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They were sitting in a car outside a Home Goods store in Savannah, Ga., and the conversation was not going the way Jenny Lynn Anderson planned. And she had planned. Anderson is pragmatic that way. That’s how her mother – the lawyer, judge, trailblazer — raised her, and Anderson intended to bring up her daughters in the same mold: independent, self-assured, strong.
Once that foundation was set, Anderson decided, she would tell them.When I was in my 20s, I was sexually assaulted. Calm, no-nonsense. An outline. Details if they asked. That she eventually would tell them was never a question in her mind. She could not protect them as they made their way through the world, but she could educate them. She could give them the tools she didn’t have. She could teach them something about another form of strength: resilience.
Sixteen might be a good age, Anderson thought. But when the youngest, Allison, turned 16, Anderson decided no, this one is not ready. I’ll wait. But there Anderson was one day, sitting in the car outside the store, fighting a panic attack brought on by the sight of a lone man standing in the parking lot. There she was, telling Allison, “Wait, don’t unlock the door.” To watch her puzzled daughter follow her gaze, turn to look at the man, a black man, and say, “Mama, you are such a racist.”
No, Anderson said, stunned, suddenly crying, which was definitely not part of the plan. That’s not why I am afraid of that man.
“Allison, I need to tell you something.”
In the leapfrog from headline to headline on sexual assault, from slogan to slogan — yes means yes, not alone, it’s on us — public awareness waxes and wanes. What endures are the inner battles among parents who have been sexually assaulted and who do not engage in the public discussion as an abstraction, but as a prompt. Should I tell my kids what happened to me? How and to what end?
These are the most private of conversations, the unseen backdrop of the public dialogue on sexual assault. A mother – or a father – telling a child: All this you are reading about it, all this you are hearing, it happened to me. Someone hurt me when I was young. Took from me what was not theirs to take. You need to know this about me. You need to know this about life.
“This happened to me, and it wasn’t my fault, and there are ways to prevent it from happening to you,” Cynthia Brown, 53, of Marietta, Ga., told her daughter. Her daughter was 17, nearly the same age at which Brown was raped in 1980. Brown’s attacker was convicted. “I grew up ‘Father Knows Best,’ ‘Brady Bunch,’ life is a bowl of cherries — and it’s not.”
Dawn Helmrich, 42, of Milwaukee, was abducted and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by three teenagers when she was 21. The eldest of the three, a 17-year-old, pleaded guilty to rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. The younger two juveniles were sentenced to juvenile facilities.
“When I first had kids, I questioned why I would even want to tell them? I thought, ‘Are you doing this for you or for them?’” she said.
“I think, in the beginning, I thought of it almost like an absolution. I wanted to absolve myself of the guilt I felt. I thought, ‘If I tell them, and they think I’m stupid or I did something wrong, at least they will get it off their chest, and I will move on.’
“But as I got older and a little wiser, I changed my perspective. I thought, ‘How empowering it can be for them to know the kind of resiliency that is within them. Here I am. Their mom. I got married. I own a home. I got a Master’s degree. I teach at a college, and I have a full-time career. I did all these things. Despite what happened. It became more about finding them the message that is basically, ‘You know what? A lot of stuff happens in life . . . and sometimes you have to scoop yourself off the ground.’”
These are the moments of quiet revelation far from the headlines. The conversations that parents choose to have with their children are as different as the individuals recounting them, as different as the experiences with sexual assault. But parents who tell their children often say they do so from the understanding that all parents come to: They will not always be there to protect their children from those who would do them harm, and so their children must learn to protect themselves. And so, they seek to educate them, to prepare them to be vigilant in the most honest way they know how.
They teach them to listen to themselves. “You get a weird feeling, you trust it,” Laurie Stevens, from San Fernando Valley, Calif., who was drugged and raped by an acquaintance when she was a college student, told her daughter, a high school senior. “That intuition is your umbilical cord to God, and you honor it.”
They teach their children to listen to others.
