Vance has more opportunities to change the rape conversation

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a guest post by Sam, who will return to the University of Chicago this fall as a sophomore. Thanks Sam!

Just as rape charges were dropped against Dominique Strauss-Kahn earlier this week, an off duty NYPD officer was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in Upper Manhattan. The case is the third high profile rape incident to confront Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., following the Strauss-Kahn case and the trial of two police officers that were acquitted of charges that they raped a drunk East Village woman in her home.

Vance, who is just over a year and a half into his four-year term, has faced intense public scrutiny for failing to earn a conviction in both previous cases. While these criticisms and frustrations are understandable, energy spent criticizing Vance can be better used to draw attention to the thousands of rape victims in New York City and across the world who will never have the opportunity to face their attacker in a court of law.

While convicting a powerful man of rape would have made a strong statement that rape is wrong, a guilty verdict would not have made rape unacceptable. Even though we live under a system of justice that assumes innocence until proven guilty, it remains disturbing to see how much more credible a denial of rape is seen than an accusation. Public fascination with the backgrounds of victims reflects a culture that is more interested in seeing a drama play out in the courtroom than in having a responsible conversation about rape.

While both previous rape cases collapsed because of a lack of credible evidence, the newest accusation is the first case in which a witness other than the victim supports the rape accusation. Paul J. Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesperson, has acknowledged that the officer was drunk and that he used his licensed weapon to intimidate his victim. Vance must use this evidence to vigorously prosecute the officer, while activists must elevate a conversation about rape.

Just as Vance must use this moment to ensure that women across New York are safe, activists must ensure that the voices of the women brave enough to speak out against their attackers inspire other women to do the same. To do so would be to do true justice for all women.

Think You’ve Been Raped? Think Again!

February 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

Genius:

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’VE BEEN RAPED: A handy checklist based on the federal government’s (FBI, UCMJ) — recently updated — definition of “forcible rape.”…

7. Were you on a date with this man?
-If the answer is yes, you should have expected this. And if he bought you dinner, you’re ungrateful.
-If the answer is no, please proceed.

8. Were you drinking prior to the incident?
-Yes? Maybe you actually DID want to have sex.
-No? Good girl, keep going.

Hilarious in that way that makes you want to sob. Seriously, go read the whole thing.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK: I still do not find rape funny

February 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

This, apparently, sets me apart from the kind and misunderstood souls of Someecards. They are usually so funny! But you know what is not funny, at all? Oh right, this:

HILARIOUS!!! Because if there’s anything worse than traumatic sexual assault followed by bravely coming forward followed by being derided and discredited and ignored, it is watching a tacky football half-time show on a television that you turned on.

I was kind of willing to overlook Someecards’ previous Ben Roethlisberger cards (here and here) because I could at least fool myself into thinking that they were essentially making fun of Roethlisberger, not his alleged victims. But this? This I’m not willing to overlook.

I tweeted @someecards to voice my discomfort, and received this reply:

They have not responded to my second tweet. If you’re on Twitter, please tweet @someecards and let them know why this isn’t okay.

People seem to enjoy rape jokes because they think they’re “edgy.” In reality, there’s absolutely nothing edgy about rape; indeed, it happens all the time. It is a serious and disgusting crime that cannot be joked about in this callous way. This kind of humor is not only tasteless and hurtful, it’s also boring. Plenty of people make light of rape, Someecards: you’re nothing special.

HR3 and the Pre-Voting Activist

February 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

by ADI

(Trigger warning for mentions of sexual assault.)

If you’ve been spending any time on the feminist Internet lately, you’ve likely read about HR3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Besides codifying the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits almost all federal funding for abortion and vastly limits the access of low-income women to this procedure, the bill would all but remove the current exceptions for rape and incest. Even more problematically, it does so by redefining the only “acceptable” rape as “forcible” rape, something which would effectively bar the majority of rape survivors from receiving help aborting their rapist’s child.

When we talk about the “pro-rape lobby,” this is what we mean. It’s not enough for women who have been raped by a partner, acquaintance, or even stranger in a way that doesn’t comply with this laughably limited definition of rape (while, say, unconscious, drugged, or held down by someone much stronger) to be told that they should have fought back harder, should have watched their drink better, shouldn’t have gone out at all or let their guard down around their closest friends. It’s now going to be enshrined in law. I didn’t think there could be anything more outright evil than denying medical procedures to survivors of sexual assault, but this is almost it: They’re effectively telling people that they do provide funds for survivors, but you weren’t raped.

