Friday, April 29, 2011

Rape Myths, Part III

Welcome to the third post in our series examining rape myths for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Click on the number to read posts 1, 2.1, 2.2, & 2.3.

In this post, we'll finally talk about that stat we've been teasing you about, because in this post we shift past the constant focus on victims and actually talk about rapists. Consider this your trigger warning.

The last myth that we talked about in our HLN interview is the myth that rape is just about sex. It's not. In any given sexual encounter, there are countless moments when one can determine whether or not one's partner is consenting. What you are looking for is enthusiastic consent. It should be clear that your partner is ready and willing and excited about where this encounter is going. If your partner is hesitant, confused, or unable to say yes, you haven't received consent. At best, you are coercing them into doing something they would rather say no to (still rape). Probably, you are moving forward explicitly without their consent.

So, in our imaginary encounter, if a person realizes they do not have enthusiastic consent, they have options. They can stop what they are doing and then go find someone else who will consent to have sex with them. They can stop what they are doing and take care of their sexual needs on their own. Though illegal, they can hire someone to consensually provide them with sex. Or, they could just give up on sex at that time, which countless people do every day.

Instead, a rapist decides to move forward anyway. Regardless of what the victim is wearing, regardless of where she has been, regardless of whether she has been drinking, regardless of a host of factors, the responsibility for the rape lies with the rapist, because he is the one making the decision in that moment to move forward.

The problem is, we don't label so much of that scenario as rape. Women come through our doors every day who have been sexually assaulted by husbands or partners, but they don't label it as such. If someone holds you down and forces you to have sex, that is rape. If someone gets you too drunk to say no and then has sex with you, that is rape. If someone talks you into having sex when you initially didn't want to, makes you feel too guilty to say no, or makes you feel too scared to say no, that is rape.

Slightly over 1 in 20 college-age men will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word "rape" isn't used in the description of the act. If you ask, "have you ever raped a woman", of course they will say no. But if you describe one of the scenarios above (i.e., have you ever made a woman feel too guilty to say no to sex), 6% of men will say yes, they have. And that's a conservative estimate. Other sources double that number.

So why do 6% of men rape? Because they can. If you don't respect women, you don't care if you have their consent. If women are nothing but glorified sex toys to you, you don't care about their enthusiasm or their pleasure. You don't care if they get anything out of the encounter. You don't care if they really want to be there, so long as they are there. If society has taught you that women aren't real people whose feelings and opinions matter, then their feelings and opinions about sex don't matter.

But even with all these factors as true, fewer men would rape if they thought there would be a consequence for doing so. If they thought that it would hurt their relationships with others or their careers, if they thought the would be arrested, if they thought that some privilege or power that they value would be taken from them as punishment, they wouldn't rape. It is a choice. Men are not neanderthals who are ruled by their libidos. 94% of men make the decision not to rape. It is a choice, and if we took rape seriously and punished rapists, it wouldn't happen nearly as often.

Instead, only 6% of rapists ever see a day in jail, which leaves them right out in the world where they can rape again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Investment in Gender

As a culture, we have a lot invested in gendering our citizens. Don't believe us? Then why do people freak out so much when a person of one gender acts like a person of another?

It should be no big deal. Major League Baseball offers paternity leave. It's a personal decision whether or not players want to take it. A player decides to take advantage and misses a game to attend the birth of his child. End of story, right? Not exactly.

A Dallas sports writer publishes an entire rant because he thinks a guy taking time off from work to do girly things like have babies is so weird. Funerals, he's OK with, they're unisex. But birth is strictly a woman's domain, so no men allowed.

Also, boys should never, ever paint their toenails. And if a company like J Crew happens to print an ad about a mother having some bonding time with her son by painting his toenails his favorite color, the frenzy might just reach epic proportions. Don't believe us? Google it. We'll wait.

All sarcasm aside, this gender policing has real consequences for people.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a Mississippi high school football player wanted to wear pink cleats. He got kicked off the team for it and might not graduate on time.

A 17-month old boy was beaten to death in New York for "acting like a girl".

