Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In MN? Please Support This Rally

A message from Protect Our Native Sisters Coalition...

Protect Our Native Sisters Coalition (PNSC) Rally and Demonstration:
April 9th, 2010

At least 48 rape cases have been reported in the Phillips community, 3rd Precinct, since June 2009, according to the Minneapolis, City of Lakes, Crime Maps website. Many more cases in the Native community have gone unreported. Amnesty International’s 2007 report, “The Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA,” stated that one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime.

The Protect Our Native Sisters Coalition is calling for a peaceful rally and demonstration of support for Native women on Friday, April 9, 2010. Those in support will gather at 10:00 a.m. in the parking lot across from the American Indian Center at 1530 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis and walk to the Minneapolis City Hall at 350 South 5th Street. A bus will carry the walkers back to the parking lot.

The Protect our Native Sisters Coalition urgently calls on all Native women, men, community leaders, allies and supporters to walk with us and demand an end to this violence now.
If you can make it to this rally, please come and show your support.

If you cannot make it to this rally then you can still support the prevention of violence against native women. Read the Amnesty International report to understand the problems and then help be part of the solution. Small actions from each of us who don't approve of this violence can make huge positive changes happen.

Those who commit violence depend on most non-violent people giving up and looking the other way.


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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sexual Violence Of People With Disabilities

Last month I attended the presentation Sexual Violence and People with Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and How to Prevent It by Nancy Fitzsimons from Minnesota State University at Mankato. This topic is too often overlooked by people who assume that sexual violence won't happen if people make what they call smart lifestyle choices.

I want to provide some of the great information she provided in her presentation. My comments will be shorter than some other summaries I've done because the handouts are available online.

There are a couple of points from this presentation I want to highlight. The first is that the label given to someone with a disability tells us nothing about that individual but labels are often used as if they do describe the individual. Semantics do matter because they impact action.

People with disabilities face higher rates of non-fatal violence than people without disabilities. In some areas the risk can be double. The most common perpetrators are those known by the victim. Yet people with disabilities are too often not listened to when they disclose abuse or complain about an abuser.

A key to prevention is to understand that sexual violence needs oppression for it to be widespread. One way this oppression shows itself is when people with disabilities are viewed as less credible than people without disabilities. If we eliminate what are considered the mildest forms of oppression then the worst forms won't have the foundation they need. Oppression can come through rules which help abusers and which can punish victims who get angry or who become uncooperative even when they have good reassons for both.

When it comes to risk of abuse we need to understand that institutions are the people in the system. If the people don't change then external change causes no real change in risk.

Many people use a person's disability to assume that the report is a fantasy or a misunderstanding of what happened. People also dismiss red flags of abuse by viewing those red flags as a side effect of the person's disability. Because disclosures are often dismissed some people with disabilities will talk around the abuse to check the reaction before risking a direct disclosure.

I recommend taking the time to read the handouts provided at the workshop. Also check out these disability abuse resources. Fitzsimons has also written a book titled Combating Violence & Abuse of People With Disabilities: A Call to Action.


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

Monday, March 29, 2010

Carnival Deadline Tonight

Tonight 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.

For anyone unfamiliar with blog carnivals, this terminology is used for collections of blog posts with different carnivals focusing on different topics. You can learn more by reading the Carnival FAQ.
Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:51 AM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, March 26, 2010

What Is Affirmative Consent?

On the Yes Means Yes blog where affirmative consent was being discussed, several people in the comments argued against this standard by claiming this standard would criminalize most consensual sex and would be used as a tool of oppression.

This assumption seems based on the idea that affirmative consent is limited to a dry mechanical context when the actual concept of affirmative consent is much richer and not at all foreign to how we understand consent in most other contexts and how we live our lives and even how we enforce our non-sex crime criminal statutes.

We understand that when people are consenting they are indicating that they want something or are willing to have that something and that any expression of agreement is free of duress. If a stranger grabs you and says, "Gimme your wallet," we understand that tossing your wallet is not an expression of affirmative consent. We understand the threat nullifies affirmative actions even though the threat is not spoken. We also understand that duress is judged by the perception of the person who complies. If a mugger says, "I would have run off after another sucker if he said no," we understand that this doesn't turn the interaction into a consensual one even if this mugger is being truthful.

In short, there's nothing inherently oppressive about the concept of affirmative consent. If sex was truly consensual from the perspectives of all involved then nothing changes under an effective system of affirmative consent. However, when people approach sex the way that mugger approaches other people for money then this concept will not be one they will want to embrace or want to see used in the enforcement of sex crimes statutes.

When people who resist looking at consent from the perspective of the other person claim that determining what the other person wants or will freely agree to sexually is a hopeless mess, the response they often get is for them to stop guessing and to explicitly verify consent. This is often taken as meaning that the only way to determine affirmative consent is repeatedly make specific verbal requests and to get specific verbal agreements.This isn't true, and as the mugger example shows, asking a question and getting a verbal positive response doesn't always mean there was affirmative consent.

We understand why this is so in other contexts but in the context of sexual interaction this is often presented as proof that affirmative consent is unworkable. An easier set of terminology for how affirmative consent works to determine the dividing line between truly consensual sex and truly non-consensual sex and which doesn't confuse people with false positive responses are opt-in and opt-out.

Affirmative consent is a serial opt-in system that allows an opt-out at any time and which always returns to opt-out status whenever someone is not capable of opting in or of freely expressing the desire to opt out. Affirmative consent is non-transferable. If someone wants to opt-in to something which by default is opt-out they need to clearly negotiate their personal boundaries.

This is clearly different from the mere presence of the word yes. This is a standard which maintains a person's freedom and requires the unending respect of other people's freedom. Respecting other people's freedom at all times is more complex than continuing until a no or taking a yes as a blank check, but this complexity is not a valid excuse for failing to respect other people's basic human rights even during sexual activity.

No social status or label nullifies the need for genuine affirmative consent.

Opting in doesn't require a document as many opponents of affirmative consent claim but it does require a process of respectful learning. With an opt-in/opt-out system there is no guesswork or assumptions about consent existing in the absence of an obvious opt-out. Mixed signals always means the opt-in hasn't happened. In this system a document freely signed giving another person fixed rights will always be superseded by the right to opt-out and any document not freely signed is meaningless.

For anyone who has wanted sex but who has not wanted to opt-in, this system may mean being prompted for explicit feedback from someone who doesn't want to risk being on the wrong side of the law by reading too much into passivity or it may mean others will simply walk away. Those who cannot bring themselves to opt-in may not get the sex they want. This is a better alternative than allowing rape so that all those passive willing people get sex every time they want it.

Another argument against an affirmative consent standard is that the ideas behind this model cannot be integrated with the law. But they already have been in some jurisdictions.

Minnesota's criminal statute uses this affirmative definition of sexual consent:

(a) “Consent” means words or overt actions by a person indicating a freely given present agreement to perform a particular sexual act with the actor. Consent does not mean the existence of a prior or current social relationship between the actor and the complainant or that the complainant failed to resist a particular sexual act.

(b) A person who is mentally incapacitated or physically helpless as defined by this section cannot consent to a sexual act.

(c) Corroboration of the victim’s testimony is not required to show lack of consent.
Without (c) most rapes would be treated as if they were legal and would give rapists a clear path to getting away with rape.

Since the complete working of the criminal justice system go far beyond what is written in the statutes this change in definition is just a beginning, but we need to start and keep moving forward with respect for the basic human right to have our sexual autonomy respected at all times.

So much of the history of how people and the law have looked at sexual consent have viewed a person's actual willingness as irrelevant. This must change if we are serious about preventing sexual violence.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:04 AM   14 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Selective Misunderstandings About Sexual Consent

Amanda at The Sexist, in a post titled Why Rape Isn't One Big Understanding, highlights findings from round table interviews with college age men in Australia. The researchers looked at the language these men used when talking about sexual understanding and when talking about understanding rape and compared their language choices to popular and conflicting models used to explain how rape happens.

They were first asked about how they communicate their refusal of unwanted sex and then asked about how they understand when a woman was refusing unwanted sex.

