Friday, March 28, 2008

Widespread Survivor Blaming

A national poll in Ireland shows that a large percentage of people believe that rape survivors bear some or all of the blame for their attack.

More than 30% think a victim is some way responsible if she flirts with a man or fails to say no clearly.

10% of people think the victim is entirely at fault if she has had a number of sexual partners.

37% think a woman who flirts extensively is at least complicit, if not completely in the wrong, if she is the victim of a sex crime.

One in three think a woman is either partly or fully to blame if she wears revealing clothes.

38% believe a woman must share some of the blame if she walks through a deserted area.

Cliona Saidlear, policy officer at Rape Crisis Network Ireland, told the press that the results of this study account for the fact that Ireland has the lowest rape conviction rate in Europe.
“We as a society need to have this discussion. It is not just about what other people can do, these are attitudes we can change ourselves because this is not acceptable. If people are thinking somehow because you are drunk or wear certain clothes you are inviting rape then it makes it even harder for a woman to report what happened. You can see this in the massive levels of under-reporting by the victims of rape.”
This statement could just as well have been directed at an American audience. In a nation where this passes for journalism, and this passes for a harmless prank, we can't deny a serious problem of victim blaming with regard to violence against women. Fortunately, the study did show some hope in the fact that younger people were much more likely to place the blame solely on the perpetrator.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Women's bodies are not public property

Two years ago in Oklahoma, Riccardo Ferrante, now 34, followed a 16 year-old girl through a Target. He snuck up behind her and without her knowledge managed to situate his camera in such a way that allowed him to take photos under her skirt.

Last week Oklahoma's Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in a 4-1 decision that this did not constitute a crime. Blogger Lawhawk has posted the "Peeping Tom" statute under which Ferrante was originally charged.
Every person who uses photographic, electronic or video equipment in a clandestine manner for any illegal, illegitimate, prurient, lewd or lascivious purpose with the unlawful and willful intent to view, watch, gaze or look upon any person without the knowledge and consent of such person when the person viewed is in a place where there is a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, or who publishes or distributes any image obtained from such act, shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony.
It was the majority opinion of the Oklahoma Criminal Appeals Court that once this 16 year-old child dared to wear a skirt in public, she forfeited any "reasonable expectation to privacy" concerning what was covered by that skirt. Huffington Post contributor Jessica Wakeman questions this logic, asking:
So, let me get this's not okay to violate someone in his or her own home, but it is okay to violate that person as soon as he or she sets foot on the sidewalk. Why would the court make such a distinction? To protect all those people who accidentally take photos or videotapes of other people's private parts?
Fortunately, there was one voice of reason sitting on the bench during this case.
The lone dissenting voter on the court, Appeals Judge Gary Lumpkin, wrote, "What this decision does is state to women who desire to wear dresses that there is no expectation of privacy as to what they have covered with their dress. In other words, it is open season for peeping Toms in public places who want to look under a woman's dress."
As shocking and horrible as this case is, it isn't abnormal. It has been "open season" on women in public spaces for quite some time. Allegations that the way a woman dresses could invite sexual assault are alive and well. Allison Stokke and allies are actually having to justify why her picture shouldn't be plastered all over the Internet without her consent. Justifications, we might add, that are falling on deaf ears. The paparazzi and the media consuming public don't think twice about the moral or ethical implications of taking, publishing,or viewing pictures of a private and embarrassing nature.

So Oklahoma didn't trail blaze viewing women's bodies as public domain, they just codified it.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Domestic violence is never okay

This month, two players for the Pittsburgh Steelers were charged in separate domestic violence incidents within 11 days of one another. However, while wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was released from his contract, linebacker James Harrison is being allowed to remain with the team. Both men assaulted the mother of their children. Both men were charged with simple assault. There appear to be only two differences between these men. The first is Harrison's alleged motivation.

