Posts Tagged ‘Sexual Harassment’

AAUW rising largeAs Eve Ensler says, I’m “over it.”

I’m over the public safety warnings from my university alerting the community of another violent crime.

I’m over the headlines about another woman becoming the 1 in 3 worldwide to be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

I’m over the jokes, the slut-shaming, and the blaming.

I’m over Congress dragging its feet on passing a bill that would ensure protection for the 1 in 4 women who experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

I’m over violence against women.

Each day there are new stories of harassment, stalking, and violence, and with these stories emerge new victims who join the 1 billion other women who will be violated in their lifetimes.

Although Valentine’s Day is traditionally considered a day to celebrate love, today is also for remembering women who have suffered physical, emotional, and social pain due to violence. Rather than spending the day enjoying boxes of chocolates and card and flower deliveries, Ensler, author and playwright of The Vagina Monologues, invites women around the globe to walk, dance, rise, and demand an end to violence against women.

As part of her One Billion Rising campaign, Ensler aims to raise consciousness about the global problem of violence against women. By encouraging women and men to join in solidarity, Ensler hopes to change the cultural and political ways we address violence.

AAUW is risingWhile the dancing is slated for just one day, spreading awareness does not end today. One way to keep the movement going is to join AAUW in urging Congress to reauthorize the  Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). For me and millions of my college peers, reauthorization of VAWA is particularly important. One in 5 women will experience sexual assault while in college. Since policies from the Campus SaVE Act are included in the Senate-passed VAWA reauthorization, we could see better and stronger policies from colleges detailing their handling of claims of sexual assault and violence. We could also see prevention activities at every school and better reporting on more types of incidents on campuses. But that only happens if the House includes these provisions in their bill as well.

By dancing for One Billion Rising and supporting the reauthorization of VAWA, women can re-energize awareness about violence against women and ignite change. This Valentine’s Day, forget the chocolate and the roses. Get up and dance, or contact your representatives in Congress. Tell them you are over violence against women.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member and AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi, whose SAC membership is sponsored by Dagmar E. McGill in memory of Happy Fernandez and Helen F. Faust.

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If you’re trying to prevent a crime, shouldn’t you talk to survivors to find out their viewpoint? Not in the Air Force.

Yesterday, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the widespread sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where all members of the Air Force attend basic training. Along with AAUW Board of Directors member Kathy Braeman, I tried to attend the hearing, but most of the seats were reserved for members of the military, so we watched on television from an overflow room.

A recent investigation found that 32 military training instructors allegedly engaged in coercive sexual relationships with 59 recruits and Air Force members. During the hearing, Gen. Mark Welsh, the service’s chief of staff, and Gen. Edward Rice, head of Air Education and Training Command, told members of the committee that several instructors have been convicted and others are still under investigation.

Committee on Armed Services, Room 2212Welsh and Rice testified that after 18,000 interviews with service members, there are 46 recommendations that the Air Force is starting to implement, including better training of Air Force members, a required target that 25 percent of basic training instructors be women, and creation of special victim units to help survivors. Just like the other military branches, however, the Air Force does not want to change the authority commanders have over the reporting and disciplinary process in these cases, even though clearly there are commanders who abuse their authority.

During the Q-and-A portion, I was shocked to learn from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) that not a single survivor who had come forward was interviewed during the Lackland investigation. Speier said she even wrote a letter in November requesting that survivors’ voices be included — and she was ignored. Unbelievable!

Advocate groups ensured that two people who work with military sexual assault survivors (and are survivors themselves) could testify about the problem, but when it was the survivors’ turn, the two generals and the members of the military in the audience left. Given the late hour, most of the congressional members were gone, too. It is shameful that these witnesses’ voices were not heard by as many people as possible. I found their testimonies very compelling, especially that of Jennifer Norris, a retired Air Force technical sergeant who now works for Protect Our Defenders.

In her testimony, she urged the Air Force to create an independent body to handle sexual assault and rape cases. “Thirty-nine percent of female victims report their perpetrators were of higher rank, and 23 percent say it was someone in their chain of command,” she pointed out. “The Air Force Lackland report indicates a failure of leadership. How many more times must Congress hear this before enacting lasting reform?”

While the generals testified that there had been no incidents of sexual assault over the past seven months, Norris said that just that morning, a survivor in the Air Force called Protect Our Defenders seeking help. “It breaks my heart as an advocate to see the same issues today that I saw 16 years ago,” she said.

I appreciate that she also pointed out that “this is not a male versus female issue, but it’s a predatory issue.” Fifty-six percent of the people Protect Our Defenders assists are men.