In both these scenarios the men had no trouble interpreting the whole spectrum of how we as humans communicate. They highlighted indirect verbal communication and subtle changes in body language. They even expressed understanding that people do change their minds away from wanting sex so that being alone was not a point after which they were unable to perceive a lack of consent.

None of these men would use the word "no" to communicate their decision not to have sex and none of them stated that they needed the word "no" to understand that a woman was communicating a refusal for sex. They understood women's body language, indirect statements and the change in how women spoke when they were refusing sex. There was no mention of having peers who couldn't understand these indicators.

But when the word rape was introduced the men's attitudes and language changed.

From the report, “If a girl doesn’t say ‘no’: Young men, rape, and insufficient knowledge” (PDF):
Kyle: Um I just. I just had a thought when does no mean no when does yes mean yes. I'm just wondering how this type of information ties into rape and stuff like that with common defences of stuff like that.
Moderator: Yeah.
Kyle: I'm wondering in those situations what is the thinking of the perpetrator in terms of these signals they're interpreting that are coming their way, you know.
Moderator: Yep.
Jason: If you don't give a verbal 'no' then you're up shit creek.
This statement from Jason is one that the paper's authors specifically focus on both for it's support of the idea that nothing short of 'no' can be expected to be understood and the causal certainty of what happens when "you don't give a verbal 'no.'

Since several of the men admitted that they themselves could not directly say 'no' to sex they and all boys and men who cannot use this word to decline sex live full time up shit creek.

A man named Cam follows up on this shit creek statement by undermining the significance of the word "no" as a way to avoid shit creek. He said that, "the perpetrator could actually be the victim ...." This is positioned as a disagreement with Jason by the paper's authors but I read it more like:

If you don't give a verbal 'no' you are up shit creek but you might be a perpetrator who is going 'no' and you're basically throwing yourself on him and later go "well I said 'no.''
What these men are saying in relation to rape is -- when combined -- completely nonsensical. Premise 1 is that men have so much trouble telling the difference between consent and non-consent that they can only understand 1 word as equaling non-consent. Premise 2 is that men have no trouble telling the difference between consent and non-consent even when words are involved which indicate something other than their most obvious meaning.

I might have agreed with the authors that Cam and Jason were disagreeing if I hadn't repeatedly encountered blog and web comments where men made both of these arguments.

If this contradiction is highlighted, men who repeat these types of statements are likely to blame the slogan "no mean no" for their confusion. However, since these men had no trouble understanding the broader meaning of other statements and how the same words can have meaning beyond the most literal interpretation they can understand that anti-rape slogan as:
"Expressing non-consent means there is no consent."
This flipping back and forth between men being able to understand human communication and not being able to understand it is important. Usually people will claim that it is the complexity of sexual interactions which regularly creates confusion for men related to rape, but these round tables show that this is not true.
Moderator: . . . do you think it’s necessary for a women to say ‘no’ clearly and effectively for her to be understood as not wanting to have sex or are there other ways of knowing that she doesn’t want to?

[other responses]

Jason: There’s plenty of opportunities for all women to stop it, assuming the boy’s being honourable and stuff but um they can not sort of get into that sort of situation the flirty situation in the first place or they can not go home with you an’ they can not go into the bedroom an’ they can once you’re there they can sort of like go ‘no you’re not allowed to take my clothes off’ and they can—I think it’s what’s that 30 second rule they had in America where the guy was having sex with her, and she goes ‘na this is a bad idea,’ says ‘no,’ he finishes, and she goes ‘oh that was rape’ and sort of like—so there’s plenty of opportunities for a girl to avoid the situation, and um, so, but if a girl looks you in the eye and says ‘no’ then that’s sort of the end of it.
I believe the case Jason is referring to is Maryland vs. Maouloud Baby since this case was big news in forums where rape was discussed and was summarized in this way by men who declared Baby to be innocent. The undisputed facts of this case as documented in the court records do not fit within what Jason would describe as the boy's being honorable and stuff.

The first appeal went in favor of Baby partly on the judgment that rape was only about non-consent at penetration and that continuing after consent was revoked was not rape. This was considered relevant because when the jury had a question related to this issue and the judge referred them to the criminal statute rather than giving them a direct answer.

The distortions between this description given by Jason and the reality of the case are appalling but they are also informative when looking at how these men have learned to think about the complexities of evaluating whether what was reported as rape really was a rape.

Here's Jason's benign description of what happened:
"...the guy was having sex with her, and she goes ‘na this is a bad idea,’ says ‘no,’ he finishes, and she goes ‘oh that was rape ..."
Here are the details as documented in the MD court records:

Baby and his friend (who pleaded guilty to 2nd degree rape) began as a team sexually assaulting the woman in the backseat of her car, after Baby got out of the car his friend raped her and when his friend was done, Baby returned to the car and the woman who had just been raped.
Appellant told [victim] that it was his turn ...

Q. [ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY]: And what else did he say?
A. He, after that we sat there for a couple seconds and he was like so are you going to let me hit it and I didn't really say anything and he was like I don’t want to rape you.
The defense claimed that she responded to this statement by giving legal consent when she negotiated a promise from Baby that he would stop when she told him to.

Q: Did you feel like you had a choice?

A: Not really. I don't know. Something just clicked off and I just did whatever they said.

While Baby was trying to penetrate a woman his friend had just raped she told him to stop and was pushing to get him off her. Her words and efforts were ignored as Baby continued. In less than 30 seconds Baby stopped and got off her. The limited time of penetration is the only part of this case which fits Jason's description.

The claim that this woman legally consented to Baby and the time of penetration are what had many people crying injustice. How dare he be found guilty of rape for an alleged crime which lasted just a few seconds and which didn't even start until after sex had begun?

The Maryland high court overturned the lower court's ruling which didn't recognize a person's legal right to withdraw sexual consent, but it did uphold the appeal because of technical issues such as jury instructions. As far as I can tell Baby has not yet faced a retrial.

In this case misunderstanding among those present was never an issue and neither was fickleness on the part of the woman but both of these are presumed by Jason. If Jason is using this bad data, who knows what other bad data he or his peers are using to process issues related to rape.

There is an important concept I learned in my first computer science class, garbage in, garbage out. What we were taught was that the perfect processing system would always give bad results if what was being input was inaccurate or the wrong data.

A model of understanding rape will not work to give true understanding if it is based on bad data. One huge piece of bad data is the minimization of the impact of rape if the rapist isn't some stereotypical villain or if the rapist rationalizes that the victim hasn't met a sufficiently high standard of communicating non-consent.

Another is when people describe a non-sexual action as sexual consent such as getting drunk and passing out, especially when they combine this with the too common belief that if something might happen or has ever happened when the other person is willing then we must treat that action as if it is always legal consent. At the extreme this has been nothing more than a woman agreeing to be alone with a man. If there are strong indicators that the woman was in no way willing, this belief can result in clear communication being labeled as sending a mixed message.

If misunderstanding has a role in the decision of someone to commit rape that misunderstanding isn't one of interpersonal communication, but a misunderstanding of what is and is not acceptable and legal behavior. People who tell themselves as they are committing rape, "It isn't rape because ..."are bringing their misunderstanding with them.

If people interested in preventing rape don't understand this and decide that the solution to this problem is to teach people who aren't consenting to be better communicators they are trying to fix the wrong problem.

When I've highlighted and challenged bad data presented as fact I often get the response that I want to make consensual sex illegal. Since they cling to their bad data the only explanation they can find for my position is that I'm some irrational, radical, sex-hating, man-hating woman.

When evaluating talk about how rapes are commonly caused by interpersonal misunderstandings and not by choices and belief systems of the rapist we need to look at where supporting data for this premise comes from and how much of that supporting data doesn't hold up under critical analysis.

H/T: Yes Means Yes


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:59 AM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

KBR Drops Supreme Court Appeal Against Jamie Leigh Jones

I was thrilled to see that KBR which seemed intent on making their case based on personal attacks against Jamie Leigh Jones in the US Supreme Court appeal of the ruling which rejected mandatory arbitration for rape survivors has dropped that appeal.

KBR's decision represents the first significant legal fallout from the "Franken amendment," which protects defense workers from being forced to accept arbitration after suffering sexual assault, battery or discrimination. The measure became the subject of a testy Senate battle that reverberated in legal circles and in popular culture as the subject of a Jon Stewart rant on cable TV's "The Daily Show."

