Affirmative consent

Why you should practice affirmative consent: It’s healthy (and sexy), via The Bangor Daily News:

A few weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that compels California universities to use an “affirmative consent” standard when investigating campus sexual assaults. As Amanda Hess from Slate explains,

This means that during an investigation of an alleged sexual assault, university disciplinary committees will have to ask if the sexual encounter met a standard where both parties were consenting, with consent defined as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Notice that the words “verbal” or “stone sober” are not included in that definition. The drafters understand, as most of us do when we’re actually having sex, that sometimes sexual consent is nonverbal and that there’s a difference between drunk, consensual sex and someone pushing himself on a woman who is too drunk to resist.

Predictably, there was some concern about whether the state should be involved in the sex lives of college students. There was concern that the law will encourage false reports (of which there are only between 2-8 percent), and that false claims will skyrocket. As Gloria Steinem and Michael Kimmel pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, a similar law was enacted in Canada in 1992, and “yet the reporting of sexual assault has not skyrocketed with this higher standard.”

This law is a small step toward sexual violence prevention, and a giant leap in providing victims with protection they deserve.

Primary prevention of sexual violence – that is, preventing the violence before it is perpetrated – includes shifting unhealthy sexual and gender norms. It also puts the burden on everyone to prevent violence, not just a potential victim and/or a potential perpetrator. Primary prevention includes healthy sexuality.

Healthy sexuality is having the knowledge and power to express one’s sexuality in ways that enrich one’s life. It includes approaching sexual interactions and relationships from a consensual, respectful and informed perspective. Healthy sexuality is free from coercion and violence, which is precisely what this law seeks to promote.

Unfortunately in our culture, people aren’t automatically tuned into what it means to be a sexually healthy person. It’s something we all have to work on, given how bombarded we are with societal messages that tell us otherwise. We are taught that women and girls are sexual gatekeepers who should “pretend” to not want to have sex (when they actually do want it) — or to pretend to want it when they don’t — and men and boys should be aggressors who push to have sex no matter what their partner says.

Is it any wonder that sexual violence is such an issue?

And yet, healthy sexuality does exist and it is possible to be a sexually healthy person — and to have a sexually healthy culture. To have a law that promotes a standard of “yes means yes” instead of “no means no” is a great way to help establish healthy sexuality norms. People need to know that sex isn’t sexy without the presence (verbal or otherwise) of an enthusiastic yes, and if it takes a law to compel university officials to use that standard in investigations, then so be it.

As anyone who has ever enjoyed consensual sex will tell you, it’s pretty clear when the other person is into it. Not sure? Ask. It seems simple, and yet many fear that in practice it will be awkward. But as we all learn to be sexually healthier people, practice makes perfect.

So start practicing. It’s (healthy) sexy (sexuality).

This post is cross-posted from a post Cara wrote for Maine Family Planning’s blog, On the Front Lines.

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

How To Tell If Your Child Is Bullying Others (And What To Do About It), via Everyday Feminism:

When I was in middle school, I was bullied pretty badly, resulting in depression and even serious considerations of suicide.

I carried a lot of hurt and anger, and I didn’t deal with that in the healthiest of ways. It pains me to reflect upon how I transferred my hurt from bullying by mistreating younger kids and by being terrible to a few of my friends.

I was displacing my hurt onto others so that I didn’t have to carry it alone.

But despite the ways I treated some of my peers, I was never labeled a “bully.” That’s because I didn’t fit the “bully” profile: My grades were good; I had no history of discipline issues; I was well-loved by my teachers. Yet I was acting in much the same way as those kids who were labeled “bullies.”

In today’s schools, we see the same. Some students are identified as “bullies” or “problem students.” Yet when we’re honest, many of us at different times in our lives have been mean to someone in the regular and sustained way that would constitute bullying.

In truth, the label of “bully” is in no way useful when actually attempting to address the problem of bullying.

To simply label some people “bullies” and some people “victims” with the rest of us as “bystanders,” we never actually deal with the root of why someone is exhibiting bullying behavior. It’s a cop-out.

Bullying is primarily a problem of power, and as such, it tends to have one of two roots: an internalized feeling of superiority in regard to another group or individual or feelings of insecurity and hurt that lead one to lash out at others.

In either case, bullying has a measurable root that we can address. If we’re concerned that our child is being a “bully,” it’s best to start with the question, “Why?”

And in recognizing the roots of bullying behavior, we open the door to actually understanding the nature of bullying, which helps us to understand when our kids may be mistreating others and how to prevent bullying in general.

How to Identify If Your Child Is Demonstrating Bullying Behavior

In designing a comprehensive bullying prevention and intervention program for parents atCivilSchools, we compiled research that identifies seven patterns that could be indicative of bullying behavior in a young person.

(Please note that no single pattern listed below necessarily means your child is demonstrating bullying behavior. These are just a guide for considering whether you should intervene if you’re concerned.)

Sign 1: A Pattern of Abnormally Angry or Aggressive Behavior

Few children or adolescents are angry or aggressive as a status quo, so if you start to see a lot of aggression or anger, it’s coming from somewhere. Plus, if you’re seeing it, there’s a good chance it’s being directed at others in bullying behavior.

