Thursday, September 18, 2014

Leslie Morgan Steiner's Washington Post Article

We encourage you to read Leslie Morgan Steiner's recent piece in the Washington Post. Morgan Steiner, a member of DCVLP's Board of Directors, shared her personal experience, as well as a larger perspective on the current dialogue around why women stay in abusive relationships.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Newspaper "Explanations" of Domestic Violence

Last month, the New York Daily News described a man who killed his ex-wife along with her boyfriend as a “scorned man” who was on a “revenge killing.” This description was probably an attempt to give readers an answer as to why this man killed two people.  

After reading a tragic story like this one last month it is human nature to ask why? We do not just want to know how it happened we also want to know what caused the tragedy. Reporters try to answer this question for us. They interview, research, and usually provide the reader with some kind of understandable explanation. However, these explanations become a problem when it comes to domestic violence. 

For example, in 2001, a man in California allegedly fractured his wife’s skull and was depicted as a victim of his passion by the San Jose Mercury News. In 2009, the New York Post described a Yale lab tech as “lovelorn” after strangling a student. These descriptions are all attempts to put abuse into normal relationship context and to make terrible actions understandable. However, these are not normal relationships and these are not understandable actions.

These “explanations” are taking the blame off the abusers. They make abuse look like a crime of passion and in a few articles seem to imply that the victim is the one at fault for provoking the abuser. In reality, abuse is not about passion. “It’s power and control, that’s what it’s all about,” states Jane Aoyama-Martin, the executive director of the Pace Women’s Justice Center, an organization that gives legal services to victims of domestic as well as elder abuse.

But it is not just newspapers’ explanations of domestic violence that are an issue. A study in 2008,!po=33.8235l, found that articles on domestic abuse tend to focus on individual cases. This tendency to talk about one incident and one individual, makes victims more likely to feel blame for their own abuse which can cause them to not seek the help they need.

The most recent newspaper articles about domestic violence concern Ray Rice and his two day game suspension for allegedly hitting his wife. While these articles are about a serious issue they feature headlines full of puns like "How the NFL Can Tackle Domestic Violence"  by espnW or "Domestic Violence Victims Deserve a Stronger Defensive Lineup" by the Huffington Post. Both of these articles aim at supporting domestic violence survivors but there titles lessen the gravity of domestic abuse.

Titles like these as well as "explanations" and sole focus on individual stories affect the publics view on domestic violence. If there were fewer or no articles like these perhaps society would see domestic violence for what it is a a struggle for power and a societal problem that should not be taken lightly as opposed to a crime of passion that only affects some individuals. 

Yours in Advocacy,
Hannah Shlaferman
DCVLP Intern

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Please Stop Using the Word "Emasculate"

A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a video blog in which blogger Anna Akana railed against the idea of fetishizing Asian women. While most of the video was pretty good,* the woman in the video also made a reference to "emasculation," using it as if it were a legitimate and acceptable term. This was unsettling to me, because, well, it is not a legitimate or acceptable term.

"Emasculate" is one of my least favorite words in the English language. (It's currently jousting with "slut" for the first place slot on my List of Words I Hate.) The harmful ideas lurking just beneath the surface of "emasculation" are innumerable. Among them: the idea that certain characteristics are inherently "masculine"; that these supposedly "masculine" characteristics are very important for men to have and exhibit; that to lack these characteristics is to be "feminine"; that to be "feminine" is to be weaker and less worthwhile; that to be traditionally "feminine" is equivalent to being female; and that "emasculation," in labeling one as more "feminine," is therefore humiliating, because, the word implies, being "more female" is shameful.

Labeling certain traits as "masculine" or "feminine" is, frankly, insulting and ridiculous. I like to wear dresses; I also like baseball. I am a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn; I also love movies with chase scenes and explosions. I fawn over babies and puppies; I also wrestle rather aggressively with one of my best friends.

