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.”

Shining a Light on the Global Epidemic of Sex Trafficking and Sex Tourism

By Katie Feifer

Recent news about U.S. Secret Service men patronizing prostituted women and girls while in Colombia advancing a trip for the President has brought the bright light of media attention to the global problem of sex trafficking and sex tourism.

Thankfully, in the midst of media coverage that seems aimed at titillation or attempts to discredit the President or the Secret Service, we are seeing blogs and articles that steer our attention where it really ought to be: on the global epidemic that is sex trafficking and sex tourism.

Men are buying thousands and thousands of prostituted men, women and children who are little more than slaves: indentured, tortured, and forced to work against their will in a multi-billion dollar industry that is highly profitable to those who control the prostituted people.

We appreciate media coverage like the article by Rachel Durchslag of Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) in Huffingtonpost.com that rightly calls us to action to stop the demand for prostituted women, girls, boys and men. Those men who buy children or adults for sex, whether in Colombia, Thailand or Chicago, must be stopped. Their behavior is morally reprehensible and criminal – never ever something any of us should condone. And by staying silent about their behavior, we are condoning it.

And we are glad to see articles like the one in USA Today by Kirstin Powers decrying our lack of outrage: “We have a global epidemic of sex trafficking, and President Obama and members of Congress should take this opportunity to express the outrage that should be the natural reaction to slavery.”

And so should we all.

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.

Hiding Perpetrators of Sexual Violence with Our Language

By Katie Feifer

We are passionate about ending “victim blaming” for sexual violence. We are insistent that we focus on the perpetrators when we talk about rape and hold them accountable for the crimes they commit, emphasizing their actions rather than the victims’.

Yet we continue to do ourselves a disservice when we absent the perpetrators from the way we describe rape. We set our efforts back every time we refer to sexual violence like we do “acts of God” that we can’t control or prevent. 

When perpetrators are invisible in our descriptions and only the victim is present, we are at worst inadvertently placing responsibility for rape on the victim, or at best not holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. And when we speak of sexual violence as we do earthquakes and floods – events that simply happen without agency – we are again letting perpetrators off the hook.

Consider the differences between the following pairs of statements:

“A woman was raped at knife-point while she was hitchhiking.” vs “A man raped a woman at knife-point after he picked her up in his car.”

“A rape occurred last night in a wooded area behind the high school.” vs “An unknown assailant raped a woman in a wooded area behind the high school.”

“I was raped over 20 years ago.” vs “Steven Kaczmarek raped me over 20 years ago.”

It can sound and feel awkward at first when we shift our language to make a perpetrator the subject of a sentence rather than the victim, and when we speak of rape as a deliberate act rather than as something that just happens. The awkwardness some feel may reflect the discomfort we have with accurately describing sexual violence. It is necessary, I believe, to get over that awkwardness if we’re to make a difference in how our culture thinks about sexual violence.

Thanks to Claudie Bayliff, CounterQuo member and Project Attorney for theNational Judicial Education Program at Legal Momentum for raising consciousness about how the language we use can help us hid perpetrators from accountability for sexual violence.

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.

Standing Up Against Sexual Violence in NIgeria - and Around the World

By Katie Feifer

Sexual violence is global issue, of course. Daily we hear of horror stories of women raped from around the world; it can seem as if the problem is too big, too entrenched, and just too damn difficult to make any headway against. But sometimes there are simple steps each one of us can take that can make a difference: that can raise awareness, put public attentionand pressure on a horror that needs to be dealt with to support women who are victims of rape, and that can help bring perpetrators to justice and begin to change a culture's attitudes toward sexual violence.

We urge you to sign the Change.org petition that is currently circulating to demand that the government in Nigeria investigate the brutal gang rape of a university student that was videotaped, and that they provide support for this rape victim.

This simple step can make a difference in the life of a rape victim, and the culture in a country.

From Change.org:

"There's a desperate search on for a female university student in Nigeria. Some want to silence her. Others want to protect her.

On August 16, the unidentified woman was gang-raped by five male students at Abia State University -- for hours, as she begged first for mercy, and then for her rapists to kill her because of the pain. And it's all on video.

Change.org member Adetomi Aladekomo has joined bloggers and activists working to bring the victim to safety and her rapists to justice by starting a petition to Abia State University (ABSU) and state officials. Sign Adetomi's petition to demand a full investigation into the videotaped rape in order to prosecute and convict the "ABSU 5" gang-rapists.

