More on Ms. Magazine’s Ten Totally Typical Examples of Rape-Splaining and Victim Blaming, and Why They Need to Stop

TRIGGER WARNING: discussions of rape, abuse and offensive language and ideas.

December 15, 2012 CHICAGO— a 12 year old girl is held by gunpoint and gang-raped by three 16 year old boys in the basement of one of the rapist’s homes. August 12, 2012 STEUBENVILLE— an unconscious 16 year old girl is raped at a party by two 16 and 17 year old football players The thing these two heinous crimes have in common? Both victims were blamed for what happened to them.

Rape-splaining and victim blaming are two of the biggest proponents of the pervasive rape culture that we all live in. Rape-splaining is the explaining away of a sexual assault or rape; this includes coming up with excuses for the rapists and subtly placing the blame on the victim. Victim blaming is more overt in its shifting of the blame from rapist to victim, but both of these tactics give the victim responsibility for what happened to them. Since people are constantly bombarded with this cultural mindset, both rape-splaining and victim blaming can easily be found in verbal and cyber conversations. Ms. Magazine pointed out the 10 most common examples of victim blaming in an article last week.

Let’s take a deeper look at them now:

1. The victim was asking for it. This is the line that I hear most commonly in regards to sexual assault and rape. If a girl is drunk, acting like she “wants the D”, or is dressed provocatively, she obviously is asking for rape, right? The more thought you put into this argument, the more absurd it sounds. Women have every right to drink, be flirty, and wear what they want without being in physical danger. Scotland got it right when they filmed an anti-victim blaming advertisement; the victim is never asking for it!

2. Men get these biological urges to rape; they just can’t help themselves. According to the UK’s Rape Crisis Center, “studies show that most rapes are premeditated i.e. they are either wholly or partially planned in advance. All rapes committed by more than one assailant are always planned.” Men are human beings, right? Don’t human beings have free will to make their own choices? Why are men any different when it comes to sexual urges? Men aren’t animals, and if I were a man, I would honestly resent the implication that I couldn’t control myself. Rape is a choice that men make with their brains, not with their penises.

3. The victim might have made it up. This one makes me, and countless other feminists/women/rational humans, quite upset. Why are people more ready to believe that the woman is lying than that she has been victimized? If someone was robbed, this question would never even be fathomed by onlookers. Look below at the lovely infographic made by the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. It speaks for itself.



4. The victim is ruining the life of the rapist; the rapist had so many prospects. When a man chooses to rape a woman, he is making a choice. Albeit a stupid and awful choice, but it is a decision that is consciously made. He weighed the pros and cons of the situation, and although he might claim that he was caught up in the moment, he infringed on another individual’s liberty and personhood. For this, he must face the consequences. It is not the victim’s fault that a man chose to rape her, even if he was a star athlete/genius/musical prodigy/etc. He may be such a “promising boy”, but he is also a rapist and that can’t be forgotten.

5.  The victim should not have been in that situation/known that person/lived in that neighborhood/walked down that street/gone to that  bar, etc., etc. Again, the point must be made that MEN NEED TO CONTROL THEMSELVES!! It’s a disgusting double standard that our society perpetuates. Name any situation where a woman would feel unsafe, some examples being: walking down a dark alley, going to her car at night in an empty parking lot, going to a bar, going over to a guy’s house. Now imagine a man being in the same situation. People wouldn’t consider it unsafe for him to be there, but if a woman does the same exact thing, she is asking for whatever happens to her. The point here is that society shouldn’t be restricting a woman’s freedom in this way; instead, society needs to be telling men to not rape women.

6. People of certain races/ages/classes/backgrounds are just more prone to violent behavior. False false false. There isn’t a cookie-cuttter, typical rapist. Yes, rapists are a product of their environment, but not of economic/ethnic/racial/age/social groups. Rapists are a product of the Rape Culture, of a culture where violence against women is tolerated, of a culture where women are sexualized to such an extent that it is incredibly easy to view them more as objects and less as human beings.

7. The victim didn’t say no. Just because she didn’t say no, doesn’t mean she’s saying yes. What is consent, ladies and gentlemen? The legal definition of consent is when “a person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another.”  There are many important aspects to this definition, such as the person must be mentally able to make this decision and they perform the act recommended. Consent is a resounding yes, not the absence of a no.

8. In cases of underage perpetrators: The rapist is only a child him/herself. The rapist made the conscious decision to violate another human being. He made the choice and should therefore be tried as an adult. Rape isn’t a juvenile offense such as shoplifting; it is the exertion of power and dominance over another resistant human being. Shoplifting, vandalism, and other lesser offenses won’t ruin lives. Rape, on the other hand, can end lives. 13% of rape victims will commit suicide. If an adolescent can cause another human so much trauma that they take their own life, then why shouldn’t they take the full punishment for their actions?

