Monthly Archives: May 2013

“The Danger in Demonizing Male Sexuality”

Great article from The Good Men Project:

The Danger in Demonizing Male Sexuality

Jamie Peck over at The Gloss, wrote a great little piece asking a great big question: Can Men Write About Sex Without Sounding Like Douchebags?  In asking, however, she wasn’t pointing at men and suggesting they are douchebags so much as she was pointing at all of us and suggesting that we have a tendency to demonize male sexuality. She rightly points out that most of the men who achieve any sort of status and acceptability in writing about sex are somewhere on the gender queer spectrum. Sure, James Deen has a successful blog, but if you read most of the comments on it, there’s this weird anger at him for being a porn star, and enjoying it and writing about it. It is couched in the assumption that he is just doing what every guy in the world would fantasize about doing, because, you know, the only thing straight guys want to do is pound as much pussy as possible.

Puzzling.

I was trying to wrap my head around why that was, and unable to come up with anything really to contradict it, when the incredibly brilliant Sabrina Morgan left the following comment on Facebook:

Cis men are also in the position of the cultural desirer, never the desired; many genuinely believe that since “no one” finds them sexy/since their sexuality is considered threatening, no one wants to hear what they have to say about sex.

God, that woman is brilliant. And she’s right. It is at least possible that women love the likes of Dan Savage because he is in no way threatening to us. I could be drunk, dirty-dancing on his lap and he’d be all like, “bitch, please, put that shit away.” I like to think he’d also give me warm milk and tuck me in, but who knows. The point is, he is no threat to me.

But more than that, he is an ally. He has, time and time again, stood up for the rights of women  to have full agency and autonomy over our bodies, spoken out against rape culture, and generally paved the way for an open dialog about human sexuality and our right to it. (Yes, I know there are many people who have serious bones to pick with him, he is not perfect, but on the whole, he is an example of a man who can write about sex without being called a douchebag for doing so.) Charlie Glickman can write about sex and sexuality without being called a douchebag, but he is also widely considered queer, and not a threat to anyone.

But to Sabrina’s point, what of the cisgender men? Specifically, heterosexual cis men? How we read their words has so much to do with what we, as a society, assume about their sexuality and how it manifests. Society seems to have set heterosexuality up as a thing that involves men pursuing, and women either accepting or rejecting—mostly rejecting.

This starts young. I live in Seattle, which is, by any standard, a very progressive city. Many of us do a mommy / daughter sex-ed class at Seattle Children’s Hospital as our daughters get close to starting menstruation. In the session of the class that is less about biology and more about navigating sexuality, the presenter offered the idea that girls would have to start learning how to say “no” to boys who were going to want to touch them sexually.

I looked at my daughter, who sort of rolled her eyes at me. And the woman went on, listing the many ways that girls could rebuff boys. I looked at my daughter again, and she said, “go ahead mom.” And I did. I raised my hand and said, “Can we also talk about how to teach girls to say ‘yes’ to sexuality. Can we teach them that sex is about pleasure for all parties involved, and that learning how to identify and say ‘yes’ to things that give them pleasure is how they learn to draw their boundaries and say ‘no’ to things that don’t.”

She replied that surely I could understand that protecting girls from boys was more important. I told her that I surely did not see it that way.

But it starts that young. Yes, girls are told that boys are predatory and somehow out of control. The corollary there is that boys are told they are predators, and out of control. Therefore, not a desirable thing, but a thing to defend against. From the get-go, we are teaching our kids to fear male sexuality, and to repress female sexuality.

As they age, and their media exposure extends beyond the protective (and crappy) bubble of children’s programming, we see example after example of men having to pull huge gestures to lure women into sex, or catch them, or trick them. Just off the top of my head: In Superbad when one of the guys talks about getting girls drunk enough that they can be “that mistake;” in Spiderman when he shoots a web to catch the girl who said “no” half a dozen times, pulling her in for an epic kiss that leaves them both breathless; in Anchormanwhen the guy uses a cologne made with “bits of real panther” that “60% of the time works every time” to get the girl. I could go on and on, but that point is that popular culture sets up this idea that men are sexual predators who need to resort to trickery and cologne to fulfill their one and only mission, which is sticking their penis in a girl.

It’s sad. It’s insulting. And it’s damaging.

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This way of looking at male sexuality conflates sexuality with predation. It means that he who posseses sexuality is assumed a predator.

