Nel's New Day

November 10, 2014

Dress Codes Help Perpetuate a Culture of Rape

This op-ed piece in today’s Register-Guard (Eugene, OR) gives me hope for the next generation: From Pearl Cutting, a junior at North Eugene High School who attended Kelly Middle School:

“All shirts must have sleeves that fully cover undergarments at all times. Crop tops, halter tops, bare midriff, spaghetti straps or strapless shirts are not permitted. When sitting or standing, the shirt must meet or cover the top of the pants, shorts, or skirt at all times. The neckline of shirts must be no lower than three inches from the bottom of the collarbone or show no cleavage.”

This is the “Shirts” section of Kelly Middle School’s dress code, which is similar to the codes of many high schools and middle schools in the United States. Of course, these policies are meant “to minimize distractions from the learning environment,” as the Kelly Middle School Code states.

As we all know, girls and boys wear different clothes and Kelly’s regulations generally apply only to clothing females would wear. According to this section of the dress code, the female body is a “distraction” that keeps the boys from learning with their darn distracting skin.

Oh, no — what would happen if a boy were to see a girls “undergarments” or cleavage? Heaven forbid that males become aware of females having breasts or wearing bras!

The “Pants, Skirts, and Shorts” section states that pants must not have rips or holes. Short running shorts are not permitted. Yoga pants, tights and leggings are not permitted unless they are worn under a dress or skirt of appropriate length. Skirts should be no shorter than three inches from the top of the knee. Leggings may be worn only with skirts and dresses meeting length requirements. Shorts must have an inseam of at least four inches. Any pants, shorts or skirts that look like pajama bottoms or boxer shorts are unacceptable. Pants and shorts must not sag, and underwear must not be visible. OK, these seem sensible. This section, unlike the previous one, contains rules that apply to both genders.

However, the regulations for clothing that a male would wear are all about looking neat and tidy, while the rules for females are once again all about showing skin. Girls can not wear normal-length shorts or borderline short skirts. Is a leg really that much of a threat to a learning environment?

These regulations are enforced in basic school settings. Students grow up with these taboos ingrained into their brains. Creating all these rules about what females can and cannot wear grossly oversexualizes and exploits their bodies. If you do not allow females to show their legs, a leg suddenly becomes sexual — even though both genders have legs. If the same is done with a bra, immediately undergarments and breasts become grossly exploited.

If dress codes were based in an acceptance of the physical differences in boys and girls, students would become accepting of these differences as well, which would lead to the world’s future adults respecting and accepting each others’ differences.

These issues affect not only me, but all females: “Did you see what she was wearing? She was asking for it.” The epidemic of rape affects all females, even if they have not been victims. All females have been in situations where they have felt the potential of an assault by a male. Even if the assault does not happen, the fact that females feel uncomfortable in certain settings with males demonstrates that all females are aware of the looming possibility.

Starting with school dress codes, people are trained to blame the victim when their bodies are being exploited. Dress codes teach that a woman’s body is sexual, and if she is breaking the code, she is “asking for” verbal or physical assault. This is how rape culture is perpetuated.

School is about learning: learning the class material, learning how to make friends, learning about oneself. If the rules at the school amount to saying “Boys: don’t dress like a homeless person” and “Girls: don’t distract the boys with your skin,” these policies are not making the world more equal — they are only creating ingrained misogyny and oversexualization of women in the minds of the world’s future adults.

These rules say that boys will be boys, we cannot change them, they are not the problem; girls are the problem, girls are distracting, they have to cover themselves up so the boys can focus. Instead of giving girls referrals for wearing shorts, maybe we should teach students that a leg is just a leg.

Thank you, Ms. Cutting!

May 9, 2013

U.S. Military, A Culture of Rape

Last year, there were approximately 26,000 sexual assaults within the U.S. military; that’s over 70 every day. No one know how many for sure because only 3,374 were reported. And these are all assault of on Armed Forces members by others in the Armed Forces. Yet out of all those reported, there were 238 convictions. And some of those were overturned by a high-ranking officer because that’s the way the military works. [chart]

rape in military chart numbers

Although the number was higher last year that the 19,000 the year before, the women in the military know that this is an ongoing problem and participated in The Invisible War, a documentary that tells the stories of women who became rape victims after they signed up for the military. Other sexual assault survivors have also begun to speak up about their horrific experiences.

