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

A Campus Rape Risk Reduction Program That “Works” Doesn’t Help Much

By Katie Feifer

Let’s not get too excited and happy about the good news.

A new study done by researchers on three Canadian campuses and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that providing first year students a robust program of “rape prevention”, including self defense tactics, understanding what constitutes consent and sexual assault, and strategies for staying safe on campus significantly reduced those women’s risk of being raped or sexually assaulted compared to a control group only given a brochure about sexual assault.

The New York Times was pleased to trumpet the good news in an article headlined “College Rape Prevention Proves a Rare Success.”  The opening line embellished the point: “A program that trained first-year female college students to avoid rape substantially lowered their risk of being sexually assaulted, a rare success against a problem that has been resistant to many prevention efforts...”

Why are we not so excited, and in fact cringing a little bit at this good news?

Because the study findings, and even more the news coverage of the results, once again put the onus on women to take steps not to get themselves raped. Again we have to remind everyone that the onus belongs on the small number of men who are offenders not to rape women, and on us as a society to stop perpetrators from perpetrating and hold them accountable when they do.

Those who take a course like this can lower their personal risk. Which is fine as far as it goes. That just means that the rapists will find other women to assault. It doesn’t address the cause of the problem, which is perpetrators' impunity to commit sexual violence crimes. As author and activist Jaclyn Friedman notes, quoted in Jessica Valenti’s excellent Guardian article,

Rapes are perpetrated by a tiny percentage of men who know what they’re doing and who rape again and again - they’re just going to find another target”...Friedman, who also co-edited an anthology on ending rape with me in 2008, said: “So just because these girls [who took the training] are less likely to be picked, it doesn’t mean there’s less rape on campus ... This isn’t rape prevention, it’s rape protection.

The findings from the study are encouraging, to be sure. It’s not a bad thing to provide women some tools that can help keep them safe. But we’ll say it again: it’s not enough and it’s not where we need to focus to get to the roots of the problem.

And there are other studies (like one from Kentucky showing a 50% reduction in self-reported sexual violence perpetration in high schools) that occurs when other strategies are utilized. The Green Dot program focuses on bystander intervention to engage the whole community to stop perpetration – and reframe sexual violence as not normal.

Valenti summarizes well:

We need more than just one study and more than just one training to stop rape, not just on college campuses, but everywhere. Small, short-term solutions that work for some women are terrific and I hope we fund a lot of them. But what we need more are lasting solutions for all of us - solutions that don’t just change statistics, but the culture.

 

Bill Cosby and the Monster Myth

By CAASE Executive Director, Kaethe Morris Hoffer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Want to Watch Football Again

By Katie Feifer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victims of Sex Trafficking and the Illusion of Choice

By: Leena Saleh

When you read a news story about a young girl getting involved in the sex trade, what are some questions that come to mind? Did she want to make money? Does she not know the consequences of getting involved? Was she abused at home?Notice that none of these questions address the people directly responsible for buying or selling sex and profiting, quite successfully, from the exploitation of said young girl.

In a recent editorial, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times wrote about Emily, a 15-year old girl who ran away from home and became involved in the sex trade. Kristof said she became a prostitute and abandoned her parents, who were stricken with grief when they heard the news. He, too, tried coming up with rational answers for these types of questions and took it once step further to insinuate that Emily had made some poor choices. While Kristof mulls over whether other 15-year old girls like Emily will “consent” to being sold into prostitution, pimps work on recruiting their next victims.

Let’s take a step back and address the obvious elephant in the room. Under federal law, minors cannot give consent. No, as Kristof said, Emily did not have a “gun to her head,” and yes, she seems to have “voluntarily connected with her pimp,” but what seems to have been left out of the discussion are the proven methods of coercion carried out by pimps, such as showing false romantic interest, posing as benefactors, trapping victims in debt bondage, and performing other acts of psychological manipulation. Kristof’s glaring oversight aside, Emily is 15, well below the age of consent. So her ‘voluntary connection’ wasn’t voluntary at all.

Kristof is not unique in his deficit of attention to the real problem. Our culture perpetuates a particular framework: girls become victims of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and rape; this requires us to find out what they did to cause it. Sex trafficking victims are often put under a magnifying glass. Their individual choices, state of mind, and behavioral patterns are relentlessly analyzed and questioned over and over again. Rather than being rescued from their situation, they are re-victimized, which is exactly why federal law continues to be reformed in order to protect minors.

Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. What concerned parents like Emily’s have to lose is everything traffickers have to gain. Do we want to live in a society where women and girls are purposefully recruited, bought, sold, and exploited for years on end, only to have those who profit (those selling and buying) emerge completely unscathed?

Kristof’s equation for a solution comes down to dealing with girls like Emily by figuring out why they “choose” to become trafficked. The idea is that this will prevent pimps from recruiting them. However, there is a more viable solution that has been backed by credible research: deter men from buying sex by holding those who profit accountable. This will result in a shortage of demand, and therefore a decrease in the supply: women and girls.

