“We Believe You” should be read by parents, high-school seniors, college personnel, and law-enforcement (both police and prosecutors). It needs to be placed in college and university bookstores, including those schools featured as being on the wrong side of this public epidemic.
The film is Kirschenbaum’s undertaking to get to the bottom of her family’s dynamics, and why her mother had such enmity towards her. “What went wrong?” she asks.
Watford pronounced to the audience during her acceptance speech, “It isn’t the fate of our community — or our planet — to be a dumping ground.”
The Hunting Ground, a 2015 documentary examining rape on college campuses, begins with scenes of ecstatic high school seniors getting into the colleges of their choice.
These clips grimly foreshadow the horrific experience that they will encounter when they join the ranks of the one out of five women and 5 percent of men who will be sexually assaulted while attending college.
For those whose lives dramatically changed when they entered the realm of rape survivor, there is no expiration date.
This is made abundantly clear by Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, the co-founders of End Rape on Campus (EROC). They also have edited the book, We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out. It is a stunning and heart-wrenching anthology of survivor essays combined with information, rights and resources, an explanation of Title IX, and “Help 101.” (The EROC website has extensive information as well, including direct support services.)
It should be read by parents, high-school seniors, college personnel, and law-enforcement (both police and prosecutors). It needs to be placed in college and university bookstores, including those schools featured as being on the wrong side of this public epidemic.
(Yes, there is a very extensive list of universities and colleges which have been under “federal investigation for possible Title IX violations as of December 31, 2015.” Expect to see names including Boston University, Sarah Lawrence, Princeton, and the University of California-Berkeley.)
There are currently 272 Title IX investigations open.
Clark and Pino were front and center at the April 26 bipartisan press conference held to bring the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA)(S.590) to the attention of the country. The core mission of CASA is to ensure protection for students, and to systemize response and reporting protocols across the board. Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pointed to the proposed legislation as a “balanced bipartisan package.” He referenced the presence of Clark and Pino, noting, “Their activism was critical.”
Speaking about her ten-year journey originating from the time she was raped, Clark said, “I went to my university for help and I was blamed.” She added that the observation that sexual assault on campus was “a microcosm of the larger picture.”
Pino addressed the importance of the role of “confidential advisor” in the implementation of the bill. “It will give students someone to talk to…to give options, help with decisions, resources, and autonomy,” she said.
Both women, as well as other survivors in attendance, were repeatedly thanked by the Senators for their presence. Joni Ernst (R-IA) discussed the importance of the legislation, stating, “It’s about doing what’s right.” Lindsey Graham (R-SC) commented, “We should do this this year.”
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), both previously active in dealing with rape in the military, have spearheaded the efforts to get traction on this issue. McCaskill cited a survey undertaken in 2014 to establish a “baseline.” It found that over 40 percent of schools hadn’t investigated rape allegations in five years, with one in five colleges reporting more assaults than investigations.
Thirty-three percent of schools had inadequate training in due process and transparency, with 73 percent having no in-place protocol between their campuses and law enforcement. McCaskill wants to see a “fair” environment created. “I don’t want to lose momentum. Let’s get over the finish line,” she asserted.
“This is a victim-led movement,” Gillibrand acknowledged. “They spoke truth to power. They were not going away. The result was they were instrumental in helping to write a bill addressing what happened to them.” She underscored that there needed to be “basic training for all who adjudicate cases.” In response to a question about the rights of defendants, Gillibrand was clear about advocating for parallel treatment of both the victims and those accused. (Rates of false sexual assault claims are 2 to 8 percent.)
The consensus from the senators was to get the bill “floor time,” so that it could be given an “up or down vote.” The core mission of CASA is to ensure protection for students, and to systemize response and reporting protocols across the board.
