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Women were the key to President Obama’s re-election. Now it’s time for women voters to hold the president accountable. AAUW has created a short to-do list to help the administration kick off its second term. Help us spread the word — and celebrate Inauguration Day — by sharing this blog! And don’t forget: AAUW has tips for how to make the most of Inauguration Day in person in Washington, D.C., or from the comfort of your own home.

Women were the key to the Obama administration’s re-election. As such, AAUW has created a short to-do list to help the administration kick off its second term.

Women were the key to the Obama administration’s re-election. As such, AAUW has created a short to-do list to help the administration kick off its second term.

 

This post was written by AAUW Political Media Coordinator Elizabeth Owens.

 

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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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On January 7, the University of Notre Dame football team will compete to win a U.S. national title. And playing on the team, to the cheers of millions of people, will be two men who, in separate incidents, allegedly raped and sexually assaulted two college women.

Notre Dame vs Syracuse photo courtesy of ctaloi on Flickr Creative Commons

That makes me really mad.

I found out this week that one of the two women committed suicide 10 days after reporting the assault — and receiving a shocking lack of help from campus police and administrators. It wasn’t until the media drew attention to the assault that the campus finally held a disciplinary hearing for one of the accused players six months after the woman’s death. He was found “not responsible” and never sat out a single game. The second player was never charged because the woman he assaulted knew what had happened to the first woman and decided  not to report the crime.

Notre Dame is not the only campus with a sexual assault problem, but attacks don’t make national news every time they occur. Still, many campuses have made headlines for incidents of assault in the past few months, including Amherst College, the University of Montana, and Boston University.

These stories underscore alarming statistics; for instance, 19 percent of college women experience completed or attempted sexual assault or rape. Most perpetrators on campus get away with their crimes, in part because reporting is so low. So many of the few people who do speak out face a lack of response, victim-blaming, or retaliation.

Before they even reported the attacks by Notre Dame football players, the young women allegedly faced threats of retaliation from the friends and teammates of the two men.

As an advocate working to end campus sexual assault, I am disheartened to hear these stories, not only because I know that yet another person has been needlessly traumatized but also because cases like these show how the “right” answer — telling someone to report the crime — may not always be the safest option for the victim or the best way to ensure justice is served.

This is one reason why I feel so strongly about the passage of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.

The SaVE Act is a provision included in the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act,  which Congress has yet to reauthorize. The SaVE Act would require schools to do more about sexual violence, including creating plans to prevent this violence and educating victims about their rights and resources.

This act is essential since most campuses need to do much more to prevent sexual assault; they need to penalize perpetrators, and they need to do more to help survivors.

If you’re mad like I am, here are three ways to channel your anger:

  1. Urge your representatives to reauthorize VAWA including campus safety provisions from the Campus SaVE Act.
  2. If you know someone on a college or university campus or are on a campus yourself, download and share AAUW’s Campus Sexual Assault Program in a Box. It’s full of useful information about resources like prevention programs and awareness campaigns for campuses.
  3. Share and download a free iPhone and Android app called Circle of 6, which allows friends to help each other out of potentially unsafe situations before they escalate into violence.

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I opened up my Facebook newsfeed last Thursday morning and found that an article about my alma mater, Amherst College, had been shared overnight an astounding 57 times. Two hours later, the article had been shared another 20 times. Three hours later, 40 more. As a recent Amherst graduate, I was stunned by the story, which has been featured on well-known blogs like Jezebel and the Huffington Post.

via Picasa user David Emmerman

On October 17, the student newspaper published a story about former Amherst student Angie Epifano, who described a harrowing experience of being raped in a campus dorm room on May 25, 2011, and what she says was the administration’s mishandling of her attempts to heal. The article has sparked a national dialogue on colleges’ sexual assault and harassment policies just weeks after a sexual assault Title IX lawsuit was filed at Wesleyan University and the report of a misogynistic T-shirt incident at Amherst.