9. The victim should have known what he/she was getting him/herself into. Rape isn’t the victim’s mistake, it’s the rapist’s. Why should women have to live in fear because of men’s choices? Obviously the victim didn’t know they were going to be raped, or else they wouldn’t have gone. Saying that the victim should have anticipated a sexual assault is absurd. This is just another excuse to try to let the rapist get off free.

10. The victim’s parents should have taught him/her warning signs. I think Andrea Gibson said it better than I ever could. Society has told women and girls so many different ways to try and prevent rape, but those haven’t seemed to work. The question shouldn’t be “What should you tell your daughter?” The question should be “What are you going to teach your son?”

Rape-splaining and victim blaming perpetuate a rape culture. These are the 10 most common examples of victim blaming, but there are many more that are tossed around in conversation every day. These excuses make a hostile environment for victims, and even more unsettling, they make a safe environment for rapists.

They need to stop.

Fighting Rape Culture on Campus: Activists File Suit

Momentum continues to grow for holding colleges and universities accountable for their handling (or, perhaps more accurately, mishandling) of sexual assault on campus. In late April, a group of students at Occidental College filed a civil rights suit and two federal complaints against the college for alleged mishandling of assaults there. Renowned civil rights attorney Gloria Allred is representing the Occidental students.

via Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / May 22, 2013

On May 21,  activists and survivors from four more institutions followed in Oxy’s footsteps: Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Berkeley are all named in separate complaints. Allred is representing the plaintiffs in these cases as well. As with the complaints filed against Occidental and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the new suits are a combination of Title IX complaints alleging that the institutions violated provisions of Title IX and helped create a hostile environment for women on campus, and allegations that the institutions have violated the Clery Act, which mandates reporting of crimes on campus.

The suits are the latest in a series of events this spring that have shined a brighter light on the issue of sexual assault on campus. Department of Justice statistics show that women in college face a greater risk of being sexually assaulted than they will at any other time in their lives, with as many as 1 in 4 college women experiencing sexual violence during their time in school.

As Occidental College professor of criminology Danielle Dirks said at the May 21 press conference announcing the new litigation:

“There are 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Every day on these campuses students face rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual harassment. . . .These behaviors have horrifyingly become a normal part of students’ educational experiences and . . . are routinely betrayed by their institutions who treat them with indifference.”

In urging the Department of Education to examine the complaints against Occidental, UNC-Chapel Hill, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, USC, and UC-Berkeley, Allred said:

“Women from all over this country are demanding that their colleges stop these rapes and sexual assaults from happening. They will no longer accept the status quo where rapes and sexual assaults are being swept under the rug and condoned by college administrators.”

Facebook Takes an Important Step Toward Ending Sexual Violence and #FBRape Wins An Important Battle in the Fight for Safe Spaces Online

When Women, Action & The Media (WAM!) launched The Everyday Sexism Project, and writer Soraya Chemaly called on Facebook to recognize violence against women on their site as hate speech and train moderators to protect women from harassment and hate speech, we  – the activist and, more specifically, feminist Internet-dwellers, saw this action as a great step toward moving toward solidifying the web as a haven of safe spaces.

The internet has incredible potential to create safe spaces for girls and women: today, unlike ever before, we can use the internet to organize from around the world and take part in social movements. Where Is Your Line? uses Facebook and email to organize and plan what we are going to write about, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to share our work with the world and engage others in conversation. For groups like WIYL and countless others know that social media and the internet—and the safe spaces that they allow us to create—are vitally important to our success.

We asked for pages and content that glorifies violence against women and hate speech to be removed from the website, in the same way that hate speech targeting other oppressed groups was already being removed by Facebook. On Tuesday, after around 5,000 emails were sent to Facebook and a Twitter campaign that reached around 60,000 tweets, Facebook agreed to take the actions requested by the campaign.

We won!

Facebook has pledged to review their guidelines regarding violations, update training in regards to reviewing hate speech, increase the accountability of users so that a person posting cruel material can be held accountable, and work with feminist and anti-violence against women groups like Everyday Sexism.

This is exciting news for everyone, but especially organizations that rely on social media for creating social movements and social change; groups who are exploiting the organizing and sharing powers that platforms like Facebook offer to achieve larger goals of social equality.

Women deserve safe spaces on the internet, and these safe spaces should be free of bullying and hate from misogynists and individuals who commit violence against women. Individuals attempting to organize in a way meant to glorify violence against women and perpetuate said violence do not deserve the same right to safe spaces. We’re happy to see that Facebook finally agrees.