I feel frustrated that survivor voices were ignored during the investigation, were stifled during the hearing, and then that the hearing and the issue were less prominent in the news cycle once the military announced (coincidentally … ) the end to the combat ban for women.

How can true change occur within the military if the viewpoints and recommendations of those most impacted are excluded? Once again, I am proud that AAUW is standing by military sexual assault survivors through the lawsuits we support through the Legal Advocacy Fund. And I am glad that The Invisible War ensures an audience for their stories.

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“When we can’t protect those who protect our rights, something is wrong,” said Martin R. Castro, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as he opened a hearing on military sexual assault last week.

Invisible War

As government reports document and as the AAUW-supported, Academy Award-nominated documentary The Invisible War demonstrates, sexual assault is a rampant problem in our military. Only 8 percent of reported military sexual assaults are prosecuted, and only 2 percent of those end in convictions. Overall, reporting is very low.

Last week’s hearing was part of the commission’s fact-finding process before they make recommendations to the president and Congress about how best to protect the civil rights of military members and stop sexual assault. Throughout the daylong hearing, which I attended as an AAUW representative, commission members listened to the testimony of legal experts and people who work with survivors, and military leaders spoke about their initiatives. AAUW also submitted our own statement to the commission.

A common recommendation among nonmilitary witnesses was to change how rapes are reported and prosecuted. Right now, reports must be made through a soldier’s chain of command, even though their chain of command may include the alleged rapist or one of his friends. When reports are made, people in power have the discretion to change rape charges to lesser charges like adultery, allowing the offender to remain on active duty.

A few people at the briefing suggested that rape cases should be tried in civilian rather than military court, a procedure militaries in several other countries successfully use. The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, which AAUW supports, calls for this kind of independent review process.

During the panel, leaders from various military branches highlighted their new prevention initiatives. For example, the Navy recently hired 66 new victim advocates, trained 150 attorneys, and gave 30,000 sailors “bystander” training to prevent assault. The Army created new “special victim capabilities” and requires soldiers to learn intervention tactics, in addition to “constant” training and education for commandants, investigators, and judges.

When members of the commission asked the military leaders if they would be open to changing the reporting process and removing the discretion that the chain of command has over rape reports, the military leaders said no. They felt it was important for commanders to retain control over the reporting and discipline process.

While I am glad the military is tackling prevention efforts in a more comprehensive way, I wonder how much will change if survivors still face barriers to reporting, if alleged rapists likely face little punishment, and if commanders have so much power?

In the 22 years since the Tailhook scandal, we have witnessed a cycle: scandals of sexual violence within the military, the revelation of abuse of power, and then congressional hearings during which the military promises to do better. Rinse and repeat.

I want to hope that this time will be different, in part because there is more public awareness thanks to The Invisible War and the high-profile lawsuits that the Legal Advocacy Fund supports. After hearing the military’s response on Friday, however, my hope is waning.

On January 23, Congress will hold a hearing on the sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Stay tuned for my report.

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Research is in the DNA of AAUW. It’s a big piece of what we’ve based our reputation on, and it influences our programming agenda and public policy issues. Research provides a basis for the organization and a passion that unites our members across the country.

With every new report, we make a big splash. There’s usually a blitz of media coverage at first, and then it naturally trails off. But every once in a while, a year or more after publication, interest in the report is renewed. This happened recently for our 2011 report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.

AAUW’s Director of Research Catherine Hill was featured on Teen Kids News in October 2012. This show is a half hour weekly news program reported by kids for kids. The episode with Catherine’s interview aired on at least 73 stations across the country. In addition, according to their website, “Teen Kids News is shown every week during the school year in over 12,000 middle and high schools across the country reaching over 6 million students. This is nearly 25 percent of America’s teens — and hundreds of thousands of educators.”

To help make research matter in your local area, AAUW encourages members to contact their local schools and see if this episode about sexual harassment has been shown to students. If not, the video you saw above can be accessed online and shared with schools. Other resources that can be helpful when discussing Crossing the Line include the full report, executive summary, and PowerPoint presentations for various audiences.

If you’re planning on using Crossing the Line or other research to reach out to your local schools, please let us know in the comments! We always like to hear about the amazing work our members and branches do with AAUW research.

AAUW Research Assistant Katie Benson also contributed to this post.

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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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“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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How do people put AAUW research reports like Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School to use? To find out, AAUW Director of Research Catherine Hill and I recently talked to a few AAUW members who are applying the findings from Crossing the Line to their communities. We asked these women about their motivation, the process, and where research really made a difference.