"Corrective Rape", the horrible crime whereby gay men and lesbian women are raped by persons of the opposite sex in order to "fix" their being gay has its own Wikipedia entry.

So why is our society so invested in this? Why do we care if women do things that are considered masculine and men do things that are considered feminine?

Chalk it up to power. Men are more valuable in our society, and they have more power. It's why rape and domestic violence are committed. If women acted like men, maybe we could claim some of that value and some of that power. That has to be stopped. And why on Earth would a man want to act like a woman? Women are worthless. To be a woman is bad. Therefore, there must be something very wrong with a man who wants to do feminine things. That has to be stopped, too.

If we get to a point in our society where women and men are equally valued and equally respected, gender won't matter so much. Until then, gender policing will be alive and well and to step outside your narrowly defined box could be very dangerous. Literally, dangerous.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Butts County Man Accused of Killing Wife, 10-Year-Old

A Butts County man stands accused of stabbing his wife and her 10-year-old daughter to death.

Butts County Sheriff Gene Pope said Jackson fatally stabbed his wife, Penny Phillips, and her 10-year-old daughter in the neck Saturday. He believes Jackson meant to kill the other four children in the house as well.

We are thankful that he was not able to harm the other children and that his pastor was able to convince him to turn himself in.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Phillips family.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bullying Linked to DV

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a study that found a link between bullying and witnessing or experiencing violence at home.

Exposure to violent family encounters was more common among bully-victims [those who both bully and are bullied] than among bullies, and more common among bullies than victims of bullying. Among middle school students, 23.2% of bully-victims reported being physically hurt by a family member and 22.8% reported witnessing violence, compared with 19.4% and 17.4%, respectively, among bullies and 13.6% and 14.8%, respectively, among victims of bullying. Among high school students, comparisons by category were similar.

It makes sense. Children learn how to move through the world by what they witness in the home. If they witness a parent using bullying behaviors against another parent, they will likely mimic those behaviors. It is up to us to teach the children in our care (our own children, those in our classroom, those in our scout troop, etc.) that violence is not acceptable and to model respectful behavior. Otherwise, we will continue to pass abusive behaviors from generation to generation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Does Rap Have a Problem with Rape?

[Trigger warning: this post contains song lyrics that, though abbreviated, should be offensive.]

Actress Ashley Judd thinks that rap and hip-hop music have a problem - specifically that they contribute way too much to our nation's rape culture.

In her memoir, “All That Is Bitter and Sweet”, Judd attacked several hip-hop artists for their misogynistic lyrics. In the memoir, released last week, Judd writes:

“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music – with its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ – is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.”
She later clarified:

“…What I’m being accused of is condemning rap and hip-hop as a whole, and the whole community and when they say community, they mean the fans, and African-Americans, it’s become so generalized. My intention was to take a stand to say the elements that are misogynistic and treat girls and women in a hyper-sexualized way are inappropriate. The male dominance that is displayed, and the reinforcement of girls’ and women value and identify as primarily sexual, is not helpful in any artistic expression, in any cultural form, whether its country music or in television story lines.”
It's true that rap and hip-hop are often used as a scapegoat for things wrong with our society, but before you dismiss Judd as a hater, and thus dismiss her comments, peruse this article from The Root that argues that she's right.

Tragically, rape is common in American culture, and rap music sometimes reflects the rape culture of American society. The encouragement of male aggression and the support of violence against women are regular features of popular rap music. Check out this verse from Notorious B.I.G. in "Dead Wrong": "Biggie Smalls for mayor, the rap slayer/The hooker layer ... Hail Mary full of grace/Smack the b--ch in the face/Take her Gucci bag and the North Face/Off her back, jab her if she act funny with the money/Oh you got me mistaken, honey/I don't wanna rape ya/ I just want the paper." Jay-Z's verse on Kanye West's "Monster" alludes to raping and pillaging.

Although these lyrics should be ascribed to the artistic personas of these major hip-hop figures, I still reserve the right to critique, challenge and hold the authors of these artistic personas accountable for their music, especially if it is contributing to one of our greatest social challenges: gender equality and the freedom of women not to live in fear of violent assault.

