Monthly Archives: July 2014

Campus sexual assault

Senators Offer Bill to Curb Campus Assault, via The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation designed to curb the startling number of sexual assaults on college campuses. The measure would require schools to make public the result of anonymous surveys concerning assault on campuses, and impose significant financial burdens on universities that fail to comply with some of the law’s requirements.

The legislation comes as the White House is putting increased pressure on colleges and universities. The administration formed a task force in January to address the issue, and the group found that one in five female college students in the United States has been assaulted.

“Very rarely does a bill become a truly collaborative process, and this bill has been truly collaborative and bipartisan,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, who has spent the last several months studying the problem of sexual assault on campus.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education released the names of 55 colleges and universities that are under investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints. It was the first time a comprehensive list of colleges under investigation for potential violations of federal antidiscrimination law under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was made public, further pressuring Congress to act.

The new measure would require every university in the United States to conduct anonymous surveys of students about their experience with sexual violence on campus, with the results published online. The survey, which had been pushed for by sexual assault victims, is similar to one conducted by the military, and would allow parents and high school students to make comparative choices.

The bill would also increase the financial risk for schools that do not comply with certain requirements of the bill, like conducting the surveys. Schools would face possible penalties of up to 1 percent of their operating budget; previously, universities that violated student rights in sexual assault cases risked the loss of federal funding, but the punishment was never been applied and lawmakers said it was impractical.

The bill increases penalties under the Clery Act — a federal law requiring all colleges and universities receiving federal financial aid to disclose information about campus crimes — to up to $150,000 per violation, from $35,000. Last year, the Department of Education fined Yale University $165,000 for failing to disclose four sexual offenses involving force that had occurred over several years, and other schools have also been fined.

The proposed legislation would also require colleges and universities to provide confidential advisers to help victims report their crime and receive services. Schools would be prohibited from punishing a student for things like underage drinking if they are reporting a sexual violence claim.

Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, co-founders of End Rape on Campus, a group that provides support for students who are filing sexual assault complaints, also attended the news conference.

At Occidental College, Ms. Clark said, students accused of rape are punished by being assigned book reports. “This is the state of colleges and universities in America,” she said “and we have the power to change that.”

Ms. Pino spoke of waking up one Sunday morning in a pool of blood with bruises from her attack. “I was told I just couldn’t handle college,” she said.

Some colleges expressed concerns about the legislation.

“Colleges are simply unable to play judge, jury and executioner when they’re already having trouble playing educator,” Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said in a written statement. “Resources are limited and colleges must put their focus on their primary objective: education.”

The bill attracted a diverse group of co-sponsors, including Ms. McCaskill, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, as well as other members of both parties.

The bill, “aims to codify much of what the Department of Education is already encouraging or requiring universities to do as part of their obligations under Title IX,” said Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England University School of Law and expert on Title IX. “However, it makes a big difference to have these requirements spelled out in a statute versus a policy interpretation issued by the agency, because a statute is more permanent.”

The provisions of this legislation that would create financial penalties for noncompliance “is a real game-changer,” Ms. Buzuvis added, “because it creates, for the first time, an incentive for universities to address campus sexual assault in a proactive manner.”

“Our students deserve better than this,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted.”

End slut shaming

Why You Should Stop Saying ‘Slut’ and What to Say Instead, via Everyday Feminism:

How would you describe that low-cut, tight dress you just bought for your best friend’s party? Would you call it sexy? daring? fun? Or would you use a more negative term like “slutty?”

And that fun one-night stand your neighbor had last weekend – would you describe her actions as adventurous or “skanky?”

The word slut is a common slur in our modern day vernacular. No doubt, it still carries weight if said with malicious intent.

But in recent years, the word has become deeply ingrained into our culture to the point where people say it too easily and too casually.

As innocuous as using pejorative terms may seem when used in reference to clothing or the activities of others, they undoubtedly still imply negativity surrounding female sexuality.

And using them just validates the societal standard of a perfect, virginal-until-marriage, demure woman as an ideal.

I’ve often asked myself “What can we do about this nasty, negative word choice that is so standard in our culture?” Maybe learning more about the word itself – and more empowering words we can use instead – is a good start.

What Are We Really Saying?

Many of us have been called a slut at some point in our lives — or have thrown the epithet at someone else. But what does it really mean?

The word “slut” originates in Old English, meaning a “messy, dirty, or untidy” woman or girl. Because of this, it was frequently used as a term for kitchen maids and servant girls. By the 15th century, the word took on the meaning of a “promiscuous woman” as well.

Think about it: Have you ever called someone a slut, whether in jest or seriously? What did it mean to you? And what do you think it meant to the person it was directed toward?

Slut-Shaming: Are You Guilty, Too?

To slut-shame means to “degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity.”

Most of us, whether we realize it or not, have judged or degraded someone (usually a woman)for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage.

It happens all the time. That young celebrity who wears something more daring than her usual attire is automatically described in terms of “her slutty side.” We see a beautiful woman who is wearing heavy makeup and comment on how she is lovely, but she looks like a stripper. We condemn our sexual thoughts as slutty instead of explorative.

As a culture, we are quick to use words that paint female sexuality as disgraceful – even if we don’t realize that we are doing it.

Think: Have you ever called yourself (or someone else) a slut when your true feelings weren’t ones of disgust or disapproval?

Did you even consider using an alternative word? Or was slut the first thing – almost the natural thing – that came to mind?

And more importantly, what consequences do your words really have?

Slut-Shaming Can Have Serious Repercussions

For some young women, the stigma of “slut” is so hurtful that it leaves their lives in ruins.

Take Rehtaeh Parsons of Canada, who was allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online. She was afterwards bullied and slut-shamed mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC, “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her, asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped. People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’ Girls texting, saying, ‘You’re such a slut.’”

