, and our institutional response look like if people cared as much about rape as they do about H1N1?"
The CDC estimates that H1N1 will affect 0.3% of the U.S. population. It reports that sexual assault (defined as any unwanted sexual activity) affected 2.5% of women and 0.9% of men in the past year.
Meg Stone notes "So why is the public health infrastructure working so well? Because it's not being undermined by shame, stigma and denial (you know, the way rape and sexual assault are.)"
Where's our Presidential state of emergency declaration for sexual assault and rape? Imagine if sexual violence were addressed like H1N1. It's a vision we'd like to see.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 04/01/09 at 05:09:06 PM
How often does the false reporting of rape occur?
It is a question that policymakers, journalists and citizens at large are asking with greater frequency. A series of high-profile cases involving rape charges -- perhaps most notably, the events at Duke University -- seems to have fueled the public perception that the false reporting of rape is commonplace. This is a perception unsubstantiated by by any reliable data or the experiences of most in law enforcement and victim advocacy. It is also a perception that is sharply at odds with this fact: according to the United States Department of Justice, rape remains the most underreported crime in America.
We think that the best way to counter misperceptions about the false reporting of rape is with a careful and considered exploration of the facts. For this reason, we're pleased that Dr. Kim Lonsway and Sgt. Joanne Archambault (Ret.) - our allies at End Violence Against Women International - along with Dr. David Lisak of the University of Massachusetts, have published a piece that looks closely at the issue of false reporting, challenging public attitudes while proposing new ways of responding to rape cases that are unsubstantiated. One of their more interesting points is that when looking at methodologically rigorous studies, the rates of false reporting of rape coverages at between 2 - 8% - not the 41% or 90% that some (flawed) studies have reported. Read their piece here.
Sometimes it’s harder to criticize our friends than it is to criticize our enemies. But maybe not this time: Bill O’Reilly and the “It Happened to Alexa” Foundation
Posted by Anne Ream on 03/20/09 at 11:10:21 AM
In a world that blames, shames and disavows rape victims, how do we as a movement respond to a victim rights organization that invites one of the culture's most public and polemical victim blamers to speak at their fundraising event?
"It Happened to Alexa Foundation" is a rape victim advocacy organization that was founded in 2003 by Tom and Stacey Branchini. Theirs is a worthy group that has done much good in the last few years, which makes their selection of Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly as a headline speaker at the foundation's March 19th fundraiser both shocking and deeply troubling. O'Reilly has a long history of misogynistic and victim-blaming rhetoric, most notably calling 18 year-old rape and murder victim Jennifer Moore "moronic," and suggesting that, because of the way she was dressed, she was "asking for it." O'Reilly also said of victim Shawn Hornbeck -- who was abducted and allegedly sexually assaulted at the age of 11 and held for four years -- that "there was an element here that this kid liked about his circumstances." Media Matters, a media watchdog group, has compiled a long list of problematic O’Reilly statements about women, minority groups and victims.
Faced with online protests and hundreds of calls and emails - many from survivors of sexual violence - the leadership of “It Happened to Alexa Foundation” stands by their choice. "Bill O'Reilly is still speaking at the fundraiser. We are aware of his comments. We don't have any comment about it. I don't feel as if it would be productive." says Ellen Augello, the group’s Executive Director.
Actually, a public conversation about their choice of O'Reilly as a speaker would be productive. We need to start talking about how representations of victims in the media shape public attitudes about rape and drive outcomes in the courtroom. We need to be clear about the ways that the words of “talking heads” like Bill O’Reilly have contributed to a culture in which victims of sexual violence are blamed for the violence that has been done to them, and shamed into silence. We need to ask how a pundit at a major news network can continue to express outdated ideas about rape and its victims that have been discredited and de-bunked.
Most immediately, we in the anti sexual violence movement must respectfully challenge any ally who provides a public platform and organizational support for someone with such a long and unapologetic history of hostile and damaging statements. A high profile speaker may be a fundraising draw. But those who have been wounded by O'Reilly's ill-informed and uncompassionate rhetoric have already paid too high a price.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 02/24/09 at 12:37:22 PM
When most of us think about the crime of rape, we think about getting the "bad guy" and prosecuting him criminally. We think about the victim getting "justice" and perhaps even feeling empowered if her assailant receives legal sanction or punishment. However, unlike most other crimes, we all too often question and scrutinize the victim's actions leading up to the attack rather than the perpetrator's actions. We ask, “Why was she in his room?” or, “Was she giving him mixed signals?” when we should be asking, “Why did he keep buying her drinks?” or, “Why did he corner her in a room away from her friends?”
Then, when it comes to "justice" we focus all attention on the rights of perpetrator (justifiably so, given the important constitutional rights afforded those who are accused of crimes), but what about the needs of the victim?
In both cases our focus and devotion of energy and resources is skewed. There are many instances where a victim of sexual violence experiences social and legal problems as a direct result of the violence done to her. These can include problems with school or work, physical safety, housing, economic stability or immigration status. It is arguable that we ought to focus as much if not more on providing victims with civil legal remedies for problems and injustices they face after they are sexually assaulted than punishing the perpetrators of these crimes. For some thoughts and perspective on the case for civil legal remedies for rape survivors, read "The Second Wave: An Agenda for the Next Thirty Years of Rape Law Reform."
 Disclaimer: not all perpetrators are men and certainly not all victims are women, but for ease the author will use gendered pronouns. This is in no way meant to diminish the pain and harm inflicted on male, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered victims of sexual violence.
Posted by Katie Feifer on 01/19/09 at 06:12:15 AM
"No means no." It's language that is familiar to many high school and college students, and an important part of most anti sexual violence education efforts. What those of us working to end rape have talked much less about is the right to say "Yes." We believe that the freedom to decide whether, when, where, how, and with whom to have sexual intimacy is a civil right that should be upheld in our nation’s laws and culture. Put another way, our right to say "Yes" to sexual intimacy matters as much as our right to say "No."
Jaclyn Friedman and her co-editor, Jessica Valenti, now brings us an important new book that explores these themes. "Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape" calls for a greater understanding of and respect for female pleasure as part of a societal effort to end violence against women.
To find out more about "Yes Means Yes," visit: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com