Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reproductive Coercion: Pregnancy as a form of Violence against Women

I've been interested in reproductive coercion for several years. My interest began when I assisted as a researcher on a project about teen parenting. There was quite a bit of discussion around one teen telling his/her partner that they needed to have a baby for a, b, or c reason. One teen would tell the other that protection was being used, when in reality there was none being used. Reproductive coercion has been discussed in America in 2 primary ways and is most certainly NOT only related to teenagers.

The first way you might hear about reproductive coercion is pregnancy as a means of boosting the U.S. economy. The argument is that when women birth many children, the U.S. benefits economically, demographically, and in numerous other ways. This argument makes some sense--think about the Baby Boom era--but what is forgotten is this idea that women, and the babies they have, become a strategy.  The value of human life and the value of a woman as a human being gets lost.  Recently I read an article on this very topic. It was published in the Boulder Weekly and was written by the keynote speaker from SlutWalk Denver, Pamela White. The article is entitled, Women are Not Farms.  I love this! I think this is a perfect title. This idea that women can birth numerous children to boost various facets of our society is simply dehumanizing the individuals, the notion of family (in all forms), and is known as reproductive coercion.

Now, as mentioned above, there is a second way you may hear words reproductive coercion. This is the way I used it in my opening and also the way that I am most familiar in hearing it used. Reproductive coercion may also be a tool against a woman--there has been some research in the realm of teen dating violence regarding this topic.  Essentially, this is the notion that in opposite-sex relationships, men actively attempt to get their female partners pregnant. Male partners might take condoms off during sexual intercourse, might break condoms on purpose, or might flush birth control pills down the toilet if found.  So, here's the situation: female doesn't want to get pregnant. Attempts to be responsible by getting birth control pills. Male partner won't let her take the pills. Guilt trips, words of affection, and talk of future lives may also be common and convincing for these women. "Honey, we're going to have beautiful babies." "If you loved me, you'd have a baby with me." On the opposite side, pregnancy coercion is involved as well. Men might state that they'll leave the woman if she doesn't have a child with him. He might say he'll hit her if she uses birth control.  

Don't be fooled, numbers are much too high for experiencing reproductive coercion. This is not an uncommon experience for women.  If you'd like to hear about this in greater detail, check out this podcast by Dr. Elizabeth Miller (author of Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy). 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Urge to Let Women Drive in Saudi Arabia

From HuffPost Women

Fourteen Female U.S. Senators Urge Saudi King To Grant Women Right To Drive

While most of Washington was stuck in the ideological gridlock of the debt ceiling debate, a bipartisan coalition of female Senators came together Tuesday to urge King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to finally allow the women of his country to drive legally. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bars women from driving a vehicle -- bicycles included.
Fourteen of the 17 female senators, including Democrats and Republicans, signed a letter to the Saudi king that reads, in part:
"As women members of the United States Senate, we write in support of the increasing number of Saudi women and men calling for the removal of the driving ban on women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As you know, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with such a ban on women driving, and maintaining such a restriction stands in stark contrast with the commitments your government has made to promote the rights of Saudi women.”
This consortium was led by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Others who signed included Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
While the letter acknowledges that the king has appointed Saudi Arabia's first female deputy minister and has created a university that allows men and women to study side by side (and drive side by side on streets enclosed by the campus walls), the senators assert that "more must be done" and that lifting the driving ban is a critical step in the right direction.
Although women have defied the ban periodically since the 1990s, the campaign to end the archaic law gained traction in May when 32-year-old engineer Manal al-Sharif was imprisoned for over a week after she defied the unwritten but heavily enforced ban. Dubbed the "Saudi Rosa Parks," al-Sharif posted a video of her freedom drive on Youtube.
Mobilized via a Facebook campaign, a group of 30 to 40 more Saudi women got behind the wheel in dissent on June 17th, and they have been driving ever since. In the past month, several have reportedly been arrested.
In a press release, called the demonstrator's resistance the largest women's rights protest in Saudi History, noting that the protest has spread far beyond the Middle East. The organization claims that its group Saudi Women for Driving has garnered the support of over 160,000 people from over 156 countries through social media.
The Senators' letter rides on the coattails of that social media campaign, which successfully urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to speak out in support of Saudi women's right to drive.