That said, rapping specifically about rape is not what rape culture is all about. The ways in which some rappers promote attitudes that normalize sexual violence against women and children are the more common culprits of rap's rape culture. Consider these lines from West's verse in "Monster": "I put the p--sy in a sarcophagus/Now she claiming I bruise her esophagus." I am more than willing to grant artistic license to any of these rappers, as long as they are willing to be publicly accountable for the ways in which these verses promote attitudes and mentalities that contribute to rap's rape culture -- as Snoop did on Larry King Live.

When Jay-Z signed Jay Electronica to Roc Nation label, it seemed like a triumph of underground hip-hop culture -- the talented Jay Electronica, along with Jay-Z's formidable business and promotional acumen, could change the game for the better. Instead, the rapper has elected to use some troubling language in his live performances, polling his audiences to inquire if women "like being choked during sexual intercourse." Many feminist bloggers and activists challenged Jay Electronica directly.

For the survivors of violent sexual assault and for those of us who understand that sexual assault against women is a critical problem for all of us, this sort of thing is simply unacceptable. Maybe I am sensitized to this because my daughter just turned 10. But I'm also aware that even though individuals must be responsible for their own acts, too many are susceptible to subtle (and unsubtle) cues -- from pop culture and the public sphere -- that subject women to male dominance, and reaffirm the sexism and misogyny that lead to sexual violence against women.

The Root article also makes the important distinction between rap and hip-hop music and hip-hop culture. Hip-hop culture has a history of working for social justice and has spawned some amazing activists, some of whom use rap and hip-hop music as their platform. However, mainstream rap and hip-hop music really has a woman problem that demands addressing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rape Myths Part II, Part III

This is the post that just keeps going. We had intended to write about some other rape myths, and still will, but the universe keeps providing evidence of ways that believing that women lie about being raped can be incredibly damaging to rape victims (as if it weren't already obvious).

Earlier this week, Ms. Magazine told the story of a woman who reported a sexual assault and was deemed by police to be a liar. They went so far as to charge her with false reporting and fine her $500. Turns out, she wasn't lying.

Three years later, Marc O’Leary was arrested in Colorado for charges of sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary and felony menacing. He is being held on $5 million bail. When the police raided O’Leary’s home earlier this month, they found photos of his victims.

The 18-year-old woman from Washington [whom police accused of false reporting] was in those photographs.
Police have reopened her case, reimbursed her $500 and are working on getting her record expunged, but they can't undo the trauma they caused. This young woman was made to look like a liar to her entire community, she was given a criminal record, and she was retraumatized by police and the courts by making her relive her assault and then not believing her. The police also allowed O'Leary to assault two other women, women to whom he would never have had access if he had been behind bars because the police took the original report seriously.

By believing that women commonly lie about rape, we are helping rapists. We help men like O'Leary escape punishment for using violence against women, freeing them to do it again. Remember that the next time you are tempted to be skeptical.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rape Myths Part II, Part II

Somehow, in writing our last, we missed a great post from Ms. Magazine examining the same myth - that women frequently lie about being sexually assaulted. It is a must-read! Here is an excerpt:

Take the case of Ben Roethlisberger. Back in 2009, the star Steelers quarterback was accused of rape by a Lake Tahoe casino hostess. She filed a civil suit for assault, sexual assault and battery, false imprisonment, false pretenses, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She did not press criminal charges, though, which Roethlisberger’s lawyers claimed was evidence that the accusations were false.

However, even judges have said that rape survivors are sometimes better off not reporting to police because the stress of a criminal trial can add even more trauma after a sexual assault. And her hesitation is certainly understandable in this case: When she reported the crime to a casino security guard, he scoffed, “Most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger.” Is it possible that a judge and jury might say the same thing?

Almost immediately following reports of the suit, TMZ released alleged photos of the survivor without text. The photos, predictably, were met with comments like this one: “This is a bunch of trumped up bullshit from a gold digging @#$?”