Over the past two weeks, bloggers and individuals around the world have put up reward money and used video imaging software to try to identify the victim and the rapists -- when the police should have been doing this all along. Unbelievably, state authorities have so far stymied efforts, preferring to deny the rape ever even happened under their watch. Local women's groups fear that they're even out to silence the victim, perpetuating a culture of fear and shame around rape in Nigeria, where such crimes are dramatically under-reported and under-prosecuted.

Adetomi, who grew up in Nigeria until she was seventeen, knows that international outcry around the gang rape at ABSU will be decisive in protecting the victim and bringing justice. With the whole world watching, the victim may have the courage to come forward and press charges -- and other women who’ve been raped may come forward, too, when they previously would not have.

In fact, it was because of Change.org members and international outcry earlier this year that a woman who had created a Change.org petition from inside a Cape Town safe house was able to come out and seek justice for her partner, who had been gang-raped and killed to 'cure' her of being a lesbian.

Global pressure is as important today as it was then. Demand the "ABSU 5" gang-rapists who videotaped their own crime pay for it with prison time. Sign Adetomi's petition now, and then send it to everyone you know."

Will the Real Men Out There Please Stand Up?

This was originally published in HumanGoods, dedicated to understanding today’s global slave trade, by Samir Goswami.

On August 24, actor Ashton Kutcher went on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote his new role in the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. For those of us dedicated to the anti- human trafficking movement, this in itself was an interesting career choice for Kutcher. He’s replacing Charlie Sheen, who played the role of a hapless womanizer who often frequented strip clubs and paid women for sex. As in real life, on Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen was a John.

Over the past few years, Kutcher has explicitly pronounced himself a “real man,” which he publicly defines as someone who does not pay for commercial sex because prostituted girls are victims of human trafficking. He doesn’t believe that girls should be bought and sold for male gratification.

In his interview with Letterman, however, Kutcher admitted to enjoying “the live thing” when asked whether he preferred “strippers or porn stars.” It is not controversial to state that strip clubs and pornography commodify the female body; in fact that is their commercial purpose. However, Kutcher’s professed preference for “the live thing” should raise some eyebrows.

Kutcher is a co-founder of the DNA Foundation, whose mission is “to raise awareness about child sex slavery, change the cultural stereotypes that facilitate this horrific problem, and rehabilitate innocent victims.” For the past few years, Kutcher and his wife and co-founder of the foundation, actress Demi Moore, have been raising funds and awareness about human trafficking.  Together they have made numerous appearances on TV and at forums, particularly denouncing child sex slavery—and men’s demand for it—as part of their stated efforts to “change the cultural stereotypes that facilitate this horrific problem.”

Kutcher often tweets about the issue to his million plus followers and was a driving force behind the foundation’s “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” PSA campaign, an effort to discourage men from buying sex. “The ‘Real Men Don’t Buy Girls Campaign’,” the Huffington Post noted, “contains a message he [Kutcher] hopes people are willing to pass around; one that specifically addresses the male psyche, while also being entertaining and informative. ‘Once someone goes on record saying they are or aren’t going to do something, they tend to be a bit more accountable,’ says Kutcher. ‘We wanted to make something akin to a pledge: ‘real men don’t buy girls, and I am a real man.’’

Although opinions about the efficacy of this campaign vary, Kutcher’s involvement in anti-trafficking efforts has been welcome, celebrated, and seemingly authentic. Before embarking on his advocacy, Kutcher took the time to learn: He read the research, talked to women and girls who had been trafficked, and consulted with NGO and government experts. He has spoken eloquently and knowledgeably about the issue in most of his public appearances. In short, Kutcher used his fame and charm to educate and model positive male behavior that redefines masculinity as respecting women—not commodifying them.

He has positioned himself as the anti-Charlie Sheen.

On his show, David Letterman predictably asked Kutcher a “gotcha question”: “Do you prefer strippers or porn stars?”

After a pause and a chuckle, Kutcher responded, “I have a foundation that fights human trafficking, and neither of those qualify as human trafficking. You know the live thing is nice, there’s nothing wrong with a live show.”