After a petition urging the Secretary to take a stand against the driving ban reached over 20,000 signatures, Clinton quit what a State Department spokesperson described as "quiet diplomacy" and publicly announced, “What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right… I am moved by it and I support them.”
Saudi Women for Driving recently petitioned Subaru to stop selling cars to Saudi Arabia until women have the right to drive.

Monday, July 25, 2011

American Indian Women Targeted

Statistics support the notion that crimes against American Indian Women are of epidemic proportions.  In fact, 1/3 of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes and nearly 3 out of 5 will be assaulted by a partner.

I frequently encounter questions about this population in regard to how crimes against women are handled within this sect of the population.  Questions about whether crimes are handled within the tribe or within larger government corrections are most frequently asked.  Currently, Justice Department officials are seeking greater purview over reservations. One of the primary reasons for this is that sentences on reservations would then more closely mirror the sentences offenders receive within state courts for committing the same offenses.

Similarly, changes in law would also allow tribes to prosecute both Native and non-Native offenders within their tribal courts.

Essentially, Congress is currently attempting to close several primary gaps within legislation.  It seems the proposed bill targets such things as protection order enforcement, partner violence, and sentencing. Check out this article for greater detail.

In the meantime, if you were surprised by the statistics presented above regarding the disproportionate amount of violence perpetrated against American Indian Women, I strongly encourage you to check out the book "Conquest" by Andrea Smith.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stalking: How Technology Plays a Role

I've recently added a link to the Stalking Resource Center. (See it on the right hand side of the screen or press on the highlighted words previously).

I've found that stalking is often overlooked in academic settings, media, and everyday discussions, but that in fact, it is prevalent and needs to be discussed.

Here I'm going to focus on the impact technology, and especially social networking sites, plays in stalking. On a frequent basis I hear, "I'm stalking so and so on ____ (facebook, twitter, etc)." This has become a normal phrase that is widely accepted and is often treated as a joke. The concern, however, is that without proper privacy settings, social networking sites, use of cellphones (esp now with such hightech applications), and other technology forms has in fact created a more stalker-friendly environment. Just think about the various forms of technology we all use on a daily basis. Email, instant messaging, social networking sites, cell phones, GPS, web cams, etc.

Additionally, when stalking via social networking sites is identified and reported, these social networking sites are often failing to support the victims properly.

Once again, women are most often victimized in cases of stalking (4 out of 5 victims are women).  And, of stalking victims, 1 in 13 report some form of internet stalking involvement. 

Notice, we're not talking about cyberstalking, but rather it is important to identify that stalking via technology takes many forms.  Use of the term cyberstalking is quite limiting and likely brings images of internet-only stalking to mind. Use of the term stalking via technology (or the like) is more comprehensive and gives a space for women who have been victimized via cameras, GPS, etc. to feel heard and comfortable.

I really encourage everyone to check out the Stalking Resource Center. Here is the link again.

Friday, July 15, 2011

New Kansas domestic violence law goes into effect

There are a number of laws, initiatives, and programs in place to assist cases of domestic violence (as it is referred to by criminal justice personnel).  Many people might be aware of mandatory arrest laws or no-drop prosecution (future topics to be discussed in-depth on the blog), but for Kansas, a new law has just gone into effect. The law focuses heavily on repeat offenders and the idea of intervention strategies.  See what you think. 

TOPEKA — This month the most comprehensive domestic violence legislation ever passed in Kansas goes into effect. Originally passed by the 2010 legislature, House Bill 2517 was signed into law by former Governor Mark Parkinson in April 2010.

Recommended to the Kansas legislature by the Governor’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, this law will assist the criminal justice system in documenting crimes associated with domestic violence.

This new law will improve tracking repeat domestic violence offenders by tagging files of men and women if there is an element of domestic violence in a case. This information will assist the courts, law enforcement, and advocacy groups to better respond to domestic violence offenses.

This legislation also requires the court system to order an assessment of the offender and recommend intervention treatment programs.

According to data from the Governor’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, more than 20 women are killed each year in Kansas as a result of domestic violence. Nationally, domestic violence is one of the leading causes of injury to women. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice says that on average, three women are killed by their current or former partners each year.

Curt and Christie Brungardt of Hays, parents of the late Jana Mackey, were active supporters of this legislation. Mackey was a 25 year-old KU law student who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in Lawrence in 2008. Mackey was well-known throughout Kansas for her advocacy for women’s rights. As a young adult, Mackey served as a sexual assault and domestic violence advocate and served as one of the youngest lobbyists at the Kansas state capitol.