This story is a modern tragedy, fueled by cyber-bullying and slut-shaming. The girls and boys who taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly probably had no idea how deep their words cut until it was too late.

Why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did other girls – some of whom conceivably had endured similar experiences (because hell, they live in this messed-up society, too) – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

While the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists, it is possible that if Rehtaeh hadn’t been labeled a “slut” and endured the cruel bullying that she did, she might be alive today.

Tragically, this type of cyber-slut-shaming is not uncommon among the younger generations.

Imagine how it would feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls. To have hurtful names like “slut,” “whore,” and “skank” assigned to you by people who barely know you. To be judged harshly and without caution for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do.

These young women were intensely slut-shamed, and had their very traumatic experiences invalidated by judgment from their peers. Their very worth was brought into question because people chose to side with the rapists instead of the victims.

Slut-shaming is rape culture, plain and simple. And for some people, it is utterly life-destroying.

Slut-Shaming Doesn’t End Just Because We Grow Up

Whether in the dating world, the professional arena, education, or in friendshipsadult femalesare not immune to slut-shaming either.

Women are not only the favored targets of slut-shaming, but very often the perpetrators as well. Due to generations of internalized sexism, women often reject their sexually promiscuous peers as worthy companions or friends – even as adults.

Cornell University study puts this theory to the test, revealing that college-aged women are much less likely to form deep friendships with promiscuous women.

When most of us have spent our childhoods being taught that gaining male validation is the route to power, and even happiness, it is not surprising that many women will view their sexually explorative peers as threats. This may cause women to lash out against other women in an attempt to rise above the competition.

And this isn’t the case only in heterosexual dating either. Many bisexual women are considered “greedy” or “slutty” for the mere fact of their bisexuality.

Is any of this fair? No.

Is it valid? Hell no.

Does it hurt women of all races, ages, and sexual orientations? Yes.

Internalized sexism is a disease, and by carelessly throwing around sexist, hurtful epithets like “slut” and “skank,” we all act as the carriers.

Sluts Versus Studs

The double standard remains: Why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut, but a boy who has sex is a stud/player?

In movies, on television, in magazines, and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” willy-nilly when talking about women. But men are held to a very different standard.

As a society, what are we teaching our children? that a girl or woman is a dirty, unclean, and unworthy because she has sexual desire? that because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? that women should ignore or otherwise not act upon sexual desires even though men should and do?

Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

It’s simple: The word slut is a decidedly female insult, and using it enhances gender discrimination.

Dumping the Word Itself

We may not be able to change the way that others talk to each other right away, but we can start by presenting an example with our own behavior.

This is why I encourage everyone to eliminate the word slut from their vocabulary.

I have spent the last few years working on this: if I catch myself about to describe myself, one if my choices, or even my outfit, as slutty or skanky, I make a concerted effort to replace that language with something more empowering.

For example: The other night, my friends and I were talking about one of our favorite TV shows and discussing how the characters have changed over the seasons.

One of my friends mentioned a female character who started out as a virgin, and has embraced her sexual side throughout the show by having various partners and experiences. Unsurprisingly, my friend simply said: “She’s gotten really slutty.”

I refuse to accept that ideology, even in casual conversation. There are so many sex-positive alternatives that we can use.

  • She was exploring her newfound sexual desire.
  • She was experimenting with what she likes and doesn’t like.
  • She was taking a defined step into adulthood.
  • She was opening herself up to new possibilities.
  • She was – simply – trying something new.

I stand by my next statement: No harm can come from being more sex-positive and less chauvinistic in our speech patterns. I dare each and every one of you to give it a try.


Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard by using positive descriptive language.

Try to remember that everyone has a personal choice. While you may not lead a similar life to someone else, it is unfair and unjust to ascribe your values to their character.

And moreover, it sets a terrible example for future generations.

Some women wear sexy dresses and choose to have multiple partners. Others wait until marriage and dress demurely. And some are in the middle.

That doesn’t mean that Group A are sluts, Group B are prudes, and Group C have hit the perfect moral high ground. All choices are both fabulous and individual.

Let’s take the word slut out of our vocabulary – not as a solution to a social epidemic, but as one small step towards eradicating patriarchal double standards.

Journaling for healing

How journaling benefits our health, via Huffington Post:

In today’s busy world, we hear a lot about remembering to slow down, to unplug from technology, and to find ways to de-stress. I, myself, have written about the many benefits of meditation and yoga — not just for adults, but for children as well. There is another method I recommend, and that is the daily practice of journaling.

The very act of writing has been scientifically shown to be a beneficial creative process. By putting pen to paper, you are using the left side of your brain, which is critical and rational. This gives the right side of your brain a chance to access your feelings and intuition without any mental blocks.

Other health benefits of journaling include:

  • Improved immune system
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved lung and liver function

In my experience researching the neuroscience behind stress and relationships, women –especially mothers — tend to repress their feelings of pain and depression in order to focus on the needs of others, such as their children, spouses, relatives. By taking a few minutes each day to write down those feelings, without hesitation or editing, unblocks the reservoir of energy spent in repression and allows women to use that energy for self-discovery and healing.


1. Write consistently. Think of journaling as a daily practice that you would incorporate into your routine as you would yoga or running. Aim to write in your journal each day for 20 minutes. The day-to-day expectation of creativity effectively confronts the thoughts and feelings that are keeping us up at night.

2. Consider starting out each day journaling. A 2012 University of Toronto studypublished in the journal Emotion has shown that people are more optimistic in the morning. Writing first thing in the morning helps give you a fresh perspective and the chance to start the day off with a clear mind.

