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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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Justice Delayed, Justice Denied: Budget Cuts Threaten Safety and Rights of Survivors of Domestic Violence

1:53 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Austerity measures that target the courts can hinder enforcement of statutory rights and procedures — bringing to mind the famous saying, “justice delayed is justice denied.” Nevertheless, state courts throughout the country have experienced severe budget cuts since the 2008 financial crisis. “The justice system’s funding has been decreasing in constant dollars for at least two decades,” David Boies, renowned Bush v. Gore attorney and co-chairman of a commission formed by the American Bar Association to study court budget issues, told the New York Times last year. “We are now at the point where funding failures are not merely causing inconvenience, annoyances and burdens; the current funding failures are resulting in the failure to deliver basic justice.”  

For domestic violence (DV) survivors who rely on the courts for a wide range of services, this “failure to deliver basic justice” can add an extra layer of difficulty to their pursuit of a life free from abuse. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has analyzed the impact of cutting court budgets, finding that over the past three years, dozens of state courts have decreased their hours of operation, reduced services and cut staff salaries in order to save money. The specific impact these cuts are having on DV cases has not been studied in depth and requires closer attention, but some states are reporting greater difficulties in timely restraining order hearings, enforcement of abuser sentences and decreased counseling capacity from court staff — suggesting a reduction in the efficacy of state courts in aiding DV survivors.

Eric Berkowitz’s recent article in California Lawyer delves into the difficulties California courts face in meeting restraining order requests from DV survivors due to crushing state court budget cuts. Attorney Protima Pandey of Bay Area Legal Aid was profiled in Berkowitz’s piece. “Things like the availability of a courthouse to hear restraining order cases within the three-week period, or seeing a mediator — these things are statutorily mandated,” she told me on the phone after a long morning of preparing restraining order applications for the DV survivors who came to her clinic’s door. “They are basic things that we used to take for granted. But we are starting to see these basic services being impacted.”

According to the NCSC, California’s judicial branch budget was reduced by over $300 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2011. In response, California courts have had to reduce their hours of operation, imposed staff layoffs, and delayed filling vacancies in the clerks’ offices and in judicial support positions. They anticipate reducing court clerk office hours and reducing the number of civil courtrooms open. Some Branch locations will be closed and some mediation services will be affected as well.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye was among the first to link these cuts to DV services in her recent State of the Judiciary address, when she pointed out that a rural California court with reduced hours of operation cannot meet all DV survivors’ requests for temporary restraining orders.

California’s budget crisis is more severe than that of many other states, but these challenges are not unique to California. Nevada has one of the worst DV records in the United States, having for two years in a row ranked first in the nation in the number of husbands killing their wives. According to Sue Meuschke, Executive Director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence (NNADV), Nevada is seeing struggles in the state’s ability to meet the needs of DV survivors overall — in part due to tight state court resources.

“In Nevada we’ve experienced cutbacks everywhere, so state courts are just one part of the story,” Meuschke said. “The heavy case load that is impacting all the courts in the state makes the ability to monitor sentencing, particularly on misdemeanor cases which most DV cases are, very difficult.”

Nevada judges are charged with handling all follow up to make sure sentences are being enforced, Meuschke said.

We have a requirement in Nevada that offenders attend batterers’ intervention courses, along with jail time, fines and other punishment. But courts have to figure out how to monitor compliance with sentencing, and that can be difficult with an overloaded judiciary.

The NCSC found that Nevada courts have reduced staff support for judges, court operating hours and assistance from retired judges. Nevada courts have also experienced staff furloughs, salary reductions and salary freezes. “As a result, some responses to requests are delayed and courtrooms sometimes go dark because they cannot pay for senior judge coverage,” NSCS states in its summary about Nevada courts’ cuts in services.

Similarly, Oregon courts have reduced their hours of operation, imposed staff layoffs, delayed filling judicial vacancies, delayed filling vacancies in the clerks’ offices and in judicial support positions, among other measures. “Budget cuts have led to the suspension of facilitation appointments, or in-person assistance with court staff,” said Judge Maureen McKnight, chief family court judge in Multnomah County, Oregon. “We’ve left DV survivors and family law litigants in general without a resource that used to assist them in processing papers.”

Meuschke feels that resource challenges may make women reluctant to formally charge abusers or pursue restraining orders. “If there is no follow up, if the courts can’t monitor sentencing implementation, then DV survivors are not going to be as likely to utilize the courts in the future.”