“We are very pleased with the actions of our legislature and Governor in addressing this serious issue,” said Christie Brungardt. “While we recognize that this new legislation alone will not stop domestic violence, it is an important step in the right direction.”

Here is video coverage discussing Kansas House Bill 2517 as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Apps Against Abuse

Administration launches “Apps Against Abuse” technology challenge to help address sexual assault and dating violence

National competition will challenge developers to create software applications that empower young adults to intervene and prevent sexual violence
WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, Vice President Joe Biden, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius launched the “Apps Against Abuse” technology challenge – a national competition to develop an innovative software application, or “app,” that provides young adults with tools to help prevent sexual assault and dating violence.
“Everyone has a role to play in the prevention of violence and abuse”
“Just as technology is changing the way young people communicate with each other every day, it’s also changing the way young people can protect themselves and their friends from becoming victims of sexual violence,” said Vice President Biden. “This challenge is a chance to empower a new generation to take a stand against violence.”
Young women aged 16-24 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, while one in five will be a victim of sexual assault during college. Many of these assaults occur when the offender, often an acquaintance, has targeted and isolated a young woman in vulnerable circumstances. Through the “Apps Against Abuse” challenge, developers will be charged with creating an easy-to-use application that provides a targeted way for young women to designate trusted friends, allies, or emergency contacts and provide a means for checking-in with these individuals in real-time, particularly in at-risk situations. The winning application will also provide quick access to resources and information on sexual assault and teen dating violence, as well as where to go for help.
“Everyone has a role to play in the prevention of violence and abuse,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who spent years volunteering with victims of domestic violence. “This application can be another way to encourage young women and men to take an active role in the prevention of dating violence and sexual assault.”
"We want to tap into the creativity of the American people to empower women who wish to communicate distress in a trusted and immediate way," said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.
“HHS is honored to launch this challenge with the Office of the Vice President and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop innovative tools to help young adults prevent and combat domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at HHS. “We are excited to see what innovators across the nation will do to harness the power of technology to help young adults prevent domestic violence and sexual abuse."
For more than 20 years, Vice President Biden has led the fight to combat violence against women. As the author of the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, then-Senator Biden exposed high rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking experienced by women every day in this country. Yet in spite of the significant progress made since the passage of VAWA, the threat of violence and abuse continues for a new generation of women. In April, the Vice President introduced comprehensive guidance with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to help schools, colleges and universities better understand their obligations under federal civil rights laws to prevent and respond to the problem of campus sexual assault.
HHS also plays a key role in the federal government's overall strategy to help prevent and stop violence and sexual assault. These efforts are designed both to reduce this violence and to ensure that those suffering from domestic violence have access to information and emergency assistance.
The “Apps Against Abuse” challenge furthers federal efforts to increase support for victims of sexual assault and abuse and create innovative and targeted ways to bring about change. The use of challenges offers new ideas to address the agency’s mission, and helps to create a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government.
The “Apps Against Abuse” challenge is sponsored by HHS and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Additional information and submission guidelines are available at The winner of the challenge will be announced in October 2011.
Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at


HHS Press Office

Monday, July 11, 2011

Whipping, Lashing and Public Humiliation

A year ago, Bangladesh began a crackdown on violent punishments doled out to women under 'fatwas'. The problem? Sometimes the law just isn't enough.

In January, a female survivor of rape in Bangladesh was labelled an adulteress and consequently sentenced to 100 lashes. Following the lashes, 14-year-old Hena Akhter's mother reported, "She couldn't speak or eat afterwards, and she was bleeding through her nose, ears and mouth." Hena died  days later. Since January, reports claim at least 3 other girls have committed suicide following similar public punishments.

These punishments are illegal in Bangladesh. Please do note, fatwas are used in other locations--any that are strongly Islamic. Although this law protects women and their rights, local officials frequently find ways to get around the law.  One of the chief ways of circumventing the illegality of such punishments is to issue "de-facto 'fatwas'".  Fatwas are meant to be religious opinions issued by Islamic scholars.  Such opinions take the form of punishments including whipping, lashing, publicly humiliating women and girls by forcibly cutting their hair or blackening their faces, ostracizing women, girls, and families, and imposing fines.  

At this point, a number of organizations, groups, and individuals are speaking out against the use of fatwas. The continued use of these orders only perpetuate violence against women.