The bill seeks to redress existing failings and lack of accountability. A standard for “minimum training” would be put into play, covering a clear understanding of what constitutes a crime. The designation of “confidential advisors” would be mandatory. Any sanctions for violations of the student conduct code (like underage drinking) would not be allowable. A national biennial survey would gather information and data on schools with pending cases. The results would be published by the Department of Education.
In a crucial move to unravel the knotty connections between the big business of college sports, student athletes, donors and alumni, a “uniform discipline process” would be introduced. This would prevent the circumvention of accusations — as in the past — when the “athletic department” was allowed to take control of complaints against student-athletes.
Finally, a more stringent enforcement of Title IX penalties for violations of the Clery Act would be enforced, sending a clear message to schools that rape on campus cannot be handled with impunity.
The nuts and bolts of making and passing laws in the Capitol is essential to achieving prosecutions. Yet the announcement felt miles away from the overwhelming immediacy of the We Believe You narratives.
Each story is difficult. The young woman, previously a virgin, sitting ignored in the ER with unstoppable bleeding — from a ripped cervix. The assailant who told his victim, “I’m done with you, you can leave now.” The rape in the middle of a road; the freshman who after his attack asked himself, “What happened?” Equally brutal was the gang rape of a woman who had been drugged and endured seven hours of repeated battering and violation.
Frequently, I thought back to 19-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, profiled in The Hunting Ground. She was unable to make her way back from the trauma of being assaulted by a Notre Dame football player and committed suicide.
We Believe You makes a concerted effort to illuminate a consciousness that is often passed over in the mainstream media. There is no “perfect survivor.” All stories are essential. The reporting process is a minefield (like the military) and frequently becomes a form of “revictimization” — a “secondary assault.”
It’s tough enough for cis, white, hetero women — for women of color, queer and trans survivors, it’s even more deadly.
Any person who’s from a marginalized community may feel threatened by reaching out to school authorities or the police. Princess Harmony wrote in her essay, “Untouchable: Being a Trans Survivor,” that “without access to even the most basic service, such as a trans-competent sexual assault nurse examiner, you won’t get even an investigation into your rape.”
Over 30 percent of survivors develop “psychiatric disabilities.” The rate of PTSD among rape survivors is at a more elevated rate than for veterans who have been in combat. It’s not hard to understand how coping becomes overwhelming when “counselors” victim blame with comments and questions such as, “What were you wearing? Did you say no? Why aren’t you over this? Are you really sure that happened?”
There is a definite disconnect between what serves to support the victim and the agenda of the institution seeking to protect its prestige, fundraising, low crime stats, and sports stars. Professors who have been vocal in championing the needs of rape survivors have quickly found themselves ostracized by their administrators.
Clark and Pino advocate for better instruction on what constitutes healthy relationships, along with a well-defined picture of what consent means (from a local to a national level). Students need to be prepared before they get on campus and face The Red Zone, the precarious period from orientation to Thanksgiving break.
In the words of Clark and Pino:
“Believing survivors is a type of
radical everyday activism, since we live in a
society that suggests that you do
completely the opposite.”
It’s certainly a good place to start.
Image: Courtesy of We Believe You
Originally published at Ravishly.com
It’s easy to get discouraged by the obstacles looming on the environmental landscape. However, the annual Goldman Environmental Prize recipients remind us of the power of the individual to make a difference. (Tragically, the 2015 winner from Honduras, Berta Cáceres, was assassinated in March).
This year, the North American taking home the award was Destiny Watford. At 20-years-old, she is third youngest person to receive the Goldman honor.
Watford, at 17, rallied her student peers and community to push back against — and ultimately stymie — the plans of the Energy Answers International company. They were coordinating to build the largest incinerator in the country in Watford’s home neighborhood of Curtis Bay, South Baltimore.