Shortly after the article went viral, a friend invited me to a Facebook group created by alumni to begin a conversation on what the Amherst community can do in addition to sharing the article. Browsing the online group, I came across some of the most touching stories and insightful comments by students I used to sit next to in class and in the dining hall who revealed that they too are survivors. They, like Epifano, say they were hurt at Amherst and did not feel they received the help they needed. They too courageously spoke out about the administration’s reported push for struggling survivors to take time off while their attackers continued their educations without interruption, of the difficulty of disciplinary hearings, and of how easy it is to feel ashamed and alone on such a small campus. As I read these stories, I heard the suffocating silence shatter as students came forward with their unhappiness at a school that has improved the lives of many but may have paralyzed many others.

When I went to click the Facebook “share” button to repost Epifano’s story on my timeline, I paused. I thought of what change sharing one person’s story could really make and quickly realized that it is the collective duty of the community to draw attention to this issue. Change begins with awareness, and social media empowers us all.

Now, my friends are sharing the story from my page. Though uncomfortable, this story must be told because too many like it go unheard. Clicking a button leads to talking about the issue, which leads to doing something about it.

I challenge you to help end dating violence and sexual assault in your community and across the United States. Use the resources out there, educate yourself and your peers, and wield AAUW’s Campus Sexual Assault Program in a Box to improve safety on your campus. Get to know your campus Title IX coordinator. If you don’t have one, ask your administration why, and report it. Advocate to get the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized — a Senate-passed version includes increased campus protections from the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.

I stand by my alma mater’s efforts to right its wrongs. Soon after Epifano’s story broke, Amherst President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin and the college trustees released statements promising to enact stricter and more transparent college policies regarding sexual assault. Administrators then set up a website about sexual respect and Title IX so that students could access the school’s policies and understand campus support for the issue. The website also displays a checklist of the college’s planned and completed actionable steps, such as identifying campus space for a gender resource center, hiring an external consultant to review Title IX policies, and investigation into Epifano’s story. Ending sexual assault and gender-based violence is an important fight for our generation, and the ideas we share on Listservs, through social media, and in conversations with our friends and loved ones will move us forward.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Amanda Villarreal.

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Today, sexual assault in the military is making headlines as another lawsuit, Shaw v. Panetta, is filed in San Francisco federal court on behalf of more than 20 U.S. Army and Air Force veterans who allege they were sexually assaulted during their military service.

Sexual assault in the military has been a frequent news story this year, in large part due to two similar class-action lawsuits against the military and the investigative documentary The Invisible War. AAUW supports all three lawsuits through our Legal Advocacy Fund.

The plaintiffs in the new suit come from a dozen states. They are suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the secretaries of the Army and the Navy, among others, for allegedly failing to protect the plaintiffs from rape and sexual assault while on active duty.

Following the filing, a press conference will be held in California at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time. Daniele Hoffman, one of the plaintiffs, will share her story, and Susan Burke, the lead counsel for the survivors, will talk about the case. Representatives from the two organizations helping fund the cases, AAUW and Protect Our Defenders, also will speak.

Finally, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) will speak about her efforts in Congress to reform the military justice system. In November 2011, she introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act (H.R. 3435), which AAUW supports. The bill has 133 bipartisan co-sponsors.

As it did with each of the previous case filings, the U.S. Department of Defense sent representatives to speak to the media to talk about how the agency is addressing the issues. Too often, the military has given this issue lip service without making concrete changes, but it sounds like this time might be different.

In an appearance on NBC this week, Panetta said, “As difficult as [sexual assault survivors’] experience has been, we’re going to learn from that.”

He also said that the military has made significant changes this year to address the rampant problem of sexual assault, including allowing survivors to move away from alleged perpetrators, reporting assaults to people higher in the chain of command, and creating new special victims units.

This week, Panetta also ordered the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force to “improve the quality of sexual assault prevention training for their prospective commanders and senior enlisted leaders.”

I’m proud that AAUW and our members are so active on this issue and have helped pressure the military into making these changes. You can take action by hosting a community screening of The Invisible War and by donating to AAUW to support the three lawsuits. Together, let’s continue to pressure the military into making important changes so that one day, the military will be free from sexual violence.