Not all prostitution or other commercial sexual services like stripping, aka “the live thing,” are connected to sex trafficking. However, Kutcher’s foundation recognizes a link in stating, “Men, women and children are enslaved for many purposes including sex, pornography, forced labor and indentured servitude.” The DNA Foundation’s website links to various studies and research reports that document significant connections between human trafficking and “the live thing.” Law enforcement officials throughout the country are increasingly recognizing this connection as they listen to survivors who tell us that, yes—they were indeed trafficked against their will to gratify men in strip clubs, massage parlors, and escort agencies. As a result of this evidence, state governments are clamoring to create public policies that ensure potential victims, wherever they are exploited, have a real opportunity to identify themselves as such.

I am not a famous person. The paparazzi do not follow me. I have never been in a situation where millions watch me as I respond to a “gotcha” question. However, as a longtime advocate for exploited women and girls, I have spoken to many survivors who were trafficked through strip clubs and used in pornography, and I frequently speak about their exploitation at public events. I have often had to defend my own definition of masculinity, one that is not predicated upon the Hobson’s choice of “strippers or porn stars.”

We tolerate, in public discourse, a willful ignorance of the role that men who pay for sexual experiences play in fueling the human trafficking industry. We fear that any condemnation will be labeled anti-sex. It’s difficult to go against this grain and take a principled but unpopular stance—one that contradicts an accepted norm that purposefully makes invisible the real harm done to real people for profit.

But difficulty is not an excuse. I don’t have the public pressures that Kutcher’s fame stimulates and I also don’t have the same opportunities. Kutcher has taken this fame and molded it for the positive, and I respect him for that. He carved out a well-informed role for himself in a movement dedicated to ending slavery.  Although there are many who may not agree with his tactics, most appreciate him as someone who has tried to inform—and inspire—men who are unaware of the venues through which women get trafficked. Kutcher went beyond just talking about the how and the where, but challenged conventional definitions of masculinity itself. That is the tremendous value Kutcher brings to this movement.

And that is why I really wish that when the momentous opportunity presented itself, Kutcher would have stood up as the “real man” he professes to be. I wish that he would have challenged David Letterman for asking a question that trivializes the experiences of many trafficking survivors, whose stories have moved Kutcher to action. I wish he would have explained to Letterman that patronizing strip clubs supports an industry that perpetuates the consumption of women’s bodies and regularly profits from the trafficking of young girls—which goes against his definition of what a “real man” is.

Strip clubs monetize engrained male attitudes toward women by offering men access to them for a fee. Kutcher could have implicated these attitudes, instead of supporting them, by explaining the close connection between men’s desire for (and language about) paid access to viewing and touching women’s bodies, and the millions of women and girls for sale worldwide.

However, Kutcher’s response to Letterman’s impossible question betrayed a troubling ignorance that is not founded in a man who actually has taken the time to listen and learn. No one expects him to have it all figured out, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a modicum of courage to express a higher sense of awareness and sensibility, or at least an honest admission of confusion.

Sexuality is complex and confusing. We are all attracted to and stimulated by other physical bodies for various and often inexplicable reasons. Those of us who profess to be defenders of human rights, and gain considerable attention and favor for it, have to hold ourselves to a high standard of introspection and public accountability. Kutcher didn’t just lower that bar for himself.  He broke it.  Along with it, I suspect that he also broke the trust and admiration of many in the anti-trafficking movement.

Sexual attraction may be challenging and situational. Respect for women should not be.

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"

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

Christine Herrman, JD, Executive Director of the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force of the Oregon Attorney General’s office, wrote the following in an email to some colleagues in CounterQuo.

She simply, eloquently and persuasively (in my opinion) gets to the heart of the matter of one of the most vexing and troublesome issues in the case of Dominque Strauss Kahn – former head of the IMF – who allegedly raped a hotel maid. It’s a troublesome issue in our culture: we too seldom believe a victim of sexual assault when s/he reports it. It’s important to persuade our society that in fact, victims generally don’t lie about rape. We need to keep saying it, in as many different eloquent ways as possible, until people get it. So, with permission, here’s what Christine had to say.

“I don’t mean to suggest that DSK knew all these facts about the victim; there’s no indication of that. My point was simply that he was rewarded for good victim choice. But let’s look at what he DID know.

He knew she was a lowly maid.

He knew she was a woman of color.

He likely was able to ascertain, if she spoke, that she was an immigrant.

He knew he was the head of the IMF.

He knew he was rich.

He knew he was unlikely to be held accountable (again)

And, sadly, he was right.

