Friday, October 30, 2015
By Jeremiah Ho
This week the Associated Press published a survey of antidiscrimination legislation amongst the states that protect LGBTQ individuals. What the AP observed was that “there is a sharp split among states, with some enacting such protections and a majority opting not to.” Then the article listed some highlights (quoting directly from the article):
-28 states have no explicit statewide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming.
-17 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington.
-Three states prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations: New Hampshire, New York, Wisconsin. The laws in these states don't encompass gender identity. However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is issuing an executive order that will soon extend protections to transgender people.
-Massachusetts prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodations. There's an effort underway to extend the public accommodation protections to transgender people.
-Utah prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing. Its law doesn't cover public accommodations.
It’s been four months since Obergefell v, Hodges, where the Supreme Court extended the right of marriage to same-sex couples. The honeymoon period is arguably drawing to a close, and it is time to see what’s next. Without federal law or guidance for banning discrimination against LGBTQ or a strong, definitive approach from the Supreme Court bench that situates sexual orientation and/or identity as a protected classification, work needs to continue to increase the safeguard against the discriminatory acts and harms toward LGBTQ individuals. According to a 2014 Harvard Law Review article by the review’s own editorial board, there is often a critical dissipation of gay rights advocacy within a political body once marriage equality is achieved. What the AP article demonstrates is that the conversation for LGBTQ rights needs to continue quickly toward obtaining full and uniform sexual orientation or identity antidiscrimination protections despite the recent achievements in marriage equality. The link to the article is here.
 Developments in the Law: Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity, 127 Harv. L. Re. 1682, 1689-90 (2014) (citing examples from the Netherlands and Canada where concern that “once the marriage equality fight is won nationwide, the urgency of fighting for other LGBT rights will diminish”).
Thursday, October 29, 2015
In 2003, Alabama hairdressers were trained in domestic abuse so that they could assist their clients who found themselves in abusive intimate relationships. The program, a creation of the Women's Fund of Birmingham and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, spread across the country thanks to the National Cosmetology Association. Training programs have reached hundreds of volunteer salon workers, training them in how to talk with and help clients experiencing domestic violence. CUT IT OUT Salons Against Domestic Abuse is, according to its website, "dedicated to mobilizing salon professionals and others to fight the epidemic of domestic abuse in communities across the U.S. by building awareness and training salon professionals to recognize warning signs and safely refer clients, colleagues, friends and family to local resources."
Now two Illinois legislators are proposing a law that would require cosmetologists to take mandatory domestic violence training as part of license retention. Setting aside the inadequacy of the proposed one hour of training, the proposed legislation is an interesting example of the soft misogyny addressed earlier this week. What began as a voluntary effort is at risk now of becoming an obligation. And who are the targets of this legislation? Primarily women. Under the law, nail technicians, hairdressers and cosmetologists would be subject to the training. Absent from the list are barbers. Once more the women are given responsibility for addressing what is a predominantly male problem. For every female survivor of abuse who frequents a hair salon, a male survivor or male perpetrator is sitting in the barber's chair.
Could these legislators think of other professionals who should be required to receive domestic violence training? Judges, doctors and lawyers come to mind. Yet, "Say No More", a Chicago organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault, supports the bill proving Prof. Dunlap's point that sometimes advocates for survivors fail to anticipate the unintended consequences.
At hearings on the proposal, one lone representative, Chicago City Alderman Willie B. Cochran, attempted to turn the focus to the vital resources needed by survivors. No response was had. Cochran noted the complexity of domestic abuse and the financial and other supports desperately needed by survivors. In a local report of the hearings, writer Phil Kadner said that "Cochran's concerns about providing adequate support for victims of domestic violence should not be ignored. Good intentions are wonderful. But follow-through is essential and often lacking, even when government officials are well-intentioned." Soft misogyny indeed.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Higher education is considered one of the most reliable routes to higher pay. A recent study reported in a Federal Reserve publication suggests that how much higher one can climb up the pay ladder is race dependent.
