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At Swarthmore and Other Colleges, Students Say Sexual Assault Is a Persistent—and Often Mishandled—Problem

12:57 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Annamarya Scaccia for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Swarthmore

Why are Swarthmore and other prestigious colleges going easy on rapists?

“I obviously went through it, but to put [it] into words is harder.”

The voice on the other end of the line is unsteady.

Joshua, a 21-year-old Swarthmore College student, is calling from his home in California—three time zones and 2,800 miles away from the prestigious campus 30 minutes outside Philadelphia. He’s back on the West Coast for the summer, tackling unfinished coursework after leaving school a few weeks early.

But, on this late July evening, he’s recalling the night last fall when he was raped, and the details of how Swarthmore mishandled his case. (Joshua is a pseudonym; he spoke to RH Reality Check on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by Swarthmore’s administration.)

Joshua’s story is one of 13 testimonies accompanying the May 22 federal complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) alleging Swarthmore violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972—which prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex, a mandate extended to sexual harassment and sexual violence—by creating a “hostile environment” and discouraging students from reporting or pursuing disciplinary action against sexual misconduct. The same day, students from the University of Southern California, the University of California, Berkeley, and Dartmouth College lodged similar complaints.

In September 2012, after a big fraternity party on campus, Joshua was brutally and violently raped in the bedroom of an apartment rented by a friend of his assailant—a member of one of Swarthmore’s fraternities who, sometime just before the attack, went on a rant about which male students were “‘faggots’ or ‘faggoty’ and if they were ‘so faggy,’ they needed to get slapped,” Joshua recounted.

He was then harassed by his offender through an online forum called (Like) Like a Little, which was created to gossip with and about Swarthmore students. Joshua considers the harassment an intimidation tactic intended to silence him. Under multiple pseudonyms, his rapist called him a “faggot,” “the admission’s mistake,” and “a pathological liar,” but his true identity was discovered after Swarthmore’s Department of Public Safety launched an investigation following a report filed by Joshua. Although the office found evidence of sexual harassment, Joshua said the rapist was at the time not penalized. “That’s … what caused me to really crack, because I watched him get away with something again,” he told RH Reality Check.

After having a long discussion with a fellow student, a graduating senior, who revealed the same offender raped him three times during his college years, Joshua reported the September assault to Department of Public Safety Director Michael Hill and Associate Director Joanna Gallagher, who was also Title IX deputy coordinator at the time.

“I felt angry to hear that somebody else also experienced the same thing and even more graphic, and repeated,” Joshua told RH Reality Check. “It was just a crazy amount of power that [he] exhibited over people on campus, and he has the ability to keep people quiet, so I just decided to break the silence finally.”

The Department of Public Safety, which oversees campus security and handles campus emergencies, launched an investigation. It also opened a case with the College Judiciary Committee (CJC), the judicial body that tries “major infractions of College regulations.” The CJC has the authority to impose punitive sanctions, including fines, community service, suspension, and expulsion.

The handling of his case, Joshua said, was “sub-par,” with red flags at every turn. For instance, he said the case was delayed so the defendant could submit more witnesses, but Joshua was told he wasn’t allowed to do the same. (Joshua also finds it suspicious that the defendant was allowed to use a school administrator as his trial support person; that is permitted under CJC procedure.)

Joshua then had to relive what happened “over and over again” during the four-and-a-half-hour trial. Swarthmore’s dean of students, Liz Braun, who served as convener, repeatedly questioned his state of intoxication the night of the assault, per alleged observations from a defendant’s witness, and the panel worked to determine how sexuality played a role in a male student’s rape—”how a gay person can rape another gay person.”

According to Joshua, the person who assaulted him argued he was aware of “inch measurements” and how deep the penetration went—the implication being that there was consensual sex. “Then I was asked by Dean Braun whether or not I could corroborate the inch measurements,” he said. “[The assailant] was acting like there was a ruler on site at the rape.” In an email, Joshua noted that the assailant “later proceeded to mold his account of events into a situation in which I was forcing him to have sex with me (forcing himself to insert).”

The rapist was found guilty of sexual assault and expelled in May—the first student to face expulsion at Swarthmore in ten years, claim Joshua and Hope Brinn (class of 2015), one of the main complainants behind the OCR charge.

