Monthly Archives: August 2014

Alcohol is the number 1 ‘date rape drug’…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting a survivor

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

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

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

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

1. Believe them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Respect the decisions they make in the aftermath.

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

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

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

7. Help them seek other lifelines.

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

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

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

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

Sexual assault happens outside of college, too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new attempt at preventing rape on campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They steered her back toward their group of friends.

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

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

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

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

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

Addressing child victimization

4 More Things Adults Can Do to Address Child Victimization, via Everyday Feminism:

Would sex crimes be reduced if children obeyed a few don’ts? Don’t play around public toilets. Don’t take candy or rides from strangers. If picked up, mark down the license of the car.” These children’s self-defense suggestions were made by the iconic Lolita of Vladimir Nabokov’s now-classic 1955 novel.Lolita’s suggestions, and the too-real story of the molestation, rape, and abduction of her, shocked Americans of its era. But it posed an important question that is even more relevant today: How do we keep our young people safe from sex criminals and other predators? In part one of this article, we explored the basics of children’s safety from child predators and serious criminals — things for caregivers to study and learn, rules to set, lessons to teach, and considerations to factor in to choosing third-party caregivers. But children’s safety is more complex than “a few don’ts” – because, as we all know, following a simple set of rules doesn’t prevent a person from experiencing violence. Here, in part two, we look those aspects of protecting children that are slightly beyond the basics: the more subtle, on-going interactions that strengthen our children from the inside, influence their decision making, impact their safety, and, hopefully, contribute to a safer and saner society.

1. Modeling

When we are in the presence of a child, like it or not, we’re modeling behavior. Where matters of self-defense and safety are concerned, adults can model helpful behaviors or unhelpful ones. Assertiveness in verbal communication and body language are very important aspects of self-care and self-protection. We teach it (or its two opposites, aggression and passivity) to children, in part, by our own actions. We can model how to carry ourselves in a manner that communicates confidence and strength over vulnerability and weakness. We can practice asking for what we want and need in the presence of children, practice setting and respecting boundaries unapologetically. Assertive boundary setting — like “no,” “stop,” and “don’t touch me” — is key in violence prevention and self-defense. But what about people who find assertiveness challenging?  If you think you may not project confidence, consider this practical advice: “Keep your head up, look ahead, and drop your shoulders…. Walk with a relaxed step,”Defending Ourselves author Rosalind Wiseman suggests. Your confidence may make an impression on the young people in your care. Just like we can model confidence and asking for what we want and need with confidence and clarity, we can also send messages about the rights a child has to her body by the behaviors we require of her. For instance, telling children to “kiss aunty goodbye” is one thing, but making a child kiss aunty, if she or he doesn’t want to, reinforces the notion that kids’ bodies are not theirs. Never force affection on a child or require that a child be affectionate with another adult or child. And listen to how children feel about the touch they encounter from others. If you keep the lines of communication open as children grow, children can report to you — a trusted adult — anything that causes concern in their lives. And being a trusted adult means respecting children’s autonomy with their bodies.

2. Supporting

Supporting children who have been or appear to have been hurt by grown-ups or other children may take many forms, like offering a listening ear or seeking help for them among professionals or other trusted adults in their world. In our everyday encounters with young people whose abuse histories and survivor statuses are unknown to us, we can support them by choosing our own words carefully. Victim-blaming language, like “she shouldn’t have been out that late anyway!” or “Well what was she doing drinking? She’s underage!” communicates to survivors and non-survivors alike that somehow someone other than an assailant is to blame for assault.Assault, abuse, and abduction are never a child’s fault, no matter what he or she may or may not have done. Young people may benefit far more from real-life stories of resilient survivors than criticisms of victims. As they grow old enough to grapple with the problems of a dangerous world, we can expose young people to the recovery and resilience of famous survivors with well-known stories, like Oprah WinfreyMaya Angelou, and Tyler Perry. SurvivorsDylan FarrowMichelle Knight, and Elizabeth Smart tell more contemporary and incredible stories of living through the worst to rise above it in the end. Young people exposed to these stories are likely to come to understand that people can be strengthened by the very same things that are intended to reduce and destroy them.