During the past few months, a sense of rage about military rapes has grown, a festering boil that erupted when the above numbers were released in the annual Department of Defense report to Congress.

Why so few assaults reported, some people ask. Imagine that you are assaulted on the job and may lose your position—certainly any hope of promotion—if you report the person. The assaulted person has to report the crime to the commanding officer about a person or persons who may also work for the same boss while continuing to live near the attacker without protection. That same commanding officer will be penalized by a number of reports and convictions; it’s to that officer’s benefit to not pursue complaints.

The commanding officer also has the power to overturn convictions without any explanation. That’s what happened to Kim Hanks after she accused Lt. Col. James Wilkerson of assaulting her in March 2012. A jury of five male military officers found Wilkerson guilty of aggravated sexual assault last November, but Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin removed the conviction. To make things harder for Hanks, Wilkerson was reassigned to the Tucson Air Force base in the city where many of Hanks’ family live. The Air Force had also told Hanks that they would involve her in Wilkerson’s reassignment. They didn’t.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) echoed many the anger of many people about this situation when she said:

“The military needs to understand that this could be a tipping point. I question whether, after this incident, there’s any chance a woman assaulted in that unit would ever say a word. There’s a culture issue that’s going to have to be addressed here. And what this decision did–all it did was underline and put an exclamation point behind the notion that if you are sexually assaulted in the military–good luck.”

If victims of sexual assault report the crime, military codes can punish them for adultery if they are married. Persons reporting an assault might face court martial. Or they may be charged with “conduct unbecoming an officer”; they may lose rank; and they may be accused of having “set up the men.” One of the women in The Invisible War said a woman who reported the third rape in a week in one unit was asked, “You girls think this is a game; are you all in cahoots?”

The question is not why so few assaults were reported but why so many people, mostly women, are brave enough to report the crime despite the personal consequences. Sixty-two percent of military women report social, professional, or administrative retaliation after they are brave enough to report a sexual assault.

All these issues make the military a place where serial rapists can flourish. Studies show that most rapists are serial predators. For example, civilians convicted of rape are on the average responsible for seven to 11 sexual assaults.

President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have taken the position that sexual assault is a crime that will not be tolerated in the military. The official White House statement wrote:

“Overall, the White House has made the health of the force a top priority, and will be working with the Department of Defense on results and accountability on efforts to eliminate sexual assault in the military.”

Fortunately, Congress has decided to take action about this decades-old debacle. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), working with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), plans legislation to remove commanding officers from making decisions about taking serious assault cases to trial, despite the opposition of Hagel, and turning that job over to experienced trial prosecutors. The bill also proposes amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice “so that the convening authority may not (a) set aside a guilty finding or (b) change a finding of guilty to a lesser included offense,” according to a Gillibrand aide.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have introduced a bill to strengthen assault-prevention efforts, create Special Victims’ Counsels to help survivors navigate the legal process, and automatically trigger referral of sexual-assault cases to the court-martial level or “next superior competent authority when there is a conflict of interest in the immediate chain of command.” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) plans to introduce a companion bill in the House.

Also in the House, Mike Turner (R-OH) and Niki Tsongas (D-MA) have introduced “the Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act of 2013 (BE SAFE) Act.” The act “requires that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge.” It also reforms the Uniform Code of Military Justice to remove the possibility of lessening sentences or setting aside convictions of those convicted of serious sex crimes.

Even before these actions, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) reintroduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act) that would stop officers from overturning sexual assault convictions. The STOP Act, with 83 co-sponsors, would remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command and put it under the jurisdiction of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military personnel.