There are a lot of other reasons why this bill is terrible, many of which have been laid out over at Tiger Beatdown, where Sady is running her wonderful #DearJohn campaign. So what do we do about it now?

Really, in a liberal democracy, there are about four things we can do. The first, obviously, is vote. The nearest election might not be near enough, however, and since this is a blog for young feminists, many of us can’t vote, or at least can’t vote yet. So what do we do? The other three things.

The second is to contact your elected officials. If you’re in the US, find your representative and write them. Call them. Do both. Don’t threaten — we’re better than that. Just explain why the bill hurts women and rape survivors, and why the issue matters to you. Even if you can’t vote yet, let them know that you will be in the closest election.

The third is to make yourself heard. Minority groups like the Tea Party can dominate the national discussion through violent rhetoric and hate — but we can amplify our own voices as well. Follow this guide to joining the #DearJohn campaign — it’s a first step to aggregating the opinions of all the people against HR3. Find your local newspaper and write a letter to the editor — a real, physical letter. If you have access to readers through a blog, post on it. Most importantly, talk to the people you know about the resolution. You don’t have to start an argument or take on a group of people you know are vehemently anti-choice (unless you want to), but make sure that even the pro-choice people you know are aware of the implications of the resolution and why they should be against it.

The last is to consider donating some money to a pro-choice campaign or access fund. Even if we win on this, there are still many women who desperately want abortions — but can’t get the money for them. Try searching for your state’s abortion access fund — many, including DC and New York, have them. Donate to Planned Parenthood or NARAL. Even if you can’t give much, every little bit can help someone in need.

#Mooreandme

December 19, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Thanks, meme generator.

Laura and Me.

December 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

More than 20 years after his film Roger and Me, about Flint’s connections to General Motors, and how the city is affected by outsourcing, Michael Moore still has strong geological and emotional ties to the eastern side of the state of Michigan. He mentioned Flint in Bowling for Columbine and Farenheit 9/11, and was clearly passionate about shedding light on the disparity of wealth within Flint. Hell, his Twitter handle is @MMFlint. In his films and interviews, he frequently is seen wearing apparel with the logos of several Michigan colleges, including Michigan State University, and Eastern Michigan University. I wonder if Moore has visited Eastern Michigan University, or spoken at the school recently. If he did, he may have heard about what happened in 2006 to Eastern student Laura Dickinson.

Laura Dickinson, a student at EMU was raped and murdered in her dorm room in December 2006. EMU originally told her family that she died of natural causes, and it was only after a suspect was arrested that the school informed Dickinson’s family that her death was a homocide. EMU was fined for violating the Beverly Clery Act (which requires colleges and universities to report felonies that happen on campus), settled with the Dickinson family out of court, and the President, Vice President, and Public Safety Director were fired. Dickinson’s death, EMU’s cover-up, and the murder trial were on the news constantly, and brought the kind of publicity that a small town in West Michigan does not want. At the same time, the Dickinson family held several benefits, with proceeds going to causes that Laura supported. Friends and neighbors stepped in to help run the family coffee shop during the months after her death.

It was hard to hear TV and radio reports about Laura’s death, because I knew her family, spent numerous hours in their coffeeshop, and it was sad that instead of being in the news because State Grounds supported the community by letting musicians perform in the space, or raised money for important causes. They were on the news because their daughter had died, and the institution that should have been looking out for her safety failed to protect her, and decided to lie to her family.

When I hear the phrase “travesty of justice”, I think about how EMU treated the grieving Dickinson family. I don’t think about Assange turning himself in, being jailed for a short period of time, being released on bail, and spending his holiday in an English mansion. It isn’t so much Moore posting bail for Assange (it’s his money, he can waste it however he wants to) that pisses me off, it’s Moore’s going on “Countdown With Keith Shouts-A-Lot”, and claiming that his donation stems from a belief that Assange was “set up” and that his complainants are merely upset groupies/”honeypots”/CIA informants/otherwise hell bent on destroying WikiLeaks. This is a criminal case, and instead of trying Assange and his accusers in the Court of the Internet (which is highly susceptible to severe cases of trolling), we should let the courts do their job. And we should reserve judgement about the veracity of the accusations until all parties must testify under oath.

