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.”

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!

They Need to Know Better: Let’s Educate Young People About Rape, Consent, and Healthy Sexuality

It’s become clear that we need to educate more widely on sexual assault, and that sex education is broken. Three of our bloggers tackle how and why in this mini-roundtable post. It’s the last day of SAAM – but these reforms could take all year.

There’s No Blurry Line: Why Don’t We Know That?

by Crystal

Sexual activity is consensual. Rape is not. The distinction may seem difficult due to the constant sexualization of women in every form of media we consume. People may think someone “wants it” because of how they act or dress without the thought that those actions can be purely individual. People may not know better.

We’ve all heard it before: when a girl is a victim of sexual assault the questions asked are: what were YOU doing, what were YOU thinking, how could YOU go to a party alone or why did YOU drink so much? It’s almost always about blaming the victim and not placing the blame where it belongs, with the perpetrator. Even in the rare chance a rape is reported, putting an offender in jail becomes the ultimate goal – and it’s one that doesn’t solve the  systematic  problem of what rape culture is and how it affects teens and adults in our daily lives. What’s being done to teach young adults and teens about the world around them?

We need comprehensive sex education that goes beyond “this is an STD and this is how you prevent them,” “this is pregnancy,” and a focus on abstinence as prevention. Scare tactics and stigmas around sex need to be eradicated before anything can actually happen in breaking down rape culture.  There is never a blurry line between sex and rape. Let’s teach the line instead of avoiding discussion about either side in the classroom.

“We’ve really gone backward in the sexual revolution,” said Monica Schneider, an administrator at Overfelt High in San Jose. These days, she said, girls see their role as serving men, and “it is expected on a first date that they participate in sexual behavior.”

Many girls feel pressured to start being sexual when they’re not ready because it’s very rare to find adults willing to begin dialogue or show support around issues concerning sex. Adults are scared to give teenagers the tools to be responsible and to empower themselves, because when that happens the power shifts and our sexual mores could finally disappear.

But it’s the only way.

Can We Blame Them? High Schoolers Need Better Information

by Leslie

“Have you seen that picture of Megan yet? No? Well you HAVE to see it man, it’s hilarious. So she’s passed out naked on her bed and Ryan’s just going at it with her while all the other people are photobombing in the background. I think the funniest part is that she doesn’t even know it happened but everyone has the pictures now. That’s what happens when you get too drunk, dumb slut!”

Welcome to high school, just in case you haven’t been a part of such a loving adolescent community in a while. That tidbit of conversation seems so awful that if I hadn’t heard it myself, I would have never thought such words could come out of a sophomore boy’s mouth. But I did hear this story and its shocking commentary, as did the majority of the sophomore class at my private Catholic school in Austin.

What happened to Megan brought my attention to the ignorance about rape widespread on my campus. Far too many people here, and everywhere, are under the impression that teenagers know what rape is and that they should help the victim. The fact of the matter is, however, that teenage boys rape teenage girls on a regular basis without even really understanding the gravity of what they do, and then their peers harass the victim while the rapists get off free. (And that even when they do recognize the gravity of the crime, boys rarely see better examples of masculinity or a real reason to fear consequences within their scope of experiences.)

Victim-Blaming-- perpetuated by the media, commonly found in high school hallways

In Steubenville, two high school boys raped an unconscious teenage girl at a party and distributed nude pictures of her to their friends. The victim received significant backlash from her community, and former friends of hers said that since she was drinking a lot, it was her fault for being in that situation. The main difference between this case and the other incidences of teenage girls being raped while unconscious is simply that it was reported — aside from the notoriety, nothing sets Steubenville’s rape crew apart from any other gaggle of teenage rapists. This happens all the time, from the malicious and public attack down to the victim-blaming.

