Dept of Ed Officials Echo Men’s Rights Activists’ Rape Denial

The top Department of Education civil rights official, Candice Jackson, claimed yesterday that “90 percent” of sexual violence accusations “fall into the category of, ‘We were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.'” This warns us of the direction of the department under Betsy DeVos: picking up the constant false statements of misogynist “men’s rights activists” and antifeminist women like Christina Hoff Sommers to deny the prevalence of rape.

Such groups often claim that sexism is a thing of the past, as DeVos herself framed universities’ mishandling of sexual assault complaints as something we’ve passed beyond. And, in inviting both sexual violence advocates and male supremacists to weigh in, DeVos enters into a false equivalency, legitimizing actors that deal in lies and misogynist rhetoric. Harry Crouch, president of one of the invited groups, the National Coalition for Men, has blamed victims of domestic violence for “aggravat[ing]” their abusers, declaring, “They would say that’s blaming the victim. But I don’t buy it.” These groups are not seeking a fair process for all, but to convince people against the evidence that false allegations are the real epidemic–rather than admitting that 90% of sexual violence accusations are accurate, yet rarely result in serious consequences for the perpetrator, and represent only a fraction of the actual assaults occurring.

Jackson authored “Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine” (2005), in which she accused Hillary Rodham Clinton of complicity in harassing women who reported sexual affairs or sexual violence by her husband, former president Bill Clinton. However, her failure to demonstrate similar empathy and trust for women reporting being sexually harassed or assaulted by President Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign, followed by this latest flippant and false statement accusing young women of lying about rape to wreak petty revenge, proves that she only takes sexual violence seriously when it serves the right-wing agenda. As Sofie Karasek, director of education and co-founder at End Rape on Campus, commented during the campaign, “for her not to believe survivors when it’s politically expedient, that raises the question of how committed you are to this issue.”

The National Women’s Law Center and Know Your IX, now a project of Advocates for Youth, were among the anti-rape groups invited by DeVos and are fighting to end rape culture and sexual violence on campuses. Those who want to join the fight can visit their websites, tweet with the #DearBetsy campaign, and students and alumni can pressure their own college and university presidents to join Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson in speaking out in favor of Title IX enforcement.

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On Dartmouth, Sexual Assault, and Activist Tradition

Many colleges and universities seek to decrease reports of campus sexual assault, not by addressing the actual rate of sexual assault, but through policies and practices that discourage reporting. These administrations are more concerned about campus image than campus safety, particularly due to a desire to improve rankings through higher rates of student applicants and acceptance. A 2010 report from the Center for Public Integrity revealed how widespread this problem is and how few campus rapists see serious consequences.

I understand why many people were upset by the protest of sexual assault and anti-LGBTQ and racial discrimination that took place at Dartmouth’s Dimensions show for prospective students. But the very controversy of that place makes sense. The goal, after all, is to improve campus safety for present and future Dartmouth students.

When administrations prioritize a falsely perfect image to attract prospective students, I understand why protesters would select a venue for prospective students as a platform. Students facing prejudice and physical danger took an opportunity to pressure the administration to pay attention to serious campus problems–ones students have been organizing around for years. Increasing anti-rape activism on campuses nationwide shows that young people are fed up with college attendance being a risk factor for sexual assault.

The rape and death threats that followed on a Dartmouth messaging board underscored the problems these protesters were calling attention to. That Steve Mandel, Board of Trustees Chair, followed up by equating these threats with the protest as equally antithetical to the Dartmouth community is appalling. The consistent attention by many Dartmouth-associated commentators to the choice of venue, rather than high rates of rape, displays a severe lack of empathy or comprehension of what real problems, real dangers, look like.

I am also shocked at the references to how protesters violated the Student Handbook; although perhaps I shouldn’t be, given my experience as a student with negative attitudes to activism focused outside or within the Dartmouth Bubble. Protest, activism, civil disobedience is part of Dartmouth tradition–including occupations of administrative buildings such as during the Vietnam War. Justice isn’t always served by following rules. Travis Mushett ’08, editor of the new online magazine Blunderbuss, spoke to this in his editorial on the incident: “mysteriously, the ‘improper’ place is always a highly public one where the issues are likely to actually garner some attention, and the ‘proper’ one is tucked out of the view of most everyone, easy to ignore and contain, or relegated to some indefinite point in the future.”