“The College Judiciary Committee process is in the most dire need of reform,” Brinn told RH Reality Check. Brinn reported experiencing sexual harassment and sexual assault on two separate occasions within the last two years, and said she was met with “deliberate administrative indifference” by the school. ”Students found responsible for committing sexual assault were able to appeal their decision and then before the appeal was final, transfer to another school without anything on their record or on the college’s.”

While campus judicial procedures do not explicitly state it’s possible for students to leave school without anything on their record during the appeals process, they do note that a CJC hearing will not move forward if a student accused of sexual misconduct withdraws from Swarthmore before the case is tried. The only way a trial will continue, though, is if the student applies for readmission; the case would have to be heard prior to re-entry. This means an accused student could conceivably withdraw from the college and attend a different one, with none the wiser to the accusations brought against him.

Under OCR’s Microscrope

On July 12, the OCR announced it’s opening an investigation into the Title IX complaint against Swarthmore. According to a letter obtained by RH Reality Check that was sent from the Philadelphia OCR office to the main complainants, Brinn and fellow student Mia Ferguson (class of 2015), the pair allege that Swarthmore contributed to a sexually hostile environment in part by retaliating against Brinn when a senior resident advisor told other students about Brinn’s experience with sexual assault.

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What Would a Decent Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign Look Like?

10:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Pérez for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

It feels like every time I turn around, there’s another offensive teen pregnancy or parenting ad campaign. The Candie’s Foundation, which was created by Neil Cole of the apparel company Candie’s that is popular with young girls, joined the fray with its own offensive ad campaign for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in May.

Veronica Bayetti Flores at Feministing.com broke that one down nicely. Then an ad campaign was released by the Chicago Department of Public Health featuring alarmist photos of teenage boys with photoshopped baby bumps, like this one:

While campaigns like the one launched by the Candie’s Foundation have celebrity endorsements that propel them, I’m always more disgusted to see campaigns like Chicago’s, or the one in New York City earlier this year, where public funding has been used to make them happen—public dollars that could be used in many other ways that actually might have an impact on the lives of teenagers and parents of all ages. The Chicago campaign also has the strange side effect of being transphobic, accidentally depicting what could be a pregnant transgender man.

All of these campaigns have left me to wonder if there is a teen pregnancy prevention campaign I would support. Sadly, the crux of most of these campaigns, and especially the Candie’s Foundation and New York City campaigns, isn’t actually teen pregnancy prevention—they are teen parenting prevention campaigns, which I could never get behind. I would never support an initiative that shames and defames teen parents and spreads statistics that are taken out of context and claim teen parents, especially teen mothers, will never succeed.

This response to the Candie’s Foundation campaign illustrates how statistics commonly used to defend teen parenting prevention campaigns can be distorted:
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Stigma on Steroids: On Kansas Banning Abortion Providers From Schools

11:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Carole Joffe for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

No school district, employee or agent thereof, or educational service provider contracting with such school district shall provide abortion services. No school district shall permit any person or entity to offer, sponsor or otherwise furnish in any manner any course materials or instruction relating to human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases if such person or entity is an abortion services provider, or an employee, agent or volunteer of an abortion services provider.

Kansas High School

Kansas schools now forbid anyone with ties to abortion clinics.

The above provision is contained in a nearly 50-page bill that recently went into effect in Kansas. (A judge temporarily blocked two other provisions of the law, but allowed this one to remain.)

To be sure, the relentless assault on abortion that we are currently seeing in other state legislatures—Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina, among others—are far more consequential in the short run. Ambulatory surgical center (ASC) and hospital admitting privilege requirements really do have the capacity to shut down clinics. Should the Texas bill currently being considered become law—as is likely, despite the heroic efforts of the thousands of orange-shirters gathered at the capitol—the number of Texas abortion facilities would go from 47 to five in that huge state. Already, due to a similar ASC requirement, earlier rammed through the Pennsylvania legislature as a cynical response to the Gosnell scandal, a number of clinics in Pennsylvania have closed. And the bans on abortions after 20 weeks, adopted by a number of states, will affect a relatively small number of women, but typically those in desperate medical and/or social condition.

But other provisions of abortion legislation, of which the Kansas one cited above is a prime example, do a different kind of damage. They further the stigmatization and marginalization of abortion providers by making clear that these individuals are not welcome in that most central of community institutions: the schools. It is not just participation in sex education from which Kansas providers are barred. As Stephanie Toti, senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging this law, told me, “This is unprecedented discrimination against abortion providers. … The prohibition on providers serving as ‘agents’ of a school district has the effect of barring them from serving as chaperones on field trips and engaging in most other volunteer activities.”