3. Exposure

Youth is a time for exploring interests and for getting involved in activities. As you offer your input in the choices your young loved ones are making, consider exposing the children you love to the world of self-defense. What’s in your area? Is there a KIDPOWER program or access to Child Lures Prevention? What are children learning in your local martial arts schools, and how are they being respected? If you’re unsure of how to start looking, Irene Van der Zande devotes and entire appendix of The KIDPOWER Book for Caring Adults to helping adults find a good program. If you’re not in the market for classes but would like a young person in your life to learn some self-defense, The Safe Zone by Donna Chaiet, Francine Russell, and Lillian Gee can provide an inexpensive, kid-friendly take-home resource aimed at teaching children basic techniques and strategies. You can also use the Internet to expose kids to real-life success stories of kids fighting back! Do the young people in your life know about seven-year-oldBrittany Baxter and  ten-year-old Jacob Soliz-Amaya? They fought off full-grown, real-life assailants. You can also make the best of teachable moments — those real-life situations that pop up and give us the opportunity to illustrate or further reinforce what we want kids to know and do about their own safety—that arise all the time. If a discussion arises about, for instance, the hundreds of girls recently abducted from the school in Nigeria, you could call a child’s attention to the survival strategies—running, hiding, and telling a trustworthy adult—employed by the girls who escaped.

4. Monitoring

It’s important that we watch children in our care with care…even though we’re busy, even as we’re fostering independence, even as they’re yearning for independence.  Violence prevention expert Gavin DeBecker says it most clearly: “Until a child is old enough to understand what predatory strategies look like, old enough and confident enough to resist them, assertive enough to seek help, powerful enough to enforce the word No—until all that happens, a child is too young to be his [or her] own protector.” Until they can discern between safe practices and risky ones, between empowering images and degrading ones, they may be too young to access Internet and television too. The Internet exposes children to the world and exposes the world to children. Television provides a variety of images, many of which are steeped in the disempowering traditions of patriarchy and misogyny. Television crime shows and Hollywood movies prolifically peddle the rape and abduction of girls and young women, often depicting victims provocatively splayed out in defeat or helplessly bound before the audience. Real-crime TV shows and network news reports cover high-profile rapes and abductions sensationally, offering little by way of empowerment or useful information in prevention and recovery. Whatever they are exposed to, young people will benefit from and grow in their critical assessment of media if we guide them through the images they see and the stories they hear. Be partners with teens and children in media viewing. Even young children’s shows send mixed messages about safety and danger. As you view children’s shows together, keep in mind that real-life predators don’t often resemble the villains on kids’ shows. These predator images may undermine notions of safety and danger, according toChild Lures author Ken Wooden. Child predators frequently function less like cartoon villains and more like Venus fly traps or angler fish — drawing unsuspecting prey close to them with appealing lures. Thus it’s especially important to monitor Internet use as children grow, as many child predators are luring children out of safety via the Internet. In her book Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber Saavy Teens, Nancy Willard asserts that computers should be in central locations in the home and should only be used with close, adult supervision. Eventually, as children demonstrate good decision making in restricted web environments and under supervision, they can earn from you more freedom and independence. But whatever rules you set for your children, don’t just assume that they will follow them in your absence. Kenneth Wooden has demonstrated repeatedly that he can lure children taught “don’t go off with strangers” away from safe spaces with a simple promise of showing them or needing help finding a puppy. Again, watch children in your care with care, choose caregivers who will do the same, andcontinue to monitor the caregivers you choose for the children you love. It’s your prerogative to check in on the children you love (even in unscheduled visits) and report any concerns or potential problems immediately. Hopefully with time and proper care, children will learn to monitor their own environment for safety and danger AND monitor that alarm system inside of themselves known as their own intuition. Intuition is, according to Gavin DeBecker, like getting from A-Z without stopping at all the letters in between. It is how we know something without knowing how we know it, and many self-defense experts believe it to be one of  our most crucial tools in self- and child-protection. Honor your own intuition, and encourage girls and boys to do the same. If it sounds on behalf of a child in your care, heed it. Children will learn from watching you move about the world in tune to your inner voice; they can be similarly encouraged to listen to the funny feeling in their stomach or to a hunch. But just as they learn your virtues, they will also learn your prejudices. Be mindful of your own stereotypes, especially those about race and ethnicity. The vast majority of assailants are the same race as their victim, and children will pick up on our stereotypes to the contrary, whether those stereotypes are uttered or not.

Let’s talk about male victims

Why We Need to Talk About the Sexual Assault of Men and Boys, via Huffington Post:

Let’s talk about rape. No, not the rape of women and girls that seems to consume the media, and has become a staple for just about every drama on television these days. I’m talking about the conversation that nobody is having; the rape and sexual assault of men and boys.