Loving Dartmouth tradition does not mean accepting every flaw. I am tired of seeing the concept of “Dartmouth tradition” claimed by those who defend the status quo in its worst manifestations. Strategic disagreements among activists are valid; acting as though this protest is a bigger problem than actual incidences of rape (and rape and death threats) is not.

Alex DiBranco

Dartmouth ’09

(A version of this letter was sent to The Dartmouth.)

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Lila Rose Uses Tragic Death to Attack Abortion

Winner of most despicable moment of the Values Voter Summit: Lila Rose, founder of anti-choice group Live Action, uses tragic, accidental death of Tonya Reaves from rare abortion complication to attack reproductive rights. Rose doesn’t mention that childbirth 14 times more likely to result in death (and that abortion is safer than getting a shot of penicillin). So, does Rose think that we should ban the right to have children? Yeah, sure.
I’ve been spending the day listening to the Values Voter Summit livestream — because what better way to pass a Saturday than by listening to the major Christian Right annual gathering convened by the Family Research Council? Since the conference started yesterday, we’ve been treated to an array of anti-choice, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant speakers, including politicians such as Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to failed presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, amongst other Christian Right advocates. But, for me, Rose’s comments definitely took the prize for disturbing, inappropriate, manipulative comments.
Rose’s Live Action is best known for its undercover “sting” videos of Planned Parenthood staff, which — usually with the help of heavy editing — attempt to display evidence of law-breaking or behavior viewers might just find distasteful, and then use those isolated incidents to attempt to take down the entire right to an abortion.
 On women’s health and clinic safety: It would be nice if abortions could take place in hospitals, instead of being driven to special clinics by anti-choice advocacy and even terrorism. The ever-decreasing access to abortion is strongly related to the fact that abortion doctors face threats to their life (as with the murder of Dr. George Tiller); clinics face threats of bombings, arson, anthrax, and other violence; and harassment from nonviolent anti-choice protesters disturbs the ability to function of any medical facility they target, while creating the constant fear for staff that it could turn violent.
The U.S. should improve its maternal mortality rates, especially where poverty is a factor — our maternal death rates are higher than many countries, which should be unacceptable to anyone who wants to tout American as the greatest nation on Earth, as is so popular in conferences like Values Voters. But don’t talk hypocritically about protecting women’s lives when you’re keeping abortions from taking place in hospitals, when you’re not working to decrease maternal deaths, and when you’re attempting to force women back to dangerous back-alley abortions that killed thousands yearly before Roe v. Wade.

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NYT Journalists Should Not Suggest Atheists Remain Nominal Christians

Robert Worth offers an interesting profile in the New York Times of a former pastor who became an atheist leader, but I wish he had skipped this editorializing toward the end: “I did later wonder if all the public atheism had done DeWitt more harm than good. Couldn’t he have remained a nominal Christian, as so many others have? … Open confrontation with faith, some would say, just provokes angry gestures from the faithful.” It’s like suggesting gay people should pretend to be straight to not anger homophobes.

And the failure to recognize that it’s the same unacceptable intolerance is part of the problem.

The dialogue on this issue continues to revolve around the idea that atheists shouldn’t “provoke” religious people by daring to admit their beliefs (the audacity!), rather than challenging the discrimination and hatred directed toward atheists by some hostile religious people.

I hardly think that, in 2012, a NY Times journalist would ask whether a gay person couldn’t just act publicly straight, so as to not upset certain religious persons, but atheists don’t receive the same consideration (yet). Yes, Worth reports the argument as “some would say,” but (aside from being a lazy journalistic statement) gives no indication that he disagrees with this vague group. It’s a transparent mask to disguise his own editorial voice.