Moore and Olbermann have been silent about their fantastically insensitive comments. I understand that having to explain their justification behind saying that Assange’s work was more important than having to do something as pesky as answer for a crime he has been accused of (and spreading misinformation about Assange’s accusers)  must be hard. How about they meet with the Dickinson family, and ask them what it was like to not only have a daughter die after being assaulted, but to have a university lie to them about her death? If Moore doesn’t particularly care about the whole “sexual assault is bad” thing, it would at least provide another example of why cover-ups, and the spreading of lies, by any person or organization, can be devastating and hurtful.

And then maybe, just maybe, Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann will realize why dismissing rape accusations comes off as hurtful, insensitive, pompous, and a slew of other unpleasant adjectives.  And then oh, I don’t know, donate at least a little bit of their fortunes to RAINN?

On #Mooreandme, Fucking Up, and Apologies

December 16, 2010 § 9 Comments

by MIRANDA

So. Let’s review.

1. Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been accused of raping two Swedish women on different occasions. These two women have an apparently awesome lawyer, Claes Borgström, who says things like: “[my clients] are victims of a crime, but they are looked upon as the perpetrators and that is very unfortunate.” Assange has a lawyer, Mark Stephens, who says things like: “The honeytrap has been sprung. Dark forces are at work. After what we’ve seen so far you can reasonably conclude this is part of a greater plan.” Because of these accusations, Assange has been arrested and held in a London jail. But he has been released on bail and appears dedicated to avoiding fair and rigorous prosecution for these alleged rapes.

2. Keith Olbermann talks about Assange’s legal troubles on his show. Olbermann invites Michael Moore to comment on Assange’s legal troubles on his show, specifically why Moore chose to donate $20,000 to Assange’s bail. Moore tells us that he donated such a sum because he believes WikiLeaks’ works is essential for a “free and open society,” because supporting WikiLeaks is “an act of patriotism.” Oh, and because the rape allegations are “a lie and a smear,” “all a bunch of hooey.” Oh, and also: because the allegations of rape are actually allegations that “his condom broke during consensual sex, which is not a crime.” Not a crime, true. Also not the accusation. (But here’s the thing: respecting WikiLeaks as a mechanism for ensuring “a free and open society” does not prevent us from getting to the bottom of the accusations against Assange. We can admire the principles of an organization while still questioning the ethics of their frontman. Really. We are old enough to walk and chew gum, here.)

3. Sady Doyle calls this shit out. And by “this shit” I mean the utter audacity of a progressive leader like Michael Moore to dismiss so casually and callously the very legitimate claims of two women who may have been raped. She calls out “the unwillingness of men in positions of power to consider rape a crucial issue that must be taken seriously.” And she launches a powerful protest: #Mooreandme. For the last 24 hours, real progressives have been tweeting @MMFlint and @KeithOlbermann, calling out their rape apologist bullshit; demanding dialogue, an apology, and $20,000 to an anti-rape organization; saying:

We are the progressive community. We are the left wing. We are women and men, we are from every sector of this community, and we believe that every rape accusation must be taken seriously, regardless of the accused rapist’s connections, power, influence, status, fame, or politics. We believe that rape is a crucial and central issue which affects us all, women disproportionately, and we are sick of being told that you should “never, ever believe” us. We believe that accuser-shaming, accuser-harassment, victim-blaming, and the suppression of rape cases all serve one distinct purpose, which is: TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR PEOPLE TO RAPE US AND GET AWAY WITH IT.

And for the last 24 hours? Olbermann has blocked a bunch of people, and Moore hasn’t responded at all. That’s some courageous journalism right there.

So there you have my humble, incomplete recap. But what I really want to emphasize is this: Olbermann and Moore have a really incredible opportunity right in front of them, an opportunity begging to be taken. They have the opportunity to apologize. Because being a good progressive? Is all about fucking up.

If we’re ever to break the myth of the flawless progressive hero — a myth that is unproductive, a myth that breaks hearts — we need to start learning how to recover from mistakes. Because they happen; casual racism, sexism, rape apologism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, ageism, classism… Those things happen because we were taught to make them happen. Now we need to teach ourselves to stop them. Sure, we need to expect more. But expecting more doesn’t mean expecting perfection, the first time, every time. Expecting more is about making mistakes, being called out, engaging and learning from them. We learned that shit in pre-school.

Keith Olbermann, Michael Moore, we’re waiting, we’re literally begging you to apologize and to right your egregious wrongs. You can find me @mirandamammen, waiting with the rest of my crew. We’re waiting. But we can’t wait forever.

What Can We Learn From The Yale Frat Shitstorm?

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

Trigger Warning for  slogans promoting rape and assault.

