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 Culture On Display in a Few Stunning Sentences

By Katie Feifer

The father of convicted rapist Brock Turner (Stanford student, varsity swimmer, sweet, white face) stated the following in a letter to the court opposing his son’s six month sentence (more on that, later):

As his father, he knows that Brock has "never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th.” (Italics mine)

And what were those actions, exactly? According to rapist Brock Turner, in his statement to the court prior to sentencing,

“Being drunk I just couldn’t make the best decisions and neither could she….I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong…. I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.”

Here are the facts of the case, as summarized by the district attorney in a press release expressing the horror of the sentence:

“After midnight, on January 18, 2015, Turner was seen by two witnesses sexually assaulting the unconscious victim, who was laying on the ground behind a dumpster on Stanford campus. When they called out, Turner ran away. The two tackled him and held him until police officers arrived. Evidence showed that the victim was so heavily intoxicated that she did not regain consciousness until hours later.”

Brock Turner’s victim demolished his pathetic rationalizations for his behavior, and made an incredibly powerful statement about the impact his actions had on her, detailing the events of the night he raped her, and what followed. If you only click on one link today, make it her statement.

In case you can’t quite see the display of rape culture in Brock’s and his dad’s statements, allow me to shed some light.

Rape is inherently violent. The act of penetrating a person without consent constitutes violence. Brock was convicted of penetrating the victim while she was unconscious, behind a dumpster, after they left a party together. Brock’s dad, like too many of us, still believe that it’s not violent if…what? There’s no broken bones or weapon used? This belief is a big part of rape culture.

The victim did not make a “decision” or have a choice. To see equivalency in their actions, holding her at all responsible for his actions because ‘we were both drinking and didn’t make the best decisions’ is rape culture in action. And it’s much, much worse that these words convey, when you consider that his attorneys went for a tactic that works surprisingly well in cases where the victim was unconscious while she was raped. In her words:

"I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn't remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me."

 Relatedly, Brock seems to feel that his real crime was getting drunk. “I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong.” I’ll let the victim school us about the fallacy of this belief.

“Again, you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me. You were wrong for doing what nobody else was doing, which was pushing your erect dick in your pants against my naked, defenseless body concealed in a dark area, … Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong. Why am I still explaining this.”

 Brock’s statement that he’s starting a program to raise awareness about the dangers of the “campus drinking culture and sexual promiscuity that goes along with that” would be surreal if it didn’t reflect what many in our culture believe: If the victim hadn’t been drinking and wasn’t so ‘promiscuous,’ he wouldn’t have gotten into trouble.  The victim addressed this absurdity best in her statement.

"You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less."

There’s more. Judge Aaron Persky - running unopposed for re-election this year -  rejected the prosecution’s recommendation of a six year sentence for Brock Turner. Instead, the judge sentenced Brock to six months, which means he’ll be out of prison in a few weeks. His reasoning? He agrees with Brock’s father that it would be awful to make Brock feel bad. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.”

How the judge can know that Brock will not be a danger to others is beyond me. The only way you can judge that he will not be a danger to others is to believe that raping someone is not a dangerous, violent act. Because if sad, depressed Brock drinks too much in the future, around women, it’s entirely possible that his future will look like his past.

And that’s it in a nutshell.

To review the clear evidence of rape culture: rape isn’t violent, because no bones were broken nor were copious amounts of blood spilled. The rapist was only guilty of drinking too much, and his victim is equally (or more?) responsible for his attack on her because she’d been drinking too. (Never mind the fact that she was unconscious when he attacked her.) And God forbid we should punish Brock for his actions or “ruin” his life because, as one reporter noted, “…the ex-swimmer has a record of real accomplishment.”

On the other hand. In all this horror it is important to recognize that very many people behaved well, and by all that I can see, carry the kinds of values we would like to see in a culture that is not a rape culture.

The two Swedish men on bicycles who intervened, stopping the ongoing assault, tackled the rapist and held him for authorities.

By the victim’s account, several hospital personnel were kind to her.

Law enforcement treated her well, and didn’t judge her negatively.

