Sunday, August 31, 2014

Owning My Own Double Standard

I've been blogging a lot about sexual assault during the past month. It's a topic I think about often this time of year, as I know that college is starting and the risk of sexual assault is at its highest during the first 6 weeks of school, especially for freshmen and sophomore women. 

My previous post explored our social norms that contribute to victim blaming. We all contribute to these social norms. I remember many years ago, two events that happened the same night that really opened my eyes about my own biases; a tragic stranger rape and my husband's car breaking down. Here are the stories, that have since been intertwined in my memory.

I had to work late so my hubby was given the task of attending the school open house and also dropping my boys off for Scouts and picking them up. The parent open house went fine, right on schedule, which gave him about 2 minutes to dash over and pick the boys up from Scouts (and being on time for pick up was emphasized regularly to parents). Looked like a Dad win for making things happen... until he put the key in the ignition and the instead of the motor vrooming, there was a fatalistic 'click' and then silence. A couple more tries and it was clear that dashing wasn't an option. He left a message on my cell to pick them all up at the church, then plodded off on foot to Scouts. Did I mention it was dark and raining and about a 10 minute walk an, by now,  he was already late? A couple of minutes into his soggy journey, a nice man pulled over and asked if he needed a lift He explained the situation and this Good Samaritan got him there relatively dry and not too late. When he told me about it in my car on the ride home  I commented on how lucky he was that this nice man came along.

The following morning my staff read in the paper about a stranger rape; the woman's car had broken down on the road and a man offered her a ride into town. He had other plans though. He pulled off the road, raped her then dumped her into a ditch in the rain. We were horrified reading the article. Then one of us said, "This is so awful, why would she get into a car with a man she didn't know?" We all nodded. We weren't blaming her, but in our collective unconscious I think we all heard echoes of our mothers' voices warning us of the dangers that all women subconsciously factor into our daily decisions. 

Why was my response to my husband accepting a ride from a stranger on a dark, rainy road different than that of the woman making the same choice? I never would have thought I subscribed to a double standard, but the juxtaposition of two very similar incidents made me keenly aware of my own biases...and since then I've tried to consider 
how these social norms color (or cloud) our views about sexual assault. 

"The change has to come from her" to prevent rape

Middle East reporter  Sophia Jones' had a strong response to her alma mater's president for his assertion that college women's excessive drinking feeds the culture of rape. She's right in that the blame for rape needs to be focused on the perpetrator. For too many decades, victims of sexual assault have been questioned, challenged and judged for what they wore, where the were or how they acted, as these actions may have cast a siren song whereby the male's only recourse was forcing himself on her. While that defense has unquestionably kept many from life behind bars (and has kept far more women from reporting) it's a pathetic representation of male character. 

I cringe when after Jones' college roommate was the target of a sexual assault in her own bed in her dorm, she later said, "I didn't ask for this." But she wasn't referring to the attempted rape, she was referring to the way she was treated by the justice system after she reported the assault (makes me seriously question the term 'justice").

Dr. Trachtenberg's response to Jones' letter was equally thoughtful, explaining that his words are meant to prevent rape. Women who are highly intoxicated are vulnerable to predators. This is accurate, there's a high correlation between intoxication and sexual assault....but we need to draw clearer lines:


  • Judging when an assailant chooses to rape means determining if (s)he does not or cannot give consent. This is a choice. Whether the victim is intoxicated, was flirting earlier or is wearing revealing clothes in no way is responsible for the choice to commit rape.
  • Yes, it's important to teach our daughters that intoxication can make them vulnerable... so they can be safe. Just as we teach them to drive defensively so that when someone runs a red light they can avoid being hit. But not heeding that warning shouldn't be a reason to blame her for the assault or excuse the assailant.When someone runs a red light and smashes into my car, I'm not asked , "Why weren't you prepared that he might run into your car. What did yo do  to deter him from hitting you? Did you want to be hit?" My lack of a defensive strategy, doesn't keep the driver from being ticketed for running the light, nor does it exonerate blame  make the accident 'no fault'. We should all do everything we can to be safe this world, but lack of prevention isn't an invitation to be assaulted.
  • Let's refocus our prevention strategies which have traditionally been directed at the potential victims.  So when Sophia Jones quoted  'helpful' Egyptian police officer whose suggestion for preventing rape is, "If a woman is wearing provocative clothing, the change has to come from her",  I say let's rethink our strategy to let's focus on preventing rapes...  by preventing people from choosing to rape.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Shop, Save and Support DVRC this Saturday

Summer is ending and there's amazing sales. Fall is coming and Chico's has a  great new lineup. Come to Chico's at 329 Broadway in Saratoga Springs Saturday, August 30 to shop, save and support DVRC's programs.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gamechanger-- Today the NFL Scored

Today the NFL introduced a new component to their personal conduct policy to address acts of domestic violence committed by a player. It's a very different response than the 2 game suspension Ray Rice received for punching his, then fiancée, in the face and knocking her out cold. The new conduct policy calls for a 6 game suspension for the first offense and a lifetime ban from the league for the second offense. The policy is not limited to only domestic violence; it covers all acts of physical violence.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated,
"At times, however, and despite our best efforts, 
we fall short of our goals. 
We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence ... 
My disciplinary decision led the public to question 
our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood
 the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families.
 I take responsibility both for the decision 
and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values."