As for trying difficult cases … I generally try to avoid stepping into the shoes of another prosecutor. We seldom have the full picture of what the prosecutor knows. In this case, though, it’s very hard to believe that there’s anything we don’t know, thanks to the 25-page motion to dismiss. So, with full knowledge that I am but one opinion and sheltered by the awareness that I don’t have the whole world watching my every move, I’m comfortable with saying that yes, I would have gone forward with this case. This is provided, as has been reported, that the victim was fully apprised of the risks of acquittal and wished to proceed. However, it’s worthy of note that I *do* believe her. And these prosecutors made a point of saying that they don’t.

I’m not naïve, and I can’t for a second argue that the inconsistencies in her various accounts wouldn’t be really damaging. What I can argue, though, is that her report of the assault, as well as her actions after it, are largely consistent. Where they aren’t, a simple education about trauma offers explanation. And jurors can handle this – if we give them the opportunity. A robust voir dire, and an expert in trauma and counterintuitive victim behavior would be essential, of course.

The other lies/inconsistencies in her personal history, if they came in, would also hurt, no doubt. But the account given by the prosecutors in that motion is incomplete. The complete story is damning still – but far less so. And again, well-chosen, well-educated juries can handle it.

And let’s not forget that there can only be two options here: a sexual assault, or a consensual encounter. We cannot discount the absolute absurdity of this being consensual. DSK might assert that he paid her for her services – but if this is the case, where was the money she received? And why, why, why would she tell anyone? As noted by the prosecutors, there’s no indication that she even knew who he was before this encounter. And, of course, in his statements to the police, he never mentioned anything of the sort.

Would a trial result in a conviction for DSK? Who knows (we never will, that’s for sure). But would it be worth it, if for no other reason than to establish that the community will not simply stand idly by and fail to object to this kind of behavior? I absolutely believe so.”

The Wrong-Headedness of Roy Black's Proposal for "Modest Reforms" for Protection of Rape Victims

By Katie Feifer

Roy Black, a noted criminal defense attorney who helped William Kennedy Smith get an acquittal on rape charges in 1991, recently wrote an essay in Salon.com that began with a good point and then veered so seriously wrong that we were stunned (but not surprised.) And then shocked into responding.

Black's good point is this: there is no justice served in humiliating and convicting men accused of rape before they are tried in court. We do not condone "perp walks" and public smearing of reputations. We want civility and fairness in our treatment of those in the news. We agree that there should be no "rush to judgement" and that rape cases are not well-served when they are tried in the media.  So far, so good.

But then, in the name of "equality" between rape victims and those they accuse of rape, Black goes off the rails in his rush to judge rape victims as women who routinely falsely accuse men of rape. Utilizing discredited research and playing upon prevailing myths about "women who cry rape" he argues that we ought to eliminate most of the protections for victims we enacted since the 1970s. These were put in place to make it easier for women who were raped to report to police and cooperate in the prosecution of rapists. The idea that more prosecutions would results in more convictions, and that more rapists would be in prison, making society safer.

In Roy Black's world, the only way to protect the privacy and reputationof men accused of rape would be to make it even more impossible than in already is for a woman to bring a rape accusation to police. In Black's world, a woman would have to have corroborating evidence of a rape taking place, which we know seldom occurs. In this world, a woman would have to prove "a clear element of force or the threat of force."  

In fact, the rates of false rape accusations are quite low: reputable research puts it at 2-8% of accusations - a level no different than for other crimes. In fact, the vast majority of women who are raped NEVER report it to the police. Conviction rates are excceedingly low. We invite you to read some of the reputable research reports in our reference materials section.

Also, take a look at how Susan Brownmiller, who in 1975 wrote the groundbreaking book "Against our Will", took Black to task in a pointed response printed in Salon.com. 

We believe that adopting Black's "modest reforms" will only make things more "equitable" for men accused of rape by further depressing the number of women who bravely come forward to accuse someone of raping them. It's so clearly the wrong solution to the problem he poses, it makes us wonder: why would this prominent defense attorney even suggest this?

Because he's a brilliant defense attorney. His Salon.com argument will make it even easier for him to gain acquittals for men accused of rape, because he perpetuates so many myths about rape victims. Decrying the media trial of men accused of rape, he uses the media to put on trial those women who make rape accusations. Sickening, but a brilliant defense strategy. Prosecutor Roger Canaff eloquently argues against the myths and points out Black's fallacies in his blog.

The myths about rape and its victims are among the most resistant to squelch. Perpetuating these myths serve many powerful people and powerful purposes. We continue to fight against these myths, and once again urge our readers to arm yourselves with the facts, and use them to discredit these myths whenever and wherever you hear them.