After I heard what had happened to Megan, I decided to ask around at my school and see what the general consensus was concerning rape, consent, and sexual violence prevention. I was dismayed by what I heard: the majority of students agreed that if a girl was taken advantage of when she was drunk it was her fault; students were of the opinion that if you’re dating someone, they have the right to expect sex and take it from you. When I asked teens what they thought rape was, they considered it to be when a guy had sex with a girl even after she said no. However, as long as they didn’t hear the word “NO”, they considered “Maybe”, “I’m not sure”, and silence to be a yes. It broke my heart when a senior told me that she was passed out at a party once and her boyfriend had sex with her anyway, but it was okay because they were dating. 

My peers aren’t unintelligent people. They aren’t so-called “delinquents”. They aren’t immoral. They’re just uneducated about what healthy sex looks like in a culture that sells it and promotes it at every turn.

We can’t afford to shelter teenagers, and we can’t justify the lack of a conversation about sexual violence in schools any longer. As crazy as it seems, teenagers do not know what rape is. Teenagers do not know how consent works or why it matters. Teenagers do not know how to treat a victim or react to hearing about sexual abuse from their peers. And in many ways this is our fault.

How can they know all these things if they’re never taught? When do teens receive proper education about rape, sexual violence, consent, and prevention? They don’t. Any teen can tell you that rape is taboo in schools, yet if you listen to their conversations at lunch, you can hear an in-depth account of who-did-who last weekend after one too many shots. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but schools need to start talking to their students openly about what exactly rape is. We can’t expect rape culture to go away when we refuse to engage in primary prevention with some of the most vulnerable populations affected by the crime.

All names in this segment have been changed.

What Sex Ed. Really Needs

by Emily

Last week, the Ohio State House of Representatives voted on a budget bill that could have, among other things, imposed a fine of up to $5000 on teachers who condone “gateway sexual activity” (known to the rest of us as foreplay). This provision also would have prohibited the distribution of contraceptives on school property and discouraged educators from teaching anything other than abstinence-only sex education. Which, really, isn’t sex education at all.

Fortunately for the people of Ohio, these puritanical restrictions on sex education were taken out of the bill. But the fact that they were considered at all is a reminder that the debate over sex education continues to rage on in this country. In 2013, more than half of the states in the union still do not require their public schools to teach sex education, and an even greater number do not mandate that this education, if it is provided at all, be medically accurate. Furthermore, abstinence-only education, which teaches students that abstaining from sex until marriage (namely, heterosexual marriage) is the only acceptable form of sexual behavior, is still prevalent throughout the nation.

This approach to sex education is enormously problematic for a number of reasons. To start with the most obvious, it completely disregards the reality that, like it or not, teenagers are going to have sex. No matter how many times you tell them not to, no matter how vigorously you threaten them with pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases or an eternity spent in the fiery pits of hell, most of them are still going to have sex. They are going to have sex because, like adults, they are sexual beings with sexual urges, and it is only natural for them to want to act on those urges. This is not something that we need to “resign” ourselves to – resignation implies that there is something intrinsically wrong with having sex or wanting to have sex, likening an integral part of the human experience to some kind of unsavory but unavoidable truth. No, this is not a cause for resignation, but rather for acceptance. From where I’m standing, there is not a whole lot wrong with teenagers having sex with each other, so long as they are being smart about it.

The purpose of sex education is to educate students about sex – not to force a moral doctrine down their throats or withhold information from them that is vital to their physical, mental, emotional, and sexual well-being. We owe it to our teenagers to provide them with honest, accurate information about sex and sexuality. They need to know what to expect, what their options are, and how to look out for themselves and their partners. To deprive them of this knowledge is to deny them the tools they need to navigate sexual situations safely and responsibly. This approach leaves them with two options – to venture blindly into unknown territory, thereby putting themselves at risk for any number of negative outcomes (unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases), or to seek out information from sources that are likely not reliable or geared towards their best interests. Neither option is acceptable. The solution, then, is to provide students with comprehensive sex education that prepares them for what they will be dealing with when it comes to sex. Ultimately, we cannot control the decisions teenagers are going to make about having sex – nor, in my opinion, are we entitled to – but we can do our best to guide them towards choices that are both responsible and fully informed.

