Now Do You Believe Us?

By Katie Feifer

The case of Bill Cosby, beloved television “father,” comedian, role model and alleged rapist continues to unfold. And as it unfolds, it exposes some of the key issues at the heart of how we think about and confront (or don’t) sexual violence.

The latest: A deposition Cosby gave in 2005 as part of a lawsuit by a woman alleging he raped her has been made public. In it, he admits to giving women Quaaludes prior to “having sex” with this woman, and others.

Q. "When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?" 

A. “Yes.”

The line of questioning was stopped by Cosby’s attorney before he was asked whether the women he gave the drugs to took it freely and knowingly, and whether they subsequently consented to “having sex” with Cosby.

Here’s what we see. So far, 40+ women have accused Cosby of raping them. Most say that he put drugs in their drink, without their consent.  Many of the women who have come forward have been called liars, by a public that believes Cosby would never do something so heinous. This despite the fact that the survivors’ accounts of what Cosby did to them are eerily (but not surprisingly) similar. Sexual predators have an MO. They find what works, and stick with it. As Cosby apparently did, over decades.

So first (false) lesson: A woman is not to be believed. Not even when she has no reason to lie. Not even when her testimony is the same as those of many other women. Their testimony doesn’t count and can’t be “proof.”

From a CNN report

Singer Jill Scott was one of the celebrities who had supported Cosby after the allegations started emerging.

She previously tweeted, “I’m respecting a man who has done more for the image of Brown people that almost anyone EVER. From Fat Albert to the Huxtables.”

But she changed course after learning about Cosby’s deposition.

”About Bill Cosby. Sadly his own testimony offers PROOF of terrible deeds, which is ALL I have ever required to believe the accusations,” Scott tweeted.

When the alleged predator himself is discovered to have admitted to drugging women before “sex”, that’s when a few of the disbelievers change their tune? Judd Apatow spelled it out quite nicely in Esquire.

I don’t think there is anything new here. It is only new to people who didn’t believe an enormous amount of women who stated clearly that he drugged them. We shouldn’t need Bill Cosby to admit it to believe forty people who were victimized by him.... Maybe now more people in show business and all around our country will stand up and tell the people he attacked that we support you and believe you.

The true lesson here? Believe us. Whether it's one of us or 20 or 40 saying it. When we tell you someone raped us, believe us. 

Second lesson: We’re confusing things with the language we use. We often use the word “sex” when we talk about “rape.” The words have entirely different meaning. As Cara Courchesne of Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault so rightly pointed out, “Sex isn’t against the law. Rape is.

Reading “Cosby planned to use drugs to have sex with women” instead of “Cosby planned to use drugs to sexually assault women” prevents readers from fully understanding that we are in fact talking about a violent crime.

When we use euphemisms to talk about horrific crimes that are perpetrated against people, we are diminishing the crime, devaluing the experience of survivors, and removing the distinction between a consensual act and a crime.

Our media frequently describe sexual violence using the language of consensual sex. Even when they talk about children being raped by adults, as in “Roman Polanski had sex with a 13 year old girl.” Sounds a lot different than “Roman Polanski forcibly penetrated a 13 year old girl’s mouth and vagina with his penis.”

Third lesson: Not listening to women when they tell us they have been raped and sexually violated, and confusing rape with “sex” in our conversations, makes it ever so difficult for us to have a clear and true picture of what sexual violence looks like. Yes, there are a few instances when it can be confusing – to both victim and perpetrator – whether “what just happened” was rape or not.

Far, far more often, though, there is no objective confusion. We become confused when we are so sloppy with language that we equate a violent crime with a consensual, mutually pleasurable experience. And when we don’t listen to or believe the (primarily) women who tell us what they know so clearly has been done to them by predators who rape them.

