Monthly Archives: January 2014

Human trafficking and the Super Bowl

Super Bowl XLVIII and Human Trafficking: An Outdoor Campaign Connect the Two, via Forbes:

Throughout Super Bowl Week a massive outdoor advertising campaign will be taking place in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area aimed at raising awareness about the domestic human trafficking crisis. As part of partnership between thePolaris Project and Clear Channel Outdoor, digital spots will appear on the stretch from Herald Square to Times Square that’s been dubbed “Super Bowl Alley.” In addition, billboards throughout the region will promote awareness, putting all too human faces on the business of human trafficking. The images in the campaign are simple black and white photos of the victims of this modern slavery epidemic. The messaging is direct. For example : “Human Trafficking was reported in all 50 states last year.”

It’s highly unusual for a serious public interest campaign to take place amidst all the hoopla surrounding this de facto national holiday. As much as its about football, the Super Bowl is a championship competition of splashy commercial messages. It’s especially true this year when Super Bowl XLVIII is taking place at Giants Stadium across the river from media capital of the world. Attempting to shoehorn in as serious message about human trafficking is a delicate business in such media environs, where people are expecting images of hot cars, hot bodies and cold beers.

“People who are interested in the Super Bowl are a lot more multi-dimensional in what they care and think about than we may give them credit for,” says Suzanne Grimes, president of Clear Channel Outdoor North America. “This was too golden an opportunity to raise awareness about human trafficking. It would have been irresponsible if we hadn’t seized this opportunity.”

The Super Bowl campaign has its roots in Grimes taking the helm of Clear Channel Outdoor a little over a year ago. Clear Channel Outdoor had been doing some regional work for Polaris, promoting the advocacy group’s hot line, but it seemed to Grimes much more was needed to be done to raise awareness. Human trafficking, estimated by the United Nations to be a $32 billion illegal business, is seen as more of an international problem than a domestic one. Grasping the scope of the problem, Grimes saw that Clear Channel Outdoor was well-positioned to give the non-profit a private sector boost it sorely needed. A savvy media executive, Grimes has held senior publishing positions at Conde Nast, and was most recently in a top post at Readers Digest before joining Clear Channel Outdoor. She understood that Polaris was up against an illegal, highly sophisticated industry. To raise awareness about what could be done to fight human trafficking, a sophisticated marketing campaign was essential for any meaningful impact.

The Super Bowl week campaign, which launches today, is scheduled to run for two weeks. Clear Channel Outdoorl estimates the anti-trafficking message will deliver 10 million unique impressions. According to industry estimates, if Polaris had to pony up  for the campaign it would cost several hundred thousands of dollars to produce and place. Polaris has been eager not only to raise awareness that this is a domestic problem, as well as to push for stronger anti-trafficking legislation and enforcement. New York being a key target state for those efforts. “We knew we needed this kind of support if we were going to continue to make progress,” says Polaris Project CEO Bradley Myles. “We need to be front and center for there to be a major leap in awareness that this is problem. As the campaign says, this in an issue ’365 days a year,’ not just during Super Bowl week.”

Challenging rape culture on college campuses

White House Report on Sexual Assault: we need to dig deeper, via NSVRC:

Last week, I was happy to see the release of the new report from the White House Council on Women and Girls, Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.  I, like many, was excited to find out what this “renewed call to action” was all about.  As I flipped through the report, I was struck by the number of accomplishments that have been achieved over the past several years when it comes to responding to sexual violence.  Improving the criminal justice, legal, medical, and institutional response to sexual violence is vital in our efforts to address sexual violence.  These efforts play a key role in the comprehensive approach to preventing, and ultimately eliminating, sexual violence.

But when it comes to primary prevention, I felt that the report fell short.   There is mention of culture change, which I appreciate.  But that seems to be the buzz phrase of the hour right now.   A huge (and I would argue a most important) piece of the prevention puzzle is still missing.  What I want is a deeper discussion of the culture we are trying to change.  Most of the prevention efforts in the report focus on the bystander engagement approach and involving men in social norms change efforts.  We ask these bystanders to get involved, men to get involved, and also some organizations to change.  But culture change is bigger than that.