While the circumstances that brought this issue to light, a violent assault and the NFL's limp response to the violence, both tarnished the NFL's reputation, the league has achieved a come from behind win with the new code of conduct. They've raised the bar on their expectations for conduct on and off the field, but they've also implemented prevention and early intervention strategies. They'll be talking with recruits and are supporting programs in high schools and colleges to address the issue. They're providing counseling for players if needed. And in case the message isn't clear, they're issuing a memo to all players that states,
Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong.
They are illegal.
They are never acceptable in the NFL 
under any circumstances.

The NFL just scored the winning point with their game changing decision!

Athletes know kids look up to them,
and it's important for athletes to be responsible.
Deion Sanders

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let's Take Down the Black Eye Poster

You've all seen the poster of a woman with a black eye; in fact, it's how most of us initially learned about domestic violence. The photo shaped our beliefs (and some persistent myths) about domestic violence:

  • the victim is always a woman
  • abuse is physical violence
  • domestic violence is as easy to spot as just looking at someone's face.
While that poster brought about awareness, I'm not a fan of that poster because it limits our understanding of this complex issue. If DVRC had a dollar for every time someone has said, "I'm not sure if I should even be calling, I've never been hit", well, we'd have a boatload more money to support prevention and outreach services. Often the people who say that line, will then go on to tell us about a very controlling and abusive relationship... but they're not sure it's domestic violence... because it doesn't meet our image of violence. 

What they describe is emotional abuse that permeates every waking moment, every decision, every action, even their very thoughts. They often feel they're living their life as if walking on eggshells, but they've never come for help because that poster wasn't about this  type of abuse. It's emotional abuse... it's very common... and it's equally (if not more) damaging than that stereotypical black eye.

So how do we recognize emotional abuse? Dr Kristen Davin outlines 12 Unmistakable Signs You're Dating an Emotional Abuser:

Here are some common signs of emotional abuse (though not exhaustive):
  1. 1.Putting you down — in private, but often in public. This is their attempt to shame you. Projecting their feelings of low self-worth on to you.
  2. 2.Embarrassing you in public.
  3. 3. Blaming you for their abusive and unhealthy behaviors. Using the "if, then" trick. "If" you don't do this, "then" I won't do that.
  4. 4. Threatening to harm you or your family often.
  5. 5. Calling you derogatory names many times.
  6. 6. Making you feel bad or guilty when you don't consent to sexual activity. Laying guilt on you that you "should" be doing this, and if you really loved me, you would be having sex with me. Or "I will have to find it elsewhere."
  7. 7. Gaslighting. A form of psychological abuse where false information is presented to their victim to make them doubt their decisions, perceptions and judgements in their attempt to make you seem "crazy."
  8. 8. Making you feel like you are always doing something wrong.
  9. 9.. Isolating you from your family and friends. Playing victim when you want to spend time with family and friends. Saying "we" never spend time together. "If you loved me, you would want to spend time with me."
  10. 11. If you do go out, making multiple demands on you through numerous texts and phone calls.
  11. 11. Stalking you.
  12. 12. Threatening suicide when you attempt to break up with them: "I can't live without you; I will kill myself if you break up with me."
If you or someone you know
 is experiencing any form of relationship abuse, 
you are not alone, call for help now. 
Call 518-583-0280 for an appointment with an advocate...
or call DVRC's 24 hour hotline at 518-584-8188 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Women's Equality Day

Today is Women's Equality Day. Honestly, sometimes I'm troubled by these initiatives directly specifically to women. With simplistic optimism, I ask why aren't we advocating for All people's Equality Day? Instead of the Violence Against Women Act... let's create the Let's End All Violence Act. But I know why these targeted strategies are necessary... and that they make a difference for not only women, but women, children, and men.

Why are the needed?
Pay equity: The Institute for Women's Policy Research reports, Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2012, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 23 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data.
Violence against Women:  Most of  our initiatives to help victims  of sexual assault and domestic violence grew  out of the feminist movement. Their efforts have brought about victim assistance programs, have changed laws, policies and public awareness... and most importantly saved lives. And while they were developed to end violence against women, those same services, laws and awareness also help men who have been victims of relationship and sexual violence.

While equality for Women is still an issue in the US, it's even a greater concern in other parts of the world where violence, poverty, lack of access to health care, rape and gender-based atrocities afflict women. So let's support Gender Equality Day.

