Monday, August 31, 2009

18th Annual Sexual Abuse Survivors' Show Seeking Artists

I received information about an event which will happen on Oct. 15 and 16 at Stony Brook University in New York which is sponsored by FEGS Health and Human Services System.

The Subtitle of the show is: A path to healing from sexual abuse and family violence.

From Holly Beck:
I wanted to share information about a very profound event – the 18th Annual SASS (Sexual Abuse Survivor’s Art Show); The SASS is a multi-dimensional project featuring the art, music, poetry etc. of sexual and domestic violence abuse survivors. The show offers a safe space for survivors to exhibit the creative works they have completed as a part of the healing process and provides a culturally and socially enriching experience for the public. Now in its eighteenth year, SASS is an annual showcase of the healing power of art for survivors of abuse and is implemented through FEGS - L.I.F.E (Living in Fair Environments) Programs. In the past we’ve been fortunate to display artwork from all over the world. For any questions, please feel free to contact me (Holly Beck) at hbeck@fegs.org or call the phone number listed below. (631-264-2915 x302).

WE ARE LOOKING FOR ARTISTS…

The Sexual Abuse Survivors’ Show (SASS) is a multi-dimensional project featuring the artistic expression of sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors. This show offers a safe space for survivors to exhibit their creative work. Additionally, the show provides a culturally and socially enriching experience for the public.
If you are near Stony Brook, NY I encourage you to put this on your calendar so you can go see this show.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 7:46 AM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, August 28, 2009

Texas Judge Kevin Fine Must Go

I previously blogged about complaints against Texas Judge Kevin Fine's post-conviction questioning of a rape victim because her rapist (now identified as Emiliano Escobar) had her on top of him.

In the transcripts this is described by Judge Fine as "odd" and in a clearly meaningful way to him. The first possibility is that if this judge can't personally imagine raping a woman in this way that no other man could ever try to commit rape in this way and the alleged victim must be lying in her testimony and has fabricated a ridiculous story about what happened.

Alternately, is the assumption that if a man tries to rape a woman without pinning her underneath him that she can always get away if she really wants to get away. With this assumption a woman not getting away becomes evidence that she freely consented. This makes physical force and death threats legal in rape cases if there is the possibility in the minds of the judge or jury that the intended victim might have had the physical capacity to break free and that this possibility in an observer's mind should always lead to an acquittal.

Neither of these assumptions uphold the values of our rule of law, but instead both uphold the belief that anti-victim bigotry should trump evidence in sex crime cases.

Now that the transcripts are out and the Houston Chronicle has reported on what happened, Judge Fine's actions in the 177th Criminal Court on July 31 have been revealed to be far more troubling and indicate to me that Judge Kevin Fine is not impartial enough to proceed over rape trials.

This is a case where one woman was raped as her friend ran for help.
After listening to the 911 tape of the screaming girls “for the sixth time,” Fine told the court, “there's no doubt in my mind” that “no means no, period.”
This 911 call which the jury heard and understood during the trial needed to be listened to by the judge 6 times before he couldn't dismiss the conviction of this rapist as a wrongful conviction. That's clear bias since what he assumed to be in that call after hearing the transcript the first 5 times was undeniably not there.

Judge Fine's baseless assumptions and bias were likely helped by the known fact that the victim and her friend met Escobar in a bar and got into the car with him willingly. It's like Judge Fine was hearing a loop of, "Yes, but she consented by getting into that car," over every bit of evidence provided during the trial which proved Escobar's guilt. This would give the issue of the victim's position much more weight than it deserved.
The judge crossed the line, [the rape victim] said, during sentencing, which Escobar had opted to let Fine decide instead of a jury. Although the jury already had found Escobar guilty of aggravated sexual assault, Fine went on to challenge the victim's version of events, doubting her truthfulness on details from her vague time line to the method in which her clothing was removed. Near the end, Fine remarked that “sending an innocent man to prison in the name of law and order is the greatest injustice this society can do.”

All of the evidence from the trial which this judge questioned or dismissed comes back to the idea that brutal force and death threats to force sexual contact are not enough to make someone guilty of sexual assault.

Under this approach, the victim's response to force and death threats must be judged and found to match that of the perfect victim as envisioned by those who may have no real understanding of sexual violence.

Not only will the victim's actions be judged, the victim is expected to remember the timeline perfectly and to remember every detail of the crime perfectly. Fear for your life is no excuse for not being able to describe every requested detail exactly to the satisfaction of the person judging you with the assumption of your guilt which you need to disprove beyond all doubt -- reasonable or not.

The lawyers for the defendant who Judge Fine now acknowledges to have been rightfully convicted will be using Judge Fine's actions as fodder to claim their client should have his conviction overturned. Any additional trauma this causes to this rape victim will be thanks to Judge Fine's unacceptable behavior.

Those who defend Judge Fine or are apathetic about his actions are taking positions which help rapists.

H/T: The Curvature.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 3:04 PM   3 comments links to this post

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rape Kits Untested In Minneapolis

I'm out of town, betweeen violence prevention meeting and MN state fir, but this story caught my eye.

Rape Kits Untested in Minneapolis.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:34 AM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MN Primary Prevention Of Sexual Violence: Part 3

In part 1, I gave an overview of the all-day meeting sponsored by Minnesota's Sexual Violence Prevention Program (on Aug. 10 in New Brighton, MN) along with the ideas and insights that overview sparked. In part 2, I discussed the role of framing in primary prevention.

Those first 2 parts provide context and foundation for the primary prevention of sexual violence. Now onto the systems which bridge the gap between the goal of prevention and the reduction of sexual violence perpetration.

Here are the 3 Minnesota teams again:
  • Messaging:
    develops sexual violence prevention messages and healthy sexuality messages for selected audiences and throughout the state

  • Policy and Legislation:
    recommends legislation and organizational policies and practices to effect change

  • Data and Research:
    identifies data sources, compiles and organizes relevant research, evaluates prevention programs, and shares data and research broadly
In the presentation from the leaders of the messaging team, Dave Matthews led off with a discussion of what the time has done so far which included developing a work plan and identifying the frame to be used in the primary prevention of sexual violence. Some of the challenges are team turnover, lack of expertise (in the group and in general) and lack of funding. There is much to be excited about in this area.

Three important concepts in messaging are: frames (already covered in last post), elephants and funnels.

Elephants are what you don't want the message receivers to focus on. Too often messages begin by highlighting these elephants (don't do this) before moving on to the intended message (do this). The intended message can be lost as people think about those elephants. Those who weren't aware of these elephants can be left with the elephant as the only thing they remember.

Elephants in primary sexual violence prevention include that rape is a consequence of the victim's actions and/or choices; and the belief that we can't do anything to reduce the rate of perpetration. While these shouldn't be focused on in the messages we need to know what these are so that we don't evoke them and instead overcome these elephants.

A resource on this concept is the book Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate by George Lakoff.

Donna McDonald talked about a previous social marketing campaign called You're the One Who Can Make the Peace. This was a 5-year anti-violence campaign. Amy Hartman talked about the smoking prevention messaging campaign called Target Market. This was a smoking prevention campaign funded by tobacco lawsuit settlement money which focused on teen empowerment by showing teens how they were being targeted by tobacco companies.

Neither of these campaigns will be templates for the primary prevention of sexual violence messaging but those campaigns can help us understand how to be more effective in our messaging.

Related to the effectiveness of messaging, the need for funnels was highlighted by a man who asked for water to quench his thirst. The first response came from another person who flicked water at him from a large container. When that wasn't enough a small amount of water was tossed from the container toward his mouth. Not surprisingly very little of that water ended up where is was intended. When he asked for more all the water in the container was dumped over his head. Each time he was getting what he asked for, but it wasn't doing much good. Finally a funnel was used to pour water from a large container into a cup so that all of the water being sent out could serve its purpose.

Like water, good messages can be wasted if they aren't delivered in a way which meets the need.
The funnel concept and graphic template used at the meeting comes from the CDC document Adding Power To Our Voices (pdf). This funnel has 5 levels which are:
  • Concept name

  • Broad message associating injury prevention with the concept frame

  • Specific injury issue and social math

  • Recommendations and research

  • Call to action
The widest part of the funnel for sexual violence primary prevention which has been proposed is: We want a community where people of all ages can live to their full potential. In a completed funnel diagram given out at the meeting the call to action provided a free 24-hour confidential hotline for Minnesota men called the men's line. This line includes providing resources for men who are seeking help or alternatives to violence.

