If you’re a New York woman like I am, you’ve probably already heard the horrifying news that two of “the city’s finest” (please excuse the dripping sarcasm) just got away with what looks a lot like rape.
To the victim’s memory of reentering consciousness to find Officer Kenneth Moreno in bed raping her, the cop said he and the mostly naked woman just “cuddled.” To medical evidence consistent with being raped from behind, the prosecution said “vigorous shower scrubbing.” To a recording of Moreno admitting he used a condom, they said he made it up to keep the victim from causing a scene.
Though Moreno and his partner, Officer Franklin Mata, were called to help the victim because she was too drunk to function, the prosecution branded her a temptress who came on to Moreno until he “succumbed” to the cuddling incident — and took her keys in order to return multiple times to her apartment while she lay mostly unconscious. They simultaneously relied on the defense that the victim was too drunk to be a reliable witness, while suggesting that even if sexual intercourse occurred, she was somehow sober enough to give consent.
And the jury bought this?
When women join the military, they double their likelihood of getting raped — not by an enemy, but by fellow soldiers, the people they should be able to trust as they serve alongside. The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and over 18,000 Change.org members who signed their petition believe that the women who defend our country deserve better. We demanded that Congress take action against epidemic rates of sexual violence in the military, and today, we came a major step closer to that goal: the House passed provisions to prevent military rape as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“Today’s historic vote is yet another positive step forward in the prevention and elimination of what continues to be a crisis in the military,” stated SWAN Executive Director Anu Bhagwati. “Last year the Department of Defense estimates that over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the ranks. … In the military you cannot quit your job, so you are forced to work with and deploy overseas with your assailant. … This forced co-location causes the victim to be traumatized again and again. These legislative provisions would prevent this from happening.” (Press release)
The high rates of sexual assault in the military have been blamed on a culture that blames victims while letting perpetrators off with a wink and a slap on the wrist. Yet 95% percent of rapes in the military are committed by repeat offenders, which means that letting off a rapist doesn’t just deny his victim justice and make her continuing work environment a hostile one — the military is putting other women in danger. Protecting serial rapists at the expense of others’ safety is beyond unacceptable.
Silsbee Superintendent Richard Bain told H.S., a 16-year-old student cheerleader, that she would either cheer for her rapist or be kicked off the squad. When she was harassed by other students and called a “slut,” school officials told her to avoid the cafeteria and lay low. This is clearly unacceptable and despicable treatment of a student rape victim — but H.S. is the one stuck paying the school district tens of thousands of dollars. Where’s the justice in that?
Earlier this month, H.S.’s final appeal of her First Amendment case was denied, letting the lower court ruling stand that cheerleaders are nothing but a “mouthpiece.” (NFL cheerleaders have spoken out against this.) Student who pick up those pompoms lack any free speech rights, including the right to refuse to cheer for a player that has assaulted them. Furthermore, the courts decided that arguing a high school girl has the right to refuse to cheer for her rapist — “Two, four, six, eight, ten! Go Rakheem. Put it in!” — amounted to such a ridiculous claim, H.S. should have to pay the school district’s legal fees, to the tune of more than $35,000 (some media has reported a higher figure, but a Change.org investigation into the documents has revealed discrepancies and a filing error, which has yet to be officially resolved).
This is tens of thousands of dollars school officials are taking from a student rape victim they wronged.
Well, it’s about time. After seven months, Yale University announced yesterday a five-year suspension of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity for its “pro-rape chant.” If you need a refresher, one such chant yelled by pledges walking around first-year dorms was “No means yes, yes means anal!” Another was the more simple misogyny of “fucking sluts.”
Nearly 5,000 Change.org members signed an alumni’s petition to Yale demanding that DKE be disciplined for its contribution to rape culture. Broad Recognition, Yale’s feminist magazine, had also called for real administrative action, as well as a number of students and alumni on a separate petition. [ed]
In making the statement regarding the suspension, which appeared in the Yale Daily News, the University acknowledged that, while usually these decision aren’t publicized, the widespread impact this had warranted the exception. (Yale currently faces a Title IX complaint filed by a group of students and alumni protesting the culture of sexual violence on campus. No doubt, the Yale administration is feeling the heat.) And it’s a good thing too: in making this public, Yale is making a statement that action that contribute to an atmosphere of rape apologism will not be tolerated.