I’m a fan of many bystander engagement programs.  But many of these programs put most of the focus on changing individual behavior.  I would love to see more programs, especially on campuses, that focus on a broader approach to helping systems and organizations in challenging rape culture.  I was so excited this morning to listen to two amazing women talk about what they are doing to address power-based violence and rape culture on their campuses.   Check out this PreventConnect podcast with Vickie Sides from the University of Chicago and Rachel Caidor from the University of Illinois at Chicago as they talk about the need to dig deeper and challenge rape culture as part of our sexual violence prevention efforts.   I hope it is as inspiring to you as it was to me.

I’ve been doing this work for 16 years now.  I remember a time when we were barely scratching the surface when it came to prevention work.  Many of the current prevention programs are starting to dig beyond that surface.  But we need to dig deeper if we want to get to the root of the issue.

What are your thoughts on the White House report?  What are your ideas for “digging deeper”?

Presidential memorandum for college sexual assault

Obama Targets College Sexual Assault Epidemic, via ABC News:

President Barack Obama is launching an initiative to combat sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, turning the spotlight on a problem that has devastated millions of Americans yet rarely receives such White House attention.

Obama planned to sign a presidential memorandum Wednesday [1/22/14] creating a task force to protect students from sexual assault, with a new White House report declaring that no one in America is more at risk of being raped or assaulted than college women. The report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” says that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted at college but that only 12 percent of student victims report the assault.

The report was compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls and was being released Wednesday, but the White House provided an advance copy to The Associated Press. It says nearly 22 million American women and 1.6 million men have been raped in their lifetimes, with victims more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse and a wide range of physical ailments, including chronic pain and diabetes.

The report says rape’s prevalence is highest at college, fueled by drinking and drug use that can incapacitate victims. Obama is giving the task force of administration officials 90 days to come up with recommendations for colleges to prevent and respond to sexual assault, increase public awareness of each school’s track record and enhance coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they don’t confront the problem.

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, chair of the Council on Women and Girls, said men must be involved to combat the problem and the president wants to lead a cultural shift of men speaking out. “The president is committed to solving this problem, not just as president of the United States, but as a father of two girls” who will soon be heading to college, Jarrett said in an interview.

The report also declares that the criminal justice response to sexual assault is too often inadequate and lays out a goal of increasing arrest, prosecution and conviction rates without any specific targets. The report blames police bias and a lack of training to investigate and prosecute sex crimes for low arrest rates and says the federal government should promote training and help police increase testing of DNA evidence collected from victims.

The report mentions the wave of sexual assault in the military — Obama last month gave the Pentagon a year to better prevent and respond to the crime within its ranks or face further reforms. White House officials say they want to set the example by turning around the sexual assault epidemic in the military.

Obama is bringing Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to the Oval Office on Wednesday to press them to work on the problem. Then he plans to join an ongoing meeting of his Council on Women and Girls attended by more Cabinet members in the East Room, where he is to sign the memorandum creating the task force. Vice President Joe Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act and has led other efforts to reduce sexual assault, also plans to attend.

Breaking the silence

Op-ed: What It’s Like Coming Out As A Sexual Assault Survivor, via

Until I told my mother I’d been raped, I’d never been so aware of the silence on the other end of a receiver. I called her the morning after the attack, and I counted the seconds of nothingness. The quiet felt how I felt, and the numbering gave me a rhythm and a sense of time I was trying to find again, like children filling their seconds with Mississippis. One, nothing. Two, nothing. Three, nothing. Four, nothing. Calling your parents during an emergency is a reflex we learn as children — from PSAs and after-school specials — but enduring the silence served another purpose. When my mother was younger than I, she was sexually assaulted at a rock concert, which she has been frank about with me since I was a kid. This is what we are born into, she wanted to say. Welcome to the world, baby boy.

