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A Case Study in Awful: The 8 Worst Parts of the Recent Naval Academy Rape Hearing

11:33 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Recently, attorneys defending three former Naval Academy football players against allegations of sexual assault at an off-campus party spent more than 20 hours over five grueling days questioning, taunting, blaming, shaming, and what appears to be re-victimizing a 21-year-old female midshipman.

At one point, the midshipman said she was too exhausted to continue testifying and the commander presiding over the hearing granted her a day off. “This is borderline abusive,” her attorney Susan Burke said upon leaving the Navy Yard that day. Abusive, yes, and sadly all too instructive in how rape culture encourages attorneys, members of the media, and others to turn sexual assault victims into the accused.

The routine process of victim blaming, as illuminated by this Article 32 hearing, serves to silence other sexual assault victims, generate sympathy for rapists, and create doubts that the definition of sexual assault includes anything beyond a stranger jumping out of an alley and raping a sweet, chaste woman wearing modest clothing.

In this case, the midshipman saw social media posts that led her to believe she was raped while drunk. All three defendants admitted sexual contact with the midshipman on the night at the center of the allegations—either to her, or prosecutors. What follows is a look at some of the horrible insinuations, statements, and questions used by defense attorneys to impugn the character of the midshipman, which offer an entry point to talk about and refute rape culture as a whole.

How do you perform oral sex?

Defense attorneys repeatedly asked the midshipman how she performs oral sex. This question is irrelevant, even though one of the defendants has said that he put his penis in her mouth that night. Here’s the deal: It doesn’t matter if a sexual assault victim has had sex, and it doesn’t matter how she (or he) prefers to have sex. People are biologically driven to have sex. Sex is part of normal life. A history or manner of having oral sex, or rough sex, or any specific style of sex, does not mean that you can’t be sexually assaulted orally, or roughly, or in that specific style. There are infinite ways to have sex, minus one: Sex without consent isn’t sex. By definition, it’s rape.

Tell us about your sex life.

Along with repeated queries about how she performs oral sex, the midshipman was asked to describe her sex life in detail. This, like the oral sex question, is also irrelevant and demeaning. Casting the spotlight on a victim’s sexual history in the context of discussing her (or his) rape serves to make others imagine the victim sexually. It serves to degrade her (or him). Sharing your sexuality with others is a personal choice. Being cast in a sexual light can be highly desired, even great, when freely chosen. But painting a sexual picture of someone when they haven’t asked you to serves to shame, silence, and sluttify.

You had sex with him before, right?

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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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Anti-Rape Bill Could Create Wedge Between Different Anti-Feminist Factions

8:35 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Former Republican Senate Candidate Todd Akin

As Todd Akin and the country at large learned during the 2012 elections, pregnancies resulting from rape are very real and sadly all too common. If there was one silver lining in the entire debacle and “debate” over Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, it was that it helped expose a previously under-reported problem: 31 states allow rapists to sue for custody or visitation of children conceived by rape. It might initially seem like it wouldn’t be much of a problem—most of us probably ask ourselves why rapists would bother to want these children at all—but the fact of the matter is that rapists rape because they like to hurt and control women. How better to make your victim’s life a living hell than going after her through her children? Nothing says “I have power over you” like forcing yourself into someone’s life through their children. Now a bipartisan group of congressmen are trying to close up this loophole in custody laws, with the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, which creates financial incentives for states that bar rapists from suing their victims for custody.

Shauna Prewitt, a woman who chose to give birth after her rape resulted in pregnancy, was with the congressmen when they announced the bill. Prewitt filed charges against her rapist after she gave birth, and he retaliated by suing her for custody. There aren’t any numbers out there to assess how common it is for rapists to abuse the family court system in this way, but there are thousands of women who choose to raise children conceived by rape every year, and we know that rapists are often dogged in their sadism, making suing their victims a tantalizing opportunity for many of them. Wife batterers are notorious in legal circles for their eagerness to abuse the family court system to continue the pattern of hurting and controlling their victim, so it makes sense that rapists—who have a lot in common with and are often batterers themselves—would be attracted to the same strategy. And if they get visitation rights or custody? Now they have tons of access to manipulate and hurt their victim for 18 more years.

Needless to say, it’s probably not the greatest idea to let these men, who think it’s okay to force sex on unwilling women, raise children, especially if there are alternatives—like the mother—available.

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Do Military Sexual Assaults Against Men Trump Those Against Women?

7:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY

At a Capitol Hill news conference called in May by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in support of her legislation to address sexual assault in the military, Brian Lewis, a former petty officer in the U.S. Navy, told of how, at the age of 20, he was raped on board a ship by a superior officer, and then drummed out of the service and denied his Veterans Administration benefits when he took his complaint to his commanding officer.

While the Navy never denied the assault took place, according to the Guardian, Lewis’ attacker went unpunished. At the press conference, Lewis said that instead, he suffered retaliation for having made the complaint in the form of a false diagnosis of a personality disorder by a Navy psychiatrist—a diagnosis that led to his separation from the service without benefits.

Lewis’ story is not unlike those told by many military women who suffer sexual assault by members of higher rank, who endure sexual assault during their time in the service at more than five times the rate of men. (Indeed, at the same press conference, Jennifer Norris, a former sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, told of suffering post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] after enduring several sexual assaults, and then losing her security clearance because of her PTSD diagnosis.)

Despite the higher rate of sexual assault in the military against women, Pentagon statistics estimate a greater number of assaults against men—some 53 percent of all sexual assaults in the military—based on the fact that the services are overwhelmingly male. With the upcoming release of Justice Denied, a documentary that focuses on the stories of men who suffered sexual assault while serving in the armed forces, an emphasis on their stories is moving to the fore. And that’s a good thing for all survivors, one would assume, for it exposes a pervasive culture of sexual predation in the military.

But if a recent New York Times front page story is any indication, attempts are already being made to distinguish the rape experiences of male survivors as inherently worse than women’s, and to continue framing assaults on women in terms of the rapist’s sexual desire, not the same quest for domination that motivates those who assault men.

Given society’s default position in disbelieving the woman who dares to accuse her rapist, advocates for sexual assault victims express the hope that with more men coming forward to tell their stories, the military brass will take the problem—an estimated 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact in a single year, according to a recent Pentagon report—more seriously. Another reason that the generals and admirals have failed to prioritize the problem is that it’s seen as a “women’s problem,” and women comprise a mere 15 percent of the force, Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), told the Times.

With more men coming forward, she said, “I think it places the onus on the institution when people realize it’s also men who are victims.”

While that may be a sad fact of the way in which assaults on women are considered to be somehow less important, more troubling is this paragraph, from the same New York Times article, by James Dao:

Many sexual assaults on men in the military seem to be a form of violent hazing or bullying, said Roger Canaff, a former New York State prosecutor who helped train prosecutors on the subject of military sexual assault for the Pentagon. “The acts seemed less sexually motivated than humiliation or torture-motivated,” he said.

Note that this guy trains military prosecutors.

What are we to take from that? That assaults against women are the acts of lonely guys who are just looking for a little love? That the motivation for some of the horrendous attacks on women in the military by men, often of higher rank, has nothing to do with a desire to humiliate or torment the women?

Take the case of Navy veteran Trina McDonald, told in the documentary film The Invisible War, who says that in 1989 she was drugged, raped repeatedly, and even dumped in the Bering Sea after an assault. Sounds like something other than sexual motivation there.

Or that of Army veteran Ayana Harrell, who was drugged and gang-raped in 2001, and then, when she told her commanding officer that she was pregnant because of the attack, was told, she says, that it was her own problem.

More recently, there was the 2012 social-media humiliation of a female Navy midshipman who says she was raped by several Naval Academy football players after she passed out at a party.

And the assault last month of a civilian woman in a Virginia mall parking lot by the Air Force lieutenant who, at the time, led that service’s sexual assault prevention unit.

And multiple reports of assaults by military recruiters against young women in the recruitment process, including one that ended in a murder-suicide.

I don’t mean to suggest that sexual assaults sustained by military men are less important or less traumatizing than those endured by women. But I see in the offing an attempt to paint them as more so, and that’s deeply disturbing.

We’re told that men are left with the trauma of questioning their manhood, of not being believed by family members, of the humiliation of the assumption by many that they must have cooperated in some way with the assault. While it may be less likely for a woman to question her sexual identity as the result of an assault, she is usually left to question her own feminine virtue as construed by society, which is a torment unto itself. Each are different, and there’s no way that one sex can assess the other’s experience of sexual assault as particular to gender.

Likewise, no two sexual assaults are completely alike. Some are more brutal than others. But all are profoundly damaging to those who endure them.