There can be multiple calls to actions directed at multiple audiences. These funnels can help develop the specific messages which are created so that they can be presented effectively and so that when results are measured you know what actions you want to measure to determine your progress.

When putting all the pieces and tools together we need to remember that how we say things matters in the results we get. Effective communicating needs to include storytelling. When facts don't fit the frame someone has in their head the facts will be rejected.

We know what we don't want (don't rape, don't abuse) so the messages need to focus on what actions we do want different audiences to take. An example from my overview of this day was a letter sent to county commissioners asking them to create an action plan.

Messages are not limited to PSAs. They can be events. They can be student contests. They can be letters to specific people. Getting diverse groups of people involved in primary prevention will help in this messaging process. The most effective message for one audience might fall flat with other audiences. Same goes for the message delivery plan. If the intended audience never sees the message even the best message will be a failure with that audience.

Part 4 will cover the work of the policy and prevention team.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:02 AM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Understanding "No To Yes" Rapists

In the comments of my post Gaining genuine consent vs overcoming lack of consent I responded to a man using the label E(@mabtw) who wrote:

Rape is physically forced Intercourse, nothing more. [...]

If they are forcing themselves (Physically) then that IS rape. The difference *IS* the Rapist is not trying to turn a NO into a YES... [emphasis mine]

Me: "Your claim that what you do is not a crime as long as you do not physically force yourself on a woman is provably false."

He (I'll refer to him as E from now on) responded with this:

Really? you want to go down this road? Have you ever heard of "Corpus Delicta" It's latin... it means "The Body of the Crime. In order to prosecute a crime, you have to establish the Corpus Dilecta. The Corpus Dilecta consists of 3 elements: 1. Harm, injury or loss that was caused by an unlawful action. 2. Evidence linking the Accused to the Harm or loss. 3. A method for correction (Jail, fine, etc...)

In a case where a man "wears down" the womans "No" responce, and they end up having sex (When she eventualy says "Yes") Where is the loss, injury, or harm?

Where is the Evidance? (Sayso is not tantamount to evidence)

You see, you think you are doing something great, and grand for women's rights...What you are actually doing, is attempting to mutate the law to define a crime as "Emotional" harm. And you cannot PROVE emotion.

You are not looking at this from a legal perspective, so it is understandable why you are fighting for what you are. Because you do not understand "Reason"-E(@mabtw)

E has made multiple errors. I'll highlight and debunk E's claims about the law later, but first I want to highlight that E's response provides insight into how boys and men who others may think of as decent human beings can rationalize sexual assault and why premeditated sexual assaults against non-strangers are frequently committed in a specific way.

I've read enough rants from men like E to be sure of his reaction if he successfully sells his claim to heterosexual women who do initiate sex and who hold his same ethical beliefs. As long as she doesn't physically force a man she can tell herself she has committed no crime. Instead of being proud of his success, many men like E spew venom at women who are their mirror image in their thinking and their actions.

They've seen the enemy and she is them.

This type of non-stranger rapist which E is trying to protect is half focused on the sexual assault he wants to commit while the other half is focused on how he will defend himself against rightful allegations of sexual assault. This 2-focused approach could not happen if these rapists were being ruled by their hormones. This approach also nullifies the claim that the rapists actions were accidental.

The focus on how to respond to rightful criminal allegations of rape explains why certain rapists would try to turn a no into a yes before committing sexual assault rather than immediately responding to no with a sexual assault.

As more potential jurors understand how these rapists are intending to manipulate not only their victims but everyone, including all those involved in criminal cases, jurors will be less likely to believe the defense's false claims of consent.

If E were talking about women who truly changed their mind about sex he wouldn't need to keep emphasizing that only physical force counts.

On his first point of Corpus Dilecta, if E's application of the definition of harm, injury or loss were used for all criminal cases then many other real crimes of violence would have to be considered non-crimes.

For example, if a man enters a daycare center, pulls a gun on the employees and children, holds them hostage for an hour, but then suddenly leaves without touching or shooting anyone then by E's standard there was no crime because the harm to those employees and children was only emotional. And as E said, "you cannot PROVE emotion."

If you accept E's position denying the harm of sex crimes then you must deny non-measurable harm for all crimes and therefore deny those crimes.

The actual provable harm in this crime is less than in the sexual assaults E is denying since there is no physical contact and no possibility of physical harm to the victims while so-called non-violent rapes can harm their victims physically through the transmission of STDs which could include HIV.

Under item 2 of Corpus Delicta, according to E, the testimony of victims from the daycare are not evidence. They are just sayso and should not be used to convict anyone.

But victim testimony is evidence in our criminal justice system. This is true whether the crime is rape or the crime is threatening a group of people with a gun.

If sayso is not tantamount to evidence as E states then witnesses who contradict an original claim of rape which was accompanied by measurable physical injuries and DNA evidence which undeniably links the defendant to the alleged crime must be ruled inadmissible.

But E's statement of fact is not meant to be applied to anyone but to those who report being victims of sex crimes.

As far as linking a defendant to a crime, if the defendant claims consent he has provided an important link. This link is stronger than the best visual ID processes for stranger crimes such as the man who enters a daycare with a gun.

Under item 3 of Corpus Delicta, I wonder if E views failures by the criminal justice system to hold certain types of rapists accountable as being evidence that there is no method for correction of those rapes and therefore those crimes cannot be crimes according to the Corpus Delicta and must therefore be viewed as legal actions irregardless of the applicable criminal statutes.

If E believed that the men accused of rape after wearing down a woman's "no" had legal consent he wouldn't need to focus on his belief that the harm these men do should not count. If she truly and freely consented then there simply is no harm, emotional or otherwise.

But E has acknowledged the emotional harm. Negating the importance of this emotional harm is the core of his support for his claim that, "Rape is physically forced Intercourse, nothing more."

Unless the emotional harm done to those held at gunpoint is negated across the board in criminal courts and in our system of law then those who negate the emotional harm done to victims of sexual violence are proclaiming their opposition to the basic tenets of our sytem of law.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:32 AM   9 comments links to this post

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spoken Poem Calling For Men Related To Rape

The video of Kendra Urdang giving a spoken poem, which has been viewed over a 100,000 times, about rape and the way many men who are not themselves rapists actually help rapists through their silence and their tolerance of sexual violence and/or sexual disrespect (whether they intend to offer this help or not) has of course been responded to by some people, mostly men, as if she had done something far worse than committing the sexual violence which she is speaking out against.

In the comments of the YouTube video she's been called a Nazi which equates her with the perpetrators of the holocaust and those who practiced systematic genocide. And her war crime? Demanding that men stop being sexual violent and that other men start being active in sexual violence prevention.

It is telling when a man makes it clear that he willfully refuses to be part of the solution in preventing rape in even the slightest way, including rebuking men for their violence, while he is clearly invested in rebuking all women who challenge men in our society to step up and become part of the solution when it comes to men's violence against women. That man has made his values and his priorities clear.

There are times when it is appropriate to approach men in a non-challenging way, but any demand that all words from all women directed at men related to men's violence against women need to always be non-challenging forgets that sometimes it takes challenging words to shake people out of their complacency.

Those who say that non-challenging and non-angry is the way to go at all times need to live up to their own standards. If they don't live up to their demands for others then their demands have nothing to do with tone and everything to do with their core position on the issues. Tone is just an easy and dishonest excuse.

One of those truths not mentioned specifically in the video is that sexual violence is a civil rights issue. The solution to racial civil rights was not to lecture people, like Rosa Parks, that they would have been fine if they just moved to the back of the bus and never did anything which could be used as justification for racial injustice or race-based violence. Yet this is the only type of solution some people, men and women, will support when it comes to gender-based violence.

Urdang mentions that she doesn't wish the wake up call for men to be when a girl or woman they love is raped. This possibility is one that many men assume can never become a reality. Some men think the victim-blaming advice they give to the girls and women they care about is guaranteed rape prevention.

It isn't.

