May, 2011

Why we don’t trust you, NYPD

In light of yesterday’s acquittal of New York Police Department, officers, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, and the endemic problem of rape in the United States, I drafted an open letter to the New York Police Department.

To the New York Police Department:

My name is Nancy Schwartzman, I’m a filmmaker, an activist and a survivor. I made a film about consent – called The Line – about my own sexual assault, and my decision to confront my perpetrator with a hidden camera. I have shown this film and led discussions around the world – at film festivals, on college campuses, and to people in the government and in the military. Sergeants, Lieutenants and Police Officers have come to my screenings. Some of them want to know why I didn’t report my rape, why I didn’t use the system, why instead, I confronted my perpetrator with a hidden camera, and created The Line Campaign to educate and prevent rape.

If you’re wondering why women hesitate to report a rape or a sexual assault to the police, and why a victim wouldn’t trust the justice system: look no further than the acquittal of NYPD officers Moreno and Mata.

Here are some definitions of rape and sexual assault:

If a woman is drunk or incapacitated she cannot consent to sex.

If a woman has consented to one form of sex, she is not consenting to all forms.

If a prostitute is raped, it is not theft of services, it is rape.

You must get consent every time for every act, or else it is not consensual.

The “bad-guy” rapist, the one referred to as “a criminal” he’s also the guy who preys on drunk and incapacitated women, employs a look out, returns to her apartment 3 times and places a false 911 call to cover his tracks. That guy? He’s a rapist, too.

So now, I ask you, what are you going to do to prevent sexual assault – from this moment forward? How will you use Moreno and Mata as a “teachable moment” and hold these men accountable?

Here are some ways you can prevent sexual assault:

Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen.

Talk about rape and sexual assault throughout the year, every year. With programs that work. With facilitators. With advocates. With survivors.

Make mandatory violence-prevention and sexual assault awareness and prevention trainings part of a police officer’s education.

Make sure your officers know what consent is.

What alcohol + consent is.

Make sure your officers HAVE EMPATHY and to the best of their ability know how rape and sexual assault affects victims. If they do not have the ability to empathize – THEY NEED TO FIND A NEW JOB.

Host screenings, trainings and workshops with The Line and other programs that work — we don’t mess around, if you don’t get it now, you’ll get it by the end of the workshop.

The sad conclusion to the acquittal of Moreno and Mata is that you can expect victims of rape and sexual assault to trust you less than we did before.

You can fix that. Win our trust back. Get serious about sexual assault and rape, get educated, and get to work.

Sincerely,
Nancy Schwartzman
Founder, The Line Campaign
whereisyourline.org

The Line Needs YOU: seeking MANAGING EDITOR for WIYL blog.

I’ve been working here at the Line for some time now, but I’ve really only recently been struck hard by the fact that, well, The Line Campaign is important. With every screening we do, and every person we touch, we open the floor to new voices, opinions and increments of effort towards winning the fight. And when I say ‘the fight’ I don’t just mean an end to violence against women, but ending preconceptions about sex, desire and relationships – because things just aren’t that simple. This is is a forum to complicate, a channel to different points of view.

A few weeks ago, I read about the Long Island murders, and it was written that someone said – ‘when a reporter asked, ‘What can sex workers do to prevent violence?’ I said, ‘Well, maybe people could not kill us.” I cried because she told a story about a feeling that I felt too. I realised then that I joined The Line as an intern last year not just because I wanted to share my story, but because I wanted to help others tell theirs. When Latoya Peterson in her interview talked about bringing feminism to different, other worlds, it rang true for me, but this certainly wasn’t the case for others. That kind of difference is what makes this place unique – Nancy’s commitment to storytelling rings true and has been the reason such a diversity of voices have an opportunity to contribute to better understanding how and why we should care about these issues – whether reproductive justice, street harassment or sexual assault. That’s what this blog is for, a space where each person’s words, however arranged, matter. It’s important that it continue.

I’ve learned so much and had so much fun as managing editor of the WIYL blog over the past couple of months! Unfortunately, as I move on to graduate school, and begin pursuing other projects in community building in the literary arts, I’ll have a limited amount of time – and have had to make the sad decision to leave my post here.

And so, we’re looking for our next managing editor – someone invested in listening to stories and making sure they get them out there for others to read! We’re looking for you to become a leader in this community, to rally passion, relate it to our message, and foster always, more conversation in social media.

Responsibilities will include:

- managing a team of bloggers and creating their schedule

- finding news stories and relevant events to suggest to bloggers for coverage

- working to ensure a steady flow of content, on schedule

- editing and copyediting posts before publication

- researching news sources and ensuring you stay on top of current events

- keeping everyone excited and ‘on message’

Qualifications:

- enthusiasm, patience and creativity

- familiarity with wordpress and social media (twitter, facebook, myspace, tumblr)

- an open mind to all kinds of stories, opinions and experiences

- ability to juggle multiple tasks under deadline

- ability to communicate clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing

- ability to work independently and with minimal supervision

- comfortable working on outreach to guest bloggers

- passionate, dedicated, and hoping to have fun

I can’t recommend working with our team enough, because stories are important, and I believe that if we keep telling them relentlessly, we’re sure to be heard.