To learn more about this, I encourage you to read this, this and this.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Women are Weapons

This topic is nothing new; yet, it seems to continue to rear its ugly head often. Today a news article was published on a Libyan woman's plight after being raped for 2 days by 15 men.  WHAT? Yes. And let me also mention that where this woman, Iman al-Obeidi, is located, being raped is seen as dishonorable and she risks being killed via an honor killing.  So, let's recap: first she is raped for days by multiple men and then she is revictimized when having to fear that she'll be blamed for the rapes and perhaps punished by death.  Ultimately, Iman came forward with her story and hence its publication and publicity. Her courage and fight is inspiring. Iman is an educated woman, having received her law degree, and is now safe in Romania.

Iman is one of MANY woman that are raped during times of intense war and strife. The Democratic Republic of Congo is well-known for rape as a weapon of war. The UN estimates 15,000 women and girls are raped annually in Congo. In fact, the article on Iman mentioned that between June 10-June 12, local medical reports say 258 women were raped in Congo.  Unbelievable.

In times of war, some women do not even know which side their rapists fall under.  Women are held captive and repeatedly raped as a means of "getting back at" their enemies. Women are impregnated to further torture them and then they are thrown out of these rape/death camps once the baby can no longer be safely aborted.

Why is it women and their bodies are treated as disposable? Why are women seen as a tool? A weapon? A means of retaliation upon one's enemy?  And, why, if a woman was raped, such as Iman, is she then held accountable for the rape when her rapists are not? Victim blame much? I think so!

Personally, I think victim blaming is coming back with a vengeance. Take for example the more local and very publicized case of Lauren Spierer, the 20 year old female who was walking home around 4:30am one morning and never made it home.  I have heard over and over, "Well, she really shouldn't have been out then." "Why was she walking alone at that time anyway?" "She should have known better."

Huh? Why are women not allowed to walk alone? Why are women not allowed to be out at any time day or night? Why is it HER fault?  I suggest we change our words and ask ourselves, 'why does someone think they have the right to harm someone else?'

Whether it is the women in the Congo, Lauren Spierer, one of your close family or friends, or maybe is not the victim's fault. Women are trained to walk in groups, in daylight, with mace, after self-defense class, dressed conservatively, and fully aware at all times of their surroundings. Locate the nearest emergency phone on campus. Have your cell phone ready to dial 911. So FEAR (of rape, or kidnapping, or attack, etc) is also a weapon. Is it not? It is a means of control.

Let's think back to the tips from Slutwalk Denver. It is not the victim's fault if she is kidnapped, raped, beaten, or harmed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Women Changing the World: No More Silence

"Women who refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice, who persist in spite of overwhelming obstacles to use all legal avenues available in pursuit of their cause, these women have changed the world."

A new UN report has just been released reporting on women's access to justice in over 190 countries. The report begins by reminding readers that in 1911, only 2 countries allowed women to vote. This has since changed and women's voting rights are almost universal. The report, however, also includes evidence that 125 countries have laws in place outlawing "domestic violence." However, this leaves 66 participating countries without protections against such violence.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting facets of the report was the inclusion of how different women define and understand the concept of justice.  A woman from Uganda described the barriers faced when seeking justice. In order to report violence to the police, it would be her responsibility to raise money to fuel and hire a boat. Otherwise, no one will take you. She stated, "They always protect their fellow rich and powerful" when describing how boat owners refuse to help. Sounds a bit like an "old boys club."  Statements from other women also brought known concepts to the forefront. Women described the need for accountability and the feeling of revictimization. Needless to say, justice means many things and it seemed most often that women were easily able to define justice by describing the injustices they experienced.

A fantastic component of this newly released report was the inclusion of case examples where women have taken a stand against various injustices in their communities.  These cases included gains in the areas of marital rape, the right to be free from sexual harassment at work, reproductive rights, domestic violence legislation and enforcement, inheritance laws, and so much more. Read further about these gains (and others) by clicking here.  It seems unfathomable that women must still fight for the right to be heard, respected, and protected; yet, in many countries this seems to be the norm.  The women in these cases refuse to stay silent and experience injustice any longer.