If Worth needed to wonder aloud in his article, “From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader,” he could have responsibly followed up his musings by recognizing that public atheism doesn’t “just” provoke anger from “the faithful.” Worth might have acknowledged that social justice movements require brave individuals standing up for their beliefs, especially those who live in conservative religious areas and face the most difficult environment, like former preacher Jerry DeWitt, the article’s subject. It clears a path for those still in the closet to one day come out safely — because they shouldn’t need to hide.

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How Are We Going to Change #ididnotreport to #isentmyrapist2jail?

Because I’d been drinking. Because I thought it was my fault. Because I thought no one would believe me.

Thousands of sexual assault survivors have joined in tweeting their stories with the hashtag #ididnotreport over the past week. Many gave their reasons for not reporting — reasons echoing those above again and again, and more. Because I was a kid and I didn’t know how. Because the one time I did report it, it didn’t make a difference. Because I was afraid.

“#ididnotreport because I was made to feel like it wasn’t a big deal,” one survivor tweeted. “It was.”

The campaign started in the U.K., inspired by another supportive Twitter campaign: #WeBelieveYou. It has resonated far beyond that starting place, inspiring primarily women — but also a number of male and transgender survivors — to speak out about the attack they never reported, either tweeting from their own accounts or anonymously at @Ididnotreport1.

While many people have sent supportive tweets, vital to creating a safe and caring online space, the courage of these survivors deserves more than a kind word. 60% of sexual assault are never reported. So what are the rest of us going to do to make #ididnotreport obsolete? What are we going to do to change it to #isentmyrapist2jail?

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Tell the Grammys: No, You Were Not the Victim of Chris Brown’s Domestic Violence

Brett Simon thought that when Chris Brown beat up then-girlfriend Rhianna right before the 2009 Grammys, that the victim was Rhianna herself. You know, the person with all the bruises.

But then he heard: Grammy Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich thinks that the awards show was the victim “of what happened.”

“I think people deserve a second chance, you know,” Ehrlich said. “If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” When Brett saw that Chris Brown was back performing on the prestigious show last night, while still on probation for the domestic assault, he was upset. When he heard that the Grammys thought they were the real victims, he really had to do something. That’s when Brett started a petition demanding an apology.

Ehrlich’s statement suggests that Brown was barred from the awards show not as a consequence of physically harming his girlfriend, another Grammy performer, but because the Grammys were upset with him for — what? making them scramble to find replacement performers with Rhianna healing and Brown under arrest?

“I started this petition because I realized that something was not right in this country when women beg to be beaten by someone just because he is a good looking Grammy winning performer,” Brett explained, commenting on a slew of “Chris Brown can beat me” tweets. “Those tweets along with Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich’s comment insinuating that he and the Grammys were the victims of Chris Brown’s abusive behavior are proof of a disconnect between society and the reality of domestic violence. The Recording Academy, the Grammys, and Ken Ehrlich need to demonstrate to the public that they understand that domestic violence is not something to be ignored, tolerated, and rewarded.”

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Nigeria Attorney General Demands Investigation of Gang-Rape

In September, a horrifying video came to light at Abia State University in Nigeria, depicting five men gang-raping a young woman as she begged them to just kill her. Concerned citizens in Nigeria and around the world, activists, and bloggers called for the “ABSU5” to be brought to justice, denouncing the culture of impunity that led these criminals to believe they could get away with taping and distributing their assault. Yet University and Abia State officials refused to take action, denying the violent act occurred in their jurisdiction without investigating. The Assistant Commissioner of Police, J.G. Micloth, even claimed that the brutal attack looked consensual — or was punishment for the girl somehow shaming her boyfriend — to excuse their failure to act.

More than 90,000 members worldwide signed a petition by Adetomi Aladekomo, a Nigerian rape survivor now living in Canada, calling for these men to be arrested and prosecuted. Finally, last month Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mohammad Adoke intervened in the case, demanding that the Inspector-General of Police investigate the assault. Carol Aije, a Nigerian lawyer who deals with sexual violence cases across the country and has collaborated with the campaign, directly petitioned the Attorney General’s office urging this action, adding to the protests occurring online and on the ground.