William Emmons and Bryan Noeth report that higher education does increase income and wealth for all racial and ethnic groups. And protection from accumulated wealth increases, as well. The problem is that how much protection is afforded varies with Blacks and Latinos afforded lower rates of wealth protection. The study's findings suggest that advanced degrees, most available to whites and Asians, may be a protective factor in preserving wealth. Findings also indicate that in some ways, when economic crisis occurs college educated blacks and Latinos may fare worse, percentage-wise, in preserving their wealth than their less educated counterparts.
Nonetheless, all racial and ethnic groups studied improved their economic positions considerably by completing a course of higher education. Why there is disparity in wealth preservation when crisis occurs remains speculative, however. The authors conclude that the reasons for this disparity are likely complex and call for further studies on the sociological and societal reasons for the discrepancies.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Domestic violence "reforms" often have results that even some advocates may not have anticipated at the time of enactment. Others, however, harm survivors of intimate partner abuse and range from patrimony to misogyny. In her new article, Soft Misogyny: The Subtle Perversion of Domestic Violence Reform, Prof. Justine Dunlap examines some of these not so helpful "reforms".
As Prof. Jane Stoever wrote in her article Stories Absent from the Courtroom, "Suggestions for reform must always ask whether a particular policy creates more harm to survivors, greater gender subordination, or other problems, and whether it makes the next step of women’s liberation harder."
For example, the definition and applicable categories of petitioners for abuse prevention orders has expanded well beyond the intimate relationship. Household members, those related by blood and various other categories of individuals may apply for protection under the statutes of many states. The consequence has been to dilute both focus and understanding of the dynamics of intimate partner abuse. The dynamics of one intimate partner abusing another is not the same as two cousins who engage in a fist fight. Both the causes and remedies are different - as is risk. How are we to convince judicial officers of the need to study the special dynamics of intimate partner abuse when a legislature has determined that many different forms of abuse can be addressed in one statute.
Another perversion, and one that appears on the upper end of the misogyny spectrum, is the misinterpretation by civil courts of criminal proceedings. For example, in civil court, a survivor's credibility is often determined on whether or not the survivor prosecuted the criminal domestic violence complaint and, if so, whether or not the defendant was adjudged guilty.
As Dunlap writes: "Another path to understanding these unfortunate consequences relies on something deeper and more challenging: the implicit bias of soft misogyny. There are of course straight-out misogynists, whose hateful screed can be dismissed or laid bare-- pure and simple. But that known hatred is easier to combat, because it is obvious." But the more difficult situations are those created by well-intended people.
The soft misogyny borne of implicit bias will be nigh on impossible to erase. Because it occurs without the conscious awareness of the part of the holder, we must first name it in order to have a chance at erasing it. Once named, an opportunity opens up. By naming it, its presence is made real. By naming it, then talking about it, we can move to a new understanding of its perverse effects. By naming it, perhaps we will create the willingness to listening honestly to survivors, rather than to twist and discount their narratives so that they fit into our (mis)understanding. By naming it, perhaps we create societal ears that can hear and acknowledge the deep roots of intimate partner abuse.
Editors' Note: Prof. Dunlap's article will be published this winter by Seton Hall Law Journal.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
The Human Rights at Home Blog hit its 200,000 viewer mark this past week.
We are grateful to our authors, who have contributed so many interesting and important posts. We are grateful to our readers who have responded so well and supported the blog.
Martha and Margaret
Friday, October 23, 2015
by JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Columbia Human Rights Institute
The right to vote is under threat in the United States. Gone are the days of asking individuals to count grains of sand in a jar in order to register, or the days when you had to recite the Declaration of Independence, or have a grandfather who voted. Today, the tactics used to keep people away from the polls are harder to spot, but their impact is no less pernicious.
We need to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act, as civil and human rights advocates have been arguing. We need to look, too, at the disparate impact of policies that don’t, on their face, seem to be directly about voting and recognize them for what they are.
Alabama illustrates the problem, though it is surely not alone. On the heels of the Shelby decision that gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the State Legislature passed a law that requires all voters to have a photo identification. Then, last month, Alabama decided to close 31 offices that issue driver licenses. The Governor has claimed that these laws are about smarter budgeting in a time of limited funding, and that there is still sufficient access to photo IDs. Advocates counter that these laws and policies are designed precisely to restrict the vote.
