Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Posts tagged ‘rape’

Causes that could use a helping hand

Jane Doe, the survivor of the Steubenville rape, has been on my mind since the verdict Sunday gave her as much justice as is possible. Three major media outlets have released her name and two girls were arrested for threatening Jane. I can’t begin to understand what that’s like, but it’s probably not much of a stretch to say her life is a nightmare right now. So many people failed her in so many ways, but there’s something we can do to show her she’s not alone. She and her family have asked that any donations people want to make for her legal expenses go instead to a local shelter for abused women and children. You can give as little as $1 to Madden House and/or leave a message for Jane to let her know you support her. That’s the very least we can do to restore a little of her faith in humanity and make up for the myriad ways we as a culture let her down.

Second, fundraising for the fourth annual National Abortion Access Bowl-A-Thon is in full swing. So far $152,559 has been raised to make the promise of Roe a reality. Although abortion is legal, in the past few years dozens of provisions all across the country have been enacted to make it inaccessible. These restrictions, including waiting periods, unnecessary ultrasounds, arbitrary clinic regulations and outright bans, disproportionately affect poor women and women of color. Abortion funds exist to help people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the procedures. I’ve donated the past two years, and the hardest part is picking which of these kick-ass teams to support. If you’re concerned about the erosion of reproductive rights, donating to an abortion fund is the best way to directly assist those who most need it.

Lastly, and certainly least importantly, one of my favorite TV shows, “Veronica Mars,” is being made into a movie several years after going off the air. The catch was that the movie had to be fan-funded because Warner Brothers, which owns the rights, didn’t want to shell out money for something it wasn’t convinced would be profitable. The original goal was $2 million, which was raised in less than a day. It doesn’t need more money to come to fruition, but there are rewards for pledges that fans might consider worthwhile. And if this is the first you’re hearing of the show, do yourself a favor by watching the first two seasons here. The movie will likely make more sense if you’ve seen all three seasons, though, so either keep an eye out for the third online (I imagine it will show up somewhere with the renewed interest) or look in your library.

Lessons from Steubenville

(Trigger warning for discussion of consent)

You might have heard about the case in Steubenville, Ohio, in which two teenage boys were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl. It’s tough for me to follow stories like this; reading too many of the details, as a woman in what’s supposed to be a modern world, makes me despair for humanity. So this post is less about the specifics of Steubenville and more about how much work we still have to do to prevent rape. And I’m not talking about telling women not to drink, wear short skirts or walk alone at night. (Here are a few other things that aren’t an invitation to rape.)

I’m talking about teaching boys and men how to respect women and not rape. It’s really simple.

If a woman doesn’t say “yes” to having sex, don’t have sex with her.

She doesn’t have to say “no.” You are not owed anything for buying her dinner, drinks or anything else. Her body is not your property. Unless she explicitly and enthusiastically consents, don’t have sex. If she is drunk, drugged or passed out, she can’t consent. Get her home safely. Don’t rape her.

If you see someone who is impaired and being preyed on, intervene. Even if you don’t know the woman in question, speak up. Call her a cab. If your friend is forcing his attention where it’s not wanted, interrupt and get him away from her. One of the depressing details in the Steubenville case is the dozens of witnesses to the attack who did nothing as a girl was assaulted.

Don’t be one of those people. Don’t walk away and pretend it’s not your problem. It is. Rape is found in nearly every culture in the world. That’s the bad news. The good news is, it’s not immutable. We can teach boys and men to respect the girls and women in their lives, but it starts with you. Don’t avoid the topic out of embarrassment or hope that they’ll learn the lessons they need somewhere else. They won’t. We’ll keep seeing more Steubenvilles until the message sinks in.

Testing rape kit could have put serial killer behind bars

Untested rape kits sit in storage in LA. Photo courtesy of Patricia Williams

According to a post on the Ms. blog, an untested rape kit from a survivor of serial killer Anthony Sowell could have put Sowell behind bars months before he was arrested. It also could have saved lives.

A woman was abducted in April 2009 and taken to a house where she was beaten and raped. She managed to escape and went to a hospital, where a rape kit that included DNA evidence was performed and passed along to police.

Like hundreds of thousands of rape kits across the country, it was never tested.

In October 2009, Sowell was arrested for raping a woman who voluntarily went into his home in September. Police found the remains of 11 bodies in and around Sowell’s home. He’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 85 counts of murder, rape and kidnapping.

Meanwhile, the rape kit from the survivor in April 2009 was tested recently and found to match Sowell’s DNA. He killed five women between April and October of 2009, when he was finally arrested. Five women could be alive today if rape kits were tested as soon as they were collected.

Ms. described the situation as “a miscarriage of justice.” I think that’s putting it mildly. For a lot of rape survivors, undergoing a rape kit can be as traumatizing as the assault itself. Some do it only because they hope it will lead to justice. It is beyond cruel to force survivors to undergo an invasive examination for evidence that is just going to sit in storage for years. You can read more here about why the backlog exists, but it boils down to lack of policies requiring rape kit testing and, of course, lack of time and money.

But try this on for size: If we had DNA evidence for each of the thousands of murders that are committed every year, do you think that it would be sitting untested in police storage? Imagine the public outrage if a police chief tried to say, “We have evidence from the person who killed your mother, we just don’t have the money or time to process it.” I can guarantee they would find funding somewhere. But because most rape victims are women, it’s not a priority.

You can help by going to End the Backlog and reading more about this problem. The Feminist Majority Foundation also has a petition you can sign to Aviva Kurash of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, urging her to recognize the importance of rape kits and to treat rape cases as the serious crimes they are. Ironically, after I signed the petition, I got an out-of-office e-mail from Kurash stating she was at the 14th National Law Enforcement Leadership Institute on Violence Against Women. If law enforcement is serious about ending violence against women, they need to get serious about prosecuting it.

It's not women's responsibility to avoid rape

This is less a reaction to the Lara Logan case and more a response to a story that ran in my local paper. The university here has had a couple of high-profile sexual assaults reported that didn’t result in charges being filed. Along with the story, the paper ran a sidebar on how the university is conducting a sexual assault awareness week. Included in the scheduled events is a session on self-defense.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I took an all-day self-defense course when I was in college. But since then, I’ve become aware of just how backward society’s attitudes toward sexual assault are. We put all of the pressure on women to avoid rape, but no pressure on men NOT TO BE RAPISTS. How does that make sense? We can tell women all we want not to walk alone at night, to be watchful of their drinks at bars, but according to RAINN, 73 percent of rape victims know their assailants. The myth of a strange man leaping out of the bushes to rape you hardly ever happens. So how do we teach women to identify rapists among the men they encounter on a daily basis? They don’t wear handy signs saying “watch out for me because I might rape you.”

Instead, we need to support and fund efforts like Men Can Stop Rape, a group dedicated to ending violence against women. It offers alternative views on masculinity and teaches boys and men to be allies of girls and women. If boys hear and see role models in their communities denouncing violence against women, it would go a long way toward changing attitudes and building alliances.

So the next time you see your local college or police department offering a self-defense class, call them up and ask if they’d also do a talk about how men can end rape. I bet they’d be happy to do so once they know the interest exists.