“One of the things that is hardest for survivors is not to hate themselves, to not blame themselves,” said Patricia Miller of Portales, N.M. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she is a moderator for the 78,000 member Pandora’s Aquarium, an international online forum and chat room for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. “I wanted to prepare my children to have compassion and empathy. I would tell them, ‘Look around whatever room you are in and know that one in every five women will be sexually assaulted and one in six men. People you know will be hurt, and they will need to have folks around who will listen to them with open hearts.”
They teach them that in talking about the hurt, they rob it of its power.
They come to the conversations in different ways. Miller told her children over time, giving them just the information she thought they could understand and handle as they grew older. Did you ever think you were going to die and go to heaven, asks her son after his appendix burst. Yes, she said, and tells him a little of a father around whom she felt she could never be safe.
They circle around it for years with advice on never drinking from an open bottle, on being alert, on being active bystanders. For 30 years, Stevens carried around fragmented memories of an assault by a student in one of her classes. She wasn’t drunk, just one moment she was present doing homework and the next she was far away and watching him disrobe her. Oh, him, another former classmate would say many years later, he got in trouble for drugging and raping women. Stevens started researching date-rape drugs for a series of psychological suspense novels she was writing. It all came together.
Did you ever get him arrested? Did you report him? Her daughter asked when Stevens told her the details earlier this month. No, it was not rape as I understood rape then. It wasn’t violent, Stevens answered, and thinks: I hunkered down. I was ashamed.
What is his name, her son, now in college, demanded, shaken and angry. Where is he? She will not tell him.
Decades later, they have triggers. Loud noises. Don’t ever come up behind mom unannounced. I don’t care if it’s a squirt gun, no guns, no gun-like toys, in the house.
At a crowded Milwaukee street fair, Dawn Helmrich suffers a panic attack and her 10-year-old daughter takes her hand and leads her from the crowd, comforting her, and then asking, ‘Mom, when are you going to tell me what happened to you?”
“HOW EMPOWERING IT CAN BE FOR THEM TO KNOW THE KIND OF RESILIENCY THAT IS WITHIN THEM. HERE I AM. THEIR MOM. I GOT MARRIED. I OWN A HOME. I GOT A MASTER’S DEGREE. I TEACH AT A COLLEGE AND I HAVE A FULL-TIME CAREER. I DID ALL THESE THINGS. DESPITE WHAT HAPPENED.”
— Dawn Helmrich
She told her children the whole story this year when they were 11 and 13, younger than she might have planned. But by then, she had become involved in victim advocacy and had organized Milwaukee’s participation in Denim Day USA, a sexual violence prevention and education campaign. When her advocacy was recognized with a community award, she and her husband decided their children should know why.
“They asked a lot of questions, and when I finished, they both got up and said, ‘Mom, you have so much courage, and you are so brave, and we are so proud of you,’” Helmrich said.
Both have since become young advocates in their own right.
In the car, outside the Home Goods store in Savannah, with a teenage daughter she thought still too sensitive to hear her story, Anderson regains her composure. A matter-of-fact tone enters her voice. She says: “When I was 27 years old, I was on business trip, staying in a downtown Atlanta hotel. I was walking out of my door, room 939, to go to the elevator. A man captured me in the hallway. He pulled a knife out and despite my fighting him and my screaming, he was more powerful, and he pushed me back into the room, and he robbed me first, and then he sexually assaulted me.”
She says she tricked him into thinking her marketing director was coming to the room, and when he cracked open the door, “my eyes locked on a housekeeper in the hallway, and I started screaming.” The man fled, and Anderson called hotel security. But her perpetrator escaped.
Like her older sister, Morgan, Allison listened to the story, wide-eyed and somber. “I didn’t think she was ready, but she was,” Anderson said. “And once I told them, I was totally an open book with them and with their friends. I brought it up. I wanted them to understand there was no shame in what happened to me. It was not my fault.”
