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Warning: The content of this post might trigger unpleasant memories for anyone who has experienced sexual assault.

Last summer in Steubenville, Ohio, two 16-year-old high school football players allegedly raped a teenage girl at a party. The two young men have been charged, and the case made national headlines after the New York Times published a detailed article in December about what happened and after the activist hacker group Anonymous posted a video of teenagers making jokes about the alleged rape.

There have been many passionate, important articles and opinion pieces written in response to this horrific incident. Over the weekend, more than 800 people held a peaceful protest calling for justice for the survivor.

What I want to add — since the alleged assailants, the bystanders, the survivor, and the young men cracking jokes about rape were all high school students — is that this should be a wake-up call to school officials and communities to address sexual harassment and sexual assault in their schools!

Crossing the Line coverIn 2011, I co-authored Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, AAUW’s national study of students in grades 7–12 that showed that sexual harassment is still a widespread problem. Nearly 60 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys said they had experienced sexual harassment during the previous year. One-third of girls and one-fourth of boys said they had witnessed sexual harassment.

Physical harassment was not uncommon either. During the school year studied, 4 percent of girls and 0.2 percent of boys reported having been forced to do something sexual, and 13 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys had been touched in an unwelcome sexual way.

Many students saw these experiences as “no big deal,” and sexual harassment was understood as “part of school life.” Only 9 percent of the harassed students felt comfortable reporting their experiences to anyone at school.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of the students who harass and assault at school also do so outside of school, including at parties like the one the alleged Steubenville rapists attended, because sexual abuse is normalized in our society and perpetrators rarely see anyone punished for their actions.

It’s also not a stretch to say that schools should do more to address sexual harassment.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools must inform students that sex discrimination — including sexual harassment — is prohibited, publicize a grievance policy, and have a trained Title IX coordinator available so students can easily report incidents.

After AAUW’s 2011 report was released, I gave numerous talks across the country. Many AAUW branches that invited me to speak tried to set up meetings with Title IX coordinators. But in location after location, they could not find a single Title IX coordinator, even in large cities with many school districts. In speaking with people who regularly work on Title IX issues, I learned that this scarcity is pretty common.

I spoke at several bullying conferences and events. I received mostly blank stares when I asked people — including teachers and school administrators — if they knew what Title IX was or if they knew the names of their Title IX coordinators. At each of these conferences, I was the only person who talked about sexual harassment.

It was worse when I worked with AAUW’s Campus Action Project (CAP) teams. Each year, AAUW grants up to $5,000 to fund grassroots projects that use the recommendations from AAUW’s latest research report. In 2011–12, seven CAP teams focused on the Crossing the Line recommendations. I was appalled when most of the teams faced roadblocks as they tried to carry out their very noncontroversial projects. The following is just one example.

When one team asked to have access to a few high school students to conduct a focus group and then work with them to create an informational poster campaign, the school at first agreed. Then, when it came time to set up the focus groups, the school cancelled, saying in an e-mail that the focus group was too “controversial in nature” and that the discussion of the students’ experiences might obligate the school to report or investigate the incident “as required by law.”

When school administrators have this kind of attitude and it is combined with a culture that trivializes sexual harassment and assault, is it any wonder that sexual harassment and assault are rampant in most schools? Is it any surprise that perpetrators at school may very well become perpetrators outside of school?

It is time for school administrators, teachers, parents, and community members to finally acknowledge that sexual harassment and sexual assault happen in our schools. It’s time to talk to students about it, follow Title IX guidance, and make preventing harassment and assault a priority!

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Protestors of the New Delhi gang rape gather on December 30 in Bangalore, India.

Less than a week after the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign — which included hundreds of events demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world — ended, an all too frequent event happened in India — a rape. I’ve blogged about rape before, but this attack captured the attention and outrage of the world.

For more than two weeks, thousands of citizens in India and around the world have protested the brutal gang rape and torture of a 23-year-old Indian woman (called “braveheart” in many news stories) while she and her male companion were riding a bus in New Delhi after leaving a movie theater. She ultimately died from injuries suffered during the brutal assault.