If Hagel wants to keep control with his commanding officers, he had better do something about their disgusting attitude toward women and sexual assaults. At a Senate hearing this week, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh blamed an increase in sexual assault in the military on the “hookup” culture prevalent among young people. Welsh said 20 percent of female recruits report being assaulted before they joined the military. “They come in from a society where this occurs,” he said. Thus he blames the victim and sees very little problem with sexual assault—more like a bad date.

The tipping point in reforming the military’s culture of rape, however, may come from the officer in charge of the service’s Sexual Prevention and Response program. After Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski “allegedly” grabbed and groped a woman last weekend, he was charged with sexual battery. Unfortunately for Krusinski, she fought back, and the mug shot of his scratched and bloodied face has gone viral across the Internet.

Seven women senators, five of them lawyers, now sit on the Armed Services Committee. At this time, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is blocking President Obama’s nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms for vice commander of the Air Force’s Space Command because she intervened on behalf of a fellow pilot and Air Force captain who had been convicted by a military jury of aggravated sexual assault. Against the advice of legal counsel, she overturned the jury verdict.

Before Welsh’s “hook up” statement and Krusinski’s arrest for sexual battery, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said that he thought the Pentagon doesn’t suffer from “a serious problem” of military commander’s overturning sexual assault convictions and wanted to postpone any proposed changes to military law.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno testified before the Senate that a commander’s role to enforce military law “is simply essential.” The question is whether military leaders find it essential for them to determine law without any jury.

 

March 20, 2013

Every School Needs to Teach What Rape Is

“If you look at crime statistics these things happen everywhere and we’re not any different than any other community,” said [Athletic Director Mike McKenna] in reference to the charge of second-degree sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl by two of his 18-year-old football players. Other Torrington High School (CT) officials insist that this and other complaints of hazing at the school are just separate instances and not part of a cultural problem.

Edgar-Gonzalez-and-Joan-Toribio-1 football

Edgar Gonzalez (right) and Joan Toribio have been charged not only with this sexual assault but other crimes involving different 13-year-old girls. Before the sex assault charges against Gonzalez, the team’s Most Valuable Player, was charged in a March 2012 alleged felony robbery. He is accused of jumping three juveniles, 14-years-old, in search of money. Former Head Coach Dan Dunaj let Gonzalez play after a stern talking to: “I reeled the kid in after that, and he walked the line. As a coach I was doing something right.”

The district’s policies for dismissing student athletes are taken on a case by case basis, according to McKenna, Dunaj and Torrington School Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko. McKenna said a “serious infraction” would cause a student athlete to be suspended from play, but couldn’t say, when asked, if that would be a felony or a misdemeanor. He said he did consider violent felonies a “serious infraction.” He also said that he didn’t know anything about the three felony and two misdemeanor charges pending against Gonzalez from the March 2012 incident and that he was never informed of that incident. Dunaj resigned in January 2013 after five years at the school.

r-EDGAR-GONZALEZ-JOAN-TORIBIO-large570

As in the Steubenville (OH) case that led to prison for the rapists, the 13-year-old girl has been victimized by the community. Both males and females have called her a “whore” and criticized her for “snitching” and “ruining the lives” of the 18-year-old football players. Students trying to defend the victim are in turn bullied. These are some of the offensive tweets, sometimes repeated:

 “I wanna know why there’s no punishment for young hoes.”– @asmedick

Twelve days after the alleged incident.”–@AyooWilliam

“I hope you got what you wanted.”

“Sticking up for a girl who wanted the D and then snitched? have a seat pleaseeee.–@ShelbyyKalinski.

Since July 2011, Connecticut state law mandates that school districts address cyber-bullying that takes place off of school grounds. According to the Connecticut Commission on Children, Public Act 11-232, school districts are required to take “Comprehensive steps to prevent bullying, humiliation or assault.” Districts must take action if there are repeated online incidents that affect the school environment or the student’s ability to attend school.

Social media not only shows the original crime but also the following problem: a victim-blaming rape culture that is inclined to take the side of the assailant instead of the victim.