I welcome airing the stories of the courageous men who are now coming forward to tell of how they were preyed upon by their brethren in the armed forces. My heart hurts for them, just as it hurts for all of the women who have endured such injustices. And if their coming forward puts more urgency into finally ending this scourge, that’s a good thing, and these men will have done a great service for servicemen and servicewomen alike.

But the framing of their stories must not be construed in such a way as to draw distinctions based on old tropes about the nature of sexual assaults against women, cementing the old saw about “boys being boys” when they prey on women, and something worse when they prey on men.

The military has a predator problem within its ranks—and a traitorous one at that. That the Senate Armed Services Committee, by rejecting Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, has chosen to leave the adjudication of these crimes within the chain of command that has allowed them to proliferate is a crime in itself. That the president has remained silent on the chain of command problem is disheartening.

If what it takes lawmakers to do their constitutional duty to protect America’s fighting men and women is the knowledge that roughly one in 100 men in the armed forces suffer sexual assault at the hands of their brother fighters—when, clearly, knowledge of the one in 17 military women who suffer the same didn’t do the trick—then so be it.

But rape is rape. Sexual assault is sexual assault. These are brutal crimes of betrayal designed to humiliate, dominate, and harm the person who is preyed upon, regardless of his or her sex.

Until we get that straight, the road to women’s equality remains strewn with the obstacles sown by history’s purveyors of sex libel.

The Ongoing Battle to Remove Military Sexual Assault Prosecution From the Chain of Command

1:18 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

As the Senate Armed Services Committee meets Wednesday to take up its version of the Defense Authorization bill, senators will likely devote at least as much verbiage to discussion of sexual assault in the military ranks as they do to the finer points of the Pentagon budget that is the bill’s main focus. But missing from the committee’s final version of the bill will be the one measure that advocates for survivors of sexual assault and rape say is critical to ending the crisis that grips the military: removing the reporting and prosecution of sexual assault cases from the chain of command.

Despite its bipartisan support and 27 co-sponsors, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the committee chairman, struck from the bill a measure offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would have moved the adjudication of all serious crimes (such as murder, rape, and sexual assault) into the hands of independent prosecutors in order to create a safer environment and more impartial judicial process for those who have been the targets of assailants in the military ranks.

Levin made the decision Tuesday, replacing the provisions of Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act with a measure that simply requires that any command decision not to prosecute a sexual assault case be reviewed by a high-ranking officer. But as demonstrated in at least one recent case—the overturning of the sexual assault conviction of Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin—the top brass often exhibit the same deference to defendants as commanders lower in rank.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has condemned Levin’s decision. “They basically embrace the status quo here. It’s outrageous,” she told the New York Times.

As Gillibrand and others noted in a June 4 day-long hearing on sexual assault in the military, victims often don’t come forward because of well-founded fears of reprisal by their commanders. Testimony by victims’ advocates laid out a picture of a landscape on which retaliation against those who report sexual assaults—including being drummed out of the service on the basis of mental-health diagnoses made by military medical personnel—seemed almost as common as the assaults themselves.

Citing a recent Pentagon report that estimated some 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact experienced by members of the military at the hands of others in the ranks, Gillibrand addressed a panel of top military officials: “Of the victims who did report … 62 percent said they received retaliation.”

Of those estimated 26,000 incidents, only 3,300 were reported, and fewer than 200 went to trial.

Most U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and Israel, have altered their command structure to reflect the kind of change that Gillibrand and co-sponsors of her bill seek in the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). But the Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t want it, and Levin is not disposed to make them do it, despite the fact that the Constitution places control of the military under the leadership of civilian elected officials.

Among the measures attached to the bill, which allocates the annual budget for the whole of the armed forces, will likely be several that aim to aid members of the military who survive rape and other sexual violence at the hands of their colleagues, measures that victims’ advocates applaud but that only deal with the aftermath of assault.

Proponents of Gillibrand’s measure contend that because it would encourage rape survivors and assault victims to come forward, and would likely result in a higher number of prosecutions, it could change the current military culture marked by rampant predation on lower-ranking members by their superiors.

On June 5, the House Armed Services Committee included in its markup of the bill some 11 amendments designed to address, in some measure, the crisis of sexual assault that has plagued the military for the last 25 years. They include measures to provide services to victims and to prevent commanders from overturning convictions made by military courts. But a change to the chain of command structure, proposed by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), was not among them.