What does it say about us as a society, that we consistently neglect to acknowledge the fact that men and boys are regularly victims of sexual assault? Why do we continue to avoid this crucial conversation? Lastly, what message does this send to our sons, and our daughters as well?

There is a persistent, extremely detrimental ignorance that is inadvertently encouraging rape culture, causing both men and women to be put at a disadvantage. In almost every regard, our society does not want to believe that men can be raped; that is, outside of the standard “prison” scenario. I am not going to get into the numbers regarding sexual assault in prison, although those statistics are staggering. I’m talking about our military, our schools, our children’s sports teams.

We see the deliberate minimization of this issue every day, such as when a news article pops up about an adult teacher that “had sex” with an underage male student. Or when the only portrayals of military sexual assault depict female victims. (Mind you, of the 26,000 reported military sexual assaults, around 14,000 were male victims; and because of the increased hesitance of men to report, that number is estimated to be much higher). Or when a story about a boy’s rape at school is labeled a “hazing attack.”

I have a son and a daughter whom I love to the moon and back. I want a world in which both feel equally comfortable talking about sexual assault. One should not be made to feel a heavier burden of shame because of his gender, and the other should not automatically assume herself a victim of her gender.

However, media continues to perpetuate harmful stereotypes of men and women, and what it means to be a man or a woman. The messages that our children receive tell them that boys and men are invincible, and must enjoy sexual activity under all circumstances; while women and girls are victims, who should be cautious of sexual activity. If something were to happen to either one of my children, I’d like to know that they would have no problem going to authorities and seeking justice. Sadly, statistics continually show that men and boys are far less likely to go to authorities, and approximately 90%-95% of male rapes are never reported.

We will never see the cultural shift that we want to see regarding sexual assault against men and women, until we break away at the gender barriers and myths that stand in its way. Let’s be clear: sexual assault is not a gendered issue. Sexual assault can and does affect men, women, boys and girls. This is an issue that needs to be addressed collectively, ensuring it does not solely focus on one gender and only their stories and struggles.

For our children and the generations to come, we will start this conversation. Today marks the day that we will combat sexual violence by bringing it to light and dissolving the myths that encompass it. Let’s talk to our sons and daughters about what appropriate behavior is, and what is not. Let’s emphasize the importance of consent. Let’s make it clear to both that either one of them can be a victim of sexual assault, and neither should feel shame or guilt if they find themselves a victim. And finally, let’s tell them that we love them and that they will always be able to come to us, no matter what.

Health and gender roles

Forcing Kids To Stick To Gender Roles Can Actually Be Harmful To Their Health, via Think Progress:

Raising children in societies that adhere to rigid gender roles, with fixed ideas about what should be considered “masculine” and “feminine,” can actually be detrimental to their physical and mental health, according to a study that observed 14-year-olds’ interactions over a three month period.

“Usually we think of gender as natural and biological, but it’s not… We actually construct it in ways that have problematic and largely unacknowledged health risks,” lead researcher Maria do Mar Pereira, the deputy director for the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, explained in an interview with ThinkProgress.

Pereira drew her conclusions after being embedded in a class of teenagers in Lisbon, Portugal. The kids in the study knew they were being observed by Pereira — who participated in all aspects of their everyday lives, including attending classes, eating lunch in the cafeteria, playing on the playground, and joining them on trips to the mall after school — but they didn’t know her specific area of focus. In addition to her one-on-one interviews with each teen, her observations allowed her to track the ways they interacted with their ideas about masculinity and femininity.

Pereira observed both boys and girls regulating their behavior in potentially harmful ways in order to adhere to gender norms. For instance, even girls who enjoyed sports often avoided physical activity at school because they assumed it wouldn’t be a feminine thing to do, they worried they might look unattractive while running, or they were mocked by their male peers for not being good enough. The girls also put themselves on diets because they believed desirable women have to be skinny.

“All of the girls were within very healthy weights, but they were all restricting their intake of food in some way. So what we’re really talking about here is 14-year-old girls, whose bodies are changing and developing, depriving themselves at every meal,” Pereira said. “In the extreme, that can lead to things like eating disorders. But even for the women who don’t reach the extreme, it can be very unhealthy for them.”