An editorial in Litchfield County’s newspaper, The Register Citizen, clearly stated opposition to school officials’ attitudes and responses toward the students’ actions:

“We hope and trust that the posture of denial and defensiveness Torrington school officials have taken toward the idea that there is a culture of abuse and harassment emanating from the high school football program will be dropped very quickly this morning.

“The city woke up to detailed revelations in The Register Citizen about a coach who tolerated violent behavior and a school district whose policies were vague and not enforced and gave the benefit of the doubt to students who’d been charged with serious crimes but also happened to be key to scoring a lot of touchdowns.

“Worst of all, and what will cause an ugly statewide, perhaps national, spotlight to shine on Torrington in the coming days, the newspaper uncovered dozens of Torrington High School athletes and students, male and female, bullying the 13-year-old victim of an alleged sexual assault by two 18-year-old football players.

“They called her “whore,” “snitch,” blamed her for “ruining the lives” of the players. They harassed and bullied students who dared defend her. Assuming they were unaware of these social media posts (and no doubt, similar conversations in school classrooms and hallways), we expect the stance and leadership of Athletic Director Mike McKenna and Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko to change dramatically.

“McKenna said, “If you think there’s some wild band of athletes that are wandering around then I think you’re mistaken.”

“Well actually, there was a hazing scandal the school district still hasn’t explained, the MVP of the team was allowed to play all of last season despite pending felony robbery and assault charges which also involved another football player, and then the latest incident of a sexual assault arrest of two players. McKenna says he didn’t even know about the felony robbery and assault charges or that the coach knew about them and still allowed his MVP to play. So maybe the athletic director isn’t even qualified to insist that there’s not a “wild band of athletes” causing trouble all over town.

“In fact, the behavior of athletes does appear to be out of control and unacceptable.

“And the suggestion that it’s a ‘few bad apples’ and not a deeper cultural problem in the school district is obliterated by the Twitter and Facebook messages of dozens of Torrington High School students.

“The first step in recovering from this is admitting you have a problem. And after reading the social media accounts of average, “good” students at Torrington High School, it’s clear that Torrington students need an urgent education about blaming the victim, bullying and harassment, what “consent” means, why statutory rape is rape, period, and where football should stand in relation to their education and the rest of life.

“Let’s hope that starts today.”

One of the two teenage rapists in Steubenville said that he didn’t know what he did was rape. A thorough education described above is vital for every school in the United States. We all need to start lobbying for this in order to change the culture of rape within all our communities.

March 18, 2013

Media Vindicates Steubenville Rapists

Imagine a segment of Law and Order that begins with the scene of an unconscious drugged 16-year-old girl being dragged from one house to another over several hours while large football players stopped to sexually assault her, urinate on her, and spray their semen on her. No one intervened; they just called themselves the “rape crew” and joked while they took videos. The girl woke up the next morning, naked without jewelry and cellphone, in an unfamiliar house.

On this fantasy program, the police would identify the perpetrators, discover that this is a part of the male’s behavior, and then bring justice to the girl. Courts would try the male teenagers as adults and force them to serve actual time in prison. But I did mention that this program is a fantasy.

The first scene actually took place in Steubenville (OH); the rest of the events failed the raped girl. Instead school officials and local authorities covered up the assault in their attempts to protect the perpetrators and the school’s athletic program. On August 22nd, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were arrested for the rape in question, but the country prosecutor and judge charged with handling juvenile cases stepped away from the case. The sheriff asked for witnesses, but no one stepped forward.

Meanwhile, the assaulted girl’s family received death threats, and Steubenville football coach, Nate Hubbard, said, “The rape was just an excuse.” The sheriff refused to acknowledge Ohio law that not reporting a crime is actually a crime when he claimed that people viewing and photographing the assault did nothing illegal. The case languished until an online blogger wrote about this egregious abuse of justice. Then 134 days after the assault, the hacker collective Anonymous threatened to reveal the names of unindicted participants.

On January 1, KnightSec, a collective of Anonymous, threatened to come forward with further information if those involved did not take responsibility. They also posted a demand for an apology by school officials and local authorities for covering up the rape. Receiving no response, they released a 12-minute video in which one player incriminates himself by repeatedly referencing the girl as both “raped” and “dead.” Both the person on camera and those talking around him can be heard referring to her as “raped.”