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A new school year is underway, and while college can be an exciting time of learning, exploration, and personal growth, it can also bring uncertainty and violence. Women ages 16–24 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault among all women — 1 in 5 young women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault while they are in college, including those who are in dating relationships.

Given these alarming statistics, you never know when you might need your friends.

A new, free iPhone and Android app called Circle of 6 allows friends to help each other out of potentially unsafe situations before they escalate into violence.

To use the app, you pick six trusted friends to be in your circle. They receive notification that they are in your circle and an explanation of what that means. These are the people you can easily contact when you need help.

The app includes prewritten text messages you can send to your friends, such as “Call and pretend you need me. I need an interruption.” and “Come and get me. I need help getting home safely.” For the messages that ask for a pickup, the GPS on Google Maps tells your friend your exact location.

And if things are really dangerous, the app includes an option to call 911 or a sexual assault or domestic abuse hotline.

What is so unique is how the app allows users to get help from any one of their six friends discreetly and quickly with one or two touches on the phone screen. When you need help fast, you don’t have to scroll through your contacts or compose a text.

Because AAUW members are passionate about preventing sexual harassment and assault, we are proud to promote the Circle of 6 app to our members, supporters, and blog readers. And we’re in good company — the White House, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded Circle of 6 as one of their Apps against Abuse winners last year.

Circle of 6 is going beyond just creating an app to help prevent sexual violence. This week, ahead of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the app’s developers released a healthy relationships tool kit for educators.

The tool kit was created in response to a survey of U.S. high school counselors in which 81 percent of respondents reported that their schools had no protocol or training on the subject of dating violence despite the fact that by seventh grade, dating violence is common.

Download the free tool kit, which includes information and solutions for both students and teachers. I encourage you to share both the app and the tool kit with your networks. You never know who will need them.

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“Eighteen years ago today, the landmark Violence against Women Act was signed into law. It was founded on the basic premise that every woman deserves to be safe from violence, and since its passage, we have made tremendous strides towards achieving that goal. But we still have much work to do.”
— Vice President Joe Biden, who drafted the original Violence against Women Act, on September 13, 2012

“Every minute this house chooses to delay the reauthorization of VAWA is another minute these women are victimized.”
Sen. Patty Murray, September 13, 2012

“There is no good reason that we can’t work together and see that #VAWA, a life-saving law, is reauthorized immediately.”
— Sen. Patrick Leahy, September 13, 2012 (@SenatorLeahy)

AAUW couldn’t agree more. The Violence against Women Act is due for reauthorization this year, but political maneuvering has stalled the bill in Congress. AAUW has long supported “freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.” Since its enactment in 1994, VAWA has saved lives and saved money. VAWA is credited with contributing to the dramatic increase in the reporting of domestic violence. The rate of homicide by an intimate partner has decreased by 65 percent for women and almost 50 percent for men since the statute was enacted.

AAUW is a strong supporter of the bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate. The bill takes steps to make college campuses safer for women. When campus environments are hostile because of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, students cannot learn, and they miss out on true educational opportunities. AAUW’s own research revealed that two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment. In addition, a 2007 campus sexual assault study [BH2] by the U.S. Department of Justice found that around 28 percent of women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students.

While AAUW supported the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization bill, we opposed the House’s bill because it did not contain necessary provisions to improve the safety of college campuses. Additionally, the House bill expressly rejects protections for men and women who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, making it difficult for them to find services in their communities. The House bill also eliminates strong protections for women and children who are beaten or abused on tribal lands by perpetrators who are not members of a particular tribe, and it removes a key requirement that would more easily allow victims to move from one subsidized housing program to another in order to avoid an abuser.

The Violence against Women Act should not be a political pawn in election-year gamesmanship. We urge the House to follow the bipartisan lead of the Senate and AAUW’s membership: Put aside the rhetoric, move quickly to pass the Senate version, and once again do the right thing for all victims of violence.

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