KBR, which has sought to handle Jamie Leigh Jones' claim out of court, acknowledged Tuesday that its appeal might violate the amendment.
I thank Sen. Al Franken and all the senators, including some Republicans, who voted to ban US Dept. of Defense contractors from making employees who report rape go into mandatory arbitration. Sometimes it takes the prospect of losing a new multi-billion dollar contract for a corporation stop a pattern of treatment which should have never started.

To those 30 Republican senators who voted against the Franken amendment, shame on you. If your support for arbitration blinded you to how arbitration can be misused to harm rape victims you have nobody but yourself to blame for the backlash which followed your no votes.

If companies and their employees are negligent in allowing rape or are negligent in their handling of reports of rape then they need to face the full legal consequences of their negligence. Being raped is never a workplace dispute.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:51 AM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gatekeeper Sex: A Model For Sexual Assault

Many women speaking out against rape have talked about the dangers in the gatekeeper rape prevention model which puts the sole responsibility for stopping a non-stranger's sexual aggression onto the person who doesn't want sex or who doesn't want a particular interaction at a particular time.

This is a victim-blaming model of rape prevention. These rapes are often dismissed by the defenders of this model as nothing more than a misunderstanding. The announced solution under this model of rape prevention is for girls and women to be better at communicating their lack of consent. If we who didn't consent were competent gatekeepers and clearly communicated our non-consent the claim is that we would never be raped.

I've always known this rape prevention model was BS because my lack of consent was clear and never wavered yet my boyfriend still felt he had the right to force himself on me.

However, I have gained a new darker perspective on why this advice will protect nobody but rapists and new insights into the thinking used by my boyfriend which helped him commit rape and which helped him believe he had done nothing wrong.

There is a corollary model to the gatekeeper rape prevention model and that is the gatekeeper sex model.

My insight into this model which is allegedly a model for consensual sex was sparked by statements made in the comment section of a post advocating for an affirmative consent standard in sex crime prosecution, by Gregory A. Butler:
In gatekeeper sex, the man is supposed to keep asking until the woman stops saying no – so, if you are using the force of law to mandate that “If a guy’s not sure his partner is into it, he can ask.” then you ARE TRYING TO CHANGE HOW PEOPLE HAVE SEX.
A man being required to know for sure that what he's about to do isn't rape is apparently going to destroy all consensual sex between men and women.

He responded to 1 of my comments with:
“rape by coercion”?
So, being persistent is rape now?
That is a pretty extreme position – and by that standard, a huge portion of the heterosexual cisgendered male population of the United States are rapists.
Refusing to accept a girl or woman's lack of sexual consent is not merely being persistent.

I don't know what he considers a huge portion, but research into men's behavior which qualifies as sex crimes has found at the smallest 4.8% of the men surveyed admitted to having committed an act which meets the definition of rape. The highest percentage for rape, attempted rape and sexual assault is 14.9%.

In another comment he wrote:
I’m in favor of keeping the police out of the bedrooms of consenting adults and adolescents.

Bottom line folks should be able to fuck as they see fit, and if that includes the man making the first move every step of the way and the women passively giving in rather than actively saying yes (or even her getting drunk and passing out with him so he gets to “have his way” without her having to be unladylike and actually say yes), it’s THEIR PRIVATE BUSINESS and the courts should butt out.
Having sex with a woman who is passed out is not a consensual act and is a sex crime in most jurisdictions under current laws. To have consenting adults, all involved actually need to be consenting. I shouldn't have to explain this but it seems like I must keep doing so because of statement which reject this concept.

If passing out were consent then this is true even when men pass out and it must be consent to whatever those around him want to do to him unless he has explicitly made his lack of consent for that action perfectly clear.

The only way for sex with someone passed out to be consensual is for the person who passed out to have explicitly consented to that particular action. This consent needs to be absolutely clear and cannot be based on stereotypes about girls and women not wanting to be unladylike.

Butler explains why no woman who is consenting would make it clear that she wants a man to have sex with her while she is passed out.
The problem is, for somebody who thinks like that, the very act of giving that long drawn out legalistic explanation would itself be “unladylike” – not to mention a total buzzkill that would really kill the mood.
This is a circular argument which allows for the baseless assumption that every girl or woman who passes out in the presence of a boy or man, or where he can find her, is consenting to sex and refuses to identify herself as such beforehand because to to so is to admit that she is "unladylike."

In his description Butler has no way of knowing if he is with a woman who actually wants sex because those who would consent in this scenario are too ladylike to appear in any way different from girls and women who have no such ladylike reluctance to positively communicate their consent.

This means that his model of gatekeeper sex accepts rape as a tolerable outcome. Not surprisingly those who are willing to acknowledge this tolerable outcome put the blame for these rapes on women which is where the gatekeeper rape prevention model comes in handy.

The main argument Butler makes against a standard of affirmative consent when he bothers to address this standard at all rather then comparing his model to an undefined enthusiastic consent model is that it allegedly criminalizes consensual sex.

The problem with this argument is that an affirmative consent standard does no such thing since affirmative doesn't have to be words. Behavior can be affirmative. Giving in doesn't count as consent under the model of affirmative consent since "giving in" is not consent, it is surrender. Most of us understand this in nearly every other context. We even understand this in sex crimes when the rapist is holding a gun.

Butler wrote in response to a comment about why people in the BDSM community developed communication practices to ensure that all their interactions are consensual:
Indeed, the ethics voluntarily adopted by the BDSM community are admirable – but the key word is that your community VOLUNTARILY adopted those ethics, they weren’t imposed forcibly from outside.
This is positioned as much more liberating than it really is since it ignores all those who were falsely labeled as consenting. The conflict is forcing ethics vs. forcing sex by refusing to back off in the face of non-consent. Butler has effectively declared the first to be the greater evil.

Myself and many others who have been targeted by those without the sexual ethics to only have sex with those who are freely consenting disagree that sexual ethics should be completely voluntary. And for that we are frequently called radical and worse.

If the idea of ensuring that all sexual interactions are genuinely consensual is a radical idea that shows that radical change is needed immediately. If voluntary is a must according to Butler's worldview then ensuring that the other person is a volunteer is also a must. And yet Butler writes:
The cold hard reality is, we live in a country where the gatekeeper model is the default for the overwhelming majority of cisgendered straight folks. There are exceptions, of course, but those are the minority.

Because of that, straight men learn from hard experience that the only way to be successfully sexually active with women is to be the aggressor, who’s always ready to test a woman’s limits.
If a man is successful by continuing beyond a woman's limits then he is a successful sex criminal, and he is an utter failure at consensual sex. If he is surrounded by men who are also following this same model that doesn't indicate that the model is valid, only that it is common.

The distortion goes beyond girls and women's alleged need to avoid appearing to be unladylike:

What will help?

In part, increasing economic equality for women – because female economic dependence on males is the foundation of gatekeeper sex. A woman who needs a man to support her is, by necessity, going to have to ration out her sexuality to the highest bidder.
This explanation provides a handy way for a man using this model to explain away the absence of any enjoyment from a woman who did not affirmatively communicate her consent in word or action. If she is reacting badly it is just because of the economic reality of women and couldn't be because she is being raped.

This is also a handy way for a man to justify using economics as a form of sexual coercion. If women's inequality and subsequent economic vulnerability is the primary means of him getting sex from women then men who follow this model will likely resist women's economic equality.

The philosophy held by Gregory Butler and those who agree with him seems to be: "Don't tread on me, but let men tread on women."


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:29 PM   14 comments links to this post

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ohio Judge Orders Teen Rape Victims To Take Polygraphs

First, a little background on polygraphs and rape victims.

The practice of requiring those who report having been raped to take polygraph exams used to be common and often was used as a barrier which victims had to jump in order to have their reports fully investigated. Since this was never a standard practice for all other crime victims this usage was discriminatory and gave investigators an excuse to not do a full and competent investigation.

A rape victim's refusal to take a polygraph exam was a handy excuse to declare a case to be an unfounded or a false report rather than being listed as an unsolved criminal report. This made police agencies look much better at rape investigations than they really were.