So abortion providers are at this moment banned from Kansas schools—and supposedly this will promote the safety of adult women getting abortions, as is the typical sanctimonious rationalization of the various laws we are seeing.

I asked several lawyer colleagues if they knew of other instances in which a whole occupational category was banned by law from volunteering in schools. They did not. Indeed, as far as I can tell, only sex offenders as a class are de facto banned from school grounds.

This shocking ban on abortion providers’ involvement in the schools leads me to recollect other instances I have encountered of attempts to isolate this group and keep them from community involvement. I think of a provider I’ve written about who I call Bill Swinton (not his real name), a family medicine doctor in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. He was deeply involved in both his church and his community, and served for three terms on the local school board. But he was defeated for a fourth term in the late 1980s, as the abortion wars intensified; needless to say, his status as a provider was the key factor in his defeat. I think as well of another doctor I’ve written about named Susan Golden (also not her real name), in a town in the Midwest, who integrated abortion provision into her family medicine practice. When she and her partner planned to take part in a community health fair, presenting on the care of newborns, the entire event was abruptly cancelled by the anti-abortion owner of the facility where the fair had been scheduled to take place.

As disturbing as these incidents were, they did not have the force, or the legitimization, of law. The Kansas provision does—and as such, takes the stigmatization of abortion providers to a new level.

Assuming the Kansas law, including this provision, is not overturned, we can only speculate as to what effects it might have. Speaking personally, I remember as a child the enormous pride I felt when my father, a cardiologist, came to my elementary school with his microscope and showed the class wondrous things. As a working mother, I recall how much I valued occasional volunteer stints in my daughters’ schools, getting to know both their classmates and other parents. It is very disturbing to contemplate that providers and their children will be deprived of these experiences. And it is equally disturbing to contemplate the messages that others in the community will receive from such a ban.

This provision truly is stigma on steroids.

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Passing the DREAM Act Would Acknowledge the Human Rights of Migrant Children and Benefit All of Us

8:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Two DREAM activists

November 6th was a good day for human rights, at least in Maryland. Not only did the state’s voters support same-sex marriage, they also voted in favor of expanding access to higher education for all of Maryland’s students, regardless of their immigration status.

While the Maryland ballot initiative on education is great for young migrants in that state, it highlights the fact that federal action is sorely needed to protect the human rights and dignity of migrants everywhere.

There is some good news. In June this year, President Obama signed an executive order preventing the Department of Homeland Security from deporting undocumented immigrants under 30 who came to the United States before they were 16 years old, and who fulfill a number of other criteria regarding their moral standing and education.

However, while this change rightly was hailed as a positive development for hundreds of thousands of young people, it does not overcome the need for legislative action — President Obama himself called it a “stop-gap” measure. In fact, it is now more than decade since a bipartisan initiative proposing similar benefits first was introduced in the Senate under the title “Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.”

The idea behind the original bill — and the various versions of it introduced over the years — was to open the possibility for higher education and ultimately citizenship for noncitizen children of good moral character, regardless of their immigration status.

And the idea is solid. The individuals potentially covered by these bills are already a positive part of their communities, and many know no other home than the United States. They are, for all intents and purposes, Americans in everything but paperwork. Moreover, maintaining the documentary limbo many of them are in does nothing but make it more difficult for them to pay tax, improve their education, or otherwise contribute constructively to society. In other words: refusing to regularize the status of undocumented children risks turning them into the pariahs they never were.

However, since the first DREAM Act was introduced in 2001, and despite the passage of a version of the bill in the House of Representatives in 2010, no final legislation has been approved by both houses. Arguments that the bill would foster illegal immigration or potentially shield gang members do not bear out in reality. For starters, the bill explicitly seeks to exclude those with a criminal background and applies equally to documented and undocumented aliens. Also, from a pragmatic perspective, most people migrate because they can’t provide for their families at home, not because they think they can “pull one over” on their host country. The lack of DREAM Act-like legislation does not make foreign-born children magically disappear or “self-deport.” Rather, it prevents them from fulfilling their potential as participants in society, thus becoming more of a burden than they otherwise would have been: a lose-lose situation if ever there was one.

But even more importantly, education is a human right. Numerous international human rights bodies have repeatedly clarified that states must protect the human rights of those living in their territory, regardless of their legal status. Certainly, states can and must independently determine their immigration and access policies, but they cannot decide whether any one individual has rights: we all do.