Of course, what really matters here are the consequences. The result of the closings is that in Alabama counties with a majority of non-white voters, you cannot get a driver’s license where you once could. This is bad news for Alabamans as a whole, but its impact will most likely be felt most in the poorest communities, communities of color.
You can’t look at closings of license bureaus in isolation. You must consider the fact that since Shelby, Alabama has raised the cost of renewing licenses, compounding the problem of access. In a state where the median income of African Americans households hovers around less than 60 percent of the household income for white families, price increases represent a deterrent to accessing the identification needed to realize the right to participate.
The bottom line is that regardless of intent, the result will be a disparate impact on communities of color. The possibility for yet another lawsuit challenging voting laws in Alabama is likely. The potential outcome is unclear given the state of current voting laws and their enforcement regime. Alabama Representative Terri Sewell has called for a DOJ investigation into Alabama’s DMV closings and that request is pending.
Yet, if there were a different legal paradigm at play – one premised on government’s obligations to ensure basic civil and human rights – Alabama would have to take a new approach. A rights-based approach puts the onus on government to look not only at budgetary needs, but at the overall context of decision-making.
In Alabama this includes looking at all the factors that impede access to voting together. These include cost, location, and other theoretically neutral policies with a disparate impact on communities of color, such as reduced polling hours. Alabama’s history of segregation and past gerrymandering efforts would be pertinent too. The starting point of the conversation would be: Do Alabama’s laws and policies curtail basic rights? Do they foster equality and address discrimination? And under this paradigm, federal, state, and local policy would have to aim to affirmatively secure the right to meaningful participation for all on an equal basis. They would have to improve access, not curtail it.
Some cities, like New York, have started down a path that could offer a course correction to address the challenge of obtaining identification through the NYC ID Card for all. This is important because 23 million citizens that are otherwise eligible to vote lack sufficient photo ID. In Alabama, its estimated that a quarter of a million people don’t have access to adequate photo identification.
To ensuring meaningful access to the ballot much further reaching, structural changes, are needed at the state and federal level. This includes a framework to explicitly address voter suppression efforts. States like California and Oregon have already taken proactive steps to increase the rate of voter registration. Hilary Clinton recently offered her own prescription, after observing that “Alabama is living a blast through the Jim Crow past.”
So many have fought with their lives to protect the right to participate. The ongoing threats to the right to vote and to have a voice in the political arena are an affront to democracy, and to fundamental human rights. These threats are not only in Alabama, they are across the country.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Just in time for the historic October 23 hearing before the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights on water and sanitation rights in the United States, Michael Ulrich has posted a new article, "The Impact of Law on the Right to Water and Adding Normative Change to the Global Agenda," forthcoming in 48 George Washington Int'l L. Rev. (2015). In it, he argues that the "progressive realization" standard for implementing the right to water is too lenient, and has impeded progress toward realization of the right. The abstract follows.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Thinking outside of the paragraph, the Universal Human Rights Student Network has announced their very first poetry contest, with the theme "Refugees and Their Message to Europe." Submissions are accepted through November 20, and the contest is open to everyone, with students, migrants and refugees particularly encouraged to participate. According to the UHRSN website:
"UHRSN is convinced that all people should have the right to a life lived with dignity free from fear, persecution and oppression. As widely reported, people in search of this life seeking asylum in European countries are in many instances denied just that – their fundamental rights. UHRSN also aims to utilize the power of poetry and the positive impact words can have to raise awareness for an issue that cannot be ignored. In this sense the poetry competition was established to provide refugees, migrants, students, sympathisers, etc. with an avenue
- to create thought-provoking poems by reflecting on their experiences, wishes, dreams and hopes
- to raise awareness amongst stakeholders, politicians, ordinary EU citizens, etc. on the fate of refugees in- and outside of Europe
- to demonstrate that #refugees are welcome and advocate for their rights
- to be creative
Ultimately, the goal of this poetry award is for participants to express themselves by sharing their message with Europe, subsequently, urging leaders and citizens alike to take action and ensure that the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers are upheld and that conducive conditions for legal entry procedures for people in need of international protection are established."
More information is available here.