Why? Because we're making a difference. RAINN provides just one example
Sexual assault has fallen by more than 50% in recent years.Had the 1993 rate held steady, about 9.7 million Americans would have been assaulted in the last 20 years. Thanks to the decline, the actual number of victims was about 4.2 million. In other words, if not for the progress we've made in the last 20 years, an additional 5.5 million Americans would have become victims of sexual violence.
While we should be happy that we’re making progress, we are still a very long way from solving this problem. Every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted.

Our friends at NY Charities are encouraging people to make a donation today to support programs that assist women and girls. Today I took just a couple of seconds to send donations electronically  to two of my favorites, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County and Soroptimist International of Saratoga County. Want to join me in supporting Women's Equality Day? Let your favorite women's organization know you appreciate all they do.


Nail Polish Prevents Rapes???

Tuesday is Good News Day

At first I thought I'd write about today's topic, because just reading the article's headline, Nail polish may prevent date rape elicited a smile and piqued my curiosity. It turns out it's a modern (and fashionable) twist on an old solution to detecting date rape drugs. I've heard of coasters or other bar implements that can detect these drugs in a drink, but access to them is dependent on the bar using these coasters. This solution puts the tool literally into the hands of the intended victim.

Alas, there's a downside. while it's good to be able to detect if someone has slipped a drug into your drink, the most common date rape drug is alcohol, knowingly consumed. So Undercover Colors' impact may be limited, but preventing even a small percentage of rapes is still noteworthy.

What I'm really loving about this, like many other recent innovative solutions, is that 4 college men created this product to address what's a major social concern on college campuses. Lately I've been hearing about many stories of innovative problem solvers and entrepreneurs putting their talents to work to decrease sexual violence. Often they're developing tools to promote safety or to quickly connect with others if you're in a risky situation.

I wish we could innovate a way to stop people from committing relationship and sexual abuse, but in the meantime let's celebrate some great innovations.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Let's Be Clear... She's Not a Bike, She's Not a Car

Talking about sexual assault prevention is sometimes a double edged sword. The reason we give recommendations like:

  • don't walk alone at night
  • keep your drink with you and covered a all times
  • be aware that there's a high correlation between intoxication and sexual victimization,
is so that people can be aware of vulnerabilities that sexual predators look for when choosing a victim. However, these messages can be interpreted as victim blaming or can open the door for excusing the behavior of the assailant.

Historically, rape has been a crime that is treated differently by our society and our criminal justice system. Consider these scenarios:

  • asking a victim of a mugging, "Why were you walking in the street alone in expensive clothes at 10 om when you were mugged? Perhaps you were asking to be mugged? Questions about where you were, why and what you were wearing are commonly asked of rape victims, or
  • asking someone who had been punched in the face "You said your heart was pounding and you cried out; might that indicate you enjoyed the encounter?" (yes rape victims have been asked about orgasm or other about whether, in the case of date rape, they had enjoyed kissing or other activities previous to the assault), or
  • "You report you had a few drinks with dinner before your home was burglarized, might the burglars interpreted that as an invitation to come into your home and steal everything you own?"Having a few drinks or even being intoxicated is not an invitation to be sexually violated...ever!
Think these questions just happened way back when'... think again. Tyler Kincade, reporter/senior editor for the Huff Post examines some current 'excuses' for rape... and makes it clear that a woman is not a bicycle or a car. And the answer to ending rape is to focus on the true cause of the rape.. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Shine a Light... Save a Life

This segment of the Today Show shines a light on domestic violence: Through the words of several courageous survivors we can better understand:
Tamron Hall Shines the Light on
Domestic Violence...
 in her sister's memory

  • how it starts
  • why women stay
  • how hard it is to ask for help ("If just one person had asked I would have opened up")
  • what middle school girls need to know
  • what to say to someone and how to help.
I don't need to say more... these survivors have spoken from the heart to help others.Watch it-- so we can all shine a light to end domestic violence. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

After a rape

If you or someone you know has been raped:
  • Go to a safe place
  • Avoid showering, bathing, eating, drinking, or urinating so that evidence can be collected in case you choose to report the crime to police.
  • Save the clothing you were wearing during the assault.
  • Do not disturb the crime scene.
  • Seek medical help at the nearest hospital. Contact  your local rape crisis agency for help.
In Saratoga County call DVRC's 24 hour hotline 518-584-8188

You are not to blame for being raped. 
Whether you were out late, drinking or whatever... you did not cause the rape. 
Someone chose to sexually assault you.
The decisions are yours to make:
  • You do not have to report the rape to the police to receive help.
  • The hospital can provide a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) to collect the evidence; you don't have to make a decision about reporting. They will hold the evidence until you decide.
  • A rape crisis advocate can talk with you to explain your options and will accompany you to the hospital for a SAFE exam or to the police if you choose to report.
You Are Not Alone