Up until this week, 11 states had already adopted their own versions of the DREAM Act, including California, Texas, and New York, all states with large and rapidly growing foreign-born populations. It is telling that states with large immigrant populations know that providing immigrant children with access to higher education only can be beneficial to everyone.

The ballot initiative approved in Maryland this week sends a powerful message to Congress that states are willing to provide, piecemeal, what the federal government should be providing, wholesale. It also underlines the uneven nature of legal protections for immigrants until federal law is passed, especially because immigration generally remains under federal purview. Hopefully, passing a federal DREAM Act is a priority item on the agenda of the new Congress.

Photo by Connie Ma under a Creative Commons Share Alike license on Flickr

Crazy About Contraception (One Way or Another)

11:32 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by the IPPF Live for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Published in partnership with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Live blog.

When it comes to contraception, if you only ever listened to some of the nation’s more eccentric political operators, you might think American attitudes just a tiny bit odd. Not wishing to offend anyone, of course, but you could try these pronouncements for size:

“Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly” (great gag).

“Contraception is a licence to do things in a sexual realm that are counter to how things are supposed to be” (and how are things “supposed to be” precisely?).

And of course, as one famously liberal-thinking radio host opined, any woman who supports free access to contraception is clearly “a slut and a prostitute.” (Ah, maybe you’ve got some unresolved psychological issues there, my friend?)

The above comments come from men (presumably when they were chatting over dinner with a T.Rex and a Brontosaurus). However, what will have passed them by is the post-Ice-Age historical story, which shows how contraception can change (and is changing) the world.

Like all good stories, it begins with “once upon a time.” Once upon a time, women’s capacity for education, economic empowerment, and domestic and political independence was truly stymied by the demands of giving birth and raising (maybe) a dozen children on scant resources. Men, as a result, enjoyed more or less absolute power in legal and social affairs. But these days the story is (slowly) shifting.

The facts and figures from the United States demonstrate the power of contraception to change a society.

Pre-contraception (made widely legal in 1965), men greatly outnumbered women in U.S. colleges (65-to-35). Today, women outnumber men (57-to-43). Pre-contraception, there were no female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Today there are 18. Pre-contraception, there were 20 women in the House of Representatives, and one female senator. Today, there are 76 and 17, respectively.

If a sad and stark counterpoint to this tale is required, consider this: Countries with low contraceptive usage have the lowest levels of female literacy. Countries with the highest fertility rates have the highest poverty rates, the lowest female life expectancy, and the fewest female rights. And so … one in eight Sierra Leonean women die in childbirth, women in Chad would be lucky to live beyond the age of 55, and girls as young as age nine are routinely forced to marry men as old as age 50, in any number of countries.

So, there is no fairy-tale ending to this fable (as yet). September 26th is World Contraception Day. It’s a day that seeks to draw attention to the vast difference that proper contraceptive education, supply, and use can make in women’s lives and the prosperity of societies. It seeks to drive forward the widespread adoption of contraception, in order to promote the greater good of individuals and the economic welfare of the world.

Then again, we could forget all that silly nonsense and just stick with doing things “the way they are supposed to be.” We could abstain and stop being sluts and prostitutes, just as those deep political thinkers (see above) advise. After all, lack of access to contraception works so well in Sierra Leone, doesn’t it? Er. …

Vaginas Are Sperm Depositories and Other Scary Things About the State of New York’s Sex Ed Curricula

8:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Zero Tolerance for Clowns

(Photo: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com/flickr)

Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Along with many others children, teens, and adults, this week I went back to school, too. I started teaching Introduction to Human Sexuality at a local college, something I haven’t done in about six years. In an effort to gauge what my students had already learned and what they wanted to know, I gave them an anonymous questionnaire which, in part, asked them to describe their sexuality education up until this point. At least five of them said that they’d had the “standard” or “usual” high school sex education. Unfortunately, this wasn’t particularly enlightening to me because as a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) highlights: when it comes to sex ed there is no such thing as standard; every district or even every classroom is different.