If you’re interested, please contact Nancy and me at thelinemovie [at] gmail [dot] com, with ATTN: Trisha Low in the subject line. Provide us with a sense of your experience, your background, and why you want to help. No official requirements insisted upon apart from strong organisational ability and desire to stay current and keep delivering great content. This position provides a small stipend, but is rewarding and provides opportunities to work with activists, artists and youth. Managing editor can be located anywhere and work is estimated to be 5-7 hours a week.

Badass-Activist Friday presents ANDRE BLACKMAN of Pulse + Signal

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

Here’s Andre Blackman of Pulse + Signal!

Andre Profile Shot

Andre Blackman is an agent of change and innovation within the public health community. He is very passionate about the role of new media, mobile technology and other useful innovations as it relates to health communications and the improvement of public health in general.

Andre has been a featured speaker/commentator on a number of Public Health 2.0 related conversations around HIV/AIDS, mobile health, health disparities and new forms of health journalism. He has worked alongside organizations such as the Black AIDS Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dept. of Health and Human Services to educate and promote innovation around important health initiatives and opportunities.

Pulse + Signal postulates that social media, mobile technologies and integrated offline engagement are becoming very necessary to create the effective dialogues needed for lasting impact. Can you tell us a little about why, and how, particularly in terms of talking about healthy sexual relationships, sex education and violence against women?

Absolutely, the world where we are living in now – despite having a heavy investment with technology – is still dependent on our social & very human interactions. This absolutely includes our relationships with loved ones and sexual health. The tools such as social media & mobile technology are just that: tools that help us stay in touch, communicate and manage information.

For example, I first learned about The Line Campaign after attending the Sex::Tech conference last year and getting connected with Nancy in person (offline). Then I started following the Campaign on Twitter and have been connected there virtually, staying on top of relevant news (social media). Nowadays, when I see information around filmmaking or sexual health, I send a direct message on Twitter to you all to make sure learn about it as well (real time valuable information). The awareness + action that gets spurred when all of these factors come together can be very powerful for combating tragic issues such as violence against women. These tools and channels have opened up doors that no longer can easily be closed.

Considering the use of technology is an economic privilege, to some extent, do you think the online activism that has been lauded as being far-reaching in fact necessary marginalises certain groups?

The issue of the digital divide has been ongoing for some time now – however with the advancement of mobile technology and how mobile phones are getting into the hands of most everyone, the privilege barrier is starting to decrease around technology. This is especially true if we are talking about people of color/underserved populations. The Pew Internet Project has a ton of research data on usage and access issues for various demographics. I think the bigger issue is about digital literacy and making sure that those who want to get plugged in actually know how and where they can get resources on joining the bigger campaign – I think this is the root of any sort of marginalization in the digital activism landscape.

Can you talk a little more about your experiences as a man of colour and an activist? Was there a time where you felt your issues were being overlooked by the greater majority, and how your identity and personal experiences play into your work? How do you think it informs your work from a gendered perspective?

I do remember the first time that I was overlooked unfairly – the situation has been undoubtedly seared into my memory. As one of a few people of color in the high school I attended (initially), I took part in the science fair and was excited because science was my passion then. Knowing some NIH scientists I made an effort to do something pretty impactful and started doing actual lab work around genetics. When the time came around for judging of the projects – I did not place anywhere, not even an honorable mention. It struck me as highly odd until my science teacher mentioned that the judges didn’t feel like I could do this level of science and that I probably had the work done for me. It was “above my intelligence” you could say. From that moment on I realized that sometimes things don’t always go your way because you’re smart enough or passionate enough. That moment also taught me to work even harder at things that I want to succeed at even when others (or even myself) tell me that it can’t be done.

This really became clearer after going to school for public health in college – I didn’t have that many male colleagues in my classes (I was the only one in several) and being African American set me apart even further. It seemed as if public health had a certain “face” to the field and it gave me pause to think about where this field is going as well as its faults. Much of what I’m advocating for these days in an opening up of the public health field to better ideas to improve the health of communities. Instead of one-off events in low income communities, we should be working alongside the community to develop sustainable plans. Also, incorporating other fields to come up with designs and technologies that can truly give the field an effective facelift. Diverse thinking is what I’m about because of those experiences.

Do you think healthy relationships and sexual education play into public health concerns? Do you think is is important that they do?

Public health absolutely has to do with healthy relationships, especially since it brings together issues such as mental health and sexual health. This is what I was getting at when I was discussing what public health should look like – making sure that people understand how to have healthy relationships plays a large role as to how well they do at work, how they take care of their families, how they treat themselves on a daily basis, etc. It impacts everything in the long run, which is why relationships/sexual health education is so important in the public health world. The field stems from the prevention angle so the more we can educate people, the better we can prevent them from having to be hospitalized, needing medication, etc.

Do you feel that grassroots activist organisations and non-profits are taking full advantage of the techological tools available to them? Where do you see these methods and processes going in the future?

I think the non-profit world is booming right now as far as the resources that are available now with online tools and social media. Organizations for a cause are now able to grow their donors, fellow activists and rally them around events/initiatives that they care about. The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) is a brilliant source for information on how to do everything under the digital sun for a grassroots activist group or nonprofit to fulfill their mission.