This is significant progress. But the campaign isn’t over. Though Attorney General Adoke ordered a full investigation, it hasn’t happened yet. And Nigeria’s law enforcement has been all stirred up, with former Inspector-General Hafiz Ringim removed from his position for incompetence dealing with terrorism. For the campaign to succeed, international attention must continue to make sure that the new Inspector-General, Mohammad Abubakar, follows through with the investigation, and the Attorney General keeps an eye on the proceedings.

Adetomi also hopes to see a law strengthening violence against women legislation, which would also help victims such as Franca Ogbu, a student deeply disfigured by an acid attack whose assailant remains at large. To add your voice to Adetomi’s campaign and help bring the gang-rapists to justice, you can sign the petition here.

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How Facebook Can Really Help Women Connect

Facebook recently launched a “Women Connect” app, calling it “an online platform for organizations and causes to connect and share information with supporters about issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment.” Apparently, it’s a part of Facebook’s “Diversity campaign.”

Taking action to further gender justice is admirable, but some people see Facebook’s internal actions as out of step with this stated mission. The top comment to greet me on the Women Connect page, ranked up through users hitting the “Like” button, reads: “I’m glad that FB is supporting this but they also need to get their own house in order – for example by taking down misogynist & pro-rape pages and dropping their stupid censorship against images of breastfeeding.”

The almost 200,000 people who signed the petition demanding that Facebook remove pages promoting sexual violence and violence against women would most likely agree. As would the thousands of members telling Facebook to leave breastfeeding pictures alone.

In November, Facebook took some action after a #notfunnyfacebook Day of Action on Twitter denounced their excuse for pro-rape pages: “what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining – just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.” A number of pro-violence pages were removed, but Facebook still missed the point, permitting the hate content to remain live if the tag [Humor] or [Satire] was simply added in front of the page title. Facebook users can report content as abusive internally, however when the policy is to protect rape apologism, that won’t get rid of the pages.

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San Francisco Threatens to Tear Down Pro-Choice Posters, Block Walk

Victory! After 100 people signed the petition in just a few hours, the Department of Public Works quickly came to an agreement to allow the Walk for Choice to take place Friday and the banners to remain up until Saturday evening.

Anti-choicers rip down posters for a “Trust Women” event. Women’s rights advocates complain about the vandalism. What does the city do?

Threaten to tear down the rest of the banners.

Somer Loen, an organizer for the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR), has launched a petition on calling on the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) to “protect free speech for pro-choice organization.” In preparation for Trust Women Week (Jan. 20-27) the Silver Ribbon Campaign — of which BACORR is a member organization — put up banners to raise awareness, featuring slogans such as “Fix the Economy — Support My Autonomy” and “Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights.” Loen reports that they had a permit for the banners and an event on Jan. 20th, but the anti-choice Life Legal Defense Fund filed a “bogus” complaint with the city.

Loen and her fellow organizers were looking for a way to deal with vandals destroying their posters when the DPW shockingly invalidated their original permit for a Friday walk, refused to issue a new one requested for Sunday (so as to not overlap with a Friday Occupy event), and announced the remaining banners would be removed.

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U.S. Women’s Football Players Say: Let Girls Play!

More than 35,000 people have joined a popular campaign on calling on the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association (NCISAA) to allow girls to play football.

Members of the U.S. National Women’s Tackle Football Team launched the online petition on after they heard that starting linebacker Mina Johnson, a student at Southampton Academy in Virginia, was forced to sit on the sidelines when an opposing team threatened to forfeit rather than play against a girl. The opposing school was a member of the NCISAA, which prohibits girls from playing on boys’ varsity teams.

“The members of the U.S. national women’s team and I felt it extremely important to support Mina in her desire to play football,” said Adrienne Smith, who launched the campaign on on behalf of her teammates. “At one time or another, everyone on the U.S. national team has faced similar discrimination. We wanted to show unanimous support for Mina and her teammates, as well as her coach and community, by speaking as one voice through our petition.”

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