Congratulations to Facebook for taking these important steps toward making the internet a safer place for women, which will undoubtedly have important consequences in the real world as well. And congratulations to everyone who was involved in making this goal a reality—your hard work and internet activism paid off!

The Crisis of Sexual Assault in the US Military

3,192 and 19,000. 3,374 and 26,000.

Do these numbers seem familiar? These numbers were featured in a recent report by the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO)  in regards to the rate of sexual assault in the military. The first set is from the 2011 report, indicating that 3,192 instances of sexual assault were reported, with an estimated 19,000 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” that went unreported. In the 2012 report, the actual number of reported sexual assaults did not change drastically, only to 3, 374. Most notably, the estimated number of instances of “unwanted sexual contact” increased by 7,000. In the anonymous survey used in the study, the report stipulates that “unwanted sexual contact” (USC) is

“the survey term for contact sexual crimes between adults prohibited by military law, ranging from rape to abusive sexual contact. USC involves intentional sexual contact that was a against a person’s will or occured when the person did not or could not consent. The term describes completed and attempted oral, anal, and vaginal penetration  with any body part or object, and the unwanted touching of genitalia and other sexually-related areas of the body.”

Let’s put this into perspective. Over 6,500 service members reported being sexually assaulted (“crimes ranging from abusive sexual contact to rape“) in the past two years. Approximately 45,000 service members were estimated to have experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” This is an epidemic.

The issue of sexual assault in the military has been well-documented in major scandals such as Tailhook, the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and the US Air Force Academy, just to name a few. When the Tailhook scandal came to the public’s attention in 1991, it is estimated that 200,000 sexual assaults occurred within the the military. At the time of filming Invisible War, only a few years ago, the number was 500,000. Similarly to the above statistics, the filmmakers stressed these totaling numbers were taken from studies completed by the US government.

As noted in a recent article by Meredith Clark, President Obama stated that there is no “silver bullet” to ending the sexual assault crisis in the military. However, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta noted the same in the past year. And before that, Clark traces the usage of the phrase to Tailhook. Each revelation of a sexual assault scandal in the military, whether it is on the scale of Tailhook or the recent officers, in charge of sexual assault prevention programs, suspended during investigations of assaults or a staff sergeant taking illicit videos of servicewomen bathing, sparks an uptick in rhetoric emphasizing the need for a solution.

But what is the solution? 

It’s certainly not hanging up posters that say “Ask Her When She’s Sober,” placing the focus entirely on the victim’s behavior, and not on the assailant.

It’s not using training videos that instruct viewers to always have a buddy and that “Sexual assault is preventable. Are you doing your part?” (Please note this video is not available online, however it is featured in Invisible War.)

It’s not reporting the assault to your chain of command. As noted in Invisible War, 33% of women did not report because their commander was a friend of the rapist. 25% did not report because the commander was the rapist.

These are the ways the military has attempted to deal with sexual assault, and the ever-rising numbers indicate these methods are void. Currently, two major bills are being discussed that seek to remedy how the military handles the process of reporting. The first is a bi-partisan bill by Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine, and aims to “limit a military commander’s ability to change or dismiss a court-martial conviction for sexual assault.” The second bill is proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who seeks to have “military prosecutors, rather than commanders, the power to decide which sexual assault cases to try.” While both bills are major steps forward, Senator Gillibrand’s bill is the most daring, as she wants to take military commanders out of the equation in deciding which cases to pursue. As noted above, reporting within the chain of command can be extremely problematic. If this bill were to go through, it would possibly result in more cases being heard.

While we may not be on Capitol Hill, fighting for these bills, there is action we can take. Begin with educating yourself. Much of my research for this post came from seeing the documentary Invisible War. While it may be one of the most difficult films to get through, as hearing the stories of the service members can be triggering and disturbing, it is important to be aware of the full extent of the problem, which no article can ever truly convey. Second, write your state senators, and encourage them to support the bills proposed by Senators McCaskill, Collins, and Gillibrand. Third, show your support for our service members via social media. Send tweets of support to the senators. Use #NotInvisible and encourage your followers to watch Invisible War. Finally, for more resources and information, check out the sites of the filmmakers of Invisible War and the non-profit Protect Our Defenders.

The service members of our military have done so much for us. Especially during this time of year, as we remember their sacrifices, let’s take time to educate ourselves and work to support our service members in the fight against sexual assault.