Increasing Dollars for Domestic Violence: How Companies Can Do Right for Women and Girls

12:09 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

What if domestic violence awareness received the same attention as breast cancer awareness? (Photo: DixieBelleCupcakeCafe / Flickr)

As corporations expand their philanthropic giving, an epidemic that affects millions of American women is being pushed further out of sight. Domestic violence threatens the security of entire families and communities — and all too often costs women their safety and their lives. The economic toll exacted by domestic abuse on our social service systems, workplaces, and on law enforcement is in the billions. Yet less than one percent of company-sponsored foundations currently registered with the Foundation Center even list domestic violence as a field of interest.

This is shameful: Charitable and corporate foundations must acknowledge and act to confront domestic violence. With their economic clout, they are ideally positioned to fund life-saving domestic violence services, underwrite public awareness and prevention campaigns, and create in-house policies for their own employees who are experiencing abuse.

The numbers are staggering: One in four women in the U.S. experiences domestic violence in her lifetime; young women ages 20 to 24 are at the greatest risk. And nearly 75 percent of all Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim. Domestic violence advocates and lawmakers have partnered for decades to boost both education and federal funding to combat abuse — most notably through the Violence Against Women Act — but public resources alone are not enough. Company-sponsored foundations, with the capacity to give millions of dollars annually, are conspicuously absent.

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One Billion Rising: Ending the Pandemic of Violence Against Women

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Violence Against Women

(Photo: Paul Garland/flickr)

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

Every day, girls and women the world over face a broad range of assaults which, in the aggregate, inhibit equality everywhere. In the United States we are dealing with a legislative assault on women’s rights, well documented here, that few people understand as a real and violent assault on women’s physical integrity and right to bodily autonomy. More often than not, people think of the “war on women” in the United States as a politically expeditious metaphor when it is not. There is nothing abstract or metaphorical about it. That’s too squeam-inducing for many people to consider. However, in direct and more obvious, “forcible” and “legitimately” recognized ways, women in the United States  experience directly recognizable physical violence, too. Among developed nations, the United States has a higher than average rate of violence against women. This violence sits squarely in the full spectrum of violence, much more crippling and extreme, that takes place in other parts of the world. It’s all of a cloth.

Last Fall, I wrote an article in the Huffington Post called “Violence Against Women is a Global Pandemic.” If you click on the link, you can review the still relevant deplorable statistics. It goes without saying, a scant 10 months later, that data regarding the chronic and oppressive reality of systematized gender-based violence are still valid. For an updated, dynamic and mappable resource, it’s useful to explore the Womenstats database, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.

The good news is that more and more people and organizations are working diligently to raise awareness and confront the pervasive risks that girls and women face just for being female. Among upcoming efforts are the United Nations UNITE to End Violence Against Women campaign, which recognizes the 25th of every month as an awareness raising Orange Day;Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October; The Pixel Project’s Paint it Purple initiative; and, at the end of November, the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence takes place.

A visionary in this fight is Eve Ensler, who today released a short film on YouTube, One Billion Rising, to raise awareness for a Feb. 14, 2013 global strike to end violence against women. This strike is being organized by V-Day, the international organization she founded 14 years ago whose vision it is to end this violence. They are doing this by organizing a global network of activists, artists, grass-roots movements and more. The #1billionrising movement imparts – to quote a Tweet, an amazing message: “1 Billion Women Violated is an Atrocity. 1 Billion Dancing is a Revolution.”
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“War on Women” Increasingly Focused on Women of Color and Immigrant Women

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

VAWA. PRENDA. Aderholt.

What do all these words (and acronyms) have in common?

A woman lays with her head in her arms

Photo: alainlm / Flickr

They represent the three latest attacks on women’s health, safety, and reproductive justice. However, the War on Women has been raging continuously in the 112th Congress. So what else connects these three? They represent the escalating attacks on the health and rights of women of color, and immigrant women in particular — their right to reproductive health care, their access to protections from intimate partner violence and other crimes, and their right to bodily autonomy.

Let’s start with the most recent affront: the Aderholt amendment. Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 5855), which includes a provision (Aderholt Amendment) that targets immigrant women’s reproductive health care with unnecessary and mean-spirited restrictions on access to abortion. The provision prohibits federal funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide abortion care for women in ICE detention centers — adding yet another layer to the harmful restrictions the Hyde amendment already puts in place.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), outraged over the politicized attack on some of the most vulnerable women in our society, led an effort to unite over 50 national, state, and local organizations in opposition the provision — a group that includes reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates as well as faith-based groups, advocates for Latinos health, and groups that represent immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ people.

