Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Un-Funny Rape of the American Teenager

ABC Family’s new show The Secret Life of the American Teenager has created quite a stir because of a July 22nd episode that showed a teenage girl who was almost a victim of rape. The scene takes place from 1:56 – 5:00.


The character, who is very religious, says a short prayer and is then able to ward off her attackers with a broken bottle until a friend arrives and scares them away.

What is remarkable about this clip is that the thwarted assault was captured on a security camera and the footage was shown on all of the local news channels – for laughs. Apparently it’s funnier to see a cheerleader fend off a would-be attacker with a broken bottle than it is horrifying that a teenage girl barely escaped being raped.

Send ABC your comments letting them know that you don’t think rape is funny.


H/T to The Brat Queen

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fat Acceptance and Domestic Violence

There is a pervasive way of thinking in our culture today that seeks to undermine women's fight for empowerment. Women are being attacked at every opportunity by messages designed to make them feel bad about themselves, in hopes that these women will then buy what the messenger is selling. At the Media Awareness Network, this problem is defined quite clearly:

Why are standards of beauty being imposed on women, the majority of whom are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models? The roots, some analysts say, are economic. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. And it’s no accident that youth is increasingly promoted, along with thinness, as an essential criterion of beauty. If not all women need to lose weight, for sure they’re all aging, says the Quebec Action Network for Women’s Health in its 2001 report Changements sociaux en faveur de la diversit√© des images corporelles.
While this kind of shaming is a popular advertising tactic in general, it is most often directed towards women.

The American research group Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders, Inc. says that one out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control—including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting. Researchers report that women’s magazines have ten and one-half times more ads and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines do, and over three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance—by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery.

Television and movies reinforce the importance of a thin body as a measure of a woman’s worth. Canadian researcher Gregory Fouts reports that over three-quarters of the female characters in TV situation comedies are underweight, and only one in twenty are above average in size. Heavier actresses tend to receive negative comments from male characters about their bodies ("How about wearing a sack?"), and 80 per cent of these negative comments are followed by canned audience laughter.
Thus, the message that is largely received by women and girls from magazines, television, and film is that not only is something inherently wrong with their bodies, but that these "flaws" also constitute a personal moral failing which renders them deserving of any humiliation that comes their way.

In and of itself, there is nothing linguistically harmful about the word "fat". It is a generic descriptor much like tall, short, blond, brunette, etc. The reason that "fat" is such a loaded term is that our culture has framed fatness as practically a crime against humanity, especially if the owner of the fat is female. We're taught from a very early age that fat is not a simple descriptive term, because fat is culturally synonymous with lazy, unpleasant, stupid, unlovable, etc. This correlation is made not only by many thin people, but often by fat people who firmly believe they deserve the disrespect being thrown at them.

But what does body size and weight have to do with domestic violence?

Sandra Kiume on Psych Central wrote a letter to the editor detailing an event she witnessed where a man on the street demanded that a woman he knew follow him and called her fat along with a few other insults. Kiume's response deftly illustrates why body image is a subject central to the fight against domestic violence.
First, she wasn’t fat. But all mean kids and abusers know that the easiest way to hurt a young woman’s self-esteem is to attack her body image, especially with that cruel three-letter “f” word. It’s verbal abuse in our thin-obsessed culture. The other two words he called her are just more obviously abusive.

Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical or sexual violence–the American Psychological Association classifies all three as wartime torture methods. In their daily wars women come to view themselves as worthless and powerless and internalize the loathing. They may develop serious medical problems like depression, anorexia/bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse and more, all while afraid to leave the abuser. A woman is ten times more likely to be murdered by her abuser in the six months after she leaves him. Those threats are dead serious, and they’re a means of control that answer the common and naive question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”(Emphasis Added)
Fortunately, there is a movement that those of us in the fight against domestic violence can look to, to promote women's ability to feel comfortable and worthy in their own skin. Providing information about the inaccuracy of the obesity crisis and other weight-related scientific findings, shining a light on medical abuse, debunking of stereotypes about fat people, and creating a safe community for women to celebrate their bodies are just a few of the things the Fat Acceptance movement has to offer.

More specifically, Kate Harding, in The Fantasy of Being Thin, thoroughly discusses the power of the myth that having a stereotypically perfect body is somehow attached to your ability to be a good or worthy person, and the fact that many times the hardest part of accepting your body is that it means accepting and appreciating all aspects of yourself.