I didn’t realize at the time that this was now something we shared — to add to our passed-down noses and eerily similar elbows. When I look at my mother, I see parts of myself that I love and other parts it’s difficult to face, my life distorted like in a funhouse mirror. At this moment, I was glad I didn’t have to see how I looked upside down in her reflection. Of course, I thought I knew what was at the end of the line, but I was relieved to hear her start crying anyway — tears of love, sorrow, and frustration. The love part, I knew, was easy. She would love me the same way she always had, with a devotion that often verged on socially acceptable obsession, the everyday pathologies of parenthood. She was mad about me. That could never change.

It’s the frustration that’s the hard part, knowing that you aren’t going through this alone. I wouldn’t understand this until years later, when I started talking about my experiences with sexual assault. I came out as a survivor in an open letter to my assailant; even though we would likely never speak again, I wanted to hold him accountable for what happened that night. He was the phantom that lived inside me, and sometimes I wondered if I made the whole thing up, a drug dream shared one night with a stranger, and I needed to exorcise him. The words made finally him real, even if I was still figuring out what I wanted to say. In my initial letter, I called him “the guy who molested me,” because it felt easier to write and I wasn’t ready for the alternative yet. It took years to be ready.

Before I posted my letter to social media, I was so terrified of what the reaction would be that I closed my computer and finished a bottle of wine to dull my senses; I didn’t want to feel anymore. It was like a part of me was being ripped out, as if I had to come out all over again. I was asking my friends to love every part of me — even my pain, those quiet moments in the bathroom the next morning when I didn’t know if I could live with this. Did I want to exist as a person who had such a fact about them? For me, coming out was finally answering that question, and the “yes” was overwhelming. My Facebook page poured over with love, the affirmations as infinite as a midday sky I was seeing for what felt like the first time. I stepped onto the balcony of my Paris apartment, and the cars barreling through the boulevard below kept moving as if nothing was different. It was just another day.

Of course, it wasn’t different. That was both soothing and sobering.

According to statistics, one in three women and one in 33 men in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. That number never felt real to me until I shared my rage with others who had been through the same experience. I was grateful for the support of friends and loved ones, but I also found an unexpected community of people who were also survivors of sexual assault. Some were people I already knew; others I met through comment boards or email. Total strangers I only knew online proved so willing to open up to me about their experiences that I realized how necessary a support system was as survivors, the people who share our ghosts and know what it means to be haunted. They help the past make more sense to us, and through their struggles and their triumphs, they also show us what a future can be. This is the winter light we walk toward.

I don’t know where my rapist is now, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think about him. He’s in every line and poem that I read, like the inverse of a great romance. On cold days, I used look him up on Facebook to see what he was doing, knowing that he probably doesn’t even remember who I am. To him, I’m just some college boy he got high with one night, when he was too stoned and drunk to hear me crying and to take no for an answer. I used to wonder what he thought my tears meant, if he thought that’s how people make love, and I used to hope he was haunted too. I hoped I followed him everywhere, watching him bag his milk or iron his shirts. However, it took me years to realize he didn’t even deserve my ghost; he deserves nothingness. When you’re assaulted, it feels like everything takes years.

I came out as a survivor two years ago. I’m still counting, but the space between doesn’t feel so empty anymore.


NICO LANG is a correspondent and blogger for WBEZ (Chicago’s NPR affiliate), the cocreator ofIn Our Words, and a graduate student in DePaul University’s media and cinema studies program. He writes about LGBTQ issues in Chicago and contributes to the Los Angeles Times, Thought Catalog, and The Huffington Post.

We’re hiring!

Rural Outreach Advocate

Job Description:
Northern Oxford County Advocate will identify, assess and appropriately respond to victims of sexual assault, in rural areas or rural communities. Provide victims/survivors information about community resources and strategies for enhancing safety. Staff school drop in services and respond to advocacy and support needs of students. Provide educational/support groups for survivors of sexual assault. Support survivors with obtaining protection from abuse orders when needed. Connect with school personnel, law enforcement, and other community resources to facilitate referrals for services. Staff helpline, and provide direct client service when necessary.

Job Requirements:
Knowledge of sexual violence and its impacts, excellent verbal and written communication skills, ability to work independently and as part of a team, reliable transportation a must.