Bill Cosby and the Monster Myth

By CAASE Executive Director, Kaethe Morris Hoffer

Since I was a teenager and rape victims first began confiding in me, I have been engaged in the work of standing with people who have lived through sexual violation.  Following renewed media interest in revelations about sexually exploitative conduct by Bill Cosby, I have been struck by how our wider community is now wrestling with the same problem most survivors experience: it is astonishingly difficult, and painful, to come to terms with the reality that otherwise good men engage in rape.

Thanks to decades of committed work by researchers, there are now mountains of evidence that men who commit sexual assault mostly violate people who are not strangers to them. They use enough force to overcome resistance but not so much as to leave behind significant or tell-tale physical injuries. So many are engaging in this violation, that rape merits being identified as an epidemic directed at women (some research has one in five women experience sexual victimization, some studies suggest the odds are slightly worse, few make it much better). These facts--as well as survivor accounts worth reading--make it clear that while rape is a monstrous act of violation, it is rarely committed by men who look like monsters. Rather, most men who rape are socially skilled and appealing enough to engineer circumstances in which they are alone with—as well as liked and trusted by—the subjects of their sexual domination.

I am sure that the world feels safer to those who believe that public conduct is a reliable predictor of private behavior.  A world in which rape is committed by men like Mike Tyson but not by men like Marv Albert, Woody Allen, Kobe Bryant, Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson, or William Kennedy Smith (to name a few men of undeniable talent who have been credibly reported to have engaged in sexual violation) is a world that would make more sense than the one in which we live.

Survivors—when we care to listen to them—tell us that rape is engaged in by men whose looks, behavior, and talent win friends, trusting colleagues, and sometimes very high public regard.  If one of your initial reactions to news exposing Bill Cosby as a serial sexual predator was some form of uncomfortable disbelief—an immediate “no way—this guy can’t be a rapist!” response—then you have lived the primary first reaction of most rape victims.  After decades of listening to survivors describe their heart-wrenching experiences of sexual assault, I have heard again and again (especially from victims of non-strangers, which is most victims) that their dominant thought during the rape itself (and for days or weeks afterwards) was not “He’s raping me” but something more like a primal cry of shock and disbelief—a terrified “what is happening!?” or “this can’t be happening.”  It is often a variation on the following: “I don’t/didn’t want this, and he knows/knew that….but…. he can’t be a rapist/I can’t be a rape victim/that can’t be rape.”  

Frustratingly, even the total clarity that most victims have about not wanting the sex they endure, does not immediately erase the views they formed prior to being violated.   Rather, most survivors have the incredibly uncomfortable—and confusing—experience of simultaneously conceiving of their violator as a decent (even attractive or admirable) man, and seeing the cruelty and callousness of his conduct. As anyone familiar with domestic violence or child abuse knows well, it takes time before abuse turns trust and affection into rage or hatred—even when the trust or affection has shallow roots.

As I think the broader public is now experiencing, following multiple reports that Bill Cosby took pleasure having sex with young women who were passed out, it is not easy to change how you think or feel about someone—especially someone like Cosby. It is painful, and difficult, to accept that a person who inspires respect or regard can also be someone who commits rape.  This pain, of course, is compounded for survivors by the sickening realization that just as the prior conduct of the man who raped them led them to assume that he couldn’t be a “rapist,” so too will others interpret his public conduct as evidence against the truth.  While victims are forced by their lived experiences to come to terms with realities that wishful thinking can’t erase, bystanders (whether they are friends, family, the criminal justice system, or the press) have access to a much less painful route: they can ignore the survivor’s account, they can choose to call it a lie, or they can implicitly dismiss it by calling it “an allegation”.

Because of the overwhelming number of women who are now speaking out, it may be that the public at large will ultimately come to regard Bill Cosby with the hatred and contempt that it reserves for men it deems rapists.  Some may even think such vilification is what it means to stand with survivors—many of whom do ultimately become blind to the qualities in the perpetrator that first inspired trust and affection.  As far as I’m concerned, this wouldn’t serve anyone. While I want people to stand with victims, doing so does not require that we deny the humanity or the talent of those who rape.  Bill Cosby’s life and career are full of inspiring acts of comedy, genius, and grace, and we can see and celebrate those while we simultaneously condemn his exploitation of women. 