During the brief trial with no jury, self-identified “friends” of the girl testified against her. A 17-year-old said that the girl “lies about things,” and the other one said that she had told the girl to stop drinking.

Richmond received the minimum sentence of one year for rape when he was found guilty of using his fingers to penetrate the girl while she was unconscious. Mays, found guilty of penetrating the girl while she was unconscious and dissemination of pornographic pictures of her, was given a minimum sentence of two years. Mays and Richmond also will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

The people in the United States should be shocked at the light sentence, but what happened after that was worse. Judge Thomas Lipps’ advice to teenagers is “to have discussions about how you talk to your friends; how you record things on the social media so prevalent today; and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by your friends.” Mays got the judge’s message when he “apologized” to the girl’s parents. “No pictures should have been sent out, let alone been taken,” he said.

An Sunday afternoon CNN segment following the judge’s decision took the side of the rapists. Poppy Harlow reported, “It was incredibly emotional, it was difficult for anyone in there to watch those boys break down.” The segment twice aired Richmond’s father’s appeal for forgiveness in full. Breaking the news of the decision earlier, Candy Crowley lamented that the “promising” lives of the rapists had been ruined.

Harlow followed up on Crowley’s lament: she said that it had been “incredibly difficult” to watch “as these two young men–who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students–literally watched as they believed their life fell apart. One of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, as that sentence came down, he collapsed.” Harlow added that the convicted rapist told his attorney that “my life is over, no one is going to want me now.” CNN then played video of Richmond crying and hugging his lawyer in the courtroom.

Mainstream media was little better. ABC News made excuses for the rapist when it ran a profile of Richmond before the trial. “He was in a celebratory mood” the night of the assault. Another story describes the criminal proceedings as “every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world,” ignoring the crime of rape. NBC Nightly News followed CNN in mourning the loss of the rapists’ “promising football careers.”

The Associated Press and USA Today stressed that the victim was drunk, omitting the strong possibility that she was drugged. They described the defendants as “two members of the high school football team that is the pride of Steubenville.” Yahoo News complained how the victim forced the town into an emotional situation: “The town is being torn apart from the pain over the fact that the boys might be punished, not from the outrage over the crime they committed.”

Fox News went even farther when it reported the girl’s name but not the defendants. In an editors’ note, it explained: “The Associated Press named the minors charged due to the fact they have been identified in other news coverage and their names were used in open court. FoxNews.com will not name the defendants.”

The media plays a large part of promoting the country’s rape culture and the refusal of rape victims to report their assaults to the authorities. Only 46 percent of these victims go to the police, and only three percent of these rape cases end in a conviction. The girl in Steubenville is only one of the victims who are tried in court and in the social media as a “whore” who just asked to be raped. People in the United States tut-tut about rapes in India or elsewhere in the world but are unable to accept that the same crime is committed in their safe little communities.

In “Why Acquaintance Rape Is Not a Myth,” Zerlina Maxwell wrote:

“What made Mays and Richmond think it was okay to carry a girl, seemingly too intoxicated to walk, from party to party? If the accuser was passed out and unable to walk, as some witnesses have described, why didn’t Mays and Richmond seek out transportation so that she could make it home safely?

“No one ever questions why Mays and Richmond thought it was fun to hold the accuser by her hands and feet like a rag doll, with her head hanging back limply while an onlooker took a picture of her. No one ever asks why the accused thought it would be fun to use their hands to penetrate a drunken girl. No one ever asks.

“The Steubenville rape trial is simply the latest example of rape culture playing out in real time. The defense is attempting a victim blaming strategy because it works.”

Naysayers can claim that justice was done because Richmond and Mays were sentenced to juvenile prison for a brief time. But these two young men will continue with their lives while the victim continues to be tried in the media. And the country will continue to condone—and even promote—the culture of rape until every male comes to realize that this could happen to a woman he loves and every female understands that it could happen to her.