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VAWA Saved My Life. Now House Republicans Are Pushing For Changes That Will Leave Others Like Me Vulnerable

6:16 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Photo by Tom Godber

My name is Erika.  I came to the United States with my parents when I was six years old and I have been here ever since.

I have lived in fear for most of my life because of my ex-husband. We met as high school freshmen in Chicago. Our relationship was rocky from the beginning and he became more controlling and possessive over the years. But when he joined the Marines after high school, things seemed to change for a while. He apologized for the way he acted and promised to treat me with respect.

After we got married, he became worse than ever. He came home drunk and assaulted me. He would lock me in the house all day when he was at work, even though I was caring for our infant son. When he would come home, he would bring many friends and drink all night. When I told him he needed to stop drinking or I would leave, he shoved me against a wall and swung to punch me. I ducked, so he hit wall instead. When he was deployed to Iraq, he was supposed to put money into a bank account for our family, but he put most of his money in a separate account and left me without access to it. Even though he was making money, because I was undocumented, I was unable to earn money to feed my children and I had to ask my parents to buy us food. After he returned from Iraq, he began having relationships with other women, sometimes in front of me.  Eventually, I reached out for help and I left.

I would have lived in fear my whole life without protection under the Violence Against Women Act. I now have lawful status and a job as an office manager. I can do anything now. I am not afraid that my ex-husband will take my children away from me or have me deported, as he threatened to do before. I have high hopes for the future. I want to go back to school to study culinary arts, and because of VAWA, I can reach for that goal.

But my ex-husband would have done anything in his power to prevent me from getting legal status. He would have lied and denied that he was abusing me. Even as I was going through the application process, he threatened to kill me. If he found out about my VAWA application, I truly believe that he would have acted on his threats. The proposed VAWA bill, which requires immigration officials to interview the abusers, is dangerous. The government cannot let abusers continue to have control. The government is supposed to protect victims. VAWA saved my life, and I hope it is left as it is now so it can continue to save other women in dangerous situations.

Republican Partisan Bill H.R. 4970 Will Make Life More Difficult for Domestic Abuse Victims

6:08 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Congresswoman Schakowsky delivered these remarks on a call with reporters and others last week. Her comments are reprinted here with permission.

I want to thank the National Immigrant Justice Center and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence for organizing this very important call this morning.

Immigrant women at a protest. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

Immigrant women at a protest. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

I appreciate the particular focus on the VAWA provisions that protect battered immigrant women – one of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable populations in our country.

Ensuring that immigrant women are able to leave their abusers and aren’t forced to stay because of threats of deportation, or because they are afraid to come out of the shadows has been a long-time focus of mine.

During past VAWA reauthorizations, I have gotten provisions to stop the deportation of eligible immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking included, as well as a provision to allow battered immigrant self-petitioners to receive their lawful permanent residency status in the U.S. without having to travel abroad.

I have introduced – along with Representative Judy Chu – the Violence Against Immigrant Women Act (H.R. 5331).  Our bill would streamline the processing of VAWA cases and make adjustments to help victims escape from their abusers and overcome the effects of victimization.  Our bill would ensure greater numbers of immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault receive U visa protection, and it would allow victims of stalking, elder abuse, and child abuse to access these important protections.  It would also require DHS to issue employment authorization to victims in timely manner.  Because of delays, the majority of immigrant victims who have filed valid cases are forced to wait more than six months for work authorization, some can wait as long as a year.

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New Jersey’s Governor is Taking His Time on a Rape Kit Bill

9:12 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Chris Christie"

"Chris Christie" Governor of NJ, by Marissa Babin on 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.

In March, the New Jersey State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to prevent sexual assault survivors from being charged for the rape kits used to collect forensic evidence.  The Assembly passed the measure in June. Months later, however, the bill remains “under review” on Governor Chris Christie’s desk prompting many advocates to ask what is taking him so long and some to start a petition demanding he take action.

Under federal law, health care providers must be reimbursed for the cost of these exams and the collection of evidence. They are supposed to look to government agencies for that coverage but bills are often sent to the assault survivor “due to administrative errors or attempts to get payment from a victim’s insurance company.”

The legislation that passed in New Jersey would prevent direct billing for any “routine medical screening, medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy tests and emergency contraception, as well as supplies, equipment, and use of space.”

Though it’s clear from his record (which includes “using a line-item veto to block funding in the state budget for clinics that provide family-planning services”) that woman’s rights and reproductive health are not a high priority for the Governor, it really is hard to understand why he’s dragging his feet on this bill.