Monday, April 14, 2014

Blurred Lines

Racialized Sexual Violence and Rape Culture is something very prominent in today’s society because sexual assault seems to be the woman’s fault a majority of the time. Not only is this victim blaming, but it is also stigmatizing rape as something that happens to women because they want it to. Although some believe there is no such thing as rape culture, we live in a society that contributes to rape by living in communities filled with words to deny, promote or camouflage sexual assault. Or, people don’t want to believe it because when you begin to think about rape; it’s awful, scary and defies reason.


It has been said that some people in society with higher societal “status” (men over women, for example) are entitled to rape and abuse people with lower societal “status”. The words “rape culture” is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, which create attitudes and practices that normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape. People who don’t think we live surrounded by rape culture only think this because they refuse to look at sexual assault across the board and within the spectrum of institutions. A woman’s right to bodily integrity seems to confuse some individuals, but sexual assault that involves men and boys, existing rape myths seem to somehow fail. Decades of Catholic Church sexual abuse tragedies, the Boy Scouts, Penn State, rape in correctional facilities are all examples of entitlement to rape. It becomes easier to conflate abuse with sex in these cases mainly because girls and women are the traditional and stereotypically recognized survivors, easier to cast as liars and complicit. Because our culture normalizes sexual assault by portraying it as unavoidable, by shaming and blaming victims, by sympathizing with perpetrators, by failing to punish aggressors, by not talking to children about healthy sexuality, and by denying we live in a rape culture. 


Sexual assault, domestic violence and abuse are all too gender-biased and create an image of society turning a blind eye to the problems existing in our communities. Women of color are not seen as legitimate victims of sexual violence due to historically persistent stereotypes about our sexualities – Black women are Jezebels, Asian women are generally submissive, Dragon Ladies, Geishas, or China Dolls, Latina women are “spicy” and curvaceous Mamis, and Native Women are “Pocahotties”, ready to cater to any man. Because of the racialized culture, and institutionalized racism embedded in this nation, stops women of color from seeking and receiving post-assault care. One in five women will have been raped in their lifetime, and 44 percent will experience sexual victimization other than rape. Data from the governments shows the 1 in 3 Native women, 1 in 6 Latina women, 1 in 5 Black women, and 7 percent of Asian women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.


Because of the rape culture, automatically women are placed in unfair power dynamics where they are spectacles. People of color are constantly going through agony of sexual assault and does not have community support to protect them, when there should be. We must demand the “rape culture” to be put to rest, and make society realize the racialism of rape also needs to stop so everyone can receive the same type of help because it is the same situation happening across the board. Domestic Violence and sexual assault does not discriminate, and the sooner everyone in society realizes that, the better.


Yours in Advocacy, 
Kayla Littlejohn 
DCVLP Intern 



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April marks the observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month to specifically raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. By working together and pooling our resources during the month of April, we can promote sexual violence as a major public health, human rights and social justice issue and reinforce the need for prevention efforts. Sexual violence is a very serious public health problem that affects millions of women and men. In the United States, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime and nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced other forms of sexual violence at some point in their lives.


In the early 1980’s, because there was an increased interest in coordinating activities to raise awareness of violence against women, time was set aside during October to raise awareness of violence against women issues. Due to the fact October became the principle focus of domestic violence issues, Sexual Assault Awareness Month started being observed in April because sexual assault advocates wished to focus attention on these issues specifically, rather than combining sexual assault with domestic violence awareness activities in October. Each year during the month of April, state, territory and tribal community-based organizations, rape crisis centers, government agencies, businesses, campuses and individuals plan events and activities to highlight sexual violence as a public health, human rights and social justice issue, which reinforces the need for prevention efforts. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has promoted a continued degree of national unity in voice and action regarding Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the associated activities to encourage interaction and feedback from across the nation and to build momentum for advocates throughout the community.