That this debate occurred in Ohio struck me as particularly timely given the recent media attention surrounding the horrific Steubenville, Ohio rape case. The events in Steubenville were a sobering indication that something is very, very wrong with the messages teenagers are getting about sex. Somehow, somewhere along the way in this fucked up sexual culture of ours, the boys who raped that girl developed the mindset that violating another human being was an act of little consequence. That is fucking terrifying.  If we are going to stop things like this from happening in the future – and we must stop things like this from happening in the future – we need to fight back against that mindset. We need to communicate openly and honestly about sex, and teenagers need to be part of that conversation. If they are old enough to perpetrate acts such as these (and Steubenville is by no means an isolated incident), they are old enough to talk about how and why they happen.

With sex education, we have an ideal forum for starting that kind of dialogue. Rather than putting restrictions on these programs, we should be focused on improving them, making them better until they adequately address the needs and realities of American teenagers. Right now, it seems to me that we are fighting the wrong battle. This shouldn’t be a war on teenagers having sex – it should be a war on teenagers having sex that is not safe, not healthy, not consensual. It should be a war on rape, on victim blaming, on ignorance and silence and sexual shame. If the Ohio state legislature wants to reform the sex education in its public schools, it should start by spending a little less time worrying about “gateway sexual activity” and a lot more time figuring out why a pair of 17-year old boys would think it’s funny to carelessly abuse the body of an incoherent girl.

What sexual education needs, I think, is a shift in focus. The approach we take now is largely sex-negative – we focus on the risks, the repercussions, the things teenagers shouldn’t do. And, of course, these are all topics that need to be addressed. But where we fall short is in discussing the things they should do. Consent, respect, communication, trust – these are words that should be coming up just as frequently as “pregnancy” and “STDs.” We need sexual education programs that foster a sex-positive culture, one that recognizes and accepts a multiplicity of sexual choices rather than imposing a single standard.

I’m not saying that we should throw condoms at high school students and tell them to go have an orgy, but we also shouldn’t make them feel as if what they are thinking about and experiencing is something to be kept secret or to feel ashamed of. We should be encouraging teenagers to communicate openly about sex and sexuality – with peers, adults, and especially partners. If we can create this kind of dialogue – a dialogue about what sex should be to parallel what it shoudn’t be – we will be taking steps towards ensuring that events like those in Steubenville never happen again.

Our Global Society Needs a Paradigm Shift Today, Not Tomorrow!

If there is anything to be learned from the past month (or, in the past few months), it is this: sexual violence does not discriminate. There is not a specific and singular target of rape, like some have “preached.” Anyone, at anytime and anywhere can be affected. Within a forty-eight hour period, a four year old and a five year old where kidnapped, raped, and left to die in India.

Correction, as I am writing this, I am reading of a six year old raped, slashed, and left for dead, also in India.

Manish Swarup, Associated Press

I want you to stop for a moment, and simply consider this news.

Now three little girls have been brutally raped and left for dead. Last reported, the four year old is suffering from severe brain damage. The five year old is improving. The six year old is in surgery, and the surgeon indicated her throat was slit.

Sexual violence does not discriminate, and those who carry out these horrific acts of violence do not either. I hope, at this point, it is abundantly clear that rape is not simply we can look away from, or solve by telling girls and women to dress or behave differently. This is an issue that rests on men. To echo the words of Zerlina Maxwell, in the now infamous interview with Sean Hannity, “Teach men not to rape.” In the cases of these little girls, the perpetrators were men in their twenties or thirties. What has society taught these men? While I am not familiar with the Indian educational system, I know that the American educational system is sorely lacking in the sexual education department. As mentioned in other posts in this blog, issues of consent, or even what constitutes an assault, are rarely discussed.