3. Never self-edit. Write freely, without worrying about spelling or grammar, and without the burden of worrying about what others might think about the words you choose. This journal is for you, and you alone. It might take practice, as we are programmed throughout our lives to write for others, but once you get into the habit of writing freely, you will start to get a clearer picture of what your true feelings are and then be able to work through them.

4. Record it all: the good, the bad, the ugly. It is important to list the happiest moments of your life as well as the lowest moments of your life. This helps give you perspective of the complete picture. In reviewing your journal, you will be able to step back and see the whole story of who you are and how you got to where you are: what defines you, and where you want to go. Further, self-analysis builds self-worth by validating the entirety of your world-view, including your goals and values.

As you continue with your new journaling practice, you will begin to see your life through new eyes: you can now look at and clarify events that have shaped you. This in turn gives you a sense of control and reduces stress. A regular practice of journaling offers you the chance to explore your innermost thoughts and emotions, to know yourself better, and to engage in the most intimate and most important relationship you can ever have: with your true self. As my mother was fond of saying: “To know all, is to forgive all.”

Childhood trauma

How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD, via The Atlantic:

Dr. Nicole Brown’s quest to understand her misbehaving pediatric patients began with a hunch.

Brown was completing her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, when she realized that many of her low-income patients had been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These children lived in households and neighborhoods where violence and relentless stress prevailed. Their parents found them hard to manage and teachers described them as disruptive or inattentive. Brown knew these behaviors as classic symptoms of ADHD, a brain disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus.

When Brown looked closely, though, she saw something else: trauma. Hyper-vigilance and dissociation, for example, could be mistaken for inattention. Impulsivity might be brought on by a stress response in overdrive.

“Despite our best efforts in referring them to behavioral therapy and starting them on stimulants, it was hard to get the symptoms under control,” she said of treating her patients according to guidelines for ADHD. “I began hypothesizing that perhaps a lot of what we were seeing was more externalizing behavior as a result of family dysfunction or other traumatic experience.”

Inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior may mirror the effects of adversity, and many doctors don’t know how—or don’t have time—to tell the difference.

Considered a heritable brain disorder, one in nine U.S. children—or 6.4 million youth—currently have a diagnosis of ADHD. In recent years, parents and experts have questioned whether the growing prevalence of ADHD has to do with hasty medical evaluations, a flood of advertising for ADHD drugs, and increased pressure on teachers to cultivate high-performing students. Now Brown and other researchers are drawing attention to a compelling possibility: Inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior may in fact mirror the effects of adversity, and many pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists don’t know how—or don’t have the time—to tell the difference.

Though ADHD has been aggressively studied, few researchers have explored the overlap between its symptoms and the effects of chronic stress or experiencing trauma like maltreatment, abuse and violence. To test her hypothesis beyond Baltimore, Brown analyzed the results of a national survey about the health and well-being of more than 65,000 children.

Brown’s findings, which she presented in May at an annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, revealed that children diagnosed with ADHD also experienced markedly higher levels of poverty, divorce, violence, and family substance abuse. Those who endured four or more adverse childhood events were three times more likely to use ADHD medication.

Interpreting these results is tricky. All of the children may have been correctly diagnosed with ADHD, though that is unlikely. Some researchers argue that the difficulty of parenting a child with behavioral issues might lead to economic hardshipdivorce, and even physical abuse. This is particularly true for parents who themselves have ADHD, similar impulsive behavior or their own history of childhood maltreatment. There is also no convincing evidence that trauma or chronic stress lead to the development of ADHD.

For Brown, who is now a pediatrician at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, the data are cautionary. It’s not evident how trauma influences ADHD diagnosis and management, but it’s clear that some misbehaving children might be experiencing harm that no stimulant can fix. These children may also legitimately have ADHD, but unless prior or ongoing emotional damage is treated, it may be difficult to see dramatic improvement in the child’s behavior.

“We need to think more carefully about screening for trauma and designing a more trauma-informed treatment plan,” Brown says.

Dr. Kate Szymanski came to the same conclusion a few years ago. An associate professor at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute and an expert in trauma, Szymanski analyzed data from a children’s psychiatric hospital in New York. A majority of the 63 patients in her sample had been physically abused and lived in foster homes. On average, they reported three traumas in their short lives. Yet, only eight percent of the children had received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder while a third had ADHD.

“I was struck by the confusion or over-eagerness–or both–to take one diagnosis over another,” Szymanski says. “To get a picture of trauma from a child is much harder than looking at behavior like impulsivity, hyperactivity. And if they cluster in a certain way, then it’s easy to go to a conclusion that it’s ADHD.”

A previous edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders urged clinicians to distinguish between ADHD symptoms and difficulty with goal-directed behavior in children from “inadequate, disorganized or chaotic environments,” but that caveat does not appear in the latest version. Unearthing details about a child’s home life can also be challenging, Szymanski says.

It’s not clear how many children are misdiagnosed with ADHD annually, but the number could be nearly 1 million.

A child may withhold abuse or neglect to protect his family or, having normalized that experience, never mention it all. Clinicians may also underestimate the prevalence of adversity. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a years-long survey of more than 17,000 adults, found that two-thirds of participants reported at least one of 10 types of abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction. Twelve percent reported four or more. That list isn’t exhaustive, either. The study didn’t include homelessness and foster care placement, for example, and the DSM doesn’t easily classify those events as “traumatic.”

It’s not clear how many children are misdiagnosed with ADHD annually, but a study published in 2010 estimated the number could be nearly 1 million. That research compared the diagnosis rate amongst 12,000 of the youngest and oldest children in a kindergarten sample and found that the less mature students were 60 percent more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis.