For those under age 18, there is another human rights poetry challenge, sponsored by Youth for Human Rights. The theme is "What are Human Rights?" and the submission deadline is December 1. More information is available here.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
by Jillian Tuck, Northeastern University School of Law
The critical need for affordable, fresh drinking water has been the subject of several posts on this blog. On November 5th and 6th, the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at NUSL will continue the discussion by hosting its 10th annual Human Rights Institute “Tapping into the Right to Water: Affordability, Quality, and Accessibility.”
This year’s Institute will discuss efforts to ensure sufficient, safe, affordable and equally accessible water in the United States, and offer advocacy strategies that use a human rights framework to advance water rights at the local, national and international levels.
The Institute will take place over the course of two days at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. Thursday, November 5th will feature two panel presentations and a keynote address by Patricia Jones of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. On Friday November 6th participants will participate in facilitated working groups designed to create concrete advocacy strategies and policy proposals, including follow up to the Inter-American Commission thematic hearing on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation in the U.S.
Register here to reserve your spot and be part of the conversation!
For more information, please contact Jillian Tuck at email@example.com
Monday, October 19, 2015
Physicians for Human Rights announced its support for a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against two psychologists accused of designing torture mechanisms. The psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, are claimed to be the architects of the government's post-9/11 torture schemes. Physicians for Human Rights asks, however, that the lawsuit not be the only legal action taken as a result of the torture revelations. The organization demands a criminal investigation and prosecution of all of those who are responsible for torture beyond the psychologists.
Jessen's and Mitchell's actions were shocking. They developed a program of brutal, systematic torture that it claimed was based in science. The program was based in junk science but was sold to the CIA for $81,000,000. You read correctly. Jessen and Mitchell received eighty-one million dollars for a program that delivered shockingly inhumane treatment. It is difficult to assess which is worse: psychologists who are charged with doing no harm creating and profiting on a program whose sole purpose is to deliver excruciating torture; or a government that would spend an incredible amount of money for such a program.
Physician for Human Rights reports:
"Mitchell and Jessen also kept detailed logs of interrogation sessions in order to analyze detainees’ reactions to torture, calibrate the methods used, and provide the Bush administration with false assurances that such practices were “safe” and “effective.” Without informed consent, collecting such information constitutes unlawful research and experimentation. PHR has previously documented the CIA’s human experimentation in its watershed 2010 report, Experiments in Torture, and 2014 analysis of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, Doing Harm."
Friday, October 16, 2015
A recently published article by Ian M. Kysel, a fellow at Georgetown Law School Human Rights Institute, cogently argues that the federal government's litigation posture should be informed by its international human rights obligations. The abstract for the article is below. The full article is available at 46 Geo. J. Int'l L. 1009 (2015) and on SSRN:
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Last week I attended the University of Dayton’s Social Practice of Human Rights conference, mentioned here earlier this summer. It was a great chance for me to immerse myself in human rights during a too busy first semester of teaching. I heard human rights presentations from political scientists, communications and psychology researchers, human rights advocates and more. There were many interesting and timely discussions, including panels about human rights-based approaches to human rights funding (this links to video of the panel presentation) and the new sustainable development goals (again, this links to a video of the panel presentation). However, for me some of the most interesting presentations were about ongoing empirical studies on how to frame a human rights violation to best effectuate action, both at the individual and state level, which I describe briefly below. A link to the full conference program, with links to paper abstracts and videos, is available here.
How many times a semester are you asked about the best approaches for promoting human rights and framing violations of human rights here in the U.S. to bring the necessary attention to achieve real change? In response, up until now, I have usually suggested readings about campaigns that have succeeded, such as the fight for gay marriage and the fair food labor campaign headed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, as well as readings about human rights framing and messaging. Yet, there is a growing number of political and other scientists working on compiling evidence regarding this topic and I had the pleasure of hearing from a few of them last week. For example, a team of researchers from the College of Wooster presented in Dayton on their experiments designed to test the efficacy of gendered human rights campaigns. The group concluded that the strategic manipulation of gender images and stereotypes to increase consensus and action on human rights issues was ineffective. This same team from the College of Wooster has also recently studied three types of messaging campaigns used by human rights organizations—informational (to increase awareness), personal (narratives on the plight of an individual or group of individuals), and motivational (creating feelings of agency and efficacy). Between the three types of messaging campaigns, the group concluded that “personal narratives are the most consistently successful, increasing individuals’ sense of knowledge on the issue and their emotional reaction to the issue, leading them to reject the practice and participate in a campaign to demand its cessation.”