That point is nil here, however. This is not an issue of consent. These men raped children, little girls so young they may not be able to cognitively process what has happened. These acts are symptomatic of a global society where females are seen as inferior, as the weaker sex, and as expendable objects. Our global society is need of a drastic paradigm shift. But how do we go on from here? As I am writing this, I cannot help but feel helpless in my rage. These three little girls will live the reality of sexual violence for the rest of their lives. They are now burdened with a reality that no one should ever have to bear. The responsibility of preventing these attacks does not rest on these little girls. It rests on the men who committed these acts of violence.

To those who decried Zerlina Maxwell’s words of wisdom, I hope you are realizing men do need to be taught not to rape. Men need to be taught access to the female body is not a privilege, that the female body is not a commodity or an object. Men need to be taught there “other women,” not just their own mothers and sisters, are human too, each with a will and independent mind and spirit.

I do know that sitting here, simply feeling upset, will not make a difference. Waiting till we calm down and collect ourselves won’t benefit anyone. Our moral rage is powerful and cannot wait another day to be expressed. Remember, as I was writing this post, another little girl was taken to the hospital. The cases here are only the ones the media is covering. How many more females, young and old, are suffering in silence, as we wait to make our stand? Do not be content to let others voice your concerns and rage. Don’t wait till tomorrow or the next week or the end of the semester or the end of college. Let your voice be heard now.

In the last days of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let’s commit to real action.

I’m Pro-Choice, Not Bro-Chice

NOTE: As amazing as it would be if Bro-Choice were an organization fighting for the reproductive rights of men assigned female at birth, it is a movement geared toward cis men. There are men for whom reproductive rights are a serious and personal issue, and I do not mean to contribute to their erasure in this article.

The internet has been abuzz recently with talk about Bro-Choice, a new project from Choice USA that seeks to educate and work with college men on reproductive rights, and to disrupt “the dominant narrative that reproductive justice is a ‘women’s issue.'” I confess the first thing that came to mind when I heard about this project was “Bronies” – a.k.a. the men who built a passionate fan base over a show intended for young girls. The similar feeling of discomfort over masculinizing a woman-oriented thing also came to mind.

I read Choice USA’s article on Bro-Choice by Andrew Jenkins and I found that a lot of my skepticism was allayed – the word “Bro” conjures images of stereotypical masculinity and misogyny, but I found a thoughtful call for young men to take an interest in securing what should be basic human rights. However, I also saw the by-line at the top stating Bro-Choice wants to “[move] men from passive allies to vocal stakeholders,” and I take some issue with this rhetoric, and with the idea of building an identity around being an “ally” or “male feminist.”

There is a lot to like about Bro-Choice. Educating young people about reproductive rights and sexuality is a wholly positive thing, especially with their explicit wish to “combat complacency and paternalism” both, and to be aware of male privilege while doing so. But the Bro-Choice pledge – to speak out against injustice at the risk of alienation, advocate for reproductive justice, and challenge rape culture and misogyny – is inherently righteous, not just because the man taking it knows and is related to women. Bro-Choice does a lot right, which is why critiquing their rhetoric (and silly name) feels like nit-picking, but there are problems with making allies as visible as the people they are supposed to be supporting.

I don’t identify as a feminist. I don’t mean to say that I disavow feminism or its principles, either – but I have become very skeptical of “male feminists” and their organizations over the last few years. I’ve heard self-identified “male feminists” argue that rape is an evolutionary tool designed for men to spread their seed. I’ve known “male feminists” who have raped women and suffered no consequences. (I have known men with no knowledge whatsoever of feminist theories treat women with respect and to powerfully oppose what in feminism is called “rape culture,” though they did not know the term.) I’ve seen “allies” behave cruelly in their words and actions while paying lip service to the idea of social justice, to the point where I felt it counterproductive and appropriative for me identify as a feminist. Feminism is a movement for the liberation of women, and should remain under the control of women, solely. I found myself nodding when Jenkins said “we don’t need young men to participate in this work because they’ve been motivated by a sexist narrative about ‘saving our mothers, sisters and daughters’ – a narrative often perpetuated by our own movement. We don’t need a knight in shining armor.”

With some allies, you don't even need enemies!