Meanwhile, the male participants in the study all faced intense pressure to demonstrate the extent of their manliness, which led to what Pereira calls “everyday low-level violence”: slapping and hitting each other, as well as inflicting pain on other boys’ genitals. They were encouraged to physically fight each other if they were ever mocked or offended. They felt like they had to drink unhealthy amounts of alcohol because that’s what a man would do. And they were under certain mental health strains, too; struggling with anxiety about proving themselves and suppressing their feelings, all while lacking a strong emotional support system.

Ultimately, the study concluded, “this constant effort to manage one’s everyday life in line with gender norms produces significant anxiety, insecurity, stress and low self-esteem for both boys and girls, and both for ‘popular’ young people and those who have lower status in school.” The findings ended up forming the basis of a bookDoing Gender in the Playground, about negotiating gender roles in schools.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The teens who participated in the Lisbon study — including the kids who bullied others and the kids who were victims of bullying themselves — weren’t happy about the gender roles they were expected to follow. In their one-on-one interviews, they all said they didn’t actually like paying so much attention to the right “feminine” and “masculine” behaviors, and just assumed that’s what they were supposed to do. When Pereira concluded her research and held a group meeting to explain her results to the kids, they were amazed to learn that everyone was on the same page about that.

“It was a revealing experience for them to be in that room and realize they were all performing and no one was happy about it,” she recounted. Slowly, things started to change. Pereira acknowledges it’s not like it was “suddenly paradise,” but she noticed the kids stopped mocking their peers as much for falling outside the bounds of traditionally gendered behavior. Girls and boys started to become more integrated in athletic activities. There was less physical fighting. And some of the kids’ parents even started calling Pereira to tell her about positive changes in their behavior.

Although Pereria’s observations took place at a school in Lisbon, she believes her results have widespread implications for Western nations that are subject to similar cultural messages about gender. Indeed, previous research in British and American schools has reached many of the same conclusions as her study. Sociologists agree that children “learn gender” from being subjected to society’s expectations, even though pressuring kids to conform to those rigid roles can end up having serious mental health consequences for the children whose parents try to over-correct their behavior. There are countless examples of schools becoming environments where gender stereotypes are strictly policed and kids are even sent home for wearing the “wrong” type of clothing.

The Lisbon findings could also give people hope about the possibility of creating a different kind of approach to these issues. It’s important to remember that teens are still shaping their attitudes about what it means to be a man or a woman.

“Sometimes adults think it’s impossible to change gender norms because they’re already so deeply entrenched. But they’re much more entrenched in adults than they are in young people,” Pereira pointed out. “It’s actually fairly easy to reach young people if you create opportunities for discussion, if you get them to think about their own experiences.”

Child Advocacy Center moves into our Farmington office

United Way Tri-Valley Offers Venture Grants, via SunJournal:

FARMINGTON — The United Way of the Tri-Valley Area has selected three organizations to receive a portion of $10,000 in funding to launch new and innovative programming in Greater Franklin County.

The organizations include HealthReach Community Health Centers, Western Maine Homeless Outreach and Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center.

HealthReach Community Health Centers was awarded funding to better manage diabetes at the Strong Area Health Center. Diabetes is a chronic disease affecting about 8 percent of the patient population.

The grant will allow the Health Center to purchase a glucose monitor that will help patients to continuously monitor their glucose profile. This monitoring will be part of an overall care management/education plan with the goal of facilitating self-management to improve glycemic control in challenging situations.

Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter was awarded funds to expand its ability to provide emergency shelter to homeless individuals and families.

This includes help with organizational and infrastructure projects, such as website development and the creation of outreach materials to better inform donors and the general public about its services.

Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center was awarded funds to help minimize trauma among Franklin County’s children and those with cognitive impairments.

According to the Maine Children’s Alliance, approximately 6,100 children live in Franklin County. Current studies show that persons under 18 years of age account for 67 percent of all sexual assault victimizations reported to law enforcement agencies. Children under 12 years old account for 34 percent of those cases, and children under six years of age account for 14 percent.

In recent months, 40 children have been interviewed at the Farmington Police Department in a less-than-child-friendly interview room.

With increasing needs in Franklin County, the ACAC formed a multi-disciplinary team consisting of law enforcement, DHHS staff and mental health and sexual assault crisis professionals to develop and implement a child advocacy center where a child who has been abused is interviewed in a home-like atmosphere by a professionally trained forensic interviewer. The family is also given appropriate support.

With Venture Grant funding, this center has been established at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services offices at 227 Main St.,