"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it," [Dan] Rooney [team chairman] said of Harrison's initial intent with his son. "He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."
Harrison is charged with breaking down the door to his girlfriend's home, breaking her cell phone in half as she attempted to call 911, and slapping her in the face, knocking off her glasses. Apparently, this kind of conduct is perfectly acceptable in the NFL if it is done for religious reasons. As Feministing's Vanessa Valenti notes,

While the Steelers are getting quite the rep for violence against women as of late, the team managers have turned a blind eye to a player slapping his girlfriend because what he was trying to do "was really well worth it."
When the Steelers were accused of condoning domestic violence, they released a statement to "clarify" that they do not approve of domestic violence for any reason, but that "each incident must be considered on a case-by-case basis."

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville brought up another interesting difference between these two players' "cases" that is worth examining.

....[W]hat's also notable is that the man who was released from his contract assaulted his ex-girlfriend, while the man who was retained on the team assaulted his current girlfriend—and undoubtedly the still-pervasive attitude that domestic violence is "between a man and his woman" affected the decision. As long as she stays with him, as long as she's willing to suffer the abuse, that's "their" business.

The ex-girlfriend, by virtue of her "ex" status, no longer belonged to Wilson, so it's easy to see why his hitting her was wrong. But things are always muddier, somehow, when it's a current girlfriend or wife, which signifies our collective belief that men still have some ownership of women with whom they're in a relationship, and therefore have more right to do ugly things to them than men who don't have any claim over them.
Many women in violent relationships feel judged by the outside world because of the pervasive societal notion that if they are unhappy, they should just leave. There are many reasons that women do not leave violent relationships. There are economic considerations, religious beliefs, emotional attachment, the societal belief that a "broken home" is bad for children, family pressures, and a host of other issues for women to consider. A less expected but very prevalent reason that women stay in violent relationships is safety. Abusers often threaten to kill their victims, themselves, their victim's family, and/or their children if they ever try to escape or expose the abuse. Also, statistically, a woman in a violent relationship is most likely to be killed after she leaves or while she is in the process of leaving.

Given the societal prejudice, it would not be surprising if that was a real factor in the Steeler's "case-by-case" decision to keep Harrison on the team. Email the Steelers or call their administrative offices at (412) 432-7800 and tell them that there is no case in which condoning violence against women is appropriate.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stalking - still not a viable hobby

Following in the footsteps of Wal-Mart and The New York Press, Maxim Magazine has run an ad for a "wire-tapping" device that makes light of, if not outright promotes, stalking.

Photo via Feministing

While publicizing a tool used for spying without noting any ways for victims to disarm or counter the device could only be described as irresponsible, the bottom portion of the page is specifically dedicated to men who want to spy on women, and the last paragraph of the section which encourages men to use GPS to track their "targets" is labeled "Step Up the Stalk."

Step Up the Stalk

Trying to catch her in the act? Get a RealTime GPS with Cellular Assist....At less than three ounces this credit card-sized nugget keeps tabs on your "target" via cell phone signal and 24 satellites. Accessories include a waterproof case, belt clip, and the knowledge that if she catches you before you catch her, you're sleeping alone...again.
Stalking isn't funny. Stalking is a terrifying and serious problem that affects millions of women and men every year. To let the editors at Maxim know that this type of humor is unacceptable, click here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Take it Seriously

John Gambrell of the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Katharine Wood, 24, an English major at the University of Arkansas, had been found dead in her bathtub on Sunday, March 9th 2008. Hours later, Wood's ex-boyfriend Zachariah Scott Marcyniuk, 28, of Fayetteville, was arrested in western Oklahoma and charged with her murder.
A man [Marcyniuk] accused of murdering a University of Arkansas student told others "I think I hurt her real bad" but said he blacked out and couldn't remember what happened, a police affidavit says.
The affidavit also said Wood appeared to be the victim of a violent struggle, but police say the actual cause of death has not yet been determined. Friends and family told the AP that Wood recently complained that Marcyniuk was harassing her, stalking her, and "acting creepy." For example, Wood told friends he stalked her at a nightclub and tried to monitor her phone calls.

