Tag Archives: sexual violence

#GivingTuesday!

Giving Tuesday is almost here! You can support our services by sharing this post, and/or donating.

Thank you for you consideration!

Click here to donate. 

Duggar scandal renews focus on child sexual abuse, via The Kennebec Journal:

The issue of child sexual abuse rose to the surface abruptly last month when “19 Kids and Counting” star Josh Duggar admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing his sisters when he was a teenager. The results have included suspension of the reality TV show from the lineup of the TLC cable network and increased attention to child sexual abuse.

Among the issues that have been raised include sexual behavior problems by young people, and how parents and caregivers can respond appropriately.

Many of the most heart-wrenching cases at the Children’s Advocacy Centers involve families in which sibling abuse has occurred. Parents are distraught about the victimization of one child, while worried about the legal consequences to another child. The parents struggle to provide emotional support and effective intervention to both the child victim and the child who committed the offense.

Staff at Children’s Advocacy Centers and their multidisciplinary teams can help families navigate this difficult time by serving as a gateway to services that can help victims heal.

Young people who have sexual behavior problems are more common than most people realize. In fact, 18 percent of the more than 315,000 sexual abuse cases seen by Children’s Advocacy Centers last year involved an offender younger than 18 — most often a sibling, cousin or friend from the neighborhood or school.

Among the many reasons children and teens may develop a sexual behavior problem are lack of privacy and boundaries, exposure to sexualized materials or environment, curiosity that gets out of hand and a sexual abuse history of their own.

Whatever the reason, however, it is critical to ensure these young people receive evidence-supported treatment to interrupt this cycle of behavior, so that all children in the home can be safe. If we can identify these issues and interrupt this behavior early and treat it appropriately, we as a society ultimately may prevent future child sexual abuse from occurring.

One excellent resource for parents and professionals is the National Center for the Sexual Behavior of Youth, which provides public awareness, training in evidence-based treatments and technical assistance, all tied to managing and responding to youth with problematic sexual behavior. Helpful information for parents and links to treatment providers also can be found through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a network of mental health experts in child trauma intervention.

Finally, and most importantly, at the heart of every child sexual abuse case is the child victim. We should not minimize the trauma child victims suffer as a result of abuse by other young people. Whether the offender is a sibling, friend or extended family member, the victims suffer a betrayal of trust and a loss of personal safety that is deeply wounding. Similar to other forms of child sexual abuse where the offender is within the family, these child victims struggle with both their fear of continued abuse and their love for the family member who has harmed them.

As a society, we have failed to protect these victims, and we owe them the treatment they need to heal, as well as our support as they go through the challenging healing process. Critical to that healing process is the privacy and space to heal outside of the media glare.

When the abuse is made public, as it was in the case of the Duggar family, the exposure can be as traumatic to the victims as the original abusive incident. Victims routinely report media attention as stressful, and many are ill-prepared for the consequences of such media scrutiny. The loss of privacy and control over this most intimate part of their life can mirror the loss of control felt at the time of the abuse.

Some adult survivors find speaking out about their experiences empowering. The common thread in this experience, however, is one of choice. The victim chooses to tell her or his story, exerted some control over the timing and narrative and is psychologically ready for such a public disclosure.

We all can help victims become survivors by sending a clear message to media that the names of victims should not be used without their permission, nor should they be hounded to tell “their side” of the story.

As executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kennebec and Somerset counties, I have witnessed the effects of countless cases of child sexual abuse over the years, I hope this most recent instance will draw additional attention to the issue of child sexual abuse and how we all are responsible for protecting our nation’s children.

I also encourage parents and caregivers to visit the National Center for the Sexual Behavior of Youth, and to learn more about the services offered by local Children’s Advocacy Centers. With more than 800 Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country and now including Maine, intervention and prevention services are readily available so those in similar situations to the Duggar family may seek the help and treatment they need and deserve.

(A 24-hour confidential sexual assault crisis and support line: 800-841-7741.)

Donna Strickler is executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center in Winthrop.

We need to stop rapists, not change who gets raped, by Jessica Valenti, via The Guardian:

What if rape reduction programs are actually just redirecting assault? A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that an anti-sexual assault program directed at first year female students in three Canadian colleges lowered women’s risk of being raped by half. For the women who took this course, that kind of reduction is amazing. But what about those who didn’t?

Jaclyn Friedman, former Impact self defense instructor and author of What You Really, Really Want, noted that the chances of permanently deterring a rapist is very low.