Sign 2: A Pattern of Depressed, Sullen, or Sad Behavior

Notably, this is also one of the signs that a student might be experiencing bullying, but when a student falls into a pattern of depression or sadness (as I did when being bullied in middle school), they might choose to pass that burden along to others through mean behavior or bullying.

Sign 3: Regularly Throws a Fit When They Don’t Get Their Way

Any parent knows that children go through a phase of lashing out when things don’t go their way, but if this is persistent, there’s a good chance that they are lashing out at other children to try to control outcomes. Some students fall into a pattern of intimidating other children into going along with their will.

Sign 4: A Vocalized Prejudice Toward Particular Identities or Groups of People

Bullying is a problem of power. When we understand this, we can be on the lookout for language that serves to assert this power by oppressing or hurting other identities.

For instance, if your child talks disparagingly or makes jokes about, say, “the fat kids” or “the nerds” or whatever it might be, there’s a chance they are taking out this expressed disdain through bullying. It seems obvious, but it’s important to intervene whenever we hear this type of language.

Sign 5: Demonstrates a Clear Lack of Empathy

Empathy is a skill that we learn and must develop and maintain. We should not assume that our ability to express empathy is simply innate.

When students regularly demonstrate an inability to put themselves in others’ shoes and consider the impact of their words or actions, that might be a sign that they’re demonstrating bullying behavior.

Sign 6: A Pattern of Discipline Problems

Let me start by saying that this particular sign is fraught because of how our schools dole out “discipline” in tremendously problematic ways. Certain students (such as Black or Latinx students and LGBTQIA+ youth of Color) are more likely to receive harsh discipline for the same infractions as other students (such as White or Cis- and Straight peers respectively). Thus, this consideration ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

However, if you do notice a history of discipline infractions for more than just, say, disrupting class, this is something to investigate further, as it might be a sign that they are demonstrating bullying behavior.

Sign 7: A Preoccupation with Popularity or Social Status

Bullying is rooted in power imbalance within our communities, and popularity is, at its root, a construction of power. Not all people who are “popular” bully others, but a preoccupation with being popular or with achieving higher social status can lend itself to bullying behavior.

All of this begs the question, though: If I suspect that my kid is bullying others, what should I do?

How to Intervene If Your Child Is Bullying Others

A lot of parents who know or suspect that their student is demonstrating bullying behavior feel helpless. They’ve been told that bullying is an endemic problem that will never be solved, and now their kid has been labeled with that terrifying label of “bully.”

Fortunately, there’s a lot that you can do to stop bullying behavior and help your school community create an environment free of bullying.

1. Explain why this particular behavior is unacceptable.

In this conversation, try to be as specific as possible. If your student is bullying others using sexist or ableist language, or targeting another student for their skin color or sexual identity,take the time to explain precisely why this behavior is not acceptable in your family.

Part of this, then, means that you must…

2. Discuss your values with your child.

Explain to them why your family values inclusiveness and diversity. Ask them to name their own values and how they feel like the behavior in question aligns with their values.

It’s important to stress that one of the most important parts of being human is cultivating a set of values and then striving to live up to those values. It can help to talk to them about some of the ways that you fall short of living into your values, as it can provide a model for them to work to be better.

3. Get to the root of the behavior.

As noted above, most bullying behavior stems from a feeling of superiority toward other students and/or a feeling of hurt and insecurity. By trying to understand why your student is acting this way, you can help them work through the feelings or hurts that are leading to them treating others poorly.

In this conversation, you may realize that they’re being bullied or mistreated in another area of their life or that they’ve really internalized some problematic messages about other groups of people that you will want to work on with them.

4. Avoid relying solely on punitive measures.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t offer some sort of punishment or consequence for their behavior, but if we rely solely on punishing away bullying behavior, we won’t ever solve the problem.

Simply put, because of the development of their pre-frontal cortex, young people tend not to make clear connections between a behavior and the punishment or consequence they will receive. Instead, we need to activate consideration of the values you’ve instilled in them over their lives because it will appeal to the more developed parts of the brain that rely on pattern.

Steps You Must Take

Beyond identifying when our child is bullying others and talking to them, there are some simple, concrete steps that we as parents or guardians must take if we want to play our part in ending bullying behavior in our community.

After all, teachers, administrators, and students can only do so much. They need us as parents to take an active role in building more inclusive school environments.

1. Rely on your community.

As you seek to solve this problem, remember that you are not alone. Lots of parents are struggling with this issue, and there are likely a number of people who want to support you and your child in ensuring more inclusive behavior!

Identify people who you can rely on that your student trusts. Is there a teacher that your child really trusts with whom you have a relationship? Is there an aunt or uncle who connects well with your kid? Are there other, mature kids that your child hangs out with who you can engage?

Identify your allies and engage them in helping your child live up to their values. Have that aunt or uncle or teacher reach out to your students and talk to them as well. Activate those youth allies who can help your young person make good decisions. That old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” definitely applies in preventing bullying behavior.

Additionally, most schools want and need parent allies in ending bullying behavior. Reach out to a teacher or administrator or other staff person that you can trust and let them know that you’re aware of some of your child’s behavior. Let them know that you want to work with them to create an inclusive school environment.