For men who have expressed their disdain for Urdang and other women who speak up against rape around girls and women they love, those girls and women they love may have been taught by their own words and actions that this man who loves them is not someone who will believe them or support them post-rape.

And that makes rapists very happy.


H/T: CRASAC

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:35 AM   3 comments links to this post

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gaining Genuine Consent vs. Overcoming Lack of Consent

False Rape Society [you can find the link if you want to] quoted the following from my post, Safety & Crime Prevention Tips for new Students with Emphasis on Sexual Violence:

"Sexual assault is more than forcible rape. Any strategy which is designed to eliminate rejection or overcome someone's reluctance or indecision or non-participation or which reduces the other person's options is a strategy of sexual assault."

And FRS responded with this revealing snippet:
Did you get that? "Any" -- not just some, "any" strategy that is "designed to eliminate re[j]ection or overcome . . . resistance . . . ." So if you buy her dinner, or treat her nicely, or promise to go visit her mother with her, or agree to fix her car in an effort to "eliminate rejection" or "overcome [her] indecision" and thereby increase your chances of taking the relationship to the next level, you are acting out "a strategy of sexual assault." While it is written in a gender neutral manner, make no mistake it is designed to address male sexual advances because since the dawn of man, males have been the ones pursuing and females have been the ones playing "hard to get."
What FRS is failing to notice is that there is a huge and important difference between overcoming someone's lack of consent and seeking freely given consent from another person.

Under this model a man who has communicated no interest in a sexual relationship with a particular woman can think certain non-sexual actions are earning him his way into a sexual relationship when they are not. At some point under this model the man will try to cash in his chips while fully expecting the woman who he assumes to be consenting through her gender and her presence in his company to play, "hard to get."

And "hard to get" will most likely be expressions of the woman's lack of consent. By definition expressions of lack of consent nullify the presence of consent which makes continuing an act of rape.

This model is dangerous for women but it is also dangerous for boys and men. This model makes it easy for boys and men to dismiss the absence of consent or to dismiss the presence of clear communication of non-consent as nothing more than an expected falsehood on her part which can be ignored.

This model sets up boys and men to rape and to then dismiss rightful accusations of rape as wrongful accusations.

What is the second worst part of this model is if the man directly communicated his sexual interest with the woman he was interested in rather doing task after task until he feels it is time to cash in his chips that woman might freely and eagerly consent.

Every time this model fails to get a boy or man the sex he expects that will likely build his resentment against women rather than revealing to him that the root of his problem is with the strategy and model he's using.

FRS's portrait of all men as predatory when it comes to sex slanders many men who do not deserve in any way to be lumped in with all the male sexual predators who paint themselves as victims when they are rightfully accused of sexual violence.

Update (8/23): I need to place a trigger warning on the comments from men who found this post through the Men Are Better Than Women forum.

Update (9/1): Results of a survey of teenagers in the UK about violence found:
One in three of the teenage girls questioned in England, Scotland and Wales said their boyfriends had tried to pressure them into unwanted sexual activity by using physical force or by bullying them.

The NSPCC said the unwanted sexual activity ranged from kissing to intercourse.
A quarter of the girls interviewed for the survey had suffered physical violence, including being slapped, punched or beaten.
This shows the scope of the behavior FRS is trying to minimize or excuse. In comparison only 1 in 17 boys reported being pressured or forced into sexual activity.

This behavior of pressuring someone else should never be viewed as more acceptable than physical force. Agreement under pressure is not consent, only compliance.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:43 AM   67 comments links to this post

Friday, August 21, 2009

Virginia's Guidelines On Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence & Intimate Partner Violence

I'm glad to see other states besides mine (Minnesota) are focusing on primary prevention.

Check out Virginia's guidelines (pdf) which was published by the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Here is information about the guidelines from the introduction:

These guidelines are meant to serve as an organizing philosophy rather than an irrefutable prescription for prevention work. Due to the enormous amount of resources needed to achieve all of these ideals, it is not realistic that prevention initiatives could "check off" all of the programmatic components contained in these guidelines. Rather, the questions posed by the guidelines are meant to act as benchmarks, facilitating constant improvement in primary prevention program development. It is our hope that this document will help every existing SV/IPV primary prevention program operated at its full capacity, and provide potential programs with information on how to build a foundation for primary prevention work.
If anyone knows of similar documents or online resources from other states, please include a link in the comments.

Here's a link to Minnesota's sexual violence primary prevention efforts which includes a 5-year plan.

H/T: tweet from MSU Sexual Assault Program.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:34 AM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, August 20, 2009

MN Primary Prevention Of Sexual Violence: Part 2 Framing

In part 1 I gave an overview of the all-day meeting sponsored by Minnesota's Sexual Violence Prevention Program (on Aug. 10 in New Brighton, MN) along with the ideas and insights that overview sparked.

Rather than get into the work of the messaging team as I planned for part 2, I want to begin by including a portion of an emailed update from the Sexual Violence Prevention leadership team:

The Leadership Team recommends the following frame: “We want a community where people of all ages can live to their full potential.” This frame is designed to state a shared value that can impact all our work. It is not a theme or campaign slogan. It was developed and tested by the CDC for use by a range of injury and violence topics and issues, to be used consistently to strengthen work in all areas. It intentionally does not mention sexual violence.
As I listened to the discussion about the importance of having and using a frame in the messaging part of primary prevention I realized that framing is a powerful concept which is often taken for granted. Framing related to sexual violence goes beyond messaging and informs everything we do in this area and not just prevention work. It needs to be the foundation for all prevention work and all the responses to sexual violence.


I like this proposed frame because if you accept it then you must reject the old frame which asks or demands that certain people who have committed no crime, most often girls and women, not live to their full potential as the price of preventing sexual violence.


As I was putting together this post, I thought about a recent clash of frames. The following text was included in a post at Shakeville quoting homemade signs posted in London in deliberate contrast to official signs advising women not to walk alone in a park.

"Regrettably, due to a number of recent incidents, it is necessary to remind men walking alone through the park not to rob, rape, threaten or assault anyone. Thank you in advance for behaving like decent human beings. Signed, single women who refuse to live in fear."

This modified message asks for a change in the behavior of the men who have been violent in the past and who might consider being violent in the future and fits within the proposed frame for sexual violence prevention. The original message asked for a change in the behavior of non-violent women who are viewed as the most likely victims of men's violence and this conflicts with the proposed frame.


The original version of this sign only referenced the perpetrators of violence against women indirectly and mildly through, "a number of recent attacks." The focus was on changing the behavior of women. This reflects the underlying frame in use. This was the frame which formed my early beliefs about sexual violence and it contributed to my feeling that being forcibly raped by my boyfriend meant that I had failed. For many years I never questioned this frame but once I started questioning this frame I began to see how it supported sexual violence.


The positive responses to this message given by women caused a man calling himself Masterdingo to write:

I hope it helps you ladies, but I don't see it doing anything but giving a chuckle before the next attack.
This response and the underlying frame which I reject are inherently hopeless when it comes to genuine prevention. The only general action which seemingly can be taken to avert future violence is for a significant portion of the population to surrender normalcy. Nothing can be done about the source of violence.


In the last year there were several violent attacks around Lake Phalen in St. Paul and a large number of the residents decided to reject the frame which demands that non-criminals retreat from their law abiding behavior in order to prevent crime.

Neighbors near Lake Phalen gathered Saturday afternoon looking for ways to combat crime in their community. It's in response to a string of brutal assaults. [...]

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington says, "I really think that while we may, and I really hope that we do catch the guys that committed these crimes, it's just as important we get out in front of this and make this a place where when people walk into this park they feel welcomed into the park. Because what I've discovered in my career is that places that are scary get real empty and it's the empty places that get dangerous." More than 50 people representing a number of block clubs attended the meeting in an effort to form citizen patrols.


This response from the police is much more in line with primary prevention than posting warnings telling a subset of the population to stay away. As Harrington points out if law-abiding people heed the warnings of the type posted in London the dangerous places can get even more dangerous.


While this response doesn't fit within any of the 3 team actions mentioned in part 1, it does fit the proposed frame. This highlights that this frame is not some artificial construct.


The proposed frame allows prevention messages which highlight how committing sexual violence sabotages this goal of living to the full potential not only for victims but for perpetrators as well. Too often primary prevention messages related to sexual violence have been dismissed by critics, who want the focus to be on potential victims, as being anti-male when effective messages really help boys and men live their lives to their full potential.