In the three years since, Anderson has gone on to speak publicly to more than 100 groups about her experience. In 2011, she published “Room 939, 15 minutes of horror, 20 years of healing,” on how she reclaimed her life after her assault.
That day in the car with Allison, Anderson said, “the greatest thing that I wanted to leave with her was that there was courage, courage like my mother had, and courage would win the day. In the end, good will win over evil. They have to believe good prevails, and I believe it does. But you have to have courage.”
That man in the parking lot scared me, Anderson told Allison, but we are going to get out of this car, and we are going to go into that store, and we are going to complete what we came here to do.
Which is exactly what mother and daughter did.
The epidemic levels of rape on university campuses has a lot of people really worried. Unfortunately, they’re worried that campuses are going “too far” in their effort to punish rapists; that young men will be wrongly accused; that campus sex policies will criminalize consensual sex; that the rape epidemic is more ideological rhetoric than actual lived experience.
They are worried, it seems, that stopping campus rape and helping the victims of it – most of whom are women – will hurt young men.
It seems odd that, at a moment when we’re finally making headway on campus assault – with White House-backed initiatives, rape victims sharing their stories, and students mobilizing to make their campuses safer and more responsive to sexual violence – the response from some quarters is to worry for men’s futures rather than celebrate women’s potential safety.
No one wants to see innocent people accused of horrible crimes, but there is a distinct lack of evidence that young men on college campuses – even the ones who have raped women – are suffering any harm due to the increased focus on ending rape.
Rape remains a chronically underreported crime, and only 2% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. On college campuses, only 10 to 25% of rapists are expelled, less than half are suspended and many are given university-mandated “punishments” like writing a research paper or an apology letter.
So why the ramped-up concerns for men?
Maybe it’s that we’re not used to seeing gender justice in action, so it feels strange and new … and therefore off. Alexandra Brodsky, a co-director of anti-rape organization Know Your IX, compared the situation to someone who has unwittingly been living in an apartment with a tilted floor their whole life.
“You become used to that, so if you wake up one day and your floor is level, it’s going to feel uneven,” she told me.
Others, like Tracey Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) believe the renewed focus on accused rapists’ rights is simple denial. “It comes from not wanting to believe that campus sexual assault is as prevalent as survivors, advocates and, frankly, research, demonstrate it to be”, Vitchers told me.
I also believe that the disproportionate worry for accused rapists over their victims boils down to a fundamental distrust of women. It is less worry that men will be wrongly accused, and more a lasting, ill-informed “certainty” that women lie about rape. After all, the most controversial news story of campus rape this year – an irresponsibly-reported assault alleged by a student at the University of Virginia – didn’t even involve a young man was brought up on campus or criminal charges. The public outrage stemmed from the belief that the woman lied about her attack.
The rape truthers’ belief that any increasing efforts to stop rape and hold more accusers accountable will hurt innocent men is, at best, magical thinking. While multiple female rape victims at 89 different colleges have filed suits citing Title IX violations and unfair treatment by school administrators, there has not been one recent public case of a wrongly-accused male student who suffered significant, permanent legal harm at the hands of a malicious accuser. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to identify one, though.
The man accused of sexually assaulting two students and then raping Emma Sulkowictz – the Columbia University student who started the “Carry that Weight” performance protest – has tried appealing to anti-feminist media to claim his life was ruined, though no mainstream media published or broadcast his name until he came forward. And Columbia found the man not responsible, allowing him to remain on campus. A Washington Post column late last year fretted about the dangers of campus sexual assault policies for young men, yet focused on the case of a young man who was also found not responsible. How did the system fail him, exactly?
The concerns over due process in campus adjudication procedures are also misplaced. In The New York Times, Judith Shulevitz bemoans the Department of Education guidelines that instruct schools to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard in rape cases, as if such a thing is unheard of. But this is the same standard of evidence that’s required when a rape victim sues her attacker in civil court. Shulevitz also warns that schools risk losing federal funds if they don’t adhere to the DOE’s rules, but no school has ever had their funding taken away because of a Title IX violation.