2. Have the courage to self-reflect.

One of the toughest issues to overcoming bullying is when parents aren’t willing to do the tough work of self-reflecting about where the behavior might have been learned.

Let’s face it: We don’t always demonstrate well the kind of behavior we want to see in our kids, and bullying behavior is learned. Thus, one of the hardest but most important things we can do is to ask ourselves what we could do to better demonstrate the struggle to live into our values.

Consider whether your language about other people — or even yourself — demonstrates your values. Have we made some off-handed comments about “those people?” How might talking badly about our own bodies impact how our students talk to kids with different body shapes and sizes than themselves?

If we’re going to call upon our children to reflect on their own behavior, we must also be willing to do the same.

Maybe we will come to the conclusion that we are always demonstrating how we want them to treat their peers. More likely, though, we will find ways that we could do a better job of demonstrating the kind of behavior we want to see in our kids.

And that realization can be a powerful one for our own growth and for that of the children we love so dearly.

***

Something that’s easy to forget is that bullying is entirely preventable. Don’t listen to those who tell you, “Bullying has always been around. There’s nothing we can do! Kids will be kids!”

Bullying ends when we work together in community to address the root causes of bullying behavior, and some of the most central stakeholders in that work are the parents of our communities.

By taking ownership for this problem and by being proactive, we can help to ensure that every single student feels fully supported in who they are and that no student has to endure the pain and self-hate that can come from bullying.

We simply must realize the power we have to make this needed change.

Yes means yes.

“Yes” Is Better Than “No,” via The New York Times:

SUPPOSE someone you know slightly arrives at your home, baggage and all, and just barges in and stays overnight. When you protest, the response is, “Well, you didn’t say no.”

Or imagine that a man breaks into your home while you sleep off a night of drunken revelry, and robs you blind. Did your drinking imply consent?

Until now, this has been the state of affairs in our nation’s laws on sexual assault. Invading bodies has been taken less seriously by the law than invading private property, even though body-invasion is far more traumatic. This has remained an unspoken bias of patriarchal law. After all, women were property until very recently. In some countries, they still are.

Even in America, women’s human right to make decisions about their own bodies remains controversial, especially when it comes to sex and reproduction.

That’s why the recent passage of Senate Bill 967 in California is such a welcome game-changer in understanding and preventing sexual assault. The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously after a 52 to 16 vote in the State Assembly, now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, which is expected. It would make California the first state to embrace what has become known as the “yes means yes” law, because it alters the standard regarding consent to sexual activity on college campuses. It is the first state response to President Obama’s initiative on campus sexual assault, announced earlier this year.

Until this bill, the prevailing standard has been “no means no.” If she says no (or, more liberally, indicates any resistance with her body), then the sex is seen as nonconsensual. That is, it’s rape. Under such a standard, the enormous gray area between “yes” and “no” is defined residually as “yes”: Unless one hears an explicit “no,” consent is implied. “Yes means yes” completely redefines that gray area. Silence is not consent; it is the absence of consent. Only an explicit “yes” can be considered consent.

This is, of course, completely logical, and fully consistent with adjudicating other crimes. Nevertheless, it is bound to raise howls of protest from opponents of women’s equality and their right to make decisions about their own bodies.

“Yes means yes” has been the law of the land in Canada since 1992, yet the reporting of sexual assault has not skyrocketed with this higher standard.

In the 1990s, there was a similar conversation in this country when Antioch College, long a bastion of innovations in education, also decided that consent to sexual activity required more than just a failure to say no. Verbal consent, the new code of conduct stated, was required for any sexual contact that was not “mutually and simultaneously initiated.”

When the so-called Antioch rules were first enacted at that college, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative. The anti-feminist chorus howled in derision at feminist protectionism gone berserk. “Saturday Night Live” parodied it. Charlton Heston added it to a list of examples of campus political correctness gone completely out of control. He told an audience at Harvard in 1999 that “at Antioch College in Ohio, young men seeking intimacy with a coed must get verbal permission at each step of the process from kissing to petting to final copulation — all clearly spelled out in a printed college directive.”

While doomsayers lamented that the new rules would destroy the mystery of campus sex, the students took it in stride. Instead of, “Do you want to have sex?” they simply asked, “Do you want to implement the policy?”

Of course some guys on campus were against it, in an honest way. “If I have to ask those questions, I won’t get what I want,” blurted out one young man to a reporter. Bingo.

But seriously, since when is hearing “yes” a turnoff? Answering “yes” to, “Can I touch you there?” “Would you like me to?” “Will you [fill in blank] me?” seems a turn-on and a confirmation of desire, whatever the sexual identity of the asker and the asked.

Actually, “yes” is perhaps the most erotic word in the English language.

One of literature’s most enduring works, James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” concludes with Molly Bloom’s affirmative declaration of desire (considered so erotic, in fact, that it was banned for more than a decade after publication): “and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

“Yes means yes” is clearly saner — and sexier. And that’s true for both Leopold and Molly Bloom, as well as the rest of us.