Then, just a few days after the photos were released, the gossip rags dug into the survivor’s mental health history, reporting on her post-assault depression, insomnia and anxiety–and calling her “nutty” rather than recognizing the possible signs of sexual trauma. On blogs and news sites, almost without variation, fans defended their football hero and reporters danced gingerly around the issue.

The assumption hung heavily in the air: She had to be lying. Why would a rich (or, in other cases, married/famous/charitable/kind) man rape a so-called “nobody”?

And here is another interesting follow-up touched on in the Ms. article. The FBI reports that between 2-8% of sexual assaults are unfounded. You'll notice that is higher than the 1.6% that we quoted in our last post and in our HLN interview. That's because the FBI number looks at sexual assault reports that are unfounded, not false. According to the Forensic Examiner, that 2-8% figure is pretty much meaningless.

According to the FBI, a report should only be considered unfounded when investigation revealed that the elements of the crime were not met or the report was "false" (which is not defined) (FBI, 2007).

This statistic is almost meaningless, as many of the jurisdictions from which the FBI collects data on crime use different definitions of, or criteria for, "unfounded." That is, a report of rape might be classified as unfounded (rather than as forcible rape) if the alleged victim did not try to fight off the suspect, if the alleged perpetrator did not use physical force or a weapon of some sort, if the alleged victim did not sustain any physical injuries, or if the alleged victim and the accused had a prior sexual relationship. Similarly, a report might be deemed unfounded if there is no physical evidence or too many inconsistencies between the accuser's statement and what evidence does exist. As such, although some unfounded cases of rape may be false or fabricated, not all unfounded cases are false.

The police department mentioned in the Ms. article (who had an unfounded rate of 54%) went even further and injected a whole host of their own biases in determinations of whether or not a woman reporting a sexual assault was lying. Of course their numbers were inflated if they told the FBI that they believe some women falsely report rape to “obtain revenge” on a man who has “done her wrong,” or to make her partner “feel guilty” after a “lover’s quarrel”! The point is, these numbers are highly subjective and, since we live in a culture that assumes that women lie about being raped, our stats about women lying about rape are going to be inflated. It's a vicious cycle, and one that does not contribute to justice for rape victims.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rape Myths Part II

This is the second in our series of posts examining rape myths in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For the first, challenging the idea that women are responsible for their sexual assaults, click here.

Many people believe that false reports of rape are common. There are usually two thoughts processes behind that, both of which are grounded in a system that values men more highly than women.

First, when it comes to date rape, many people assume that the sex or sexual act was consensual at the time, but that the woman wakes up the next morning regretting it and changes her story. This is similar to arguing that a woman lies about consensual sex, calling it rape, when her husband or father finds out and she wants to avoid their disapproval. The entire argument hinges on one belief: women are liars.

If we don't believe that women are liars, we believe that men are actually capable of sexual assault. But, because our society values men more highly than we do women, we have more invested in believing that men are innocent. It is easier for us to believe something negative about a woman than it is for us to believe something negative about a man. It is easier for us to think that the average woman is capable of trying to ruin a man's life by falsely accusing him of a horrible crime than it is for us to think that the average man is capable of raping.

This leads very logically into the next thought process. We want to believe that men who are rapists are easy to identify and thus easy to avoid. It's a form of self-protection, similar to that which causes us to wrongfully believe that women are at least partially responsible for their rapes. But men who rape don't wear signs around their necks or have tattoos that say "dangerous". Men who rape can be creepy or charming, ugly or handsome, young or old, rich or poor, of any race or ethnicity, religious or not religious, etc. These men could be your fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sons, bosses, faith leaders, or anyone else. But, because we don't want to believe that the men we love and respect could be violent, it is easier for us to think that women are liars. Because we want to think we are safe from sexual assault because we don't know anyone capable of doing something so horrible, it is easier for us to do something horrible - revictimize a sexual assault victim by accusing her of lying.

In reality, false reports are not common. There aren't many studies done on the issue, and thus stats are hard to come by, but some reports have found that false reports of sexual assault are as low as 1.6%. That same study found false reports of auto theft to be 2.6% of total reports.