Too many of us are more comfortable taking on imaginary problems rather than real ones – but reflexive thought experiments don’t stop rape or address the real underlying problems. They only do a disservice to the victims.
ABC Family’s Campus Rape Story line Goes Where Scripted Television Hasn’t Gone Before, via BuzzFeed:
The anger directed at HBO’s The Newsroom in December in the wake of an episode that attempted to capitalize on the debate surrounding the scourge of college sexual assault crystallized the complexity of emotions surrounding the very complicated issue plaguing campuses nationwide. At the time, the Rolling Stone/UVA debacle was dominating headlines — a magazine story that was meant to serve as crusading journalism, peeling back the lid of insidious behavior at the Virginia university and bringing awareness of the situation to a larger audience, instead had the opposite effect as the story’s factual basis was attacked and the magazine backed away from supporting the writer. Any platform that the story could have provided rape victims — particularly those on college campuses — was undone, and the piece itself has become a watchword for reckless reporting and a lack of fact-checking. In the months that followed, the conversation continued, especially when two 2015 Sundance Film Festival projects dealt with campus rape: Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground and Morris May and Rose Troche’s interactive Perspective. There is something in the air at the moment — the discourse and epidemic are reaching a boiling point.
The latest entrée into the conversation is, on the surface, a surprising one: A teen television show waded into the murky waters of campus rape narratives in its Feb. 3 episode. But that teen series, ABC Family’s groundbreaking Switched at Birth, has never been one to shy away from potentially explosive issues of race, class, or the hearing/deaf divide (many of its main characters are deaf or hard-of-hearing and the show has embraced the use of American Sign Language and closed captioning). The teen drama, created by Lizzy Weiss, might have initially been about the ramifications of two families — one white and wealthy, the other Latina and struggling to get by — learning that their daughters had been switched at the hospital as babies. But in the four seasons since, it’s evolved into a canny exploration of communication, expression, and identity.
There’s a reason the particular issue of campus rape is one that is poignant forSwitched’s deaf and hard-of-hearing characters — and why it’s fitting now. Last year, the Washington Post ran a story about the climbing rates of campus rape and the belief among university administrators that “robust reporting” could contribute to preventing these crimes in the future. The university with the highest rates of reporting forcible sex offenses proved to be Gallaudet University, which saw “more than 11 per thousand students in 2012.” Gallaudet also happens to house the nation’s premier deaf education program, and the university’s dean of student affairs and academic support pointed toward the resources available — “direct access in terms of communication and language with on-campus personnel without requiring the need for an interpreter” — as the reason for the higher overall numbers and reporting rates.
Switched at Birth has long looked toward Gallaudet and deaf history and culture for inspiration for its storylines. Though it’s unclear whether the Post’s reporting played a role for Weiss and the writing staff in penning the Jan. 27 episode, the installment saw Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) waking up after a drunken night in the bed of her ex-boyfriend Tank (Max Adler), her clothes scattered on the floor. In the Feb. 3 episode, Bay struggles to recall the events of the night before, wondering whether she had cheated on her long-distance boyfriend, Emmett (Sean Berdy), by possibly drunkenly sleeping with her ex. But more troublingly, she is uncertain about whether she consented to having sex with Tank or not in the first place.
It’s Bay’s birth mother Regina (Constance Marie) who first utters the r-word — noting that if a woman is drunk, she cannot actually give consent, and that any consent given while impaired isn’t actually consent. It’s a shock to Bay, and to the viewer, really, to hear such an open discussion on such a controversial subject on a teen drama — but it’s important that this is a conversation happening on a show geared toward a younger demographic. All too often, rape gets swept under the rug or is used as a means to an end to look at victim culture or false accusations or something different altogether; on Switched, however, though it’s used for a narrative, it’s also instructive and educational. Regina’s lines are uttered with such certain sincerity that the moment, like many others on this series, isn’t saccharine or forced, but significant.