Though ADHD is thought to be a genetic condition, or perhaps associated with lead or prenatal alcohol and cigarette exposure, there is no brain scan or DNA test that can give a definitive diagnosis. Instead, clinicians are supposed to follow exhaustive guidelines set forth by professional organizations, using personal and reported observations of a child’s behavior to make a diagnosis. Yet, under financial pressure to keep appointments brief and billable, pediatricians and therapists aren’t always thorough.

“In our 15-minute visits—maybe 30 minutes at the most—we don’t really have the time to go deeper,” Brown says. If she suspects ADHD or a psychological condition, Brown will refer her patient to a mental health professional for a comprehensive evaluation. “You may have had this social history that you took in the beginning, but unless the parent opens up and shares more about what’s going on in the home, we often don’t have the opportunity or think to connect the two.”

Caelan Kuban, a psychologist and director of the Michigan-based National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, knows the perils of this gap well. Four years ago she began offering a course designed to teach educators, social service workers and other professionals how to distinguish the signs of trauma from those of ADHD.

“It’s very overwhelming, very frustrating,” she says. “When I train, the first thing I tell people is you may walk away being more confused than you are right now.”

In the daylong seminar, Kuban describes how traumatized children often find it difficult to control their behavior and rapidly shift from one mood to the next. They might drift into a dissociative state while reliving a horrifying memory or lose focus while anticipating the next violation of their safety. To a well-meaning teacher or clinician, this distracted and sometimes disruptive behavior can look a lot like ADHD.

Kuban urges students in her course to abandon the persona of the “all-knowing clinician” and instead adopt the perspective of the “really curious practitioner.”

Rather than ask what is wrong with a child, Kuban suggests inquiring about what happened in his or her life, probing for life-altering events.

Jean West, a social worker employed by the school district in Joseph, Missouri, took Kuban’s course a few years ago. She noticed that pregnant teen mothers and homeless students participating in district programs were frequently diagnosed with ADHD. This isn’t entirely unexpected: Studies have shown that ADHD can be more prevalent among low-income youth, and that children and adolescents with the disorder are more prone to high-risk behavior. Yet, West felt the students’ experiences might also explain conduct easily mistaken for ADHD.

Kuban’s course convinced West to first consider the role of trauma in a student’s life. “What has been the impact? What kind of family and societal support have they had?” West asks. “If we can work on that level and truly know their story, there’s so much power in that.”

As a school official, West sometimes refers troubled students to a pediatrician or psychiatrist for diagnosis, and meets with parents to describe how and why adversity might shape their child’s behavior. In her private practice, West regularly assesses patients for post-traumatic stress disorder instead of, or in addition to, ADHD.

Though stimulant medications help ADHD patients by increasing levels of neurotransmitters in the brain associated with pleasure, movement, and attention, some clinicians worry about how they affect a child with PTSD, or a similar anxiety disorder, who already feels hyper-vigilant or agitated. The available behavioral therapies for ADHD focus on time management and organizational skills, and aren’t designed to treat emotional and psychological turmoil.

Instead, West teaches a traumatized child how to cope with and defuse fear and anxiety. She also recommends training and therapy for parents who may be contributing to or compounding their child’s unhealthy behavior. Such programs can help parents reduce their use of harsh or abusive discipline while improving trust and communication, and have been shown to decrease disruptive child behavior.

Szymanski uses a similar approach with patients and their parents. “I think any traumatized child needs individual therapy but also family therapy,” she says. “Trauma is a family experience; it never occurs in a vacuum.”

Yet finding a provider who is familiar with such therapy can be difficult for pediatricians and psychiatrists, Szymanski says. Though some hospitals have centers for childhood trauma, there isn’t a well-defined referral network. Even then, insurance companies, including the federal Medicaid program, may not always pay for the group sessions commonly used in parent training programs.

Faced with such complicated choices, Szymanski says it’s no surprise when clinicians overlook the role of trauma in a child’s behavior and focus on ADHD instead.

Inattentive and hyperactive behavior can be traced back to any number of conditions—just like chest pains don’t have the same origin in every patient.

While there are few recommendations now for clinicians, that will likely change in the coming years. The American Academy of Pediatrics is currently developing new guidance on ADHD that will include a section on assessing trauma in patients, though it won’t be completed until 2016.

Dr. Heather Forkey, a pediatrician at University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, who specializes in treating foster children, is assisting the AAP. Her goal is to remind doctors that inattentive and hyperactive behavior can be traced back to any number of conditions—just like chest pains don’t have the same origin in every patient. Ideally, the AAP will offer pediatricians recommendations for screening tools that efficiently gauge adversity in a child’s life. That practice, she says, should come before any diagnosis of ADHD.

When speaking to traumatized children inappropriately diagnosed with ADHD, she offers them a reassuring explanation of their behavior. The body’s stress system, she says, developed long ago in response to life-or-death threats like a predatory tiger. The part of the brain that controls impulses, for example, shuts off so that survival instincts can prevail.

“What does that look like when you put that kid in a classroom?” Forkey asks. “When people don’t understand there’s been a tiger in your life, it looks a lot like ADHD to them.”


Supporting teen survivors

7 ways to help a teen survivor of sexual assault, via Everyday Feminism:

(Trigger Warning)

It is devastating to discover that a teen you love has been a victim of sexual violence. When faced with their pain and confusion, you may find yourself feeling powerless to help. If the victim is your own child, the sense of grief can be consuming.

Remember, you are not alone. Other parents and allies have walked this healing path and can help guide you and your loved one through recovery.

As the Founder and Director of Survivor Healing and Empowerment, a healing community for survivors of rape, abuse and domestic minor sex-trafficking, I want you to know that there are many ways you can compassionately support the teen survivor in your life.  44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, so we need to carefully assess the unique needs of young men and women who have endured this trauma. Some of the resources I share will be more applicable to teen girls, but many of these suggestions serve survivors of all gender identities.