Although most do not disclose sexual violence, which include completed or attempted sex acts that are against the survivor’s will, or involving a survivor who is unable to consent, there are many reasons men, women and children should report sexual assault violence. Sexual violence impacts health in many ways and can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems. Those whom are or have been involved in sexual violence situations may experience chronic pain, headaches, sexually transmitted diseases, and are often fearful or anxious and may have problems trusting others. Anger and stress are also complications which can lead to eating disorders, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

 Tuesday April 1st was a nationally recognized day that provided an opportunity for prevention advocates to engage with their communities. This “Day of Action” was set aside to specifically focus awareness on sexual violence prevention. Through coordinated planning of special events, advocates had the opportunity to raise awareness, media attention, and national momentum for ending and preventing sexual violence. This year, the current campaign focuses on healthy sexuality and young people. This campaign provides told on healthy adolescent sexuality and engaging youth, while also learning how to play a role in promoting a healthy foundation for relationships, development and sexual violence prevention. It’s time to talk about it! “Your Voice. Our future. Prevent sexual violence.”


A Presidential Proclamation was issued in honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month stating how “every April, our Nation comes together to renew our stand against a crime that affronts our basic decency and humanity. Sexual assault threatens every community in America. We have come a long way, but sexual violence remains an all-too-common tragedy. Sexual assault is more than just a crime against individuals. When a young boy or girl withdraws because they are questioning their self-worth after an assault, that deprives us of their full potential.” Not only does the National Sexual Violence Resource Canter, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Resource Sharing Project among various other coalitions, President Barack Obama also wishes for all Americans to support survivors of sexual assault and work together to prevent these crimes in our communities. We have the power to make a difference.

You can join the movement and participate in the Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign on social media! Join in on #TweetAboutIt Tuesdays at 2 P.M. on Twitter, and participate in #30DaysofSAAM on Instagram. Any way you choose to spread the word will make a difference! 

Yours in Advocacy, 
Kayla Littlejohn 
DCVLP Intern 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No More Bossy

The entire month of March is dedicated to the celebration of women’s contributions to society throughout history. The theme for this year is “Women of character, courage, and commitment.” In modern women, however, traits such as character, courage, and commitment are often deemed “bossy.” In the face of this, Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit, LeanIn.Org, with the help of Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girls Scouts of America, began a social media campaign this month to ban bossy.   
Based on the premise that young girls are discouraged from leading, and that being deemed “bossy” is a damaging blow to potential leaders, the Ban Bossy campaign aims to eliminate the word bossy from our vocabularies. The webpage explains: “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’  Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’ Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up.”  In place of bossy, Sandberg advises parents to claim that their daughters “have executive leadership skills.”
But maybe this campaign has the wrong idea—or at least the wrong center point.  Rather than remove bossy from our lexicon, we should learn to celebrate it. Bossy isn't inherently a negative quality; sometimes it’s exactly one of many qualities good leaders posses. In an essay by Sandberg and Chavez, Chavez recounts one childhood experience in which she asked her brothers if she could lead the battalion during the neighborhood game of war.  The boys responded, “You are really bossy Anna, and everyone knows girls can’t lead troops.”  The issue here isn’t that Anna is really bossy (frankly, it sounds like the boy’s in Anna’s neighborhood were bossy) – it’s the perception that girls can’t lead troops.  This perception that men are leaders and women are not is outdated, toxic, and much more deep-seated than the negative connotations associated with some words.

As others have already pointed out, eliminating the word bossy won’t change the negative connotations it is associated with.  There are other insults, some of which are harsher and cruder.  Shrill.  Bitch.  Cunt.  Eradicating “bossy” won’t change the culture in which men are seen as leaders and women as followers.  Creating a stigma around the word bossy simply makes the negative connotations surrounding the word stronger, and not necessarily in a way that is helpful to women and girls.  Rachel Simmons, co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute shared with the Ban Bossy campaign that one of middle school girls’ biggest fear is “getting judged.”  They worry they’ll be shut down, or that they’ll be seen as conceited.  Stigmatizing “bossy” could result in girls being even more concerned with exhibiting traits of bossiness.
The fear itself is also a large part of the problem surrounding bossiness.  True, people don’t always react well to bossy leaders.  However, leaders of either gender can get away with “bossiness” if they also possess confidence.  It’s difficult to be successful leader when you are bossy and insecure.  You may question what you’re telling people to do, or worry about being likes.  Many leaders are bossy.  They know what they want, and they know how to get it.  Sometimes this involves not being liked by everyone, but rather focusing on delivering results and motivating your team.     