These are not contradictions. Nor do I have a "masculine side" and a "feminine side." I just have all of my personal traits, the parts that make up the sum of me. To say that some of my preferences and tendencies are "masculine" is to say that they don't really belong to me—that I must have borrowed them, stolen them from another gender, that their presence within my personality is unnatural and makes me somehow less female. Defining certain qualities as "male" or "female" boxes people into narrowly defined gender roles, and suppresses the full humanity of us all.

The Representation Project's "The Mask You Live In"
explores how boys and men are pressured to adhere to
narrow definitions of masculinity.
Even more troublingly, the idea of "emasculation," and all of the other poisonous ideas of "masculinity" that fuel it, may have an influence on the alarmingly high rates of violence in our country. In a culture that values traditionally "masculine" characteristics in men enough that to be "emasculated" (or considered "feminine") is to be humiliated and devalued as a human being, men are constantly compelled to avoid this "emasculation" at all costs—by showing how tough they are, how physically strong, how aggressive, how dominant. And in encouraging men to embody this definition of manhood, we, as a culture, also discourage men from conveying and releasing their emotions in healthy, productive ways.

When talking about one's feelings is not "masculine," and traditional "masculinity" is of tantamount importance, men are put under enormous pressure to bottle up their feelings of sadness, guilt, fear, loneliness, disappointment, etc.—and the only outlets left often seem to be violent, destructive, unhealthy ones. (Just so we're clear, I don't disapprove of engaging in physical activity as an outlet for one's emotions. I do it all the time. But there is a difference between, for instance, playing a sport to relieve pent-up tension or aggression and committing domestic abuse.)

Moreover, if "manhood" is defined in terms of dominance and power (often, in particular, dominance and power over women—see the use of the word "whipped" to describe a man whose female partner holds influence over him), violence can be seen as the only way to retain or regain control—the only way to maintain or gain the dominance that is considered necessary in order to avoid "emasculation." For instance, if some men feel that their dominance or power is being threatened by their female partners, they may believe that they must protect that dominance or power by perpetrating domestic violence.

Corporations constantly play on these gendered beliefs and insecurities, mostly in efforts to sell us things. Just for instance, in a truly morally bankrupt move, Bushmaster released an advertisement for an automatic rifle (the same used by the Sandy Hook shooter) with the tagline "Consider Your Man Card Reissued," ever-so-subtly suggesting that if you do not own an enormous firearm, you are not a man, so you should probably buy an enormous firearm in order to obtain a card that proves you are indeed a man. (Personally, my Man Card test goes like this: "Are you male? Are you an adult? Congratulations. You are now a man. Here is your Man Card. Now go pick flowers or play football or hug kittens or draw pictures or do pretty much whatever you want.")

This kind of appalling equivalence of "being a man" and "being really powerful and/or violent" may have serious effects on the astounding levels of violence in the United States. The Representation Project's film "The Mask You Live In," for example, hypothesizes in part that our culture's emphasis on traditional ideas of "masculinity" could be a cause of, or at the very least a significant influence on, our country's high levels of male violence and physical aggression. In other words, by treating "emasculation" as a legitimate concept, we contribute to a culture that encourages male violence—a culture that considers women as weak and inferior and meant to be dominated, and stifles, as best it can, men's abilities to deal healthily with their human emotions.

So please, before you use this word—consider it. Consider what it really means; consider its many underlying implications; consider its potential consequences. Consider every young boy who hears, inside of "emasculation," the words "man up" and "stop crying" and "don't be such a girl." Consider every young girl who hears, inside of "emasculation," that to be not male is to be feeble, to be powerless, to be worth less—and please think of the better future that we can shape for all of those young boys and girls.

Yours in advocacy,
Darcy McConnell

*Although, upon investigation, other videos of hers are really quite stupid.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Survivor Shares Story about Domestic Violence

Goldie Taylor currently is a pundit on MSNBC who refused let Stephen A. Smith off the hook for his recent comments on women's role in domestic violence. Taylor is a survivor of domestic violence, and took it upon herself to share her story. In a series of tweets opened up about the violence she went through 28 years ago and how she was blamed for provocation, highlighting the seriousness of Smith's comments. View her twitter profile for a full transcript of her tweets.