Those who suffer from the arrogant belief that they can never be raped don’t understand that they are committed to a lifetime of constant vigilance because during a few seconds of carelessness people can have their food or drink drugged. Those who believe that they are too old forget that rape is not about sex. Rape is about power.

Until the country eradicates its culture or rape, everyone runs the chance of being a victim vilified by the press and denied justice.

Update: Two teen girls, ages 15 and 16, have been arrested for threatening the rape victim via social media. They are being held in the Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center. In addition, the head football coach at Steubenville High School and the owners of a house where the 12-minute video was filmed could be investigated. Reno Saccoccia “took care of it,” Mays said in one text introduced by prosecutors at the trial.

February 11, 2013

Indifference Leads to Culture of Rape

“If you think that rapes only happen at Notre Dame or in India or in Steubenville, you are wrong. A person is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes, and many of these are in small towns, including where you live. For every 100 rapes, only three lead to jail time for the rapist.”

I wrote this on January 23, 2013 in Nel’s New Day. Since then, the Portland (OR) chief of police, Mike Reece, has shown that his ignorance may promote the culture of rape in this Northwestern city. The media is forcing Reece to rethink his personnel decisions,  but without the prevalence of newspaper articles about his indifference to—or ignorance about—what constitutes sexual contact, a demoted police officer might have continued to direct detectives who investigate sexual assault and human trafficking in this city of over 2 million people.

Reece’s problem went public last summer after a Portland police review board voted 5-1 to fire a captain, Todd Wyatt, because he inappropriately touched female employees and continued a road rage confrontation by pointing a gun at another motorist when he was off duty. Board documents showed that it found him “untruthful” and questioned his ability to perform with integrity. Part of the testimony was an audiotape of Wyatt’s meeting with a subordinate and the employee’s union representative in which he lost his temper and threatened to have the subordinate arrested. One board member “believed that [Wyatt] manipulated the truth in these encounters and never saw himself at fault,” instead mischaracterizing the motives of those who complained about his behavior.

Reece demoted Wyatt to lieutenant and re-assigned him to supervising robbery and sex crimes investigators. Wyatt said that he had apologized to one of the several female employees complaining about his behavior four different times and had attended sexual harassment training four times.

Even Reese has found Wyatt a problem employee. In a lengthy letter after an internal investigation relying on multiple credible witnesses including Washington State patrol officers, Reece showed Wyatt to be a hot-tempered bully who makes insulting and inaccurate snap judgments about civilians, says demeaning things about women, and engages in unwanted thigh-touching at work. Reece also indicated that he reassigned Wyatt to the sex crimes division because he needed “close supervision.”

The letter quoted Washington State patrol officers who described Wyatt as “arrogant and cocky” after they stopped Wyatt following another driver’s 9-1-1 call and faulted Wyatt for escalating the road rage incident. Reece wrote, “Even after six months following the incident, your statements do not reflect a thoughtful and appropriate approach.”

Wyatt’s reference to one woman who complained about his touching was redacted in his disciplinary letter, but the response remains readable: “The victim’s ‘physical appearance or level of education or skill is irrelevant. Your comment is insulting and unprofessional and shows a lack of accountability or awareness as to how your actions are perceived by others.'” In addition, the letter states, “… your [Wyatt’s] response lacks a general sense of awareness of the different points of view regarding power and authority. Additionally, your comments about [redacted] are unprofessional to say the least.”

In a meeting with the editorial board of Portland’s newspaper The Oregonian, Reece said that he didn’t consider the women’s complaints to be “sexual in nature.” The “inappropriate touching” described in the women’s complaints was Wyatt’s rubbing them on their legs and thighs at work. Wyatt claimed that he only touched one of the women on her knee with his knuckle when he said good morning to her.