Education Requirements: 
Bachelor’s degree in related field, or equivalent life or work experience.

paid vacation and sick time, health and dental insurance, 403b plan, professional development opportunities.

Full time, annual salary $30,000.00

If you are interested, please submit your resume, cover letter, and references via e-mail, mail, or fax by January 21, 2014 to:

Stephanie LeBlond, Oxford Site Coordinator
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services
P.O. Box 300
South Paris, Maine 04281

Phone: (207) 743-9777
Fax: (207) 743-2677

Consent “102”

Consent 102: Clarifying the Gray Spaces, via The Good Men Project:

I learned how to put the moves on a girl watching Danny and Sandy [Grease, pictured above]. Most memorable—and easiest to understand for my 10 year old self—was his fake sneeze at the drive-in. From hands and arms at his side, to arm on the seat behind her, to fake sneeze and arm on her shoulder, he was smooth.

Things went downhill from there, literally and figuratively. When Danny started groping Sandy, she objected. Strongly. Got out of the car and walked away. He lamented being alone at the drive-in, but didn’t understand what went wrong. At 10, I went with the storyline (and stereotypes) and saw her as prudish. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and had a fair amount of experience that I realized what was missing: her consent.  I also realized that he’s mauling her, not groping her, but that’s a different story.


I grew up in the 1970s and was taught “no means no.” In my 20s, I went on a few dates with a young woman. After an activity out (dinner, movie, etc.), we’d ended up back at one of our places and make out. At the beginning of each make out session, she’d tell me how far we’d be going, saying something like “no hands under shirts.” And then she’d inevitably take us across that line, moving my hand under shirt.

I didn’t have a good framework for how to understand what was going on and had no idea what to do when someone said no and then changed it to yes in the middle of making out. I wasn’t very good at the relationship thing at that point, so instead of talking about it, I just stopped calling her. Retrospectively, that wasn’t my best move, but it was the only thing I could figure out at the time.

Today, we teach kids that “yes means yes” and “no means no.” I think that would have helped my 20something self. Then again, there’s still a lot of nonverbal communication and indirect messaging that happens as a two-some moves from no sexual contact through their first sex together. These messages can be difficult to understand, and contribute to the notion that men and women come from different planets. The challenges are magnified for teens and others with relatively little experience in the dating and sexual realms.

That lack of experiences often turns into a reliance on gender stereotypes and images presented by mass media, including porn. In those realms, it’s usually the guy’s responsibility to make the moves and girls rarely say—or mean—no for any length of time.

Below are some guidelines to help understand and navigate the grey areas so they become black and white. We’re big on consent here at GMP, whether those are lessons for teens or kids age 1-21.

The Indirect No.

Girls are given a double message about the word no. They’re taught to say it clearly when something sexually is happening that they don’t like. And they’re taught that being someone’s friend—and especially being someone’s girlfriend—means agreeing, or at least going along with, whatever their partner suggests in order to maintain or strengthen the relationship. This gets reinforced through lessons on politeness; a flat “no” may be considered incredibly rude.

So, when confronted with a situation where he is stereotypically pushing for more intimate sexual contact, she says things like “what if someone walks in on us?,” “what if I get pregnant?,” or “this [car/sofa/etc.] isn’t the right place.” All of these are indirect ways of saying either “no” or “not yet.” But boys are rarely given the decoder ring—there’s no male version of Seventeen to explain it to them—so they interpret this as either some form of making excuses or as a problem that needs to be solved. If he believes she’s making excuses, a nice guy will take this as some version of no and back off, while a jerk will continue to pressure her because he thinks she doesn’t know how to say yes.

On the other hand, he may understand “what if someone walks in on us?” as a problem to be solved. Being a problem solver—whether that’s figuring out how to get to the next level of Halo, finding a way to beat a 4-6 defense, fixing stuff around the house, or making the electronics play together nicely—is part of our (stereotypical) expectations of guys. With a goal of having sex and a problem of “someone might walk in on us,” he’s likely to start looking for solutions. He’ll get frustrated when she rejects each solution or finds additional problems to solve and she’ll get frustrated because he doesn’t understand her “no.”