In the future I see these organizations being better at being available for people to plug into as well as finding their fans, volunteers, activists. Social technologies are getting better at connecting with two aspects that I think will be even more important down the line: local & mobile.

Are there any drawbacks to technological tools, do you think they’re distancing or can be overused?

Just like any other tool (online or otherwise), they can be abused and improperly managed. Just as there are several positives about social media, if used incorrectly, can cause unwanted attention and damaged reputations. We’ve all seen situations where an individual is using a Twitter application managing multiple accounts and tweets from the wrong one – usually with a message that is inconsistent with that account’s focus, to put it gently. In my opinion though, the positives outweigh the negatives and making sure you use the tools wisely is important. Stick with a few that you see working for your cause.

How do you think we, as young activists and students can best make use of our resources to instigate and create change?

When I talk to students about jumping into a career, I usually advise them to take part in groups and organizations through internships while still in school. This is pretty much the best way to understand roles and responsibilities as well as making use of the tools on a daily basis. That way, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to use these resources to fulfill your own causes while making great relationships and contacts.

Also, go ahead and start writing for a blog – either one that already exists around your subject area or start your own. Don’t be afraid to ask to write a guest blog post or reach out to leaders involved in your cause. With these tools and resources, the barriers to access individuals and groups are very low, so take advantage of it!

You can find Andre’s thoughts on public health and innovation through his blog, Pulse + Signal and via Twitter as @mindofandre.

Today we take a stand: End rape in war.

Courtesy of UNHCR, 2009

Courtesy of UNHCR, 2009

If anyone ever listened to be blather on about my approach to activism, you’ve also listened to me talk about how there is no ‘right way’ to do things, that there just can’t be. People have to come to terms with their discomfort with different issues before they figure out how they’re best poised to act individually. And here at the Line, we’re all about exploring the grey areas, and teasing out the nuances of singular situations. But when it comes to the relationship between sex, power, and violence, particularly as a tool in times of conflict, there just can’t be any wiffling around the subject. For us to make a difference, we have to take a stand, in solidarity, to intensify efforts to end sexual violence against all people, particularly women and girls, in situations of armed conflict and other crises. Sexual violence is an unacceptable human rights violation and as a weapon of war in establishment of power, is unforgivable.

Just the facts, ma’am:

In numerous conflicts worldwide, rape is not only used to destroy lives, but to to undermine the welfare and recovery of entire communities.

Did you know that up 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide?
Did you know that over 64,000 women were raped in Sierra Leone?
Did you know that over 40,000 women were raped in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

And so, enough is enough.

Thursday is our day of action against sexual violence in conflict. The Line stands with the Nobel Womens’ Initiative in their effort today to target governments, encouraging them to give this topic the attention it deserves. Together, we can ensure an end to impunity and insist on supporting survivors in efforts to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.

Today, Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire will be standing together to end rape in war. We urge you to follow suit in your home country and join us virtually.

Following the unprecedented conference in Montebello, Quebec where they hosted over 100 women from around the world to discuss strategies to address sexual violence, the Laureates will be TAKING A STAND in Ottawa – addressing Canadian parliamentarians and urging them to take the lead to end rape in war. Follow along the live-tweet of a panel discussion on May 26 from 8:30 to 10 am EST from Ottawa, Canada. The panel will feature three Nobel Laureates and prominent activists from Sweden, Kenya and Canada, moderated by journalist Susan Riley of The Ottawa Citizen. We will be live-tweeting using #endrapeinwar at on our Twitter page, and taking questions from online followers.

Stand with us!

We at the Line encourage you to take a stand with us and the Nobel Women’s Initiative online, because this issue is non-negotiable:

Go to the UN Action Stop Rape Now website and download the sample letter asking your elected official for increased action against sexual violence in conflict – and send it! Tell your government you are TAKING A STAND!

Write a blog post, tweet or share on facebook. We will be posting videos and live-tweeting throughout the day – letting you know what ACTION we are taking!

Make sure to check the NWI blog and follow the #endrapeinwar hashtag. Use it in your posts – lets make it trend

Make sure you let us know when you have TAKEN A STAND by:

sending us an email (web@nobelwomensinitiative.org)
tweeting: #itookastand #endrapeinwar
or letting us know on our website

Join us today. Together – we can move the earth.

Sexual Assaults are No Reason to Keep Women from their Jobs

500_lara_loganThe New York Times had a recent front-page story on Peace Corps women who are speaking out about sexual assault while in the program. Lara Logan, the 60 Minutes reporter, also recently discussed her sexual assault while covering Egypt’s revolution on air. Some might read these stories and decide that women can’t work in the Peace Corps or cover war zones as journalists because they risk sexual assault. But the real takeaway is that women can hold any of these jobs, as long as they are given proper training beforehand and the right infrastructure is in place to handle the crimes. None of that can happen with our current “code of silence” surrounding sexual assault. It is vital that we encourage women to both report these crimes and to feel comfortable talking about them.