The way to prevent the aftermath of a rightful accusation or conviction is to help prevent people from committing any acts of sexual violence.

Sexual violence prevention can be hard to talk about because of all the sharp edges. But what I've learned is there are more sharp edges when we don't talk about primary prevention. We cannot afford to let sharp edges stand between us and effective primary prevention. The first step is to understand and use this proposed frame.

In part 3, I'll get to the messaging team.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:24 PM   2 comments links to this post

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

MN Primary Prevention Of Sexual Violence: Part 1 Overview

The following are my general thoughts and summary from the all-day meeting sponsored by Minnesota's Sexual Violence Prevention Program (on Aug. 10 in New Brighton, MN) and information from related links.

I came away from this day not only with more information, I came away with the belief that primary prevention is something which can be done and that in Minnesota the process of integrating primary prevention at multiple levels is on its way. The progress could be greater and faster with more funding, but limited funding doesn't mean no progress.

Primary prevention of sexual violence is focused on preventing perpetration not victimization. This shift of focus may seem like nothing more than semantics to some people but the difference is huge.

This is not some abstract shift in thinking about what might be possible.

This is a belief and a strategy grounded in the experiences in dealing with public health issues which have been proven to work. The public health approach doesn't promise that there will never be acts of sexual violence. What it does promise is that the rate of sexual violence perpetration can be drastically reduced by the effective involvement of many people with a variety of experiences and responsibilities.

Those who avoid thinking about the issue of sexual violence because they assume it is depressing and hopeless need to rethink their assumptions and their sense of powerlessness when it comes to sexual violence. There is a strategy to being powerful -- in a good and effective way -- when it comes to sexual violence.

Because most of the attendees already understood that other models of prevention don't work to reduce the rate of sexual violence perpetration, there wasn't much discussion of old strategies. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who as speakers talked about this new strategy thought about how it compared to the old strategy of sexual violence prevention which centered on educating people about how to avoid being victims of sexual violence.

Some of this education which gets labeled as prevention serves an important non-primary prevention purpose such as helping children to recognize when someone has violated their personal sexual boundaries in a way which crosses the line into criminal behavior. However, if a school brought in the best student-focused educational programs but had terrible reporting/enforcement policies or practices then employee offenders who were identified thanks to that education could continue a pattern of perpetrating.

The old strategy, which caused many people to feel hopeless about preventing sexual violence, did little to reduce the overall rate of sexual violence perpetration at a practical level. If there was some primary prevention messages in the education directed at young children which could help reduce the rate of sexual violence committed by those children when they became teenagers or adults the immediate prevention failure might undermine support for that education to be repeated with the next set of students or continued as students matured.

The strategy which Minnesota is using is breaking primary prevention work down into 3 working teams which have participants from a variety of sectors. The 3 actions teams are:

  • Messaging:
    develops sexual violence prevention messages and healthy sexuality messages for selected audiences and throughout the state

  • Policy and Legislation:
    recommends legislation and organizational policies and practices to effect change

  • Data and Research:
    identifies data sources, compiles and organizes relevant research, evaluates prevention programs, and shares data and research broadly
The work of each team intersects with the work of the other teams. None of these areas of action truly stands by itself. Effective primary prevention depends on all 3 areas. This structure came from what people learned from the spectrum of prevention.

In my own example on prevention education I showed how policy failures could undermine a great messaging program. Research on attitudes and behavior of those who did and did not attend these types of programs can help identify what messages are sticking. A yearly review might show when attitudes take a major shift away from primary prevention.

People who understand the importance of these 3 team efforts can help advance primary prevention where they live, work or go to school without being part of any formal team. The 3 team approach could also be used by businesses or organizations. It may be as simple as raising the issue that one area of primary prevention has been neglected.

One action which relates to the work of all 3 teams is a letter (pdf) sent by Jim McDonough, Ramsey county commissioner, urging each county in Minnesota to develop an action plan for the prevention of sexual violence. This is obviously a message which is seeking to change policies and while the letter itself doesn't quote any data or research, the data and research on sexual violence in Minnesota has been and will likely continue to be referenced in conversations related to these letters.

So far I can find confirmation that 3 more MN counties have followed Ramsey county's example (including my own) by passing their own sexual violence prevention resolution. This effort to get wider participation isn't limited to 1 letter sent during Sexual Violence Prevention Month. Multiple people will be working to expand this effort.

Those being sought to join the Minnesota effort to prevent sexual violence on a wider scale aren't just county commissioners, they are community leaders of all kinds. What I like about this approach is that it doesn't exclude anyone because it is not purely a top down plan. A core message during this day-long event was that sexual violence is a civil rights issue and in this process of preventing sexual violence we need to ensure that all voices are heard.

The saddest part of the day was the emphasis that we have to work to get many people to care about sexual violence before they can be convinced to support primary prevention of sexual violence. This reality goes a long way to explaining to me why sexual violence is so common.

The portion of the spectrum of prevention on building coalitions means that I don't have to personally get everyone to care. People who would dismiss me as a troublemaking feminist who doesn't understand the challenges of managing a county might listen to someone like Jim McDonough. Maybe at some point that type of person might realize that I am more than they assumed me to be, but they can help with primary prevention even if they never have that realization. Groups who disagree in many areas can be part of effective coalitions and that includes the coalitions it will take to be effective at primary prevention of sexual violence.

The longer I've been blogging the more I understand that a core part of messaging is getting widespread clarity and understanding of the full scope of sexual violence. Those who view real sexual violence as limited to only acts where the victim was threatened with a weapon or hospitalized won't help prevent the "not real" sexual violence and may feel no remorse when they commit the "not real" sexual violence.

An example of research which supports the messaging and legislation portions of primary prevention is included in the article entitled False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault (pdf) published by The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women. The article uses research to undermine the popular backlash message that most reports of non-stranger rape are false.

In part 2 , I discuss framing. In part 2, I will go into more specifics about these 3 Minnesota teams.

For previous posts on sexual and domestic violence prevention in Minnesota, check out my posts on Stop It Before It Starts education I attended in May.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:29 PM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ethics And Responsibilities Of Private Attorneys

In the comments of a Feministing post about the responses to civil lawsuits filed by rape victims against the Stamford, CT Marriott hotel and Carleton University, gregoryabutler wrote:
No, it's not pretty but that's what civil litigators do when defending their client against a lawsuit - and a lawyer who does not do whatever he/she has to do to defend his/her client is an unethical lawyer.
I've heard this refrain many times, but this demand actually encourages unethical behavior from private attorneys in the name of upholding attorney ethics.

Two attorneys in Louisiana, Daniel James Stanford and John Kevin Stockstill, did what they likely viewed as "whatever they had to do to defend a client." Their actions, in a criminal case, meant to benefit a father accused of raping his daughter resulted in a Louisiana attorney disciplinary board hearing against them for "improper contact with an opposing criminal witness which resulted in an alteration of that witnesses willingness to testify." The conclusion of that hearing was that the allegations had been proven.

Daniel James Stanford and John Kevin Stockstill shared office space, and jointly represented a criminal defendant accused of a May 2003 incestuous rape of his minor daughter. [general case details omitted.]

Mr. Stockstill had aggressively cross examined the victim, a cooperative and willing prosecution witness, at motion hearings. The defendant's sister, the victim's aunt, contacted Mr. Stockstill to arrange for the victim to meet with the defendant at Mr. Stockstill's office. Mr. Stockstill states that either the victim's aunt, or the victim told him that the victim wanted to meet with her father, the defendant. The ADA assigned to prosecute the cases states that the victim told her that her aunt talked her into it. [meeting set at attorneys' office building.]

Mr. Stockstill prepared three documents for the victim to sign before meeting with her father. One is an affidavit purporting to waive no contact order that Mr. Stockstill and Mr. Stanford believed was a condition of the defendant's bond. Another was an affidavit asking for dismissal of the charges against her father. The last is a confidentiality agreement requiring the victim not to tell about the meeting upon penalty of "...costs, expenses, liabilities and fees, including attorney's fees, that may be incurred as a result of such breach." The two affidavits each state that "I agree that this Affidavit can be used in any judicial proceedings involving the above referenced charges."