Fundamentally, what I long for is a full scale rejection of the “monster myth” that has people thinking men cannot be both good and capable of rape.  For years now, survivor accounts of rape have been making it crystal clear that rape is rarely an act committed by obviously evil men, but mostly a monstrous act committed by otherwise good men.  To truly stand in solidarity with survivors, we must acknowledge and accept this painful and confusing truth. 

Clinging to the myth that only monsters engage in rape doesn’t serve anyone—except those who rape but can seek and win protection from accountability by pointing to their virtues.  For most people who never experience rape firsthand, the myth discourages thoughtful consideration about sexual conduct in favor of shallow analyses about who people “are” (is he a “rapist” or is she a “liar,” a “mental case,” or a “gold-digger”?) and incites disbelief of victims, because the very qualities that lead victims into situations of vulnerability—kindness, consideration, talent, generosity, wit, charisma—are thought to be qualities “rapists” are incapable of.  For victims, of course, the myth is a full-scale nightmare.  By setting victims up to suffer excruciating cognitive dissonance when they are sexually violated by a person they also know is a good person, the myth promotes self-disbelief, adding deep insult to agonizing injury. 

It might seem deeply wrong to describe a man as both good and a rapist.  But this is a truth that survivors have been pointing to for years.  And for as long as we refuse to see it—perhaps out of a fear that we will then have to treat rapists as humans deserving of compassion—we will continue to fail to treat victims with the credulity and compassion that they deserve.

I Want to Watch Football Again

By Katie Feifer

Like many football fans, I am tired of hearing about acts of violence being committed by NFL players.  This is not the first time players have been arrested for violent crimes.  There is a Wikipedia page for professional sportspeople convicted of crimes. U-T San Diego maintains an “NFL Arrest Database” with 731 entries that compiles “arrests and citations involving NFL players since 2000 that were more serious than speeding tickets.”

Outrage feels like an easy emotion in response to recent events but it does not contribute much to the conversation.  There is a lot of noise demanding change, calls for Roger Goodell to resign and for sponsors to back away from the NFL.  What is missing is a specific call to action. Quit watching games unless or until what?  Here is what I propose: quit watching games and put pressure on sponsors until the NFL creates strict policies that are consistently enforced, conducts appropriate internal investigations, and holds itself to a higher standard.

After reviewing the U-T San Diego database, the thing that struck me was the lack of consistency. Penalties doled out range from single game suspensions to teams cutting players for similar offences. I want to know what to expect from the NFL when players commit crimes whether it involves drugs, weapons, domestic violence, or child abuse.  Recognizing that there are different circumstances in every case, there still needs to be consistency in how players are treated, regardless of whether they are star players or on the practice team. Create strict policies and enforce them consistently. 

There has been much talk from the NFL and teams about letting “due process” play out, with no explanation of what that means. Does it mean the due process of the judicial system or some due process created by the NFL?  It looks like the NFL is hoping to hide behind the slow moving wheels of the judicial process in the hope that fans will forget about offenses in the meantime.  The NFL needs to bring in outside experts to help it create a process for conducting internal investigations that will form the basis for imposing penalties or not.

The NFL should hold itself to a higher standard.  Whatever else the organization is, it is an employer.  The locker room, the field, and any other place where employees are gathered needs to be treated as a workplace.  The NFL needs to thoughtfully and intentionally re-create what “football culture” means.  Today, “football culture” seems to mean hyper-masculinity, violence, arrogance, and privilege.  I will start watching again when “football culture” means athleticism, teamwork, leadership, and accountability.

I believe in giving second chances, when it is warranted. Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. Maybe there is not room for second chances in this game. I propose one very simple rule; do not let felons play the game.