Typically, sexual assault storylines play out with strangers, their repercussions barely, if at all, glimpsed. A recent episode of The Good Wife looked at the epidemic through the lens of a college disciplinary board following a student accusing another of rape, taking its title (“The Red Zone”) from the most dangerous time of year for sexual assault against first-year female students. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), representing the victim, flicks at the specter of Title IX, saying that the university could open itself up to a lawsuit under the U.S. Code for gender discrimination in education. But the rape didn’t happen to Alicia’s son Zach (Graham Phillips) or her daughter Grace (Makenzie Vega) — and while the episode was powerfully rendered and meticulously constructed, there was an inherent narrative distance between the topic and the framework of the show; it was a case to be won or lost by Alicia, and while it drew upon real-life inspiration, it ultimately doesn’t change the direction of the show or any of the central characters.
That’s not the case with Switched at Birth. As Bay goes back and forth about whether she consented to sleep with Tank, the show shifts between each of their perspectives — hers increasingly inebriated, his equally drunk — which differ in small but meaningful ways. Did she kiss him? Did he kiss her? Did she push him away? And if she didn’t, did it mean that she was actually able to give her consent?When Bay confronts Tank about her lack of clarity regarding the events of the previous night, he is horrified by what she is implying: that he took advantage of her, that he assaulted her, that he raped her. They were both drunk, he bellows, and he would never do anything like that. Tank is not a stranger to Bay or the audience: He’s been presented previously as a “good guy.” Which is precisely the point.
The plot doesn’t wrap up neatly after one episode; in fact, there’s a simmering level of anger, fear, and distress that threatens to boil over in next week’sSwitched, even as Bay says she doesn’t want to do anything about what happened, that she just wants it to go away. But Bay’s brother Toby (Lucas Grabeel) — who is also Tank’s roommate — tells his girlfriend Lily (Rachel Shenton) about what happened… and Lily is an administrator at the university, meaning she has a legal obligation to bring the situation to the disciplinary board. It looks like Bay’s hope that this just goes away will soon be evaporating completely.
But that’s because this storyline is realistically messy and fraught — it’s painful and profound, showing a night that Bay deeply regrets. Of course, regretting that something happened does not mean accepting responsibility for it — andSwitched carefully threads its narrative here, placing the blame for what may have happened on Tank for having sex with Bay when she was clearly too drunk to actually give her legal consent.
That this is all playing out in a show that so many teenagers (and adults) are watching is important for so many reasons. The ultimate irony is that this ABC Family teen drama is doing a far better job of tackling this difficult topic than its allegedly more hard-hitting and award-winning adult counterparts — and that, thankfully, means those in the audience who may soon be college-bound themselves are actually watching.
Kassie Edwards reported her rape. But that was before the attention on U-Va. or Cosby, via The Washington Post:
Kassie Edwards reported her rape. It wasn’t much of a decision, really.
She was attacked on Halloween 2008. Two months earlier, Edwards had transferred to Florida State University to be an African American studies major, with dreams of eventually working at one of the Smithsonian museums. Soon after arriving on campus, she was assigned a work-study job at the university library.
She had the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift that day, and just before noon, she took the elevator to the third floor to restock shelves. It was dark until she walked out and triggered the motion-detector lights.
That was when she noticed a young man with bloodshot eyes standing very still in the lobby. No one else was around. She was pushing her cart down an aisle when he came up to her from behind, took her in a chokehold and wrestled her to the ground.
“Don’t say nothing,” he told her, indicating that there was a gun in the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt. She was afraid to scream but remained conscious throughout the attack. When the man was done, he pulled up his pants and instructed her to count to 100 before she got up — warning that if she didn’t, he would come back for her.
The backlash against women who have raised sexual-assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, including Victoria Valentino, left, and Barbara Bowman, could intimidate other women who have been sexually assaulted, Edwards says. (Left: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Rigjht: Erin O’Connor for The Washington Post)
Edwards counted to five, heard the sound of shuffling papers and ran to find a co-worker. Within minutes, Tallahassee police were at the library.