"After they broke up three or four weeks ago, she'd become increasingly afraid," said Michelle Mustion, a friend of Wood's. "She'd talked to her mom and I about getting a restraining order, but she had reason to believe everything was going to work out."
We now know that Marcyniuk had a history of violent behavior, having been sentenced to two years' probation in July 2005 for aggravated assault on a former girlfriend. Without this knowledge, however,Wood, her family, and her friends probably just saw a guy who was having a hard time with a break up. It is cases like these that illuminate the need to educate our society about domestic and dating violence. This is the third murder in the last three weeks that we have reported on that could have been prevented if the warning signs had been recognized and taken seriously.

Most recently, we reported on the murder of Kristina Lamberson who was killed in front of her 4-year-old child by her husband Robert Lamberson, just one day after he had been arrested for violating the protective order she had against him. As we reported then, this tragic situation carried two important lessons. The first is that there needs to be a better system for keeping victims informed when someone who poses a known threat, like Robert Lamberson, is roaming free. The second comes from the statement of a family friend: "He liked to run his mouth a lot and I don't think anybody took him serious...."

On February 20th, we reported on what is probably the most glaring example of a severe (and ultimately fatal) threat of violence that was brushed off and normalized, not only by civilians but also by trained law enforcement officers. Natasha Hall was only 17 when she was shot by her 19-year old ex-boyfriend, Clay Kufner. In the months prior to the shooting, Ms. Hall had reported to police that Kufner hit her in the face, threatened to burn down her home, and posted nude photos of her on the internet. Despite this, the DeLand Police Department's Chief Deputy Randel Henderson had this to say in response to allegations of police inaction, "Basically we have a very young couple who are experiencing, at least up until last Friday evening, just very normal relationship problems."

In a society where one in every four women will experience domestic or dating violence within her lifetime and and an estimated 1.3 million women are physically assualted by a partner each year, we cannot afford to downplay this kind of behavior. There is no such thing as too cautious when it comes to saving a life. Speak up if you think something is wrong, and reach out if you need help.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Victory and New Call to Action: Deadline March 13th

This is an e-mail from Irene Weiser concerning the new amendment to fund VAWA that is going to be voted on tomorrow. Act Now!

Hello Stop Family Violence Activists!

First of all - GREAT JOB to those of you who responded to yesterday's alert urging your Representatives to sign on to a "Dear Colleague" letter supporting full funding for VAWA. By mid-afternoon today 30 additional reps had signed on as a result of your messages!

NOW there's something URGENT and EXCITING happening in the SENATE.

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the author of the Violence Against Women Act, has put forward an amendment that will add $100 million for VAWA to the Senate's budget proposal.

The Budget Committee will be voting on the Biden Amendment on THURSDAY MARCH 13!!


CLICK HERE to learn more and to tell your Senators to Vote YES on the Biden Amendment.


Our strength is in our numbers!! Please pass this message on to everyone you can!

Together, we can...

Irene Weiser

It's all your fault

Under the innocuous headline Matchmaker's Dating Dos and Don'ts CNN and have managed to bring together a variety of the most harmful gender stereotypes and promote them as "cute." For this article, interviewed Patti Novak from the A&E show "Confessions of a Matchmaker."
Patti says her years of experience have taught her one thing -- millions of women have missed the mark when it comes to love. "Somewhere along the line, and I'm really not sure [when], we lost our common sense," she says.
Unfortunately, Ms. Novak's definition of "lost our common sense" is that women are gradually abandoning the trend of manipulating men into thinking that women are weak, simple-minded, dependent, or just overall less than human. The most telling example of Ms. Novak's view is the "pickle-jar" scenario she uses to illustrate how women could better help men "feel like" men.

Allison's take-charge attitude is what Patti calls the pickle jar effect. "We are so successful today, women. We're fabulous. We work hard. We make good money. We parent. Sometimes what happens when we spend a lot of time alone, we forget to let them open the damn pickle jar," Patti says.