Many of the justifications for using polygraphs to determine what happened indicated that those wanting to use the polygraph exams were incompetent at their jobs or were clueless about the differences between consensual sexual actions and nonconsensual ones.

Polygraphs are not reliable enough to serve any investigative purpose. They are controversial even when they are used post-conviction and post-sentencing.

Where polygraph exams have been shown to be successful and reliable is in helping to coerce someone to give a false confession. Those who speak out against false confessions often are so focused on male suspects that they don't even consider that girls and women who recant their reports of rape may have been coerced into false confessions.

The use of the polygraph exam as a standard part of rape investigation procedures was central to the recantations which were listed in a study by Eugene Kanin which claimed that a rate of 41% recantations equaled a rate of 41% false reports of rape. Kanin didn't verify this transference but simply accepted it as fact. The number of verified false reports in this study was zero, but that doesn't stop many people from continuing to call this an objective study on false rape reports.

This background is why this Ohio judge's orders are so disturbing.

From the Cleveland Plains Dealer:

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Juvenile Court judge has ordered at least four teenage girls who were victims of sexual assault to submit to polygraph tests, baffling prosecutors and upsetting the victims.

Cuyahoga Juvenile Court Judge Alison Floyd ordered victims in separate cases to be examined after she had found their attackers delinquent, the Juvenile Court equivalent of guilty.

Floyd also ordered the teenage boys who were accused of rape and other sex crimes in those cases to undergo polygraph examinations as part of an assessment done before the teens would be sentenced.
This order violates the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) ban on polygraphs of those who report rape. The girls, who this judge has no authority over, have refused this order. Since this order related to pre-sentencing assessment this judge may use those refusals to not sentence the boys found delinquent or she may use them to give the boys inappropriately light sentences.

The very act of issuing this order causes harm and is deeply problematic as it supports stereotypes about the dishonesty of girls and women who report rape.
"The situation made no sense to us," the mother of a 16-year-old victim said in a message relayed through Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Director of Advocacy Ashley Hawke.

"I believe even more damage was done by the judge letting the perpetrator know she was ordering the victim to take the polygraph. He apparently took this to mean the judge did not believe her and he used this to tell their peers that the judge did not believe her and was ordering her take a lie detector test," the mother wrote.
Since harassment of teen rape victims is appallingly common and can have a devastating impact, this judge's order may be a direct contributor to increased harassment against the girls ordered to take polygraph tests.

If that harassment scares a rape victim who reported away from cooperating with the system those who do the harassment will likely feel smug that they were harassing someone who was lying when they were actually practicing witness intimidation.

This order if it is not struck down will have an intimidation effect on other young rape victims in this jurisdiction.

If this judge cannot make a reasonable assessment in sentencing a boy she assessed as guilty without a polygraph of the rape victim then she's incompetent and either needs more training or she needs a different job.
Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:39 AM   1 comments links to this post

Friday, March 19, 2010

1 In 7 Women Students In UK Survey Have Been Victims Of Sexual Assault Or Violence

A recent UK survey of 2000 women by the National Union of Students is summarized in a report titled Hidden Marks (pdf).

Here are some of the findings of this survey from the NUS Women's Campaign:

1 in 7 women students (14%) has been the victim of serious sexual assault or serious physical violence while at university or college, according to the results of a survey conducted by NUS today.

NUS’ ‘Hidden Marks’ survey, which gathered over 2,000 responses from women students in the UK, also found that:

• 12% have been stalked while at university or college
• In 60% of these cases of sexual assault or stalking, the perpetrator was also a student
• Only 4% of women students who have been seriously sexually assaulted have reported it to their institution
• Only 10% of women students who have been seriously sexually assaulted have reported it to the police
• Of those who did not report serious sexual assault to the police, 50% said it was because they felt ashamed or embarrassed, and 43% because thought they would be blamed for what happened.
While the levels of violence highlighted in this report could be seen as nothing more than depressing news which many people may not want to think about, this data can and should be used as evidence to demand that college administrators have primary prevention plans in place which address the dynamics of violence committed by students and by non-students.

These plans need to be in sync with effective systems of response since ineffective response systems often communicate that certain offenses are not truly a big deal. This dismissiveness can be communicated by what people say but it can also be communicated by having a system which doesn't meet the most basic needs of those who try to use it.

The survey found that more than 4 in 10 victims of serious sexual assault tell nobody about the crime committed against them. This statistic is a much needed reminder for those who believe they would know if someone close to them was raped.

While I wasn't raped in college I understand the societal pressures and the personal needs which cause so many sexual assault victims to tell nobody for years or, like me, for decades. Some of those pressures have eased, but too many of those pressures are still being applied. Often these pressures are applied when people inform girls and women about how not to be raped rather than informing people about their responsibility to not rape which includes the responsibility to ensure the other person is freely consenting and to never use the likelihood of consent as a substitute for actual consent.

The demands of being a student can be stressful even without the trauma which comes from a sexual assault. I don't know if any college has a fully effective system for making sure that student crime victims have the resources they need to balance recovery, reporting and their original collegiate goals.

Because this survey data is available, college administrators in the UK cannot claim ignorance if they are doing nothing effective to prevent and respond to the types of violence this survey measured. If they fail to act, they are doing so by choice. They need to be held accountable for that choice.

Too often what are called prevention plans are actually reactive plans which at best do nothing to change the underlying risk and which at worst increase the underlying risk by providing rationalizations for violence against women and by shaming certain victims.

These plans need to have measurable goals which can be linked to increased safety and reduced secondary trauma for victims. To evaluate the effectiveness of these plans this survey and others which measure related attitudes and behavior need to be repeated regularly.

When more than a third of the respondents report sometimes feeling unsafe visiting college buildings in the evening, that indicates that colleges have failed. According to the report these feelings of unsafeness were related most commonly to harassment and intimidation.

Too often harassment and intimidation have been positioned as normal male behavior such that women who are bothered by these are considered to be the problem. These women are often told to get thicker skins or to project more confidence.

The reality is that what makes women feel unsafe needs to be viewed as actually making women unsafe. Too often women's perceptions are dismissed if men's perceptions are not the same. Some of those men who feel safe while women feel unsafe are doing the harassing and intimidating. Other men don't feel unsafe because they are not targeted by those doing the harassing and intimidating.

The other way this lack of safety gets wrongfully dismissed is for the feelings of women students who feel safe to nullify the validity of other women's perceptions and experiences.

All of these nullifications can be seen for what they are when they are compared to measurements of actions which make students unsafe such as stalking and sexual assault. When 14% of respondents report having experienced a serious sexual assault or a serious non-sexual assault then UK college campuses and the surrounding areas are clearly not safe no matter how many students feel safe.

The report does more than communicate what has happened, it provides recommendations. The 2 main recommendations are for colleges to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and violence and for colleges to develop a cross-institutional policy to tackle violence against women.

Many schools in the US have adopted various zero-tolerance policies yet didn't develop any deeper policies related to actively preventing the actions they didn't want to tolerate. If prevention efforts failed they failed because they weren't effective not because prevention can never be effective.

A school with a no violence policy needs to recognize and allow appropriate defensive violence yet many schools fail in this area. If this failure to recognize genuine self-defense is combined with a failure to recognize and stop sexual violence then victims of sexual violence can be victimized by individuals and by the system.

In this scenario, a zero-tolerance policy could increase the amount of sexual violence because those targeted know they will be punished if they fight off the student sexually assaulting them and those targeting them know this as well and know that without self-defensive violence the student they raped may be slandered as suffering from nothing more than morning after regret.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:24 AM   9 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Many Victims of Family Violence Not Getting Help They Need

There is a new report called Not Enough: What TANF Offers Family Violence Victims (pdf) which comes from a joint effort between Legal Momentum and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.

From the press release on this report:
Washington, D.C. Bureaucratic black holes, indifferent or hostile staff members, inadequate benefits, and shortsighted procedures and policies are preventing many family violence victims from getting the resources they need to escape abuse. According to an unprecedented new national survey of service providers, problems like these plague the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, effectively stopping victims of abuse from accessing help when they need it most.
This report is a must read for everyone who has ever asked, "Why don't they leave?" or who is ever asked this question. Failures in systems meant to help victims of violence can be more than frustrating, they can result in people dying.
Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:29 AM   3 comments links to this post

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

4th Blog Anniversary

Today is the fourth anniversary of Abyss2hope.