“Rapes are perpetrated by a tiny percentage of men who know what they’re doing and who rape again and again – they’re just going to find another target” she told me.

Friedman, who also co-edited an anthology on ending rape with me in 2008, said: “So just because these girls [who took the training] are less likely to be picked, it doesn’t mean there’s less rape on campus … This isn’t rape prevention, it’s rape protection.”

Certainly, the more women who receive trainings that have been proven to reduce their rape risk, the better – so it’s great to give money to programs like these and implement them where we can. But as Friedman noted: “unless the vast majority of women are getting this training, I don’t see how it makes a dent.”

The training program for freshman women not only included elements of self defense and risk-assessment, but a session on relationships, setting sexual boundaries and ways to “overcome emotional barriers to resisting the unwanted sexual behaviors of men who were known to them.” The students were contacted a year after their completed the program, and researchers found that their risk of rape was 5%; women who simply given brochures and a less comprehensive education had a rate of 10%.

This impressive reduction is reason to celebrate. But there is no easy answer to ending rape, and there’s a real danger in believing the solution to sexual assault is on the shoulders of women who might be attacked.

As Kathleen Basile from the Centers for Disease Control said in an editorial accompanying the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, as a sole solution this program “places the onus for prevention on potential victims, possibly obscuring the responsibility of perpetrators and others”. And in a world where rape victims are routinely blamed for the violence perpetrated against them, sending the message that stopping rape is women’s work is a slippery slope.

There are multiple ways to stop sexual assault among young people – and other programs that focus more on community responsibility have had just as much success. The Green Dot project, for example – which focuses on bystander intervention – showed a 50% reduction of sexual assault in 26 Kentucky high schools that participated in the program. Programs like this also have the added benefit of making ending rape all of our responsibility, not just women’s.

Those who participate learn what sexual assault looks like, the actions a potential perpetrator might take, and how to stop them. It means that a school full of people trained to know what a rapist acts like is much more likely to be able to remove rapists’ social license to operate, and take away their ability to rape within a community.

We need more than just one study and more than just one training to stop rape, not just on college campuses, but everywhere. Small, short-term solutions that work for some women are terrific and I hope we fund a lot of them. But what we need more are lasting solutions for all of us – solutions that don’t just change statistics, but the culture.

• This article was amended on 15 June 2015. An earlier version attributed a quote to Charlene Senn, the lead author of the study into the efficacy of an anti-sexual assault program in three Canadian colleges. In fact the quote was from Kathleen Basile of the Centers for Disease Control, who was writing in an editorial accompanying the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lady Gaga joins campaign to tackle sexual assaults on US campuses, via The Guardian:

Lady Gaga has penned an open letter alongside the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to support a new law to protect university students from the “epidemic of sexual violence” on campuses.

“Every fall, young men and women head off to colleges across the country, dreaming of bright futures and the experience of a lifetime,” the piece, published on Billboard reads. “They’ve worked hard for the chance to become a part of their new campuses, and they set out full of hope and excitement.”

Unfortunately, for thousands of these students, that dream turns into a nightmare because of the unacceptable epidemic of sexual violence that is currently plaguing colleges and universities. It is a shocking reality that many in academia, government, and society in general still refuse to acknowledge.

On 17 June, New York lawmakers will decide whether to pass Cuomo’s Enough is Enough policy, which aims to combat sexual assault at all universities and private institutions in the state.

Lady Gaga, who told Howard Stern in 2014 that she had been sexually assaulted when she was 19 by a producer 20 years her senior, has backed the legislation. In the run up to the decision, Cuomo has been screening the documentary Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. It features a new Lady Gaga song, Till It Happens to You.

The extract concludes:

“Thankfully, New York has an opportunity to stand up for its students, and take the critical steps toward facing this crisis head on. The bill currently beforeNew York state legislature will address the issue of sexual violence on college campuses, giving the state the nation’s strongest laws to target campus sexual assault. This is a campaign that will protect students, and it’s exactly what we need.

“By passing legislation such as the bill currently before the New York state legislature, we can turn the tide on this issue so that students can realise their dreams on campuses that are safe spaces. That’s why we are joining together to take a stand against sexual assault on college campuses. Quite simply, enough is enough.”

Victim blaming needs to stop

7 Things We Need to Stop Saying to Sexual Assault Survivors Immediately, via Everyday Feminism

(Trigger Warning: Sexual violence)

Editor’s Note: This piece focuses largely on the experiences of sexual violence perpetrated by men against women. However, Everyday Feminism recognizes that all people can be perpetrators and survivors of sexual violence.