Cee-Lo Green loses performance after rape comments

Cee-Lo Green Pulled From Military Base Performance, via Jezebel

After his atrocious Twitter comments about rape and subsequent terrible apology, Cee-Lo Green has been cut from the performance line-up of a concert at a D.C. navy base. It seems concert organizers realized that having someone who has allegedly drugged and raped a woman and then complained about it was not the right person to appear at a military facility, when the military is struggling to prove it has a handle on its own sexual assault issues.

Freedom LIVE – the name for the programming presented by the Naval District Washington (NDW)’s portion of the military’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department, which is currently in its first season – announced Thursday evening they had removed Cee-Lo from the line-up of their September 20th show with Little Big Town at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in D.C. They wrote on their Facebook page:

We seek a Department-wide culture of gender dignity and respect where sexual assault is completely eliminated and never tolerated, where sexual assault victims receive compassionate and coordinated support, and where offenders are held appropriately accountable.

Unfortunately, one of the performers we signed for the JBAB Freedom Live show on 20 September recently posted comments on social media that we consider to completely inconsistent with Navy core values. Regardless of intent or context, the lack of sensitivity towards an issue that is one of the great challenges facing our Navy is unacceptable.

As a result, we have made the decision to pull CeeLo Green from the Freedom Live event on 20 September. Little Big Town, the main attraction for the event, will still perform as scheduled. We will announce as soon as possible a replacement opening act of the high quality that you expect and deserve.

After Cee-Lo’s original appearance was announced and his tweets were sent and deleted, one veteran told Jezebel he sent a complaint about the performance to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Department of Defense, though it’s unclear how many other people complained. The comments on the Facebook post about the cancellation are almost universally positive.

Image via Ethan Miller/Getty

Making a visual statement for change

Columbia University student will carry her mattress everywhere as long as her rapist remains on campus, via feministing:

Watch her video interview HERE.

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm bed at the beginning of her junior year. Now, for her senior visual arts thesis, Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress with her everywhere she goes as long as she attends the same school as her rapist.

As she explains in the video about her project above, “The piece could potentially take a day, or it could go on until I graduate. For me, it’s an endurance performance arts piece.”

Sulkowicz’s rapist has been accused of sexual assault by two other women at Columbia but remains on campus. Sulkowicz has described in detail the terrible, incompetent hearing process she went through trying to get justice from Columbia, and was one of the students who filed a federal Title IX complaint accusing the school of mishandling sexual assault cases. Later, she reported her rape to the police — an experience which illustrated pretty much exactly why many survivors are reluctant to do so.

The mattress is an apt physical symbol of the weigh Sulkowicz has carried with her while sharing her campus with her rapist for a year. “A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it,” she explains. It also represents the way she’s been speaking out about her experience. “We keep [beds] in our bedroom, which is our intimate and private space… The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”

Sex crimes are not scandals

Jennifer Lawrence Nude Photo Leak Isn’t A ‘Scandal.’ It’s A Sex Crime, via Forbes:

As most of you probably know, someone somewhere dumped a deluge of purported nude photographs of a number of female celebrities online yesterday. The victims include the likes of Kate Upton, Victoria Justice, Ariana Grande, Kirsten Dunst, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Krysten Ritter, Yvonne Strahovski, and Teresa Palmer. But the focal point for this story has been Hunger Games/American Hustle actress Jennifer Lawrence, since the Oscar winning actress is perhaps the most famous actress on the planet right now. Without going into sordid details (Justice and Grande have said the photos claimed to be of them are fake, other victims have confirmed theirs are real), I’d like to make two very specific points. Ms. Lawrence and the other victims have absolutely nothing to apologize for in terms of the contents of the photos or the nature in which they were leaked. The story itself should not be addressed as if it were a scandal, but rather what it is: A sex crime involving theft of personal property and the exploitation of the female body.

Outlets as mainstream as People and CNN are referring to the photo leak as a “scandal.” All due respect, it’s not a scandal. The actresses and musicians involved did nothing immoral or legally wrong by choosing to take nude pictures of themselves and put them on their personal cell phones. You may argue, without any intended malice, that it may be unwise in this day-and-age to put nude pictures of yourself on a cell phone which can be hacked and/or stolen. But without discounting that statement, the issue is that these women have the absolute right and privilege to put whatever they want on their cell phones with the expectation that said contents will remain private or exclusive to whomever is permitted to see them just like their male peers. The burden of moral guilt is on the people who stole said property and on those who chose to consume said stolen property for titillation and/or gratification.

It is not Ms. Ritter’s or Ms. Dunst’s responsibility to protect their own property from theft by not creating said property or only storing it in a specific place any more than it’s any woman’s responsibility to dress a certain way, travel in groups, wear special nail polish, or what-have-you to lessen the chance that someone will attempt to assault them. As is often the case when we discuss crimes of this nature against women, we have it backwards.  It is not on the (usually, but not always, female) victim to take “enough” measures to protect herself but rather on the (usually, but not always, male) victimizer to choose not to commit said crime. That notion was lost on the Disney Channel back in 2007. They treated Vanessa Hudgens like a sinful child after personal nudes were leaked and stated that “Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”

I sincerely hope that absolutely none of the victims involved in this current leak takes any form of “responsibility” or apologizes for anything. The victims involved have committed no crime and committed no sin by creating said photos in the first place or in “allowing” them to be stolen. What occurred yesterday is a theft and a crime, plain and simple. It is a personal violation of a prurient nature, with photos of an explicit nature that were intended for private or personal use now unleashed online for anyone to see, for free no less. It is, if I may digress for a moment, a loss in a business sense as well, if only because sadly an actress’s body and the titillation that it theoretically brings is one of her most important assets to Hollywood. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at (random examples) the trailers for Weinstein Company’s Lawless, Paramount’s Star Trek Into Darkness, and Walt Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy, plus the posters for Warner Bros.’ (the kids-centric PG-rated) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and notice how the actresses are highlighted.