She didn’t cry until later. Until after the rape kit was administered at the hospital and a detective had taken her statement. Then her roommates took her home. “And I didn’t know what to do but just cry. I felt like my life had changed,” says Edwards, now 28.
Today, more than six years after the attack, Edwards is a victim advocate and speaker with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She sat down for an interview at an apartment in Laurel, Md., where she has lived for two months and which overlooks the woods. Tall and outgoing, she now speaks of the rape with a matter-of-fact calmness. She feels it’s especially important to be vocal about her experience, in light of the avalanche of media attention that high-profile sexual assault cases have received in recent months.
She stayed in her room for much of the week after the attack, she says, and when she did emerge, she shuddered at the sight of every man in a hooded sweatshirt, wondering whether each one was her attacker.
Edwards had never known anyone who said they had been raped, and she had never thought that it would happen to her. But something happened as she talked to her friends about the attack. They started talking back — about their own experiences with sexual assault.
“I learned about all my friends who had been raped before, which I would never have known about because they were afraid to come forward. And these were close friends,” she says. “There’s a veil of shame about being raped.”
Rape and doubt
Two months after the attack, Edwards’s rapist was caught. He had raped two other women and then murdered his girlfriend. Edwards wrote a letter to be read at his sentencing. “I’ve forgiven you,” she wrote. “I hope you will live the rest of your life making the right choices.”
Her assailant, who was not a Florida State student, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Edwards doesn’t think about him much anymore. She finished college — had a great deal of fun and had her heart broken. She healed her wounds through prayer and counseling and poetry.
And whenever the opportunity arose, she talked about what had happened — to the media, to her friends, to audiences at spoken-word open-mike nights. She talks because it’s helpful to her, but more than that, because she hopes it will be helpful to others. “To give them inspiration to be more inclined to report crimes that happened to them,” she says. “Especially rape.”
And at this moment, her advocacy work feels more urgent than ever. The past year has shone a bright light on the issues surrounding crimes against women — first there were the accusations against quarterback Jameis Winston at Edwards’s alma mater. Then came Ray Rice, and the University of Virginia story in Rolling Stone, and the multiplying number of women coming forward to say that Bill Cosby once drugged and assaulted them. And unfortunately, Edwards thinks, the sum result is that it may now be more difficult for women to come forward than ever before — especially if their attacker is someone previously known to them.
“Legislatively we’ve made it easier for rape victims, but culturally I think we’re taking a couple steps back,” says Edwards, who works at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Although it didn’t happen in her case, Edwards says she has learned that one of the biggest problems is that people “tend to doubt the rape victims’ stories. They tend to blame the victim or they don’t believe them, instead of saying, ‘Oh, how could somebody do this?’ ”
Edwards fears that the backlash against women who have come forward — especially the Cosby accusers, whose motives have been questioned — will dissuade others from taking the same step. “Because they’ve seen how the victims are being portrayed,” she says. “It’s good that we’re talking about it, but the conversation is not steered in a positive light.”
Her message to victims is this: “It’s not something you could’ve prevented. It’s not about you being a weak person. It’s about somebody who doesn’t have control over their greed and their desire for power.”
She encourages victims to tell someone about what happened, although she knows that’s often a much more complicated endeavor than it was for her. “It’s about what feels comfortable for them and exploring all the avenues before making the ultimate decision not to report. Whether it’s reporting it to an anonymous hotline or friend or advocate or going to counseling.” By reporting the crime, she says, they may be able to prevent it from happening to someone else.
Edwards says that her initial fear — that her life would be forever damaged because of the assault — has proved not to be true. “Going through that experience just made me a stronger person,” she says.
The advocacy work in particular has added new depth and meaning to her life. But mostly she has just stayed on track, knowing that nothing — and no one — has the power to knock her off course.