Originally published on Mic and cross-posted here with their permission.

This just in: Rape is in no way, shape, or form a “learning experience.”

Yet that’s exactly how Susan Patton, aka “Princeton Mom,” described it on air during a CNN interview on Thursday.

Brought on to discuss campus sexual assault, she grossly mischaracterized being raped while drunk as “a learning experience” and “a clumsy hookup melodrama.”

Patton is but one recent example of “high-profile” commentary gone wrong.

Recently, highly publicized cases – such as the Rolling Stone-University of Virginia debacle, Lena Dunham’s revelations, and the mounting Bill Cosby allegations – have exposed the vast discrepancies between people’s perceptions and the reality of rape.

But for most survivors, it doesn’t take a media spotlight to beget insensitive, uninformed, and downright erroneous remarks about sexual assault.

It’s something they face every day. Here are some things we should stop saying to survivors – immediately:

1. ‘What Were You Wearing?’

This question is a classic, if not ubiquitous, victim-blaming approach.

Time and again, survivors are asked what they were wearing at the time of their assault, implying they were “asking for it.”

Newsflash: The cause of rape is 100% rapists, not clothing choices.

In March 2014, Twitter user @Steenfox addressed this issue when she asked followers what they were wearing at the time of their assaults. The responses clearly demonstrate the irrelevance of fashion when it comes to rape.

At its core, rape is about power and control, not sex or attraction; the common claim of a woman “luring” or “enticing” her rapist with an outfit is absurd.

Furthermore, the idea that a woman who is dressed a certain way is somehow responsible for her own assault isn’t just inaccurate, it creates a class system of women and girls who are more “rapeable.”

2. ‘You Shouldn’t Have Been Drinking’

Like its clothing counterpart above, this is another favorite catchphrase of victim-blamers, particularly in the context of college sexual assaults, where partying is often the pretext for rape.

But people are not raped or assaulted because they’re drinking or drunk. Rather, as one expert quoted in USA Today said, “People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them.”

In fact, a 2001 research report found that while alcohol consumption and sexual assault often co-occur, “the desire to commit a sexual assault may actually cause alcohol consumption (e.g., when a man drinks alcohol before committing a sexual assault in order to justify his behavior).”

Perhaps it’s time to start looking at alcohol as a date rape drug instead of an excuse to justify or shrug off sexual assault.

3. ‘But They’re Your Partner – That’s Not Rape, That’s Sex’

Despite the myth that “real” rape is only committed by strangers, statistics say otherwise.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 73% of rapists are non-strangers.

Specifically, 38% of rapists are the survivor’s friend or acquaintance, 28% are intimate partners, and 7% are family members.

The bottom line: Any unwanted sexual contact is assault, no matter who is perpetrating it.

4. ‘You Should Have Reported It’

Despite being ranked by the FBI as the second most violent crime, behind murder, rape is among the most underreported crimes nationally, with 60% of rapes going unreported.

According to RAINN, there are several reasons why survivors are reluctant to report their assaults. In their report, they state:

“The most common reason given by [survivors] (23%) is that the rape is a ‘personal matter.’ Another 16% of [survivors] say that they fear reprisal, while about 6% don’t report because they believe that the police are biased.”

Even when a rape is reported, only 3 out of 100 rapists will ever serve a day in prison, a bleak statistic that may also discourage survivors from reporting.

At the end of the day, it’s vital that we support survivors in their decisions whether or not to report their assaults. Only they can make that call.

5. ‘Why Didn’t You Fight Back Harder?’

Last month, the FBI finally updated its definition of rape, removing the word “forcible” to recognize that not all assault survivors are physically overcome by their rapists.

There are several instances in which survivors might be raped and either don’t or can’t fight off attackers.

For example, they may be drugged or otherwise mentally incapacitated, in fear for their lives, outnumbered, or experiencing tonic immobility – a response to trauma in which a person freezes.

6. ‘Are You Sure You Don’t Just Regret Having Sex with Him?’

If a women has sex with a man, regrets it, and cries rape, that constitutes a false allegation — which is extremely rare, despite men’s rights activists’ claims that this practice is endemic.

In fact, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), only 2% to 8% of rape reports are false.

However, as the NSVRC points out, false reports are not necessarily the same as false allegations: “Investigators, prosecutors, and others often decide that a sexual assault did not happen based simply on their own views of the [survivor], the suspect, and their credibility.”