The theft via cell phone hacking of countless nude photos, real or doctored, of various female celebrities is not a “scandal” to be mocked and teased about as if it were a public wardrobe malfunction or a gaffe. It should not be treated with quippy sub-headlines like “What Would Katniss do?” It is a crime that has turned the entire online community into potential peeping Toms with little-to-no accountability for the consumers of said stolen property/invasion of privacy. This is clearly a violation. It is a crime of theft with the intent to exploit its victims as punishment for the unpardonable sin of being female. A woman, be she in the public eye or a private citizen, has a right and privilege to take photos of herself for whatever reason she chooses.  A woman, be she a celebrity or a regular citizen, has the right to store them in the same manner as her male peers without the presumption that they will be stolen by an act of cyber hackery. And if said photos exist and said photos are stolen, the shame of that act should be, nay must be, wholly on the perpetrator of said crime.

It is not the responsibility of our female population to take “ X” number of steps to lessen the chance that a member of our male population will engage in untoward conduct towards them, be it assault or street harassment. As a society, we deal with violence, especially sexual violence, against women in much the wrongheaded manner that we have fought the war on drugs. We focus on the supply-side, with an emphasis on the things that women must do to “stay safe” instead of focusing on lessening mens’ “demand” to view women as purely a disposable commodity. In short, we emphasize how women can prevent being assaulted instead of telling men and boys not to assault women in the first place. Instead of condemning those who would steal the private photographs and publish them online for all to see, we condemn or belittle the women who chose to create said private photographs in the first place.  Ms. Lawrence, Ms. Winstead, and the like have absolutely nothing to apologize for. They have not been scandalized, but rather victimized.

If you like what you’re reading, follow me on Forbes, follow @ScottMendelson on Twitter, and “like” The Ticket Booth on Facebook. Also, check out my archives for older work.

Alcohol is the number 1 ‘date rape drug’…

Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roofies, via Think Progress

 A group of four college students is taking the media by storm with the development of aninnovative nail polish that can detect date rape drugs that have been slipped into young women’s drinks. While the new product has captured its fair share of headlines over the past week, sexual assault prevention advocates warn that it’s not necessarily the best way to approach the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses.

Four male students at North Carolina State University have created a nail polish that changes color when it comes into contact with several common drugs intended to incapacitate victims. According to the undergrads, their goal is to “invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.” Although the product isn’t available yet, their Facebook page has already been flooded with positive responses from people who can’t wait to give it a try.

The response isn’t entirely unprecedented. Products that promise to help women detect the colorless, odorless “roofie” drugs have become more popular in recent years. And more broadly, anti-rape tools to help women protect themselves from potential predators have become increasingly prevalent.

Although these products typically get a lot of press and are sometimes hailed as complete breakthroughs in the fight against sexual violence — “Soon, a fresh manicure could have the potential to save your life,” the Daily Mail proclaimed in a story about the new nail polish — activists working in the field aren’t convinced. They believe innovations like anti-rape nail polish are well-meaning but ultimately misguided.

“I think that anything that can help reduce sexual violence from happening is, in some ways, a really good thing,” Tracey Vitchers, the board chair for Students Active For Ending Rape(SAFER), told ThinkProgress. “But I think we need to think critically about why we keep placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women.”

Women are already expected to work hard to prevent themselves from becoming the victims of sexual assault. They’re told to avoid wearing revealing clothing, travel in groups, make sure they don’t get too drunk, and always keep a close eye on their drink. Now, remembering to put on anti-rape nail polish and discreetly slip a finger into each drink might be added to that ever-growing checklist — something that actually reinforces a pervasive rape culture in our society.

“One of the ways that rape is used as a tool to control people is by limiting their behavior,” Rebecca Nagle, one of the co-directors of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture that challenges the societal norms around sexual assault, explained. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted — it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to fucking test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”

According to Alexandra Brodsky, one of the founders and current co-directors of Know Your IX, a survivor-led group working to address campus sexual assault, well-intentioned products like anti-rape nail polish can actually end up fueling victim blaming. Any college students who don’t use the special polish could open themselves up to criticism for failing to do everything in their power to prevent rape.

Indeed, the argument that women simply need to be more responsible is a common response to the current conversation about sexual assault on college campuses — and one that activists say doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.

“The problem isn’t that women don’t know when there are roofies in their drink; the problem is people putting roofies in their drink in the first place,” Nagle pointed out.

“I think a lot of the time we get focused on these new products because they’re innovative and they’re interesting, and it’s really cool that they figured out how to create nail polish that does this. But at the end of the day, are you having those tough conversations with students, and particularly men, who are at risk for committing sexual assault?” Vitchers added. “Are you talking to young men about the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries and understanding what it means to obtain consent?”