Here are are 7 tips to help begin this journey to wholeness:

1. Encourage your loved one to express herself. Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression. Psychologist Dana C. Jack calls depression “the silencing of the self.” Consider finding a counselor who integrates expressive arts therapies (such as art, music or dance therapy). Creative expression helps teens connect with and process the truth of their experience. Writing as A Way of Healing by Louise A. DeSalvo and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron are excellent sources of encouragement for a survivor who wants to heal through creative expression.

2. Help her explore contemplative practices. A contemplative practice quiets the mind in order to cultivate a personal capacity for deep concentration and insight. Examples include yoga, tai chi, meditation and prayer. This is particularly helpful in healing dissociation, a way that trauma victims disconnect from their experience in order to survive. If your loved one has been abused by a religious figure or someone affiliated with your spiritual community, don’t push religion as a source of healing. Give her space to discover their own spiritual path.

3. Visit the website for Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. Through this site you can search for your local rape crisis center and learn more about sexual assault. Direct your teen to the Online Hotline, an instant messaging section where she will be connected with a trained advocate who will answer any of her questions. After connecting with your local crisis center, research recovery groups and ask for referrals. She needs to know that she is not alone. Hearing the stories of other survivors helps to heal self-blame and shame. I also highly recommend Invisible Girls: The Truth About Sexual Abuse by Dr. Patti Feuereisen as a recovery companion.

4. Engage her in discussions about the media. Help her dismantle messages that reinforce sexual objectification. Verbal abuse expert, Patricia Evans, says that verbal abuse occurs when someone “tells lies about who you are.” Mainstream media constantly tells lies about who girls are. Make sure that she can critically engage with representations of girls and women that emphasize their value as sexual commodities. For excellent feminist critiques of pop culture in a teen-friendly space, check out Bitch Magazine. SPARK is an innovative organization helping girls differentiate between sexuality and sexualization.

5. Talk about healthy relationships. Surviving sexual assault is one of greatest predictors for your teen to eventually experience some form of relationship violence. Be pro-active in discussing the difference between an abusive and a respectful relationship. Model this in your own life and refer her to as well as the sex-positive teen site

6. Honor her boundaries. Ask for permission before touching or hugging the survivor. It is important that she feel in control of her body at all times. You can discuss safety planning, but make sure that you do not take away her freedoms out of your own fear. Check out the Circle of 6, a cutting-edge app that will help her stay safe.

7. Never blame the survivor. Remind her that it is not her fault. She did whatever she needed to in order to survive. Ultimately, the greatest gift you can give is to be a patient, empathetic listener. To learn the basics of empathetic listening, read a book such as Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD.

Be gentle with yourself and your teen during this time of recovery. Self-care is essential for both of you. Do not hesitate to reach out to a counselor or rape crisis center for support as you process what has happened. Sexual assault is devastating, but there is hope for those who choose a healing path.

Male victims and rape culture

6 Ways Jokes About Violence Against Men Harms Male Victims, via Good Men Project:

There’s a meme going around these days about a man who buys his wife a mood ring so he’ll know how she’s feeling. When she’s in a good mood, it turns green. When she’s in a bad mood, it leaves a big red mark on his forehead. That’s got to be the most literal punch-line I’ve ever seen.

Maybe you find that funny.

Perhaps you caught Bill Maher’s commentary on a recent study revealing that boys and men are sexually abused at much higher rates than Americans expected. He joked that they weren’t abused, they just “got lucky” and mocked them for not understanding that.

Maybe you find that funny.

You’ve surely heard jokes about male prisoners who smell bad because when they drop the soap in the shower, they can’t bend down to pick it up.

Maybe you find that funny.

Although it’s fiction, Any Dufresne (Tim Robbins In The Shawshank Redemption) may well be the only guy you know who’s been in prison. You probably didn’t find his attempted rape funny.

Many people were shocked when we learned about priests molesting and raping boys. I don’t know anyone who thought that was funny.

When Ivan Lopez opened fire at Fort Hood a few weeks ago, he killed three men: Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson, Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazeney-Rodriguez, and Sergeant Timothy Owens. I’m guessing you don’t think that’s funny at all.

The moral of our story seems to be that it’s funny when men are the victims of violence, as long as the victim isn’t innocent and no one gets killed.

I’m sure a meme that joked about a woman ending up with a welt on her forehead from her husband’s ring would be reported as offensive. I know a comedian who joked about a woman getting raped would be damned all over the Internet; just ask Tosh. Violence against women isn’t funny, but violence against men is hilarious. WTH?

When we publicly laugh at male victims of violence, we’re mocking them for being victims. That sends a pretty clear message, and one that’s a central pillar of the manbox: Don’t be a victim.

Rapper Chris Brown got the message. In an October interview, he revealed that he lost his virginity at age 8 to a girl he thinks was 14 or 15. He talked about this as a conquest and took it as evidence of his sexual prowess—he was irresistible at age 8. I suppose Maher would agree. But many writers called it rape and rightly pointed out the double standard: no one would dare suggest that an 8 year old girl who had sex with a 14 or 15 year old boy got lucky; they’d call it rape.