For those who doubt that ending demand for paid sex is possible, consider the study conducted by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation that reveals otherwise: the study found that men could be deterred from buying sex if they faced real consequences, such as fines of $1,000 or more or public accountability for what they had done.  A deficient demand will cripple the industry and put an end to the recruitment process, giving girls like Emily a fighting chance.

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

By Katie Feifer

It's back to school time and at campuses across the country college students are getting "orientations" about sexual assault along with talks on alcohol and the computer systems. It seems that this year, more loudly than in the past, pundits and attorneys are weighing in about the "outrageousness" of the processes campuses are required to follow to pursue complaints of sexual assault. We find that many of these pieces are full of falsehoods and backwards thinking. It tends to make us feel that we're living in an Alice in Wonderland kind of world. One egregious example of getting it wrong appeared in the Wall Street Journal recently. Our friends at the Victim Rights Law Center responded with a letter to the editor, not published by WSJ.  We think it's worth hearing the response, so we're posting it here.

"Peter Berkowitz’s op-ed (“College Rape Accusations and the Presumption of Male Guilt,” Aug 20, 2011) is rife with misinformation. At the Victim Rights Law Center, a nonprofit dedicated to meeting the needs of rape and sexual assault victims; we have worked with hundreds of victims who are pursuing their education rights. We serve these victims every day and know all too well what happens in school disciplinary hearings.  We can assure Mr. Berkowitz that not only is there “no presumption of male guilt”, but rather the discrimination often runs in the exact opposite direction. Mr. Berkowitz cavalierly suggests that the hearings are biased against men, however, we have had fact-finders inquire about the preferred sexual positions of our victim-clients, their sexual orientations, their manner of dress and “could [she] demonstrate how [she] danced that night?” As if any of this is relevant to whether a victim was raped.  Of course, similar questions are never leveled at the accused.

Mr. Berkowitz is also terribly confused about the definition of due process. Under the law, due process is the right to notice and a fair hearing. Nothing less and nothing more. The April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter in no way diminishes or encourages schools to diminish the due process rights afforded to both parties. It is simply wrong to suggest otherwise. 

Ironically, it is Mr. Berkowitz who criticizes a process that helps ensure due process – the right to an appeal.  Education cases are governed by civil, not criminal, law. In any civil case, both parties have equal rights to pursue an appeal. The double jeopardy clause applies only to criminal prosecutions and the Dear Colleague letter does not pertain to criminal cases. If Mr. Berkowitz were familiar with how campus cases are routinely handled, he would know that many campuses and universities allow only the defendant – and not the complainant – to appeal the outcome. Some schools do not even inform the victim that an appeal has been filed or new “evidence” submitted, thereby denying the victim any opportunity to respond. 

As to whether the “accused should be able to question or cross-examine the accuser,” Mr. Berkowitz misses the mark by one important word – “directly.” The “Dear Colleague” letter strongly discourages schools from allowing the defendant to question or cross-examine the complainant directly. It in no way suggests that the defendant be prohibited from questioning the complainant. Rather, it recommends that questions be addressed to a neutral third party, so as to eliminate the potential for harassing or intimidating behavior.

Finally, Mr. Berkowitz once again confuses the civil and criminal laws when he criticizes the burden of proof required. Civil matters routinely require a “preponderance” showing, in contrast to the criminal justice system’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Schools cannot hold a rapist or sex offender criminally liable for his acts. They do not incarcerate defendants, impose jail or prison time, or otherwise inhibit a defendant’s fundamental rights. 

Mr. Berkowitz complains that the preponderance standard allows the campus disciplinary board to become “judge and jury.” This is a routine practice in administrative proceedings throughout the United States. There are hearings everyday in state and federal agencies conducted in this manner with as high stakes. Are the standards and procedures employed in hearings that address legal issues such as the right safe housing, retirement benefits, or keeping ones job not good enough for college and university academic disciplinary hearing? We think they are. 

As victim attorneys, we do not ask that everyone agree with our perspective, deliver victim-centered services or put victims first. We do not ask that colleges and universities favor one party over the other. What we demand is fairness. We demand that both parties be allowed their due process – and rather than mask irrelevant and degrading questions about sexual positions, sexual orientation and the color of the victim’s underwear – we demand that campuses and universities provide balanced and equitable responses to both parties. In other words, we expect them to follow the law.

Sincerely,

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

Some Perspectives on Sexual Assault and Workplace Harrasment Among Immigrant Women

By Katie Feifer

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

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

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

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

Sexual Assault Survivors' Workplace Needs

By Katie Feifer

Those who have been sexually assaulted recognize how difficult it can be to continue to work after they've been assaulted. Unfortunately too few employers and co-workers consider how difficult it can be for a survivor simply to come to work, let alone to perform. Without support, flexibility and understanding on the part of employers, many survivors face job loss as they try to continue to work while coping with the trauma of their assault. The impact is especially critical for those who were sexually assaulted at their workplace, or by a co-worker or employer. A recent blog by Robin Runge and Marcy Karin highlights the needs of sexual assault survivors in the workplace, and offers ideas and resources for employers - and co-workers - to help survivors in the workplace. If you work with others, this is well worth reading.

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.