We’ve all heard the tragic story but are unable to comprehend the horrific details. And we can’t avoid the ugly truth — violence against women is a horrendous, appalling, and pervasive reality that has placed an indelible stain on the world. The crime sparked national and international outrage, vigils, and demands to end the culture of rape. It empowered people to stand up and demand action and change from the Indian government and police.

And now, weeks after the horrific event, the men accused of the gang rape have been formally charged with rape, murder, and kidnapping.

Unfortunately, rape is a systemic problem throughout India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes, and in 2010, more than 24,000 rapes were reported. And there are undoubtedly many rapes that go unreported — mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, or friends who become the targets of violence that can end in murder or suicide.

Who can grasp the inexplicable violence directed at women and girls worldwide and the state- and government-sanctioned evasion of protection, responsibility, and justice? India, like many nations, has vowed to take action to make women safer and provide better protection against violence — a daunting challenge in a culture and world that do not value women.

In the United States, nearly 1 in 5 women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point. And survivors of violence need support. This year, one of AAUW’s Community Action Grantees is Safe Connections, which provides counseling and support services to women and teens in the St. Louis metropolitan area who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse. Another grantee, the African Services Committee’s Project Aimée, serves low-income African immigrant survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in New York City with a combination of legal services, education, and advocacy.

The need for these kinds of programs has grown as violence against women becomes more visible throughout the world. But the shocking tragedy in India could be a turning point. In order to stop this ever-increasing trend of violence, women need action, not empty promises.

We all need to keep the pressure on governments to put into action promises made to eliminate violence against women. Do it for yourself. Do it for a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, or friend. You can make your voice heard on Capitol Hill by urging your legislators to support the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. It’s long overdue. But laws can’t change hearts or minds. That must come from within. What can you do in your community to stop violence against women?

Going to a movie and riding a bus should not cost a woman her life — a woman known as “braveheart.” May her death not be in vain.

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Sexual assault in the military is a significant problem, one that affects 20 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the armed forces, according to the new documentary The Invisible War. This is an issue of great concern to AAUW, and last week we hosted a private screening of the Sundance Film Festival award-winning movie, which documents the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the military.

During the screening, many of the 50 community leaders in attendance cried after hearing the stories of the brave survivors of sexual assault and rape. The audience voiced outrage over the retaliation the veterans faced and the lack of medical attention they received for injuries relating to the rapes. People were audibly disgusted when the film highlighted the military prevention program — especially the ineffective and inappropriate directives that tell women to go places with a buddy and tell men to “wait until she’s sober.” When the film ended, it was clear to everyone that a lot of change is needed to turn our military from a good one to one that is truly great and safe for all of its service members.

4.26.12 invisible war screening at aauw dc

From left: Klay v. Panetta plaintiff Elle Helmer, The Invisible War producer Amy Ziering, AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman, and Legal Advocacy Fund Program Manager Holly Kearl

Following the screening, there was a discussion with producer Amy Ziering and Elle Helmer, whose story was featured in the film. Helmer is a plaintiff in one of the two military sexual assault lawsuits that AAUW is supporting through our Legal Advocacy Fund case support program. Thanks to an AAUW Case Support Travel Grant Helmer was also able to speak about the lawsuit and her experiences at the AAUW of Florida state convention last weekend.

Helmer was an officer in the U.S. Marines who served at the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., from 2005 to 2006. She says she was raped in 2006 in the company commander’s office. As Helmer recounts in The Invisible War, she reported the rape, but her report was never taken seriously, and she faced retaliation. When she wanted to go the hospital for medical help, she was told, “You’re not broken; you’re just dusty. You’ll get into a lot of trouble if you go to the hospital.” Then, after she went to the hospital and had a rape kit done, it was “misplaced.” Her alleged assailant was never charged.

Viewing the film and hearing Helmer’s story and the discussion afterward spurred attendees to want to take action. Fortunately, there are many ways for them — and for you — to get involved.