A man has a greater chance (1 in 33) of becoming a rape survivor himself than being falsely accused of raping someone.

7. ‘But You’re a Guy — You Can’t Be Raped’

This simply is not true.

While the vast majority of rape survivors are women, approximately 3% of American men — 2.78 million — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.

Despite this, many men are reluctant to acknowledge, let alone report, their attacks.

According to research published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity in July 2014, “the majority of men who have experienced something that would qualify as child sexual abuse or adult rape based on research definitions do not label their experiences as sexual abuse or rape.”

Perhaps this is driven by a fear of being called gay, weak, or “less of a man,” but regardless, it is important that we believe and support male survivors.

Disclosing a sexual assault to your children

‘I need to tell you something’: How survivors of sexual assault tell their children, via The Washington Post:

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.

Stalking myths

5 myths about stalking you need to know, written by Regina Rooney, via Bangor Daily News: Maine Focus:

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and as it draws to a close, we here at the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence are thinking about stalking — about what it looks like, how we talk about it and respond to it, and how it impacts people’s lives.

The definition of stalking recommended by the National Stalking Resource Center is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” But even with that definition, confusion and misinformation about this problem abounds. So this year, we are examining some of the key myths about stalking.

Myth 1: Stalkers only stalk strangers

While the popular image is of the stalker as a random stranger who catches a glimpse of someone through a store window and becomes fascinated by them on the spot, reality differs. In fact, the majority of of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know. And many of those (66 percent of female victims, and 44 percent of male victims) are stalked by a current or former intimate partner. So while it is true that stranger stalking happens, it makes up the minority of cases.

Stalking behaviors can include following a person, monitoring another person’s actions or repeatedly contacting them against their will. These are all also behaviors that can fall under the umbrella of domestic abuse. It is important that we realize that while stalking doesn’t always indicate a domestic violence relationship, abusive people frequently stalk their victims as a part of their plan to gain power and control. And it is a serious red flag: 76 percent of intimate partner femicide victims — women who were killed in domestic violence homicides — were stalked by their abusers prior to their murders.

Myth 2: It’s nothing serious

Despite that last statistic, stalking is rarely treated very seriously in our culture at large. Many of us glibly use “stalking” in our everyday conversation to indicate something as routine as running into a friend at the grocery store. Using the word in this way minimizes the reality of the act.

There are examples in pop culture, too. Consider the video for Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue,” which depicts Sugarland’s lead singer Jennifer Nettles stalking, kidnapping and drugging a man. Despite the lighthearted tone of the video — the boppy beat, the bright colors, the comical expressions on everyone’s faces — what the video depicts is actually an extremely serious situation. Unfortunately, it is all presented as a joke — even when the video ends with the singer’s fist punching the victim in the face.

In reality, stalking takes a serious toll on victims. Rates of anxiety, severe depression, insomnia and social dysfunction are much higher among people who have been stalked when compared with the general population. People who experience stalking report not knowing what is coming next, what to expect or how long it will go on. They lose time from work and have trouble functioning in everyday life. Treating stalking like a joke minimizes the experience of victims and contributes to the idea that what they are going through isn’t really that bad.

Myth 3: It’s romantic…or even sexy

This is another form of minimization. We may be encouraged to interpret someone’s repeated attentions as romantic or desirable. People experiencing abuse are often encouraged to interpret the abuser’s actions as something other than abusive. People may say, “He just really loves you,” or “I wish someone cared about me that much.” But repeated unwanted attentions are not flattering or positive; insisting that they are negates victims’ feelings and undermines their instincts about their own situations.

Attitudes like these are reinforced by popular culture, which often portrays unhealthy behaviors as romantic and/or sexy. While we have become somewhat more sensitive to portrayals of domestic abuse and rape, stalking still seems to lack critical attention as far as the entertainment industry is concerned. In Maroon 5’s recent video for “Animals,” lead singer Adam Levine plays a blood-soaked butcher trailing a woman through the city, planning to “eat her alive.”

Levine sings, “Yeah, you can start over, you can run free/You can find other fish in the sea/You can pretend it’s meant to be/ But you can’t stay away from me.”

The meaning here is constructed not only by the lyrics and the images — which are quite disturbing — but by the fact that Levine was People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2013 and is seen as a major sex symbol. Although the video did garner criticism in advocacy circles, it was widely accepted. The fact that anyone thought it appropriate to portray these behaviors as desirable shows how much we have left to do to change perceptions of stalking and of sexualized violence in general.