When thinking about where we have to go from here, think about these numbers:
173 countries guarantee paid maternity leave
139 constitutions guarantee gender equality
125 countries outlaw domestic violence  
117 countries outlaw sexual harassment (This is an improvement; however, it excludes all of women working behind closed doors as domestic labor.)
117 countries have equal pay laws
115 countries guarantee women's equal property rights

Just a reminder, the report includes over 190 countries. These numbers are drastic improvements made over the last 30 years. My question, however, remains, where are all of the other countries in these numbers? Only 117 countries outlaw sexual harassment? Seems we have a long way to go still. So, what does the report suggest we can do? 

The report provides 10 approaches for making justice systems work for women. These include:
1) Support women's legal organizations
2) Support one-stop shops and specialized services to reduce attrition in the justice chain
3) Implement gender-sensitive law reform
          *Action is needed to repeal laws that explicitly discriminate against women; to extend the rule of law to protect women in the private domain, including from domestic violence; and to address the actual impact of laws on women’s lives.
4) Use quotas to boost the number of women legislators
5) Put women on the front line of law enforcement 
          *Data show that there is a correlation between the presence of women police officers and reporting of sexual assault.
6) Train judges and monitor decisions
7) Increase women's acceSs to to courts and truth commissions in conflict and post-conflict contexts
8) Implement gender-responsive reparations programs
          *Reparations are the most victim-focused justice mechanism and can be a critical vehicle for women’s recovery post-conflict. Reparations programmes must take account of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and include individual, community and symbolic measures, as well as access to services and land restitution. 
9) Invest in women's access to justice
10) Put gender equality at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals
To read more about these approaches for making change, go here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Casey Anthony & Violence by Women

The buzz these last few weeks, and especially today, has been all about Casey Anthony. The verdict of not guilty has clearly stunned many. As I read through Facebook, I saw responses of shock, disappointment and disgust toward the members of the jury, toward our criminal justice system as a whole, and toward Casey Anthony.

This case has made me question a number of things. First, why has Casey Anthony been given so much attention? Is it her status as a mother?  If this is the case, I question why more attention isn't paid to other stories of mothers performing violence against their children. Think, for example, about the story of the mother in Florida who killed her 2 teen children for "talking back."  Or, what about the mother (also in Florida) who shook her baby when he interrupted her gaming on Farmville? Did you hear about that one?

But, transitioning to a global scale and more gendered forms of violence, are you familiar with female circumcision? Breast ironing? Female infanticide? For today, we'll focus on breast ironing.  Check out the video below. WARNING: May be upsetting. Graphic images included.

So, do you feel equally upset with these women as you do with Casey Anthony? Andrea Yates? Alexandra Tobias? Should all of these women be held equally accountable?

Unlike Casey Anthony, these mothers are openly admitting to the process of breast ironing and standing behind their choices to take hot objects against their young female children.  But, breast ironing is largely done as a means of protection. It is believed that the breasts seduce men. So, if the breasts are made smaller and less attractive, these young girls can escape rape, teen pregnancy, HIV and STIs, and instead continue their educations.  Does this change the way you feel about the actions performed upon these 9-15 year old girls?

Now, let's complicate things a bit. How does cultural relativism play a role? You know, the idea that all cultures are of equal value and thus practices must be examined from a framework of the particular culture in which it occurs.  We know Casey falls under our criminal justice system in the U.S.  So, I'm asking now, is it our right, as Americans, to take our beliefs, values, and laws to other countries?

Finally, the question must be asked, why are women performing violence against their children? For some the answer may be in the patriarchal culture. For others, perhaps we need to more closely look at mental health. And, in yet others, perhaps education is the key. I don't have the answer.

So, while we continue to think about Casey Anthony and question our criminal justice system, let's not forget she's not the only one. And she has been found not guilty by a jury of her peers. The burden of proof was not met. So where does this leave us?

Well, it is my belief that what we do about cases of violence is really up to each of us. While it is easy to focus on Casey Anthony, let's not use her as a scapegoat. We must take responsibility.  We must educate ourselves, educate others,  and then take a stand one way or the other. And, while we are at it, it is also my belief that whether you agree or disagree with cultural relativism, it is a perspective that should be considered before making a judgment.

To read more about breast ironing, check out this link.

As for the other forms of violence against young girls mentioned above that are largely performed by mothers or other female family members (female circumcision & female infanticide)? Well, that is for another day. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day...but not for everyone

Happy 4th of July! Happy Independence Day!

Today is a day to celebrate our freedom as Americans and thank service men and women who continue to serve so that we may have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And these things I am, indeed, grateful for daily. However, did you know that the US Dept of State estimates that some 18,000-20,000 individuals are trafficked into the US annually?