When I started this blog on March 17, 2006 I only had a vague idea of what I would do with this blog based on the desire to continue taking action after I could no longer volunteer for 9 hour or 15 hour shifts on my local sexual assault crisis line as I had done for over 9 years. I wanted to be able to share the insight I wish someone had been able to share with me soon after I was raped by my boyfriend at age 15.

Not being able to find anyone who could understand what had been done to me and to have those I did reach out to fail because of their ignorance sent me into an emotional abyss which could only be relieved by self-medication. I was stuck for too long believing the lies of seemingly decent people who excuse most rapists and who blame most rape victims.

If the resources which are available today in the US had been available back then, so much of my pain from my rape would have been averted or reduced. Unfortunately, even with the resources we have today boyfriends who aren't much different from mine are continuing to rape their girlfriends and they are continuing to find people willing to join them in blaming the girlfriends for violence committed by boyfriends.

Too many people even in 2010 position rape as the inevitable response to the rape victim's lifestyle rather than looking at rape as the reasoned response to bystander apathy and/or enablement. Thankfully, I am not alone in speaking out against the bigotry directed at sexual assault victims which helps keep the cycle of violence going strong.

Many non-profit organizations which weren't even an idea the year I was raped are making significant progress toward prevention and toward helping those who have experienced sexual violence.

I recommend that everyone read an article titled Understanding the Relationship Between Prevention and Intervention Strategies to Stop Sexual Violence by Caroline Palmer, Staff Attorney, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. This article begins with:
Sexual violence is a significant public safety and public health challenge that touches the lives of everyone, directly or indirectly. In Minnesota, United States, alone over 61,000 residents were sexually assaulted in just one year (2005).[1] In that same year sexual violence cost Minnesota approximately $8 billion or $1,540 per resident; this is 3.3 times the costs incurred by alcohol-impaired driving.[2] Despite growing awareness, sexual violence remains an endemic problem, meaning that it has become an expected occurrence – essentially a social norm that Minnesota shares with other states and the United States shares with other countries.
Despite the continued presence of attitudes which enable rapists I have seen significant and sweeping progress in these last 4 years and see the potential for so much more progress in both the short term and long term so that rape will become as rare as the denialists claim it is today.

The leading edge of the work to stop sexual violence is changing from simple awareness to primary prevention of sexual violence. This is the type of work which could have changed my boyfriend's feeling of entitlement so that wouldn't have even considered forcing himself on me.

While I cannot fully imagine what my life would be like today without having been subjected to sexual violence, I can imagine other lives without sexual violence. And I can imagine the life of sexual violence survivors without the risk of more sexual violence and without ignorant people condemning them while ignoring rapists until those rapists abduct, rape and murder someone.

I am glad to be an active volunteer in primary prevention efforts within Minnesota. If I could afford to do so I would do even more than I'm doing now. Unfortunately, I'm at the limit of what I can afford to volunteer and the money I've received from web ads and donations hasn't even covered my expenses. I'm not complaining and would not exchange the thousands of hours I've volunteered officially and unofficially for anything.

This year's blog anniversary and my thoughts about the coming year are different since I need to move in the next few months. Because of this change I've decided to look at jobs beyond Rochester, MN which would allow me to use my skills and insights to advance the work being done to reduce the overall rate of sexual violence.

If anyone hears of any job openings either full time or freelance in the US related to sexual violence prevention please let me know. Also if you would like to help support the work I'm doing please consider giving a financial gift. These make a difference financially, but they also help me to have the heart to continue speaking out about violence which continues to break my heart.

Thank you to those who started blogging about sexual violence before I started and thank you to those who started more recently. And thank you to all those who read this blog with open hearts, especially to those who have let me know that my words have helped them feel less alone.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:46 AM   6 comments links to this post

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Inevitability of Rape?

A post titled, Rape Victims "Asking For It?" and Youtube Inanity in the latest edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence highlights a series of YouTube videos.

Even the videos which promote incorrectly putting responsibility onto certain rape victims raise important issues because they highlight people's views about the causes of rape. When faulty reasoning about causation is published it can be analyzed and that can lead to people who incorrectly accepted that reasoning to switch their thinking in ways which effectively help to prevent rape.

Much of the faulty beliefs have been sold for decades or longer as simple common sense when they are only common.

The attitudes expressed in videos posted by a man who calls himself ThoughtfulAtheist are still too pervasive and they are too often defended as logical when their logic does not hold up under critical analysis. These dangerous flaws in thinking contribute to rape which means that those who focus on the victim while claiming to want to prevent rape need to be called out for their role in positions which impede the prevention of rape.

A common defense for positioning most rape victims as having responsibility for their own rape is that to do otherwise is concede that girls and women are powerless against rape and by inference that we as a society are powerless against rape. If we as a society cannot change the behavior of potential rape victims then we allegedly cannot do anything about the behavior of rapists prior to their next rape.

This claim that rape victims either take responsibility or admit that all girls and women are powerless sets up a false choice which allows people to ignore the pervasiveness of sexual violence which causes there to be no safe neighborhood and no safe lifestyle.

ThoughtfulAtheist who posted the initial video (now withdrawn from public viewing) says in a video titled: Was she asking for it? Part 2 about a friend of his who was raped (at around 5:50) after a disclaimer about holding the woman's rapist responsible for rape:

What I also do not trivialize, however, is her role in the events leading up to that inevitability. She placed herself in a situation that was going to create a negative thing happening. And most likely of the kind that eventually came to fruition. Which was that she was raped. And for that, for creating that opportunity, that is what I hold her responsible for. And that is what she should hold herself responsible for.

I might also add, that being said, I made a very, very poor choice of words in calling her a drunken slut. To be honest with you the 2 thoughts were really quite separate for me, but [...] She was acting as a drunk and she was acting as a promiscuous woman, okay. [lists various descriptors] She was acting in a very stupid way which that ultimately was going to lead to a negative action. And a negative action [her being raped] occurred. Period. That is the end of her responsibility.

First, I do not believe his claim that his labeling her as a drunken slut is in any way separate from his belief that her rape was inevitable.

What she did immediately prior to being raped (described here at 3:15) was walk home alone from a party in her own apartment complex and place her key in the door of her apartment. What this means is that according to ThoughtfulAtheist this girl's lifestyle caused a man to decide to stalk her and rape her. What power we women have to compel men to stalk us intent on rape simply by our lifestyle choices.

Put this way I hope that the nonsensical nature of this alleged causation becomes clear to those who listen to ThoughtfulAtheist and who nod because they've heard these warnings about what happens to certain women if they don't listen to the lecturers.

There have been several cases which made the news where someone who committed a sexual assault believed the target had gotten herself drunk and proceeded specifically on that basis when that wasn't why the victim was vulnerable. The latest such case to make the news is a woman whose drink was spiked and who was then sexually assaulted in the ambulance on the way to the hospital by an attendant. There likely have been many more sexual assaults where the attackers beliefs about the victim bringing rape upon herself were what triggered the attack.

Near the end of the Part 2 video ThoughtfulAtheist admits that part of the reason he created the initial video was to poke and prod people, but this is a lame excuse for the harm he did to his unnamed acquaintance and to many other rape survivors and to many girls and women who will be viewed as taking actions which others will claim will lead to their own rapes.

As I've highlighted before this belief about certain victims causing their own rapes leads to many people being unwilling to convict someone they know is guilty of rape. ThoughtfulAtheist may disagree with these people, but he is helping them defend letting certain rapists go free.

His labeling of someone else as a slut is also not separate from the danger he discusses. I believe this labeling by ThoughtfulAtheist and others had a causal link to this woman's rape which was a thousand times stronger than the alleged causal link ThoughtfulAtheist is promoting. But I don't see him taking any responsibility for his role in making rape inevitable for this particular girl.

He lectured her prior to her rape so in his view his hands are clean and he has every right to publish a series of "I told you so" videos. I disagree.