Another team from the University of Maryland presented on their research and experiments testing the effects of four prominent human rights justifications—religion, international human rights law, human suffering, and human dignity—on human rights attitudes and commitments to participate in human rights advocacy. The Maryland team concluded that “the quest for some justification for human rights with universal appeal may be misguided,” explaining that their research indicates that different arguments appeal to different types of people. This same team has compared the effects of textual narratives and visual imagery on human rights attitudes and commitments to participate in human rights advocacy, concluding that “imagery depicting human rights abuse does not have a greater impact on individual human rights attitudes and willingness to act than narratives alone.”
There were of course questions raised about the research methodology, the data itself (including the fact that the Maryland team found that religious framing of human rights abuses led to decreased commitments from religious people), and more, but I definitely plan to keep my eye on these teams of researchers and the growing set of evidence-based research on the topic of framing human rights.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Last week, the Nuestro Texas campaign—a joint project of the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health—issued a report documenting a women’s human rights hearing held last March in the Rio Grande Valley. Lately, Texas has made front-page headlines because a challenge to HB 2 a Texas abortion statute is making its way to the Supreme Court. Abortion access was very much an issue at the hearing, but the testimony made it clear that the human rights problems in the Valley are much broader and deeper.
I served as an expert, along with 6 other human rights experts from the U.S. and Mexico for the hearing. In addition to attending a community meeting in a colonia (an unincorporated area that lacks paved roads and other infrastructure) and touring the last remaining abortion clinic, the experts listened to a full day of women’s testimony. The testimony illustrated multiple human rights issues, including the historic lack of health care infrastructure and affordable services for poor and rural women, the profound barriers that immigrants face in accessing health care in Texas, and the impact of recent Texas laws and policies that have gutted family planning services through cuts in funding and the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds for preventive care. (Although the funding was reinstated during the most recent session of the Texas legislature, the facilities that served women in poor and rural communities—dozens of clinics across the state that were forced to close or severely cut back on services—will not receive this new funding).
During the hearing, women shared stories about being turned away from clinics that did not have appointments available or funding only to later learn they had cancer. They described fears about their families’ future as they live with the uncertainty of undiagnosed breast lumps. They described the lack of available and affordable family planning, and the difficulties that an unplanned pregnancy creates for a mother struggling to care for her family or a woman trying to pursue her education.
The women who took part in the hearing also conveyed their vision for Texas’s future, and their commitment to fight for change. As Lucy Felix, field coordinator for the Texas Latina Advocacy Network stated, “We are all fighting together for a different Texas—a just Texas. What we want is a Texas with human rights for all.”
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Prof. Fran Quigley has written a fascinating analysis of the effectiveness of the U.S. Tax Code's charitable contributions deduction and whether the poor benefit from the current scheme. The answer is no. The charitable deduction is largely used by the very wealthy to endow college buildings, art donations and other "charitable" acts that benefit the already well off. Individuals who lack resources receive little to no benefit from charitable contributions as they are currently structured. The article, For Goodness’ Sake: A Two-Part Proposal for Remedying the U.S. Charity/Justice Imbalance is scheduled to be published by Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law and can be read here. The abstract reads as follows:
"The U.S. approach to addressing economic and social needs strongly favors individual and corporate charity over the establishment and enforcement of economic and social rights. This charity/justice imbalance has a severely negative impact on the nation’s poor, who despite the overall U.S. wealth struggle with inadequate access to healthcare, housing, and nutrition. This article suggests a two-part approach for remedying the charity/justice imbalance in the U.S.: First, the U.S. should eliminate the charitable tax deduction, a policy creation that does not effectively address economic and social needs, forces an inequitable poverty relief and tax burden on the middle class, and lulls the nation into a false sense of complacency about its poverty crisis. Second, the U.S. should replace the deduction with ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This two-part process would reverse the U.S. legacy of avoiding enforceable commitments to economic and social rights. Charity would take a step back; justice a step forward."