Compare that to the fact that 1 in 20 college-age men will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word "rape" isn't used in the description of the act.*

*We'll explore this stat in a later post.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rape Myths part 1

Last week, a member of our staff was invited to come on CNN Headline News to discuss rape myths during their coverage of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You can watch the video of Richelle Carey interviewing our Director of Development Amber Harris here.

Because these interviews are so short, there are always points we wish we had made once the interview is done. Also, a complicated issue like sexual assault, and the way our culture views and discusses it, is something that warrants a more thorough discussion than you can fit into a few minutes. That is why we'll be exploring the rape myths discussed in the segment in more detail. The first myth discussed was the idea that victims are sometimes to blame for some or all of their sexual assault.

We as a culture are desperate to blame rape victims for some or all of what happened to them. If she had been drinking, the rape was at least partially her fault. If she was dressed suggestively, it was her fault. If she invited a man into her home, it was her fault. If she has had sex before, especially with him, it was her fault. If she is married to him, she has given up forever her right to say no.

All of these ways of thinking are, of course, false. It is not illegal for a woman above the legal drinking age to have a drink. It is not illegal for women to wear low-cut tops or short skirts, or heels. It is not illegal for women to invite men into their homes. It is not illegal for women to have sex and also to withdraw their consent for sex at any time during or afterward. It is up to the other person to stop when that consent is withdrawn, or if it is never given. If you don't stop, that is rape, and rape is illegal.

Think of it this way. Thousands of women go to bars every weekend dressed in club-wear and no one assaults them. Thousands of women end relationships with men with whom they've had sex every week and those men do not assault them. And yet, every 2 minutes in the US, someone is sexually assaulted. Many of those women and men were not drunk, dressed suggestively, etc. The difference for them is that they were in the presence of a rapist.

So why are we so determined to blame victims for their assaults? As Amber suggested in her interview, it may be, at least partly, at least for women, a self-protection mechanism. When we hear that 1 in 6 women* in the US will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, we need to believe something that will help us deny that it will happen to us. We need to believe that women did something wrong or something stupid that compromised their safety. If we admit that women who are sexually assaulted did nothing at all to cause that assault, then we as women live in constant fear.

Even though it is an understandable self-protection mechanism, blaming the victim is not OK. Why? Because when blaming the victim, you are helping the rapist.

Let that sink in. When you blame a victim for her own assault, you are helping the rapist.

Most courtroom rape defenses rely on the exact victim blaming rhetoric that we lay out above to keep rapists from going to jail. And women who don't want to suffer through that victim blaming often don't press charges in the first place. That's why 61% of rapes are never reported to police and only 6% of rapists ever see a day in jail. When you participate in victim blaming, you are causing women who have been assaulted to relive their trauma and possibly also blame themselves. You are also helping the real criminal, the rapist, walk free.

It's also a lot easier to blame the victim than it is to blame the rapist. After all, the solutions are so much easier if we concentrate on the victim. Take a self-defense class. Don't drink. Always be aware of your surroundings. However, 1 in 20 college-age men will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word "rape" isn't used in the description of the act.** It's a lot harder to change the beliefs and the power structure that feeds men the idea that it is OK to take sex from a women without her consent, as if she is not a real person and her feelings don't matter. Teaching men who don't already think so that women matter is incredibly difficult. If we believe that women aren't to blame for their assaults, and yet we do nothing about it, we are yet again helping the rapist.

Don't help the rapist; help us. When your friends, family members, or colleagues are blaming the victim, stop them and explain why victim blaming is harmful. Stop people when they make rape jokes in your presence. Volunteer for a local organization, like ours, that works to end violence against women. Then you don't have to be as afraid, you don't have to harm victims, and you are doing something to end violence against women. And you aren't helping a rapist.

*The really frightening thing about that 1 in 6 number is that it doesn't take into account that many of those women will be assaulted more than once.

**We'll explore this stat in a future post.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Murray Man Kills Wife, Is Killed by Deputy

The AJC reports that a Murray County, Georgia woman was seconds away from being rescued by police when her husband shot and killed her.

