Women, Assault, and the Illusion of Statistics

Guest blogger Saira currently works in publishing but dedicates her free time to social commentary on her personal blog. She will soon be a Master of Science candidate at Columbia University. Follow her on twitter @sairakh.

**TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains graphic images and descriptions of physical assault**

Here’s the thing about domestic violence and physical assault: You can list off all the statistics available out there (one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime) without realizing what they really mean. It’s not like abuse is something you can immediately spot. Abuse victims learn to cover evidence or it simply isn’t in a visible place. Emotional scars – well, we all know how those work. It’s easy to brush off statistics because they appear as nothing but numbers and research.

Think about it this way: The next time you’re in a room full of men and women, look around and think of those statistics. Chances are that multiple women in that room have been victims of abuse; they’re just not wearing stickers that identify them as such. Some of the men in that room have also been victims of abuse; those men tend to do an even better job of hiding it. The problem with a statistic is that it’s just a silly number until someone you love becomes one and when that happens, your world feels like it’s crashing down.

[Read more...]

Domestic violence and vicious feminist propaganda: A journey inside the head of a conservative minister of justice

Jarosław Gowin (Official Ministry photo...with a bit of Feminists for Choice commentary)

Here’s an uncontroversial statement: domestic violence is bad. It’s bad for women, children and men. It’s an all-around nasty thing, right? And it’s worth doing all we reasonably can to stop it, right? Well, if you answered yes to both of the previous questions you are in opposition to the Polish Minister of Justice Jarosław Gowin who spent the major part of last week opposing the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Counterintuitive? Yes! Bigoted and incredibly stupid? Yes! In opposition to the minister’s very conservative views of women and marriage? Sadly – no.

The (and I cringe when I write  his job title) Minister of Justice thinks that this convention will force Poland to legally acknowledge partnerships (including – oh, the horror! – homosexual partnerships!). What’s worse – the convention claims that gender is a social construct and men and women shouldn’t be limited in their life choices based on their sex. A former Catholic Church altar boy and current Opus Dei affiliate as well as self-proclaimed defender of ‘common sense’ could not stomach any of this “vicious feminist propaganda” (a charming phrase he uses to describe the Convention in question).

Who would have suspected –  Gowin is proving to be a backward, bigoted chauvinist (pardon the legal jargon).  Although he has surprisingly progressive views on transsexuals and thinks the state should help them live in accordance with their identified gender rather than that assigned at birth (including supporting gender re-assignment surgery). I say surprisingly because a lot of Catholics claim transsexuals are just confused, or something, because “God doesn’t make mistakes”.  He can obviously cut himself off from some of his religiously and conservatively oriented worldview in a few cases but gender equality is not one of them.
[Read more...]

Speaking Out to End the Silence Around Sexual Assault

Feminist Conversations is a weekly column at Feminists For Choice, where we talk to feminist activists from across the interwebs to find out what feminism means to them. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re spotlighting Elisha Adey today, the founder of a new website called SoulSpeakOut. Alisha explains that, “I graduated from The University of Massachusetts in 2010 with a degree in Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and Sociology. My concentrations were violence against women & social work. I’m a certified rape-crisis counselor for the Everywoman’s Center at UMass. I worked for several years on their crisis hot-line as well as co-facilitating a support group and one-on-one counseling for survivors of sexual assault.”

1. What was your inspiration for starting SoulSpeakOut?
SoulSpeakOut was created to fight against the silence surrounding sexual abuse and violence in this society. The survivor’s submissions on SoulSpeakOut chip away at the stigma surrounding discussing sexual abuse, violence and harassment. My close friends and fellow activists, Maria and Stefana and I, wanted to create a community of support for survivors and provide an outlet for them to feel empowered and validated.

As an undergrad at UMass I trained to become a rape-crisis counselor and during those two years I saw exactly how detrimental silence and shame is to the healing process after an experience of sexual violence. With SoulSpeakOut we wanted to create a space where survivors felt empowered to share their story and be able to connect with a community of other survivors.

2. What are your goals for the website? [Read more...]

Mel Gibson and the Great Domestic Violence PR Battle

This post about Mel Gibson and Oksana Gregorieva comes from guest blogger Catherine V.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably familiar with the claims of domestic violence against Mel Gibson, stated by his ex girlfriend (and baby mama) Oksana Gregorieva. Last week the Internet was rocked by a series of tape recorded conversations, released on RadarOnline,com, where Gibson could be heard threatening Gregorieva. In the tapes, he accused her of being a golddigging whore (among other expletives), told her she deserved to be hit, that she should be “raped by a pack of n****rs” for dressing provocatively, and that he would bury her in the rose garden after she gave him oral sex.

Gibson’s voice was that of a classic abuser, out to say the most hurtful and horrible words possible to tear her down. Each rant would start calmly, and then escalate into a fear provoking scream, out to unhinge his victim and strip her of any self esteem. This was a perfect example of how domestic violence can affect all people of different socioeconomic situations- regardless of money, education and power.

To make the situation worse, after the tapes were released, there was an onslaught of Gibson-supportive comments on sites such as TMZ, RadarOnline, Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, and countless others. There are many apologists claiming to be fans of Gibson, and they offer one of the following reasons for his deeply misogynistic, racist behavior: [Read more...]

A Refresher on Consent and Safe Sex

Domestic Violence Awareness Purple RibbonOctober is such an important month in the sex-positive community.  Not only do we celebrate LGBT history, we are also urged to be aware of the dangers of domestic violence.  Given that, this seemed like the perfect time for a refresher on sexual consent and the things we can all do to prevent sexual assault in our own lives.