Monday, October 12, 2015
by Martha F. Davis
St. Paul, Minneapolis, Seattle and most recently, Portland, Oregon, have abandoned Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous People's Day. We all like a holiday, but whatever purpose Columbus Day served in the past, in the 21st century, it seems to glorify acts leading to the genocide of Native Americans. We need a holiday in October -- at least I do -- but we need one that rests on a more balanced account of history.
Along the same lines, on Saturday, October 11, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation barring California public schools from using the name "Redskins" for their mascots or sports teams. Not Your Mascots, an organization opposing Native American "mascotry," has worked hard for this, along with others. The eve of Indigenous People's Day was a symbolically freighted time to sign the bill. With ducks, gophers, sharks, beavers, maroons, and more, all available as appropriate mascots, there's no reason to perpetuate one that many people legitimately find offensive.
Retiring these outmoded relics of past times is not abandoning or rewriting history. We can't do that, and what's done is done with both Columbus Day and school mascots. Rather, Governor Brown, and the cities of Seattle, St. Paul and others are ending one tradition and starting a new one, staking out a new path that is right for the 21st century.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, recently released a report analyzing the World Bank's "confusing" treatment of human rights, and arguing for a new approach. The strongly worded document charges that "in its operational policies, in particular, [the World Bank] treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations." The Special Rapporteur urges that the Bank President initiate a transparent process for developing a coherent human rights approach that incorporates economic, social and cultural rights. The Special Rapporteur's report will be presented to the UN General Assembly on October 23.
This report builds on previous efforts by Alston and other UN human rights experts, and NGOs. In 2014, Alston addressed the issue head-on in a keynote address to the Nordic Trust Fund and in a Washington Post op ed. Likewise, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch submitted commentary to the World Bank during its consideration of a new Environmental and Social Framework, urging it to be explicit in addressing human rights.
The UN reports that Alston will "spend the next few weeks talking to the World Bank and its member states about his recommendations, before the official presentation of his report to the UN General Assembly in New York" -- a positive sign after the World Bank President declined to meet with Alston in March.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Guest Author Prof. Margo Lindauer contributes the following discussion on sexual violence:
Are we ready to have a real conversation about sexual assault? The Harvard Crimson reported on September 19, 2015 that more than twenty nine percent of surveyed Harvard senior women experienced unwanted touching or penetration. Coupled with the recent guilty finding of Owen Labrie from St. Paul’s School, sexual assault on elite campuses is now front-page news. Are we ready to really talk?
Much of the response to both the guilty finding and survey has been to slice and dice. Innumerable articles have been written about Owen Labrie with one headline announcing that he was found not guilty of felony sexual assault. There have been few, if any, written with a headline of how he was found guilty of three counts of statutory rape, which happens to be a misdemeanor in New Hampshire (but not in all states) and a felony count of using a computer to entice a minor. A jury found Labrie guilty of serious crimes.
Hundreds of comments appear in the Crimson report. In addition comments abound regarding a NY Times Article reporting on the survey on sexual assault on campuses commissioned by the Association of American Universities (NY Times, September 22, 2015). The article discusses the faults in the survey procurement. Many of the comments begin with “I am a feminist, but…”, or are a plea to disregard the data because of what some claim to be ambiguous language in the questions asked. Is this another way of trying to see a certain reality?
Critics suggest that the survey respondents were self-selecting, which potentially skewed the reporting towards a higher percentage of affirmative responses. Even if the actual statistic of assualted Harvard women was ¼ as opposed to nearly 1/3, would that make the issue less compelling? Would we be relieved of an obligation to find a solution? To be specific, sixteen percent of women surveyed at Harvard reported penetration without their consent during the time that they were in school. As a society, we have decided that no one deserves to be hit, punched or otherwise assaulted by anyone, including an intimate partner. But why are we reluctant to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable?
The secrecy and acceptance of the unspeakable has gone on unchecked for centuries. The structures of privilege and power on campuses have silenced women and men . Further, our culture seems to have accepted the reality of older boys and men preying on younger women. The notion that men make aggressive sexual advances is assumed to be an accepted reality. But this survey and Labrie’s guilty finding give us the opportunity to change our reality.