Wednesday morning, news came that a measure co-sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that would form a Special Victims Counsel—a special military lawyer tasked with assisting sexual assault victims throughout the process of adjudicating their reports—in all branches of service had won a thumbs-up from Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Where Are the Women?

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Teach Your Children Well: Men Must Be Leaders in Changing the Culture of Abuse

1:34 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Boy in a locker room

Men must teach the next generation of men not to rape.

We have seen much — and much-deserved — criticism of the mainstream media coverage of the Steubenville rape verdict. Some reporters, notoriously, have focused on what “good students” the convicted young men are and what “bright futures” had been squandered by their actions. While these may have been misguided analyses of the verdict, the outrage stems from the fact that such comments are part of a broader social narrative.

The lack of discourse and concern for the future of the Steubenville victim points to a deeper social problem; it’s a double-down on blaming the victim. Even identifying her as the “accuser” positions her as the one who was imposing upon her assailants. The reality is that her future and her life have been tragically altered by the actions of several boys. She deserves the love and compassion of us all who hope for a just and loving society.

The future of the perpetrators was tragically altered by their own actions. They must own that.

For those of us looking at this case from afar, disconnected from the emotion of the Ohio courtroom, we must resist lamenting the future of the perpetrators and consider their past if we are to make sense of this case and prevent it from happening again. Yes, these boys deserve our compassion and hope for a better future. However, we should not sympathize with the consequences of their behavior, but for the condition of their humanity that led to their actions. We must be honest in our recognition of the culture in which so many boys are raised and nurtured. As a society, we continue to teach boys that girls and women are “less than,” with language and attitudes that challenge and encourage masculinity through threatening and degrading comparison to girls and women (“you throw like a girl,” for example).

Further, very often the role of girls and women is ornamental to, or in support of, the male experience. In many contexts, sports cheerleaders, swimsuit models, and the like reinforce the deeply-held assumption that women’s social, and often professional, roles are subservient to men. The disparity in wages, especially in an economy that many men view as a meritocracy, is a glaring example of cultural patriarchy in which the goals and aspirations of men are seen as more noble and superior to those of women.

Those of us concerned for these young people, both victim and perpetrators, have a moral obligation to recognize how the messages of our culture are manifest in the behavior of high school boys at a party.

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Why Zerlina Maxwell Is Almost Right About Teaching Men Not to Rape

11:58 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Last week, Democratic strategist, writer, and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell went on The Sean Hannity Show and argued that men and boys should be trained not to rape. Maxwell was viciously attacked by conservatives following her appearance. But if there’s any problem with Maxwell’s argument, it’s not that it went too far — it’s that it could have gone even further.

Zerlina Maxwell, screenshot

“I don’t think we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there for prevention,” Maxwell said on Hannity’s show. “You’re talking about it as if there’s some faceless, nameless criminal, when a lot of times it’s someone that you know and trust.”

“Women need to know that these situations arise,” responded Hannity, apparently unaware that women know all too well that rape is a constantly looming threat. It affects our decisions on a daily basis: when and where to jog, when to walk with our keys in between our knuckles, and when to hop out of a cab a block from home if the driver gives us the creeps.

Maxwell was on the show to address the newest twist in the ever-misinformed public conversation about rape. The subject was the role of firearms in rape prevention on college campuses — a hot topic since the Colorado state legislature has been wrestling with HB 1226, a proposed bill that would ban concealed weapons on campus. (The sponsor spiked the bill after the hubbub surrounding Maxwell’s appearance.)

Maxwell argued that, while problematic on a several levels, the argument that women can prevent rape by packing heat is primarily a failure because it is not rooted in the reality of campus rape.

“I want women to be able to protect themselves, yes, but I want women to not be in this situation,” said Maxwell.

“Knowing there are evil people, I want women protected, and they’ve got to protect themselves,” responded Hannity.

Maxwell doubled down: “Tell men not to rape.”

Glenn Beck’s The Blaze called her argument “bizarre.” But it’s disingenuous to suggest that women must choose between being armed or being raped. Saying that a woman should be able to pack heat for self-protection is one thing. But self-defense is not the same thing as rape prevention — and carrying a gun certainly doesn’t guarantee defense against rape.

“If firearms are the answer, then the military would be the safest place for women,” said Maxwell. “And it’s not.”

For her audacity, Maxwell received a torrent of abusive tweets. These Twitter users said she should be gang-raped and that her throat should be slit. They called her a “nigger.” Many others simply insisted on perpetuating a false, twisted representation of her argument: Zerlina Maxwell believes women should be raped instead of using a gun on a rapist.