Patti says that if he's not in the room, go ahead and open your own pickle jar. But if he's standing there, Patti says it's just as easy to ask him to open it. "And know that you are the smarter, clever one for doing it," she says. "It's about attitude."

This type of advice, especially when it is distributed through mainstream media, does not reflect positively on men or women. It puts forth the thesis that a woman must be manipulative to be in a relationship and that manipulative behavior is a natural part of being a woman. It also portrays men as insecure and kind of stupid. Blogger Arkades at Shakesville explains this point quite clearly.
I don't think validation based on manipulation is helpful. For one thing, it's a trivial and exceptionally shallow form of validation. It's also easy to see through, at which point it becomes patronizing. Why, it's hard to see how men could possibly survive out in the world at all, so easily and capriciously are our poor egos pumped up and beaten down at every turn!

My advice, to women *and* men: no one rational cares about stuff like who opens the jars. No man should feel slighted if a woman opens her own jar of pickles. Any man who *would* feel slighted by this is clearly not ready for a relationship among equals. Furthermore, a woman *pretending* that she can't do something may indeed be coy, but it isn't cute, it isn't sexy, and it isn't relationship-affirming.

A woman capable of doing something for herself ought *never* feel self-conscious about her abilities, and a man shouldn't take a woman's capability as a sign that his own abilities aren't appreciated.
Carol Lloyd of also takes exception to Ms.Novak's version of dating advice stating "What's obvious is that these formulas for harmony between the sexes request that women, no matter their empowerment in the workplace or their personality, should dumb themselves down to placate their lovers. " We would argue that Ms.Novak's line of advice also portrays being in a relationship as more important than being secure in who you are and having people appreciate you for that.

To recap, according to Ms. Novak, the following are impressions women want to avoid giving out if they want to find love.

"[It's like,] 'I love my life. It's great. It's perfect.'"

"I'm content. I'm having fun,'"

We are so successful today, women. We're fabulous. We work hard. We make good money.

With some parts of the mainstream media encouraging women to be manipulative and ashamed of themselves and other parts proclaiming that women are naturally stupid and deceitful, it's not hard to see why violence against women is so prevalent and misunderstood in our society.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Call to Action: Deadline March 14th

President Bush's 2009 budget proposal will make devastating cuts (almost one-third of the funding or $120 million) to the Violence Against Women Act program.

Why should you care and what can you do?
"The Administration's budget for Violence Against Women Act programs is an outrage," said Sen. Joe Biden, author of the Violence Against Women Act. "Domestic violence impacts one in every four women, yet the Administration proposes cutting spending by almost a third. If allowed to go forward, this Administration's disastrous budgeting priorities could roll back more than a decade of success in investigating, prosecuting and preventing domestic and sexual violence."
Stop Family is mounting a campaign to prevent these budget cuts from becoming a reality. Recently, the House of Representatives has provided an opportunity for opposition to these cuts to be heard. Below is an excerpt from open letter written by's Executive Director, Irene Weiser.

If allowed to go forward, this Administration's disastrous budget priorities could roll back more than a decade of success in investigating, prosecuting and preventing domestic and sexual violence.

But something hopeful is happening in the House of Representatives!!

Leaders from the Victim’s Rights Caucus and the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues are circulating a 'Dear Colleague" letter (congress' version of a petition) urging other members in the House to support full funding for the Violence Against Women Act.
The deadline to sign the Dear Colleagues letter is Friday March 14. For more information and to send a pre-written e-mail to your representative, click here .

Since this is such short notice we don't have time to outline the many important things that VAWA does and the horrible consequences the proposed changes will bring. Fortunately, has outlined all of those things at the above link.

Mother Murdered while Children Were Present

A Boston tragedy shows us once again that the effects of domestic violence are not confined to adults. Police found Melissa Santiago, 29, laying face down on her kitchen floor on Sunday. She had been stabbed multiple times and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hours later, Santiago's boyfriend, Jose Torres, 26, was arrested for her murder. Police said the murder seems to be "the result of domestic violence."