Bro-Choice stresses the awareness of male privilege and the fact that this is a woman’s issue first and foremost, but in the same breath urges men move from being “passive allies to vocal stakeholders” regardless of whether they are needed or wanted. The term “ally” conjures images of war – the ally is metaphorically going into battle with the marginalized group against the foe, because they share a common material interest or cultural values (like NATO, the EU, the Warsaw Pact). But because of the nature of gender relations in our society, men benefit from the fact that women are paid less for the same labor, that they tend to be depicted as emotional and untrustworthy, and that their bodies are often viewed as not theirs to control, particularly in the context of reproductive rights and sexual harassment and assault. It seems wrong to take the focus off of the disadvantaged party in order to put the focus and control onto the party that implicitly condescends to “alliance.”

When a man identifies as feminist, he might be thought of as mildly deluded at worst, rather than as a harpy or feminazi. Male feminists will not be accused of wanting to “leave their husbands, kill their children, and practice witchcraft.”

When you self-identify as an “ally,” it might blind you to the ways in which you are upholding injustice, purposefully or unknowingly; it might make you view yourself as incapable of being oppressive or offensive, as your intentions come from a good place. An ally opposing sexism (and the same goes for racism, classism, homophobia, et al) without understanding how sexism (or racism, classism, homophobia) benefits them makes a poor “stakeholder” in the movement; empowering marginalized communities does more to combat structural oppression and disadvantage than the passion of any number of well-meaning liberal-minded people. Part of the Bro-Choice pledge may be to “challenge myself and interrogate my own personal privileges” but it is harder to do so when you are in a cordoned-off part of the women’s movement under the interest of men, and harder to be called out on internalized misogyny in an echo chamber of men.

Bro-Choice is co-opting a women’s movement for men.

Men’s role in feminism should be to challenge other men, and to be points of resistance against a culture that devalues women and femininity – not to be the leaders or stakeholders. Men can’t be stakeholders or take the spotlight in the pro-choice movement because it is not their bodies who are besieged by moralizing politicians, or who suffer lack of access to birth control or who are often judged harshly for doing so (though this only applies to cisgender men) – and it seems strange to build a personal brand around a kind of grief that you can never know. I support feminism, I strive to be in solidarity with feminism and to oppose misogyny in others and in myself, but I feel I cannot identify as a feminist as it is simply not my place. I can’t speak for a struggle whose hardships I have never known and over whom I have privilege, and even my writing here on a feminist website is often limited seeing as there are elements of feminism that I literally cannot know or relate to. The best thing for men interested in women’s equality to do is to listen with kindness, compassion, and understanding to those who do know the reality of gender injustice, and to support them without trying to lead them.

I don’t need a label like Bro-Choice to describe my feelings, because I don’t need to be honored simply due to my interest in being an ally. I’m not Bro-Choice, I’m Pro-Choice, and I support the feminist movement without expecting a reward.

We Need Your Words: A Call for Writers

Movements are about voices. THE LINE wants yours!

i took this photo at my day job, so copyright carmen rios

We’re seeking new writers for the campaign blog; members of the blogging team will be expected to contribute regularly (on a self-declared and -designed schedule, but ideally once a month to once a week), and can publish on a series of topics including feminism, media, sex, sexuality, and rape culture. Anything ranging from personal essays about sex and consent to write-ups on ongoing rape hearings or ripping apart terrible media coverage of the same will be accepted with open arms. Writers can pitch their own stories or wait to see what I dig up and pass around. Candidates will hopefully be totally badass, come bearing valuable activist or writing experience, and know how to work within WordPress to write and edit their own posts before submitting them to me.

Although writers aren’t compensated, I can promise you the following as blog editor: an opportunity to grow as a writer and little working bee, a chance to immerse yourself in a cause you care about, and the ability to speak your mind to an audience of millions around the world growing every day. And did I mention the outpourings of love? Because I am really great at emailing people outpourings of love.