That is obviously damaging to the vast majority of men who simply are not. They want and like sex just as much as the rest of us. However, it’s downright dangerous when you extrapolate that out to situations like the horror of Stubenville. It is this line of thinking that allows people to say, “boys will be boys.” As if this kind of predation is just natural for guys, when in fact it is not normal for guys to be predators. Most men are not predators.

Steubenville, and the way-too-many incidents like it, are not examples of natural male sexuality. There are examples of a violent rape culture than perpetuates the idea that predation is the natural manifestation of sex.

So with this in our mind’s eye, no, it is not possible for us to believe that heterosexual cis men can write about sex without being douchebags.  And that breaks my heart.  It breaks my heart as someone who loves men, in a whole lot of ways.

You do not need to trick us into sex, in fact, you shouldn’t. And you don’t need a cologne with bits of real panther to attract us. In fact, lay off the stuff, seriously. A little dab’ll do ya.

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So, how can we all work together to change our collective impression of male sexuality as something that is dangerous and disgusting? Besides the obvious—understanding male privilege, dismantling of patriarchal mythology and ending rape culture? Those issues are far too big for me to take on here, but without accomplishing those three, nothing changes. So while we work toward those goals, here are some steps to take along that path:

1. Be an ally. Help us stop the violence against women. I am assuming that none of you would do what happened in Stubenville, but would you have helped stop it? Have you been vocal about how wrong it was? About how that should not represent you or your sexuality?  From a societal perspective, we need your help. From a personal perspective, when we feel safe, we let our guards down, and that’s the first step to an intimate connection.

2. Ask women what they want, and listen to what they tell you. We are all different; we all want different things from the men in our life. Rather than getting lost in a frustrated guessing game, ask us. Listen to our answers. Tell us what you want, with words, and listen to our responses. Whether it’s sex or any other relationship, the best way to not be seen as predatory is to not act like a predator. And that means communication, not acquisition. Which, by the way, is also called consent. “Yes” is the safest word of all.

3. Let us in, don’t lure us in. Lay off the cologne, the pick-up lines, and the games. Please. Trust that you do not need to trick people into wanting you. Trust that you are worthy, just as you are. And that you deserve someone who wants you for who you actually are, how you actually are.

4. Don’t take it personally. Your self worth is in no way connected to whether or not some girl (or guy) wants you. I am constantly telling people to “Consider Cilantro.” (Seriously, I need that on a t-shirt.) Some people love cilantro. Some people think that cilantro tastes like tinfoil soaked in dish soap. That in no way reflects on the worthiness of  cilantro. And cilantro never takes it personally. If you can, don’t even think of it as rejection, you are just cilantro sometimes. After all, you’re not attracted to every person you meet, why would every person you meet be attracted to you?

5. And lastly,know that your body is beautiful. I, like most females, was warned that penises and balls and anuses were gross. I was told to hold my nose, close my eyes, get it over with. Imagine my disappointment when I saw my first penis and there were no festering boils hissing my name, no sulfurous clouds wafting up from a menacing member.  I thought it was kind of cute. As I learned more about them, I grew to love them, in and out. Hell, there are times when I was sure I heard angels giving hummers on high when I’ve see one. Most of us straight chicks really like your bodies. You don’t need to trick us into liking them. That is what makes us straight, after all.

However, they are not lures, and we are not fish. Do not, ever, show them to us unless we ask for it. The bonus for you is that when we ask for it, it’s because we want it, so you aren’t really risking rejection at that point, Mr. Cilantro.

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I am sorry that generations of lazy storytelling and bad media have perpetuated the myths of men as predators and women as victims. Or the idea that women’s purity is what can redeem the nastiness of male sexuality. It is wrong for both men and women alike.

But the only way we’re going to change it is together, and it’s gonna take time. We need to all be better. Oh, hey, I know, we need to come together—if we want to, that is. You can also come alone. Or with someone else. Aint’ no skin off my back, as long as it’s all consensual. And, hopefully, pleasurable.

Facebook acknowledges misogynistic pages

Success!

From the New York Times:

Facebook on Tuesday acknowledged that its systems to identify and remove hate speech had not worked effectively, as it faced pressure from feminist groups that want the site to ban pages that glorify violence against women.