That’s in fact what’s motivating the women speaking out about the Peace Corps. The Times article reports that from 2000 to 2009, more than 1,000 volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes. Those numbers are likely far lower than the actual count, as reported numbers are always low and there is even more incentive to keep quiet in this program. After all, women in the article report that their treatment in the US after reporting their assaults was sometimes worse than the attack itself, as they were blamed for the crimes and given inadequate care. They were also poorly trained for these circumstances beforehand. Many complain that they weren’t advised on how to prosecute their attackers, leading nearly 40% of those raped and 50% of those sexually assaulted in the program to say in a survey that they didn’t report the attacks.

But by coming forward and speaking out, they’re already making progress. One of the women, Casey Frazee, spent the last 18 months tracking down assault survivors and collecting more than two dozen affidavits. Her work was also featured in a segment on ABC’s “20/20.” After these women came forward, the director of the Peace Corps, Aaron S. Williams, has said he is committed to creating a more “victim-centered approach,” including modernizing its procedures with “compassionate care,” hiring a “victim’s advocate,” signing an agreement with a rape crisis group to examine the organization, and removing a training video that emphasized the role of alcohol in assaults. The women are now pushing for Congressional legislation to require that the Peace Corps develop response teams to collect evidence and provide care for victims, among other things. Jess Smochek, another survivor working on this cause, has said her goal is to alert future volunteers and to let those who already experienced crimes know that “they are not alone.”

That’s also what motivated Lara Logan to talk openly about her attack. In her 60 Minutes expose, after going through all the painful details of her assault, she said, “One thing that I am extremely proud of that I didn’t intend is when my female colleagues stood up and said that I’d broken the silence on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.” Women journalists who cover dangerous situations often feel the need to bury their stories of assault for fear of being treated differently than their male colleagues and kept from assignments in these areas. As Logan put it in her interview, “[W]omen never complain about incidents of sexual violence because you don’t want someone to say, ‘Well women shouldn’t be out there.’” In her 2007 piece in the Columbia Journalism Review on this problem, Judith Matloff reports that a meager survey, one of the only ones, of war correspondents by the International News Safety Institute found that of the 29 who took part, more than half reported sexual harassment on the job and two had experienced sexual abuse. “The shame runs so deep–and the fear of being pulled off an assignment, especially in a time of shrinking budgets, is so strong– that no one wants intimate violations to resound in a newsroom,” she says. She even reports that of her own narrow escape from such a crime, “We got away untouched, so why bring up the matter? I didn’t want my boss to think that my gender was a liability.”

What this means is that the issue ends up buried. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports, “We have little on our site [about this issue] because sexual assault is not commonly reported to us–the data, therefore, is not available.” And when the issue is buried, it goes unaddressed and women are left more vulnerable to these attacks. Logan herself reported, “I had no idea how endemic that it is so rife, so widespread, that so many Egyptian men admit to sexual harassing women and think it’s completely acceptable.” As Matloff puts it, “The general reluctance to call attention to the problem creates a vicious cycle, whereby editors, who are still typically men, are unaware of the dangers because women don’t bring them up. Survivors of attacks often suffer in lonely silence, robbed of the usual camaraderie that occurs when people are shot or kidnapped.” And the proper training and infrastructure simply isn’t created to help women prepare for and then deal with these problems. “When one considers the level of detail over protections against other eventualities–get vaccinations; pack dummy wallets, etc.–the oversight is staggering,” Matloff says. “[V]ictims of assault say that some training might have helped them make more informed decisions, or at least live with the outcome more easily.”

Women aren’t the only ones who are attacked in these situations, but the fact that some are is no reason to hold them back from this line of work. They can be unique assets abroad, gaining access to women in countries that divide the genders and the trust of assault victims. But even beyond that, using sexual assault as a reason to keep women from fulfilling important jobs that they are passionate about doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. What is needed is more conversation about the realities they face and what can be done to help them. That starts by encouraging women to come forward about their assaults.

Why We Need SlutWalk

In January, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti spoke at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, sharing a few safety tips with the community.  One tip in particular resonated beyond the crowd that day: “I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,” Sanguinetti said, “however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

In response, about four thousand people marched on April 3rd at SlutWalk Toronto, outraged about the harmful myths and stereotypes that perpetuate widespread sexual violence.  SlutWalk satellites have quickly spread from Canada to Australia, Chicago, the UK, South Africa, and beyond.  SlutWalkers are helping to create a global rally to end sexual assault and challenge rape culture, and we are fed up with the unwillingness of authorities like Sanguinetti to work toward the same ends.

It is fundamentally disturbing that any law enforcement officer would openly advocate policing female sexuality as a means of preventing violence against women.  Disturbing, but sadly not surprising.  The recent media backlash against SlutWalk provides some insight into how thoroughly victim-blaming attitudes inundate our cultural discussions about sexual violence and confirms the timeliness and absolute necessity of SlutWalk’s mission.

Anti-pornography activist Gail Dines might’ve been the first of many major media contributors to distract from the movement’s goal in order to broadly criticize SlutWalk for using the pejorative word “slut.”  Clearly the word is problematic, but who is Gail Porn-Makes-Men-Rape-Says-Me Dines to tell you what you can and can’t find empowering?  And shouldn’t she be more worked up about the police constable who called rape victims “sluts” than the handful of SlutWalkers who’re sick of being told that enjoying sex means that they deserve to be raped?