The victim was provided with advocates, who advocated for her and supported her.

And this victim had family members who believed her and stood by her, supporting her in the best possible ways, including provision of chocolate at important moments.

Her boyfriend didn’t accuse her of being a slut. He didn’t abandon her. On the contrary, he, too supports her.

Even her employer appears to be understanding enough to be patient with all the time off she needed to deal with healing and the legal proceedings.

This is what all victims deserve, and too few get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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."

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.

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

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.

Giving "Ask Amy" a Little Advice When it Comes to Rape

By Katie Feifer

Amy Dickinson, a nationally syndicated advice columnist wrote on November 27, 2009 responding to a request for advice from “Victim in Virginia,” a young female trying to determine whether she had been raped at a fraternity party. We were deeply dismayed by Ms. Dickinson’s response.

Ms. Dickinson displays an all-too-common ignorance of the dynamics of non-stranger sexual assault, the law and the appropriate ways to advise a survivor of such violence. Because such misperceptions have an effect not only on victims but also on public safety, and because Ms. Dickinson’s widely heard voice is an important one, we are compelled to make several key points.

Ms. Dickinson’s apparent disdain for the judgment of the advice seeker (“Were you a victim? Yes. First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment”) is as painful a display of victim blaming as we have seen in some time.  The first response to this clearly struggling young woman should have been one of empathy, not shame or blame. Even if consuming alcohol, agreeing to spend time alone with a peer, or attending a fraternity party are indicators of “bad judgment,” rape is not a justifiable consequence. Neither do these choices justify shifting responsibility for this crime from the assailant to the victim.  Insinuating otherwise is not only punishing the young woman who is at the center of this case but is problematic from a public education standpoint.

Despite the fact that the advice seeker clearly indicated that she said “no” and was coerced by the alleged perpetrator, Dickinson suggests that what was by legal standards a rape may have in fact been merely a misunderstanding fueled by alcohol consumption. In suggesting that the consumption of alcohol is a great neutralizer, one that morally equates the sexual violence victim and the perpetrator, Dickinson ignores current law and decades of rape education efforts. She also ignores this fundamental truth: alcohol lowers inhibitions that might otherwise prevent behavior that is nevertheless consistent with the desire of the inebriated person (in this case, that of the alleged perpetrator). It does not unleash a heretofore non-existent urge to violate a resisting woman who has protested her attacker’s advances.

Dickinson’s imprecise use of language is equally troubling. She conflates “unwise” sexual conduct with “unwanted” sexual conduct, implying that a victim might choose (because of her attendance at a party and the voluntary consumption of alcohol) to “engage” in either or both. In fact, one does not “engage” in unwanted sexual conduct anymore than one “engages” in being robbed at knife point. Describing sexual violence as a contract negotiation gone wrong sends the wrong message to victims and the broader community, fueling social attitudes that make the world less safe and less just. Indeed, when over 80% of the rapes committed in the United States involve people who know each other – and many of those rapes involve alcohol – the symbolic and practical impact of Ms. Dickinson’s ill-considered advice is potentially quite large.

Most troubling to us was Ms. Dickinson’s assertion that the alleged rapist should be involved in discussions with his victim “in order to determine what happened.” One problematic aspect of this particular piece of advice is the presumption that this young woman cannot know what happened to her – only the accused perpetrator can tell her. From a legal standpoint, such advice is ill conceived and irresponsible: one does not direct the victim of a crime to confront the perpetrator of that crime after the fact, and on her own time.  This is what the legal system is for. From an ethical standpoint, advising a victim to reach out to her alleged perpetrator is cruel, unreasonable, and likely to be traumatic (as well as ineffective). It is also, for the victim, potentially unsafe.

There is a wealth of important information available on rape and sexual abuse — information that we hope might inform future “Ask Amy” columns. Indeed the most helpful and accurate aspect of Ms. Dickinson’s answer was the information that she included from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Now we encourage her to learn more. The website of one of our Chicago-based CounterQuo partners, The Voices and Faces Project (www.voicesandfaces.org), includes the names, faces, and stories of women and girls who have lived through rape and abuse.  Information about the legal response to rape and sexual assault is available from the Victim Rights Law Center (www.victimrights.org). We hope that after reading the testimony of victims with experiences not unlike the “Victim in Virginia,” Ms. Dickinson will be less likely to blame those who have lived through sexual violence for the damage that has been done to them.