Since ThoughtfulAtheist claims to be open to learning, he should be willing to learn how his actions, his words and his beliefs have a contributory role to rape. Yet each response video and each comment he makes shows that the last thing he wants is to learn if that means letting go of his illogical belief that he is completely in the right and completely blameless.

In the Rape: Famous Last Words video he does as many others who hold similar positions do and that is to dismiss the backlash against his claims as illogical, emotional and based on a lack of understanding of his true position. Any criticism not presented within certain parameters is simply ignored and those who do this criticizing are dismissed as inferior.

This dismissal is not logical, but is evidence of laziness and a lack of caring about the very topic he claims to care about: preventing rape. People who are angry are not automatically wrong yet ThoughtfulAtheist positions them as such when they are angry at him. Taking responsibility for actions which contribute to rape is for others, not for ThoughtfulAtheist or for those who agree with him.

If ThoughtfulAtheist is in a social circle such that a rape is inevitable when women within that social circle take certain actions or make certain lifestyle choices then there is something highly toxic in that environment which puts all women who interact with those people at increased danger of being raped.

The baseline toxicity in that group is the problem, not the woman's actions within that toxic environment which change that environment from having a pervasive latent potential for rape to the inevitability of rape against her.

In clips from the original video included in an excellent response video, ThoughtfulAtheist is shown saying (around 1:10) :

We knew a girl. She started to become a bit more promiscuous. Started to drink significantly more. Really, really, significantly more. And for no apparent reason. She kind of became known, in a certain circle, as the girl you could get with if you were down and out for the evening.
BigDickAndLittleJohn rightfully points out that this is no excuse for rape, but something else stands out for me in this statement by ThoughtfulAtheist.

That something else is the role of the general opinion of this girl in leading to her rape. If this girl (or woman) is positioned as someone who is available to anyone who wants her that puts her in danger of sexual violence and gives rapists an easy excuse for ignoring that girl's lack of consent.

Those putting her in danger are the people who let it be known that you could "get with" her and those who did not speak up against this consent by proxy.

Yet instead of seeing how this general opinion contributed to this act of sexual violence, ThoughtfulAtheist presents it as evidence against this girl who is later raped. Men, and possibly women, were communicating blanket consent on this girl's behalf and ThoughtfulAtheist cannot -- or more likely will not -- see how that communication on the part of people he knew and did not criticize played a role in this rape.

Further, ThoughtfulAtheist has a friend or acquaintance who was suddenly drinking significantly more alcohol for no apparent reason and rather than viewing this as a possible signal that this girl might be struggling with some type of serious issue and using alcohol to cope, he simply jumps to the conclusion that she's a drunken slut and that he must lecture her.

ThoughtfulAtheist says he and other people talked to this girl about her behavior before she was raped, but it doesn't sound like any of them approached her with any genuine interest in listening to her. All they seemed interested in was lecturing her so that they could feel blameless when she was raped.

ThoughtfulAtheist doesn't mention talking to any boys or men who exploited her increased alcohol consumption and doesn't talk about warning other boys and men about the dangers of using what was "known" about this girl to justify their behavior toward her.

This doesn't sound very thoughtful to me. It certainly doesn't sound like the response of a friend. He said he knew it was inevitable that she would be raped which means he knew that someone around this girl would rape her yet all he did was focus on her behavior.

Those who repeated this narrative about her availability, or who let it stand unchallenged, basically helped point rapists in her direction.

Many survivors of sexual violence react to rape by behaving exactly as this girl behaved prior to this disclosure of rape. Sudden alcohol abuse and sudden promiscuity. They are often in shock and may not be able to fend off unwanted sexual advances or may feel there is no reason to do so.

This means that boys and men who are gleefully exploiting someone still reeling from rape or who is suddenly vulnerable for another reason may feel morally superior to her and may have no problem sending others to join him in exploiting a girl with no defenses. This exploitation can easily cross the line from heartless to criminal.

That certain circle sounds like it approved of using whatever issue led to this girl's increased drinking as nothing more than an opportunity to encourage more guys to exploit her sexually. This means that the particular rapist ThoughtfulAtheist condemns might not be this girl's first rapist or even her second rapist. One of those possible rapists might have been among those who let it be known to ThoughtfulAtheist that this girl was available for the taking. Maybe even the first man to do so.

What better way to cover your tracks than to sic your entire circle on someone you recently raped. Who is going to believe you raped someone with her reputation? ThoughtfulAtheist simply accepted all stories about this girl's constant sexual willingness without question or thought and passes them on as fact.

If people genuinely care about preventing rape the lesson they should learn from ThoughtfulAtheist is that they need to deal with the underlying danger in their neighborhood and their social circle and seek to reduce the inevitability of danger to those who are viewed as acting stupidly.

If it is "known" that someone is constantly available that should be a reason to urge others to be extra cautious to ensure that the available person is freely consenting. If someone is believed to always say yes then those to whom she says no may find it easier to rationalize raping her to take what that person believes every other guy gets.

In the video by ThoughtfulAtheist called Rape: Famous Last Words, he presented an analogy between this girl and the owner of a house left unlocked.

His position that this girl's rape was an "inevitable conclusion" of her actions, just as it is an "inevitable conclusion" that an unlocked door will eventually be opened by a criminal, fails to account for the direct role of bystanders in the rape he discusses.

To make the burglary example parallel, he would need to include friends of the person with the unlocked door telling everyone in their circle that if they ever need anything, all they have to do is go to this friend's house and take whatever they find there. After all the door is never locked and this person never says no when people ask for something he owns.

If the homeowner arrives home and is assaulted upon entering his house by someone who was told about this home's vulnerability by the homeowner's friends those most responsible for creating this danger are the ones who let everyone know about that unlocked door and who helped thieves feel entitled to everything in that home.

It isn't surprising to me that when people who focus their criticism on victims omit critical elements when they create their non-sex crime analogies. To them those critical elements are meaningless noise which nobody should focus on. I notice these critical details and I will not excuse those who blame victims or who help create situations where rape is more likely while glossing over their own contributions to sexual violence.

If ThoughtfulAtheist wants to talk about the need for responsibility from non-rapists, he needs to start by taking ownership of his own contributions to this girl's rape. Only when he correctly identifies and deals with the responsibility of all bystanders and all potential rapists so that no other girl he might know can ever face rape as an inevitable outcome should he even think about placing any responsibility onto any rape victims.

If he isn't ready to deal with the responsibility of bystanders and potential rapists then he isn't committed to preventing any rapes.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:13 AM   4 comments links to this post

Monday, March 15, 2010

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 90

Welcome to the March 15 edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence.

Quick FYI for those unfamiliar with blog carnivals and who wonder about this terminology, the term refers to collections of related blog posts. Check out for more information.

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:

creative expression

In All I needed to know he taught me when I was 5, You stole from me! and Her Voice is Never Heard posted at Saving Grace, we get 3 creative outlets for a survivor's pain.


In Women Calling from India: Demand Equality and Respect, not Conflict posted at Breaking News Online, we get a discussion about the important changes in women's status in India.


In Nevins-Saunders on Mental Retardation and Statutory Rape posted at CrimProf Blog, we get information about a paper which discusses how a defendant's mental capacity isn't considered in statutory rape laws.

In Rape conviction reversed over lack of evidence of victim's mental incapacity posted at New York Criminal Law and Procedure, we get a discussion of an appeals court ruling which overturned the conviction of a defendant with an IQ of 64. The ruling was that inability to give legal consent is more complex than just looking at the individual's mental capacity and needs to look at whether the context was exploitative.

In Rape victim jailed for making "false" allegations posted at The F-Word Blog, we get a discussion of a case where some believe a woman has been wrongfully convicted of perverting the course of justice when she reported having been raped.

In Focusing on Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: What Judges Can Do posted at Legal Momentum Briefing Room, we get a discussion about how judges can encourage law enforcement, prosecutors and victim's advocates to focus on rape committed by intimate partners.

In Finding Fault In The Binary Of Guilt posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I discuss a comment made by a man who declared that he would be unlikely to convict a man proven guilty of rape if that man's victim made choices which are often used to blame the victim for her own rape.

In Cambodian Police Often Require Bribes Before Investigating Rape Cases posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion of a shameful practice.