Activists point out that most students are assaulted by people they know in environments where they feel comfortable — situations when wearing anti-rape nail polish doesn’t necessarily make sense. Plus, the vast majority of those assaults don’t involve date rape drugs in the first place. According to a 2007 study from the National Institute for Justice, just about 2.4 percent of female undergrads who had been sexually assaulted suspected they had been slipped a drug.

So, rather than targeting efforts at helping women identify roofies in their drinks, it would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis, like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk. There’s a lot of student-led activism on college campuses around these themes, as well as some college administrations agreeing to implement more comprehensive consent education and bystander intervention training programs. The advocates who spoke to ThinkProgress said they wish more of those campaigns would start making headlines.

“One of the reason we get so excited about these really simple fixes is because it makes us feel like the problem itself is really simple. That’s a comforting idea,” Brodsky noted. “But I really wish that people were funneling all of this ingenuity and funding and interest into new ways to stop people from perpetrating violence, as opposed to trying to personally avoid it so that the predator in the bar rapes someone else.”

Supporting a survivor

What You Can Do If Your Friend Has Been Sexually Assaulted, via The Huffington Post:

The conversation about sexual assault usually centers around frightening statistics and failed responses from college institutions. Those stories need to be told, and loudly. But as we discuss the pain of sexual assault and how we can prevent future violence, we also need to talk about the other side of the narrative: helping survivors heal.

Despite increased awareness about sexual assault, it remains an understandably difficult topic to discuss. So many people simply don’t know what to say when they find out a friend has been sexually assaulted.

But helping a friend who is a survivor of sexual assault isn’t really about words. It’s about listening without judgement and providing sensitive emotional support. It’s about understanding that survivors can heal — and that having the right allies to support them is critical to helping their recovery process. Here are the most important things you need to know in order to be one of those allies:

1. Believe them.

As Working Against Violence, Inc. puts it: “The greatest fear of rape survivors is that they will not be believed.” That fear is part of what keeps so many survivors silent. It follows that one of the best statements of support you can offer is a simple, “I believe you.”

2. Be supportive, and help them seek out the right resources.

Encourage your friend to take control of his or her physical and mental health. Jill Mayer, a licensed professional counselor and former clinical director of Women Organized Against Rape told The Huffington Post that, in the aftermath of a sexual assault, she recommends locating a local rape crisis center on the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) database.

She said that it’s important to encourage your friend to seek immediate medical attention, have a rape kit done and be tested for STIs and pregnancy. A rape kit exam is used to gather forensic evidence within the 96 hours after an assault. If possible, Mayer recommends having a rape kit exam done regardless of whether the survivor definitively intends to report the crime, as doing so keeps future options open, and a rape crisis center can provide a list of local hospitals that offer that service. Rape crisis centers also typically have counselors on staff who can provide psychological help to survivors and court advocates on staff who can provide information about their legal options.

3. Assure them that what happened is not their fault.

It’s all too common for victims to blame themselves. “There’s also a level of shame and embarrassment surrounding being sexually violated… Survivors may feel like the assault was their fault, but the blame is solely on perpetrators,” said Mayer.

Survivors may be more apt to blame themselves if drugs or alcohol were involved, or if their perpetrator was a friend or intimate partner. (Loveisrespect.org has excellent resources for helping a friend being sexually abused by a partner.)

Further, if your friend is a man, he faces the painful, enduring societal myth that men cannot be raped or sexually abused. As an ally, you can do survivors a great service simply by reaffirming that their trauma and pain is valid, no matter the circumstances. Mayer also suggested urging survivors struggling with self-blame orinternalized rape myths to seek counseling.

4. Listen, and don’t press for details.

Opening up about these experiences can be scary and painful, and it’s important not to pressure survivors into divulging memories that may be upsetting. As The Healing Center puts it: “Listen, listen, listen.” Resist the impulse to gather all the facts; and let your friend decide what information he or she wants to disclose. Focus on being a supportive sounding board as your friend works through his or her feelings.

5. Respect the decisions they make in the aftermath.

The unfortunate truth is that many sexual assault survivors are further traumatizedwhen they choose to report their assault to the authorities. You don’t have to look far to find examples of victim-blaming during police interrogations or slut-shaming in the court room. Given these realities, it’s upsetting, but not surprising, that only 36 percent of survivors report their assault to the police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Ultimately, each survivor deserves to make an independent decisionwithout external pressure. If your friend does choose to go forward, your support will be meaningful. If not, it’s critical to reserve your judgment.

6. Respect their recovery process and encourage them to heal constructively.

After sexual assault, survivors may experience a wide range of emotional and physical reactions as they recover and heal. Community Crisis Center, Inc. outlines some of the most common reactions to sexual assault, which include emotional withdrawal, disturbance of sleep and eating habits, and avoiding activities that may trigger traumatic memories. Mayer warned against telling your friend to “Just get over it” or suggesting potentially destructive coping mechanisms, like a night out of drinking. Respect that your friend may need alone time, but let him or her know that you’re there if they need company.