According to a news release issued Monday by Murray County Sheriff Howard Ensley, Peggy Sue Green Hamby called 911 at 8:43 p.m., "stating her husband, Kenneth Green, was holding a gun on her and threatening to kill her, himself and any law enforcement officer that arrives."

A deputy arrived four minutes later to find Green with a rifle, attacking his wife outside the home.

When the deputy ordered the man to drop his weapon, Green shot and killed his wife, according to the release.

"Moving toward the deputy, Mr. Green turned the weapon towards the officer and fired a shot," Ensley said in the release. "The deputy returned fire, fatally wounding Mr. Green."
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hamby family.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alabama College Shooting

One woman is dead and three others are injured in a mass shooting that proves, once again, that domestic violence is not a family matter that, if left alone, will stay behind closed doors.

The shootings in the car park of Southern Union Community College in Opelika killed a 63-year-old woman, wounded two other women, aged 36 and 94, and injured a four-year-old who was hit by flying glass.

Read more:

Thomas Franklin May, 34, was charged with capital murder and attempted murder and is being held without bail, said Police Chief Tommy Mangham.

He said the shooting was related to a domestic matter and was pre-planned.

Chief Mangham said: 'We really don't know what's in a person's mind when they do something like this.'

One of the wounded women was Bethany L May, the alleged shooter's estranged wife, Chief Mangham said.

Authorities wouldn't release any more information on the victims or their medical conditions. However it was revealed that one victim was a student at the community college and that some of the victims were related.

Court records revealed Mrs May filed a request against her husband last week seeking protection from abuse, but the details were unavailable.

A judge in Lee County issued a temporary order against Mr May and scheduled a hearing for May 11.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lithonia Man Accused in Stabbing Death of Mother, Siblings

The AJC reports that a Lithonia man is accused in the stabbing death of his mother and two siblings. He also wounded his teenage sister who survived the attack but is in critical condition.

Police arrested the 21-year-old [Eugene Quatron] McCoy as he was walking away from the house Sunday night. According to jail records, McCoy lived at the Rockland Road house even though there was a restraining order prohibiting him from being in contact with his family.

McCoy was booked into the DeKalb County jail early Monday on three counts of murder and one charge of aggravated assault.

Sheila Irons, the man's mother whom he is accused of killing, had taken out a protective order him, prohibiting him from being in contact with her and her minor children. However, as we counsel women every day, a protective order is just a piece of paper that relies on fear of arrest and imprisonment to make it effective. Men who do not fear being arrested often do not fear a protective order.

According to court records, there is a history of family violence.

McCoy has been arrested six times prior to Monday, including twice for allegedly violating family violence orders. All the cases were before DeKalb County judges.

The first arrest was in 2007 when McCoy was sentenced to 12 months' probation for burglary, but that case did not involve family violence.

Last May 26, McCoy pleaded guilty to violation of a temporary protective order and was put on probation for a year and ordered to have no contact with the victim.

McCoy pleaded guilty last Sept. 8 to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 23 days of confinement and 12 months probation.

Then on Dec. 8, McCoy pleaded no contest to family violence battery, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. He was sentenced to 14 days in jail and two years probation.

He was ordered on Dec. 21 to undergo a mental health evaluation.

He also was told he could have no contact with the victim, a different woman, and to attend 12 anger management classes.

His last previous arrest was on Jan. 8 on a criminal trespass charge. Court records show McCoy pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months probation. He also was sentenced to jail time but received credit for the 67 days and was released on March 16, the day he enter the plea.

McCoy clearly did not fear arrest again, because he learned in prior arrests that he would get minimal jail time. Instead of putting the burden on the victim to protect herself, it would have been much more effective to hold McCoy accountable for his past uses of violence and his past protective order violations. If he had ever been shown that our legislators and our courts take violations of protective orders seriously and been given real consequences (other than the inconvenience of anger management classes and probation), he might not have violated another protective order and these three people, two of whom were children, would still have their lives.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' family.