In Douglas McGregor, Nurse at Old Folks' Home, Claims Alleged Rape of Alzheimer's Patient an Accident posted at The Daily Weekly, we get a discussion of a case where an employee was caught exposing himself to a patient.

In Two dead teenagers leaves San Diego in mourning posted at For The Record, we get a discussion of the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois and another attack which was classified as a failed robbery attempt.

media watch

In Creating a Life: The Memoir of a Writer and Mom in the Making posted at Feminist Review, we get a review of a book by Corbin Lewars who repressed memories of being raped at age 12 until after she had a miscarriage.

In RCASA's Sunday Book Review: Slut! Growing up Female with a bad reputation. posted at Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault Blog, we get a discussion about a book by Leora Tanenbaum which highlights many reasons girls and women are labeled as sluts.

In Disturbing Rape Victim-Blaming Pamphlet Handed Out in Tennessee posted at Women's Rights, we get a discussion of a religious pamphlet given to a young woman working at a restaurant by one of her customers.

In Rape Victims "Asking For It?" and Youtube Inanity posted at Random Thoughts of a Crazy Liberal, we get a discussion about a video by an atheist who focused on a rape victim's choices and several of the video responses.

In Victim-Blaming in the Abstinence-Only Movement? posted at Change Happens, we get a discussion of an implication by a supporter of abstinence only sex ed that sexual assault is a consequence of non-abstinence only sex education.

In British PSA about Dangers of Cabs Implies Rape (Trigger Warning) posted at Sociological Images, we get a discussion of an ad campaign asking people to never use private cabs that haven't been booked by phone.

In Today in Victim-Blaming: Religious Tracts in Virginia posted at Silence is Betrayal: A Feminist Blog, we get a discussion of the religious narrative which a victim-blaming tract taps into.

In Precious, my Precious: Black Female Citizenship, Complexity, and the Politics of Unrelenting Survival posted at WIMN's Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…, we get a discussion about whether the movie Precious presents characters as caricatures or as complex characters.

raising awareness

In Rape in Fandom posted at Jim C. Hines, we get a discussion of a woman's warning to others about a man who raped her and a call for those who hear this woman's warning to stop and truly listen.

In Grossly inadequate efforts to 'Combat Sex Crimes on Campus' posted at Tufts University Survivors of Rape, we get a discussion about the difference between public statements about the handling of rape reports and the experience of a survivor.

In Consent negotiations posted at Modus dopens, we get a discussion about how gendered ideologies contribute to a model of relationships and consent based on pursuing and succumbing.

In When will we ever learn? Joy is not consent posted at If She Cry Out (Beta), we get a discussion about the flaw in setting sexual standards only by defining permissible and impermissible acts, rather than by defining permissible and impermissible ways of relating.

In Shaming the Survivor (Trigger Warning and Foul Language Warning) posted at Textual Fury, we get a discussion about various ways that survivors of sexual and domestic violence are shamed.

In "One-time bad decisions" that rapists keep on repeating posted at Hoyden About Town, we get a discussion about the extreme contrast between popular beliefs about college students who rape and the research about this same group.

In Hiding in Plain Sight posted at Tiny Cat Pants, we get a discussion about letting go of the mistaken belief that most acquaintance rapes are based on just a profound not-getting-it on the part of the perpetrator.

In consent: only yes means yes. posted at Freedom Fighter, we get a discussion about how being subjected to sexual abuse and media messages can cause confusion about consent and how to get beyond this imposed confusion.

In Reporting Rape posted at Jim C. Hines, we get a discussion about the unhelpfulness of the common demand made by people who learn someone was raped that the rape must be reported.

In Deconstructing Rape Myths: On Short Skirts (On Lesbians) posted at The Sexist, we get a discussion of the flaws in the main arguments for why women shouldn't wear short skirts if they don't want to be sexually assaulted.

In Teen Dating Violence More Prevalent Than Many Realize posted at Parenting Squad, we get a discussion about the pervasiveness of teen dating violence.


In Yoga Stretches Terrain for Sex-Trauma Therapy #rape posted at Young Feminists, we get a discussion of classes being taught in Rwanda.

In Archives posted at Mortality's Thoughts, we get a brief discussion about being able to look back at important turning points in the aftermath of rape.


In Rape Myths Lead to No Justice for Sexual Assault Victims on College Campuses posted at The Curvature, we get a discussion of the findings revealed in the second series of reports from the Center for Public Integrity.

take action

In 7 Simple Responses Which Help Support An Anti-Rape Culture posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor's zigzag journey into the open, I provide simple examples for how everyone can take small actions to counter harmful attitudes and statements related to sexual violence.

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,

Marcella Chester

Technorati tags:


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:02 AM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, March 12, 2010

Minnesotans Seeking State Equal Rights Constitutional Amendment

I learned recently about the renewed effort to pass a state equal rights amendment in Minnesota and my first reaction was that this amendment isn't necessary. However when I look at what many people continue to propose related to violence against women such as the desire to have a corroboration requirement which they would never propose related to all other acts of violence and the desire many people have to place the conscience of all who work in the field of medicine over the rights of women seeking medical services, I know this amendment is needed.

From the blog documenting this effort, here's the wording of the proposed amendment:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied by the state of Minnesota or any of its political subdivisions on account of gender.
If all women in Minnesota already have all these rights then there is no reason for any lawmaker or any voter to oppose this amendment other than an opposition to equality. If a significant number of people in Minnesota oppose gender equality then it is best if they be honest about their support for inequality.

I urge all of my fellow Minnesotans to support the passage of this amendment.
Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 4:38 PM   0 comments links to this post

Carnival Deadline Tonight

Tonight 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.

For anyone unfamiliar with blog carnivals, this terminology is used for collections of blog posts with different carnivals focusing on different topics. You can learn more by reading the Carnival FAQ.
Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:48 AM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Colleges And Civil Negligence

On my post Clueless: Or Research On College Response To Reports Of Rape a commenter who calls himself Sum objects to my belief that colleges need to place immediate restrictions on the sexual behavior of students who have been accused of sexual assault but neither officially exonerated nor officially declared guilty.

As soon a student is accused of rape that student is a known risk and remains so unless the original report has been proven to be false or the student is no longer a student at this college. Yet again and again colleges treat students who have been credibly accused as if these credible accusations never happened.

If an unproven status results in colleges being excused from their duty to the safety of their students then that encourages colleges to do incomplete investigations and to quickly make official declarations that nothing can be proven even when a competent investigation could confirm the truthfulness of the original report.

The easiest way to do this when a student rapes another student who had been drinking is to immediately declare the testimony of the victim to be unreliable. If having consumed alcohol makes testimony unreliable then if the rapist had been drinking that person's testimony claiming innocence must also be declared unreliable. Yet from many of the stories about college rape investigations this logic is misused to declare the alleged rapist's testimony is more reliable and then to judge the allegation based on the alleged rapist's version of events.

The college administrators cannot be ignorant of the fact that a student who has not been exonerated could be a rapist and therefore could be an ongoing threat to other students. This is why I wrote:
Beyond no contact with the student who filed the report, the accused student should be banned from any sexual activity with any student under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance and banned from group sexual activity.
The restrictions I proposed block common excuses for rape including that a rape was nothing more than a drunken mistake or that the alleged rape victim was too intoxicated to remember consenting yet still capable of giving legal consent. It blocks sexual activity where the testimony of rape victims are often dismissed as unreliable.

If an accused student might genuinely believe that consent exists when it does not then the college must set clear limits for that student and not merely wait for the next reported rape and the next claim that there was a drunken misunderstanding or that the alleged victim consented while drunk and is just suffering from morning after regret.

As I wrote in a comment to Sum:

It is always appropriate to take action to ensure against future assaults when there has been a credible report of rape. What you are advocating is for colleges to be civilly negligent.

The 4 criteria for negligence are:

1) Duty - colleges have a duty to their students' safety.

2) Breach - in your desired scenario breach will happen by the college not acting at all when only the victim and rapist saw what happened.

3) Causation - if a college gets a credible report of rape and knows the identity of the alleged rapist and does nothing to protect other students from future assaults their inaction has a causal link to any rapes which that student commits while still a student.