The man I met was well educated, good looking and charismatic. The man I lived with was a monster.
— Goldie Taylor (@goldietaylorJuly 28, 2014

What happened to me wasn't due to some 'provocation', but if I could've killed him in his sleep I would have.
— Goldie Taylor (@goldietaylorJuly 28, 2014              

According to her tweets, Taylor had a live-in boyfriend who beat her constantly, but her family, including her brothers, did nothing. Taylor's grandmother even asked her what she was doing to "provoke" the situation. A little mistake would set Taylor's boyfriend off, such as shrinking his shirts. When Taylor's boyfriend caught her trying to leave he beat her. Not only was this abuse physical, it was also financial. The only time her ex-boyfriend would gave her money was for groceries. In response her family stated "you don't know how lucky you are to have a man in your life", but this was obviously not the right man. After Taylor's ex-boyfriend lost her job the beatings became even worse, so Taylor decided to move back home with her mom while her ex-boyfriend was arrested.

                                        GOLDIE TAYLOR

After Taylor's ex-boyfriend was released from jail he forced her into his car and said how sorry he was, but Taylor saw through this facade. When he punched Taylor with a closed fist, she hit him with a telephone to protect herself, and was stabbed as she ran out the door. After Taylor woke up from being sedated at the hospital two police officers came very close to arresting Taylor but once the officers saw the deep stab wound the ex-boyfriend was arrested. Eventually her ex-boyfriend went to prison for manslaughter for killing another women. Since he has been released he has tried to contact her again through Facebook, but Taylor was not a sucker and blocked him from Facebook.

She began her story by saying that"For those of us who lived through the utter terror of domestic violence, @stephenasmith words were all too familiar....You see, @stephenasmith told his audience that women who 'provoke' attacks are fair game. Many still believe that." One of her last tweets read: "Unfortunately, @stephenasmith and his supporters are not alone. So many police officers, prosecutors and judges share that thinking." Violence is not an appropriate response to any kind of provocation. Abusers need to be held fully accountable for their actions, and Smith's comments and similar attitudes prevent that. 

Taylor tried to reach out and seek help but instead was accused of provoking her abuse. Hopefully, Taylor sharing her story will show that how wrong victim blaming is and that there is never an excuse for domestic violence. 

                                                                  Yours in Advocacy,
                                                                  Joseph Biederman
                                                                    DCVLP Intern


Friday, August 1, 2014

Gun Policy and Domestic Violence

On July 30, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first-ever hearing on gun policy’s connection to domestic violence. Each month roughly forty-eight women are murdered from gunshots by intimate partners. In addition, when a firearm is involved a woman is five times more likely to be killed. It is 11 times more probable for an American women to be murdered with a gun than women in any other developed country. These are some pretty terrifying statistics that could be lessened by increased gun regulation.

This is exactly what was discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Amy Klobuchar is proposing a bill that would prevent domestic violence abusers and convicted stalkers from buying or possessing guns. A poll by Everytown, a pre-reform gun group, showed that 81% of women support the bill’s idea of extending the definition of abusers to cover stalkers and dating partners.

Despite the statistical support, there may be difficulties in passing the bill since there is a significant disagreement on gun regulations between Democrats and Republicans. Surprisingly, it seems that many Republicans are in favor of Klobuchar’s bill according to a poll by The Huffing Post and YouGov. The poll found that 68% of GOP voters said they would support the bill. However, the National Rifle Association is still urging senators to not vote for the bill.

Elvin Daniel, a member of the NRA and an avid hunter surprisingly acted as witness for the Democrats in Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Daniel spoke of his sister, Zina, who was shot to death by her ex-husband. Daniel spoke to the Huffington Post and said he hoped his testimony would break through partisan politics and force politicians to make a decision to end the cycle of abuse. An ad by Everytown is also trying to gain support for the bill. Everytown has released a forceful ad where an ex-boyfriend grabs a child and shoots the mother in spite of her restraining order against him.