Much of the response by educational institutions has been to change the structure of their reporting and service protocol. While that is an important step, let’s make our goals loftier. With an increased understanding of the historical practices that allow and support violent behavior, we now are able to change the dialogue. Let us talk and create a new normal where we not only provide services and support for individuals who survive sexual assault, but we educate all individuals so that sex or force touching is not acceptable, is criminal and no longer the norm.
To change the conversation, we must start one early.
Learning about healthy relationships and risk factors for domestic and sexual violence must be mandatory in middle schools. There is now evidence that there is a direct correlation between bullying in school settings with school-aged children and exposure to domestic violence in the home. Further, those who experience or perpetrate bullying as young children with no resolution may learn to normalize and mimic similar behaviors later in life. We must develop curriculum that is age appropriate at the middle school, high school and university levels that teach and talk about healthy relationships, the notion of power and control, risk factors for violence and trends in dating violence such as the current conundrum of online abuse. Educators in middle, high schools and in university settings must be given training, support and resources to be able to identify warning signs, talk about the issues safely and refer students to appropriate resources found through up-to-date, accessible and geographically relevant information. And finally, universities must institute polices related to affirmative consent. Though hotly debated, affirmative consent is a useful tool, particularly on university campuses where much of the socializing inevitably occurs under the haze of alcohol and darkness. Let’s talk about it, learn about it, and feed students with information about their rights and what is healthy dating. Let us not allow perpetrators to normalize abusive behaviors. We must establish protocol within institutions in order to hold perpetrators accountable. And let us support survivors to find safety and give assurance that they are believed.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
I began writing this post in August, after what was then the latest gun massacre. I finish writing this post after the Oregon murders. Our culture is way out of balance. We are allowing the most hateful voices in the country to dictate dangerous policies. Europeans and others do not understand our gun attachment. Frankly, neither do I. I am guessing if the founding fathers engaged in the gun debate today, they would be horrified to see the uncontrolled slaughter that we encourage through the sale of assault weapons.
Sarah Gassen observed: "Gun violence isn’t only about owning weapons. Violent roots are deep in an American culture that mistakes using violence for problem solving. Popular entertainment connects manhood and strength to firepower. Bad guys have guns, so good guys need bigger guns. We accept murder as a byproduct of our belief that we’re right."
Journalists Stacy Teicher Khadaroo and Patrik Jonsson wrote "Some cultural messages suggest to men that violence enhances their status." Likewise, “for people who feel powerless, getting a gun is seen as a way to suddenly have that power,” says Peter Langman, an author on school shootings who offers a wide array of research and resources online. The common denominator of many mass murderers, they write, is a warped view of masculinity.
The second amendment is problematic in both the drafting and interpretation. Both lack gender balance. The feminine is unrepresented or underrepresented in this discussion. I can support citizens having some right to gun ownership but I also believe that easy access to both the purchase of weapons, and in particular the purchase of weapons designed to cause mass destruction, is unnecessary as well as harmful. An interpretation of a constitution in which half of the population had no input is unbalanced. No greater example is had of that imbalance than second amendment interpretations. If a Supreme Court staffed with mothers had written second amendment decisions for the past two hundred years, I suspect that the interpretation would be different.
Left unexplored is the connection between other types of violence and mass murderers. The connection between domestic violence and mass murder is insufficiently discussed, if at all, when the TV "experts" deconstruct each sad occurrence. Child abuse is barely mentioned as part of the formula for creating violent men.
We live in a culture that focuses boys and adult males on externalizations to define which characteristics makes them "men". Weapons, sports, and money take a front row in that cultural definition, as does dominance over women. Media offers neither boys nor girls realistic and non-judgmental gender images. Toys R Us has already defined which toys girls and boys should play with by conveniently marking aisles with pink or blue coloring. Peers who have been been raised with rigid gender role identification bully those who choose a different path. Mental illness remains hidden and mental health services lack necessary substance because of insurance limitations. This culture has to change.
Focusing on changing culture does not relieve us of our obligation to take immediate steps to make communities safer, for example by banning assault weapons and shutting down whatever avenues of gun purchase are available without background checks. What will have long term impact is for each of us to take responsibility to do all that is necessary to have boys and men feel better about themselves and eliminate the impetus to harm others.