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

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.

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.

Though Notre Dame Would LIke Us To, We Haven't Forgotten Their Shameful Response to Lizzy Seeberg

By Katie Feifer

On December 1, we wrote about the tragedy of Lizzy Seeerg, a college freshman who accused a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her. Days after making her prompt, thorough report and cooperating with authorities, she died. Notre Dame and the local police did next to nothing to investigate. Notre Dame, in particular, showed great insensitivity and disregard for the young woman's charges, failing even to bench the football player while they looked into the charges against him. Much was written on this case, by us and others. Today, five months after Lizzy Seeberg was traumatized by the Notre Dame football player's assault, CounterQuo member Roger Canaff updates us on the case and reminds us to continue to advocate for women like Lizzy, calling universities like Notre Dame to make their actions live up to the promises they make on paper and the values they claim to endorse.

Why We Do What We Do

By Katie Feifer

We advocate. We prosecute. We litigate. We write and lobby for legislation and policy change. We teach and preach, we write and write and talk and talk and talk and keep at it because the cost of not doing so, is people's lives.

The recent suicide of St. Mary's College student Lizzy Seeberg 10 days after she reported being sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player has touched and angered many. We are touched - and heartbroken - because a 19 year old young woman apparently felt so much pain and had so little hope for moving past the horrific pain that she chose to end her life. And we are angered because Notre Dame and local law enforcement agencies were and are callous and cruel and unconscionably wrong-headed in how they responded (actually, how they didn't respond) to Lizzy's allegations.

Two CounterQuo members, Roger Canaff and Jaclyn Friedman, have each written about this case. Jaclyn takes aim at yet another example of our rape culture at work: "the structure of decisions, actions and inactions that protects a football player from even being investigated on a credible allegation." Roger, in a moving "Letter from a Prosecutor to a Young Woman" posted on his blog and at Jezebel, grapples with the ignorance and insensitivity that allows a Catholic university to place greater importance on keeping a football player accused of a heinous crime on the field and stonewalling investigation than taking seriously the word of a young woman who "did everything that could possibly have been asked of you."

We will continue to write and talk and advocate and litigate to change our rape culture and make our world safer from sexual violence. Please add your voice to ours. Talk, write, re-post, share... until we don't need to anymore.

Shedding Light on Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in New Delhi

By Samir Goswami

For the first time India is playing host to the Commonwealth Games, a major sporting event for countries once colonized by Great Britain. The Games are held every four years to commemorate continued friendship and collective progress. During my visits to New Delhi, my home city over the past few years, I've been awestruck by its dizzying rate of growth and development. Talking with my Delhi friends while wandering through bazaarrs, visiting temples, or while at the many fancy restaurants and clubs the city has to offer, I have been consistenly impressed by the sense of optimism for prosperity that they profess. Sadly, the organizing of the Commonwealth Games have shed light on an underbelly of labor and sexual exploitation, and corruption that still plagues my country, sixty years after we became a democratic republic. 

I wrote about what India's failure to turn Delhi into a "world class city" for the Commonwealth Games can teach us all about progress, illusion and collective responsibility in "Let the Games Begin."

Roger Canaff Takes DA to Task in Refusing to Charge Roethlisberger Rape

By Katie Feifer

Roger Canaff, CounterQuo member, former sex crimes prosecutor in Virginia and New York and currently a Highly Qualified Expert with the U.S. Army assisting in investigation prosecution of sexual assault cases within the armed forces, has just written a powerful and insightful critique of the recent decision by Fred Bright, the Georgia D.A. who recently decided not to charge Roethlisberger with rape.

Canaff notes that he doesn't know all the facts of the case, and so can't base his comments on that. However, he rightly excoriates the D.A. for his publicly stated reasoning for declining to file charges in the case, noting "your reasons... should stand as a training tool in how not to evaluate a sexual assault case."

After pointing out some of the major reasons why D.A. Bright failed in his duties, Canaff concludes "I don’t believe you dropped this case in any sort of deference to a celebrity. I think you ran from it because you’re thoroughly unschooled on how to prosecute anything like it. Thus, you have failed this woman, the citizens of your jurisdiction, and the wider world beyond it.  You have allowed a repeat sex offender to escape, let loose to rape again, which he almost surely will, despite your admonitions to him to “grow up.”  Ben Roethlisberger is grown up, Mr. Bright.  He’s a grown up rapist, and he has permanently altered and forever scarred the life of more than one woman."

We share Roger's belief that when prosecutors ignore the realities of conditions under which most rapes occur and the way many victims typically react immediately after the trauma they've endured, and use that ignorance as a basis for declining to prosecute, the ramifications run far and deep.

We urge you to read this important post, and share it broadly.

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.