  1. Visit The Invisible War website, and “like” their Facebook page.
  2. Contact your congressional representatives about the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (the STOP Act), which addresses the structural changes needed in the military.
  3. Attend a showing of The Invisible War in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C. The film opens on June 22. If you live in those areas, please plan to attend, and bring as many people with you as you can, especially on opening night. The number of people who attend in the first week will determine if the film will open in other cities, too.
  4. Donate to AAUW to help offset the legal costs of Cioca v. Rumsfeld and Klay v. Panetta, the military sexual assault lawsuits that we’re supporting.

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The panelists for Re: Action — A Debate on SlutWalk from left to right: Samantha Wright, organizer of Slutwalk DC; Aiyi’nah Ford, host of the One Mic Stand radio show; Alexandra Petri, blogger for the Washington Post; and Chai Shenoy, co-founder of Holla Back DC!

I’m thrilled that AAUW hosted a Re: Action debate at our Washington, D.C., headquarters about SlutWalk D.C. and that this debate has prompted comment in mainstream media such as the Washington Post. That said, I also realize that a lot of AAUW members are unsettled by the international SlutWalk phenomenon. (SlutWalks are protests against sexual violence and victim blaming involving reclaiming the term “slut” and donning scanty attire). They fear for the future of women’s rights movements should this be a sign of things to come. How soon they forget that many of their own actions in the 1960s and 1970s (reclaiming the word “chick,” public discourse on sex, contraception, rape, domestic violence, etc.) were similarly perceived as distasteful by older generations. Looking even further back in time, how about that suffragette parade on President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration day? That ruffled more than a few feathers.

SlutWalk discourse is not only important for addressing victim blaming in sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape; it is also crucial for highlighting controversies within women’s rights movements over “proper” responses and tactics. Such points of contention should be seen as opportunities for constructive dialogue between multiple generations of activists — not as green lights for further polarization of allies in the advancement of equity for women and girls.

Sometimes breaking through barriers gets uncomfortable.

Another example: This year the AAUW membership, in our first-ever One Member, One Vote election, chose to insert the following sentence into our 2011–2013 AAUW Public Policy Program: “AAUW believes that global interdependence requires national and international policies against human trafficking that promote peace, justice, human rights, sustainable development, and mutual security for all people.” But many members (not all, but many) deem discussions of one particular aspect of human trafficking — Main Street, U.S.A., prostitution and sex trafficking — distasteful for branch programming and other dialogue opportunities.

One notable exception (and with all due respect to the other AAUW members, affiliates, and entities who have tackled this issue): Kudos to 85-year-old retired teacher and AAUW San Diego (CA) Branch member Myrra Lee for educating her community members about the U.S. face of sex trafficking — the diversion of unwitting stateside women and girls, boys and men, into sex-trade slavery via coercion and deceptive promises of modeling jobs. Tellingly, according to a Los Angeles Times article about Lee’s work, only one of 11 AAUW branches in San Diego County has taken her up on her offer to speak.

We all benefit when we get outside our comfort zones and frankly discuss women’s and girls’ experiences, particularly those that don’t align with our own life histories. Such dialogues promote empathy and foster heightened vigor for the AAUW mission: advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.

This post was written by AAUW Director-at-Large Amy Blackwell.

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I was thoroughly dismayed (and honestly, a bit peeved) when I saw this piece in the Globe and Mail yesterday. Author Margaret Wente wrote the story, which derided the new movement of SlutWalks — people marching in the streets to denounce the victim-blaming of rape culture and ramp up perpetrator-shaming — and cited AAUW’s research on campus sexual assault. Wente writes, “The highly educated young women who join SlutWalks are among the safest and most secure in the world. But you’d never know it from the fevered rhetoric. According to one widely cited scare statistic cooked up by the American Association of University Women, no fewer than 62 percent of female students say they’ve been sexually harassed at university — a figure that is credible only if you include every incident of being groped by some 20-year-old drunk.”

Yep, you read that right: She claims that AAUW cooks up scare stats, and she didn’t even really do her homework. The definitions used for AAUW’s Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus are very clearly laid out on page six, and AAUW used a broad definition because all kinds of harassment affect students. If she wants to see the recipe for the rest of the report, all Wente has to do is read the methodology section, pages 42–45.