The campaign offers leadership tips for girls, for parents, for teachers, and for troop leaders that involve building self-confidence.  These include speaking up in class, stop apologizing before you speak, challenge yourself, ask for help, don’t do everyone’s work, speak up in a friendship, trust your inner-voice, change the world, and remember: it’s not always easy to speak up, but it’s always worth it.  It seems that the ultimate purpose of all of these pointers is to cultivate a culture in which girls don’t care what other people think of them when they speak in class, so they can speak their minds freely; a culture where girls don’t apologize for voicing their opinions or let self-doubt stop them. Sandberg and Chavez have this right, these tips are important, and so is the effect they could create.  Frankly, these tips that encourage confidence in girls are moreimportant than a campaign to police language.    
Celebrating bossy will teach girls that they can be leaders, and they can be themselves.  How many women that we celebrate in women’s history month do you think weren't at least a little bossy, and proud of it? 


Yours in Advocacy,

Emily 
Winter Intern

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Urgent Need for Funding

Domestic Violence and sexual assault are pervasive and life threatening crimes affecting millions of individuals across our nation regardless of age, economic status, race, religion or education.

On a single day last year, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s annual DV Counts survey, domestic violence support programs across the U.S. were unable to meet 9,641 requests for help. From emergency shelter to legal representation, the latest census report’s a serious lack in help and support for survivors. Among the many organizations that participated in this single-day census, DC Volunteers Lawyers Project was one that provided legal assistance to those seeking help. In a 24-hour period, on September 17, 2013, more than 66,000 survivors of domestic violence received help and support from service organizations, yet nearly 10,000 more could not be assisted due to lack of adequate resources.


Funding for domestic violence service providers is lacking, which in turn leads to lack of help for survivors and those who are seeking to leave their current situation. Requests for emergency shelter, housing, transportation, childcare and legal representation can only be met if there is adequate funding and staff to help domestic violence survivors get the assistance they need. Programs are currently operating with less funding, fewer resources and staff, which in turn is leading to service providers not being able to supply those in need with an avenue to safety and a chance at a better life for themselves and their children.

Last year, nearly 200 programs had to reduce or eliminate emergency housing. Shelters across the country are struggling to remain open, and non-residential programs are reducing their services and hours. Survivors suffer the consequences of these cuts and are often left with no alternative other than returning with their abusers or becoming homeless. When service providers were asked about what most likely happens when services are not available to those in need, 60% said the most likely outcome was survivors returning to their abusers, 27% said the survivors become homeless, and 11% said that survivors end up living in their cars. Therefore, deep funding cuts undermine stability of domestic violence programs and service, which only leads to the increase of homicides, and people not being able to escape their domestic violence situations.


If program cuts continually jeopardize progress and the lives of those involved in domestic violence situations, it will not only eliminate and reduce resources, but it will also decrease job training or employment assistance services. Stable funding is essential to ensure programs across the country can keep the lights on, answer crisis calls, and provide services for survivors fleeing violence.

A few federal policies have helped to significantly reduce the insidious crime of domestic violence that impacts millions each year. Urging Congress to provide federal investments will improve the lives of survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.


A few funds that are currently targeted investments to ending Domestic Violence are:

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice work as part of an interconnected whole and all are critical to ensuring survivors are safe, offenders are held accountable, and that our communities are more secure.

Victims of Crime Act Fund (VOCA): A fund for victim services created out of fines and penalties paid by federal criminals, rather than taxpayer dollars. Over 4,000 agencies rely on VOCA to provide services to nearly 4 million crime victims annually. 

Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA): Funds emergency shelters, crisis lines, counseling, victim assistance and other vital services for over one million domestic violence victims and their children each year.





Helping those who need shelter, job placement assistance, transportation, and more importantly, peace of mind should be a priority in our society. Keeping support programs afloat is a necessity if the U.S. seeks to have domestic violence rates lowered. Survivors should have numerous outlets, and should feel safe with the continuous help of service organizations, but they can’t believe there’s a way out if the funding isn’t present. Where there’s a will, there’s a way; something has to change.