WAM’s #FBrape Campaign and Systemic Misogyny in Tech Culture

Last week, Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!), a national feminist media organization, along with the UK-based Everyday Sexism Project and the feminist writer Soraya Chemaly, who regularly reports on the intersection of technology and feminism, spearheaded its campaign to hold Facebook accountable for its widely-reported selectively gendered policies in removing offensive content. Feminist coverage of this topic has consistently shown that Facebook refuses to take down content that perpetuates rape culture and normalizes domestic abuse. Such groups, which proliferate on Facebook, are instead filed under “controversial humor.” By contrast, pages where women control the presentation of their bodies, including breastfeeding, or anatomical diagrams of the female reproductive system, were summarily taken down from the site. According to the WAM FAQ, Facebook’s current moderation policies hinder feminists’ abilities to use the social network as a site for activism and spurring feminist consciousness.

Unlike previous attempts to bring awareness to these policies, WAM’s campaign calls upon advertisers to hold Facebook accountable by pulling their ads until Facebook responds. Mobilizing young feminists using social media to appeal directly to advertisers is a technique successfully used by feminists in a 2012 campaign against Rush Limbaugh shortly after he called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, a slut for advocating for the passage of the contraceptive mandate. As of this writing, over 43,000 tweets and 4,000 e-mails have been sent out about the campaign since its announcement, and several companies have pulled their ads from Facebook until this issue is addressed, including WestHost and Nissan UK.  Feministing reported that six companies, including Dove and Audible.com, refused to pull their ads from the site. While these companies claim reporting sexist pages is a sufficient action to prompt change, the WAM! Twitter account has posted powerful tweets demonstrating how the reporting processes leaves women out in the cold. Responses like Dove’s are insufficient because they ignore the systemic ways gendered hate speech are endorsed by Facebook staff and tech culture.

Feminist activists and organizations involved in the campaign acknowledge that appealing to Facebook directly, due to its lack of anonymity, is dangerous because of the risk of harassment by trolls and Facebook moderators’ general apathy to this abuse, which mimics its indifference to women’s safety writ-large in online spaces. Indeed, Facebook’s ubiquity and clout as a social network likely plays a large role in their refusal to honor the experiences of feminists and rape survivors. Facebook’s behavior grimly confirms that we live in a world where women are always subject to sexual violence. The larger cultural message we receive from a patriarchal society, and from the brogramming culture that spawned Facebook in the first place, is that this is okay, this is the way things should be.

Indeed, these biases permeate tech culture. In a 2011 article for Forbes, “Siri is Sexist,” Amanda Marcotte, a Brooklyn-based feminist writer, notes Siri, the personal assistant introduced on the iPhone 4S, has an uncanny ability to quickly locate escort services. However, Siri’s abilities don’t similarly extend to quickly or reliably locating emergency contraception or abortion services. Marcotte observes,

The problem isn’t that anyone involved with this hates women. The problem is that they just don’t think about women very much. Siri’s programmers clearly imagined a straight male user as their ideal and neglected to remember the nearly half of iPhone users who are female. That the tech company that’s the standard-bearer for progressive, innovative, user-friendly technology can’t bother to care about the concerns of half the human race speaks to a sexism that’s so interwoven into the fabric of our society that it’s nearly invisible.

It should be inexcusable for programmers, developers, and moderators continue to ignore the ways social media is both leveraged by and uniquely informs women’s daily experiences of being in the world. We live in a culture that is actively hostile to our existence, one in which men upload rapes to Facebook without facing repercussions. In addition to being half the population, women are the overwhelming majority of social media users, granting the sites social legitimacy and capital despite the dictates and overrepresentation of men in tech culture. Sixty-four percent of Facebook users are women; if anything, our perspectives and daily experiences of sexualized violence should be given priority instead of being dusted aside as irrelevant and humorless. The fact that Facebook’s moderators choose to hide behind the blinders of their own privilege, where the presumptive “average Facebook user” is a white male who never has to worry, daily, about the specter of forced sexual aggression, is no longer acceptable. Their apathy is simply enabling injustice and abuse.

This Week in Rape Culture: Campus Roundup

It’s been a busy news cycle when it comes to discussion of rape and rape culture on US college and university campuses.  Read on for the good, the bad, the infuriating, and the (cautiously) optimistic.

The Oxy Diaries. Things continue to heat up at Occidental College, where 37 students have filed two lawsuits and two federal complaints over the college’s mishandling of sexual assault cases on campus. On the heels of the lawsuits and accompanying press conference, as well as visible campus activism by survivors and supporters, more than 100 Oxy faculty signed an open letter of support demanding policy change. On May 6, the faculty voted overwhelmingly to express No Confidence in both the college’s campus attorney and Dean of Students.

