The Gymnasts and the Judge

 By Donna Jenson

I pledge my allegiance to over 150 women who stood up in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom, found their voices, stepped into the national floodlights of attention and gave themselves an experience in courage; a sparkling courage that is rippling out to us all. What grit! What moxie! What lightning bolts of inspiration is each and every one of them.

Another set of accolades I send out to Judge Aquilina. Armed with her judicial power she fostered an incredibly important act of empowerment in this 21st Century movement for resistance to and elimination of the sexual exploitation that has existed as long as history has been recorded.

Both sides of this equation are absolutely necessary for the eradication of sexual exploitation in all its horrendous forms: Survivors standing tall, with cameras rolling, telling their stories, and a representative of the power base clearing the room, providing unlimited space and time for those stories. Take as long as you need to say all you want to say she told them. Being a woman who survived incest how can I even express the vast importance of that level of validation? It has ramifications – the yet to be seen results and consequences of these acts of courage and use of power. 

How many survivors witnessing these acts are being fed a dose of validation and inspiration? I love that these women are standing – heads held high atop strong spines. Such a grand contradiction to the years my spirit lived well into my thirties crouched in a fetal position doing all she could to hold down my fathers crime because of his oft- repeated threat, ‘You tell anyone and I’ll kill you.’ I’m certain each time a survivor stands up and proclaims their experience a thousand sister and brother survivor’s spirits unfold, take a deep breath and have a good stretch. I wish I could stand before each and every one of these amazing women, look them right in the eye and say “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The responses Judge Aquiline offered after the victim statements were a grand about-face to the all-too-often victim blaming that happens. She underscored statement after statement with praise, gratitude, and support for the women who came forward. Things like, “The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you” calling them “heroine” and “superhero” and “Mattel ought to make toys so that little girls can look at you and say, ‘I want to be her.’ Thank you so much for being here, and for your strength.” What really choked me up was when she said, “Leave your pain here and go out and do your magnificent things.”

Where, dear goddess, did this cowboy-booted judge with a terrific upsweep hairdo come from? No matter – all that matters is she is here, now. Here for these young women who survived childhood sexual abuse, here for the millions of us like them. Here too, as a shining searchlight for all who have power – to follow her stellar example and use that power for the greater good, in the battle to end this epidemic.

One thing about the man Lawrence Nassar, I believe he wasn’t born an abuser. Whatever brought him to commit his crimes – like all abusers – must be purged from our culture for this epidemic to be stopped. 

We are living not just a #METOO / Times Up moment – it is a movement and the gymnasts and judge are major engines in keeping the momentum going. You can, too. Join by giving gratitude to the doers, financial support to organizations serving survivors and your voice anywhere and everywhere you can use it. Come on along – this is one hell of a ride!

Thanks for reading.

Donna Jenson

Founder, Time To Tell

Author, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy

www.timetotell.org

Affirmative Consent: It's Happening, So Get on Board

Jaclyn Friedman has written a brilliant piece in the Washington Post, explaining (again) the beauty of affirmative consent as a model and a practice for behavior, and as policy when considering sexual assault cases.

The idea is simple: In matters of sex, silence or indifference aren’t consent. Only a freely given “yes” counts. And if you can’t tell, you have to ask.

One of the many points Jaclyn raises is that while some older people are all up in arms about the idea of affirmative consent, many young people get it, like it, and in fact are quite relieved to see it becoming the norm.

Why? A couple quotations from Jaclyn's article helps to spell it out. But really, the best thing for you to do is just read the whole article.

By emphasizing that you can’t make assumptions about what a sex partner might want, Yes Means Yes reminds everyone that there is no universal “right” answer to what any of us should want to do in bed. Instead, practicing affirmative consent encourages young people to get to know their own needs and desires and boundaries.
...affirmative consent is, in reality, a gender-free standard: It tells young men that their needs and desires and boundaries matter, too, and that it’s just as important when someone violates them as it would be if they were a woman. And it teaches people of all genders that it’s easy to make sure you’re not hurting anyone during sex: Just show up and pay attention to your partner; listen to what they’re telling you; and if you can’t tell, you have to ask. That’s especially helpful for young men, many of whom are worried that they’ll accidentally violate their sex partners, somehow, just by way of being male.
Of course, asking isn’t so simple when you’ve been raised in a culture that seems to say that talking about sex with your sex partner is some kind of a buzzkill. (It’s not, of course — if it were, phone sex wouldn’t be such a lucrative business.) That’s why the new affirmative consent laws are also a great opportunity to teach the kind of sexual communication that makes sex both better and safer for everyone.