The double standards and the jokes hide male violence from view and are part of the reason that the US doesn’t really deal with male victims on a national level. You’ve probably never seen these stats:

  • Men and boys make up approximately 75% of the victims of homicide, triple the rate of women and girls, a ratio that has remained fairly constant since 1980 according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey revealed that approximately 6% of men—one in 20—has either been raped or forced to penetrate someone else. Christopher Anderson, executive director of Male Survivor, reports that when all forms of sexual violence are combined, the rate is almost 25% of men. (see comments.) The rate of 1 in 6 men is also commonly reported.
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) estimates that 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year. Assaults are committed by gay and straight men, known intimates and strangers.
  • In the US Military, men “are an estimated 53% of victims, and yet nobody seems to be paying attention to them,” according to Chris Kilmartin, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Behavioral Science and Leadership at the United States Air Force Academy. Kilmartin notes that the chance of any given man in the military being sexually assaulted is lower than for any given woman, but since men make up more than 85% of the military, the total number of male victims is higher.
  • In the study that Maher mocked, Bryana French and her colleagues surveyed nearly 300 high school and college males. More than 40% had been pressured to engage in sex they didn’t want to have; half of them, approximately one-fifth of all the guys who completed surveys, ended up having sex when they didn’t want to. Isn’t that the basic definition of rape: being compelled to have sex when you don’t want to?

So what? Why does it matter that we don’t take violence against boys and men seriously? A few reasons. And let me acknowledge up front that most of the individual effects aren’t unique to men.

  1. It reinforces our cultural notion that any male should be able to protect himself against any attacker. At this level, it tells us that any male victim is at least partly responsible for what happened. This same logic that says a woman who wears a short skirt is partly responsible for being raped. And if you’re partly responsible for your own victimization, then you don’t really deserve our sympathy or help.
  2. Despite the numbers, we don’t really devote national resources to solving the problems. All of the attention to sexual assault in the military has been about female victims. Discussions of male-on-male homicide only gets systematic attention as “black on black” or “inner city” violence, limiting the problem to a particular ethnic group or geographical setting. Yet boys and men of all ethnic groups and in all locations are homicide victims.
  3. Humor is one way we relieve stress. By telling jokes about male victims, we don’t have to deal with something that might be difficult, we can just relieve our anxiety and move on without thought.
  4. For individual male victims, it reinforces the notion that any male victim is less of a man because he couldn’t defend himself. Many victims are ashamed at having done something stupid that may have contributed to their victimization, but it’s often compounded for guys because they’re ashamed that they were unable to defend themselves.
  5. For male victims, this all makes it harder to admit they’re victims and get help. That means much less support from friends and family members. It may also mean a shorter lifespan, as Will Courtenay argues in Dying to Be Men.
  6. For male victims, the unhealed trauma often leads to decreased empathy for others. That’s one piece of the puzzle that’s common among school shooters, family mass murders (or “domestic terrorism” or “household terrorism”), and other acts of mass violence.

When you make a joke or laugh about male victims, you send a message to victims that you’re not entirely trustworthy. You are literally laughing at their pain. So next time you’re contemplating making fun of male victims, or laughing when someone else makes fun of them, ask yourself if that’s really the message you want to send. Maybe it’s not funny after all.

Affirmative Consent

What ‘Affirmative Consent’ Actually Means, via Think Progress:

proposed bill in California that would require college students to obtain explicit consent before proceeding with a sexual encounter is sparking controversy over whether that standard can actually work in practice. The legislation, which was introduced as a direct response to the current sexual assault crisis on college campuses, defines consent as an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” every step of the way. There are some concerns that’s much too broad.

“I feel like their hearts are in the right place, but the implementation is a little too excessive,” a biology major at Cal State Long Beach told the Long Beach Press Telegram. “Are there guidelines? Are we supposed to check every five minutes?”

“Whether anyone could feel ‘sexy’ under such conditions seems dubious at best,” concurs arecent piece published in the libertarian magazine Reason that also calls California’s proposal both “absurd” and “dangerous.”

And in a Washington Post article entitled “YOU are a rapist; yes YOU,” law professor David Bernstein argues that requiring a standard of explicit consent for sexual encounters “makes almost every adult in the U.S. (men AND women) — and that likely includes you, dear reader — a perpetrator of sexual assault.” Bernstein is mainly concerned about the ambiguous first steps of initiating a sexual encounter, giving the example of a woman who may unbutton a man’s shirt without explicitly asking.

There are legitimate questions about whether state legislation is the right vehicle for instilling a culture of affirmative consent on college campuses. But much of the hyperbolic concern over turning students into rapists and taking the fun out of sex stems from a misunderstanding about how affirmative consent actually operates in practice.

Affirmative consent isn’t based on the idea that every sexual encounter is a rigid contract between two parties. No one is suggesting that college students need to run through a checklist before unbuttoning each other’s shirts. Instead, it’s more about broadly reorientingabout how we approach sex in the first place.

The current societal script on sex assumes that passivity and silence — essentially, the “lack of a no” — means it’s okay to proceed. That’s on top of the fact that male sexuality has been socially defined as aggressive, something that can result in men feeling entitled to sex, while women have been taught that sex is something that simply happens to them rather than something they’re an active participant in. It’s not hard to imagine how couples end up in ambiguous situations where one partner is not exactly comfortable with going forward, but also not exactly comfortable saying no.

Under an affirmative consent standard, on the other hand, both partners are required to pay more attention to whether they’re feeling enthusiastic about the sexual experience they’re having. There aren’t any assumptions about where the sexual encounter is going or whether both people are already on the same page. At its very basic level, this is the opposite of killing the mood — it’s about making sure the person with whom you’re about to have sex isexcited about having sex with you.

Making sure someone else is enthusiastic about what you’re doing with them requires you to consider their wants and needs, think about how to bring them pleasure, and ultimately approach sex like a partnership instead of a means to your own end.

It’s admittedly somewhat of a departure from the way our society often approaches sex; recent studies have found that most college students feel uncomfortable voicing their desires during sexual encounters, and there’s a gender imbalance in whose pleasure is prioritized. But the emphasis on getting consent isn’t an effort to turn everyone into rapists. It’s just about encouraging better communication across the board.