Some Perspectives on Sexual Assault and Workplace Harrasment Among Immigrant Women

By Katie Feifer

The allegations of sexual assault made against Dominique Strauss-Kahn by an African immigrant working as a hotel maid should help focus our nation's attention on the danger and the vulnerability they face working in this country. Our earlier blog post, written and informed by several CounterQuo members, touches on that aspect of the case, as part of our broader perspective on where our public reaction misses the reality of sexual assault.

Two recent pieces, one by CounterQuo founding member Monica Ramirez of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and another by Betsy Reed printed in The Nation, shine the spotlight on how deeply vulnerable immigrant women are to sexual assault and workplace harassment, and how their situation - limited English, lack of credibility with authorities in this country, fear of losing their job or worse - conspire against their ability to remain safe or to see perpetrators of injustice against them held accountable.

We are troubled at reports of victimization of women by men who hold power over them. However, we have a responsibility to use the stories of these cases to help us all learn what these women face.  It's a first step to taking action to remedy a disgraceful situation.

On the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Dominique Strauss-Kahn

By Katie Feifer

While the recent headlines detailing both a hotel maid’s account and past allegations of sexual assault by IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn came as a shock to some, for those who work with victims of sexual assault – and victims of workplace sexual violence in particular – these facts are nothing new. Sexual violence in the workplace is an all too common occurrence. It happens with alarming regularity across our country and is perpetrated by employers, supervisors, co-workers and third parties, such as hotel guests and other business clientele. Many victims are met with skepticism, blatant indifference, or a myriad of victim-blaming excuses or accusations. Abuse of power in the workplace can manifest itself through cheating shareholders, harassing subordinates, and yes, sometimes by sexually violating someone with less power. In fact, tragically, far too often women who clean hotel rooms fall victim to sexual violence in the very rooms that they are paid to clean, just like the woman, an immigrant from Africa, who has reported Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault. Immigrant women are especially vulnerable to such abuses of power, whether working in hotels, agriculture, factories, homes or offices. Because they are immigrants and may be isolated, have limited English proficiency, and/or fear law enforcement, few of these victims ever report the crimes that they suffer to authorities.

If we want to end sexual violence we must assure that strong sanctions become the norm. Law enforcement officials must be willing to believe victims when they make a report. We commend the New York City Police Department’s swift and diligent response in this case. Sadly, the NYPD’s response is all too often not the typical response of a law enforcement agency. Victims of sexual violence must have information about and access to existing civil and criminal legal remedies so that they may have the opportunity to seek justice for what they have suffered.

We must also hold the media accountable for their reliance on innuendo and salacious details in lieu of objective journalism. Finally, we must confront the thinly-veiled smear campaigns against reported victims at the same time that we rush to the defense of the accused.

Constant speculation about the motives of those who report these devastating crimes is damaging to the victims in those cases, to anyone who ever finds themselves in a similar position, and to our social understanding of and response to sexual violence as a whole. It is no wonder that the reporting rate for sexual assault is so dismally low.

Unfortunately, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s recent arrest has brought out the typical responses we’ve come to expect when a wealthy or high-profile man is accused of such a crime. We hear things like, “Why would a successful, powerful, and rich man NEED to rape anyone? He could have almost any woman he chose, or at the very least he could pay for the services of someone.” This logic seems to conveniently and consistently miss the point: Sexual violence is about dominance and abuse of power.

Why is it easier to believe in the intrinsic dishonesty, vindictiveness, and opportunistic nature of alleged rape victims than to believe in a sense of entitlement, and lack of respect and judgment among alleged rapists? In the Strauss-Kahn scenario some are even willing to accept an elaborate conspiracy theory (that this was a set-up by supporters of French President Sarkozy) rather than embrace the possibility that a man with a documented history of sexual coercion, exploitation and – according to recent reports – prior sexual assaults could possibly attack a woman with very little power or status.

Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn deserves the presumption of innocence afforded to all alleged criminals in this country. We long for the day, however, when we show equal restraint before labeling alleged victims as liars and swindlers. So yes, we are willing to suspend judgment on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s guilt or innocence. By the same token, we are willing to look at the mounting number of accounts from women who speak of their own exploitation or abuse by Strauss-Kahn over the years. We hope the truth prevails and the public can stop being influenced by the far too common knee jerk reaction that disbelieves victims as the case proceeds.