A survey of school systems across New York was conducted by NYCLU to determine what, if anything, they were teaching students about sex. Schools in the state are not required to teach comprehensive sexuality education, and while they are required to teach about HIV and certain other health topics, most of the lessons do not address sexuality or relationships. Schools do have to teach about alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; the prevention and detection of certain cancers; child development and parenting skills; and interpersonal violence. They do not, according to the new report, Birds, Bees, and Bias, How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York Students, have to teach about “healthy relationship skills, STI and pregnancy prevention, puberty, [and] anatomy” or “other core aspects of effective, comprehensive sex education.” In 2005, the Department of Education issued state standards for health education, which included many topics related to sexual health. However, these standards are voluntary, and school districts do not have to comply with them. The authors also mention the National Sex Education Standards, which were released early this year by a number of national organizations. These set minimum content requirements for concepts in sex education but are also not binding. The report concludes:

“The current legal and policy climate permits schools in New York to decide what, if any, sex education they will teach beyond the mandated HIV education. As a result, whether New York’s teens graduate from high school with the information and skills crucial to making lifelong healthy and informed decisions about sex and relationships rests in the hands of each individual school district, principal and health education teacher, with little guidance and even less oversight.”

To determine what students are learning, NYCLU sent questionnaires to a sample of school districts across the state making sure to include small, medium, and large districts. New York City was excluded in part for efficiency purposes. Since the surveys were sent out, however, the city passed a sex education mandate that went into during the 2011-2012 school year. NYCLU says: “We look forward to reviewing New York City data and instruction at a future date.” In total, 108 school districts were included, representing 542,955 students or nearly half of all students enrolled in districts outside New York City. In addition, the authors reviewed the most commonly used textbooks in the state.

The study found major gaps in the education young people should have been receiving, as well as numerous factual errors and biases in the information they were actually given.

Outdated HIV Information

As the only sexuality-related topic that is mandated, HIV is one of the subjects most likely to be covered by school districts in the state.  In fact, 93 percent of districts surveyed provided information on this topic. Unfortunately, many of them used outdated information on “prognosis, drug therapies, prevention and transmission.” Some of the outdated and inaccurate information includes districts telling kids:

  • “Once you have AIDS you will live from 6 months to 3 years.”
  • “[HIV] kills an individual.”

One district mentions AZT, the earliest antiretroviral drug, which was introduced in 1987, but does not discuss any of the newer available therapies. Another provides students with a handout that gives an illustrated timeline of what happens when you become infected with HIV. The timeline explains that one goes from being asymptomatic to having HIV symptoms within 12 years (without mentioning available drug therapies), that the individual then goes from HIV symptoms to AIDS and opportunistic infections within two years, and from there they go to a tombstone that says RIP within two more years.

Anything with a tombstone is clearly trying to instill fear in young people, which is bad enough, but this illustration is troubling in other ways as well. It misses many opportunities to talk about how people are now managing to stay healthy longer with HIV, and it misses all opportunities to mention how to prevent the spread of HIV. In fact, the person in the timeline gets tested for HIV and finds out he’s positive before going into the stage where he is asymptomatic which is described as “feeling healthy but still spreading HIV.”

Young people should know that HIV is preventable through both abstinence and the use of condoms and that it is possible to have it without spreading it.

Incomplete Information about Anatomy
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Anti-Gay New York GOP Rep to Teach Courses in “Feminine Elegance” to Help Women “Act Like Proper Ladies”

11:07 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Thanks to colleague Rachel Sklar for the original tip on this piece.

I would say this is in the category of… “you can’t believe it,” but these days there is nothing about today’s GOP I can’t believe anymore. From forced pregnancy, to forced ultrasounds (trans-vaginal or abdominal), to denial of care for rape victims, and denial of both health and pay inequities, the GOP is going out of its way to tell us exactly how they feel about women.

And now this: An anti-gay New York GOP legislator has decided that women are not acting “feminine enough,” so… he will teach us how to be feminine.

This is reported from Joe. My. God.

Anti-gay New York GOP state Sen. Marty Golden thinks women need to start acting like proper ladies. And he’s going to teach a class on how to do just that. City & State reports:

Later this month, Republican State Sen. Marty Golden’s office is holding a career-development event for women in his southern Brooklyn district teaching them “Posture, Deportment and the Feminine Presence.” That’s according to a taxpayer-funded mailing being sent out in Golden’s district, which an offended reader passed along. The taxpayer-funded event – presented by a “certified protocol consultant” – is part of a series teaching women in Brooklyn “what’s new in the 21st century as it relates to business etiquette and social protocol.” More details are also available on Golden’s Senate website, including the fact that women in attendance will be taught to, “Sit, stand and walk like a model,” how to, “Walk up and down a stair elegantly” and “Differences in American and Continental rules governing handshakes and introductions.”

According to Joe. My. God., “Golden says his classes are meant to help young women get jobs, therefore you are paying for it.”