So it’s come to this: We now must add carrying a gun to our victim-blaming checklist. “She wasn’t carrying a pistol; she must’ve wanted it.”

As if that list wasn’t already long enough.

Maxwell is right, of course. The only problem with her argument is that it didn’t go far enough. For men and boys to be taught not to rape, they have to first learn what rape is.

College women are more likely to be raped than their unenrolled counterparts, and the vast majority of college rapists are trusted acquaintances of the victim, not a man in a ski mask hiding in the bushes wielding a knife or a gun.

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One in Three: Silenced Stories of Survivors of Sexual Assault and Women Who Have Abortions

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Valentine’s Day is a day when we are supposed to remind those we care about that we love them. But it is also V-Day, a day where people around the world share stories of physical and sexual violence against women in order to remind the world that we care about women and will not tolerate rape, battery, and abuse. This year marks the 15th Anniversary of V-day and the 40th Anniversary of Roe V. Wade. So I thought it would be appropriate to draw a connection between the silenced stories of the 1 in 3 women worldwide who have experienced physical and sexual violence and the silenced stories of 1 in 3 women in the United States who will have an abortion in their lifetime.

As a survivor of rape and a woman who has exercised my right to choose abortion, 1 in 3 is much more than a statistic. In my view, the social stigmatization that blames women and tells women they should remain quiet and be ashamed of having been assaulted is rooted in the same view of women as second-class citizens that says abortion should remain unnamed and unspoken about in public. Gender-based violence takes many forms and our concept of gender-based violence should be broad enough to include the structural violence inherent in a society that seeks to control and regulate women’s bodies and denies them the ability to exercise their reproductive rights in the absence of stigma, shame, harassment, and a slew of unnecessary legal and financial barriers to reproductive health care.

Today, I offer my abortion story as a means of complicating the assumption that a legal abortion is necessarily a safe abortion in a social and political context that denies women’s reproductive autonomy and moral worth as citizens. I want to challenge society, policymakers in particular, to see that it’s not enough to keep abortion legal, as difficult as that fight has been. I want to offer my story to a collection of stories that make the case for positive and unrestricted abortion rights and hopefully challenge people outside the movement to view my choice in the context of my humanity.

I have dedicated both my personal life and my professional life to the advancement of women’s health and rights. Throughout college I defended women’s access to abortion and right to reproductive autonomy both through academic engagement and activism — I’ve done everything from screening on abortion hotlines for women in distress to serving as a clinic defender, protecting women from the harassment of protesters as they entered the clinic for abortion services. As a young professional, I advocate for women’s health and rights every day, nine to five and beyond.

My decision to pursue a career in the reproductive justice movement was based on my own experiences coming of age with a uterus, but it was also deeply influenced by experiences as an advocate in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, watching as pregnant young women were bounced around from foster home to incarceration without so much as a single conversation about the circumstances of their pregnancy or whether they wanted to be pregnant, and without receiving even an approximation of adequate representation in court as they endeavored to keep custody of their baby if they wanted to be a parent. I knew one young girl who desperately tried to self-induce an abortion from a prison bathroom and another young woman in the throws of despair as her new baby was removed from her custody without cause.

All of these formative experiences taught me how vital it is for women to be in control of their bodies. I had no idea that I would eventually need to exercise my own right to choose abortion. But I understood that it is fundamental to women’s freedom and liberty as human beings that we have the right to choose when, whether, and how to become parents and that we be fully empowered legally, politically, and socially to safely make our reproductive choices.

Women have countless reasons for choosing abortion. For some women, abortion is needed as a result of sexual violence. For some women, their abortion will be the means of escaping the violence of an abusive partner. For some women, having an abortion will be a means of keeping the children they already have in the context of a society that makes it difficult for poor families to provide for their children’s basic needs and that punishes poor parents by removing their children from their custody and placing them in foster care. And for some women, having an abortion will simply be about making the affirmative decision that they do not want to be a parent or have another child.

For me, pregnancy was like this: My body had been implanted with a foreign entity that made me violently ill from the time I got up in the morning until I got home from work at night. Worse, it was threatening to grow larger and larger until my whole life was subservient to its needs and desires, and others’ expectations of what I should be. I wanted and desperately needed one thing and one thing only: not to be pregnant. My choice to have an abortion was not one marked by moral ambiguity or internal conflict; not one rife with grief over the potential life that some would tell me I should feel an innate sense of duty to bring into existence. Not to be pregnant — it was a need that I can only describe as primal.