7. Help them seek other lifelines.

According to Mayer, the most important thing a survivor needs is a healthy support system of allies. But you can’t provide that on your own. Mayer cautioned against taking on the responsibility of being a sole lifeline or playing the role of therapist. “It’s very important to lay down a boundary line,” she said. She also recommended helping your friend identify people in their lives who can offer that support, and encouraging your friend to seek counseling or support groups. (You can find these local resources through the RAINN network.) Ensuring that your friend has other shoulders to lean on makes it easier to keep your own boundaries in place.

8. Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to seek out support.

Being a good ally can be emotionally draining. Mayer told The Huffington Post that allies “could be getting traumatized or burnt out by the information that they’re hearing and can start to feel hopeless and depressed themselves.” Don’t dismiss those feelings. If you become overwhelmed, seek support from friends, family or professional counselors. RAINN has excellent resources about self-care for friends and allies. You can’t be part of your friend’s support system if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Ultimately, being a good ally isn’t about saying “the perfect thing” that makes everything better. It’s about offering compassion and understanding as your friend heals.

Sexual assault happens outside of college, too

We have more than just a campus rape problem. There is invisible rape all over, via The Guardian

woman face hidden

All women need our support, whether they are heading to off college or not.Photograph: Robert Moran/flickr

As the school year starts up again this month, so will university orientations with ramped-up trainings on sexual assault prevention – followed, I’m sure, by a semester of underreported attacks, inevitable administrative mishandlings and student-led lawsuits. Thanks to the increased American focus on campus rapes by activists, the media and even the White House, people will undoubtedly be paying attention this school year. And I’m glad for that.

But I hope that, as we shake our heads in shame and frustration over student assaults, we don’t forget the scourge of rape that has infiltrated every corner of our country – not just the places that house college campuses.

In Rochester, New York, a 21-year-old man is facing state and federal charges for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl and then posting a video of the attack to Facebook. The teeanger was unconcious while one man allegedly raped her and another filmed.

Connecticut man has been arraigned after authorities say he kidnapped, raped and strangled the 19-year-old woman he was dating. A 28-year-old teacher in Oklahoma has been charged with raping her 15-year-old student. A man in Kentucky has been indicted on charges that he raped a child under 12 years old.

The Waupaca County police in Wisconsin are looking for a man they say tried to rape a teenager who accepted a ride home, and a wrestling coach in Eden, New York pleaded guilty to raping two teen girls at the school where he worked.

Oh, and, for a bit of context: All of this has happened in the last 48 hours.

These are just the stories we know about – cases where victims have come forward and the local media is paying attention. But such cases represent just a small percentage of the attacks that happen every day –every two minutes, in fact – across the United States. These largely invisible sexual assaults – the ones we never hear about – are the ones where the most vulnerable are victims: homeless women, prisoners, the mentally ill, the disabled, children, sex workers and those addicted to drugs and alcohol. This is true not just in the US, but globally – where the most disadvantaged are not only the most likely to be attacked, but the least likely to be helped.

Do we care less about these victims? Where are their profiles? Where is their White House task force?

I do understand why the national conversation about rape is so focused on campus assaults. And it’s certainly not as if the campus rape problem is going away – college administrations are still failing survivors, and victim-blaming still abounds. But part of the reason the issue of student sexual assault has captured our attention – in addition to the tireless work by young activists – is that we see these victims as more deserving of sympathy, and because they more closely resemble the people in the media who are making editorial decisions, and their friends and family.

When vice president Joe Biden speaks about campus rape, for example, he often talks about protecting “our daughters”. But not everybody’s daughter goes to college – and our empathy too often doesn’t extend to those on the margins. Maybe that’s because we think of women in college as “good”, middle-class girls deserving of attention, thoughresearch has shown that it’s often lower-income women on campuses who get attacked and later blamed for their own attacks. Maybe it’s because we just don’t want to think too much about how some victims’ marginalization – in which we are all in some way complicit – contributed to them being victimized again: if you want to stop the rape of homeless women, for example, you need to talk about economic injustice. Maybe we think that, if we just take on college rape, we’ll only have to deal with administrations and (maybe) the attackers themselves. But that’s thinking too small – we have a whole world of misogyny to grapple with before we can end rape on campus or anywhere.

Yes, we have a campus rape problem. But we also have a national (and an international) rape problem. Let’s not forget that in the back-to-school rush.

A new attempt at preventing rape on campus

The Power Of The Peer Group In Preventing Campus Rape, via NPR:

Many forces can drive a male college student to commit sexual assault. But one of the most important may be the company he keeps.

A number of studies, on college campuses and elsewhere, have shown that having friends who support violence against women is a big risk factor for committing sexual assault. Now prevention efforts are exploring the idea that having male friends who object to violence against women can be a powerful antidote to rape on college campuses.

“One of the things that matters most to boys and emerging adult men is the opinion of other men,” says John Foubert, a researcher at Oklahoma State University who studies rape prevention among young men.

One of the most well-known studies on perpetrators of campus sexual assault is psychologistDavid Lisak’s 2002 “undetected rapists” study. Because few campus rapes are ever reported, much less prosecuted, Lisak looked for sex offenders hiding in plain sight at University of Massachusetts in Boston.