The residents of Curtis Bay have been subjected to a density of toxic sitings for decades. A report released in 2012 by the Environmental Integrity Project documented that from the years 2005 – 2009, the “Curtis Bay zip code was among the top ten zip codes in the country for the highest quantity of toxic air pollutants released by stationary (non-mobile) facilities.” The area is riddled with industrial plants including those that have processed sewage treatment, medical waste, and fertilizers. Coal piers and billowing smokestacks look down ominously on the local playground and neat row houses. Asthma rates are excessively elevated, and incidences of lung cancer and respiratory disease are high.
A performance of Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, which deals with the theme of truth-telling in the public square, sparked Watford. She connected the dots between the health needs of her community and the agenda of those behind the incinerator project.
United Workers, a human rights group established in Baltimore in 2002 to focus on the concerns of low-wage workers, became the umbrella organization for Free Your Voice — a student group co-founded by Watford. Together, they are fighting for social and environmental justice, equity, and accountability.
Going from house to house, engaging people through direct outreach, Watford and her activist colleagues sought to discuss the incinerator situation and its potential impact. Many older dwellers, who had watched one industry after another add to the local pollution, felt resigned to the situation.
Clear on the problem at hand, Watford stated clearly, “Our system is failing us.” Armed with the facts about the negatives the incinerator would bring to Curtis Bay — including yearly emissions of 240 pounds of mercury and 4,000 pounds of lead released into the air, Watford spearheaded marches, arranged for presentations in front of the Baltimore County Public School board (including a rap performance), city government agencies, and local businesses that had agreed to buy electrical energy from Energy Answers International. The objective was to have entities cancel their contracts and divest from the undertaking.
“We want positive alternatives in our community,” emphasized Watson. The prospect of young children being impaired by cognitive development due to toxins, and others suffering from a range of cardiovascular diseases, was a motivating impetus.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has since pulled the permit that Energy Answers International had secured. It turned out that they were out of compliance with the state rule that demanded construction on a project had to begin during the eighteen months before the air quality permit expired.
Watford is now a student at Towson University. She pronounced to the audience during her acceptance speech, “It isn’t the fate of our community — or our planet — to be a dumping ground.”
Calling for a mobilization of the grassroots with the impassioned declaration, “We have to take the lead,” Watford told the crowd to thunderous applause, “This is a matter of survival. All life is sacred.”
Photo: Courtesy of The Goldman Environmental Prize
This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force
As members of Congress — as well as one candidate for the presidency — repeatedly speak about rolling back women’s reproductive rights, it’s time to take a hard look at the actual status of women in the United States.
Chances are, if the average American woman were stopped on the street and asked, “Do you have equal rights in America under the law?” — she would reply, “Yes.”
But does she?
Women were granted the right to vote in 1920 via the 19th Amendment. It prohibited any citizen from being denied voting rights on the basis of sex.
And that’s all it did.
[Women of color, especially in the South, often faced de facto barriers to voting until the 1960s.]
The suffragettes realized that the 19th Amendment alone would not be sufficient to prohibit discrimination based on gender. Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman spearheaded efforts to make gender a classification for protection. Paul wrote up the verbiage and it was co-introduced in Congress in 1923 by Rep. Daniel Anthony, Susan B. Anthony’s nephew.
Despite being brought before the Congress annually, the amendment got no traction until 1972 when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) finally passed in the House and Senate. Ratification required 38 states to sign on. Before opposition and the 1979 deadline stymied efforts, 35 states had stood firm in their support. Then time ran out.
The amendment was reintroduced in 1982 and has been consistently put forth on a yearly basis. Now, one of it’s staunchest advocates, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), has teamed up with Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) to serve as bipartisan co-sponsors of a new ERA Amendment.
Forces are currently coalescing to finish off business that is almost a century overdue.
Jessica Neuwirth, a lawyer and human rights activist, founded and and serves as the president of the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality. I spoke to her by telephone, to discuss the goals of the organization and her book, Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment Is Now. (Meryl Streep sent copies to all the members of Congress with a cover letter asking for support of the amendment. She heard back from five people.)