On May 8, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights formally opened an investigation into Occidental’s handling (or mishandling) of assault allegations.  (This is the second such investigation by the DOE this year: In March, it opened a similar investigation into the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s sexual assault reporting and adjudication process.)

While the investigation should not be taken as a determination of guilt, survivors and their supporters at Oxy are seeing it as a positive step forward. Said Caroline Heldman, chair of the department of politics at Occidental and one of  many faculty who have worked with the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition to bring attention to the issue of sexual violence on campus,

“In a sense, it’s a vindication of the survivors’ stories that their claims are real and legitimate,” Heldman said. “I’m just really happy that all of our work has led to this, this day, the start of a real investigation and not one run by the administration.”

Where Is Your Line? will continue to watch and report on developments at Oxy. Sociology professor Lisa Wade, who has also been active in bringing the issue of assault at Oxy to the fore, regular updates at her blog Sociological Images as well, for those who want an inside perspective.

A “decline in civility” at Dartmouth? On Wednesday, April 24, Dartmouth College took the unusual step of cancelling classes to deal with what it termed a “decline in civility” on campus.  The previous Friday, several members of Real Talk Dartmouth had disrupted an assembly of prospective incoming students to bring attention to Dartmouth administration’s perceived inaction in cases of sexual assault. Declaring “Dartmouth has a problem!” members of the group shouted alarming statistics about sexual violence on campus, including the troubling fact that in the past 10 years only three rapists had been expelled from the institution and the steady rise in sexual assaults on campus (from 10 to 22) between the academic years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. (Members of  Real Talk Dartmouth, which is not affiliated with the college, also report that 95% of assaults at Dartmouth go unreported.)

In response to the protest, members of  Real Talk Dartmouth received threats of rape and murder on social media.

The college responded by canceling classes on Wednesday and issuing an email assuring the campus community that both the protesters and the people who threatened them would be subject to disciplinary action through approved college channels.

Hold up a second. Yes, that’s right. The email from the college officially equated the actions of protesters, who were trying to draw attention to violence on campus, with the actions of those who threatened them with sexual assault, bodily harm, and death for daring to speak out. Dartmouth administration characterized the escalating situation as a “decline of civility on campus.” (Just a thought: Maybe the real “incivility” on campus comes from a) having an administration that deals ineffective with sexual violence, and b) the attitude that threatening people with rape is an effective way to silence them.)

The full email from the chair of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees reads:

April 26, 2013
To the Dartmouth community:

As some of you know, a small group of students disrupted the Dimensions Welcome Show for prospective students on Friday, April 19, using it as a platform to protest what they say are incidents of racism, sexual assault, and homophobia on campus. Following the protest, threats of bodily harm and discriminatory comments targeting the protesters and their defenders ran anonymously on various sites on the Internet.

With tensions high across the Dartmouth community, Interim President Carol Folt, the Dean of the Faculty, and other senior leaders across campus agreed that the best course of action was to suspend classes on Wednesday, April 24, for a day of reflection and alternative educational programming. This decision was made to address not only the initial protest, but a precipitous decline in civility on campus over the last few months, at odds with Dartmouth’s Principles of Community.

This unusual and serious action to suspend classes for a day was prompted by concern that the dialogue on campus had reached a point that threatened to compromise the level of shared respect necessary for an academic community to thrive. The faculty and administration together determined that a pause to examine how the climate on campus can be improved was necessary. This was an important exercise that the Board supports. It is also important to note that there will be an opportunity for faculty to hold the classes that were missed as a result of Wednesday’s events.

Neither the disregard for the Dimensions Welcome Show nor the online threats that followed represent what we stand for as a community. As Interim President Folt indicated Wednesday in her remarks in front of Dartmouth Hall, the administration is following established policies and procedures with regard to any possible disciplinary action in both cases. As in every case regarding a disciplinary investigation, this process is confidential and respects the privacy of our students.

Dartmouth is not unique in the challenges it faces concerning campus climate and student life. We aspire to lead in responding to these challenges.

The Trustees and I are committed to addressing and supporting efforts necessary to resolve these issues, improving the campus climate and strengthening the institution. The Board’s Committee on Student Affairs is working with senior leaders and consulting with outside professionals to make progress on this front.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions with me at Stephen.F.Mandel.Jr.78@Dartmouth.edu

Best regards,

Steve Mandel ’78, P’09, P’11
Chair, Board of Trustees

(Emphasis added.)

In case you missed it, the administration is on record as saying that staging a protest against sexual assault on campus is the same as threatening another student with rape or other violence.

And that, right there — that’s what rape culture looks like.