These individuals, many of whom are women, are deceived, kidnapped, exploited, and coerced into our country. Now, just to clarify, trafficking is different from smuggling. Trafficking centers on exploitation, while smuggling centers on transportation. So, I am not referring to smuggling in which immigration laws are deliberately evaded. Rather, I am referring to individuals subjected to an unfree or abusive status in our country. 18,000-20,000 individuals per year living as our neighbors, co-workers, etc? Wow!

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, or abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation

According to the Polaris Project, "human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs, and rural areas in all 50 states and in Washington D.C." Forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor and involuntary domestic servitude are only several forms of trafficking within the U.S. These take many forms within themselves: peddling and begging rings, restaurant and food services, domestic work, hostess and strip clubs, massage parlors, internet based, truck stops

So today, as we celebrate our freedom, please remember that our fight is far from over. "Today there are more people held in slavery than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade" (Polaris). Within our own country there are many, many people victimized and exploited. Check out the Polaris Project of Denver for more information.

Also, if you're wondering more about your individual state, look at this map. It will tell you how the total tips and crisis calls the Polaris Project gets for each state, whether the state has an anti labor trafficking provision, and how many hotline calls are received in total.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What's in a word?

Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, violence against women, partner abuse, domestic terrorism, sexual assault, rape... the list could continue for at least another 5 lines. Alas, what's in a word? What does it really tell us? Are the words really that important if everyone understands? I mean, they do understand, right?

The term for violence between partners has long been debated. Historically domestic violence was the term used; however, problems arose when the term was looked at more critically and individuals began to recognize that partners don't always live in the same domicile and if we do consider all parties living under one roof, then won't we also need to consider violence between siblings?

Furthermore, though slowly changing, how do we account for violence between partners of all sexualities? Not all people are allowed to marry; thus, it's crucial we not use language that excludes the consideration of violence among all people, regardless of personal characteristics.

Also, what about the gendered nature of such language? We know statistically that men are more often perpetrators of violence toward women than are women toward men. Consequently, is it not more exact and correct to call a spade a spade and use the term violence against women?

A final piece of food for thought today is how the use of narrow or broad terms may impact various components of our battle to end violence against women.  If we use a narrow term, such as rape, how might that affect the feelings or understanding of a woman about her experience if she was not "raped" but was indeed sexually assaulted?  Does this contribute to her likelihood of trivializing, minimizing, or self-shaming and self-blaming?  Sexual assault is the crime that goes most underreported.  If we use language that allows or asks a woman to redefine her experience, she will be less likely to report it and seek physical and/or emotional support. Additionally, use of a broad term allows for a woman who has perhaps experienced multiple acts of sexual violence to understand each experience as such.

Critiques of broad language? Well, are you familiar with the phrase, "everything but the kitchen sink"?  Use of broad language can create a breakdown of communication between individuals as they attempt to understand exactly what happened. Moreover, it is much more difficult to accurately and effectively study and discuss 50 behaviors as opposed to 1 specific behavior. In other words, if you are interested in rape, then use the word rape. If you are discussing workplace sexual harassment, then use this term.  Similarly, use of terms such as domestic violence or intimate partner violence include a myriad of forms of violence: physical, emotional, economic, etc.

So, what's in a word? Quite a bit. The language we choose to use in our everyday lives can tell a person quite a lot about the ways we think about violence (or any other topic really).  Just think about the following:

  • Rape vs. sexual assault vs. Non-consensual sexual interaction
  • Female genital mutilation vs. Female genital cutting vs. Female circumcision
  • Intimate partner abuse vs. Intimate partner assault vs. Intimate partner violence
  • Same-sex intimate partner violence vs. Opposite-sex intimate partner violence
  • Same-sex physical assault vs. Opposite-sex economic abuse
  • Violence against women  vs. Violence

Is it important to know the couple is a teen dating couple versus an elderly couple? Is it important to know that the couple is same-sex or opposite-sex?

So, how do you feel about all of this? What comes to mind when you think of the word "assault"? Now, what about the word "abuse"?  Is it important? What words do you choose to use when discussing these topics? Let's get this dialogue rolling! No, seriously. Leave a comment. Tell me what you think and then come back later to see what others have said. So ask yourself:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Consent is Sexy: Slutwalk Denver 2011

It was amazing. Men, women, straight, gay, queer, old, young--all united for the same cause: fighting to end sexual assault.  I participated in both marches that were held. Cars honked in support, people clapped and I believe I even saw a few people join with us.  I took many many pictures. Take a look at a few:

Left sign: Things that cause rape: The outfit I'm wearing; Flirting; How much I'd had to drink; Rapists
Right sign: Consent is sexy

 "Don't tell me how to dress! Tell men not to rape!"