“We need a culture of accountability,” Neuwirth told me emphatically, underscoring that the amendment gives women a remedy for discrimination encased in a legal provision. “It’s a matter of principle. It should be set in stone as a fundamental right.”
Neuwirth walked me through some basic legalese. However, the bottom line is simple: An amendment to the Constitution would “create a new baseline and measuring stick on the legal landscape.”
Cases that appear in front of the Supreme Court, from pay equity to gender violence, usually fail on the grounds that there is no Constitutional basis for protection. The Supreme Court most frequently evaluates sex discrimination claims under the 14th Amendment, using “a lower standard of review” than it does for racial and religious discrimination. This is known as “intermediate scrutiny.”
“In order to have inviolable protection, an amendment to the Constitution is needed. It would relieve the necessity of having to prove the intent to discriminate,” Neuwirth pointed out. Plainly speaking, when a specific policy is detrimental only to women, then the principle of ”equal rights on the basis of gender is violated.”
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said, “I would like in my lifetime to see women get fired up about the Equal Rights Amendment.”
Neuwirth’s book brings into crisp focus her points by specifically reviewing court cases where women were denied justice by the American legal system. The examples exemplify the concerns of discriminatory laws, pay equity, pregnancy discrimination, and gender violence.
In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that discrimination against pregnant women did not constitute sex discrimination. In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court decision was parsed as a question of religious freedom rather than an examination of sex discrimination. Neuwirth writes, “The workplace cannot be structured solely around the biology of men.”
The most disturbing rulings emanating from the courts have resulted in a failure to serve victims of gender-based violence. Claims were refuted because there was “no basis of authority for it in the Constitution.” An Equal Rights Amendment would yield, “a right to sexual equality that is fundamental and substantive.”
In the Equal Means Equal foreword, Gloria Steinem posits with irony, “What would have happened if the Founders actually had looked like the country?”
Getting the ERA passed is not just a concern on the bucket list of second-wave feminists. The D.C. director of the ERA Coalition, Bettina Hager, is a millennial — and she has plenty to say on the topic.
When we initially conversed, Hager related that her particular wake-up call came when she first experienced sexual harassment. She knew something was off, but wasn’t able to put her finger on it until she took a women’s studies course in college. She followed up in depth, via e-mail:
“As a woman who was born after the expiration of the 1982 deadline of the ERA, I grew up completely unaware that I was not guaranteed legal equality in the United States. For the vast majority of my life, I truly believed in this false sense of equality. As I grew older I gradually felt I had less power over my own life and experiences, especially in terms of relationships and treatment by my male peers.
In my women’s studies courses I realized that these experiences were a reflection of a systemic issue that stemmed from the unequal treatment of women in our society. It is an undeniable fact that women in this country are not protected from sex discrimination to the fullest extent of the law. This plays out in the way women are treated in our society. The fight for an ERA can open the discussion on gender equality at a national level and make it possible to take a closer look into how sex discrimination affects our daily lives.
The Equal Rights Amendment is an important legal tool. The rights women have gained over the past few decades have been through laws and legislation, which can easily be overturned. The legislative process is a temporary guarantee of equality, while the amendment process is a statement of permanence. The issue of gender equality needs to be a permanent guarantee in our legal system.”
The ERA Coalition has put together a robust website with action tools. This includes a Pledge Page and an Advocacy Page, which drills down on which elected officials have co-sponsored the amendment. I was more than surprised to see my Senator, Chuck Schumer, in the “Non-Supporters” category. (No shock about Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio). A click on Schumer’s name took me to an e-mail formatted letter, allowing me to inform Schumer that “I was concerned to see that you are not a co-sponsor.” It noted politely, “I have taken a pledge to support only elected representatives and candidates who support the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).”
There are direct links to the 114th Congress (2015-2016) resolutions that remove the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the language for the amendment itself.
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Five years before her death in 1977, Alice Paul said in an interview:
“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”
This article originally appeared on the website Ravishly.com
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