Dines nicely paved the way for Fox News’ Sean Hannity to assure his audience, “I don’t think you can ever blame the victim, ever,” then proceed to blame the victim.  There’s this infuriatingly out-of-touch and open display of racist nastiness from Margaret Wente at The Globe and Mail, in which rape is not a problem for anyone anywhere ever – except in South Asian and aboriginal households cuz racial minorities are super rapey.  Then of course there’s the endless stream of opinion pieces about how “slut” is not a word worth reclaiming, blah blah.  Cool, thanks for the press – ya’ll are still missing the point.

Whether you personally choose to reclaim the word “slut” or not is sort of irrelevant since embracing sluthood is not a prerequisite to protest rape and rape apologism.  SlutWalk is an exercise of solidarity: everyone is at risk to sexual violence until our culture gets it shit together, stops teaching that sex is evil, and starts teaching that rape is wrong.

This is an international public and political display of thousands upon thousands of people uniting to end rape.  Shut up about how protestors dressed for five seconds and just appreciate how long it’s been since your country has done anything even remotely like this. Or better yet, get out from behind the computer and organize an even better, smarter event to protest violence in your community.  I will be there, bright and early.  I’m serious, I’ll even carpool with some of my anti-violence allies.

Is the SlutWalk movement perfect?  Of course not, but no social movement is. And even now in its infancy, I don’t think anyone honestly believes that SlutWalk is the magic pill that will unfuck our society — hopefully the movement will continue to grow in strategy and diversity. But the media has wasted the better part of a week trying to wedge apart feminists on different sides of the debate and clutching its pearls at the droves of “scantily clad” women taking to the streets, all in an effort to shout over SlutWalk’s more nuanced messages about violence and sexuality.

No one deserves to be raped, ever.  Just because someone asks for sex does not mean they “ask for” rape.

When our culture talks about rape prevention, the word “responsibility” recurs constantly but rarely in reference to the person doing the raping.  When we engage victim-blaming attitudes, we make it harder for victims of sexual assault to come forward and report a serious violent crime, we become complicit in the unwillingness of authorities like Constable Sanquinetti to help victims and pursue allegations with the gravity they deserve, and we make the world a safer place for rapists.

This is exactly what SlutWalk aims to change.

SlutWalk has placed an international spotlight on an otherwise silent social problem.  Thanks to these community organizers, privilege, violence, consent, and sexual autonomy are being openly discussed across many diverse communities.  Even if it’s a clumsy discussion, I for one am glad people are having it.

Badass-Activist Friday presents MATT IGNACIO of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

So without further ado…

Here’s Matt Ignacio of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC)

CoH Group Photo April 2011

Matt Ignacio, M.S.S.W., is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a federally recognized Native American Tribe located in Southern Arizona. As a public health consultant, he has over 16 years experience promoting sexual health and drug user health advocacy, working mostly with minority populations. He most recently worked for the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC) as the Director of Training and Development. Most recently he graduated as a fellow from the Center for Progressive Leadership Fellowship Program – Colorado State office in 2010.

You work specifically with HIV prevention and queer health issues – can you speak a little bit about how consent, sexual assault come into your work?

When working with Native American, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian (herein ‘Native’) communities, issues of: sexual assault, consent/rape, and domestic violence certainly come into play when trying to promote sexual health and wellness. Assault, rape, and violence are NOT traditional Native values. These acts can create tremendous amounts of shame and stigma for the victim. As a result, these acts often go unreported. Furthermore, on some of the Reservation and rural communities I’ve worked with, reporting these crimes to law enforcement not only negatively impacts the victim, but also negatively impacts immediate and extended family members as well. In some situations, it can also negatively impact the entire community! A way to address these issues is to provide culturally-specific education and empowerment opportunities, as well as providing culturally relevant resources and linkages to care.


Are your personal experiences and identity important to your activism? Can you speak a little more as to how or why?

My experiences and identity are critical to my activism. Most of us have experienced some form of discrimination – the color of our skin, our sexual orientation/identity, where we are from, how we were raised, etc… I’ve certainly experienced and witnessed discrimination. Rather than sit back and be silent, I’ve had opportunities to be mentored by, work with and befriend some very outspoken Native leaders. They’ve all instilled the value of helping those most in need and to speak up and speak out for folks who do not have a voice. At the end of the day, my hope is that I’ve helped others do the same.

Sexual health is important for all, but what are specific problems that Native Americans, particularly those who identify as queer run into regarding education? What are the barriers to them speaking up, or getting access to the information they need? (Do you think that the dialogue around sex education can marginalize the experiences of minority youth?)

To a large extent, there continues to be a lot of stigma towards queer-identifying individuals in Native communities. Historically, every community member (gay, straight, etc…) had a value – a place or a role within the community. Today, for whatever reason, albeit historical trauma(s), colonization and/or adopting religious values – things have changed. This often makes it difficult to educate all Native community members in an honest and engaging way. As you can imagine, it is very difficult for those who are queer to access correct and life-affirming information. Interestingly, over the past decade, I’ve seen amazing Nation-wide movements by queer-identified Native people through community-based organizing, HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and political involvement and investment. It’s an exciting time!