Myth 4: Cyber stalkers are all tech geniuses

Sadly, it is extremely easy to use today’s technology to keep tabs on someone else. One does not need to be a super techie or even to have the latest and greatest in technology to be able to track another’s movements, hack into their accounts, film them without their knowledge or invade their privacy online. And the implications for victims are far-reaching, from anxiety and depression to loss of job prospects. Perhaps most troubling of all, the misuse of technology to stalk can leave victims with the impression that their abusers really do know everything, that there really is no way to find safety or get help without the abuser being able to follow.

Thankfully, there is good work being done to counteract the swift evolution of cyber abuse. The Stalking Resource Center and the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Safety Net Project are both great resources. Maine’s domestic violence resource centersspecialize in safety planning, and can help those being stalked by an intimate partner to get help. For those experiencing stalking at the hands of someone other than an intimate partner, they can contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Myth 5: It doesn’t happen in Maine

In fact, we know it does happen in Maine — frequently. Stalking isn’t something that only takes place “out there” in the world. It is happening to our neighbors and our friends. It may be happening to you. The state of Maine has recognized the scope and seriousness of the problem by making stalking a crime.

It is time to move past the myths of stalking, to see it for what it really is: a serious crime that happens to too many people, too much of the time, yet is too often minimized by our culture at large. We know that it takes a community to say no to abuse and violence. It is time that we as a community raise our voices and say no to stalking, too.

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.

Moving forward
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.

Affirmative consent

Why you should practice affirmative consent: It’s healthy (and sexy), via The Bangor Daily News:

A few weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that compels California universities to use an “affirmative consent” standard when investigating campus sexual assaults. As Amanda Hess from Slate explains,

This means that during an investigation of an alleged sexual assault, university disciplinary committees will have to ask if the sexual encounter met a standard where both parties were consenting, with consent defined as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Notice that the words “verbal” or “stone sober” are not included in that definition. The drafters understand, as most of us do when we’re actually having sex, that sometimes sexual consent is nonverbal and that there’s a difference between drunk, consensual sex and someone pushing himself on a woman who is too drunk to resist.

Predictably, there was some concern about whether the state should be involved in the sex lives of college students. There was concern that the law will encourage false reports (of which there are only between 2-8 percent), and that false claims will skyrocket. As Gloria Steinem and Michael Kimmel pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, a similar law was enacted in Canada in 1992, and “yet the reporting of sexual assault has not skyrocketed with this higher standard.”

This law is a small step toward sexual violence prevention, and a giant leap in providing victims with protection they deserve.

Primary prevention of sexual violence – that is, preventing the violence before it is perpetrated – includes shifting unhealthy sexual and gender norms. It also puts the burden on everyone to prevent violence, not just a potential victim and/or a potential perpetrator. Primary prevention includes healthy sexuality.

Healthy sexuality is having the knowledge and power to express one’s sexuality in ways that enrich one’s life. It includes approaching sexual interactions and relationships from a consensual, respectful and informed perspective. Healthy sexuality is free from coercion and violence, which is precisely what this law seeks to promote.

Unfortunately in our culture, people aren’t automatically tuned into what it means to be a sexually healthy person. It’s something we all have to work on, given how bombarded we are with societal messages that tell us otherwise. We are taught that women and girls are sexual gatekeepers who should “pretend” to not want to have sex (when they actually do want it) — or to pretend to want it when they don’t — and men and boys should be aggressors who push to have sex no matter what their partner says.

Is it any wonder that sexual violence is such an issue?

And yet, healthy sexuality does exist and it is possible to be a sexually healthy person — and to have a sexually healthy culture. To have a law that promotes a standard of “yes means yes” instead of “no means no” is a great way to help establish healthy sexuality norms. People need to know that sex isn’t sexy without the presence (verbal or otherwise) of an enthusiastic yes, and if it takes a law to compel university officials to use that standard in investigations, then so be it.

As anyone who has ever enjoyed consensual sex will tell you, it’s pretty clear when the other person is into it. Not sure? Ask. It seems simple, and yet many fear that in practice it will be awkward. But as we all learn to be sexually healthier people, practice makes perfect.

So start practicing. It’s (healthy) sexy (sexuality).

This post is cross-posted from a post Cara wrote for Maine Family Planning’s blog, On the Front Lines.

Cee-Lo Green loses performance after rape comments

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