Signatories:

CounterQuo

Anne Munch Consulting

ART WORKS Projects

Catharsis Productions

The Feminist Wire

Feministe

Legal Momentum

End Violence Against Women International

Hollywood NOW

The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force

Rape Victim Advocates

RH Reality Check

Sociologists for Women in Society

Victim Rights Law Center

The Voices and Faces Project

Women, Action & the MediaWomen in Media and News

Women’s Media Center

Chaitra Shenoy

Erin Scheick

Gillian Chadwick

Mia Goldman

Roseline Guest

Celebrating UN Women: The Way Forward

By Alisa Roadcup

Today is my final day at UN Women and it's hard to believe my experience here is coming to an end. Another member of Amnesty International's Women's Human Rights Coordination Group (WHRCG), Lyric Thompson, will be arriving tonight also representing Women for Women International.

All of the sessions and parallel events have been extremely informative and useful. Many of the stories of violence against women I’ve heard are country and region specific, yet a recurring theme persists: violence against women affects everyone and when a woman is harmed through rape and violence, the entire community suffers.

On Saturday I attended “Celebrating UN Women: The Way Forward” held at the New School and sponsored by the Women’s Learning Partnership. The day featured an impressive lineup of three expert panels and a keynote address from Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women.

A few hundred women were gathered in the auditorium of the New School, yet somehow the space felt closer and more intimate than any other session I'd attended. Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership delivered the welcome and introduced Madame Bachelet.

Madame Bachelet addressed the hopes and challenges for UN Women, posing questions to the audience and taking Q&A at the end. How can a stronger link be made between UN Women and NGO’s? What channels can we create for women’s groups and networks in guiding UN Women’s strategic direction? Ms. Bachelet cited the Oxfam report released a day before the official launch of UN Women, The Blueprint for UN Women, which outlines views of the role UN Women should play in women’s human rights, gender equality and social justice.  The survey findings call for UN Women to deliver on its promise and work with governments and civil society to ensure accountability for delivering rights equality and development for women. The report also states, “UN Women needs to stand out from the traditional ways of operating to have impact on the ground by leaving the UN’s comfort zone of doing business as usual.” I have heard this sentiment expressed many times over the course of this past week. Women are calling for a new paradigm. 

The panel of speakers represented the countries of Nigeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Afghanistan and Lebanon. The presenters were seated next to Ms. Bachelet on the stage and responded to Bachelet’s address with their individual perspectives on “Our Vision for UN Women: Views from the Field.” This format provided a face-to-face opportunity for these distinguished panelists to voice their concerns openly and to ask M. Bachelet their pressing questions and concerns.

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning spoke to the findings in the Oxfam survey that the UN, up to this point, has “largely failed women in the developing world. Seventy per cent of people living in poverty are women, 60% of people living with HIV in sub-Sahara Africa are women and girls, and violence against women continues to be at alarming levels.” In a humble and quiet voice, Dr. Yacoobi stated, “Afghan women need to have a peaceful and secure life. Afghan women need security.”

Mallika Dutt, President and CEO of Breakthrough then spoke, “My dreams and hopes from UN Women are for women to transform the shape and form of the political table. We need you (UN Women) to be a tipping point, a turning point, not just for all the women of the world, but for all humanity.”

Sindi Medar-Gould, Executive Director of BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights stated, “The women of Africa join voices with women from around the world in congratulating UN Women on the coming in to being of this entity that we fought for with our sweat, our tears and in some instances, our blood. We look to your leadership to help bring to meaning the true meaning of gender mainstreaming. We are looking to you and to this entity to bring in feminist re-interpretations of what is meant by these resolutions and conventions. Let’s push the envelope forward. We are ready to stand with you shoulder to shoulder to make things happen on our continent.”

Madam Bachelet responded collectively to the panelists saying, “I am not a magician, but I will work as hard as possible to fulfill your dreams and the needs of women and girls of the world. It was enriching to hear your needs. The challenges you have named are the challenges that I understand and I know they are my challenges. I can be useful but I know these challenges are very complicated and very complex. How do we pass from rhetoric to action? How do we transform politics? I believe in commitments, not promises. Because women’s rights are human rights, we need to think as decision makers to build a strong economic, social and political case on why empowerment of women is important in these three realms. Parliamentarians need to know what is in the balance, cost, and benefit. We need to build a strong case. Women’s rights as human rights have not been the key to opening doors. We need new arguments. We need to build a case. We need effective strategies. You have in UN women an open, transparent and upfront dialogue. Together, we can work harder and stronger to improve the lives of women and girls.”