The activists, who sent more than 5,000 e-mails to Facebook’s advertisers and elicited more than 60,000 posts on Twitter, also prompted Nissan and more than a dozen smaller companies to say that they would withdraw advertising from the site.

In a blog post, Facebook said its “systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate.” The company said it would review how it dealt with such content, update training for its employees, increase accountability — including requiring that users use their real identities when creating content — and establish more direct lines of communication with women’s groups and other entities.

Women’s groups have complained to Facebook about misogynous content in the past, but pressure on the company escalated last week when a collective led by Women, Action and the Media; Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project; and Soraya Chemaly, a writer and activist, published an open letter asking Facebook executives to “ban gender-based hate speech on your site.”

The letter highlighted Facebook pages with names like “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” and “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich,” and other pages that included graphic images of women being abused.

The groups asked Facebook to improve how it trains moderators to recognize and remove such content. They also asked Facebook users to use the Twitter hashtag #FBrape to call on companies to stop advertising on Facebook if their ads have been placed alongside such content. A petition on the site change.org had almost 224,000 supporters by Tuesday evening.

“We thought that advertisers would be the most effective way of getting Facebook’s attention,” said Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women, Action and the Media. “We had no idea that it would blow up this big. I think people have been frustrated with this issue for so long and feeling like that had no way for Facebook to pay attention to them. As consumers we do have a lot of power.”

David Reuter, a spokesman for Nissan, said in an interview on Tuesday that the automaker has stopped all advertising on Facebook until it could assure Nissan that its ads would not appear on pages with offensive content.

Nissan typically buys Facebook advertisements that target particular demographic groups, like men age 30 to 35, Mr. Reuter said. In Facebook’s system, those ads follow the users onto whatever pages they visit, potentially including those with offensive content.

“We are working with Facebook to understand this situation better and opt out of advertising on any pages that are offensive,” he said.

While more than a dozen smaller advertisers like Down Easy Brewing and eReader Utopia had agreed by Tuesday to remove their ads from Facebook, other major advertisers, including Zappos, Dove and American Express, stopped short of withdrawing their ads. Those companies did, however, issue responses through Facebook, e-mail or Twitter that they did not condone violence against women.

Dove, a beauty brand that has a campaign that focuses on “real beauty,” has come under intense pressure because of its marketing focus on women, Ms. Friedman said. One commenter on the Dove Facebook page wrote: “So, Dove, you’re willing to make money off of us, but not willing to lift a finger to let Facebook know violence against women isn’t acceptable?”

Representatives for Dove did not respond to requests for an interview, nor did representatives for Zappos or American Express.

Stacy Janicki, a senior partner and director of accounts at the advertising agency Carmichael Lynch, called Facebook’s response on Tuesday “a bit of a cop-out.”

“I think advertisers have a responsibility to consumers and media companies have a responsibility to advertisers to make sure they control the content on those sites,” Ms. Janicki, adding that as Facebook and other social media companies seek to secure more advertising dollars, advertisers will have the power to walk away from content that does not represent them well.

“That’s the power and the curse of social media,” she said. “You can put anything on there, but the benefit is that you can elevate it and scale it to where advertisers will listen and ultimately Facebook will listen.”

Vindu Goel contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 28, 2013

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the person who commented on the power of advertisers in social media. It was Stacy Janicki, of the advertising agency Carmichael Lynch, who said, “I think advertisers have a responsibility to consumers, and media companies have a responsibility to advertisers to make sure they control the content on those sites.” It was not “Ms. Lynch.” (No “Ms. Lynch” was quoted in the article.)

Dealing with social media negativity

Sometimes, social media can be amazing, and other times, it can make you want to run away screaming.  Here are a couple of examples:

“Amazing” = educating, and raising awareness about sexual violence…worldwide!  AND, social media can provide an outlet for survivors to find their voice (an anonymous blog, for instance).

“Run away screaming” = the people who use social media negatively to cause harm, and spew hatefulness all over the place (as in: misogyny, slut shaming, victim blaming, etc).

What are some things that you have seen on social media sites that have really pushed your buttons?  Did you choose to address the issues?  Wanting to “set the story straight,” and throw around facts and statistics might work for some of us, but for others, it can be intimidating.  And that’s okay!  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) has come up with some tips on how to deal with such negativity on social media:

1.       Stop the chain. Make a comment on the post that questions the messages that the post is reinforcing. That way, when your misguided cousin posts a joke about women, others might think twice about telling him how funny he is. Instead of a long list of “Lol…dumb bitches!” others will see your comment about how you don’t understand what’s so funny about it. Your cousin might feel challenged by this. Proceed to step 2.