And that's the bottom line to a large degree. Our culture, and the acculturation and socialization many of us who are over 40 and in positions of policy and law making lived through, told us that talking about sex is wrong, bad, and just not done. Sex is "supposed" to happen in the dark, with no real communication. The idea of affirmative consent shakes that belief to the core. And it's about time.



Campus Rape Victims Deserve Choice in Reporting

By Lauren Hersh. Lauren is Director of Anti-Trafficking Policy and Advocacy at Sanctuary for Families

Originally published June 4, 2015 in Lohud.

Sara was out with friends when she ran into a male acquaintance from school. After a quick conversation, Sara had a drink with the young man. Shortly after, she began to feel dizzy and sick. The young man offered to take Sara to his apartment where she could rest until she felt well enough to go home. Sara then blacked out. When she came to, the young man was penetrating her.

In the days that followed, Sara cycled through an array of emotions. Fear filled her days. Self-blame and anxiety kept her awake at night, as she tried to recall the details of the attack. For months, Sara's friends urged her to report the incident. But Sara worried that if she told, she might ruin her attacker's future or worse, she might face retaliation.

On a cold day in the fall, Sara learned that she was not alone. Her attacker had committed a similar crime on another classmate. Sara could no longer remain silent and knew that reporting the incident was the only option.

For Sara and so many survivors, the process of reporting a sexual assault can be painful, complicated and fraught with mixed emotions. For some, the potential public scrutiny of a criminal proceeding may feel daunting and frightening. For others, reporting the assault to their university feels safer, more confidential and less out of control. In the days and months that follow a sexual assault, students need trauma informed assistance and victim-based advocacy. They need to be empowered to analyze the situation and decide how to best to heal and possibly seek justice.

For some, the answer is filing a police report. For others, filing an action with university is sufficient. And even others feel that counseling and time makes the most sense.

Across the country, survivors and students have criticized colleges for the way they have handled sexual assault cases. Victim blaming, delay in the process and ineffective investigation have been identified as commonplace in many university processes. To date, 94 universities are under Title IX investigation to determine whether the school has failed to adequately address the issue of sexual violence on their campus.

Some, like Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, suggest that the solution is simple – eliminate the university from the equation and report the incident directly to the police, with or without the victim's consent. As a former prosecutor, I support law enforcement involvement. But as a lawyer and advocate who works with sexual assault survivors, I recognize that police involvement is not appropriate for every case and victim.

Police involvement often results in invasive investigations and a process that can last for years. Lack of physical evidence, absence of force and prior relationship of any kind often yield unfavorable results in a criminal justice system where the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. Even when a case is successful, numerous hours of scrutiny on a witness stand can be traumatic for even the strongest, most credible witness.

The reality is that most of these cases are messy. Rampant rape culture and society's deep-rooted stigma "what should she have done differently" creates a hostile environment for anyone who is seeking the courage to come forward. Excessive alcohol often exists in many incidents. For some students, they are ambivalent to the consequences. They are simply looking to feel safe in their school again and possibly protect their peers.

Sara has spent the last year putting the pieces of her life back together. Sara is one of the few student survivors to report her rape. Studies estimate that only 5 percent of campus sexual assaults are reported.

Recently, Sara's university found her assailant responsible for Non Consensual Sex. His sanction is pending. Part of Sara's healing has been the process of reclaiming control – that includes deciding if, when, with whom and how she will share her truth. For Sara, a criminal conviction was not necessary for the outcome to be successful.

It's safe to say colleges are stumbling as they work to create fair and effective policies to respond to a nationwide sexual violence epidemic. To date, the processes are far from perfect and require drastic reform to eliminate impunity and protect victims. But shutting down the college reporting system and eliminating an avenue for a survivor to report may in fact, further decrease the meager number of cases reported. Providing critical support and empowering choice in how to proceed are necessary in the road to justice.

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.

Watch Your Language!