Our members are inspired to take on sexual harassment in schools for a variety of reasons. Mardy Stevens of AAUW of Oregon mentioned that she was driven by the severity of what she learned — especially that sexual harassment “often causes life-changing direction, such as dropping out of school.” Karen Francis of AAUW of Missouri was inspired by her experiences as a high school administrator and school counselor. “In these positions, I’ve seen firsthand what is occurring in our schools and the impact that harassment through social media has on students,” she says.

From left: AAUW Gresham Area (OR) Branch members Carla Piluso, Cynthia Rauscher, and Mardy Stevens

As they reached out, both women heard stories from students who experienced sexual harassment. These stories encouraged Stevens and Francis to continue their work. Both met with teachers or school officials to talk about preventing sexual harassment and how to take action. For example, Francis held mandatory conferences with the parents of students who had allegedly harassed others. “Never was ‘boys will be boys’ accepted as an excuse for a young man’s behavior!” she says.

Francis encountered some obstacles along the way, including a lack of school policies that address the issues of bullying and harassment. To help overcome this problem she says, “We hope to collaborate on creating a model sexual harassment and bullying policy that can be shared with 65 area superintendents and offering AAUW’s PowerPoint presentations to administrators, staff, and community members.”

Members like Stevens and Francis had some ideas for other AAUW members who want to make a difference but are not sure where to start. Francis suggests that you “utilize your branch members to network with school personnel and local organizations to get your foot in the door to begin a discussion on this important topic.”

Stevens agrees. “Use your contacts … use who you know,” she says. “Meeting with the school superintendent had worked in the school district, and [we] chose to meet him informally — at a separate event — and let him know we would like to meet with him to find out more about the issue of sexual harassment in our schools. It really helps if AAUW is known in the community.”

It also helps to be prepared. Stevens says that she and her fellow branch members were ready with hard copies of the report, websites, and the ability to articulate AAUW’s history, especially in advocacy. She found the AAUW Outlook issue on Crossing the Line to be helpful as well. Stevens also found that it matters whom you speak with first. “In talking with school employees about Crossing the Line and sexual harassment policies in schools, start at the top if possible,” she says. “Connecting with teaching staff, parent-teacher groups, and building administrators can easily be negatively interpreted. The superintendent, school board members, and other top-level district staff can have broader influence.”

Good advice for a good cause! Interested in presenting copies of the research to a local middle or high school? You can order free copies of Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School and executive summaries of the report through ShopAAUW. Check out our Program in a Box, and download a copy of a presentation that you can share in your community.

Have you done something like this already? Please share your perspective in the comment section below!

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Recently, I went to Egypt for a vacation with my dad. We visited the Great Pyramids of Giza, pharaohs’ tombs, ancient temples, and museums. We rode camels at sunrise and took a boat ride on the Nile River at sunset. In addition to soaking in the country’s ancient history, we absorbed its current culture, visited Tahrir Square, talked to people who participated in the 2011 revolution, witnessed two protests on the street, and attended anti-street harassment meetings and events. To alleviate our loved ones’ concerns for our safety, we always scheduled a driver or took a taxi to get around. But when we had two hours free on our last afternoon, I suggested that we ride the subway.

I’ve spoken, read, and written about women-only public transportation for years, but until this trip, I’d never actually seen it in practice. I wanted to. I knew that Cairo had women-only subway cars.

On a crowded subway platform in downtown Cairo, groups of Egyptian women clustered together under brightly lit blue signs that read “Ladies,” while men and a few women spread out across the rest of the platform. Once a subway train arrived, everyone rushed to board. Most women piled into the ladies-only cars, which were designated by red signs above the doors. I joined them.

A few women assisted me when my bag got stuck in the closing doors. While it is not unusual to see women without head coverings on the streets, as I looked around the subway car, every woman was wearing a hijab. Sweat poured from our faces because the car had no air conditioning despite the 110-degree heat. No one talked, but one woman who was getting off at the next stop gestured to offer me her seat. I thanked her, but I didn’t take the seat because I too was getting off at the next stop.

Leaving the train, masses of bodies churned past each other. One woman sought me out and spoke to me in English. She asked where I was from and wished me a nice stay.

Next I rode in a regular car, where I was one of only three women among a mass of men. The two other women were accompanied by men who protectively wrapped their arms around their female companions. I felt much less comfortable there than I did in the ladies-only car, in part because I was so out of place. While most men left me alone, one man standing next to me stared at me for the entire two minutes. I avoided making eye contact with him and was relieved to leave the train at the next stop.

Most people in the United States are shocked when I tell them that other countries have resorted to women-only public transportation because the sexual harassment is so bad. From the research I did for my book about street harassment, I know that major cities in countries ranging from Japan and Mexico to India and Egypt have subway cars or buses that are reserved just for women.

While I’ve heard women say that they are glad when they can ride in the women-only cars and take a break from being on guard and wary of male passengers, I don’t believe it is the solution.