2.       Take if offline. If you see something from someone in your life that you know and care about, think about ways you can talk with them about why these posts concern you. Send a quick text explaining what you saw, and why it matters to you. Identify the behavior (when I see posts like that, it seems sexist to me…) instead of making it about who you think they are (Dude, you’re sexist).

3.       Report the behavior. Thankfully, you do not have to be the internet police. In fact, social media sites often present policies and guidelines for appropriate and inappropriate content. If you see something that you think is over the line, report the behavior through the appropriate channels.

4.       Gather support for your cause. You’re a social media guru right? So, harness the power of social media and build support for your cause. Write a rousing blog post that challenges the norms, like one mother’s open letter to Facebook. Start a counter post that focuses on the positive instead, like Love is Louder. Join a group of like-minded folks who are also out to change the world.

5.       Employ the block button. If all else fails, you don’t need to give these hateful messages any more air time than they are already getting. Keep your cyber spaces clear of oppressive messaging. This will help you maintain the kind of atmosphere that fosters your own ideologies. Let your social media be a place to recharge your activist batteries, so you can go out and keep up your good work.

Read the full blog post from the NSVRC here.

Listen.

One of the most important pieces of advocacy is listening.  Active listening includes: being present in the moment, hearing without judgment, not interrupting, not planning what to say in response, and not comparing your story/experiences with the one you are hearing.  Ears, mind, and heart must all be open at the same time.

Learning to listen actively can take some time and practice, and that’s okay…it is a wonderful tool to have in every aspect of our lives.

 

A blurb about breasts

Earlier this week, the New York Times released an op-ed piece “My Medical Choice,” by actress Angelina Jolie, where she shared that she underwent a double mastectomy.  Jolie lost her mother at a young age to breast cancer, and the doctors advised her that she also had a very high chance of developing breast cancer.

In her op-ed piece, Jolie stated “I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

In response to her brave, personal decision… good for you!

There have been a lot of mixed reactions about her procedure on social media sites.  Where some people are able to see the inspiration, others do not.  There have been some horrible and distasteful statements on Twitter, for example, that say things like, “RIP Angelina Jolie’s rack. It’s a sad day for tit fans,” and “Angelina cut off her breasts, because she wasn’t getting enough attention.”

Let’s talk about the over sexualization of breasts for a minute.  When a woman shows cleavage, it is considered “sexy,” but also, she is “asking for it.”  When a woman conceals her cleavage, so she won’t be “asking for it,” she is considered a “prude.”  (Side note: people have the right to wear whatever they want.  Nobody “asks” to be raped, and clothes do not equal consent).  Also, when a woman is seen breastfeeding (the most natural thing on Earth) it is often considered “obscene.”  None of this is okay, and a person’s body belongs to that person, and nobody else.

 

An audit to Maine’s Military sexual assault laws!

Good news!

Lawmakers stand squarely behind measure to audit Maine military sex assault laws

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers showed strong support Monday for a resolve that directs the Maine National Guard to bring the state in line with federal guidelines related to the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual assault in the military.

The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee took the unusual step Monday of moving straight from an introductory public hearing to a recommendation vote on LD 1504, A Resolve Directing the Adjutant General of the State to Ensure the Maine Code of Military Justice Addresses Sexual Trauma in the Military. The committee voted unanimously in favor of its passage.

The resolve calls on Maine Adjutant General James Campbell to conduct a detailed assessment of the Maine Code of Military Justice and other provisions in Maine law, with the intention of bringing the issue back to the Legislature next year for possible action.

The resolve comes on the heels of a startling Pentagon study released last week that estimated at least 26,000 military personnel were assaulted in 2012, up sharply from 19,000 in 2010. That report and the recent arrest of an Air Force officer in charge of sexual prevention programs for sexual battery have put the issue in the spotlight.

Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, the primary sponsor of the bill, said the Pentagon study stirred strong reactions among Maine National Guard members and advocates fighting against sexual assault.

“It’s just a very emotional day for a lot of us,” Valentino said. “I wish this bill would do more but it’s moving forward. Let’s come back next session and pass something.”

Destie Hohman Sprague, program director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, agreed.