“Consent isn’t a question. It’s a state,” feminist writer Jaclyn Friedman, who wrote a book on enthusiastic consent, explained in a blog post back in 2010. “If, instead of lovers, the two of you were synchronized swimmers, consent would be the water. It’s not enough to jump in, get wet and climb out — if you want to swim, you have to be in the water continually. And if you want to have sex, you have to be continually in a state of enthusiastic consent with your partner.”

The people who are worried about affirmative consent standards are typically preoccupied about the people who may be penalized for failing to ask questions every step of the way. What if a college student starts passionately kissing his girlfriend without getting her permission first? What if a couple enjoys explicitly consensual foreplay and then moves on to intercourse without a verbal agreement beforehand?

But those hypothetical situations aren’t necessarily breaches of an affirmative consent standard. If both partners were enthusiastic about the sexual encounter, there will be no reason for anyone to report a rape later. So if college students are worried about protecting themselves from being penalized, it’s not hard — all they have to do is stick to engaging in physical contact with people who are clearly receptive to it at the time. That doesn’t include girls who are passed out drunk, but it probably does include most couples in long term relationships, who are used to communicating their needs to each other. There are certainly some gray areas in sexual encounters, and it’s sexually active young adults’ responsibility to figure out how to navigate them effectively.

That’s likely not enough to pacify the critics who are concerned about women abusing the system and lying about rape in order to ruin men’s lives. But that’s a bigger problem. The supposed threat of false rape claims continues to be trotted out to undermine efforts to enact sexual assault reform, often by so-called “men’s rights activists” who are worried that feminists are primarily interested in victimizing them. In reality, false rape allegations are very rare, comprising about two to eight percent of all reports for a crime that’s alreadyvastly under-reported.

More broadly, it’s perhaps important to remember that California’s proposed law isn’t that groundbreaking on the collegiate level. The National Center For Higher Education Risk Management, which advises higher education institutions about how to craft effective sexual assault policies, has been recommending this type of consent standard for more than a decade. It’s already in place at colleges in the University of California system, as well as atmost Ivy League schools. In the midst of increased attention to issues of rape on campus, some universities are in the process of refining their definitions of consent even further to make sure students are on the same page.

“The shift in this country away from defining sexual violence as force-based conduct has been championed by many colleges, and is now the law in a majority of states,” the National Center For Higher Education Risk Management noted in a 2001 guide for campuses. “Many state criminal codes are antiquated, at best. Colleges are on the cutting edge with so many issues, ideas, and research. Sexual misconduct should be no different, and is an area in which colleges really can and do lead the way.”

The shirts pictured in the photo above are made by an organization called Only With Consent. If you’re no longer afraid of affirmative consent, you can get your own here.

Sexual Assault on Maine college campuses

Does UMaine hold students accountable for sexual assaults on campus? via Bangor Daily News:

On Oct. 2, 2010, the University of Maine in Orono learned of potential sexual misconduct by a student on campus.

Through the school’s disciplinary process, the student was found responsible for violating the university’s stalking and relationship abuse policy, harassment, substantial disruption of activities, violating the alcohol policy, possession of alcohol by a minor, causing imminent physical harm, engaging in conduct that endangers others and significant interference with the normal residential life of others.

We don’t know what exactly the student did because the university enforces its conduct code in an administrative manner, not in a public court of law. The name of the offending student, which the university refers to as the “respondent,” is confidential.

But we know the university handed down the following sanctions: probation, residence hall relocation, a meeting with a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, a meeting with a dean and what was recorded as “other sanction,” which typically involves education-related discipline such as community service or writing a reflection paper.

In the last five years, there have been 62 reported cases involving sexual violence, harassment, stalking, hazing, intimidation or physical assault among students at the University of Maine. Of those cases, 47 students were found responsible for violations through the school’s hearing process, according to university records. In several cases, victims dropped the complaint; in other cases, respondents were found “not responsible” but still faced sanctions, such as no-contact orders.

In that time, one student was expelled and eight were suspended. The majority of punishments for the range of policy violations included probation, required meetings with school officials, no-contact orders and the completion of community or education-related projects.

Did those sanctions improve students’ safety? How should universities and colleges punish students who violate administrative policies but haven’t always been convicted in court?

“I think most universities have their own [guidelines for sanctions], and it really is dependent on the culture of that institution,” said David Fiacco, the director of UMaine’s Office of Community Standards, Rights and Responsibilities. “Ours fall in line with what are the generally accepted practices,” which are guided by the Association for Student Conduct Administration and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.

For S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative at the VTV Family Outreach Foundation in Virginia, the question is whether disciplinary proceedings at colleges contribute to a culture that rejects sexual violence. The problem is that colleges and students have little solid information about what works.

“More research on how colleges and universities handle sexual violence is essential, with the conduct process being a very important part of that. There is a significant dearth of information available,” Carter said. “I frequently get asked questions to which there is no answer because the data does not exist, because it has not been studied, because there have been barriers to gathering the information, because it has not been funded.”

Universities and college campuses are bound by law to investigate cases of sexual violence and harassment and punish those found to have violated the school’s policies. It’s a separate process from the criminal justice system — purposefully crafted to allow administrators to act quickly to protect students.Campus discipline

Universities have been investigating incidents and disciplining students for centuries. It’s similar to how employers act when their employees commit minor infractions or full-fledged crimes. A company is unlikely to wait months or years for a conviction in court to fire an employee charged with embezzlement, for instance.

“As an institution of higher learning or an employer or any other agency, you would want to hold your employees or your students or your association members accountable to a certain standard of conduct,” Fiacco said.