But exhortations like that don’t take into account magical thinking about thinness, which I suspect — and the quote above suggests — is really quite common. Because, you see, the Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.” See also:

When I’m thin, I’ll have no trouble finding a partner/reinvigorating my marriage.
When I’m thin, I’ll have the job I’ve always wanted.
When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.
When I’m thin, I’ll be an adventurous world traveler instead of being freaked out by any country where I don’t speak the language and/or the plumbing is questionable.
When I’m thin, I’ll become really outdoorsy.
When I’m thin, I’ll be more extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with.

Et cetera, et cetera. Those are examples from my personal Fantasy of Being Thin, but I’m sure you’ve got your own

....The thin person inside me finally got out — it just turned out she was actually a fat person. A reasonably attractive, semi-outgoing fat person who has an open mind and an active imagination but also happens to really like routine and familiarity and quiet time alone.

Embracing our bodies for what they do for us rather than punishing them into submission is a long process, but the benefits are well worth it. For a powerful introduction to celebrating yourself and living in the now, check out Joy Nash's Fat Rant Video below.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

DV101- Judicial Stalking

Mis-using the judicial system is a popular and effective method used by abusers and stalkers to harass their former spouse or partner, even when there is a Restraining Order in place. At Sanctuary for the Abused, they describe the problem:
If they can’t get you back, they will try to ruin your happiness, by dragging you to Court on countless frivolous filings. Putting the victim in a situation where they are being victimized – again, by their abuser and sometimes by the system also.This can be on going for years, if gone about it in the “right” way. There are actually web sites devoted to teaching them exactly how and what to do. These sites teach them how to legally stalk, harass, and intimidate victims of Domestic Violence after a Restraining Order has been issued. These sites actually have step by step guides for them to use to learn how to keep the on going harassment, manipulation, intimidation and show how to legally stalk the partner, who has left them. Which in turn keeps the ex-partner their victim causing them immense grief, a financial burden and it wears them out emotionally to the point of total frustration. It also gives these stalkers/abusers a feeling they still have some control and in a sense, they do.
One of the tactics used by abusers who are exploiting the judicial process is the "pro se" defense. When ethical lawyers will no longer participate in the backdoor harassment of the ex-spouse (or sometimes right from the very beginning), some abusers will choose to represent themselves in court, otherwise known as going to court Pro Se. Because they are acting as their own attorneys, they now have the legal right to question their victim on the stand. Usually the abusers have visited one of the many groups or websites that promote this behavior and have learned how to intimidate and harass the witness up to the point that is still legal. Using this method they can still terrorize their former partner without fearing any retribution from the judge.

Abusers who use judicial stalking have often put a lot of time and effort into studying the laws surrounding their case. Many of them file in different jurisdictions to avoid becoming well known to judges in order to make their false allegations or frivolous complaints seem initially credible. This also has the added benefit of inconveniencing their victim by constantly moving the venue. Abusers who use this tactic have no shortage of support. There are groups across the nation that provide websites and real-life support and instruction to any man looking to intentionally harass their former partner via the judicial process. The majority of these groups use children's rights as a cover for their true agenda. However, it is easy to separate these illegitimate groups from legitimate fatherhood groups, as they spend a lot of time minimizing domestic violence and lobbying against child support laws rather than advocating for policies that would actually benefit children. A more detailed analysis of these illegitimate groups can be seen in Stalking Through the Courts by Janet Normalvanbreuche.

While many areas of the country have trained their police officers to recognize abuse and enforce Restraining Orders, funded child protective services, legislated domestic violence statutes, and opened shelters, judicial stalking is still a rampant problem with no apparent solution absent the action of state and federal government. Illegitimate men's groups have caused the numbers of pro se litigation’s to rapidly increase.
Many of their web sites offer how to books, legal forms and packets of motions to file in court. Many of these motions can be refiled over and over just by changing a word or two, the date or going to another jurisdiction. They encourage them to lengthen proceedings with extensive, irrelevant discovery aimed at stalling out the processes.With a no contact RO, these abusers can not see their victim, send them a letter, call them or come within 100 feet of them, in most States. But, for about a $19.00 fee, this same person can file numerous claims and have hearings in small claims court. If they go into State and Federal Administrative Agencies and accuse their victim of obscure violations, their victim will be subpoenaed. This gives the abuser several legal contacts with their victim, where they can legally harass and badger them with no fear of violating the Restraining Order. If this same abuser/stalker does Pro Se defense, they may even get away with other stalking of their victim, like watching or following them, photographing them, going through their trash, etc.
It takes a lot of courage for a woman to leave her abuser. Justifiably, these women are still living everyday in fear when they are constantly forced to see their abuser and suffer public questioning and humiliation. Custody cases are the most popular use of this kind of harassment. Too often abusers battle for custody not out of concern for their children, but with a desire to continue to hurt and control their former victim. A spouse who abuses their partner is twice as likely to try to gain full custody of the children, whether they truly want custody or not. They will often try to mis-use the legal system through retaliatory legal actions to continue their abuse and harassment.