Yours in Advocacy,
Kayla Littlejohn
DCVLP Intern

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chill Out, Relax

Though Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month has come to a close with the end of February, discussion on the topic does not have to end. While teen dating violence receives attention nationally—after all, it has its own awareness month—we pay very little attention to what happens to the survivor of dating violence once the relationship ends.  These relationships can end for a variety of reasons, like any other relationship, though when the survivor decides to end the relationship it often requires careful planning and prudence. 



Following a break-up, particularly after an abusive relationship, it is incredibly important for teens to practice good self-care.  Teenagers are more prone to depression than other age groups, and the period post-breakup is a time when people feel particularly down. Break the Cycle reminds us, “Breakups disrupt normal routine.  In abusive relationships, those routines are still routines that partners become acclimated to [….] In some cases the abuser may be popular or well liked, which means dealing with questions from family, friends, or peers as to why it ended.”  Abusive relationships can also cause depression, anxiety and low-self esteem, in which case the effects of the break-up could be particularly difficult. 

Self-care is simply “taking care of the self.”  This can include exercising, showering, and eating—basic parts of taking care of oneself.  These tasks may seem impossible when you are bogged down in grief, but continuing normal daily routines is an important component self-care.  Nurture yourself, while making sure you partake in healthy behaviors.  It’s easy to fall into unhealthy patterns after a tough relationship and break-up, but taking time to heal and grieve is integral to truly moving on.   



Part of self-care is also making sure you do activities that you enjoy, such as hanging out with friends, watching your favorite TV show, taking a hot shower, or going to a concert.  Make sure to talk to the people who care about you.  This can help you sort through what happened, and the wide range of emotions you might be feeling.  Support groups are also a great resource for survivors, especially if you don’t want to speak with friends right away. 

To those of you who know a teen who just got out of an abusive relationship, remember that you can help.  Be a good listener, express your concern, and offer your support.  

             


 Check out Break theCycle for more information! 

Yours in Advocacy,

Emily
Winter Intern

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Battered Barbie

TRIGGER WARNING FOR SURVIVORS OF VIOLENCE


Barbie has everything. She has the perfect body, the good job, the dream house and nicest convertible car. She even gets the handsome guy. Everyone wants to be Barbie, right? She’s perfection, her life, career, home and friends; but what Barbie doesn’t showcase is how life isn’t really all that perfect and squeaky clean. There will be hard times, there will be bad jobs, friends will come and go, and boyfriends aren’t always going to be great. Makers of Barbie give off an image to young girls that life will always be a beautiful stroll in the park, which makes it difficult to showcase real life and the reality of what can actually take place.


Barbie doesn’t show how there can be bumps in the road that can potentially lead to unhappiness or homelessness. She’s so perfect she doesn’t create real life scenarios of how women can develop cancer, and will no longer have long beautiful hair, and even more so, Barbie does not showcase how women in society can be domestic violence survivors. We cannot only illustrate “one type” of woman, when there are so many varieties that exist in human nature. 


Samantha Humphreys showed the reality of domestic violence through the use of Barbie dolls in an art exhibit, which stirred up some controversy. Humphreys was using Barbie to highlight how this iconic toy that oozes perfection might show how life is by no means perfect. The reality is this could happen. She uses 10 images to depict insecurity, loneliness, illness and addiction. Humphreys uses these images as a part of an exhibition in England called “Speaking Out”, in which three dolls specifically feature signs of abuse such as painted black eyes, bruises, and bloodied visages. A theoretical question to ask is “What if we were to teach our children at an early age about the harsh realities that face some?” Samantha’s ‘What If’ series is intended to raise awareness about domestic violence by transforming the picture perfect dolls into ‘victims’ of abuse, exploring the space between appearance and reality. She explains to The Daily Mail “…as children we are quite rightly sheltered from the harsh realities of adulthood.” 

Regardless, much of the public will view Humphreys series as arguable and be upset either way. But they must see this is reality and children should know about the real world and the events that take place, which in turn isn’t taking away from any sort of “childhood innocence.” In fact, it is creating spaces for conversations that teach children about violence and how they should and should not be treated. We must also not forget that large numbers of children witness violence in their homes, through the media and in their neighborhoods. Children are not immune to a society with pervasive objectivity of women, rampant rape culture and a “boys will be boys” mentality. 