“This resolve is the first critical step at moving toward making some changes,” she said.

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, was one of 28 legislators who co-sponsored the bill, which gained bipartisan support. She said there is scant information about how many sexual assaults in the military are being reported in Maine, but hoped passage of the resolve would help make that information public.

“This is not out in the open; it’s one of the most hidden things that ever happens,” said Lachowicz, who is a social worker for victims of sexual assault. “There are a lot of people hurting and right now we don’t how they’re hurting. We can help them with their healing.”

William “Chick” Ciciotte of Topsham, retired from the military, implored lawmakers to do what common sense demands.

“I just don’t see any reason why anybody would disagree with this kind of legislation,” he said.

Advocates for the bill stressed that sexual assault happens to both men and women, which was backed by data from the Pentagon study, in which 6.1 percent of responding women and 1.2 percent of men said they had been victims of sexual assault in the military.

“Survivors should not fall through the cracks and offenders should not get off free,” said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Terry Moore, who is also the past chairwoman of the Maine Advisory Commission on Women Veterans.

“It goes without saying that sexual assault causes significant personal trauma to the victim,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “Military sexual assault is the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in female veterans. The Veterans Administration has linked it with higher rates of homelessness, depression and other mental health issues.”

Jill Barkley, public policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the Maine National Guard has made significant progress in recent years on training and raising awareness about sexual harassment, assault and domestic violence, but that more aggressive policies must be put into place.

“Their efforts must be coupled with supportive policies that seek to hold abusers accountable and promote victim safety and resilience,” said Barkley. While the ACLU is supportive of the resolve, Barkley said the organization has reservations about two sections of the resolve that would bar people with past convictions for sexual offenses from joining the military and the use of state and national sex offender registries, which Barkley said the ACLU opposes in general.

No one spoke Monday in opposition to the bill, which now heads to the full Legislature for passage.

Cleveland survivors return home

Earlier this week, three women who were missing for over a decade (and had no previous connection to one another), were found, and are now returning home.   This story is both heartbreaking and amazing.  Heartbreaking for the 10+ years of horror that they experienced; amazing for their survival and rescue.  Hopefully, they can now begin their healing and recovery processes, and the media will give them the respect and privacy to do so.

From The Washington Times:

Amanda Berry, fellow Cleveland captives turn to recovery after being kidnapped

Details began emerging Tuesday about the horrors endured by three Cleveland women who were kidnapped and held for a decade in a run-down house with plastic bags over the windows, but researchers on abductions and sexual assault say there will be a lot of help for them and their families.

As the sensational story developed, police encounters with the house in a poor neighborhood also began coming to light. They included separate calls from neighbors about seeing a nude woman crawling in the backyard and hearing pounding from inside the home’s doors.

The women, who reached freedom Monday night, “are now embarking on their next journey, and that’s the journey to heal,” said John Ryan, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which supported the hunt for two of the missing women, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus, who vanished as teens. The third woman, Michelle Knight, was reported as missing as an adult.

Mr. Ryan, whose group offers resources for family counseling for such traumas, called the escape “a day of celebration.”

“Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over,” said Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI office in Cleveland. “These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.”

Cleveland police have arrested three brothers — Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 — in the case. Criminal charges were expected to be filed by Wednesday.

According to NewsChannel 5 in Ohio, the three women endured multiple pregnancies during their years of captivity. At least five babies were born inside the home, and one victim had at least two miscarriages because she was so malnourished, reporters said. The house was boarded up in parts, some doors did not have knobs, and chains and tape were found inside.

Melissa Bermudez, a licensed clinical social worker at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest organization against sexual violence, said she couldn’t speak to the specifics of the Cleveland case but that victims of trauma and sexual violence generally need to “feel physically safe” as an important first step.

Next steps are commonly getting back into basic self-care — brushing one’s teeth, for instance — eating a good meal, reconnecting with loved ones, and re-establishing a sense of safety and stability, Ms. Bermudez said.

“Then they can really start working towards [addressing] the more complex parts of the trauma,” she said, noting that it’s not uncommon for certain sounds, smells and lighting in a room to trigger unpleasant memories.

The women were rescued Monday evening after Ms. Berry, 27, cried out for help to a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, from behind a nearly closed front door. When Mr. Ramsey saw her fighting to get through the door, he and another man came to her aid by kicking in the door. Ms. Berry and a little girl — believed to be her 6-year-old daughter — scrambled out.