By Katie Feifer

I've written about this before, but the subject is worth talking about a lot, especially when there are new perspectives on the subject of how the language we use when we talk about rape gives power and protection to those who rape, shames victims, and perpetuates rape culture.  One example comes from the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault which recently published a message that calls the culture to task for labeling sex as "consensual sex."

“Consensual sex” is just sex. To say that implies that there is such a thing as “non consensual sex”, which there isn’t. That’s rape. That is what it needs to be called. There is only sex or rape. Do not teach people that rape is just another type of sex. They are two very separate events. You wouldn’t say “breathing swimming” and “non breathing swimming”, you say swimming and drowning.

On the heels of MECASA's message comes another brilliant article by Soraya Chemaly, illuminating many of the ways our use of language around rape perpetuates rape culture and even makes us complicit in the perpetuation. In addition to making excellent points, with many examples, Chemaly's article contains a wealth of links to more information, insight,  and wisdom. Well worth reading and following the links.

What are we talking about? Phrases like "classic rapist" that perpetuate the myth that "real rape" ( or "rape rape" pace Whoppi Goldberg) is perpetrated by strangers jumping out from the bushes rather than the "nice young men" who "simply couldn't control their natural urges." How many times have we read or even talked about "a hook-up gone wrong," "drunk sex," or "grey rape." What about all the reporting in the media about a child who "performed oral sex" on an adult man, instead of calling it what it is: a man forced a child to fellate him.

In fact, we are particularly loathe as a society to label rape and sexual assault perpetrated against children as what it actually is. I get it - it's very difficult to think about, let alone talk about. But there's danger in not calling  it what it is, whether the victims are children or adults. Case in point: Josh Duggar, of 19 Kids and Counting fame, who is said in the media to have "fondled the breasts and genitalia of young girls (his sisters) while they were sleeping." I have not seen any articles - outside feminist press - calling it what it is: sexual assault and rape of his sisters. Incest. "Molestation" is as far as most outlets go. And Josh himself said only "I acted inexcusably." Which God, his parents, and many other people apparently forgive. Would we be so forgiving if we said "Josh Dugger sexually assaulted his sisters?" If Josh had come clean and confessed "I raped  my younger sisters?"

What's the danger? Soraya Chemaly says,

Every time you hear or say these types of expressions, the question should be “Who benefits from not saying ‘rape?’” Who is helped when we refuse to be accurate about rape?

Because it’s certainly not rape victims....

As long as we live in global culture where shame is assigned to the raped and not the rapists, the only people allowed to use euphemisms should be survivors.

Writing last year, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Jacob Lief, and Sohaila Abdulali explained, “Rape is utterly commonplace in all our cultures. It is part of the fabric of everyday life, yet we all act as if it’s something shocking and extraordinary whenever it hits the headlines. We remain silent, and so we condone it.”


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.

The Power of Testimony - One Woman's Voice

By Janet Goldblatt Holmes

During the winter of 2013, I read the compelling article, “Hidden Children of the Holocaust”(1) about children who were sexually and physically abused by the “foster” families who claimed to have “saved them from the Nazi’s.”  For many, forty or fifty passed before they could tell their stories. 

I read of a woman who was unable to share her secret with her spouse, children, family or friends. I was shaken by how isolating that must have been, my own experience of date rape seeming small and insignificant.  These threads of shame and self-dismissal are common in survivors of assault and molestation. As I became a witness to the accounts of violent betrayals of trust, the familiar conflicts of shame and blame surfaced. 

The article reports that many women have come forward with their stories after their children have grown and left home, or years later. Once occupied with family and responsibilities, their lives now offered room for the repressed incidents to surface. I understand this dynamic-- although my date rape occurred when I was a teenager, thirty years passed before I was able to begin to acknowledge and deal with the trauma, and disclose what had transpired.

Widespread violence against women is not new within our culture.  We regularly hear reports of rape and abuse. These are troubling and uncomfortable topics to discuss, but in order to effect change, we must speak, bringing voices and faces to this issue. It is urgent that we challenge the current complicit acceptance of rape culture.  

As a private person who had kept her story dead bolted for many years, deciding to speak openly about being raped was a daunting step for me. Despite being an advocate for those who have endured rape, at times memory of the event is still sparked, and shame and blame reappear. No matter how far one has progressed on the road to healing, scar tissue persists. I have discovered healing to be a non-linear process, and that if we can trust ourselves, and honor how we have coped in our lives as survivors of assault, the upheaval can lessen.  