If you had one question for Madame Bachelet, what would it be? 

GEAR Up for the Launch of UN Women

By Alisa Roadcup

I’m at the Vienna Café in the United Nations building, nursing a cup of coffee. To my right, a Liberian Ambassador is being interview on the struggle for women’s empowerment in her country. State delegations clad in colorful dress drift by en route to their sessions. It’s day three of the 55th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Today brings the official launch of UN Women, the UN organization for gender equality and the empowerment of women. I’m here as a delegate for Amnesty International’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group (WHRCG), a newly formed committee responsible for advising AIUSA’s Women’s Human Rights in order to promote and protect women's human rights around the world.

With the launch of UN Women tonight, an atmosphere of anticipation saturates the hallways and shared spaces. I’ve encountered genuine enthusiasm and also a cautious optimism in my conversations with delegates, staffers and NGO representatives.

On Tuesday, the first official day of the 55th CSW, I had the pleasure of meeting with Polly Truscott, AI’s Deputy Representative to the United Nations. We discussed the issues most pertinent to the WHRCG priorities: I-VAWAIndigenous Rights,CEDAWMaternal Mortality and UN Council Resolution 1325. I discovered how AI is playing an important role in the Global Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign, a global network of over 300 women’s human rights and social justice groups which have been working for five+ years to establish UN Women. Now that UN Women is a reality, GEAR is focused on ensuring that women's rights groups play a role in the future work of UN Women.

Madam Bachelet, former president of Chile and Under-Secretary-General of UN Women has demonstrated real commitment to women’s empowerment. Yet there is still critical work to be done. In the corridors, word is out that planning sessions on UN Women’s global strategy are happening, but no one is clear which women’s groups have been invited to be part of this process. Shouldn't the establishment of UN Women call for a new, collaborative paradigm? Can there be closer consultation with women on the ground, women who are carrying out this work in their communities? Will their voices be heard? In the celebrations of this historic day, let’s not lose sight of what really matters: ensuring accountability, efficacy and collaboration from UN Women.

GEAR is calling for UN Women and all other UN agencies to implement an effective system of consultation at national, regional and international levels because women’s rights groups and NGO’s need to have a voice in the strategic planning process.

UN Women shouldn’t be business as usual. Women are waiting.

For those interested in the official UN Women meetings, webcasts can be found at the following link: http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/index.html

Get involved in the GEAR campaign! Help build a world that works for all women.

 

Alisa M. Roadcup, former Stop Violence Against Women Campaign Coordinator for Amnesty International USA and PhD Candidate in International Psychology at The Chicago School for Professional Psychology is a delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women this week. She’s blogging about her experiences for Amnesty International USA, CounterQuo.org and the United Nations Association of Greater Boston.

Our Rape Culture Pervades Even in Victim Supporting Media

By Katie Feifer

It can be difficult to explain to people what we mean when we say we live in a "rape culture." In part, it's because the attitudes and values that define it are so deeply engrained that many hardly notice it. Think of the adage about fish trying to describe water.

However, a recent blog post in Ms Magazine provided two really good examples of rape culture in action, one of which was most interesting for how inadvertent its use was.

The article is a victim-supportive report on a civil suit brought by a rape victim against several men in San Jose. All defendants were cleared of all charges, including rape. The article details many of the victim blaming attitudes that came into play to help the defendants win the case.

The story of the case and its outcome is, unfortunately quite common. Too many people believe that if a woman drinks and flirts with men, she "wants it" and even "is asking for it" despite the fact that at the time of "it" - an attack by several men - she was either semi or unconscious and unable to provide consent to the acts they perpetrated on her.

What struck me, though, was the title of the article itself. Inadvertently (I believe), Ms Magazine participated in a bit of victim blaming, playing on the very attitudes of rape culture that we are trying to change. The title is long: "She Drinks, She Flirts, She Passes Out... Is it Rape?" But even with its length, please notice what's missing: any mention of the men who sexually violated her, or their acts. The title, like our rape culture, focuses solely on the victim and her actions. If we're talking about the crime of rape, we should talk about the rapists and their acts.

Examine how your thinking shifts if I re-title the article like this (n.b., I don't know the specific charges so I'm hypothesizing on the specifics based on the charges): "Several Men Penetrate and Sexually Abuse an Unconscious Teen Who'd Been Drinking and Flirting... Is it Rape?"