Members of the Yale Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity have come under fire after members chanted slogans such as “No means Yes” and “Yes means Anal” in a video that went viral. While Yale is keeping quiet about what disciplinary actions the institution may take, the Yale Chapter of DKE is banned from doing any more pledge activities.

I am glad that  the Yale DKE has been disciplined by the governing body of the fraternity, but I’m still annoyed that this shit happened in the first place. What I do worry about are the many students who are involved in Greek life, who are smart, judicious, and care about community, who aren’t heard of because “Fraternities/Sororities Gone Bad” stories are all we hear in the media.

I have friends who are involved in fraternities an sororities that defy the stereotypes we have about Greek life. My friend Max is in a fraternity, doesn’t wear popped-collar pink polo shirts, doesn’t treat women like disposable blow-up dolls, and is very active in community events, when he’s not working for the local radio station as a sports reporter. My friends in Kappa Alpha Theta and Chi Omega sororities perform annual blood drives, hold fundraisers benefiting charities that help survivors of domestic violence, and can be seen in T-shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans, rather than anything from the infamous Pi Phi rush dress code.

I think it’s wrong to say “Oh, you’re in a fraternity/sorority? Okay, you’re so not feminist”. I think it’s wrong when Greek organizations permit disgusting behavior, like vandalism, classism in the form of demanding that all pledges wear Tory Burch flats, or perpetuation of rape culture. I think the hubbub around this case is a good opportunity for Greek organizations to come forward, condemn this behavior, and do things that promote them in a positive way, such as partnering with organizations like the Great American Condom Campaign, Men Can Stop Rape, Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and so on and so forth.

People do look up to Greek organizations, so if they set a good example about safer sex, what consent really means, promoting equal rights, etc, others just might follow suit.

As a side note, once Yale resolves this current controversy with the fraternity, I’d like them to continue on a more pressing issue: Actually providing scholarships to their graduate students. Come on Yale, you have more money than God. It’s wouldn’t’ kill you to spend some of it on your students.

A Review: AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault

September 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

So! I am going to college very, very soon. In four days, actually. My school was one of many to assign the AlcoholEdu program to its incoming students. The website is a kind of alcohol orientation that combines videos, instant message chat, animations, and text to prepare you for a final exam. If you fail it, you have to complete the program again. The site describes itself as “an online alcohol prevention program used on more than 500 college and university campuses nationwide… designed to challenge students’ expectations about alcohol while enabling students to make healthy and safe decisions.”

AlcoholEdu has been the butt of many jokes among my peers. It’s true that its attempts to appear hip and relatable are nauseatingly earnest (really, an IM chat with your parents’ friend who is a doctor?) – though the creators seemed unconcerned with using actors who might be more relatable to students of color.

I expected the program to be rather tedious, and it definitely came through in that regard. What I didn’t expect was the site’s more-or-less-feminist, no-nonsense approach to sexual assault and its relationship to alcohol use. I was deeply gratified and relieved to discover this, because of, you know, the epidemic of assault on US college campuses.

The program started with lots of survey questions to assess our current knowledge. (My understanding is that one’s answers to the survey questions affected the presentation that followed; for example, if your survey responses indicated confusion about Blood Alcohol Content, the lesson that you were directed to would include more information about that topic. But, I’m not sure if this is entirely true. The program was not very transparent in terms of who was directed where.) The survey included questions like these:

When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “be taken advantage of sexually”?
When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “take advantage of someone sexually”?

And this:

Rate how much you agree, on a scale from 0 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree):

  1. Women should take responsibility for avoiding sexual assault by drinking less alcohol
  2. It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if he was drinking at the time and his actions were not premeditated
  3. A person who was sexually assaulted should never be blamed for what happened
  4. A person who forces himself sexually on another person should always be blamed for what happened
  5. Many cases of so-called “acquaintance rape” are nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding between two people
  6. Without exception a person who forces himself sexually on another person should face legal consequences
  7. It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if the other person was drinking at the time and led him on

Then, later on in the program, I was directed to these explanations regarding the question: “How does alcohol affect a person’s ability to give sexual consent?”

Alcohol and Consent

Consent is what a person says or does to give agreement for sexual contact, including sexual intercourse, to occur.

Alcohol can create a lot of confusion when it comes to interpreting whether a person has actually given consent. Because alcohol affects judgment, decision-making, and the ability to communicate clearly, drinking can seriously affect someone’s ability to give clear consent. Alcohol can also make it difficult for the other person involved to understand whether their potential partner has given consent or is even capable of legally doing so.