Tell us about some people, activists, artists, writers, who inspire you, and how!

I’m inspired by and try to learn from leaders who fearlessly take action and lead by example. By no means am I fearless. In fact, it’s something I have to work on all the time. My parents and relatives are also prime examples of people who inspire me. I’m always fascinated by their stories of survival, resilience and humor. There’s a lot to learn from our own histories.

What have been the most rewarding and frustrating experiences working to advance getting appropriate, and culturally relevant information to ethnically and culturally diverse groups and minorities?

Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had advancing culturally relevant education is when individuals take the information I’ve presented to them, such as sexual health information, and then share it with their families or larger community. If I can play a small role in starting a dialogue that otherwise would not take place between friends, family and community – I’ve done my job. As far as ‘frustrating experiences,’ I suppose the length of time it takes to create lasting positive change. As progressively-minded people, we want change overnight – or at least I do! I have to remind myself to slow-down and learn from the process, not just from the outcomes.

What are the best things we as young readers, writers and activists do to ensure our sex education is meeting our needs and those of others? Any words of advice?

For myself, I force myself to ask the difficult questions and support those with little or no voice. We can’t meet our own sexual health needs if we don’t ask the difficult questions to our educators and/or health care professionals. Second, there is strength in numbers! Supporting those who are often ignored or overlooked is incredibly powerful, meaningful and socially responsible.

Badass-Activist Friday presents JESSICA SKOLNIK of SlutWalk Chicago!

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

So without further ado…

Here’s Jessica Skolnik of SlutWalk Chicago!

Jessica Skolnik is a Chicago activist, community organizer, musician, blogger, zinester, and all-around bad-ass.  Together with Jaime Keiles, Jessica is co-organizing SlutWalk Chicago, an international grassroots response to widespread victim-blaming and rape culture, on Saturday, June 4th at the Thompson Center Plaza.  Jessica is also an enthusiastic member of the Sexual Health Education to End Rape (SHEER) Collective, a new survivor centered, sex-positive coalition in Chicago, and the resident shredder of synth in the post-punk band Population.  Jessica’s spent the last ten years organizing several communities for sexual assault survivors and administering an educational workshop on enthusiastic consent, rape culture and issues of sexual assault within small communities, specifically within punk communities.

What’s your philosophy of anti-violence?

Violence is not just personal but structural. We live in a society that glorifies violence to the point where many of us are inured to it. I see interpersonal violence as often encouraged and exacerbated by a struggle for control and power that stem from structural inequalities (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc). Yes, we need to educate ourselves as to how to deal with specific and personal incidents, but we will not seriously change this society toward nonviolent ends until the entire playing field is leveled.

How did you become involved in anti-violence work and community organizing?

I am a survivor of multiple incidents of sexual assault and relationship violence. Combine that with growing up in DC in the early ‘90s with parents who encouraged my burgeoning interest in the DIY punk scene, and you have a recipe for a young riot grrrl who learned everything she could from the older activists at Positive Force and other activist collectives. I read as much as I could, learned as much as I could, and listened as much as I could.

Eventually I realized that activism would help me heal and allow me to help others. I realized that healing from trauma doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and connecting with other survivors is part of that process. I drew from my academic background in labor history and cultural studies, and I started thinking about how I could use my knowledge of organizing and education to change the dominant culture.

One of the sexual assaults happened when I was barely 13.  I brought the incident to my counselor at school who encouraged me to report it to the police. It was one of the most dehumanizing experiences I’ve ever encountered with bureaucracy — and that’s saying something. They questioned me in a way that implied that I was at fault — I didn’t behave like a “good girl,” I wasn’t dressed “correctly,” I was sexually active at a young age and I had “led them on…” It was as far from the myth of the supportive, understanding police from Law and Order: SVU as possible, and there was no follow-up on my report.

After I digested the pain and dealt with the feeling of being violated all over again by people who were supposed to help me, I realized that traditional structures may not be the answer for everyone. I decided that I would spend the rest of my life involved with alternative community organizing by other survivors and active advocates.

I’m really interested in the strategy and skills behind working within subversive counter cultures to create culturally relevant narratives of sexual violence. What strategies do you use in your workshops to help create punk communities free from rape and sexual violence? What are some obstacles to anti-violence work specific to punk culture?  Are there specific persistent attitudes or beliefs that have helped to normalize rape within punk communities?

The first strategy I use in my workshop model is to systematically debunk myths and narratives specific to punk culture, as well as the ones we’re more familiar with in mainstream culture, and examine how they are all connected. Punk communities are obviously not immune to rape culture, as much as we’d like to think we are.

One of the most pervasive myths about sexual violence in punk communities is that it’s not supposed to happen there, and that myth in and of itself is an enormous obstacle to ending violence. There’s this narrative that just because we’ve created this culture and community where the line between consumer and artist is less demarcated, where we control creativity as much as possible, that we’ve also created a world where oppression doesn’t exist. Anyone who’s spent even a cursory amount of time in the punk scene knows that’s not true. All the -isms and phobias from mainstream culture are still present, they just emerge a little differently – which makes them more difficult to recognize.