Colleges are required by the federal law Title IX to act immediately — and independent of police — to investigate incidents and protect students. They can take action, such as removing a student from a residence hall, before the disciplinary hearing process takes place.

“If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects,” the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights told schools in a 2011 letter.

When the University of Maine learns of a possible code violation, officials investigate to see whether the complaint has merit. A hearing may then be held in which a hearing officer or a committee decides, by a “preponderance of the evidence,” whether the student conduct code has been violated and, if so, what the punishment will be. Both sides have the right to appeal.

It’s up to the victim, not the school, to report a sexual assault to police, though the school informs the student of available support services and criminal justice options.

Some argue colleges have swung too far in the direction toward punishing students without hard proof, while others say colleges still have a long way to go to hold students accountable.

The truth is, it’s hard to know, given the limited public information and research on the subject, whether specific sanctions are effective — by reducing re-offenses, making students feel safer, teaching offending students important lessons and contributing to a campus culture that encourages students to come forward and have faith in the disciplinary process.

“What I think we sometimes see in responses to sexual violence, within an institution, is a natural instinct to protect the institution — be that in the situation of a church or a long-term care facility or a college or university,” said Elizabeth Ward Saxl, the executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

It’s important for schools to ensure student victims have access to advocates to help them navigate the complaint process, make sure no one discourages students from going to police and make certain all people determining the outcome of sexual violence cases on campus have a significant amount of training on the dynamics of sexual assault, she said.

At the University of Maine, the most common sanction handed down to students found responsible for a range of infractions that include stalking, harassment, sexual abuse, or physical intimidation or assault, between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2014, was probation, with a total of 38 instances. Each case resulted in students being found responsible for a number of infractions, and it’s not possible to break out the type of sanction handed down for each individual violation, as would be possible in a court finding. Sanctions are crafted based on the circumstances of each individual case.

Probation effectively puts the student and college on notice. If the student were to repeat the offense, he or she would likely receive a more severe punishment. For the purposes of this piece, “probation” encompasses disciplinary probation, deferred disciplinary suspension, deferred housing suspension and official warnings.

The second most common sanction during that time period was “loss of contact.” In a total of 22 instances, people found responsible for violating the campus code were prohibited from contacting the complainant or others involved.

The third most common sanction came in the form of educational or “alternative” punishments, in 21 instances. Sometimes the university refers to them as “other sanctions,” which could involve doing research projects, writing reflection papers, completing community service or participating in the outdoors adventure program, Maine Bound. The university also often recommends counseling or requires an assessment with a credential professional.

Fiacco, with UMaine, said his first priority is ensuring the safety and welfare of students. But sometimes students can benefit from more educational activities, to “redirect the students’ energies” and introduce them to different social networks. Instead of going out to drink, students might go rock climbing, he said, to “force them out of their comfort zone, to meet with other students doing other activities.”

In a case reported to the university in September 2013, a student was found responsible for possession of alcohol by a minor, violating the residence hall contract and discriminatory harassment, which is harassment or discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age or disability. The student was found not responsible for sexual harassment. The punishments were deferred disciplinary suspension, which is a type of probation, 10 hours of community service and participation in the Maine Bound program.

Laura Dunn is a survivor of campus sexual assault and serves as the executive director and founder of SurvJustice, a national advocacy organization. Dunn said schools should be careful not to reinforce unhealthy misconceptions — such as the idea that counseling or writing reflective essays will help rehabilitate offenders — and no one should consider an outdoor adventure program a punishment.

Writing an essay or being told to participate in what could be a fun activity are not appropriate punishments, especially when students are found responsible for acts that could qualify as crimes in a legal setting. Why? “You haven’t addressed the hostile environment at all,” she said.

“No student should be able to ‘learn’ from violating another student’s body,” she said. “You don’t deserve to be on campus with that survivor.”

“The colleges that do it right are expelling or suspending.”

The broader question

Carter, with the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, said the broader question is whether sanctions at universities contribute to students’ feeling of safety and faith in the campus judicial process. There are many barriers to reporting sexual assault: fear of retribution, fear anonymity will not be preserved, and social pressures, among others. The conduct hearing process is often another.

“Lack of effective justice can be a major barrier to victims and survivors pursuing an investigation if they know through what they’ve heard in the community that people found responsible for committing a sexual assault, for example, receive a deferred suspension, not an actual suspension or expulsion. They may elect not to pursue based on that because they may feel that a no-contact directive is not sufficient,” he said.

According to UMaine’s records, most students reporting sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking in the spring and fall of 2013 did not pursue investigations, whether through the conduct hearing process or police. Of the 33 students who reported sexual assaults in that time, 23 did not pursue an investigation. Of the 32 students who reported sexual harassment, 21 did not pursue an investigation. And of the four stalking reports, three did not pursue an investigation.

When student complainants did come forward, about 44 percent of stalking, sexual violence, harassment, sexual harassment, hazing, and physical assault or threatening allegations resulted in the offending student being found responsible.

Several complainants did not want to provide the university with the name of the potential offender; several could have filed a police report without the university’s knowledge. But the numbers are consistent with what experts know about people who experience sexual violence or harassment: It’s hard to talk about, and the formal disciplinary or criminal process can be daunting.

And while it’s probably good that more students are coming forward at UMaine –mirroring a nationwide trend — there is less information about whether victims there, and at campuses across the country, are getting justice from the process.

The National Institute of Justice reviewed the sanctions handed down at colleges and universities across the country in 2005, but “a large gap remains in the research as to the effectiveness of such sanctions at preventing sexual assault victimization and perpetration among college students,” said Bonnie Fisher, a professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Criminal Justice and author of campus sex crimes studies. “Knowing about the effectiveness of these sanctions is a next logical step in preventing sexual assault among college students.”

To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.