SMU Task Force Reports Back: After months of meetings and discussions, the task force appointed last fall by Southern Methodist University president R. Gerald Turner has reported back with its recommendations. SMU has been accused of a secretive culture around the handling of sexual assault on campus, including an “opaque system of on-campus hearings known as ‘student conduct panels.'” When a (male) student was sexually assaulted by another (male) student in one of the University’s parking garages in the fall of 2012, SMU suddenly seemed to become aware of the culture of sexual assault on campus, prompting Turner to appoint the task force. (The charges against the student who was accused of the assault have since been dropped.)

As an SMU alum, I was frankly surprised that the campus administration suddenly cared. As I have reported, there was an undeniable rape culture on the campus while I was both a graduate student and an instructor there.

Turner’s task force returned 41recommendations for changing the campus attitude and approach to sexual violence. Among them are instituting anonymous reporting of sexual assaults on campus, providing all staff with a wallet card listing resources for students who have been sexually assaulted, funding of an after-hours sexual assault counselor on campus, and clarifying of policies and procedures surrounding investigation of sexual assaults. (You can read the full report here.) While these may all be positive steps towards better adjudication of sexual assaults that do occur, it remains to be seen whether these steps — many of which are focused on after-the-fact dealing with assault or prevention efforts that appear to be the same “how not to be a victim” tactics that characterize rape culture in the first place — will change the campus culture.

Anonymous, Steubenville, and Administering Great Justice Online

In a Mother Jones article published earlier this week, Josh Harkinson discusses Anonymous’ crucial role in making the horrifying cases of gang rape in both Steubenville, Ohio and Halifax, Canada crest on the national radar. The publicity Anonymous brought to the Steubenville case eventually led to the prosecution of two of the perpetrators in Steubenville. However, the women responsible for directing Anonymous to these brutal cases played an instrumental role in directing the online group’s resources to publicizing the cases and putting the perpetrators on blast, a refreshing change to tired narratives of victim-blaming and shaming.

Michelle McKee, an activist from Washington, and Alexandria Goddard, an Ohio-based reporter, were both frustrated that the now-infamous events in Steubenville, Ohio, weren’t receiving national coverage despite several attempts on McKee’s part to tip off reporters to the story. Goddard, a friend of McKee’s, used Twitter and her expertise studying teen’s social media usage to cobble together the sordid commentary by members of the football team of what occurred that evening, and eventually published her findings on her blog, Prinniefied. The collection of screenshots Goddard gathered from Twitter from students who were in attendance proved vital not only in implicating the rapists but also in displaying an overwhelming endorsement of rape culture.

Meanwhile, McKee reached out to Anonymous, aware of their previous campaigns against cyberbulling. Along with KnightSec, a subgroup of Anonymous, McKee was instrumental in starting the #RollRedRoll hashtag and subsequent campaign in order to bring attention to the case and Steubenville’s silence, which clearly prioritized the football players’ prestige and careers over the psychological damage the victim, who goes by the alias Jane Doe, suffered. Using a compilation of tweets from the perpetrators and those complicit in the group rape, and information from the high school web page, Anonymous created a video officially putting Steubenville on notice.

That so many of the perpetrators’ ribald tweets were linked to their real names, without any regard to future consequences, is telling about our cultural priorities. Rapists are free to tweet and share photos detailing their acts of aggression, with the calm assurance that they won’t be penalized in any way for their actions, no matter how disgusting; all the blame will be shifted to the victim. As Elizabeth Plank, a writer for the blog PolicyMic, points out in her article on the trend of viral rape, the documentation of rape on social media is a way to once again proudly violate the victim. She writes:

The fact that rapists want others to know that they have raped suggests that violating women is a rite passage, a legitimate method to climb the social ladder of masculinity or at least the bastardized toxic masculinity that they covet). Forcefully penetrating an unconscious girl is not a source of shame, but a badge of honor in the march of toxic masculinity, passed on through cultural narrative and weak “boys will be boys” punishments. Instead of guilt, the rapists feel pride. They get to rape their victims all over again, with ever share and every nasty comment, with every “LOL” and every “what a slut.”

The most prominent mainstream media narratives for rape and sexual assault only serve to reify the dictates of viral rape, demanding to know what the woman was wearing or drinking in an attempt to re-shame her. In CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville verdict, anchors Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow were far too preoccupied with how the guilty ruling would ruin the rapists’ lives to be concerned for Jane Doe’s well-being. As of this writing, CNN still has not made any sort of apology regarding their rape apologism for the perpetrators.