My impression is that these 3 documents were drawn up in advance of this meeting which indicates the attorneys were intending to ambush this girl. Since the girl signed these documents prior to meeting with her father that indicates she did not request the charges against her father be dropped in response to her father's remorse.

I believe it is likely that the girl was led to assume that the second and third documents were simply duplicates of the first document waiving the no contact order, or were just standard documents that all those with no-contact orders signed, until after the documents were signed and notarized. Before she left the office the reality of those documents were likely laid out for her with the intent to make her too scared to say anything to anybody. That would again reinforce that this meeting with her father was meant only as a scam to manipulate and intimidate the victim.

If that is the case these attorneys should be disbarred instead of being given what is little more than a slap on the wrist of a six month deferred suspension and ethics classes. The third document was clearly designed to hide the actions of the attorneys and their role in the victim's subsequent silence. Efforts to hide one's actions is widely accepted as evidence that the person taking these actions knows the actions being hidden are wrong.

If the aunt knew about these documents when she coerced her niece into the meeting she should be charged with criminal witness tampering because that was the primary intent of this meeting.

If the prosecution had simply let the case drop when the victim suddenly stopped cooperating members of the community might have assumed that the girl had freely changed her mind (recanted) -- possibly because she had made false allegations against her father. Instead the prosecution subpoenaed the victim.

Because of the perceived contrasting legal obligations placed upon her, the victim called Mr. Stockstill and this attorney hired a third attorney to represent the victim. Stockstill also provided the ADA with the first 2 documents while concealing the third document. Thankfully that third attorney honestly explained the victim's rights to her and she started cooperating the prosecution again.

The girl's father pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, molestation of a juvenile, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and indecent behavior with a juvenile. If there is any evidence that he knew about the documents being drawn up prior to the meeting he should be charged with witness tampering.

I wish this were the only case where private attorneys and those they oversee have crossed ethical and/or criminal lines in the name of ethically representing their clients but that simply isn't true. "It was in my client's best interest," should never be a valid defense. Not if we are serious about protecting the rights of all citizens.

h/t: Legal Profession blog

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:39 PM   5 comments links to this post

Monday, August 17, 2009

Judge Reportedly Questioned Whether Woman Was Raped Because She Was "On Top"

From a Houston Press blog written by Richard Connelly:

Newly elected judge Kevin Fine isn't your typical jurist -- he's been frank and outspoken about his missteps in life, which include a cocaine addiction. Now he finds himself dealing with another alleged misstep -- accusations that he told a rape victim in his court that he didn't believe she was raped because she was "on top" during the act.
I've been waiting to post on this story which was published a week ago in the hopes that there would be additional information such as the transcripts from this post-conviction hearing, but I haven't been able to find anything else so this may be all the news coverage this judge's behavior will get.

Reading this story reminds me of male judges, notably in Italy, who have refused to believe reports of rape because the victim was wearing tight jeans and the judges refused to believe that jeans could be removed unless the alleged rape victim granted legal consent. Thankfully, that tight jeans equals consent defense was finally rejected, but it took too long (nearly a decade) to happen and too many rape victims were denied justice because of this judicial bigotry.

If the allegations against Judge Fine are proven to be true then he should face judicial sanctions and he should resign. He certainly couldn't be depended on to be fair in sex crime trials. Causing one rape victim to be treated as a defendant and putting the conviction of her rapist at risk through his actions is one too many.

The fact that some commenters (read only if prepared for ugliness) to this story agreed that being on top equals consent and proof of a wrongful conviction shows exactly why this line of questioning is so dangerous and works against justice. This type of questioning if allowed to happen without serious sanctions provides instructions to rapists for a quick and easy way to escape justice. Force your rape victim to be on top of you, even if just for a couple of seconds before you complete your rape and nothing else you do will matter to far too many people who will champion you while declaring that they hate all real rapists.

At the end of this hearing Judge Fine is reported to have given the defendant the maximum sentence of 25 years which indicates that the judge's questions were based on stereotypes about real rape. So while the judge may feel the process ended correctly, his actions are likely to be grounds for an appeal and his actions may result in the overturning of a conviction Judge Fine himself now views as correct. The trauma to this victim was immediate and it could extend for years because of Judge Fine.

Here is Judge Fine's response to Connelly's inquiry about his actions:
The manner in which I went about garnering answers to my questions that I had, and that I needed answered prior to assessing appropriate punishment for the defendant, was incorrect. I should not have gone about it in the manner in which I went about it.

In other words, I should not -- probably the better method would have been to call counsel into chambers and express my concerns directly to them, demonstrating all of the physical evidence that I was looking at that did not match what the complainant had to say during [the] guilt/innocence and during [the] punishment [phases of the trial].

And then let them flesh it out with the witness, rather than me question the witness, because of the appearance that I didn't believe the witness, or was picking on the witness, which I don't think a judge should do. Although in certain circumstances maybe it's appropriate.

I think in light of the nature of the offense the better means would have been to call counsel for both sides into chambers, express my concerns, explain my concerns based on the evidence I had in front of me -- and by that I mean the physical evidence -- and then let them flesh it out.
The backtracking in this statement shows that Judge Fine has not learned from his missteps in this case. He in no way is admitting that his concerns were baseless even though by the reported sentence he gave the defendant they were in fact baseless concerns -- which in this case is evidence of his bigotry related to rape.

What he did, even by his own admission, was to cross-examine the rape victim post conviction mostly likely in response to her victim impact statement.

The different details provided during the trial and during the sentencing phase are based on basic differences in how information is presented before and after conviction. Some information will not come up during trial because it is prejudicial and not evidence of guilt or innocence.

Some information won't be brought up by the defense because it would prove the defendant to be a liar. If the defense in this case was that no sex happened or that the prosecutors have the wrong person then using details of how the rapist and/or rape victim moved would mean admitting that the original report was not a fabrication or a wrongful identification.

That is more than a procedural misstep, it was an act of disregard for a rape victim and for our jury system.

The reporting on this judge's action doesn't specify who the defendant was or whether this was a stranger or non-stranger crimes. Also not specified is whether the defendant used or threatened to use non-sexual violence.

If anyone can provide links to this case, I would appreciate it.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:18 AM   1 comments links to this post

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 76

Welcome to the August 15, 2009 edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence.

I'm now on Twitter as Abyss2hope so if you Twitter please follow me and then let me know you arrived from this blog through the @ reply or DM.

Thank you to everyone who nominated a post or who wrote a post against sexual violence whether it was nominated/selected or not. Nominations that came in after the nomination deadline will be considered for the next edition of the carnival.

If you support the purpose of the carnival, you can help get the word out about it and all of the posts included in the carnival.

Here are the selections for this edition of the carnival against sexual violence:


legal


In False Impression posted at Legal Profession Blog, we get a discussion about ethical misconduct by 2 lawyers who represented a man accused of raping his daughter and who got the victim to sign affidavits which resulted in the girl believing she was legally barred from discussing the meeting or explaining why she stopped cooperating with the investigation.

In The Road to Hell is Paved With (Allegedly) Good Intentions: Supreme Court of Alabama Opinion Raises Important Rape Shield Questions posted at Feminist Law Professors, we get a discussion about whether questioning allowed in a civil case should have been disallowed even though Georgia's rape shield law only applies to criminal cases.

In Human Behavior: Eighth Circuit Construes Expressions Of Desire As "Sexual Behavior" For Rape Shield Purposes posted at EvidenceProf Blog, we get a discussion about a ruling which made sexualized comments by the alleged victim to a deputy inadmissible.

In Student Note Examines Schools' Liability for Sexual Harassment posted at Title IX Blog, we get a discussion of student-authored scholarship in the Valparaiso University Law Review.

In Democratic ‘Blue Dogs’ have denied rights to women in Pa. posted at PCAR Pinnacle, we get a discussion of legislators who blocked legislation which would require hospitals to inform rape victims about emergency contraceptives.

In Support the Amendment to the Bahamas Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act posted at Womanish Words, we get a discussion about MP Loretta Turner's proposed legislation that would outlaw marital rape in the Bahamas.

In 'Sexual abuse of a minor' in immigration law posted at IntLawGrrls, we get a discussion about whether all statutory rape convictions should cause the convict to be considered an "aggravated felon" eligible for deportation.