Of course, assuming women need to be taught how to be “proper ladies” means to this guy that they should be quiet, demure, undemanding of their rights, available for sex whenever men demand it, willing to endure forced pregnancy and childbirth, submissive to their husbands and (white) male politicians and religious figures. And I am sure we should stop asking for things like pay equity.

In turn, I will be offering members of the GOP, Tea Party, fundamentalist right-wing nutcases, and those Blue Dog Democrats complicit in their agenda to attend a class on how not to be idiotic, sexist, misogynistic pigs, but something tells me that attendance will be low, because you’d have to have some measure of self-awareness to even decide you needed help.

And, somehow, I don’t think tax-payer funding would be available for said class. Just sayin’.

HPV Education, Prevention & Support: Innovative Efforts Reach Young People and Older Adults

8:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bianca I. Laureano for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

There’s an abundance of conversations about Human Papillomavirus (HPV), especially since the new vaccinations have been approved by the FDA, and now include boys. However, what are people doing about promoting awareness and prevention about HPV (human papillomavirus), not only for young people, but older adults and men? I asked Patti Murillo-Casa, the NY Chapter President of Tamika & Friends, Inc. (T&F) a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending cervical cancer through HPV education. I admit that I was one of the founding members of T&F when living in Washington, DC and helped to build some of the early HPV education and prevention activities and discussing sexual health and sexuality specific to HPV and cervical cancer. Since my departure, T&F has expanded and grown in ways that are exciting and very much needed!

Patti Murillo-Casa has been a guest speaker for many of my classes where she shares her experience being diagnosed with cervical cancer 3 years ago, her healing, recovery, and her coping practices. She also shares information about HPV to help raise awareness. I’ve interviewed Patti before when asking her about the rates of divorce among couples where one experiences cervical cancer.  After her most recent visit as a guest speaker, I asked if she would be willing to provide an interview with me to help raise awareness of the work T&F is doing, how folks can create a chapter in their area, and how area folks can get involved in their reproductive justice efforts locally.

Can you share with us how you became involved with Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

Sure!!–.  Three months after my last treatment [for cervical cancer] had ended, and feeling the repercussions of the aftermath of a battle, my brother, Rudy, for whatever reason was checking the internet and found Tamika and Friends NYC Walk to Beat the Clock, a 5K prevention and awareness walk to prevent cervical cancer.  The walk was going to be taken place in 3 days from the day he told me.  He insisted so much for us to do it that I gave in.  We gathered family, friends, raised some money and named our team “Tumor Terminators” and on Saturday, September 19, 2009 we were there.  For me it was like an epiphany when I saw the other survivors, women fighting the battle, caregivers and their friends all telling their stories with so much strength and determination.   It was easy to get inspired.  These women inspired me and continue to every day.  They welcomed me and hugged me as a sister; I was their survivor sister. They knew exactly what I had gone through.  I went to Tamika Felder, the founder and CEO of T&F, and I told her right there and then that I wanted to join the movement.  I wanted to be one of her “Friends.”  I was not feeling sorry for myself anymore.  I understood then, that the second chance I had just been given was to help other women not to endure what I had.  Tamika and Friends-NYC Chapter was born January 15, 2010.

What have been some of your most rewarding experiences since working with Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

They have been many, but meeting awesome people in this community tops my list.  I have met amazing warriors, advocates, and just people with tremendous heart and passion.  I have my ups and downs too, but I try to focus on the ups.  I always remember the first girl that came up to me and told me that because she heard or read my story she went to her doctor to check herself and that she will promise to do it every year.  In my book that’s what makes it all worthwhile and rewarding.  I call it my boost injection. :)  It allows me to continue with my mission, with my goal, with passion and determination to help eradicate cervical cancer.

What are some of the challenges you see existing in the work Tamika & Friends, Inc. has planned locally in NYC and nationally?

Tamika Felder calls this organization small, but very mighty.  We roll up our sleeves and we get ready to work at all times.  We are all volunteers and willing to do anything to spread the word and help survivors and people battling the disease.  As a national nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of our friends, neighbors and companies to help us. Unfortunately, in these economic times it’s hard, but we go forward with what we have and at the end of the day we have done what we can and we sleep better at night.  This is New York City, a city full of generous and eager people and if you want to help us you can email me at nycchapter@tamikaandfriends.org  or call 917-829-TFNY.

How do you see Tamika & Friends, Inc. work and the work you are doing as a example of reproductive justice?