There’s a simple solution though: ask/say if the message is really “not yet” or if it’s “no, never.” And remember that not yet doesn’t mean stop, it means keep doing what you’re doing but don’t go any farther.

Grunting & Groping

It’s not the clearest form of communication, but permission is often granted nonverbally. It’s one of the findings of a long line of research by University of Kansas researcher Charlene Muehlenhard, who has spent the last two decades studying sexual consent among college students. Her research indicates consent is often given nonverbally, often with one person—typically the guy—putting his hand (or mouth or whatever) someplace it hasn’t been before. He might rest it there for a moment, implicitly asking if it’s okay, before doing anything. If his partner doesn’t like it, she (or he) can move it away. If she just stops but doesn’t say anything, that should be understood as no.

If he’s going too fast, or repeatedly puts his hand someplace where his partner doesn’t want it, then she may stop the action completely. Just ask Danny Zuko.

There’s a simple way to make this more explicit. When that hand gets to a new place, break the liplock for half a second and ask “is this okay?”

Be Explicit

Don’t ask about “doing it” or “hooking up” because those terms are ambiguous. Ask or tell the person what you want to do and if they’re okay with that behavior. Lack of vocabulary probably won’t be a problem. Be reasonably specific; if it helps you can be very technically specific—I want to put my tongue in your mouth and move it back and forth—and laugh about it.

If you’re not comfortable saying it out loud—whether it is about permission to cuddle, kiss, or penetrate—then you’re not ready to do it.


All of these forms of consent rely on the assumption that you’re both at least reasonably sober and otherwise capable of giving consent. If she’s passed out, as in Steubenville or Maryville, then there’s no consent. These guidelines also assume that both girls and guys can refuse sex and that people will stop when asked to do so. And even though I’ve mostly written for a male-female couple, these guidelines should work for any pairing.

Sports and rape culture

My Love-Hate Relationship with Football, via National Sexual Violence Resource Center:

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a hard time getting out of my usual post-holiday slump.  New Year’s Day found me on the couch, channel surfing as I could not bring myself to do much else.  I decided to binge-watch a television show (I’ve been informed that this is what people do now – sitting down for hours at a time, watching multiple seasons of a TV show, so I decided to give it a try).  I’ve had many friends recommend the show, Friday Night Lights, to me.  So I gave it a try.  For those not in the know, this TV show centers around a small Texas town and their high school football team.   Four episodes in, I felt a slight connection to a few of the characters but could not wrap my mind around the importance being placed on the game of football.  I remember high school football games and cross-town rivalries, but nothing like this.  Businesses sponsoring the sports teams with obscene amounts of money, quarterbacks being idolized, parents hell-bent on seeing their kid make it to the big leagues at any cost.  I just couldn’t understand the appeal, so I stopped watching.

Then a few days later, I found myself getting caught up in the playoffs.  It’s easy to say I don’t care, but when it comes down to the final month of football and both of my state’s teams are in the running for the championship, I can’t help but get a bit excited.  So, I watch.  And a huge part of me dies inside because I hate almost everything about it – the violent nature of the sport, the idolization of the players (in my case: on one team, an alleged rapist and on the other, a convicted dog-killer), the obscene amount of money from corporate sponsors, the huge salaries of the players, the sexist and misogynistic messaging and advertising – the list goes on and on.  But something pulls me in, and I keep watching. And all the sudden I start seeing the connections.  This is our culture (or at least the culture that media, corporations, and advertisers want us to buy into).  This is what is important to us.  This is what we choose to invest in.  This is what it means to be a “real man”.  It starts early – all of the hoopla around high-school football (and pee-wee football, as seen in this preview for a new show called Friday Night Tykes – appalling, to say the least) filters down from our society’s idolization of sports teams, athletes, and support of “jock culture”.  And I’m conflicted.  Sports aren’t bad, but the way we put so much emphasis and importance on the game and the players is.  One only need look at recent cases like those in Steubenville, at Florida State University, and Vanderbilt to see the connection between jock culture and rape culture.  Dave Zirin points this out in an article he wrote for The Nation following the Steubenville rape trial verdict:

“We need to ask whether there’s something inherent in the men’s sports of the twenty-first century, which so many lionize as a force for good, that can also create a rape culture of violent entitlement. I am not asking if playing sports propels young men to rape. I am asking if the central features of men’s sports—hero worship, entitlement and machismo—make incidents like Steubenville more likely to be replicated.”