Woody Allen and Rejecting the Monster Myth

By: Kaethe Morris Hoffer

I enjoy (many) Woody Allen movies, even though I've long believed he molested his daughter. I sing along when I hear Michael Jackson on the radio, even though I think he was a pedophile. I'd even vote again for Bill Clinton, even though I've always regarded the women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault as credible. 

It's not that I think there shouldn't be consequences for abusive sex--I just believe that we should be able to hold predators accountable while still making space for them in our society. Condemning someone's worst acts simply doesn't require that we stop acknowledging their humanity or talents. Allen, Clinton, Jackson: I think all these men engaged in some monstrous acts of violation. But I don't think they are monsters, and the idea that only monsters engage in sexual violation is a myth we need to reject.

I am the Executive Director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, an organization whose mission is to create accountability for sexual harm and eradicate sexual exploitation. I've spent the better part of the last twenty years standing with individual survivors of rape and prostitution, urging police and prosecutors to believe victims and initiate prosecutions, and filing civil lawsuits to create accountability when the criminal system fails to act (which is very often).

But does vilifying those who engage in sexual predation actually help survivors? To begin with, the more we insist that being decent or admirable is fundamentally incompatible with engaging in sexually abusive behaviors, the more difficult we make it for individual survivors who are abused by people whose humanity and/or talents are undeniable. While most people never engage in sexual abuse, most of those who do have good qualities that are plentiful and undeniable.

The monster myth isn't only a problem because it increases hostility and skepticism towards victims who report being harmed by apparently or otherwise decent men (or, rather less often, women). Extreme rhetoric and draconian penalties also discourage violators from taking responsibility for their actions: admitting to a sex offense is tantamount to declaring oneself an irredeemable degenerate. The legal consequences include lifetime pariah status and never-ending career and housing limitations pursuant to sex offender registry laws.

When Dylan Farrow recently wrote about being sexually violated as a child, she challenged readers to name their favorite Woody Allen film before and after reading a description of the sexual abuse he inflicted on her--quite explicitly endorsing the idea that it is not possible (or acceptable) to celebrate a person's talent and believe they engaged in sexual abuse. I can't blame her. An unwillingness to acknowledge that individuals can be capable of both extreme good and extreme bad is not unique to her, and our entire culture bears responsibility for the fact that she regarded celebrations of Allen and his work as a personal rebuke to her—a message that she should be silent and "go away."

So I understand that admiration for Allen feels like a slap in the face to his accusers. But still, I don't think that standing with victims requires adherence to the view that only evil men engage in rape. This view is far too simplistic, and it promotes the idea that evidence that a man is capable of kindness, love, respect, or gentleness, somehow constitutes proof against allegations of him engaging in sexually violating behavior. Just last week, for example, Barbara Walters implied that she could not believe Dylan's allegations because she has personally seen Allen be a loving and attentive father.

As a society, we must stop acting as if there are only two legitimate responses to an accusation of sexual violation: either choice A) "He is a monster" or choice B) "She is lying (or mistaken)." We must stop this because as rape victims quickly apprehend, most people quickly gravitate towards option B. For as long as those victims who do speak up are mostly disbelieved and disregarded, the great majority of victims will continue to nurse their wounds in silence, and that minority of men who engage in sexual predation will have little incentive to change their ways.

To prevent sexual violation from occurring, we must be willing to see that otherwise good people might be perpetrators. Consider, for example, what Woody Allen said to People Magazine in 1976: "I'm open-minded about sex.  I'm not above reproach; if anything, I'm below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with fifteen 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him."  I find this quotation chilling, but it is not proof that he is a monster. Despite this quote—which rather clearly suggests a sexualization of pre-teens--I imagine that the majority of people in his inner circle--people who were exposed, as Barbara Walters has been, to his genuine capacity for loving and attentive kindness--viewed him as someone who "couldn't" be a man who would sexually violate a seven year old.