From the clichéd bathroom scene moment when I learned the result of the pregnancy test until after I had the procedure, I was overcome with a feeling of absolute desperation. The instant that second pink line appeared on the positive pregnancy test, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that had always been an abstract reassurance, suddenly became an offering of grace and a tangible pathway to safety and security and the freedom to determine my future in one of the most vulnerable moments of my life.

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Four Things You Probably Don’t Know About Title IX

9:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

IU women's basketball

Annmarie Keller of the Indiana University Northwest women's basketball team

Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 6th, is National Girls & Women in Sports Day, which has people singing the praises of Title IX from soccer fields, softball diamonds, tracks, pools and countless other sporting venues — and for good reason! Title IX is an enormously important law for female athletes — no other law has done more to expand opportunities for women and girls in athletics. While there is still work to be done, the progress we have made thanks to Title IX is tremendous.

But what many people don’t know is that the benefits and protections of Title IX aren’t limited to athletics. Here are four other ways Title IX is there for young women (and men, too):

1. Equal opportunities in career and technical programs in traditionally male-dominated fields

Title IX requires that girls and boys be given equal opportunities in career and technical education programs, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields. Getting more women in these fields may be the key to closing the gender wage gap, since predominantly female occupations pay lower wages than predominantly male ones. Women still face barriers and a lack of encouragement in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (often referred to as STEM), but Title IX has broadened opportunities for a number of women and girls.

Shree Bose, a student at Harvard University, took science and math courses from a young age, finding her calling and her passion in science. As a result of winning the 2011 Google Science Fair for her important breakthrough for chemotherapy resistance treatment, she was invited to speak at conferences, attend an Ivy League university, and even meet the president! We need more girls like Shree, and Title IX is working to ensure that all girls who have an interest in STEM fields or classes are able to pursue them.

2. Protection for pregnant & parenting students

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Legitimate Rape? A Rape Victim and Counselor Reflects on Rape Culture Myths

11:08 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

A caricature of Todd Akin

Todd Akin isn't the only one who believe myths about rape (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr)

“The events as you’ve described them, Kim, constitute a felony rape. If you do not make a statement, we will still proceed with prosecution and regard you as a hostile witness.”

I was 20 years old, on a semester leave from college. Those were the words of the police officer to me, in a hospital room, after I recounted what had happened to me a couple of days earlier.

It was my first interaction with the police, other than Officer Friendly visiting my elementary school class, or one of the officers my parents had befriended when they started a Neighborhood Watch program in the community where I was raised. Surely I could trust the police, I thought, to understand what had happened and to help me.

Although this was more than 20 years ago, I remember the moment vividly, because it was the acknowledgment, the naming, of something I had been struggling ferociously to reject: I was raped.

I desperately wanted it to be something else, like a misunderstanding between me and this man I’d been dating for a week or so. I felt locked in a life-or-death battle to deny this heinous violation, because it threatened to undo me–my sense of personal safety and well being, my mental health, my personhood.

In the years since, I’ve had lots of therapy, including group therapy with fellow survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I’ve volunteered at two rape crisis centers. One involved a speakers’ panel, visiting college classes, rehab facilities, police training sessions, even a group of men incarcerated for violent crimes including rape. At the other center, I served as hotline counselor and in-hospital victims’ advocate. Most of the other volunteers had stories of their own survival, and saw their volunteer efforts as a way to give back, to create and foster the same kind of community that enabled us to find our own voices and our sanity, to reclaim our selves and reassemble the pieces of our lives.

I rarely think about the assault and its aftermath anymore. The counseling, both giving and receiving, not to mention the tremendous education I got from the centers where I volunteered, helped make triggering a rare event for me. The experience became just one painful part of my life, rather than its central, agonizing, defining core. Occasionally (about every two years in the District of Columbia) I am called for jury duty. As part of voir dire, I have to tell the judge and attorneys that I have been the victim of a crime. When pressed for details, I recall them with startling clarity. My account is invariably met with compassion, followed by a quick dismissal.

Despite the officer’s words to me in that hospital room, the justice system and all those I encountered as I navigated my way through it seemed hell bent on proving that what I had experienced was not, in the words of Senate candidate Akin of Missouri, “legitimate rape.”

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