If you’re interested, email me – rios.cmarie+writers [at] gmail [dot] com – and attach a resume and writing sample. (I know the email looks crazy but just do it: “rios.cmarie+writers @ gmail.com.”)If you don’t have a writing sample from print media or another blog, please write one! Seriously. Just go ahead, pick a news story from another outlet, and write about something as if you were writing it for us. Length of your samples doesn’t matter. Don’t write a cover letter because they make me sad, and I think it’s unfair how much time it takes to write one. Just send me a paragraph about who you are and your favorite flavor of ice cream instead.

If you’d just like to contribute casually or submit a single post, we have a way for you to do that right here! The Internet is amazing.

Applications accepted through April 1.

#CSW57 Roundup: Orgs We Met and Loved At The UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women

 The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women took place from March  4 – 15, and we were on the front lines live and tweeting.

The commission was focus on eliminating and preventing violence against women and girls, as well as how to share responsibility among women and men on the issue and reflect the changing needs of gender equity. The Millenium Development goals were a huge part of what was going on.

Not everyone can spend quality time at the UN, so the Panelist papers and webcast are available online. And since you missed out on the elbow-rubbing, here’s an overview on the orgs we met and loved on during the commission and think deserve your support!

Avon Foundation for Women:

Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse with the goal of establishing or maintaining power and control over the victim. It can happen occasionally or continuously and often worsens over time. Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, mental, and financial abuse. It knows no boundaries: Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.

To help bring this issue out of the shadows, the Avon Foundation for Women launched Speak Out Against Domestic Violence, an initiative to build awareness, educate, and improve prevention and direct service programs. Through the end of 2012, in the U.S. alone, we have provided more than $33 million for the domestic violence cause.

Take Back the Tech:

Take Back the Tech! is a collaborative campaign to reclaim information and communication technologies (ICT) to end violence against women (VAW).

The campaign calls on all ICT users – especially women and girls – to take control of technology and strategically use any ICT platform at hand (mobile phones, instant messengers, blogs, websites, digital cameras, email, podcasts and more) for activism against gender-based violence.

Take Back the Tech! accompanies the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (November 25 – December 10 each year) with daily actions that explore different aspects of violence against women and ICT tools.

Bytes for All:

Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening human rights movements in the country.

At the forefront of Internet Rights movement and struggle for the democracy, B4A focuses on capacity building of human rights defenders on their digital security, online safety & privacy. Working on different important campaigns particularly against Internet censorship and surveillance in Pakistan, B4A continues to work on cyberspace issues, awareness raising and policy advocacy from civil liberties & human rights perspective.

Globally acclaimed Take Back The Tech Campaign is the flagship of Bytes for All, which focuses on strategic use of ICTs by the women and girls to fight violence against women in Pakistan.


Sonke Gender Justice Network is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, established in 2006. Today, Sonke has established a growing presence on the African continent and plays an active role internationally. Sonke works to create the change necessary for men, women, young people and children to enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. Sonke pursues this goal across Southern Africa by using a human rights framework to build the capacity of government, civil society organisations and citizens to achieve gender equality, prevent gender-based violence and reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS.


PCI Media Impact

We work with partners around the world to produce Entertainment-Education (E-E) programs rooted in our three-pronged My Community approach to communications for social change. Using a combination of serial dramas, talk shows and community mobilization, we:

Strengthen the capacity of our local partners to effectively use communications to catalyze change;
Create a community of constituents who support our collaborative work; and
Promote positive changes in audience knowledge, attitudes and behaviors around target issues.
As a result we are promoting a new generation of change-leaders using communications to effectively turn up the volume on their important work.

Why We Need to #EducateCoaches to Create Change in the Wake of Steubenville

Recently, I worked closely with athlete Connor Clancy from Colby College on a Change.Org petitionthe brainchild of my near and dear SPARK movement – asking the National Federation of High School Associations to develop and offer an annual educational program on sexual assault prevention to coaches as part of a required yearly training. In the wake of Steubenville, it’s clear that it’s time for us to take action collectively to make athletes part of a more proactive, humane culture. That process can begin if we take the right steps to #EducateCoaches.