A senate hearing is a step in the right direction, but it is time that congress stepped up, put party alliances aside, and passed stricter gun legislation to prevent further violence against women by their abusers. 

Yours in Advocacy,
Hannah Shlaferman
DCVLP Intern

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sexual Assault on Campus: A New Solution?

This is not our first post about sexual assault on college campuses. In fact, it’s not even our first post about it this month.

There was Senator Claire McCaskill’s survey that found 41% of U.S. colleges and universities over the past five years have failed to conduct any investigations into alleged assaults, Erin Cavalier's brave decision to share her story, George Will’s Washington Post column that claimed colleges “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” Jameis Winston flawed rape investigation, the creation of a White House taskforce, a post on (yup, still not done) sexual assault in and out of Greek life, and USC’s inquiry by the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights for failing to prosecute assaults. And that’s just since last summer. 

If that’s any indication, we can safely say that sexual assault on campus is an extremely relevant and prolific issue today. And finally, congress is taking concrete steps to address it, with the introduction of the bipartisan “Campus Safety and Accountability Act.” 

Sponsors of the bill include Senator Kristen Gillibrand (center) and and Senator Claire McCaskill (far right)

The bill, backed by eight senators, including McCaskill, aims to increase the reports and prosecution of incidents and ultimately decrease on-campus sexual assault. The bill would create financial penalties for schools that don’t comply with the terms, affecting up to 1% of their total operating budget. The current punishment for failing to investigate assault is loss of federal funding, however it has never been applied, making it essentially an empty threat. The bill would also increase fines from $35,000 to $150,000 per violation.

Senator Kristen Gillibrand, one of the bill’s sponsors, said that the new penalties would “flip the incentives that currently reward colleges for keeping sexual assault in the shadows…We will not allow these crimes to be swept under the rug any longer.”

The provisions of the bill, enforced by threat of financial cost, require schools to implement uniform process for disciplinary provisions (aka no more student athletes being disciplined by the school’s athletic department), and to coordinate with law enforcement throughout investigations. In addition, schools would also have to assign on-campus “confidential advisors” responsible for supporting assault survivors and helping them navigate the system. The purpose of the position is to encourage survivors to speak out and protect them through the reporting process, which is often a painful and difficult time for those who choose to pursue an investigation.

Another key parts of the bill would require every school in the United States to conduct an anonymous survey, that asks students about their experiences with domestic violence and publish the results online. The survey would provide transparency and authentic feedback. It would also provide prospective students and their parents a way to compare results, making the treatment of sexual assault a viable factor in the college decision process. As such, it would make addressing assaults a priority for schools; further incentivizing schools to respond to allegations properly.

Senator McCaskill said that the bill is an important step towards ending sexual assault on campus. “To curb these crimes, students need to be protected and empowered, and institutions must provide the highest level of responsiveness in helping hold perpetrators fully accountable,” she said. “That’s what our legislation aims to accomplish.”

The White House Council on Women and Girls reports that 1 in 5 women on college campuses are sexually assaulted, and only 12% of these assaults are reported. With numbers like that in mind, it’s high time to make a change. I will be a college freshmen this fall. I'm nervous about meeting my roommates, making friends, signing up for classes, and getting lost on campus. I should not be nervous about being sexually assaulted. No one should. Hopefully this bill will create a meaningful shift in how schools respond to assault and how they treat survivors, making campuses safer for everyone.

Yours in Advocacy,
Emily Harburg


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jane Doe and Gender-Segregated Prisons

Recently, “Jane Doe,” a 16-year-old trans girl from Connecticut, was moved from a girls’ detention center to solitary confinement in a boys’ facility due to allegations of violence, prompting many feminists and LGBT advocates to press for her return to a girls’ facility. One article begins by noting that “[trans people’s] very existence presents the gender order with an unfixable problem that is impossible to discipline back into its neat boundaries.” This begs the question: if the existence of trans individuals has turned the idea of a neat, naturally-occurring gender binary on its head, why does the author, in advocating for Jane Doe’s return to a girls-only detention center, accept without question the inevitability of a prison system that divides inmates according to a neat gender binary?