Determining Consent

In order to be sure that consent has taken place, people should keep in mind the following four standards:

Both parties should be unimpaired by alcohol or drugs: Both individuals should be able to control their own thoughts and know what is going on around them.

Both parties should be able to act freely: Both individuals must be free to change their mind at any time, and a person’s silence should not be misinterpreted as consent.

Both parties should clearly communicate their permission: Both individuals should discuss their willingness to have sex well in advance of sexual activity.

Both parties should be honest about their desires: Both individuals should be 100% honest about their feelings, and they should not convince their partners to have sex by being dishonest about their feelings or intentions.

Source: Berkowitz, A. B., (2002). “Guidelines for Sex in Intimate Relationships.” Campus Safety & Student Development. 4 (3), 49-50

Let me just say it: Hooray. I’m so glad that this was included, though kind of depressed that I was so surprised.

Later, I was shown a video addressing how to “intervene” if you witness “inappropriate” behavior. At a party, two guys were trying to get a girl drunk so they could “get her back to [their] room.” I was pleased to notice that a fat actress was chosen to play the target of this behavior — this choice directly counters the ridiculous cultural meme that only conventionally attractive women are “rapeable.”

I was also shown a video about how to help a friend who tells me she has been assaulted. The narration encouraged me to “believe her right away,” to “let [her] make her own decisions about how to handle reporting the crime,” and to “encourage her to seek counseling.”

In both of these videos, the viewer (me) was cast as a woman, the friend of someone in trouble — ostensibly because I’d indicated that I’m female at the beginning of the course. I’d be interested to see what the men on the site were shown: which videos, which statistics. I’m not sure how I feel about male and female students being shown different content, although I did appreciate the footnote attached to the question about gender identity:

* We recognize and appreciate that not all individuals identify within these binary constructs. The purpose of this question (and similar questions that will appear throughout the course) is to calculate your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), which is based on physiological variables specific to your biological sex and not related to your gender identity.

Overall, I was pleased with the way AlcoholEdu addressed alcohol safety issues, particularly sexual assault. However, I’m sure that a lot of students forgot what they’d learned as soon as the exam was over. I sincerely hope that the lessons introduced online are continued during orientation, ideally with a real-life, interactive workshop. I hope this isn’t the last that my peers will hear about these important issues.

Check out Jamie’s take on the site, too.

Jezebel: Still Not Progressive

September 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

by KATIE E.

Nope. Unless your idea of busting the kyriarchy involves heteronormative, classist, ageist, woman and sexuality shaming, pro-rape bullshit.

Overall, the entire piece fails due to its insistence that the only “real virginity” is man’s penis into women’s vagina. It makes no reference at all that might not be true for people who are trans,  non-gender binary conforming, bi/pan/asexual, lesbian, gay, and/or queer identified. Plus, it effectively erases people who simply choose not to have PIV sex, or don’t want to count it as “losing their virginity” due to rape/assault/other trauma, or the belief that oral/anal/something else was their “first time.” And what about people who can’t or can’t comfortably have PIV sex due to sexual dysfunction or a similar condition?

None of these people exist in Jezebel-land.

You know who else is apparently a figment of my silly feminist imagination? Twenty something virgins. Instead of respecting the fact that someone couldn’t or didn’t want to do it before they hit 21, let’s talk down to them and insist they need a “a solid core of female friends to guide you through the first-time sex experience” or “Get out of town. Preferably Paris, France. Pick an attractive, mysterious European stranger who doesn’t speak a word of English and is totally inappropriate for your real life, but perfect for this occasion.” You know, I really have no problem with one-time sex with someone you don’t know, even if it’s your first sexual experience. Nothing wrong with that. But doesn’t the idea of picking someone who can’t understand the language you speak scream with consent issues and sound a little like rape? Or actually, sound exactly like rape because that’s what it is?

Besides, how many twenty-somethings (or anybody, really) can afford random European vacations? Not a whole lot, yet the piece  normalizes it and doesn’t offer solutions for the many people who can’t do it.

The entire piece just perpetuates the culture of  shaming women for not having their first sexual experience go a certain way, something that conservatives are regularly called out on. Jezebel would refuse to publish a piece telling women the best way to have first-time sex is after the wedding, but they are fine telling women they need to have a party or be drunk. While their isn’t a huge culture of shame forcing their advice, it’s still the same concept: telling women they don’t know how to handle their own sexuality. It’s time that all of us-conservative, progressive, or somewhere in between-trust women enough to know if, when, and how their first sexual experience will take place.

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