One thing that always baffled me is that, inevitably, when you bring up an allegation of sexual assault within the punk community, you’ll get an echo of voices asking why the person making the allegation didn’t call the cops. There’s a long history of punks resisting police brutality and police culture — it speaks volumes to me that the only time you’ll ever find punks trust the word of the police over the word of a fellow community member is when someone makes an allegation of sexual assault.

Nobody wants to believe that a member of a small, close community could perpetrate such a horrible act. There’s an immediate defensiveness that arises because the allegations are so serious. But violence happens at fests, within collectives, between activists and musicians… It’s hard to talk about rape when many of us don’t feel as if we have the right vocabulary for it. Regardless of our cultural participation in it, we still live in a world without adequate training about what consent looks like, what crossing that line looks like, and we need to trust the word of survivors. Yes, false accusations happen, unfortunately, but very rarely. The more we learn about consent and how to talk about it, the more equipped we are to support one another without immediately assuming that a survivor isn’t telling the truth.

How did you end up co-organizing SlutWalk Chicago?  What do you have planned for SlutWalk in Chicago, and what do you hope the event will accomplish?

I first read about SlutWalk on Tumblr through various feminist blogs as the Toronto organizers were putting together their event. I was outraged and frustrated by the persistence of this institutional attitude that I’d encountered when I reported to the police in 1992, the attitude that a survivor is responsible for an assault if she or he doesn‘t act in certain socially prescribed ways. I was inspired by all the photos and reportage from the Toronto event, and when Jamie Keiles (my co-organizer) posted on her blog that she was going to take on the challenge of organizing a satellite SlutWalk here in Chicago, I didn’t even think twice about emailing her to offer my organizing help.

We’re planning a really wonderful event here in Chicago — not just a march but a rally with live music, speakers, tabling by some of our ally organizations, and possibly other forms of entertainment. We’re looking into burlesque and comedy at the moment. We want this to be a chance to meet up with likeminded folks similarly interested in dismantling the culture of shame. SlutWalk will be a celebration of the work the sex-positive rape crisis and survivors’ community has done to change that victim-blaming dynamic and a celebration of our future potential as a united movement going forward.

We also have two after-parties planned, as we’d like to keep the momentum going from the event through the day. We’ve organized a patio party for directly after the walk at Zella. My band happens to be playing a show that night with two other great bands, Martial Canterel and Anatomy of Habit, and that’s our official after-after-party. There’s more information on our website as our plans unfold!

Has the reception for SlutWalk Chicago been pretty positive?  I’ve heard a lot of anti-violence activists question the use of the pejorative word “slut” for an event that’s supposed to be empowering… How do you respond to that?

I’m actually amazed by how positive most of the feedback has been — I was expecting a few more trolls, to be honest! Maybe they just haven’t come out of the woodwork yet, who knows. I credit the original SlutWalk in Toronto for paving the way and opening a dialogue.

The response from the anti-violence activist community has been roughly what I expected: positive but cautious. I was actually dubious about the use of the word “slut” when I read about the initial event and started organizing this one. At one point in my life, I was very much invested in reclaiming the word for myself, since I had been labeled a slut by others and found that reclaiming my enjoyment of sex was personally enormously healing. But that’s a goal I’ve found less personally profound over the years.

SlutWalk Chicago’s stance is that whether you find it personally empowering to reclaim the word “slut” or not, we stand with you. Using the SlutWalk name doesn’t just ally and align us with the work done by the amazing organizers in Toronto and all of the other satellites around the world, it really gives us a unique opportunity to talk about how sexual double standards and slut-shaming are cornerstones of rape culture and how a sex-positive attitude ties into the dialogue about consent, and I think that is enormously valuable.

What can our readers do to get involved with SlutWalk?  And do you have any advice for starry-eyed activists in-the-making?

Email us at slutwalkchicago@gmail.com to get on our volunteers’ mailing list. Ally your organization, business or blog with us! Print out the posters we have available and hang ’em everywhere. Invite your friends and post all over your social media about SlutWalk, connect with us on any number of social networking sites (all linked from our main website).  Enter our DIY SlutWalk poster contest!  We’re organizing a poster-making session before the walk, details are on our website.

Show up on Saturday, June 4th at the Thompson Center plaza (100 W. Randolph) for the SlutWalk step-off at noon! And if you are so moved, organize your own SlutWalk satellite in your city!

To activists-in-the-making: whatever cause and perspective you align yourself with, there is an enormous wealth of community resources and a world of movements to connect with, both locally and globally.  Before you strike out on your own trying to build a movement from the ground up, check out the work other folks are doing and see how you can get involved or build off of it. Listen and learn, as well as contributing your energy and ideas!

Remember to take care of yourself at every step of the process. Personal healing and growth are as much a part of an activist’s journey as larger community and cultural change. Everything is connected.

The Line Campaign is proud to ally with SlutWalk Chicago. We support SlutWalk’s mission to promote education about sexual assault and to make it known loud and clear that victims of violence are never the ones at fault and no one asks to be raped.