In the coming weeks, Edwards will start a new job — at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Cee-Lo Green Pulled From Military Base Performance, via Jezebel:
After his atrocious Twitter comments about rape and subsequent terrible apology, Cee-Lo Green has been cut from the performance line-up of a concert at a D.C. navy base. It seems concert organizers realized that having someone who has allegedly drugged and raped a woman and then complained about it was not the right person to appear at a military facility, when the military is struggling to prove it has a handle on its own sexual assault issues.
Freedom LIVE – the name for the programming presented by the Naval District Washington (NDW)’s portion of the military’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department, which is currently in its first season – announced Thursday evening they had removed Cee-Lo from the line-up of their September 20th show with Little Big Town at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in D.C. They wrote on their Facebook page:
We seek a Department-wide culture of gender dignity and respect where sexual assault is completely eliminated and never tolerated, where sexual assault victims receive compassionate and coordinated support, and where offenders are held appropriately accountable.
Unfortunately, one of the performers we signed for the JBAB Freedom Live show on 20 September recently posted comments on social media that we consider to completely inconsistent with Navy core values. Regardless of intent or context, the lack of sensitivity towards an issue that is one of the great challenges facing our Navy is unacceptable.
As a result, we have made the decision to pull CeeLo Green from the Freedom Live event on 20 September. Little Big Town, the main attraction for the event, will still perform as scheduled. We will announce as soon as possible a replacement opening act of the high quality that you expect and deserve.
After Cee-Lo’s original appearance was announced and his tweets were sent and deleted, one veteran told Jezebel he sent a complaint about the performance to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Department of Defense, though it’s unclear how many other people complained. The comments on the Facebook post about the cancellation are almost universally positive.
Image via Ethan Miller/Getty
Columbia University student will carry her mattress everywhere as long as her rapist remains on campus, via feministing:
Watch her video interview HERE.
Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm bed at the beginning of her junior year. Now, for her senior visual arts thesis, Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress with her everywhere she goes as long as she attends the same school as her rapist.
As she explains in the video about her project above, “The piece could potentially take a day, or it could go on until I graduate. For me, it’s an endurance performance arts piece.”
Sulkowicz’s rapist has been accused of sexual assault by two other women at Columbia but remains on campus. Sulkowicz has described in detail the terrible, incompetent hearing process she went through trying to get justice from Columbia, and was one of the students who filed a federal Title IX complaint accusing the school of mishandling sexual assault cases. Later, she reported her rape to the police — an experience which illustrated pretty much exactly why many survivors are reluctant to do so.
The mattress is an apt physical symbol of the weigh Sulkowicz has carried with her while sharing her campus with her rapist for a year. “A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it,” she explains. It also represents the way she’s been speaking out about her experience. “We keep [beds] in our bedroom, which is our intimate and private space… The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”
What You Can Do If Your Friend Has Been Sexually Assaulted, via The Huffington Post:
The conversation about sexual assault usually centers around frightening statistics and failed responses from college institutions. Those stories need to be told, and loudly. But as we discuss the pain of sexual assault and how we can prevent future violence, we also need to talk about the other side of the narrative: helping survivors heal.
Despite increased awareness about sexual assault, it remains an understandably difficult topic to discuss. So many people simply don’t know what to say when they find out a friend has been sexually assaulted.
But helping a friend who is a survivor of sexual assault isn’t really about words. It’s about listening without judgement and providing sensitive emotional support. It’s about understanding that survivors can heal — and that having the right allies to support them is critical to helping their recovery process. Here are the most important things you need to know in order to be one of those allies:
1. Believe them.
As Working Against Violence, Inc. puts it: “The greatest fear of rape survivors is that they will not be believed.” That fear is part of what keeps so many survivors silent. It follows that one of the best statements of support you can offer is a simple, “I believe you.”