Recently, judicial stalking began getting the recognition it deserves as a serious societal problem. For example, the Biden-Hatch Violence Against Women Act of 2000 authorized $3,000,000 in grants to improve the domestic violence databases in federal, state, and local governments. This strengthening of infrastructure is a trend that we hope will continue in the future. Currently, the only recourse victims have in most jurisdictions is to file a civil suit for malicious abuse of the legal system/process, defamation of character, and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, it takes money and time to file a civil suit, so this isn't an option for the majority of those affected.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Importance of Privacy

The Times News.com has posted a moving blog entry by Roselee Papandrea about the need for privacy in the criminal justice system. In this entry Papandrea discusses an incident that occurred while she was waiting in line at the magistrate's office.

I was behind the mother and daughter and her friend who were all in line. We were waiting for a magistrate in the Alamance County jail lobby. I wanted to get a glimpse of a search warrant that I believed was in the magistrate’s possession. During the 30-minute wait, I gradually learned why the woman was waiting for the magistrate behind what I think is bullet-proof glass.

Her friend complained a few times about the wait. It’s not that she minded accompanying her friend. She was concerned that because of the wait her friend would have second thoughts about reporting what brought her to a magistrate in the first place. They chatted briefly about what the woman’s husband might do in the next few days. I didn’t really want to listen – believe it or not – but I really didn’t have a choice. (Emphasis Added)

Papandrea goes on to reveal what happened when it was this woman's turn at the magistrate's window. She was forced to discuss what had happened to her while standing in the lobby within earshot of everyone who happened to be visiting that day. She also had to ask several times if filing charges was her only option. At one point she even said, "This is embarrassing. There is no privacy." Still, she was not offered a chance to move to a more private setting to complete the proceedings.

As I listened to the sound of her voice and the words she shared with a complete stranger, I became angry. She was saying she was a victim of domestic violence. If what she told the magistrate was true, she obviously had an extremely painful day. It upset me that the process meant to help her was adding to her hurt.

She was humiliated and embarrassed. I believe she would have felt that way if it was just her and the magistrate, but she also had to share her business with everybody waiting in the jail lobby. Her friend mentioned how spacious the lobby in the new jail is and wondered aloud why there couldn’t be a room – a private place – where someone in her friend’s predicament could tell her story. I wondered the same thing?

As Papandrea states later in her blog entry, the cycle of domestic violence is difficult to break and it is our civic duty to make the transition out of an abusive relationship as comfortable as possible. The magistrate's office where this occurred is not the only place victims of domestic violence are re-victimized by the criminal justice system. Please contact your local magistrate's office and your state legislators to let them know how important it is to provide a safe space for domestic violence victims to report their abusers.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Afghan runner goes missing

ESPN is reporting that Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year old member of the Afghan olympic track and field team, went missing from her training camp in Italy and may be seeking political asylum in Norway.
Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year-old runner who competes in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters, hasn't been heard from since leaving the training center in Formia last week. Her luggage and passport also were gone."The IOC accepts that athletes sometimes feel they have to make hard choices to improve their lives," International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said Thursday. "It would appear this is what has happened in this case."
Ahdyar is the only woman on Afghanistan's track and field team in which she competes in a headscarf and long pants. Nonetheless, the fact that she is a woman in a public space has sparked hostility from the Taliban groups that are regaining strength in Afghanistan.

There had been fears that Ahdyar's disappearance could be linked to death threats from Muslim extremists in Afghanistan opposed to women running in the Olympics.

Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, because the Taliban regime in power at the time barred women from taking part in the Games.

The 2004 Athens Games marked the first time Afghan women competed in the Olympics, with Robina Muqimyar running in the 100-meter heats and Friba Razayee competing in judo.

Afghanistan is fighting a Taliban insurgency six years after the hardline regime's ouster, and women are still considered second-class citizens. Taliban militants often target organizations and individuals who champion women's issues.

Ahdyar and her family have been repeatedly threatened.
Ahdyar's family of eight lives in a mud-brick house in one of the poorest parts of Kabul."We are scared, really scared about the security situation in our country and of the people who have negative views about my family," Ahdyar's mother, Moha Jan, told The Associated Press in March. "These problems cannot stop us from supporting our daughter."
While it contradicts the testimony of the Olympics officials in Italy, Afghanistan's Olympics Committee in Kabul claims that Ahdyar left camp due to a leg injury which has rendered her incapable of competing in Beijing. It is our hope that whatever has happened, Ahdyar finds happiness for herself and her family, and that the rights of women continue to progress in Afghanistan despite the resurgence of Taliban forces.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Domestic Violence and Religion

Christian Today has an article up about the first stop on the World Council of Churches' (WCC) international tour to gear up for their Peace Declaration convocation in 2011. The purpose of the tour and the resulting convocation is to raise awareness of domestic violence.