As Harkinson correctly notes in his article, Anonymous is a surprising ally to the movement to combat rape culture and rape survivors, considering its genesis from 4chan. However, Anonymous’s work has resulted in legal repercussions for the rapists in Steubenville, and national attention to Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicide following her group rape and subsequent relentless bullying. Their decentralized nature, broad reach, and unfettered access to resources civilians might not be able to utilize makes Anonymous a force to be reckoned with. (Their ability to quickly compile all the relevant evidence regarding Parsons’ viral rape is nothing short of remarkable.)

Aided by the work and dedication of survivors and feminists, Anonymous is taking an important step towards declaring that women will not stand for the continued proliferation of rape culture in both its online and offline manifestations.  Using new technologies not only to break stories about the effects of the cycle of rape and unrelenting harassment by peers on survivors, but also to control the narratives created about these stories is an important tool that feminists online must continue to wield to send a clear message: rapists and rape culture will no longer be tolerated.

Occidental Faculty Vote No Confidence for Campus Attorney, Dean of Students Handling Rape

On Monday, May 6, a quorum of faculty at Occidental College voted by an overwhelming margin to express No Confidence in both campus attorney Carl Botterud and Dean of Students Barbara Avery.  The faculty vote comes fast on the heels of an open letter expressing support for sexual assault survivors at Oxy and demanding sweeping reforms to the college’s sexual assault policies. Occidental students assert that there is a campus culture of mishandling, downplaying, and failing to report sexual assaults on campus; in April, two lawsuits and two federal complaints were filed against the college.

According to Occidental sociology professor Lisa Wade, who is both a signatory to the open letter and voted No Confidence in Botterud and Avery,

“While the motions [of No Confidence] are symbolic, such measures are quite rare. It is a very powerful statement coming from a faculty united in defense of survivors of sexual assault and their allies. We now wait to see how the College President, Jonathan Veitch, moves forward.”

Botterud and Avery remain active employees at Occidental, and Wade reported on her blog Sociological Images that an internal investigation “is or will be” conducted into their actions.

The situation unfolding at Occidental College is not only a sobering look into the ways that college or university administration may, by their action or inaction, aid and abet rape culture. It is also a heartening affirmation of the power of survivor stories and survivor voices to break the shame and silence around sexual violence, and a testament to the difference that supportive faculty makes in changing campus culture. It remains to be seen what the outcome of the student and faculty activism at Occidental will be, but for survivors of assault on campus, the knowledge that so many of their faculty support them must be a huge step towards healing.

For more on recent events at Oxy, check out the coverage of the April press conference in which several survivors of assault on campus spoke to the media; hear five student survivors tell their stories; and read the open letter from a group of alumni distressed about the handling of assault on campus.

Good Reads for SAAM and Beyond

As April 2013 comes to an end here in New Jersey, I’m noticing all kinds of changes: the days are longer, I don’t need to allow extra time to scrape ice off my windshield in the morning, and, most importantly, we are wrapping up Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) 2013. According to the font of all knowledge (more commonly known as Wikipedia), this year marks the 12th year SAAM has been observed nationally in the United States.

Just because we have a month dedicated to raising awareness of sexual assault doesn’t mean we can’t raise awareness year round, and what better way to do it than read a book? For those of you who know the joys of commuting via public transportation, this is a great opportunity to spring for a hard copy of something with a shocking title so you can frighten and/or enlighten your fellow commuters.

Reviving Ophelia

by Mary Pipher

In Reviving Ophelia, Pipher does not focus exclusively on rape culture, but as a practitioner who has worked with adolescent girls throughout her career, she makes some important observations about the messages we give girls compared with the ones we give boys.

I first read this book in college, and one part that sticks with me is Pipher’s reflections on how girls approach the world around them. Up until 9th grade, girls are openly curious about how things work and enjoy math and science. After 9th grade, they become more apprehensive about the world around them. It’s also interesting to note that Pipher points out that girls tend to identify more closely with others they perceive as vulnerable.

We need caring and nurturing people, but it shouldn’t just be up to women to be caring and nurturing. When that happens, all girls and women become are the people who take care of someone more important.

Pipher’s case studies and observations illustrate these points in a powerful way. So if you have not read this book yet, I definitely recommend it.

I Never Called it Rape

by Robin Warshaw

This is a terrific choice if you want to scare creepers on the bus with a book title, but you might weird-out some of the other folks while you’re at it. Still, whether you choose to read it on your commute or in private, it’s essential. If you are reading this blog, you probably already know that “date rape” is the most common form of rape most women experience. Warshaw supports the premise that date and acquaintance rape is a pervasive problem through data gathered through surveys as well as statistics from the Department of Justice. If you need to prepare a talk for students or a community group, this is a great resource for statistics and definitions. Warshaw also includes a helpful section on how to help someone who has been sexually assaulted.

Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence

by Myriam Miedzian

The title really says everything you need to know about what this one is about.