We have several programs in place. Some of these are:

House Party of fiVe – A House Party of fiVe mixes girl talk with games teaching about HPV and how to stay safe in those intimate moments. The parties are fun, not lectures, and you can customize your party to fit your style! After experiencing this comfortable environment where women can ask questions more openly about their sexual health, many often pledge to visit their health-care provider to get their Pap and HPV tests along with taking back the literature provided and messages learned to share with their friends and family.

Wear Orange Day -In January, cervical cancer awareness month, we wear orange to bring more awareness to this preventable disease. While the color teal and white is the official color for cervical cancer, Tamika & Friends wears the color orange, a color that has been said to be healing and helps to balance your emotions in times of high stress.

Say Something - a toolkit provided and co-sponsored by another great organization, The Yellow Umbrella. Many times we want to know how to talk to our friends and family on cervical cancer, its link to HPV and how we can all prevent it. With the materials provided, it becomes easier to share information, educate yourself and help encourage women to get their HPV test.

Gift of Giving Financial Assistance Application -This is Tamika & Friends way of helping cervical cancer patients/survivors pay their bills. Unfortunately, the realities in this world do not stop even when you have a cervical cancer diagnosis and we love to be able to help ease the burden with donations provided by our supporters.

Walk to Beat the Clock – Our annual walks for cervical cancer. A place to provide solidarity, while recognizing and building a community of survivors, advocates, family and friends. The NYC Walk to Beat the Clock will on Saturday, September 17, 2011.  You can register, donate or volunteer by going to www.walktobeattheclock.org

T&F Chapters – Our organization is growing and as we share on our website we want to go global! We also attend many health fairs targeting different communities in Harlem, Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx and we give information and bring awareness to this disease and prevention. We want to expand. We love being online, but we also know that education and help is often best offered in person. Tamika & Friends will work with you and others in your community to organize educational events such as those listed above. We will provide materials and expertise to help you hold informational sessions at your local library, attend health fairs, contact community health organizations and colleges/universities. Plus, we will help you connect women in need with medical and social support and assist in fundraising efforts.

Tamika & Friends is a great way to combine fun, friendship and making a difference. To get involved, or to request additional information, please contact Tanhea at tanhea@tamikaandfriends.org.

How do you include men in HPV education and why is their inclusion important?

I particularly love men in the audience when I do my presentations.  Most of the time they shy away from the subject until they find out the HPV affects men and women.  It is obvious, that they will not get cervical cancer but there are other cancers that men can get that are linked to HPV (i.e. penile, anal, throat).   I also remind them that there are women in their lives (mom. sister, aunt, grandmother, godmother, girlfriends) and they have to support them.  Knowledge is power for everyone.

I believe that the inclusion of men is very important because in a way this disease affects everyone.  Men also have to realized that the human papillomavirus affects them too and it can lead to genital warts, penile cancer and anal cancer, to name a few.   Recent studies have revealed that throat cancer is in the rise for men due to the human papillomavirus. It is also important that boys and young men 9-26 years old know that they are able to get the HPV vaccine.

What support services exist for cervical cancer survivors via Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

One of the services already mentioned is the Gift of Giving which helps cervical cancer patients/survivors pay their bills. We have a certified counselor on board if they want to talk, a gynecologist, and nurse; we also offer emotional support (online coming soon). Family support is awesome but to talk and be supported by someone that has gone through what you have gone through makes a difference. Tamika and Friends, Inc. can be the other family in a survivor’s life.

What else would you like to have readers know about Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

Believing that creative communication is far more infectious than HPV – we provide many hands-on ways to spread the word to women in all walks of life. We may be reached using social media and our website.

You can reach out to us by visiting our website: www.tamikaandfriends.org, on Facebook

and Twitter. You can read our blog We Can Prevent Cervical Cancer

 

State Lawmakers Tell Teachers What They Can and Can’t Say

7:41 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Over the last few weeks, Tennessee lawmakers have been working on legislation that would effectively make it illegal for teachers to talk about homosexuality in the classroom before ninth grade. The laws states that “No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality” in grades K-8. While they went back and forth with amendments and counter amendments, the Senate education committee ultimately passed the bill which has been proposed by its sponsor for each of the last six years. The full Senate will likely vote on the measure this week or next. 