Since the media attention, Reece has reassigned Wyatt to his own office to handle special projects. Wyatt, who contends that he was the subject of frivolous claims retaliating for his part in contract talks, plans to sue the city over his demotion. The Portland Police Commanding Officers’ Association, which represents lieutenants and captains, also has filed a grievance with the city, challenging Wyatt’s discipline. Rob Wheaton, an AFSCME Local 189 union representative for civilian employees in the police bureau’s records division, dismissed Wyatt’s allegation that the complaints were retaliatory. “I think that shows an exaggerated sense of self worth,” Wheaton said.

According to columnist Susan Nielson, a 2007 city audit of Portland’s rape response found that detectives often see sex crimes as a less desirable assignment, partly because of very high turnover among supervisors. “Many detectives who do come to work in the sexual assault detail,” auditors said, “are waiting until other assignments open elsewhere.” National crime surveys show that the majority of victims of sexual assault don’t go to the police. Victims fear being judged, demeaned, and touched by strangers; they fear people with power will side against them.

Yet Reece chose to send Wyatt to be in charge of these investigators after a series of complaints by his female colleagues about his unwarranted touching. He said, “The women never complained it was a sexual encounter.”

Phyllis Barkhurst, who spent 17 years in Oregon assessing sexual harassment complaints for businesses and local governments, said about Wyatt’s case, “This is inappropriate behavior targeting one gender, and sexual harassment under the law is a form of sexual discrimination.” Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or conduct of a sexual nature that’s directed toward a person because of gender. It can include physical touching or graphic comments. Perhaps Reece needs to attend sexual harassment training.

This “culture of indifference” is repeated across the nation.  Members of “the Athletics department and the Penn State administration contributed to a climate where athletes, staff, and faculty within the Athletics program either felt immune from possible repercussions of their actions or felt fearful in reporting what they saw or heard,” according to NOW activist Joanne Tosti-Vasey. Last summer Tosti-Vasey, past president of Pennsylvania NOW, called on “every school in this country [to] heed and change their policies and programs to end any form of campus violence against anyone who steps foot on their campuses.”

The culture of indifference continues with the prosecution of the alleged rape in Steubenville (OH) when perpetrators made a video of carrying a teenage girl from one house to another and raping her. Although Ohio A.G. Mike DeWine stated that “knowledge in and of [the rapes] is not a crime under Ohio law,” a blog pointed out that “Ohio Law decrees that ‘no person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities… Whoever violates division (A) or (B) of this section is guilty of failure to report a crime.'”  DeWine criticized the social media for their involvement, but without their participation, it is likely that no one would have been charged in this crime.

Erin Matson reported that the Washington, D.C. police would not file a report about a man who exposed himself to her and masturbated because she didn’t stay with the man until the police came. Her treatment by the police shows a culture of indifference.  Watson’s blog about parent Laura Murphy wanting to ban Toni Morrison’s Beloved for all students in the Fairfax County School District (VA) also demonstrates that parents are trying to shield everyone from the problems that surround them.

Despite the school district’s policy that allow students to opt out of reading assigned texts because of parental objection, Murphy is working for a state law that would require schools to notify parents before sexual topics arise in the classroom so that they can remove their children from the class. When school officials explained that AP English is a college-level class that often involves discussions of adult topics, Murphy said, “To me, mature references means slavery or the Holocaust.”

Murphy’s position that it’s okay talk about the history of the Holocaust in another country but not about the problems in our own community supports the culture of indifference—an attitude that leads to the culture of rape.

January 23, 2013

We Need to End the Culture of Rape

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:58 PM
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For over a week, the media was obsessed with the mythical girlfriend of Manti Te’o, a Notre Dame football player, who was supposedly heartbroken because his beloved girlfriend had died last fall. Although he claimed that he had actually seen the young woman, it turned out to be a gigantic hoax.

But the death of a young woman connected to Notre Dame football players remained largely invisible as far as the media was concerned. Two years ago, Lizzy Seeberg was sexually assaulted by one of the football players. She reported this to the police who failed to investigate the assault. The attacker’s teammates terrified Lizzy, and she committed suicide. Another young woman taken to the hospital for a rape exam refused to accuse the Notre Dame football player who sexually attacked her because she had received bullying texts from the teammates. The university has called for an investigation into the Te’o event, but no disciplinary action was ever taken against the football players.