So, there’s a little gem to think about as we head into the final few weekends of playoffs, culminating in the all-important Super Bowl.   Will you be watching the Super Bowl?  I’m on the fence about attending a Super Bowl party.  Perhaps I’ll just go for the food.  Maybe I’ll stay home and watch a Downton Abbey marathon in protest.  Care to share your thoughts?  Feel free to comment below.

Be an active bystander

Remember Isaac. Stand up to bullies., via Bangor Daily News (Maine Focus):

“My name’s Isaac,” the email began. “I just wanted to let you know I love what you guys are doing. I have lots of friends who have been badly bullied and have always tried to help against bullying as much as I can. I myself have been hassled about acting gay (even though I’m straight).”

At MECASA, one of several projects we’ve developed in the last few years is the Backbone Zone, a social marketing campaign designed to encourage bystander intervention. It is geared toward older students, uses the language they use, and incorporates provocative images to get conversations started. We’ve gotten a considerable amount of response, including a community feature on BuzzFeed and requests from all over the world for the posters associated with the campaign.

But none of the responses pulled at our heartstrings like Isaac’s email.

Recently, I traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to present at a national conference about the creation of the Backbone Zone as a social marketing tool. While I was there, I was asked by an audience member, “What do you do about parents who are resistant to your messaging?”

I was prepared for this question. I launched into the importance of using the language students use to reflect it back to them, and how we’ve realized that in order to talk about bullying and sexual harassment, we have to say the words.

I talked about the importance of recognizing that students know when we’re skirting around an issue – so why not just come out, say it, and have a conversation about it? I talked about how having those same conversations with parents who are worried about “certain words” on posters is an important first step.

“No,” she interrupted. “What if parents are the ones using the language?”

I hadn’t really thought of it in that context. Of course I’ve encountered such adults in my own personal and professional life, but all of the resistance we met with regard to the Backbone Zone was from people worried about the use of “certain words” on posters. It wasn’t about whether the adults in question used homophobic and sexist language.

I don’t exactly remember my answer; it was something along the lines of what I’ve written about here before. Then, yesterday while I was cleaning out my email (getting ready for the new year and all), I came across Isaac’s emails from late October.

In one of our back and forth emails, I asked him what he did/does to stop bullying in his school – if there was anything specific that happened, or if it was a general thing he did with his friends on a regular basis. He responded minutes later.

“I always stand up for people if other people are gossiping about them, in my mind gossip can hurt someone more than saying or doing something to their face. And if I ever saw someone being hassled I would just tell the people doing it to lay off, because that type of stuff is just not all right, and it’s not all right to just walk past it and pretend you didn’t see it. People need to realize that it’s okay to stand up to bullies and help other people out.”

Rereading Isaac’s emails, and thinking back to the audience member’s question, I know that there are times in my own life – despite my profession and my belief in being an engaged community member – where I’ve walked by and pretended I didn’t see or hear something. Sometimes it’s easier to walk by than to explain that bullying and sexual harassment can lead to sexual violence perpetration, because there’s so much resistance to that idea. Sometimes I’m tired, it’s been a long day, and launching into that sort of thing is the last thing I feel like doing.

But then again, Isaac is right: It’s not all right to just keep going.

So along with shoveling out my email (keeping Isaac’s messages in my “When You’re Tired Read This” folder) and pretending that I’ll never let my inbox get so out of control again, I’m recommitting myself to standing up to bullies and helping other people out. It’s not just kids – it’s adults, too. And as an adult, it’s up to me to be as engaged as I think young people should be.

Care to join me?

January is Stalking Awareness Month

January 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of Stalking Awareness Month.

“Stalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

If you or someone you know is being stalked, please call us at 1-800-871-7741 (Maine only) or 1-866-656-4673 (national) for help and support. You do not have to go through this alone.