 I will teach my sons to respect sluts, that no means no, that not being able to talk/communicate means no

Wood does not equal should

Marching up Colfax in Denver, CO

So, as you can see, there were many different people with many different awesome messages. I took many, many pictures while at the event, so these are just some of them. And, just to note, I received consent from each person to take her/his picture.  Consent is sexy, right? Right!

Between the two marches that were held, keynote speaker Pamela White spoke.  Pamela has worked as a columnist & journalist for 19 years and was the first woman editor of 2 different Colorado newspapers and has largely focused on covering women’s issues, including sexual assault, intimate partner violence and women in prison. In 2010, White wrote Senate Bill 193, which became law on Jan. 1 of this year and which bans the use of shackles on inmates during labor and childbirth. White is the recipient of numerous state and national journalism awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service, the First Amendment Award, and the 2011 Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award from Colorado SPJ for her body of work. She is a multi-published novelist and the single mother of two grown sons. Her talk was inspiring, honest, and empowering.   She ended her keynote address with the following tips (which accurately place blame in the right place):

!!! Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work !!!
1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.
2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.
3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.
4. If you are in a lift and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.
5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.
6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.
7. When you lurk in bushes and doorways with criminal intentions, always wear bright clothing, wave a flashlight, or play “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)” by the Raveonettes on a boombox really loud, so women in the vicinity will know where to aim their flamethrowers.
8. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.
9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape a woman, you can hand the whistle to your buddy, so s/he can blow it to call for help.
10. Give your buddy a revolver, so that when indifferent passers-by either ignore the rape whistle, or gather round to enjoy the spectacle, s/he can pistol-whip you.
11. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.
So, the moral of the story is that the best way to prevent rape is to not rape anyone.  And, if rape or sexual assault in any form occurs, it is never the victim's fault. We must stop victim blaming and excusing behavior.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

SlutWalk Comes to Denver

Have you heard of Slutwalks? Do you know the goal? What do you think of the name? Will you participate and take a stand?

I've put a link on the side of the blog for the larger website for Slutwalks, but let me tell you a bit about them.

On January 24, 2011 a Canadian representative through the Toronto Police stated: "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." The problems with this statement, in my opinion, are multiple.  Not only does this statement scream "victim blaming!" (you know, when victims of crimes are held completely or partially responsible for the crimes against them--"she drank too much", "she was asking for it by the way she dressed", "she shouldn't have been walking alone at night"), but the use of the word 'slut' by an individual in a position of power representing an organization expected to serve and protect is highly problematic.

As a result of this statement and the implications it holds, individuals have joined together with the mission of spreading the word that those who experience sexual assault are not the ones at fault, ever.

Now, what is with the name? It certainly could turn some people off. But, when you find out the catalyst for these events, it seems to make more sense. Don't be nervous. Don't think you're not invited. These events, these Slutwalks, are for everyone. They are all-inclusive. Men, women, old, young--come one, come all. Dress as you'd like. Some participants purposely dress "provocatively," but this is not a mandate.

So, what do you think? Slutwalks have began to span the globe. We all can take a stand! Tomorrow (6/2/11) is Denver, CO Slutwalk. Check it out! You can find more info about the Denver walk on their facebook page here.

Beginning Today

Education and involvement. These two words really speak to why this blog has been created.  After years (literally) of considering blogging, it finally seems like the right time. Passionate toward educating about topics relating to violence against women and girls (VAWG) worldwide, blogging seems like an excellent way to get the word out and for others to take an active role in educating themselves. This blog serves as a forum for open communication, questioning, analyzing, brainstorming, and community building all centering around a plague that impacts all of us. Violence against women does not discriminate. It crosses all socioeconomic classes, races, ages, religions and sexualities, among other things. We are all affected by it, even when we think we're not.

This blog will be filled with information, resources, news stories, guest posts, position stances, event updates and other ways to get involved in ending violence against women and girls.

I hope you'll come back to read more and share in this journey of lifelong education and involvement in taking a stand against violence against women and girls.