2. Be supportive, and help them seek out the right resources.
Encourage your friend to take control of his or her physical and mental health. Jill Mayer, a licensed professional counselor and former clinical director of Women Organized Against Rape told The Huffington Post that, in the aftermath of a sexual assault, she recommends locating a local rape crisis center on the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) database.
She said that it’s important to encourage your friend to seek immediate medical attention, have a rape kit done and be tested for STIs and pregnancy. A rape kit exam is used to gather forensic evidence within the 96 hours after an assault. If possible, Mayer recommends having a rape kit exam done regardless of whether the survivor definitively intends to report the crime, as doing so keeps future options open, and a rape crisis center can provide a list of local hospitals that offer that service. Rape crisis centers also typically have counselors on staff who can provide psychological help to survivors and court advocates on staff who can provide information about their legal options.
3. Assure them that what happened is not their fault.
It’s all too common for victims to blame themselves. “There’s also a level of shame and embarrassment surrounding being sexually violated… Survivors may feel like the assault was their fault, but the blame is solely on perpetrators,” said Mayer.
Survivors may be more apt to blame themselves if drugs or alcohol were involved, or if their perpetrator was a friend or intimate partner. (Loveisrespect.org has excellent resources for helping a friend being sexually abused by a partner.)
Further, if your friend is a man, he faces the painful, enduring societal myth that men cannot be raped or sexually abused. As an ally, you can do survivors a great service simply by reaffirming that their trauma and pain is valid, no matter the circumstances. Mayer also suggested urging survivors struggling with self-blame orinternalized rape myths to seek counseling.
4. Listen, and don’t press for details.
Opening up about these experiences can be scary and painful, and it’s important not to pressure survivors into divulging memories that may be upsetting. As The Healing Center puts it: “Listen, listen, listen.” Resist the impulse to gather all the facts; and let your friend decide what information he or she wants to disclose. Focus on being a supportive sounding board as your friend works through his or her feelings.
5. Respect the decisions they make in the aftermath.
The unfortunate truth is that many sexual assault survivors are further traumatizedwhen they choose to report their assault to the authorities. You don’t have to look far to find examples of victim-blaming during police interrogations or slut-shaming in the court room. Given these realities, it’s upsetting, but not surprising, that only 36 percent of survivors report their assault to the police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Ultimately, each survivor deserves to make an independent decisionwithout external pressure. If your friend does choose to go forward, your support will be meaningful. If not, it’s critical to reserve your judgment.
6. Respect their recovery process and encourage them to heal constructively.
After sexual assault, survivors may experience a wide range of emotional and physical reactions as they recover and heal. Community Crisis Center, Inc. outlines some of the most common reactions to sexual assault, which include emotional withdrawal, disturbance of sleep and eating habits, and avoiding activities that may trigger traumatic memories. Mayer warned against telling your friend to “Just get over it” or suggesting potentially destructive coping mechanisms, like a night out of drinking. Respect that your friend may need alone time, but let him or her know that you’re there if they need company.
7. Help them seek other lifelines.
According to Mayer, the most important thing a survivor needs is a healthy support system of allies. But you can’t provide that on your own. Mayer cautioned against taking on the responsibility of being a sole lifeline or playing the role of therapist. “It’s very important to lay down a boundary line,” she said. She also recommended helping your friend identify people in their lives who can offer that support, and encouraging your friend to seek counseling or support groups. (You can find these local resources through the RAINN network.) Ensuring that your friend has other shoulders to lean on makes it easier to keep your own boundaries in place.
8. Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to seek out support.
Being a good ally can be emotionally draining. Mayer told The Huffington Post that allies “could be getting traumatized or burnt out by the information that they’re hearing and can start to feel hopeless and depressed themselves.” Don’t dismiss those feelings. If you become overwhelmed, seek support from friends, family or professional counselors. RAINN has excellent resources about self-care for friends and allies. You can’t be part of your friend’s support system if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
Ultimately, being a good ally isn’t about saying “the perfect thing” that makes everything better. It’s about offering compassion and understanding as your friend heals.
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.
A 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.
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.