There were some comments made about the exhibit showcasing domestic violence survivors, and how upset parents were. However, what parents are failing to realize is that these situations do take place, and all that glitters is not gold. Life is difficult at certain points, and life is also great at other points. What life is not, is all plastic and materialistic. We live in the real world, with real problems. The sooner our youth comes to the realization of this, the better; and what better way than to use Barbie as a domestic violence survivor? As members of society we must consistently remind ourselves survivors are not alone, and they need a voice too. If the Battered Barbie can be used as a voice for young girls and women who have survived domestic violence, then she can also be an example that no matter who you are, you can be a affected by domestic violence.


Yours in Advocacy,
Kayla Littlejohn
DCVLP Intern



Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Time for Justice

On February 14, news broke of the Missoula County (Montana) Attorney’s Office poor handling of sexual assault cases when the US Department of Justice released a letter to the Missoula County Attorney Office in Montana, detailing the DOJ’s findings that Missoula County prosecutors discriminate against female survivors of sexual assault.  The DOJ began its investigation in May 2012 of Missoula County’s Attorney Office, Police Department, and the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety.   

Missoula County
This letter brought forth stories of astounding misogyny within the County’s Attorney Office, explaining “Prosecutors play a critical role in ensuring that women victims of sexual assault have effective and equal access to criminal justice.  We uncovered evidence of a disturbing pattern of deficiencies in the handling of these cases […] that not only denies victims meaningful access to justice, but places the safety of all women in Missoula at risk.”  The DOJ found that cases in which women were sexually assaulted receive low priority—despite the prevalence of these cases.  Attorneys receive no training to enable them to effectively handle a sexual assault case.  The Attorney’s Office doesn’t provide evidence to support sexual assault cases.  Survivors who are adult women are treated with disrespect, especially when they are claiming non-stranger sexual assault.  Furthermore, the Attorney’s office apparently does not engage with other law enforcement and advocate partners concerning sexual assault cases. 


The report also details specific complaints from survivors and others who have experienced this discrimination.  Prosecutors told the mother of a five-year-old rape survivor that “boys will be boys,” when the adolescent perpetrator was sentenced to two years of community service.  One woman said that a prosecutor “recited bible verses,” while others “felt ‘judged’ when they were grilled on their sexual histories.”  Neither the bible nor one’s sexual history is relevant to a sexual assault. One does not choose to be raped – a key component of the definition of rape is that it’s non-consensual.     



The Missoula County Attorney’s Office believes that the DOJ overstepped its bounds, and that their findings are false.  In fact, three days prior to the release of the DOJ’s letter and report, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office had filed a motion for a US District Judge to determine if the DOJ had jurisdiction over the Attorney’s Office.  County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg claims that the DOJ “is trying to manipulate the news in a very, very unfair fashion.”  However, Missoula historically has been nicknamed the “rape capital” of the United States, and various women have publicly complained about the lack of attention, and respect, they’ve received from local law enforcement agencies.    

The Police Department and University of Montana’s compliance with the DOJ’s recommendations also casts the Attorney’s Office’s refusal to comply in a suspicious light.  If the Police Department and the University were able to come to a settlement with the DOJ peacefully, there is likely truth to the allegations.  These offices were able to recognize the problem, and take moves to make improvements.  Van Valkenburg’s claim that the DOJ’s report presents “half-truths, mistruths, and maybe even outright lies” sounds similar to his department’s belief that women make up stories about rape in order to get revenge.  


         

News organizations have reported this story, going for the shock factor with the quote, “boys will be boys.”  These articles seem to be meant to grab the reader’s attention through shock.  When a story of this sort breaks out though, it’s upsetting but it’s not surprising. Missoula County lacks training programs to educate police officers and prosecutors on the proper way to handle sexual assault investigations and cases.  It also sounds like they lack sensitivity training, too.    Unfortunately, Re-victimization of sexual assault survivors through the justice system is depressingly common.  The DOJ’s indictment of the Missoula County Attorney’s Office is a positive step toward making the justice system more accessible for women.  However, countless avenues for re-victimization remain, from filing a report, to having a fair trial, to the actual legal process itself.  What has happened in Missoula deserves national attention, not only for the sake of Missoula’s women, but also for women nation-wide.    

Yours in Advocacy,

Emily Brody-Bizar
Winter Intern