GOP Overreacts to Teenage Sexuality

teens

Conservatives and anti-choice activists have been trying — and lately, succeeding — to whittle down abortion rights in this country for some time. But a recent effort is also underway to whittle down our definition of rape so that fewer and fewer victims are included.

The original language in HR3, an anti-choice Republican bill proposed in Congress, redefined rape for the purposes of determining which victims can have an abortion covered by Medicaid. Conservative lawmakers narrowed the standing broad definition to only “forcible rape,” begging the question as to how many bruises you have to incur in order to qualify as a rape victim. It created such an uproar that Republicans promised to get rid of it from the bill. But as Nick Baumann of Mother Jones reports, they’re not done trying.

As HR3 comes up for a vote today, the committee report for the bill says that it will “not allow the Federal Government to subsidize abortions in cases of statutory rape.” Congressional committees write these documents in order to outline their intent for the legislation in case there is ever a court fight. If such a fight comes up around this bill, the effect will be that victims of statutory rape will be denied Medicaid funds for an abortion.

Telling victims of sexual assault that their experiences don’t “count” is the lowest of the low. It also only serves to create an environment of more acceptance around these crimes. A 30 year old coercing a 13 year old into sex? Sorry, federal law doesn’t count that as rape. And if the government doesn’t think it’s rape, why should a perpetrator? Why would a victim realize that she should report a crime that is now not considered a crime? According to these lawmakers, she should be forced to bear any child that results if she can’t afford an abortion with her own money.

The reasons offered for this restriction echo fear of rampant teenage sexuality. Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said the original redefinition was in response to a “brazen effort” by abortion rights groups to “federally fund the abortion of tens of thousands of healthy babies of healthy moms, based solely on the age of their mothers.” Richard Doerflinger of the US Council of Catholic Bishops said it was “an effort on the part of the sponsors to prevent the opening of a very broad loophole for federally funded abortions for any teenager.” But teens only account for fewer than two out of 10 of all abortions, and of those most are 18-19; women in their twenties are the largest group, at 58%. There’s a difference between all teenagers and those who are victims of statutory rape. But in the minds of Republicans, no difference exists. All sexually active teenage girls deserve to be punished by bringing to term an unwanted baby, rape or no. The language is an overreaction to the imaginary problem of young girls wantonly sleeping around and then trying to abort their babies under false rape accusations.

Republicans at the same time try to claim they aren’t changing anything. But the bill’s language is absurd, as the Hyde Amendment has stood as law since 1976 and forbids federal funds from paying for abortions — except in the cases of rape and incest. In the words of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman, “Hyde does not make a distinction between statutory rape and any other kind of rape and states are not free to make such distinctions.” This is merely an attempt to narrow a law that already shuts too many poor women out of access to abortion care.

Not to mention that a group claiming to be working against the stealth efforts of abortion rights groups is using some pretty stealth efforts of its own. If they’re really not changing anything, why jump through such complicated legislative hoops to pull it off? The answer is in how much they want to control young girls’ sexuality.

Feminist Porn Awards: Lauren Reports!

Note: Some links NSFW

This month, I went to the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, a three day event showing and celebrating porn focused on women’s pleasure and visibility for marginalized identities. The events included three nights of screenings, performance, discussion, and lastly an awards ceremony honoring the best in feminist porn this year. In an interview, the founder of the Feminist Porn Awards, Alison Lee said,

“Porn has expanded to include women and marginalized communities, and many people don’t know about the hot and artistic movies that are being made with a feminist sensibility. We are proud to promote these filmmakers, and excited about directing people to their work.”

The awards brought in a huge diverse crowd, and was successful in showing a huge array of films showcasing sexual diversity and sex-positivity.

In it’s 6th year, the events were truly inspiring. The guests were sex-positive, creative and radical folks who strived to revolutionize a largely sexist and transphobic industry. Notable guests and panelists included, feminist pornographer and educator Tristan Taormino, sex educator and filmmaker Jaiya, genderqueer pornstar Jiz Lee and filmmaker Cheryl Dunye.

One of my favorite parts of the events was the inclusion of men in discussions of feminism and responsible media making. Artist and filmmaker Carlos Batts spoke about the importance of making his models feel comfortable and consenting to everything they do in his shoots. Batts also includes varieties of body types in his films, expanding sex-positivity beyond the world of skinny white women. It was so refreshing to see a man in the industry who cared about these issues and is making politically aware ethical smut.

Drew Deveaux, who won the “Heartthrob of the Year” award is a Canadian, trans woman who noted her porn performance as a natural extension of her previous activism work. Not seeing herself represented in porn, she found this lack of diversity to be a problem. In an interview she said,

“My motivation for making porn was that I didn’t see many representations of trans-women…I put myself out there as an androgynous, post-op trans-woman. There were virtually no women who were like me in porn, but I knew so many hot, andro, queer trans-women. I was kind of doing it for them.”

Being cautious of the dangers of stereotyping, Drew is making porn to represent herself and her community.

The events really pointed out the importance of promoting feminist media and using it as a powerful tool for changing stereotypes and creating visibility.

For more about the awards check out the Good for Her website.

All Posts from May, 2011