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Posts Tagged ‘violence against women’

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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An eighth-grader barrages his babysitter with romantic overtures in person and via text even after she tells him it makes her uncomfortable.

A high school boy follows a classmate’s every move and sneaks into her room at night to watch her sleep.

Seven brothers kidnap seven women and bring them to a secluded cabin to live as man and wife.

Image by WikipediaAh, romance. Oh wait — did you think these scenarios sounded more creepy than lovey-dovey? Illegal, even? Crazy, Stupid, Love.; Twilight; and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are all conventional romances. Yet, stripped of the attractive actors and swelling music, these movies reveal some deeply troubling behavior.

Stalking is sometimes taken seriously —  some films show that the law can’t always help and that being stalked is intrusive, terrifying, and likely to escalate to bodily harm. But far more often, this behavior is instead implied to be a normal and even preferred part of courtship. It’s romantic! And it’s shockingly ubiquitous.

Seven_brides_seven_brothersWhether stalking is explicitly mentioned and laughed off like in There’s Something about Mary or more obfuscated in something like Vertigo or Eight Days a Week, the message is clear. If someone is following you across the state and watching your every move (The Graduate) or filming you without your consent (American Beauty), it’s probably just because he loves you. And you’re assumed to reciprocate. Which might be a problem if you’re an adult human who wants some agency in whom you date.

While it’s deeply troubling that this trope makes what is actually a very scary issue for women in real life seem silly and insignificant, the stalking-as-romance theme also supports a larger stereotype about how women and men function in love. This picture of romance values men as the pursuers and women as the pursued. The love-struck hero admires the beautiful woman from afar — it’s a classic example of the voyeurism and passivity that feminist film theory is based on. Implied is that the most desirable relationships are the ones in which a woman is prey and a man is predator.

CrazyStupidLovePosterWhy is this model of love represented over and over? It’s not always the way relationships happen, and it’s not always desirable (and is even more unrealistic for anyone who isn’t hetero). Some real-life women had the audacity to call a guy up and ask for a date. Some leaned in for the first kiss. For others, it was a mutual seduction. Not all women are with their partners because they’ve been worn down. Is there something unromantic about a woman finding someone she wants and going for it?

Obviously, for some couples, the man-pursues-woman model actually happened. But it’s not happenstance that, over and over, so many couples prefer to characterize their relationship this way. And it’s not a coincidence that art imitates this ideal. Sometimes, that means romanticizing situations that should be alarming (and criminal). And other times, it makes those of us who aren’t passive women feel like our relationships don’t live up to the cultural hype. But surely we can start busting these myths about the ways that women and men should behave in love. And, trust us, the results deserve just as much windswept hair and swelling strings.

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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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370px-White_ribbon.svgWorking with Congress on a regular basis can be exhilarating and infuriating. The past few months have been both when it comes to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a policy priority for AAUW. Our members across the country have been speaking out about the need to reauthorize VAWA and ensure it protects all victims. In the last month, there was hope that a compromise might be reached and that the House and Senate would send a bill to the president’s desk. But that did not happen before the 112th Congress adjourned. You’ll remember that the Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April that would improve VAWA programs and ensure all victims get the services they need. The House, on the other hand, passed a bill a month later that would hurt some victims and fail to make the strides that we need. On January 3, the clock ran out on finding a middle ground.

VAWA — meaning the current protection and prevention programs and victim assistance that are in place — is not dead, though. In fact, as with many of our laws, VAWA will continue in its current form even if Congress doesn’t act on a reauthorization. That’s good news for the 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men who will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. It’s bad news, though, for victims who are overlooked under current law. It’s also bad news that Congress failed to listen when advocates and service providers spoke out about the need to update the law. Isn’t that what we elected our members of Congress to do? When first responders, local law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and victims’ service providers agree that a policy needs updates, it seems logical that policy makers would respond.

I can’t help but wonder how to re-energize after the long haul of the last year. How could Congress not notice the highprofile instances of rape on college campuses and do something about it? The Senate-passed VAWA reauthorization would have put in place more reporting, widespread prevention programming, and stronger policies on college campuses (policies taken from an AAUW-supported bill, the Campus SaVE Act). We need that protection before another school year starts.

I hope you’ll help me convince Congress yet again that we need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. I’m stopping by congressional offices and writing e-mails; will you, too? You can

  • Use AAUW’s Two-Minute Activist tool to look up your members of Congress and call them about VAWA. Enter your zip code in the box on the right side of the page, and it will take you to the biographies and contact information for your members of Congress. Give their offices a call to tell them we need to pass a VAWA reauthorization that helps all victims ASAP!
  • Consider writing a letter to the editor in your local newspaper calling on Congress to prioritize VAWA reauthorization. Writing a letter to the editor is easier than you may think, and we can help with talking points and sample letters! E-mail advocacy@aauw.org with any questions.
  • You don’t have to be in Washington, D.C., to meet with your elected officials face to face: Schedule an in-district meeting with your members of Congress and their staffs to discuss VAWA! Start building relationships with your members of Congress early so we can make progress on VAWA and other important issues. Your members of Congress are there to work with and listen to you! E-mail advocacy@aauw.org or call us at 202.785.7793 for help with scheduling and preparing for a meeting.

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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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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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