The situation at Notre Dame is not unique. After a two-year investigation, Human Rights Watch has uncovered “disturbing evidence of police failure” in the Washington, D.C. police force in their failure to investigate reports of rape. The 200-page report will be released tomorrow.

Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project, a legal advocacy group specializing in sexual violence cases, said, “This is a national crisis requiring federal action. We need a paradigm shift in police culture, because rapes and sexual assaults are being swept under the rug, and too many victims are being bullied.” In cities across the United States, the police list a large number of reported rapes as “unfounded cases.” Although the national average is 6 percent, Pittsburgh shelves 34 percent of its cases, North Carolina 31 percent, Atlanta 24 percent, etc. New Orleans shelved 50 percent of sex attack cases as “non-criminal complaints.” In New York, the number of recorded rapes declined, but the number of sex crimes labeled as mere misdemeanors rose.

According to experts, an average of 5 percent of reported rapes are falsified. Anything over that shows that investigators don’t believe large number of victims or threaten and arrest them.

Cities also report thousands of untested rape kits. Former Miss Arizona Hilary Peele is a rape victim-turned advocate after her rape kit was neglected following an attack in her apartment in 2004. Police didn’t test her kit for DNA until she had called every two weeks for eight months. In Cleveland, Ohio, serial rapist and murderer Anthony Sowell was caught in 2011 after killing 11 women, six of them after a rape kit was disregarded. Milwaukee serial rapist Gregory Below was finally sentenced to 350 years in 2011, but three of his victims said the police initially dismissed their cases.

The country has one-half million or more untested kits are stacked up around the country. In Illinois alone, 80 percent of rape kits were untested as of 2010. In Michigan, the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, discovered over 11,000 untested rape kits, some dating to the 1980s.

Even worse, some states require women or their insurance companies to collect the evidence in these rape kits. In 31 states, rapists can get visitation rights if their victims carry pregnancies full term.

If you think that rapes only happen at Notre Dame or in India or in Steubenville, you are wrong. A person is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes, and many of these are in small towns, including where you live. For every 100 rapes, only three lead to jail time for the rapist.

These problems were made very clear at our most recent local NOW meeting when a special prosecutor for sex crimes in our Oregon Coast county spoke about the rape culture of this area. She talked about her first case when she took this position. The case had been abandoned in the DA office for four years because they thought it couldn’t be successfully prosecuted. Although it was common knowledge among the young man’s peers that he had raped several girls, he came from a well-liked family in the community.

Because the rapes were common knowledge, his freedom communicated the message–every day–that rape is acceptable. As the prosecutor said, every community has privileged kids who can act with impunity. People make justifications for not prosecuting rape: the victim was drunk, she is one of “those people,” she dressed like she wanted it. With their sense of entitlement, perps get told that it’s okay to violate “some people.” Forcible rape is frequently called “innocent sexual experimentation.”

It’s not just the rapists who make the act of sexual assault acceptable to the community. Police officers (as the report on Washington, D.C. shows) who overlook rape, attorney generals who ignore the arrests, and the judges who have their own biases, like the one in California who said that there is no rape unless the woman is “torn up inside”–these are the people who legitimize rape.

The talk by this international authority on sexual assault was tragic enough, but her message about the culture of rape in our community was compounded by the people who did not attend. Local police officers, prosecutors, judges, the DA, and all the other people who can stop the rape culture were notified. They just didn’t think it was important to come. That absence reinforces the silence that perpetuates the rape culture of any community. People are left to say, “It doesn’t happen in my county.”

Many times, a meeting likes this ends when people leave the room. I hope that this isn’t going to happen this time. One person attending has already written a letter to the local newspaper which read in part:

“We were disheartened that community leaders, law endorsement, and elected officials chose not to attend. It seems to send a message that sex abuse is to be tolerated and kept quiet, in effect sending a message to victims that nothing will be done if they report.”

The agenda for the next local NOW meeting is to develop a strategy designed to change the rape culture of our community. I look forward to reporting on that plan.

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