The Steubenville rape case, in which two high school football players are accused of repeatedly assaulting, raping, and otherwise humiliating a debatably unconscious teenage girl after carrying her limp body from party to party last August, goes to trial today.

The case involves Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays, two high school football players being charged with the sexual assault of an unnamed 16-year-old girl. Both a part of Steubenville’s Big Red football team – which is the steel town’s last shot to be “on the map.” The team’s acclaim has saved their town from desolation, keeping television crews within the confines of the once-packed, now sparsely populated town.

What went down exactly is unknown, mostly because the tale comes of hearsay and the victim herself remembers next to nothing. But the rumors aren’t pretty: various Instagram posts and tweets discussed and showed an unconcious Jane Doe being carried by her wrists and ankles out of a party, flashing everyone while presumably blackout drunk in their car, and lying topless on a sidewalk. A video shows Michael Nodianos, an Ohio State student from Steubenville, giggling about the “rape,” which he describes as such in the YouTube post he created that night,while comparing his buddies to famous rapists. Tweets from his account describe “a wang in the butt” and “a dead person.” Facebook posts express not having “sympathy for whores.”

The assistant coach had been the father of one of the party hosts from that August night, when the boys carried a drunk girl from house to house. He “didn’t like what he saw,” and asked them to leave.

But when the situation was exposed, head coach Reno Saccaccio was unphased. A local hero and successful coach, he regards his athletes as “his sons” and is one of the underlying reasons for the Big Red phenomena. He claimed when he asked the team about rumors of the incident and the details that were coming out, they told him they’d done nothing wrong. He “doesn’t do the Internet,” so he chose to simply ignore that photographs and messages that had been publicly posted by his team members. His demeanor when interacting with press was angry and defensive. He didn’t bench the accused boys and spoke out to invalidate the victim’s experience.

Now, as the trial is set to finally begin, a community remains divided and tensions remain high. By now, Steubenville is at best a hot mess and at worst, an absolute crash-and-burn of a community tragedy. The case has been mishandled in all directions; various members of the community at various levels and moments failed to accept accountability, students rallied against alleged rapists and disavowed a victim, parents turned down opportunities to learn and grow as a community in the spirit of further denial, and law enforcement, for the most part, stood by scratching their heads. And when given a chance to strike down the culture which often glorifies violence and accepts bad behavior while forsaking the humanity of women, the Steubenville coaches, and especially coach Saccoccia failed.

We can’t expect more from our sons if we can’t expect a peep from their fathers. And in a culture where athletes are too often treated preferentially and excused from typical social, legal, and academic standards, it’s become increasingly clear that we can’t expect more from sports culture until we fix our rape culture.

Coaches guide generations of boys through a gritty learning process. They’re legends and heros, and often rightly so. As leaders in their communities and mentors to their athletes, coaches hold unique places in the lives of their teammates. And if we give them the keys to having productive, empowering conversations about violence and respect with the boys they work with every day, that may be the key to ending the culture that created Steubenville.

Sports culture doesn’t have to be a rape culture. Sign the #EducateCoaches petition today at Change.Org/EducateCoaches. Use the tag #EducateCoaches to spread the word.

Jean Kilbourne: Badass Activist Friday

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 cultural 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.

This week’s badass activist is Jean Kilbourne. Jean is a feminist author and filmmaker who is known for her work on the images of women in advertizing, as well as the images of alcohol and tobacco advertising. She is the author of Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel  (1999) and  So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids (2008, with Diane E. Levin), and she has produced several films on advertising strategies and how they affect us.

Let’s hear what she had to say!


Salamishah Tillet: Badass Activist Friday

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 cultural 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.

Today’s Badass is Salamishah Tillet. Dr. Salamishah Tillet is an assistant professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the forthcoming book, “Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination.” She is a rape survivor and the co-founder of the nonprofit organization A Long Walk Home Inc., which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against girls and women. You can follow her on Twitter.

Let’s hear what she says about her work!


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