What I love most about Miedzian’s work is she bases all of her conclusions on research instead of adages that let perpetrators off the hook. She also offers suggestions for parents, teachers, and anyone else working with young people.

Manifesta [10th Anniversary Edition]: Young Women, Feminism and the Future

by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards

If you are sticking your toe into this whole feminist movement thing for the first time, Manifesta is a good introduction to what has happened, what has been done, and what still needs to happen. Also, it has a lot of good information about the hard facts about the status of women in the United States: legally, we are not equal to men. Consequently, there are still some really bizarre laws on the books about things like the right to own property and other interesting things.

This book could make you a little paranoid, but you will be better off and stronger for it.

With that, I empower you to go forth and read!

Survivors of Abuse Being Evicted for Calling Police: The ACLU Takes Action in Pennsylvania

Think about this for a moment.  (Now, normally I dislike these ‘imagine you were in whatever situation’ activities since I think it often minimizes other people’s experiences. But we’re going to try it in this case.)

You, or someone you love, are in an unhealthy relationship.

So, in addition to being emotionally/physically/psychologically exhausted from an unhealthy or abusive relationship, there are all kinds of other things/factors that can come into play that makes everything even worse. Things like finances, maybe you two share a bank account. Children, what if you had a child (or two) in common with your abuser? Half the people around you are saying, “why haven’t you just left already?” and the other half are telling you that “relationships take work” or “well, what did you do to make it happen?”

You still love them.

You think you can change them.

You feel like you did do something to provoke them.

Maybe if you had just done x, y, or z differently. 

You’re just plain scared.

All of these things can have an impact on someone involved in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. And, honestly, all of this isn’t even the half of it. It would be impossible for me to list everything that could be running through the head of a victim or survivor of abuse, let alone all of the systemic and larger societal structures that may be manifesting in different ways. But, even just with some of complications that I listed, imagine that on top of all of those things you do the “right” thing. You try and leave. You call the police when your partner becomes violent.

Then you get evicted from your home for “disorderly behavior.” You get evicted for calling the cops in the first place.

Earlier this April, the ACLU took action on behalf of a Pennsylvania woman who lived this nightmare:

Last year in Norristown, Pa., Lakisha Briggs’ boyfriend physically assaulted her, and the police arrested him. But in a cruel turn of events, a police officer then told Ms. Briggs, “You are on three strikes. We’re gonna have your landlord evict you.”

Yes, that’s right. The police threatened Ms. Briggs with eviction because she had received their assistance for domestic violence. Under Norristown’s “disorderly behavior ordinance,” the city penalizes landlords and tenants when the police respond to three instances of “disorderly behavior” within a four-month period. The ordinance specifically includes “domestic disturbances” as disorderly behavior that triggers enforcement of the law.

After her first “strike,” Ms. Briggs was terrified of calling the police. She did not want to do anything to risk losing her home. So even when her now ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick, she did not call. And later, when he stabbed her in the neck, she was still too afraid to reach out. But both times, someone else did call the police. Based on these “strikes,” the city pressured her landlord to evict. After a housing court refused to order an eviction, the city said it planned to condemn the property and forcibly remove Ms. Briggs from her home. The ACLU intervened, and the city did not carry out its threats, and even agreed to repeal the ordinance. But just two weeks later, Norristown quietly passed a virtually identical ordinance that imposes fines on landlords unless they evict tenants who obtain police assistance, including for domestic violence.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the ACLU and others have had to get involved in this gross revictimization. In nearby Milwuakee, domestic violence is the third most common reason police issue nuisance citations – rising above drug, property damage, and trespassing offenses for the place. But laws like this ordinance create a barrier between women and other at-risk populations and one of the only sources of safety and protection that they have: the American justice system. “Effective law enforcement depends on strong relationships between police and members of the community,” the ACLU reminds us. “These ordinances undermine that trust, by punishing victims who call 911 and coercing them to endure escalating violence in silence.”

While the ACLU works hard on the issue in the courts, there are steps you can take to empower yourself and your community against this kind of imposed silence.

1) Know (and share!) the warning signs of abuse.

2) Look into your local and state ordinances — let your representatives know that these provisions are not OK.

3) Run for office yourself.

4) Work more generally on ending rape culture and the linkage between masculinity and violence.

5) And finally, if you are a DV advocate, you can use this cool Maintaining Safe and Stable Housing for Domestic Violence Survivors guide by the National Housing Law Project. It’s not legal advice, but it seems to have some good tips.

This is also not a comprehensive list of steps to take. It is only a starting place. Feel free to come up with your own (better) ideas and let us know what they are!

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