They ran to a safe place, and Ms. Berry frantically called a 911 dispatcher and said, “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”

Police swiftly converged on 2207 Seymour Ave., a house near downtown Cleveland, and found two other women — Ms. DeJesus, 23, and Ms. Knight, 30 — who also vanished about a decade ago.

Authorities arrested homeowner Ariel Castro and his two brothers.

The three women and the girl were taken to a hospital and released Tuesday morning. Cleveland police Commander Keith Sulzer said they were with law enforcement specialists and family members.

“Those women are so strong. All have a positive attitude,” Sandra Ruiz, aunt of Ms. DeJesus, told reporters Tuesday. “What we’ve done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive.”

However, two neighbors in the mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood where the women were held said they had alerted police to suspicions regarding the Castro home.

Elsie Citron, whose daughter saw the naked woman some years ago, told reporters that she called law enforcement, “but they didn’t take it seriously.”

Israel Lugo said that when he called about hearing noises from inside the home 18 months ago, police merely knocked on the door, and when they didn’t get an answer they “walked to side of the house and then left.”

According to The Associated Press, police went to the home at least one other time since the women were kidnapped, but on an unrelated matter that led to no arrests or official action.

Cleveland police have been accused of incompetence and not noticing crimes in poor and minority neighborhoods. In 2009, Anthony Sowell was arrested after 11 women’s bodies were found buried in his home and yard in another run-down neighborhood. Many of Sowell’s victims — he is now on Ohio’s death row — were addicts whose disappearances were barely investigated.

In the latest case, Ms. Knight vanished in August 2002 when she was 19 and was reported missing by her family. Her mother, Barbara Knight, moved to Florida but often returned to West Cleveland to search for her daughter.

Ms. Berry was last seen April 2003 leaving her job at Burger King in a car with an unidentified driver. She was 16.

Ms. DeJesus vanished while walking home from school when she was 14.

Ms. Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, died in March 2006 after being hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other ailments. Her relentless search for her daughter took a toll on her health, family and friends said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Abstinence only education is harmful

From thinkprogress.org:

Elizabeth Smart: Abstinence Education Teaches Rape Victims They’re Worthless, Dirty, And Filthy

Elizabeth Smart became a household name after she was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, UT at the age of 14 and held in captivity for nine months. She was forced into a polygamous marriage, tethered to a metal cable, and raped daily until she was rescued from her captors nine months later. Smart was recovered while she and her kidnappers were walking down a suburban street, leading many Americans who followed her story on the national news to wonder:Why didn’t she just run away as soon as she was brought outside?

Speaking to an audience at Johns Hopkins about issues of human trafficking and sexual violence, Smart recently offered an answer to that question. She explained that some human trafficking victims don’t run away because they feel worthless after being raped, particularly if they have been raised in conservative cultures that push abstinence-only education and emphasize sexual purity:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Now in her mid-twenties, Smart runs a foundation to help educate children about sexual crimes. She now believes that children should grow up learning that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

Social psychologists and sexual abuse counselors agree that comprehensive sex education can help prevent sexual crimes. Teaching children about their bodies gives them the tools to describe acts of abuse without feeling as embarrassed or uncomfortable, and it also helps elevate their self-confidence and sense of bodily autonomy. A shame-based approach to genitalia and sexuality, on the other hand, sends kids the message that they can’t discuss or ask questions about any of those issues.

Nonethless, abstinence-only education programs have a long history of imparting harmful messages that shame youth about their sexuality instead of teaching them the facts they needto safeguard their health. A high school in West Virginia recently made national headlines after hosting a conservative religious speaker who allegedly told students “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” In Smart’s home state of Utah — which is home to a large religiously conservative Mormon community — sex education is currently mandated, but lawmakers have repeatedly pushed to weaken the state law and reinstate an abstinence-only curriculum.

Every Month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

“Never get tired of doing little things for others, because sometimes, those little things occupy the biggest parts of their hearts.” – unknown 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is May 2nd, which means Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) ended two days ago.  However, that does not mean we stop educating, advocating, and raising awareness. Every month is SAAM for us!

We would like to say THANK YOU (!!!) to everyone who volunteered, and/or participated in our SAAM events this year, in all three counties. Your support for our agency, and for sexual assault survivors means everything. There will be more events happening throughout the year, so please stayed tuned for updates =)