Obviously, the question of where to situate Jane Doe is a pressing and time-sensitive matter. For now, although all of the facts and nuances of the case are difficult to pin down, it seems more than probable that returning her to a girls’ detention center is the most just course of action, within the limits of the options currently available. But on a larger scale, this issue should highlight another possible approach: maybe it’s time to stop segregating the prison population on the basis of gender.

The Connecticut Juvenile Training School, where
Jane Doe was moved due to allegations of violence.
One of the issues at the heart of the Jane Doe case is safety—most of those advocating on her behalf believe that she should not be forced to endure solitary confinement, but Jane Doe, many argue, will not, could not, feel safe outside of solitary confinement in a boys’ detention facility. This is the most commonly cited reason as to why girls and women are housed separately from boys and men within detention facilities throughout the United States—women, it is thought, would be put at high risk of physical and sexual abuse, should they be imprisoned alongside men.

But all men are not inherently more dangerous or any more prone to abuse because of their gender, and women are not inherently victims because of theirs. In fact, many women are in the prison system because they have committed violent crimes, and many men are in the prison system because they have committed nonviolent crimes.

Women are capable of violence, and women are capable of rape—against both women and men (unfortunately, as one article discusses, society as a whole tends to trivialize and even discount entirely female-on-male rape)—and many women and men within the prison system are victimized by members of their own gender. The BJS notes that 200,000 people (including 6.9% of female prisoners assaulted by fellow female inmates and 1.7% of male prisoners assaulted by fellow male inmates) were sexually abused within our existing system of gender-exclusive facilities in 2011. Clearly, gendered housing does not render inmates safe in terms of violence or sexual assault.

Even in situations where physical size matters—and in prisons, it often does—men are only larger and physically stronger than women on average; many individual women are larger and physically stronger than many individual men. Every woman is not smaller or weaker than every man solely by virtue of having a vagina, and to use gender as the one defining characteristic in determining dangerousness as it relates to physicality is unreliable. (Not all women are the same size, and as it stands, many larger women are consistently housed with smaller women; this should be enough to demonstrate that segregating by gender is not equivalent to segregating by physical size.) Moreover, dangerousness as a whole depends on other factors besides physical build—whether or not one is predisposed toward or has a history of violence, for example.

Segregating prisoners by gender serves only to reflect outdated gender expectations concerning physical ability, levels of aggression, and tendencies toward violence, and does not adequately protect inmates of either gender from abuse or sexual assault.* As it stands, a 120-pound man could commit a nonviolent crime and be placed in a prison facility into which it would be deemed “unsafe” to send a 160-pound, extremely physically capable, violent female offender.

This is not to say that issues concerning trans women and men should not be discussed or dealt with. They absolutely should. However, it may not be optimally productive to simply argue that trans women should be housed in men’s facilities because they were born male, or that they should be housed in women’s facilities because they are now women. Perhaps, instead, we should all consider the merits of a mixed-gender prison system, one that houses inmates based not on their genitalia but on other characteristics—possibly, for instance, their size, physical abilities, and proclivities to violence. After all, isn’t this what the feminist movement is fighting for—a future where people are judged not by their gender but by more pertinent individual qualities?

Yours in advocacy,
Darcy McConnell

*I do not mean to suggest that dividing prisoners by characteristics other than gender would put an end to prison rape or abuse completelyonly that dividing prisoners by gender is arbitrary and ineffective. Issues of gender aside, the widespread tolerance and perpetration of rape by officials within the prison system must also be wiped out if inmates of any gender, sexual orientation, size, etc., are to feel safebut that is a topic that deserves a full post all its own.