The Justice for Laya coalition and more than 800 Change.org members who signed their petition have a major victory to celebrate: Jesse Cheng, the student regent on the University of California Board of Regents, has resigned after being found responsible for the sexual battery of his girlfriend. Cheng had insisted that he had no intention of resigning and appealed the initial UC-Irvine Office of Student Conduct decision, but there was no difference in their ruling the second time around.
Cheng, in an attempt to save face, claimed that he didn’t resign over the failure of his appeal, but because it’s taken “a lot of time and energy away from the real issues.” Ah yes, because sexual assault certainly doesn’t qualify as a “real issue.” And obviously it is just a coincidence that Cheng suddenly changed his mind about resigning a matter of days after the conduct ruling against him.
Members of the Justice for Laya Coalition, including lead organization AF3IRM, which sponsored the petition on Change.org, are pleased with the impact they were able to have. “AF3IRM and the Justice for Laya Coalition’s victory in forcing Jesse Cheng to resign was achieved by grassroots organizing, including the important use of the Change.org petition platform for national and international projection of our issue. The user-friendly, progressive tool allowed us to reach a wide-range of audience and potential supporters that were not informed of the issue through our other means.”
Survivors told their stories of rape and victim-blaming. A heartbroken mother recalled her daughter, killed for speaking out against sexual assault. These were the moving testimonies given at Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing regarding the Peace Corps’ poor sexual violence policies and response.
But amid all this pain, there was a bright side, and hope. Because the strength of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, like First Response Action founder Casey Frazee, who went public with their dismay at being failed by an organization they idealized, has motivated a change.
Director Aaron S. Williams took the stand on Wednesday and joined voices with the survivors in agreeing that the Peace Corps needs to respond better to sexual violence against Volunteers. Voicing his shock and anguish at being confronted with the survivors’ story, he gave his public support for the Peace Corps being “without a doubt” open to working with Congress to pass legislation implementing permanent improved policies. “There is no doubt that what these courageous women have done has opened our eyes to what we need to correct and we need to correct it now,” Williams said.
Three years ago this coming Monday, 17-year-old farm worker Maria Isavel died of heat exhaustion. Her death was preventable. It resulted from cruel and inhumane work conditions — hard labor under the hot California sun without water, shade, or rest — and a severe failure of oversight by the state, which had already fined her employer for these dangerous practices, but then never bothered to check that safety improvements had been made.
Maria Isavel was not the first CA farm worker to perish unnecessarily, due to negligence and a lack of adequate safeguards. But she should be the last.
Her uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, is calling for the passage of the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act, “to ensure that no more farm workers die and that no more family members of farm workers like myself have to go thru this type of situation.” The Act will be voted on in the CA Assembly this Monday, on the anniversary of Maria Isavel’s tragic young death, and Doroteo and five buses of farm workers sent by United Farm Workers will descend on the state capitol to rally behind the bill.
“I will go again not just because it is the right thing to do; I will go because it is the only legislation that will ensure that we farm workers will have the tools to secure dignity and respect in the fields” says Doroteo. “I hope many supporters and farm workers will join us.”
Sunday, 91-year-old Recy Taylor went to church in Abbeville, Alabama. Now a Florida resident, she made the trip to her old hometown for a special purpose: Taylor was finally receiving an apology from the State of Alabama for its “morally abhorrent and repugnant” conduct in response to her 1944 gang-rape.
The group of white men who admitted to the assault were never brought to trial, while Taylor and her family suffered threats and slander from law enforcement engaged in covering up the crime. Not even the concerted efforts of Rosa Parks and the NAACP could overturn the racist structure of the time to bring justice to this young Black woman. The long-overdue apology came after nearly 20,000 Change.org members signed a petition from Taylor’s youngest brother, Robert Corbitt, demanding an apology from the City of Abbeville and State of Alabama. Having won this amazing state level victory, Corbitt’s campaign now turns its focus to the city.