Not surprisingly, some people applauded the bill for keeping “inappropriate” topics away from young children while others called it censorship and discrimination. Some people in the state questioned why the bill was necessary as, according to one lawmaker, the “existing laws already prohibits such instruction by deeming it a misdemeanor to teach any sex education that is not part of the ‘family life curriculum’ adopted by the state Board of Education.”  Many just wondered how such a law could work and why a state legislature would get that intimately involved in what teachers can and cannot say in the classroom.

But we shouldn’t be shocked or even surprised by this. State lawmakers have had their hands and voices in sex education classes for years.  In truth, it is not entirely outside their purview to do so.  While specific decisions about curricula and lecture topics are often left up to local school boards and even principals and teachers, laws in most states set the stage for sexuality education. States routinely tell schools what they have to teach and what they can’t teach. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 20 states and the District of Columbia mandate both sex education and HIV education and 12 states mandate HIV education alone (interestingly, no state mandates just sex education).  In addition, 29 states say that if such education is taught it must meet certain requirements such as being age-appropriate and/or medically accurate. 

Read more

Too Many U.S. Teens Want to Get Pregnant

6:43 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Tatiana Mckinney for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

According to BusinessWeek, "More than 40 percent of unmarried U.S. teenagers — or 4.3 million teen males and females — have had sex at least once, a new U.S. government report shows."

"One of the great success stories of the past two decades has been the extraordinary declines in teen pregnancy and childbearing," said Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "This progress has recently stalled out."

The interesting aspect of this new information is that, one in five girls and one in four boys said they would be pleased if they or their partner got pregnant.

"This is really quite alarming," Albert said. "I don’t think it takes a Ph.D. to understand that in this day and age and in this economy the route to success doesn’t begin with a family at age 16."

The problem is that unwanted pregnancy has been glamorized by our media and society, while sex education has been demonized, limited, or not taught at all in some school districts. If we don’t equip young people with knowledge about sex and the consequences when you engage in sex when you are not prepared, there will continue to be an increase in unwanted pregnancies, not to mention higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

According to BusinessWeek, "With nearly half of all teenagers stating that they are sexually active, we cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand about ensuring that our young people have access to comprehensive sex education," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "While it’s encouraging to hear that a majority of them are using some form of birth control, many of the attitudes revealed in this report tell us that there is plenty of room for more comprehensive sex education that includes information about abstinence, contraception, healthy relationships, and responsible decision-making"

I agree with Cecile Richards in that comprehensive sex education would be a responsible way to address the unwanted pregnancy epidemic, but you have to realize that sex education should also be taught at home. Many people depend on the system to raise a child, when parents have to enlist an open-communication policy in their homes for the classroom discussion to be effective. If a young adult feels that they are being informed about sexual intercourse and they can go home and the parents reiterate what’s taught and give personal experience with the lesson being taught, it makes more an impact on the person.

According to BusinessWeek, "The study, which analyzed data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, also found that about one-quarter of female teens and 29 percent of males reported two or more sexual partners, the same as 2002. Females who started having sex when they were younger were more likely to accumulate more partners. While most teens had not had intercourse in the month before being asked about this (76 percent of females and 79 percent of males, the same as 2002), 12 percent of females and 10 percent of males reported having sex in the prior month."

What the alarming facts teach us is that our educational system needs work. We can’t expect every school district to teach children about sex, as you can see by the statistics it’s not happening. I am a firm believer in comprehensive sex education, but I also believe there needs to be a support system behind the teachings. You can give any child a condom and teach them how to use it, but what are they learning in the process? Are they learning about relationships? Are they learning about their bodies? What are you expecting them to get from the demonstration?  I think this new information is great tool to start up discussion on what exactly people expect when it comes to good sex education.

The BusinessWeek article notes:

"Seventy-one percent of female teens in 2006-2008 "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that "it is OK for an unmarried female to have a child," about the same proportion as 2002. But now 64 percent of males agreed with the statement, up from 50 percent in 2002."

The resources and education is key in making sure that students are well-informed about sex and can make a decision that is best for them and their bodies. Albert, further quoted in BusinessWeek, continues:

"When we talk about teen pregnancies and unplanned pregnancies more generally, people tend to focus on the important issues of cost and access [to birth control]. These are two critically important issues but I think that we often overlook this great ambivalence that many people have about when and under what circumstances to start families. Clearly, if you put a condom in everyone’s hands they are not going to use them if they’re ambivalent about getting pregnant. Cost and access are absolutely critical but so is motivation."

Hopefully with the recent information we can get started making sure cost and access are a great motivation to make sure young people are being give medically-accurate information and provide skills-building resources to help them make informed decisions about their bodies.