The journey of uncovering our truth can be long and grueling, yet ultimately this profound work will be rewarding. My passage has been one of rediscovering myself as a woman, with all my colors, shadows, shapes and textures, forming a whole. I am no longer fragmented by fear, shame and denial.  

As a young girl, I would gaze out the bedroom window into the empty field behind our house and dream of becoming a dance teacher and having my own studio. I envisioned being happy and living in a love filled, supportive home. I imagined marrying my prince charming, someone who would fill the emptiness and bring joy into my heart. I’m not sure if having kids was ever a part of the scenario. 

At age sixteen, date rape changed my life. I buried what happened for decades, like many people about whom I have read. I was well into my adult life before delving into the traumatic impact of having been raped. 

Often, we attempt to isolate the horrific event and put it behind us – hoping to “move forward” and forget. All the while, the reverberations of shock continue to live in our bodies. There are many aspects to healing. The process requires bravery, openness and our ability to be vulnerable. It is essential to know that we are not alone.  

Likely most of us know someone who has been the victim of sexual assault, or violence. Many of us have lived through a harrowing ordeal of one sort or another. As a sexual assault survivor, I can attest to the power and impact of finding one’s voice.

In my role as a speaker and advocate, I encourage others to find someone to confide in, and to accept that they have done nothing wrong, and therefore need not be ashamed. I promote freeing oneself of blame, as it is a double-edged weapon that can impede the healing process by creating the trap of a one up, one down paradigm. Still, I am aware that I continue to carry remnants of these emotions.    

Many who have sustained trauma alienate themselves from others as a way to feel safe, push down the horrors, or simply endure.  Survivors often wait many years, knowingly or unwittingly (when the torment has been repressed), for a way through the unbearable emotional pain, to the lightness that can result from healing the suffering. There is an inherent uncertainty whether they will ever be free of the burden so long carried in secret. 

I have been heartened in my work in education and outreach with both young and adult audiences, by people’s bravery. Some women have been able to speak about their assault, and some have found healing capacity through their art, music and writing. Others, for reasons that may include fear of the challenging memories, of exposure, ridicule, or blame, remain silent and continue to carry the burden. 

The disturbing realities of sexual violence are being pulled from the shadows. Compelling articles (2) directed at Jewish audiences, boldly address this topic. But, there are other pressing issues to be faced, beyond the horrors of sexual assault. Unrecognized domestic violence within Jewish communities also carries the familiar veins of blame and shame. 

In attempting to come to terms with domestic abuse, we strive to make sense of what transpired. In my case, as with the experience of date rape, I believed that the impact of mistreatment as both child and adult was reduced because there were no external signs of either assault or mistreatment. 

During a testimonial writing workshop for sexual assault survivors, which I attended, in Edmonton Alberta (4), Aboriginal women spoke of the distressing realities of the generational continuum of sexual and physical violence in their communities. I was inspired by the courage of the women to speak openly about such brutality, and their commitment to bring an end to this legacy. Their stories became the impetus for me to take a closer look into my upbringing. Layers of illusion lifted, and I began to see that the verbal, emotional and physical abuse to which I had been subjected in my family, had left deep scars.

The concept “generational continuum of violence” has led me to consider how we repeat the behaviors of our parents or grandparents. Violence of any kind is an assault on the human spirit and until the cycle of abuse or violence is interrupted and healed, patterned behaviors of the previous generations continue.

There were few people with whom I felt safe to confide, yet those with whom I shared my “secrets”, believed the ill-treatment in my youth clouded my judgment when relating to others and that in my naiveté I put myself in compromising situations, including one that resulted in date rape. These suggestions were initially profoundly unsettling, yet further exploration into this difficult territory has made the connection undeniable.

On closer look what became evident was the impact of violent behavior in both situations, and the troublesome feelings of shame, blame and guilt. I had felt like a “victim” – seeking approval, acquiescing to others, and giving up my ground, despite knowing that going against what I believed compromised my sense of self.   

 Often, afraid to speak up for myself, I learned to “hide”.

Had I lived in a gentler, more trusting home, would I have been less afraid to speak about rape or abusive behavior? Would I have been able to trust and find my voice earlier in life?