Frankfurt was the first stop for a WCC team of six people led by Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi from Burundi. The visit of the WCC team in Germany is one of several team visits planned throughout the world between now and 2010 to prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011.

The convocation is the culmination of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010, in which the German churches have been particularly active and committed from the outset. In Frankfurt, projects and experiences from south-western Germany were presented to the international team.

One project included in the presentations was that of Rev. Helene Eichrodt-Kessel, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church who is leading an effort to make domestic violence a required part of the school syllabus for the Protestant schools in her district.

While the delegation hopes that it's tour will result in a better handling of domestic violence cases within the church, they do not believe that there is much they can do to prevent these cases to begin with.
"Domestic violence takes place behind closed doors. When we learn about it, it's already too late," said Archbishop Ntahoturi. In his home country Burundi it was seen as one of the results of war. Through its "focus on the family" project, his church had also found out about cases of sexual abuse, he added.
Although we feel that there is much that faith congregations can do to end domestic violence, including preaching that it is not God's will, we have faith that this is the beginning of a wave of zero-tolerance for domestic abuse within congregations. Accountability goes a long way for prevention, and the knowledge that there will be a supportive community waiting for her can do a lot to give someone the courage to leave an abusive situation.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Follow-Up

This article ran in the opinion section of the Atlanta Journal Constitution today, reiterating many of the points we made in yesterday's post.

Last March, the American Islamic Fellowship, in partnership with the Progressive Muslim Network in Washington, D.C., and I AM: American Muslim in Phoenix, launched "Not in Our Name: United Against Domestic Violence." It was a campaign to unite all people of faith in an effort to bring an end to this problem that affects all our communities. Another Muslim initiative to fight domestic violence internationally is the Peaceful Families Project.

We need to support these efforts so that no life is ever taken in the name of religion.

We encourage you to read the article in its entirety.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Honor Killing?

Chaudhry Rashid, a Pakistani resident of Jonesboro, GA, stands accused of killing his daughter, Sandeela Kanwal, because of her desire to end her arranged marriage. CNN.com reported that police discovered Ms. Kanwal dead in an upstairs bedroom of her father's home when responding to a call Rashid's wife made after she heard screaming coming from upstairs.

Authorities arrived at the home around 2 a.m., shortly after Rashid's wife called police. She reported that she had been awakened by screaming but couldn't understand the language, the report said. She said she was afraid and left the house to call police.

Police found a "distraught and possibly mournful" Rashid sitting behind a vehicle in the driveway.

"My daughter is dead," he told police.

When asked how she died, police said Rashid did not answer.

"He just dropped his head," the report states.

Clayton County Police spokesman Tim Owens said, "Apparently she and the father had argued over the marriage and the fact that it was arranged, and at some point during the altercation he did end up killing his daughter."

The article goes on to define "honor killings" - the slaying by family members of a woman or girl thought to be bringing them shame - and cite the United Nation Population Fund's estimation that approximately 5,000 women and girls are killed in this way each year. CNN is not the only news outlet to choose this angle as their focus, and while the concept is important, the broader picture is covered up by relegating problems of widespread violence against women to the status of a cultural misunderstanding.

Samhita of Feministing writes,
Sounds so simple right? He killed her because his "culture" made him. Not because he might be mentally ill or pathological. There is no denying that in basically every culture there is pressure put on women to act a certain way and especially with regard to marriage or the ownership of her sexuality. But the way that "honor" killing is discussed in the media you would think it is some normal cultural phenomena, when it is not. It is a sign of illness, culture gone awry and patriarchy at its most exaggerated.
Even the expert CNN consulted in that same article criticizes this tendency to exoticize incidents of domestic violence.

Ajay Nair, associate dean of multicultural affairs at Columbia University, said many immigrant families struggle over cultural and generational gaps, but that most South Asian communities enjoy "wonderful" relationships within their families.

"My immediate reaction was that this is an anomaly in the South Asian community," Nair said Tuesday. "This isn't a rampant problem within South Asian communities. What is a problem, I think, is domestic violence, and that cuts across all communities."

Make no mistake, honor killings are a serious problem and they deserve attention. However, they are only one piece of the puzzle, and to introduce them without context is to minimize the root of the problem - that women are so often seen as property to be passed on from one man to the next, who will act as their gatekeepers.