4) Damages - rape of a student left at risk after that student's rapist was reported by another student causes measurable damages.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:24 AM   2 comments links to this post

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

National Survey On Domestic Violence Crisis Calls

A story titled Nonprofit releases report detailing deficient resources for victims of domestic violence brings one aspect of domestic violence into focus.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence, a leading nonprofit advocate for victims of abuse, recently released the findings of a 24-hour survey that shows that although domestic violence experts answered more than 23,000 emergency hotline calls daily, 9,280 requests for help went unmet.

The snapshot study, taken last fall, also shows that in one 24-hour period 65,000 victims of domestic violence and their children received life-saving services. The results were submitted by 1,648 domestic violence programs that participated, which account for 83 percent nationwide.
This study was for the US alone. In many other countries, crisis lines and crisis services simply don't exist. We not only need to do better, we can do better.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:06 AM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Please Ask Oprah To Do A Show On Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence

Most people know that 2011 will be the last year of the Oprah Winfrey Show. What I just found out yesterday is that there is a form on her website where you can respond to the question: Who do you want to see Oprah interview?

Who I want to see Oprah interview before she ends her show are people who are working on the primary prevention of sexual violence. In fact I would like to see an entire episode dedicated to this work and why it isn't a hopeless mission. The traditional approach to preventing more violence has been one of self-defense and locking up the most dangerous offenders, but self-defense is usually aimed at stranger danger or those most easily identified as predators. Reactive solutions do nothing to stop new sex offenders from replacing those who are locked up in prisons or civil commitment facilities.

I filled out the form and gave the names of 4 Minnesotans who are actively involved in this effort. I wasn't sure if links would make my entry appear to be spam so I left out a link to the Minnesota Summit to Prevent Sexual Violence. If you have not read about this summit, please check out the e-report which includes recordings from the event.

I encourage all my readers to fill out this form and to echo my general request, giving her the names of people you would like to see her interview on this topic. Then I encourage you to encourage others to do the same. If you don't know who to name, please check out this list of national and Minnesota state resources.

Oprah has done a great deal to help raise awareness about the problem of sexual violence with shows earlier this year where she interviewed convicted sex offenders and where she interviewed a man who was a victim of his mother's sexual violence. In 2008 she did a show on sexual predators who produce child porn and law enforcement effort to catch these predators and to find their victims. She has done interviews with a mix of survivors over the years and has talked about her own experiences with sexual violence.

For me a show on primary prevention is a way to complete this circle of awareness and as a way to inspire people to be a part of the solution long after the Oprah Winfrey Show completes the 25th and last season.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 7:45 AM   1 comments links to this post

Monday, March 08, 2010

Clueless: Or Research On College Response To Reports Of Rape

I've been waiting to blog about the second series of articles about college sexual assaults released a week and a half ago by the Center For Public Integrity until I could read this series and put all my thoughts together. I blogged about the first series in Dec. of 2009.

Here are links to the latest set: A Lack of Consequences for Sexual Assault, An Uncommon Outcome at Holy Cross, Lax Enforcement of Title IX in Sexual Assault Cases, and ‘Undetected Rapists’ on Campus: A Troubling Plague of Repeat Offenders.

I prefaced the title of this post with clueless because this seems to describe most college and university administrators when it comes to how they handle reports of sexual violence against their students. Colleges and universities are supposed to be about learning but many of those who handle reports of sexual violence seem to be determined to stick to ignorance and institutional self-protection. This is intentional incompetence.

Too often those charged with responding to reports of rapes do nothing meaningful because most rape cases involving students are "complex." What I have to say about that response is, "Excuse me? Institutions of higher learning cannot handle anything complex?"

No wonder so many rapists can be classified as undetected rapists.

One of the universities discussed is the University of Wisconsin - Madison which according to their website should have the ability to deal with complex issues:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has long been recognized as a center for interdisciplinary studies related to law and legal institutions. The Center for Law, Society, and Justice (CLSJ) is the organizational home for academic programs related to law and legal institutions, other than the programs offered by the University of Wisconsin Law School.
If colleges and universities can teach this stuff why is practicing it seemingly insurmountable? The most common excuse seemed to be that disciplinary hearings are not criminal trials, but that is an excuse. Study of the law includes civil proceedings.

Too often according to the Center for Public Integrity investigation, those charged with handling reported sexual assault will abandon their inquiry if the student accused denies committing a sexual offense. When this happens there was no actual investigation. Same goes when the inquiry ends because of alcohol consumption.

Many organizations do only the minimum amount for their organization to stay out of trouble and to protect themselves. The article on Lax Enforcement of Title IX in Sexual Assault Cases shows that many of the rules are treated by the federal government like nothing more than suggestions.

One of the biggest areas of concern for me is the handling of sexual violence against students who had been drinking since this is where denial and victim blaming really flourish. A drinking rape victim is often viewed more negatively than a drinking rapist.

In the reports, several college officials make statements which indicate that they view some or all of these sexual assaults as lesser offenses or simply as relationship disputes. This dismisses the very real trauma these student victims experience. This also communicates to rapists that they have been effectively been given a free pass to do whatever sex crime they want as long as they select victims who aren't sober.

Colleges which have been unable to determine (in their own assessment of a case) whether there was a sexual assault or not have sanctioned those who reported being raped as if, "We don't know what happened," is equal to, "We know no sexual offense occurred."

We understand that being shot with a handgun isn't something which should be dismissed as a relationship issue or ignored for months if both the shooter and the shootee had been drinking first and we understand the importance of needing to know promptly if a drunken student can get to the point of shooting at fellow students, but many people seem to lose their ability to think logically when the attack is sexual.

The systems of response at many colleges make reporting seem futile at best which works directly against detecting undetected rapists. This helps explain why there is such a massive gap between college sexual assault reporting statistics and research based on victimization and perpetration surveys.

Another area of ignorance is the idea that the personal manner of the student accused can determine whether that student was or is a threat. Several of the college officials describe accused students who took responsibility for their actions as if that is a fix. Yet the investigation shows several of those students now claim to be completely innocent and disavow incriminating statements they made while they were students. So much for having taken genuine responsibility.

These college officials seem to be ignorant that many rapists complete their sexual assaults by manipulating others into trusting them when they are not at all trustworthy. The same skills these rapists use on their targets prior to the assault are used when those rapists are dealing with a sexual assault inquiry. The difference is that their original targets didn't have the same information available to them to help them make an informed assessment.

The biggest area of cluelessness seems to be in the responsibility the college or university has toward victims of sexual violence -- including those whose reports don't end with a ruling of guilt against the student who committed sexual assault. The responsibility to student rape victims must include those whose reports ended up in limbo.

It seems that most colleges use a binary system in their disciplinary hearings when they need to have a tertiary system where the third outcome is labeled as indeterminate. When this is the assessment or the assessment is that what happened was a misunderstanding which doesn't rise to the level of a violence of student conduct policies there needs to be full services given to the student who reported and protective restrictions placed on the accused student which will protect the person who reported and which will protect other students from a possible serial sex criminal or someone who serially misunderstands others lack of consent.

Beyond no contact with the student who filed the report, the accused student should be banned from any sexual activity with any student under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance and banned from group sexual activity.

If any of these restrictions are violated then that should result in an automatic expulsion.

From the first in this series:
College administrators stress that the sanctioning in disciplinary matters reflects the mission of higher education. Proceedings aren’t meant to punish students, but rather to teach them. “We’d like to think that we can always educate and hold accountable the student,” says Pamela Freeman, associate dean of students at Indiana University. IU officials defended suspending Margaux’s alleged attacker as, in effect, a teachable moment, according to interviews with the Center and documents from a federal investigation into the school’s handling of the case.
If colleges give light sentences to rapists they are teaching those rapists, but what they are teaching them is that rape isn't that big of an offense.

Administrators are not only teaching those rapists, they are teaching other rapists and they are teaching rape victims that teaching rapists without major practical consequences is a higher priority than ensuring the safety and recovery of rape victims and ensuring that other students are protected from known sex offenders.

Many administrators of institutions of higher learning seem to be in need of their own teachable moment. If they refuse to learn lessons which help reduce violence against their students they should face serious consequences.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:04 AM   7 comments links to this post