Also, yes, being groped when you don’t want to be — regardless of sobriety — does count as sexual harassment. Just sayin’.

It’s true that AAUW found that “when asked about specific kinds of harassment, two-thirds of students (62 percent) say that they have been sexually harassed, and a similar number (66 percent) say that they know someone personally (such as a friend or classmate) who has been sexually harassed. … Expressed another way, on a campus of 10,000 undergraduate students, about 6,000 students will be harassed.”

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network has some other startling statistics about sexual harassment and assault (or should we call them scare statistics?) as well: Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.

Obviously, this is a huge social problem, and insensitive discourse only adds fuel to the fire. Rather than condemning the work AAUW’s research team does, let’s focus on the actual reasons why movements like SlutWalks exist. These numbers aren’t made up, and what Wente calls “scare statistics” are scary, though not in the sense that she means — they’re scary because we live in a society fraught with sexism, victim-blaming, and sexual violence. These problems are far too prevalent in our society, and they need to stop. Now.

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Linda Hallman, Executive Director

America’s young people are pretty good at celebrating Valentine’s Day. Second graders exchange candy hearts and homemade cards, teens send each other roses in high school homerooms, and college students organize dates and girls’ nights to mark the holiday of love and friendship.

In the midst of these celebrations, it’s easy to forget how many relationships, romantic and otherwise, don’t make it into Hallmark’s latest ad. For far too many of our friends and loved ones, relationships are marred by sexual assault or violence as society stands by, silent.

Read the rest of Executive Director Linda Hallman’s blog post at www.more.com.

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There are several words that can be used to describe Julian Assange: hero, terrorist, victim, perpetrator, target, criminal. Depending on how one feels about his role in the WikiLeaks controversy, these words could be used to glorify or demonize him.

By Andreas Gaufer (26c3 Wikileaks) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Julian Assange

Recently, those who see Assange as a hero and a victim have insisted that the charges of sexual assault he is facing in Sweden are another tool being used against him in the WikiLeaks controversy. Currently, Assange faces one charge of rape, two counts of sexual molestation, and one count of coercion and illegal use of force. The charges, originally filled in September, have come to light with Assange’s arrest in the United Kingdom and the Swedish government’s attempt to extradite him. He is currently being held in the United Kingdom.

 

Whether or not Assange is being unfairly prosecuted for the materials WikiLeaks is publishing is not the subject of this article. Rather, I’d like to discuss the idea that an accusation of rape can be used as a political tool by both sides of the WikiLeaks debate may cause more harm than any of the infamous documents.

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (<a href="http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html" class="external free" rel="nofollow">http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html</a>)], via Wikimedia Commons

Naomi Wolf

Rape should not be a political tool. The allegations against Assange are serious, and there is no reason for anyone on either side of the debate to suggest or use these allegations for political gain; that is atrocious. Many of those who believe Assange to be a hero, such as Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, and Naomi Wolf, have come out in strong opposition to these charges. Olbermann took to Twitter in an attempt to smear Assange’s accusers. Feminist writer Wolf wrote an article titled “Julian Assange Captured by the World’s Dating Police” for the Huffington Post, which downplayed the accusations as nothing more than a bad date. Many online news outlets have dropped their ethics, publishing names and photos of the accusers in an attempt at publically shaming them.

 

The allegations against Assange for sexual assault need to be divorced from the personal opinions surrounding the leaks. The rape charges should stand apart from other charges he may face. This public humiliation is why rape victims are so hesitant to file charges against their attackers. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, most sexual assaults are likely to go unreported.

One thing that has not been considered by anyone taking Assange’s side in the WikiLeaks scandal is that the international authorities may be using the victims as political pawns. Rape cases are difficult to prosecute and many times never see the inside of a court room. If the charges against Assange reveal that he is indeed guilty of sexual assault, then shouldn’t those who are angered by what they assume are false allegations also be angered that charges of sexual assault are not taken as seriously as they should be?

This post was written by Leadership Programs Fellow Donnae Wahl.

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