In Doctor Convicted Of Rape Of Woman Hospitalized For A Week posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss a case where one of the victims ran from the defendant's home and called 911 in distress and where 1 of the defense attorneys tried to shift the responsibility for his clients actions onto the rape victims.


media watch


In A Moral Lesson from the Daily Mail : You whores will probably get what's coming to you posted at Subtext reviews and news, we get a discussion about how the story about a violent boyfriend who murdered a young woman, Amy Barnes, after she tried to leave him was transformed into a story which makes the victim of this crime the one responsible for her violent death.

In Rape Games Update posted at Change Happens, we get a discussion about how game makers are responding to protests about sexually violent games by removing references to rape from the titles and classifications of those games.

In Kyle and Jackie O, the sequel: Rape apologism. posted at hexpletive, we learn that the girl's decision to decline a criminal investigation into her disclosure of rape has resulted in claims that this is evidence that the girl lied and was never raped.

In Men's Rights Activists, Anti-Feminists, And Other Misogynists Comment On George Sodini posted at Alas, a blog, we get examples from around the Internet which show that the man who targeted women for murder in a Pennsylvania health club and who killed 3 of the women he shot was not alone in the anti-woman thinking which led to that violent crime.

In The Line: A New Doc About Consent posted at Feministe, we get a discussion of a documentary by Nancy Schwartzman which includes a hidden camera interview with the man who raped her.

In Under The Influence of Rape Culture posted at Gender Agenda, we get a discussion of a PSA by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign which shows an unconscious woman being treated by her friends as a puppet and which only seeks to change the behavior of women who drink too much.

In Open thread: heteronormativity’s effects on all women and men posted at the Hathor Legacy, we get a discussion of a show called “Anatomy of Sex” where a narrator stated, "Guys like Greg can't help themselves. They're just following the first rule of evolution: reproduce! You might say that the only reason you are alive is to have sex - the urge is that strong."

In Rape is not sex: framing and language in assault posted at Deeply Problematic, we get a discussion sparked by the words used to describe the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl after she got into his car assuming he was someone she knew.


personal stories


In Why Rape Jokes Aren't Funny posted at Gallivant by POPPY GALLICO, we get a discussion about how rape jokes which trivialize rape can make a survivor question herself and the truth of what was done to her while making rape easier for bystanders to dismiss or condone.

In Some acting class experiences posted at Genius With a Parachute, we get a discussion about how the way an acting class is run can ignore issues of consent such as a trust exercise where an acting partner touches you wherever and however they want.

In Silence is the enemy posted at Morrígan Reborn, we get thoughts about what falsehoods silence allows people to say and contrast that to the truth of one woman's experience with rape, both as someone who interceded during a rape attempt and as a 2 time survivor.


raising awareness


In Reaction Part 1 posted at Fugitivus, we get a discussion of reactions to a post which included: "It sucks to be a rape survivor and hear a joke that a) triggers you out of nowhere, and b) is about how fun and wacky rape is" where the rebuttals are to a different statement filled with absolutes.

In Despite Improvements, Rape Kit Billing Problems Persist posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion about how well different states handle the requirement in VAWA that states pay for forensic exams.

In How to discredit a survivor posted at Laurelin In The Rain, we get a discussion about the nasty tactics used to silence those who have suffered sexual violence, particularly in the sex ‘industry.’

In Rape: A Woman’s Worst Nightmare posted at The Viewspaper, we get a discussion of rape focusing on attitudes and practices in India.

In Some Torture Can Be Spoken of posted at rmott62, we get a discussion about how certain acts of torture are considered worth highlighting while other acts of torture are not considered worth highlighting or must be highlighted in a way which minimizes or invalidates the torture experienced by some.

In Curing the male violence epidemic posted at A Second Judith, we get a discussion sparked by the murders committed by George Sodini and how common attitudes about women unfairly denying men sex helped him justify targeting a group of women for death.


recovery


In Over posted at Mortality's Thoughts, we get a brief discussion about how this anniversary of rape is different from prior anniversaries.

In Congo: Clinton Announces $17M To Help Rape Victims, A First Step Toward Breaking Cycle Of Pain And War posted at Huffington Post, we get a discussion which includes insight from conversations with a boy who was forced to fight and forced to commit acts of sexual violence against women which highlights some of the complexities behind this violence.


research


In Sexual Assault- Idiocy posted at Men Against Violence Against Women!, we get a discussion of the claim, "Overall, the idea that sexual assault is part of an evolved reproductive strategy is consistent with findings from this study."

In Teenagers who are raped leave school at earlier age posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss a study done in Ireland which found that teenage rape survivors face significant challenges in school after being raped.


solutions


In Boris finally announces funding for Croydon... but still fails to deliver what he promised posted at Mind the Gap: London Student Feminists, we get a discussion of funding for London rape crisis services.

In Victim-blaming-bystander-training? posted at Change Happens, we get a discussion of efforts in Pacific Beach, CA to help bartenders and servers recognize the difference between someone leaving a bar willingly and being taken out while incapacitated where the article about the program describes potential rape victims as people putting themselves at risk.

That concludes this edition of the carnival against sexual violence. Thank you for taking the time to visit this carnival and thank you to the authors of all the posts included in this edition.

To nominate a post (your own or someone else's) to the next edition of carnival against sexual violence, use the carnival submission form. If you have any problem with the form, please let me know so your submission can be considered for the next edition.

Links to everything related to the carnival can be found on the blog dedicated to this carnival, http://carnivalagainstsexualviolence.blogspot.com/

Marcella Chester

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:04 PM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, August 14, 2009

Safety & Crime Prevention Tips for New Students With Emphasis On Sexual Violence

Now that August is underway and college students are beginning to arrive on campus I've started seeing articles with sexual assault prevention tips directed at young women. Unfortunately, some of these lists don't give any emphasis to primary prevention and instead seek to contain the behavior of those most likely to be victims.

So here are my tips. They are longer than most articles, but the topic deserves more space.

General Safety

As of 2002, male college students were twice as likely to be victims of overall violence than female students, according to the Bureau of Justice's Crime Victimization Survey. 58% of violent crime were committed by strangers, only 41% of offenders were perceived to be using alcohol or drugs, and 93% of crimes occurred off campus.

This higher rate of violence against male students is likely caused in part by the number of safety warnings directed only at women students so that young men may not act with any concern for their own safety. In violent non-sex crimes against college students the crimes are committed most often by people the victim did not know.

Drinking by college students aged 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,700 student deaths and 599,000 injuries each year according to a College Task Force report to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). 2.1 million students between the ages of 18 and 24 drove under the influence of alcohol.

Prevention of alcohol-related harm is more than an individual need for self-control since there can be strong patterns of pushing students to drink more than is safe for them to consume and tolerance or encouragement for committing crimes against students who are intoxicated. If you see someone in distress from over consumption they may need immediate emergency intervention. Learn the signs of acute alcohol poisoning.

Some college rituals have substituted binge water consumption for binge alcohol consumption but this is no guarantee of safety. People have died from water poisoning, mainly after participating in water drinking contests.

Sexual Violence

College women are at higher risk for sexual assault than their non-college-bound peers according to the National College Women Sexual Victimization survey. However, basic resources related to sexual violence may or may not be available on your college campus. Less than 50% of colleges inform students about how to file criminal charges.

"Victims of rape/sexual assault were about 4 times more likely to be victimized by someone they knew than by a stranger," from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

College men are also at risk for sexual assault, but are victims at a much lower rate than college women.

"Just under 3 percent of all college women become victims of rape (either completed or attempted) in a given 9-month academic year. On first glance, the risk seems low, but the percentage translates into the disturbing figure of 35 such crimes for every 1,000 women students. For a campus with 10,000 women students, the number could reach 350," from Sexual Assault on Campus: What Colleges and Universities Are Doing About It.

What you should know

Sexual assault is more than forcible rape. Any strategy which is designed to eliminate rejection or overcome someone's reluctance or indecision or non-participation or which reduces the other person's options is a strategy of sexual assault. This includes trickery to gain someone's trust. Proceeding when the other person cannot or does not act to enforce their personal boundaries is an act of sexual assault.