Sexual consent is the cornerstone of the safer sex discussion, this seems pretty simple as the most dangerous sex is the sex that isn’t consented to.  But the biggest problem is that consent not only seems like such an individualized concept, but it is also legally ambiguous.  The Washington State University Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Task Force says that consent is actual words or physical conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.  They continue to say that it is an ongoing process of communication as sex progresses, regardless of who initiates it.

This is a great start, but there are still some components missing from it, consent must also be from the perspective of a clear mind (not to say that one that is inebriated can’t give consent, but rather that we should take it upon ourselves to require a higher threshold of willingness when we are unsure of the state of our partner), and it must be voluntary, not coerced.  And remember, it is incredibly important that the conversation continues after sexual contact has begun, just because you got the green light to start doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to stop if your partner becomes uncomfortable and wants the sexual contact to end. [Read more...]

Victim of Abuse Evicted for Reporting Crime Raises Questions about VAWA

Zbigniew Bzdak/ Chicago Tribune

Zbigniew Bzdak/ Chicago Tribune

Sounds a little fishy, I know. Kathy Cleaves-Milan, victim of domestic violence, called the Chicago police to report that her live-in boyfriend had obtained a gun and threatened to end both her life as well as his own. Within a few days, a representative from Aimco, the company operating the apartment complex, served Kathy with eviction paperwork claiming that the criminal activity she reported was in violation of her lease agreement. The sex discrimination doesn’t end there, however, Aimco also stated that they were seriously concerned about Kathy’s ability to afford the rent post break-up. So not only is the apartment complex in the business of disenfranchising victims of domestic violence, they also deem themselves arbiters of determining whether or not a woman is capable of affording rent without a man. Disturbing? I think so.

Kathey Cleaves-Milan, age 36, stated that, “I was punished for protecting myself and my daughter.” Although this unfortunate event occurred in September of 2007, Kathy’s attorneys are now filing a lawsuit this month arguing that her 2007 eviction was a form of sex discrimination. I think it’s probably fair to say that there is also some racism involved in this entire debacle. Kathy proved herself perfectly capable of paying the rent on her own after the incident and was left out to dry regardless. Aimco spokeswoman Cindy Duffy attempts to defend the eviction, “As the safety of our residents is our top priority, we have a zero-tolerance policy for criminal activity at our communities.” Safety for whom and at what expense? [Read more...]

Caution: Men at work (demolishing violence)

On Tuesday I posted Jimmy Carter’s brave op-ed distancing himself from the Southern Baptist Convention on the Moral Courage Project blog. The post prompted some interesting dialog on the site. I was particularly struck by the words of Erin:

Although it seems that disassociating with an organization that discriminates against women is the right thing to do intellectually, especially for a man who champions human rights for all, the ability to do so emotionally can be very challenging—impossible for some.

In many cultures boys are brought up to be “tough.” The use of violence and the degradation of women are seen as mere rites of passage, or less. For many cultures and communities teaching boys to disrespect women is simply a part of their upbringing. Few men, even fathers, are willing to go against the grain and teach boys that violence, sexual conquests, and disrespecting women and elders does little to make you a “real man.”
[Read more...]

Obama Administration Responds to Battered Women Seeking Asylum

The Obama Administration recently filed a Court Brief reversing a Bush Administration policy that prevented battered women from seeking asylum in the United States. This reversal would allow battered women from other countries with “a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” to seek asylum in the United States.

The brief was filed in the case of a Mexican woman seeking asylum. She is a survivor of the most egregious forms of violence: rape, forced captivity, and a constant threat of murder. All violence committed by her husband. For this woman, fleeing her home for another city in Mexico is not an option. The constant fear that he would find her would prevent this woman from living a livable life. Although her original request for asylum was denied by an immigration judge in 2006, the Obama administration filed a brief in April (only recently made public) requesting that her case be re-evaluated.

Although this is a wonderful move on the part of the Obama administration, I’m slightly dissappointed and disheartened to read that this reversal does not include women subject to genital cutting. Although this isn’t necessarily abuse at the hands of a husband, although it can be, it is a practice that is often times enforced upon young women by family and/or community norms. [Read more...]

Mozambique and the U.S. Continue Fight Against Domestic Violence

Mozambique has taken a significant step in the fight to stop violence against women. Parliament recently passed the first reading of legislation establishing domestic violence as a crime separate from simple assault. This is the first of its kind in the country and could increase the penalties for committing violence against an intimate partner by a third.

 The law will establish domestic violence as a public crime. Therefore, any witness can bring it to the attention of authorities. A victim doesn’t have to press charges in order for legal action to be taken against perpetrators of domestic violence. In addition, the law will allow the courts to issue restraining orders and suspend parental rights.  

As Mozambique progresses in their fight against domestic violence so does the United States. We are fortunate to be starting from more established policies regarding issues of violence against women. Recently there has been an additional advancement with the appointment of a White House Advisor on violence against women. Former executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Lynn Rosenthal is the first to assume this new created position. [Read more...]

My Abortion Story — The Personal Meets The Political

It seems appropriate that the inaugural post for a blog on abortion stories and pregnancy experiences be a personal one.  It just doesn’t seem right to spend lots of time talking about the experiences other women have with abortions and childbearing without offering some sort of insight into my perspective on the subject.  My abortion story—that is, my interpretation of what happened to me—is at the heart of everything I have to say about the subject.

So here goes.  This is my story, as I remember it and as I understand it years later.

I was 15, young by any standard.  Young to be having sex, young to have had the same boyfriend for the two years prior (and for another two after) my pregnancy.  My mom figured out that I was pregnant before I did.  She noticed that I hadn’t used any tampons, and she (an OB nurse) knew something was up. [Read more...]