Sometimes it’s harder to criticize our friends than it is to criticize our enemies. But maybe not this time: Bill O’Reilly and the “It Happened to Alexa” Foundation

By Katie Feifer

In a world that blames, shames and disavows rape victims, how do we as a movement respond to a victim rights organization that invites one of the culture's most public and polemical victim blamers to speak at their fundraising event?

"It Happened to Alexa Foundation" is a rape victim advocacy organization that was founded in 2003 by Tom and Stacey Branchini. Theirs is a worthy group that has done much good in the last few years, which makes their selection of Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly as a headline speaker at the foundation's March 19th fundraiser both shocking and deeply troubling. O'Reilly has a long history of misogynistic and victim-blaming rhetoric, most notably calling 18 year-old rape and murder victim Jennifer Moore "moronic," and suggesting that, because of the way she was dressed, she was "asking for it."  O'Reilly also said of victim Shawn Hornbeck -- who was abducted and allegedly sexually assaulted at the age of 11 and held for four years -- that "there was an element here that this kid liked about his circumstances." Media Matters, a media watchdog group, has compiled a long list of problematic O’Reilly statements about women, minority groups and victims.

Faced with online protests and hundreds of calls and emails - many from survivors of sexual violence - the leadership of “It Happened to Alexa Foundation” stands by their choice. "Bill O'Reilly is still speaking at the fundraiser. We are aware of his comments. We don't have any comment about it. I don't feel as if it would be productive." says Ellen Augello, the group’s Executive Director.

Actually, a public conversation about their choice of O'Reilly as a speakerwould be productive. We need to start talking about how representations of victims in the media shape public attitudes about rape and drive outcomes in the courtroom. We need to be clear about the ways that the words of “talking heads” like Bill O’Reilly have contributed to a culture in which victims of sexual violence are blamed for the violence that has been done to them, and shamed into silence. We need to ask how a pundit at a major news network can continue to express outdated ideas about rape and its victims that have been discredited and de-bunked.

Most immediately, we in the anti sexual violence movement must respectfully challenge any ally who provides a public platform and organizational support for someone with such a long and unapologetic history of hostile and damaging statements. A high profile speaker may be a fundraising draw.  But those who have been wounded by O'Reilly's ill-informed and uncompassionate rhetoric have already paid too high a price.

Civil Legal Rights and Remedies for Rape Victims

By Katie Feifer

When most of us think about the crime of rape, we think about getting the  "bad guy"[1] and prosecuting him criminally. We think about the victim getting "justice" and perhaps even feeling empowered if her assailant receives legal sanction or punishment. However, unlike most other crimes, we all too often question and scrutinize the victim's actions leading up to the attack rather than the perpetrator's actions. We ask, “Why was she in his room?” or, “Was she giving him mixed signals?” when we should be asking, “Why did he keep buying her drinks?” or, “Why did he corner her in a room away from her friends?”

Then, when it comes to "justice" we focus all attention on the rights of perpetrator (justifiably so, given the important constitutional rights afforded those who are accused of crimes), but what about the needs of the victim?

In both cases our focus and devotion of energy and resources is skewed. There are many instances where a victim of sexual violence experiences social and legal problems as a direct result of the violence done to her. These can include problems with school or work, physical safety, housing, economic stability or immigration status. It is arguable that we ought to focus as much if not more on providing victims with civil legal remedies for problems and injustices they face after they are sexually assaulted than punishing the perpetrators of these crimes. For some thoughts and perspective on the case for civil legal remedies for rape survivors, read "The Second Wave: An Agenda for the Next Thirty Years of Rape Law Reform."

[1] Disclaimer: not all perpetrators are men and certainly not all victims are women, but for ease the author will use gendered pronouns. This is in no way meant to diminish the pain and harm inflicted on male, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered victims of sexual violence.