Consent is not in the eye of the beholder and is not present unless freely given. Physically restraining someone or blocking their freedom of movement when asking for consent can communicate that the only choice that other person has is how unwanted sexual contact will happen. This invalidates, "yes," or compliance as proof of legal consent. You may know that you would release someone if they say, "no," but the other person cannot know this for sure and may feel that your actions are a threat and that lack of compliance will lead to an escalation of violence.

Investigators or bystanders who try to assess whether the alleged victim could have gotten away if she really wanted to are making a fundamental analysis mistake which can easily lead to the denial of a real sexual assault and false claims against a genuine victim.

Freely given consent -- verbal or non-verbal -- must be present before each sexual activity or contact. Lack of consent is always present by default even if it is not clearly communicated or if consent has been given in the past. Mixed messages equals no consent. There is never a point where you or the other person loses the right to not consent. Consent to one sexual activity is not consent to all sexual activities.

Men who present themselves as experts at getting sex may be experts at committing sexual assault. This is confirmed whenever someone brags about having overcome someone's objections or resistance. "She was asking for it," or "What did she expect?" means she didn't consent, but the speaker feels that proceeding without consent was acceptable.

One study with questionable conclusions about the meaning of the research data found that, "men who committed sexual assault reported having had more lifetime sex partners than did sexually experienced men with no sexual assault history."

People who have been sexually abused as children may have weak sexual boundaries. Overrunning those boundaries is as wrong as sexually assaulting someone who has just been struck and left bloody by a hit and run driver. In both cases lack of resistance is not consent. Ignorance about someone else's past trauma is no excuse for exploiting that trauma.

Women in their first year of college who start drinking, or significantly increase their alcohol consumption, reported increased rates of sexual violence according to a University at Buffalo study, titled A Dangerous Transition: Women’s Drinking and Related Victimization from High School to the First Year at College.

The underlying cause is not the behavior of the victims even though students who increase their drinking are less likely to "recognize, avoid, or defend against sexual aggression." Vulnerability doesn't cause sexual violence. However, it is frequently used as a tool by the sexually violent before, during and after the assault.

Schools which dismiss reports of sexual violence because of judgments about the alleged victim's behavior increase the danger of sexual assault to their students.

What you can do now

Plan not only for your safety and well being, include your fellow students in your plan. This includes students who are at risk of committing sexual violence. Peer pressure can be negative but it can also be positive.

Colleges bring together a diverse group of people who bring a mix of healthy and unhealthy beliefs and habits. Some students have lived through horrific trauma and use alcohol or drugs to enable them to cope with daily life. Telling these students to get sober for their own safety before those students have a better way of coping is not helpful. Safety planning at college shouldn't be simplistic and isn't about fear.

Safety planning is about making the most of college or even improving the college if their policies or practices contribute to certain types of violence or post-violence trauma or are designed primarily to protect the college from liability.

Find and review your college's sexual assault policy. If no such policy exists or if the policy is vague or problematic, check out the Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) database of college sexual assault policies.

Learn where you can report sexual assaults, get forensic exams and/or get related medical treatment so that if you or another student is sexually assaulted you know where you can get help.

Remember that lecturing those you view as especially vulnerable on proper behavior or clothing as if they can prevent sexual assault can reinforce the rationalizations of the sexually violent and those who deny most non-stranger assaults. Safety talk with those who seem vulnerable should focus on highlighting and opposing the predatory habits of those who are sexually violent.

Make plans with fellow students about what to do if you witness someone being sexually violent or taking any actions which might harm another student. This can prevent group inaction when everyone in the group of bystanders wishes to intercede but is afraid of the reaction by the rest of the group.

What you can do after sexual violence

If you experience unwanted sexual contact or activity, or are coerced into either of these, even if you are not sure that what happened was a crime and are sure you want to tell no one, please reach out for support.

You may feel alone or not worthy of support or services. This is normal. Strong social support after sexual violence has a measurable impact on whether survivors will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Prompt medical treatment can improve the chances of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Immediate sexual injuries vary and may warrant medical treatment.

Those who commit sexual violence against people they know often work diligently to shift the shame and blame from themselves to their victims before, during and after the assault. Premeditated crimes may be spun by perpetrators into nothing more than an innocent mistake. Rapists will sometimes badger victims post-rape into an admission of consent. This is not legal consent. This is coercion.

Many good people don't have the skills to provide you with useful support. Friends or family may expect you to disclose to them first, but in this situation they may not be your best initial contact. If people don't respond well that is about them and their biases and does not reflect on you.

Reach out anyway to the best resource you can find as soon as possible. Do this before you shower or clean up in any way if you can. By doing this you will have more choices when you are able to think more clearly.

If you are in the US, you can use RAINN's hotlines, they have a telephone hotline (1-800-656-hope) and an online hotline, both are confidential, free and available 24/7.

If you decide not to report, preserve as much evidence as possible. If there were witnesses to some or all of what happened, write down their names. Place any items which may contain forensic evidence in a paper bag. Keep any emails or text messages or other correspondence which might be relevant since these are evidence which may substantiate your testimony. If the person who assaulted you writes you an email which tries to paint what happened as undeniably consensual, keep that too because it is evidence of an attempt to manufacture proof of consent.

If you report to the college or police and you are harassed or threatened by anyone those actions against you are wrong. They may also be in violation of criminal statutes, student code of conduct policies or federal regulations. You have the right to report these actions.

If the college allows harassment to continue they are in the wrong and may be in violation of the US Clery Act. For more information on the regulations colleges are supposed to follow, refer to information from the non-profit Security on Campus.

Many factors will influence how college changes after being the victim of sexual violence but those factors are not fixed. If college becomes a hostile environment after sexual violence the fault lies with the college and those within the college who contribute to that hostility. This is an area where support from even a few people can make a huge difference.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 1:15 PM   9 comments links to this post

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Teen Dating Abuse Report 2009

Check out the Teen Dating Abuse Report 2009: Impact of the Economy and Parent/Teen Dialogue on Dating Relationships and Abuse (pdf). I found the link and this description on Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse website:
A recent study found that approximately one in three teens have experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse in their dating relationships and that there is a direct relationship between the declining economy and the increase of teen dating violence. The study also found that not enough parents recognize behaviors that may be warning signs of abuse.

This study is just one more example that our society is beginning to make a major shift away from dismissing dating and sexual violence among non-strangers as a private matter of little consequence.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 1:49 PM   0 comments links to this post

Experts Urge Caution Over Study Included in JAMA

From Family Violence Prevention Fund:

The nation’s leading domestic violence prevention agency, which runs the National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence (funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), cautioned against reading the findings of a study published in the August 4th edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association as a definitive rejection of screening for intimate partner violence in health care settings. Calling the negative conclusions about screening unjustified and noting problems with the study’s design and implementation, leaders at the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) warned that failure to continue and enhance programs that screen patients for domestic violence will cost lives.

The new study, by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, set out to examine the effectiveness of screening for intimate partner violence in preventing repeat violence and improving quality of life. However, since both the intervention and control groups were both asked about abuse using the same self-administered written survey, the study only measured the difference when positive results were communicated to clinicians vs. when clinicians were not given this information.

In the study, if a woman in the “screened” group reported intimate partner violence (IPV), the information was given to her clinician before her visit. Whether the clinician used – or ignored – that information was not monitored in a uniform manner. In fact, according to women who were questioned immediately after their visits, fewer than half the “screened” women discussed violence with their clinicians.
If not all clinicians used the information they were given then any lack of positive results from this study is meaningless.

Read the entire statement about this study.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 6:45 AM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Serial Rapist Convicted on 39 Felony Charges

From the Evening Sun:

After more than two days of deliberation, a Solano County Superior Court jury on Friday found accused serial rapist Victor Lamar Davis of Vacaville guilty on 39 felony charges, including burglary, rape, robbery, kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault with a deadly weapon stemming from a series of attacks in Vacaville and San Rafael between 2005 and 2007. [...]