First, logistically, segregation does not solve the problem of harassment. Often, women-only transportation is only offered during rush hour and on major lines. For the rest of the day and to get other places, most women must use the regular trains and buses. Also, platforms and bus lines are not fully sex-segregated, nor are the streets people walk to reach the buses and subways. So there are plenty of opportunities to endure harassment.

Second, from a gender equality standpoint, it’s frustrating that governments think that the solution is gender segregation. Don’t we want integration and equality? Would segregation ever be considered a solution for race-based harassment? Why is it the answer when it comes to men sexually harassing women?

Instead, I think that governments and community groups should focus on teaching respect in schools, holding awareness campaigns, encouraging people to report harassers, and enforcing punishments for the worst perpetrators.

What do you think? Do you see another solution? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The AAUW Public Policy Department and AAUW members have sent letters to 10 of the nation’s 20 largest school districts asking them to correct their unrealistic reports that there were no incidences of bullying or harassment in the 2009–10 school year. This effort was inspired by Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, a research report that I co-authored based on a comprehensive, nationally representative survey of students in grades 7–12. It may seem counterintuitive that AAUW is targeting schools that reported no bullying or harassment. However, if a school administrator doesn’t record any such occurrences, it probably doesn’t mean that those problems don’t exist at that school. It means that the administrators haven’t been paying attention to the issue.

Sexual harassment and bullying are just a normal part of the school day for many students, according to the data collected in Crossing the Line. Nearly half — 48 percent — of surveyed students experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year, and the majority of those students — 87 percent — said that it had a negative effect on them. The effects included not wanting to go to school, feeling sick to one’s stomach, and being unable to sleep or concentrate on school work. For a smaller group of students, sexual harassment at school drove them to drop activities or classes or even to switch schools.

Silence is definitely not golden when it comes to bullying and harassment, and a lack of reporting does not mean that a school is free from these problems. The majority of students who encounter sexual harassment do not report their experiences. In Crossing the Line, nearly half of the students surveyed said that they have encountered sexual harassment at school, but only 9 percent said that they had reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult. Only about one in five harassed students reported the incident(s). To assess the real situation, we need to go beyond what currently gets reported.

AAUW released Crossing the Line in November, which coincidentally was also when the Pennsylvania State University abuse scandal came to light. Last week the Freeh report alleged that Penn State officials turned a blind eye to assaults that happened on-campus. Of course, sexual assault and sexual harassment are not the same thing. But the scandal reiterates how school culture and reputation play a role in creating and sustaining hostile environments for students. Ignoring and tolerating any form of sexual harassment at school sends the wrong message. We need to take steps to prevent and combat sexual harassment at school. Open discussions of these (sometimes awkward) topics are a critical step in the right direction, and Crossing the Line is a great tool to start the discussion at your local schools.

If you want to make sure your local school has seen Crossing the Line, e-mail them a copy, or order free booklets and give them one in person!

Kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe, so let’s start the next school year off on the right foot. Please help us get this report into the hands of administrators, teachers, and community leaders.

This post was written by AAUW Director of Research Catherine Hill.

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“I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

—President Barack Obama, May 9, 2012

Earlier this week, President Obama became the first sitting president to declare his personal support for same-sex marriage, telling an interviewer that he saw it as a matter of equality. AAUW applauds the president’s announcement. Our member-adopted Biennial Action Priorities affirm our commitment to “freedom in definition of family and guarantee of civil rights in all family structures,” and our Public Policy Program confirms our “opposition to all forms of discrimination and support for constitutional protection for the civil rights of all individuals.”

AAUW opposes any attempt to use the Constitution or federal law as a vehicle for enshrining discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) persons. No Americans should be denied the full range of civil rights and civil liberties due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Such rights and liberties include freedom from discrimination in the workplace, the right to marry, the guarantee of spousal or partner benefits — including the ability to care for dependent children — and the opportunity to serve one’s country in uniform.

While the president’s statement is significant and will have political reverberations, it has no legal impact. Yet the administration has already made significant strides toward promoting LGBT rights and equality, all of which AAUW has supported. These included repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and deciding to no longer defend challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The administration also recently endorsed the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would protect all students, including LGBT students, from bullying and harassment. Additionally, the Department of Education has declared that student bullying and sexual harassment are civil rights issues that could be punished under Title IX protections. AAUW commends the administration for taking these steps toward equality for all Americans and urges the president to work toward laws protecting LGBT persons from discrimination.

AAUW opposes all forms of discrimination, and we are glad to see the president expressing his support for same-sex marriage. All Americans are equal under the Constitution and the law and should be treated as such.

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