Start by Believing

By Katie Feifer

A new public awareness and education campaign developed by End Violence Against Women, International entitled "Start by Believing" fits quite well with the mission of CounterQuo: to challenge and change the way our society responds to sexual violence. "Start by Believing" is premised on the notion that every step a rape victim takes on the path to healing, and every step our authorities take to hold rapists accountable for their crimes, is predicated on people believing the victim, and acting accordingly. When someone doesn't believe - when, for example, a police officer doesn't believe and refuses to conduct an investigation, or when a victim's friend doesn't believe it was "really rape" and tells her it wasn't a crime and she just needs to "get over it", we fail. We fail to support victims. We fail to get rapists off the street - which means more crime, because we know that the "average" rapist attacks six times.

So, "Start by Believing." Know the facts and share them. And recognize what are, indeed, facts and what are merely opinions and myths about rape.

For more on that, read Roger Canaff's blog on the "Start by Believing" campaign. Among the many facts he cites (and sources with real, credible research - unlike those who would claim otherwise) "... in the vast majority of cases, there is no reason to doubt the victim making the allegation. Further, even if one believes the victim, blaming her for "her part" in inviting her victimization is both wrong-headed and counter-productive."

We can't say it enough, and we invite you to keep saying it too, using the facts at your disposal through Roger's blog and the "Start by Believing" campaign, as well as through the resources here at CounterQuo.org.

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.

"Boys and Men Healing"

By Katie Feifer

Male child sexual abuse happens. A lot. We don't know exactly how prevalent it is because, even more than with female child sexual abuse, victims are unable or unwilling to speak about what was done to them.  Estimates are that 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse need our support and understanding just as much as female survivors do. When male survivors do speak out, giving us a glimpse of what they've gone through, it's a gift for all of us - an opportunity to learn.

Roger Canaff, a founding member of CounterQuo, has recently called our attention to a film done by Kathy Barbini and Simon Weinberg, called "Boys and Men Healing." The 60 minute documentary focuses on the stories and journeys of three men who were sexually abused as children. One of those men, David Lisak, is one of the most important and insightful researchers in the field of sexual violence. 

Roger's blog on the film and the issue of male childhood sexual abuse, titled "Vertigo" is beautifully written, and a compelling read.

The film, "Men and Boys Healing" is well worth seeing. And fortunately, you can buy or borrow it (for free!) from 1in6 - itself a valuable resource for those interested in the issue of male sexual abuse.

Julian Assange's Arrest Prompts Another "Rape Apology Day"

By Katie Feifer

When Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was recently arrested on charges of rape, the media had a field day. Not surprisingly, given the rape culture in which we live, only a small part of the chatter and discussion focused on the seemingly politically-driven timing of the arrest. Far more prevalent in the media were wrong-headed opinions masquerading as fact, continuing our long-standing practice of blaming rape victims for being raped and denying them any semblance of sympathy for having been victims of a traumatic crime.

Jaclyn Friedman uses this latest example of a celebrity rape case to explain - once again - where we go wrong when we talk about rape  in The American Prospect,"What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape." She notes the emergence of "...Rape Apology Day, on which every way you can imagine to blame or discredit a woman's allegations of sexual violence is not only fair game but celebrated."

The ritual has become commonplace now. And this fact requires even more of us to demand that it stop by vociferously objecting to the falsehoods pervading our media coverage about sexual violence and letting people know the truth. Sharing articles like Jaclyn's and making its points your talking points is one way to make a dent.

Don't Be A Clemency "Girly-Man" Governor

By Katie Feifer

In 1995 a California jury convicted a 16-year-old girl, Sara Kruzan, for fatally shooting her pimp and trafficker, George Gilbert Howard.  Howard was 31 years old when he began abusing an 11-year-old Sara and started selling her to men when she turned 13. After spending the last 15 years in prison, Sara has appealed to Governor Schwarzenegger for clemency and currently there is a fervent national advocacy campaign to urge him to free her. 

She deserves to be freed. Freeing Sara may also prove to be a monumental turning point in our cultural understanding and political acceptance of how the United States should treat victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. Freeing Sara will also be a step towards countering the political fears that elected officials have about being labeled “soft on crime”. Despite the perceived political risks, I think Governor Schwarzenegger will free Sara.

Please see “Don’t be a Clemency Girly-Man Governor,” originally posted on Human Goods.