For as long as our rhetoric about sex offenders continues to be as extreme as it is, accusing someone of rape will continue to be taboo (perhaps more taboo than engaging in sexual violation).  And expectations that only 'monsters' are capable of rape will continue to limit our ability to acknowledge or respond to conduct that violates dignity and integrity--let alone attitudes or comments which suggest that an adult is inappropriately sexualizing children. 

Dylan Farrow Touched a Nerve: Are Women and Girls to be Trusted?

By Katie Feifer

Last year, Vanity Fair published an article that reported (again) Dylan Farrow’s claims that Woody Allen, her mother’s partner, had molested her when she was seven. A few weeks later, Woody Allen was given a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. Mia Farrow took to Twitter to proclaim her disgust that he would be honored in this way. The battle began anew. Is Woody a child molester, a creep, a degenerate (albeit a wildly talented one)? Is Mia a vindictive, manipulative, jealous bitch who just can’t forgive that Woody had sex with and then married her daughter?

And then, the adult Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter, published in the New York Times, in which she testified to the abuse she endured at the hands of Woody Allen. And here’s where it gets really interesting.

Unbelievably – to some – the fact that we heard evidence from the victim, in her own words, from her adult perspective, escalated, rather than resolved the battle. Rather than saying “there you have it; now we know, she said in public what he did to her” many went wild trying to discredit her, and her mother, and to re-frame Dylan’s experiences of trauma and abuse into a case where Woody Allen is the victim, framed and vilified by Mia and her minions, including her children.

We’re living in “he said, she said” land. And in our culture – our rape culture – he and she are just not equivalent. Aaron Bady exposed our cultural bias against women’s truth telling in The New Inquiry: . "...you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assume she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured.”

Soraya Chemaly deepened our understanding of how and why this happens in a brilliant article. “Dylan Farrow is in a situation that thousands deal with every day. In general, people want to look away, muttering some variant of "he said/she said." But, that phrase implies an equivalence where we have a gross imbalance, because "he" is more trusted, virtually always, in every capacity, than "she." “

It’s important to ask ourselves why we, as a society, have such a hard time simply believing the testimony of a girl or a woman. Chemaly and others have used the Farrow firestorm to showcase – again – our society’s deep mistrust of female people. If you care to look, or to think about it, the evidence you need is right in front of us.

Those who are trying to discredit Dylan (and Mia) Farrow have been coming up with all sorts of arguments – “proof” why Woody Allen couldn’t have done such a thing (“He’s claustrophobic! He wouldn’t go into an attic!”), and why Mia was absolutely plotting to destroy Woody (custody battle, woman scorned, etc.).  Why Dylan Farrow’s own account, her testimony, can’t be trusted. (And by the way, for those who claim “there is no evidence” to support the charges, testimony is evidence. Except perhaps when it comes from a female testifying about sexual violence.)

One of the most widely read defenses of Woody/attacks on Dylan was written by a friend of Woody Allen’s, Robert Wiede, in The Daily Beast. And a week later, Woody Allen himself wrote a long and ridiculous (if you know anything about the case and about child sexual abuse) self-defense piece in the New York Times.

On the (somewhat) bright side, as a result of the attacks on Dylan and Mia Farrow, many respected experts on child sexual abuse have weighed in to discred the myths that abound, and in so doing educating those who care about the realities of child sex abuse and its prosecution. If you want to educate yourself, check out the following articles. All well-written, all by experts talking about what they are expert in. 

Roger Canaff.  Legal expert and child protection advocate. He exposed some of the unfair and false notions that are floating around about what “real” child sex abuse looks like, and how to prove it. Among them…

"No physical evidence “proving” the case. Anyone with a cursory understanding of both the typical nature of child sex abuse and pediatric anatomy knows that child cases almost never yield compelling physical evidence, even when reports are immediate. Very few abusers seek to inflict injury and know that doing so will likely interrupt the grooming process and trigger a report. Further, the genital area is blood-rich and heals very quickly even if tissue is damaged. Dylan reported nothing to my knowledge likely to yield physical evidence.” 