He surveyed about 1,800 men, asking them a wide range of questions about their sexual experiences. To learn about sexual assault, he asked things like, “Have you ever had sex with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force?” When the results came back, he was stunned.

All told, 120 men in the sample, or about 6 percent of the total, had raped women they knew. Two-thirds of those men were serial rapists, who had done this, on average, six times. Many of the serial rapists began offending before college, back in high school.

Other studies at colleges and in the military have since found similar numbers — usually somewhere around 10 percent of men admitting to either an attempted rape or a rape, with a significant proportion of them reporting a history of repeated offenses.

“I was forced, really, to accept that these are college students, but there is this small percentage of college students who are sex offenders,” says Lisak. “They are behaving like sex offenders. They are sex offenders.”

Together, the 120 men in Lisak’s study were responsible for 439 rapes. None was ever reported.

But Lisak had no problem getting details about how the men carefully planned and executed their assaults. They’d often ask a girl to come to a party, saying it was invite-only, a big deal to a nervous freshman. Then they’d get her drunk to the point of incapacitation so they could have sex with her.

In an excerpt from one of Lisak’s interview transcripts, a college student using the pseudonym Frank talks about how his friends would help him prep for an assault:

“We always had some kind of punch, you know, like our own home brew. We’d make it with a real sweet juice, and just pour in all kinds of alcohol. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn’t know what hit them.”

Alcohol was the weapon of choice for these men, who typically saw themselves as college guys hooking up. They didn’t think what they had done was a crime.

“Most of these men have an image or a myth about rape, that it’s some guy in a ski mask wielding a knife,” says Lisak. “They don’t wear ski masks, they don’t wield knives, so they don’t see themselves as rapists.”

In fact, they’d brag about what they had done afterwards to their friends. That implied endorsement from male friends — or at the very least, a lack of vocal objection — is a powerful force, perpetuating the idea that what these guys are doing is normal rather than criminal.

But in a group of guy friends, Oklahoma State’s Foubert says, the opinions that can end up influencing behavior are often just what a guy thinks his friends think.

“Let’s say you have a peer group of 10 guys,” says Foubert. “One or two are constantly talking about, ‘Oh, I bagged this b- – -h.’ Many of the men listening to that are uncomfortable, but they think that the other men support it through their silence.”

What if that silence could be broken before college — as early as high school?

At a few high schools in Sioux City, Iowa, students are starting to find out what that might look like.

MVP, or Mentors in Violence Prevention, matches upperclassmen with groups of incoming freshmen. Throughout the school year, the older kids facilitate discussions about relationships, drinking, sexual assault and rape.

Xavier Scarlett, a rising senior and captain of the football, basketball and track teams, says he tries to get inside the heads of the freshmen guys he mentors. They talk through various scenarios. What does it mean to hook up with a drunk girl when you’re sober? Would you be letting down your guy friends if you didn’t hook up in that situation?

And they spend a lot of time on that scenario Lisak heard about over and over in his U-Mass Boston study. You’re at a big party. You see a guy you know with an extremely drunk girl, and he’s trying to leave with her.

Scarlett says he talks through all the options with the freshmen in his group. “Do I let them just leave? Or do I grab him, or do I grab her? Or do I get some friends? If I say something, then will my friend judge me?”

These conversations are tough, often awkward, in high school. A lot of the mentors still haven’t confronted this kind of situation in real life by the time they graduate. But once they get to college, says Iowa State University junior Tucker Carrell, a former MVP mentor, the scenarios come to life.

Tucker says that he’s not afraid to confront his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers when they talk about women in a way that makes him uncomfortable. He’ll sit down with them, sometimes even bringing a woman they’ve hit on into the conversation.

The day we talked, Tucker said he’d used his MVP training to intervene in a situation just the night before.

This was at a going-away party at a bar in Ames, Iowa. Tucker noticed that a friend’s female cousin was pretty drunk. She was over by the jukebox with two guys who weren’t part of the party. They were strangers. Tucker says he was paying attention to her body language, and something didn’t look right. She looked almost cornered.

So Tucker grabbed a buddy, and they went over to the jukebox together.

“We were like, ‘Hey, let’s pick a song.’ So we picked a song. And then we were like, ‘Do you want to go to the table and see your cousin?’ “

They steered her back toward their group of friends.

And that was it. The night went on as if nothing had happened.

Lisak says by the time 18-year-olds leave for college, they need to be hearing this kind of challenge from their guy friends.

“This idea that getting somebody intoxicated, plastered, so that you can have sex with them is an idea we just simply are going to have to confront and erode,” he says. “Just like we have eroded the idea that it’s fine to get drunk and get in your car.”

There are only a few dozen high schools around the country that offer the MVP program. It’s been used in high schools around Sioux City, Iowa, for over a decade now. Surveys of participating students suggest their attitudes about sexual assault, and intervening in dangerous situations, shift after they go through the program, but researchers have yet to evaluate how effective it is in reducing incidents of sexual violence.

John Foubert, the psychologist in Oklahoma, says it’s important to remember that 90 percent of men have never committed a rape. The key is opening their eyes to what’s going on with the other 10 percent, so they can see it and intervene.