According to Santiago's neighbors, the children were all at home during the slaying. The police were called after the children ran outside saying that their mother had been killed. Neighbors report that Santiago's eldest child is five years old.

On a positive note, neighbors on scene were very vocal about the need for law enforcement to take domestic violence seriously. One woman stated:

They've got to crack down more on these people who are killing their spouses and stuff, because they're not doing enough for domestic violence, I think. Otherwise, you wouldn't be finding dead bodies like this.
This call for reform is supported by statistics from the Boston-based domestic violence organization Jane Doe Inc., who said the number of domestic violence related homicides have risen nearly 300 percent since 2005.

For more information the effect domestic violence has on children, click here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Media Coverage and DV

From the publication that brought you Ike "Beats" Tina to Death, comes this charming and poignant piece, Miss-Leading: The truth about gal's serial fibbing.

Now, strictly speaking, this is not an article, it's a sub-par book review. However, The Post presents the findings in this book as factual news rather than the results of an extremely small and flawed study.
Deceit, thy name is woman. Most females lie "more cleverly and successfully than men" about everything from infidelity and facelifts to barhopping and shopping binges, according to a new book.
Susan Shapiro Barash, author of "Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie," claims to have done a study encompassing 500 women nationwide. However, The Post discloses that Barash obtained the subjects of her study through an ad on Craigslist where she solicited women who wanted to confess fibs they had told in the past. She put out an ad asking for liars, and claims the fact that liars have lied is scientific proof that women lie more than men. In addition to the flawed method of gathering subjects, there was no male control group for comparison.

The mainstream media portrayal of women as inherently stupid, or inherently deceitful is not only offensive, it's dangerous. These stereotypes are often used by batterers in domestic violence situations to justify on-going abuse, or are used as a vehicle to deny to the public that abuse ever took place by making the victim look dishonest. This type of thinking leads to disclosures of violence not being taken seriously by friends, family, clergy, law enforcement, etc. If you're doubtful that these portrayals are in line with mainstream attitudes about women, just ask yourself how a piece this offensive and deeply flawed got through an editorial board, into a newspaper, and remained there with little public protest, or how a book based on this premise was deemed shelf-worthy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Murder-Suicide Leaves 4-year-old Trapped

6News in Indiana reported yesterday that a four year-old girl in Elwood Indiana was trapped in her home after her stepfather killed her mother and then himself. According to the article, Robert Lamberson shot Kristina Lamberson on Sunday, just one day after Robert was arrested for violating the Protective Order Kristina held against him.

The girl, unable to leave the home because she couldn't undo the front door's lock, called her aunt for help. The aunt called 911, and officers broke into the home and found the dead couple, police said.

6News reported that Elwood Police Chief Jack Miller said it was hard knowing that the Lamberson's daughter was in the home at the time. Relatives tell 6News that the girl has talked repeatedly about her mother's death, and they are angry that Kristina was not told that Robert had been released from jail.

This tragic situation carries two important lessons. The first is that there needs to be a better system for keeping victims informed when someone who poses a known threat, like Robert Lamberson, is roaming free. The second comes from the statement of a family friend: "He liked to run his mouth a lot and I don't think anybody took him serious...." Domestic violence is a serious and often hidden problem. When someone "runs their mouth" about harming another human being, it should always be taken seriously.

Update: 6News has posted a follow up story under the headline Mom Defends Son Police Say Killed Wife, Himself. There are several problems with this new story, starting with the headline. The fact that this man murdered his wife is not contested and this headline waters down the blame. The second problem with the way this story is framed is the insinuation that, because Kristina had been in contact with Robert, she did not consider him a threat and was partially to blame for what happened. Many people in domestic violence situations are not sure of the proper conduct, particularly when there are children involved. It is important to remember that these relationships did not begin this way. These women simultaneously care about their abusers and are afraid of them. Either as a result of concern for their abuser's future or out of fear that engaging the legal system will enrage their abuser further, many women feel that it is better to deal with the situation on their own, rather than go through the legal system. This does not mean that they deserve to be shot or are to blame when violence takes place.