Today, over 40 years later, I am happy to say that my childhood dreams have come true, although with variations on the themes. As for kids, I am the proud mother of a daughter and son, beautiful young adults. 

The Jewish phrase “Tikum Olam” means “repairing our world.” What better way to repair our world, then by offering those in pain a helping hand to move from their solitary dark into the light of disclosure, and the healing that can follow?  

Those of us who have been able to move beyond trauma recognize the importance of stepping forward and bearing witness for those who are unable to speak. My own experiences have taught me that I need no longer suffer in silence, hide in shame, or accept the accompanying belief system of disempowerment. 

Every individual has the right to a life free of violence. Is it not our responsibility to establish a safe world for others, including our children and grandchildren which promotes awareness, kindness and compassion?  

If violence against women is to end, we in the Jewish community must speak out and break the silence, so that healing may take place. Through open dialogue and ongoing discussion in communities, we enrich and empower those who suffer with shame in silence. Through testimony, we will continue to find our voices.

1. Jspace article: Jspace Staff – 1/9/13 Category: History, Feature: Sexual Abuse and the Hidden Children of the Holocaust

2. Lilith Magazine: Winter, 2013 Jewish Women’s Reform Magazine: an independent, Jewish-American, feminist non-profit publication that has been issued quarterly since 1976.

3.  Ten Minutes of Torah – Women of Reform Judaism WRJ Blog Oct 2013

4.  The Voices and Faces Testimonial Writing Workshop www.voicesandfaces.org

How CAASE Empowers Young Men to End Sexual Exploitation

By Caleb Probst, CAASE Education Outreach Associate

I was asked to come into a high school in Chicago to work with their 9th grade boys. The school indicated that they were troubled by the behavior exhibited in the halls by some of the boys toward some of the girls, and thought the boys would benefit from going through our program. At the start of the first day, I asked the boys to write down words they would use to describe “a prostitute.” The majority of the responses were words like, “slut,” “hoe,” “THOT” (That Hoe Out There), “easy,” “nasty,” “dirty,” and “worthless.” Many of these words were the same words that the administration reported hearing directed at the girls in the school. At the end of the 4-session program, the boys had a new perspective. They really understood how different the realities of prostitution were from the myths they were accustomed to hearing and how many prostituted people endure violence, poverty, and trauma. They also learned about about how society frequently shames and isolates people in prostitution.

As these young men went through our 4-session program, they had an opportunity to examine what they know about “being a man” and think critically about how those shared perceptions influence their own decision making. They also had a chance to consider how their behavior, and the behavior of their peers, can impact their community. One student wrote, “I’ve learned that men treat women like crap, they use them as an object… I know that this puts girls in danger of becoming a prostitute.” He and his classmates began to see that objectifying women and degrading them with words like “slut” can have serious consequences. When asked how girls end up in prostitution, many responded with “they had a traumatized life,” “they had a rough childhood,” or “[society says] they have less power.”

Now, not every girl who is objectified and degraded will end up being commercially sexually exploited, and these young men acknowledged that. But as one student said, “we [never] know her story.” At the end of the final session, I asked the young men if there was anything that they would do differently now, based on what they had learned during the program. The two most common responses were “I will stop saying words like ‘thot’” and “I am going to respect women more.”

School is out for the summer now, but there's hope yet for these young men who have just begun their journey to better understanding and respect for their female peers.

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.

Language Matters: A 9 year old does not have a "career" in prostitution

By Katie Feifer

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.”

Language matters.

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.

A Model from Maine for Working With Media

By Katie Feifer

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."

Shifting our Paradigm - "Delayed" (Really 'Triggered') Reporting is the Norm

By Katie Feifer

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.”

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.

The House Tries to Redefine Rape: Act Now to Protest

By Katie Feifer

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.

Let's Get a Few Things Straight About Sexual Assault on Campuses

By Katie Feifer

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.

Sincerely,

Stacy Malone, Esq., Executive Director, and the attorneys of the Victim Rights Law Center- Boston, MA and Portland, OR"

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.

"Consent is Not a Lightswitch"

By Katie Feifer

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.

Porn on Campus - Where's the Dialog About What Pornography is and Does? It's More Than Just a Free Speech Issue

By Katie Feifer

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.