The jury found Davis not guilty on charges of burglary, rape, assault, making criminal threats, sexual battery and forcible oral copulation in connection with the first three cases that were charged as part of the crime spree. Those cases, involving three Vacaville women during 2004-05, had neither eyewitness identifications nor useable DNA evidence that would point to Davis as the perpetrator. He also was ruled not guilty on one count of robbery stemming from a 2007 holdup in San Rafael.
The acquittals are important to note because those crimes fit the pattern of criminal behavior shown in the crimes for which Davis was convicted. I don't know if this pattern was so distinctive that the possibility that another man committed those crimes is nil.

If this was the case, and the pattern of behavior was so personal and so distinctive that those repeated behaviors could be linked only to one perpetrator, then the not guilty verdicts are troubling.

An absence of forensic evidence alone is not reasonable doubt. Yet this is an idea which seems to be gaining hold.

In this case the acquittals may not make a practical difference because Davis faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. But in other crimes if the absence of DNA eliminates the possibility of a conviction public safety will be needlessly put at risk.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:48 AM   1 comments links to this post

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Carnival Deadline Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night at 11 pm is the next deadline for the Carnival Against Sexual Violence so please take a few minutes and nominate a post you've written or a post you've read.

A few people have had trouble with the official nomination form, if this happens to you, please let me know by email (my address is in my profile) with a subject line of carnival nomination or leave a comment with a link to the nominated post as soon as possible.

Together we can help reduce the acceptance of rape and the myths related to sexual violence which support rape and injustice against rape victims.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:26 PM   1 comments links to this post

Monday, August 10, 2009

Man Freed Over 2 Decades After Blood Type Mismatch Ignored

From NY Times:

HOUSTON — It was a scene replayed with alarming frequency in Texas: a 46-year-old man walked out of prison here Friday afternoon after spending 23 years behind bars for a sex crime that the evidence suggests he did not commit.

The man, Ernest Sonnier, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison largely on the strength of the victim’s testimony, even though the forensic evidence gathered from her body and clothes showed that someone with a blood type different from the defendant’s had raped her, lawyers from the Innocence Project in New York said.
While the jury's decision to convict Sonnier may have required the victim's testimony related to identification the underlying cause of this conviction and any related injustice cannot be placed on the victim's shoulders.

A bad solution to this problem is to toss out or ignore all victim and eye-witness IDs unless they are backed by DNA evidence. This does nothing more than replace one bad system for another. Only in this case those harmed, possibly irreversibly, are the innocent victims and potential future victims of violent criminals.

The blood type mismatch in this case is important, however since there were 2 rapists not one, this evidence may not have been sufficient to exclude Sonnier if the lab couldn't clearly identify that the samples which didn't match Sonnier came from both rapists.

The Houston crime lab which originally processed the forensic evidence in this case has been the center of controversy. However, most of the attention has been focused on how this impacts innocent defendants while sloppy handling and storage of evidence can sometimes help guilty defendants or be used to needlessly undermine the accurate testimony of crime victims.

Unfortunately, Victim scapegoating for unjust convictions has a long history. If some rape victims stop trusting what the system says about their cases many people are quick to condemn those victims rather than seeing how pervasive systematic problems can raise reasonable doubts in crime victims minds about the accuracy of the results of newer forensic testing which exclude the person convicted.

While doubt about the accuracy of evidence used in convictions is widely acceptable, doubt about the accuracy of evidence used in exonerations is not acceptable since it goes against the prevailing narrative that the criminal justice system's forensic errors are one-sided.

Victims may fear that the material being tested decades after the crime has been tainted or is not from their case. If these fears match what happened in their cases then a crime victim's justified refusal to agree that the system now finally has it right can be wrongfully used as proof that the victim is a proven liar or is incompetent to speak about what was done to her (or to him).

The process for identifying suspects can lead to skewed outcomes even if no injustice is intended. Thankfully there has been extensive research which shows how to avoid leading victims to a particular person viewed by police as the prime suspect or the only suspect. But the best research is useless if the results of that research don't permeate our criminal justice system.

Flawed or now outmoded ID processes can also result in correct identifications so a flawed process is not in itself reasonable doubt.

In Timothy Cole's wrongful rape conviction one of key pieces of evidence which was ignored was that the rapist was a chain smoker while Cole didn't smoke at all. This identifying information was provided by the victim and should have eliminated Cole from consideration before his picture was shown to the victim. She didn't learn that Cole had asthma and was a non-smoker until long after the conviction and did not have access to other details of the investigation.

Yet many people have talked about her and other rape victims as if they can get every detail about their case if they just show some interest and ask. This isn't true. A woman who reported being raped in Tampa, Florida and was jailed on an outstanding warrant related to unpaid fines went to court seeking access to her case files because the police refused her lawyer's request. That effort proved unsuccessful. And this is in a case where the police made public statements which implied that this woman made a false report even though they acknowledged that they didn't have enough evidence to charge her.

Despite cases where those who report are locked out or simply ignored, some people will incorrectly say that the victims are the ones who prosecuted their cases. This assumption is seen when men who have been acquitted of rape have named alleged or confirmed rape victims in wrongful prosecution lawsuits such as in civil suits filed in Michigan and the UK.

Those who disagree with not allowing rape victims to be included in these types of lawsuits are likely forgetting that if the door opens to sue rape victims for malicious prosecution then the door is opened to sue all crime victims and prosecution witnesses if the person suing was acquitted, had a conviction overturned for any reason or was exonerated.

h/t: Grits for breakfast

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:15 AM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Teenagers who are raped leave school at earlier age

From an Irish Times article by Michelle McDonagh:


THE HIGH RATE of early school leaving among teenage rape victims has been highlighted by new research findings.

The study reveals that of 18 students between the ages of 15-17 who went to the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre after being raped, 17 dropped out of school early.

A report will be published in the autumn from the Oireachtas study entitled Underachievement at Second Level – The Way Forward, but preliminary findings estimate that the national incidence of rape in the 15-18 age bracket in 2007 (the last available figures) was 373 with 362 of these cases occurring in the 15-17 age group.

Fine Gael Education and Science spokeswoman, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who is rapporteur on the report, says: “These figures are chilling, that’s almost one girl a day in the 15-17 age group who was raped during her secondary schooling. Our research shows that rape, where it happens, is a major cause of early school leaving.”

Considering how often teen rape survivors face harassment in many different countries this outcome is not surprising.

For many people, teens and adults, they can too easily justify wrongfully assuming that a girl who reported rape is a liar and treating her as such unless or until she can prove to their satisfaction that she was really raped.

The excuse is often, "a boy's (or man's) life is at stake." This excuse reduces the life and safety of women and girls into nothingness and is often used to justify actions the excusers acknowledge is real violence.

I'm sure some of those who make these wrongful assumptions will view a girl leaving school as proof of her guilt instead of realizing that this result comes from mistreatment which is too often psychological and even physical terrorism.

Even with legal proof, in the form of a conviction, that may not be enough for some people to stop vilifying the victim and to stop excusing the rapist because they buy into the lie that most rape victims are the cause of their own rapes and most rapists were haplessly lured like sailors into the rocks by the victim's siren song.

These stories of victims as liars and rapists as victims need to be pulled out like toxic weeds and those who nourish these weeds need to be held accountable for the harm they do to rape victims. Part of holding non-perpetrators accountable for harming rape victims means that schools which allow rape victims to be harmed should be sued and when there is evidence that they assumed the alleged victim's guilt or did nothing to stop peer harassment those schools should lose those civil lawsuits.

If people won't stop harmful behavior on their own then it may take imposing change from the outside for the harm to stop. Too frequently rape victims are treated as perpetrators only without the legal rights given to those accused of rape.

This behavior has been confirmed in one instance.

“In one case where we were fortunate that a victim of rape spoke to us, the school handled the whole incident very poorly. While the rape took place outside the school, they appeared to believe the boy more than the girl.

“Only when the girl got a conviction did the school believe her, but by then she had left school.

“She had lost her friends and felt she had no choice but to move out of the area,” she explained.
This school may have made the common assumption that if they treat the boy who was accused as innocent until proven guilty that they must treat the girl who reported rape as guilty. This is sloppy thinking. The school can respect the boy's legal status while also respecting the girl's legal status as innocent.

For a school to have ethical policies all alleged victims need to be treated as real victims no matter what individuals in that school believe or assume about a particular case. If an alleged victim is accused by the police of filing a false police report that person must be given the same assumption of innocence as accused rapists get.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 3:32 PM   3 comments links to this post