Wendy Murphy, who noted in her “Open Letter to Woody Allen,”  

 “In one of the statements from your representative, it's said that the allegations of your adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow… are false because a 7-year-old child cannot be trusted to distinguish between fantasy and reality. This claim makes you look particularly guilty, Woody. See, little girls fantasize about becoming princesses and doctors. They don't "fantasize" about being told to lie face down and watch a toy train go by while being sexually abused from behind. They have no context to conjure up such a fantasy.”

Lisa Bloom. She gave us “Six Reasons Why Dylan Farrow is Highly Credible” and struck at the claim that this was all conjured up by Mia Farrow, lying and conniving as part of a custody battle, and out of general spite, being a woman scorned and all.

“Blaming the mother is a tired, common strategy for those accused of sexual abuse. (Mothers also get blamed when they fail to act promptly in response to a child’s accusation.) A loving, healthy mother will be sickened and outraged when a child tells on an adult for sexual abuse. This is how Mia behaved. She should not be faulted for it.

The claim that Mia Farrow manufactured all of this does not ring true because (i) Dylan reportedly told a babysitter first; (ii) Mia Farrow reportedly gave her daughter multiple opportunities to recant if she wanted to; and (iii) Dylan is now a mature, happy adult who would have no motivation to continue to lie for her mother, twenty two years later, who lives a thousand miles away from her.” 

Natalie Shure, a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of an older cousin, gave us some compelling insight into how a child deals with what happens when s/he reports being abused - and why young children may not tell what adults consider to be "coherent" accounts - and why that doesn't mean they are making it up.

“Yet there is something inherently imbalanced about a child abuse case. The very secrecy that makes the truth “unknowable” is an instrument of the crime. With no witnesses or credible legal evidence, the “he said/she said” conundrum prevails. The assailant knows this, and he can use it to his advantage. As soon as children make allegations, they enter a world filled with adult concepts—ideas they themselves don’t entirely understand. In order to even tell their stories, they have to learn a new language, putting vague, undefined feelings into unfamiliar words. The whole drama plays out in a grown-up context, which means the grown-up always has the upper hand. Neutrality never even has a chance.”

And Maureen Orth, the author of the original Vanity Fair piece in 1992 and a second published last fall, weighed in with 10 "undeniable facts" about the allegations against Woody Allen. All of which should go a long way toward defending the veracity of Dylan Farrows account - which should never require this much defending. 

But still does.

Serena Williams and the Apology That's Not

By Katie Feifer

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.

Rape Deniers in Action

By Katie Feifer

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.

Two examples:

"9 of 15 people found the following review helpful 1.0 out of 5 stars Clueless, May 1, 2013 By Earl - 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)  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.

The Power of Survivor Voices

By Katie Feifer

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 dodisclose 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.

And yet.

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.

A Prosecutor's Opinion about the DSK Case and its Outcomes

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.”

Some Perspectives on Sexual Assault and Workplace Harrasment Among Immigrant Women

By Katie Feifer

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.

On the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Dominique Strauss-Kahn

By Katie Feifer

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.

Signatories:

CounterQuo

Anne Munch Consulting

ART WORKS Projects

Catharsis Productions

The Feminist Wire

Feministe

Legal Momentum

End Violence Against Women International

Hollywood NOW

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 MediaWomen in Media and News

Women’s Media Center

Chaitra Shenoy

Erin Scheick

Gillian Chadwick

Mia Goldman

Roseline Guest

Violence Against Women Matters: A Story From One State That MIght've Been Written From Many

By Samir Goswami

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.

Holding NFL Stars Accountable for Bad Behavior

By Katie Feifer

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.

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

By Katie Feifer

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 speakerwould 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.