Happy New Year — out with the old, and in with the new!
More than 140,000 Change.org members signed a petition launched by Ms. Magazine demanding the FBI recognize that rape is rape — and it worked. On Friday, the Obama administration approved a new nationwide definition of rape, the first change in 80 years. Goodbye and good riddance to the FBI’s narrow Uniform Crime Report definition: “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”
And a hearty welcome to the new definition: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” For the first time in decades, this federal definition of rape includes victims of all genders, forced oral and anal sex, and drugging or unconsciousness. “With a modern, broader definition, FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics will finally show the true breadth of this violence that affects so many women’s lives,” said Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar. As these statistics are utilized to understand crime rates and trends, which in turn influence decisions about funding and prioritization, this change can have a real impact in reducing sexual violence across the country.
The glaring discrepancy between the reality of rape and the FBI’s definition spurred Ms. Magazine to launch the “Rape Is Rape” campaign, spotlighting the stories of and seeking justice for survivors who discovered their violation wasn’t legally considered rape. Once the non-profit organization started a petition on Change.org and brought this travesty to the attention of members like you, nearly 150,000 people jumped up to tell the FBI that rape is rape, making this one of the most popular Change.org Women’s Rights petitions of all time.
Gooooooaaaaaaallllllll! When the U.S. Soccer Federation announced on November 20 that Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), the national league where World Cup stars like Hope Solo and Abby Wambach train up to rock it on the international field, risked losing sanctioning if it couldn’t add a sixth team in two weeks, prospects looked dim. But a game-saving goal come in the form of outcry from players and fans determined to save WPS — 50,000 of them.
Alex Sahlen, a player for the WPS Team the Western New York Flash, started a petition on Change.org asking U.S. Soccer to grant her beloved league a one-year waiver from the minimum team requirement. Her campaign attracted 48,000 signatures, while another petition started by Colleen Kelly, an ardent fan of the WPS Team the Philadelphia Independence, brought the number of supporters to just shy of 50,000. This week, U.S. Soccer announced that it will allow WPS to continue to develop and expand over the next year, recognizing that a sport with such devoted fans has an opportunity to thrive.
“I would like to thank all of the fans for their unwavering support throughout this difficult time and persisting with us to reach our ultimate goal of a 2012 WPS season,” said Alex Sahlen after hearing the good cheer about WPS. “The support has been amazing and really touching and humbling for many of us. We are looking forward to another successful WPS season and will look to build upon this season to keep women’s professional soccer around for many years to come.”
Over 180,000 of you have petitioned Facebook asking for the removal of pages advocating sexual violence and violence against women, signing your name to a campaign launched by Florida activist John Raines. You’ve pointed out that Facebook’s own Terms of Service ban content that is “hateful, threatening,” or contains “graphic or gratuitous violence.” But Facebook has refused to take action, writing these hateful pages off as humor: “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.”
Today, you can join a Twitter Day of Action to tell Facebook that you don’t find pages like “Riding You Girlfriend Softly So She Doesn’t Wake Up” funny. Facebooks knows these pages exist, but has made a decision to permit pages like this one advocating sexual violence — pages like this one, where the admin engages in further hilarity about drugging women and threatening critics with assault — so reporting them isn’t enough. The Change.org campaign includes supporters who will be taking action from all around the world, and similar campaigns are being run out of Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, where Women’s View on News (WVoN) has been leading and compiling resources.
Facebook has previously been criticized for being quick to delete inoffensive pictures of same-sex couples kissing and regularly taking down breastfeeding photos/groups. Yet when it comes to hate speech and advocating violence against women, suddenly Facebook is ready to shrug their shoulders and say it’s all in good fun, nothing for them to do about it.
Somer Leon decided that she didn’t want one more San Francisco woman tricked by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). With her volunteer group, the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights, Leon launched a campaign on Change.org, calling for truth-in-advertising legislation that would bar these “fake clinics” from claiming non-existent services. The bill passed the local Board of Supervisors with overwhelming support on Tuesday, with Leon’s petition credited for demonstrating support for the bill.
Thousands of CPCs exist nationwide, and the majority — 87%, according to a Congressional report — mislead or lie to patients. These ideological fake clinics lure in pregnant women with false advertising about offering comprehensive reproductive health care, only to pursue a conservative religious agenda. They lack trained medical personnel, don’t provide advertised services, and deceive patients with fabrications about abortion leading to breast cancer, mental illness, and infertility. Many resort to shaming tactics and pressure women to “accept Jesus”; some go as far as telling a patient she’s not pregnant in order to keep her from considering abortion, which can pose a serious health risk.
Similar legislation has already passed in New York City, Baltimore, and Austin. What can you do to make sure that women in your hometown won’t get tricked by crisis pregnancy centers?
More than 85,000 people worldwide have joined a Nigerian woman’s popular campaign on Change.org calling on officials in Nigeria to arrest five men who videotaped themselves gang-raping a young woman.
Adetomi Aladekomo, who grew up in Nigeria and still has family there, launched the petition on Change.org after being sent the horrifying video, which depicts an hour of a brutal gang-rape by five men reported to be Abia State University (ABSU) students. The ABSU vice chancellor, Abia State governor, and local law enforcement reportedly denied the assault without conducting a proper investigation. Adetomi, a rape survivor herself, decided to take action to hold the officials accountable.
“When I created this petition I was concerned with finding the men who committed this heinous act,” stated Adetomi. “Now I realize that the issue is bigger than these five men. We need to have an educated and caring government that bothers to fact-check before rashly taking a stand or declaring that despite video evidence, a rape did not take place.”
Father Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest of 39 years, felt obligated to speak his conscience — and it told him that women should be allowed to be priests too. His outspoken opposition to sexist discrimination could cost him dearly, however, as he now faces dismissal from his position and excommunication.
The Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) has launched a petition on Change.org in support of Fr. Bourgeois and other Catholics who believe that women deserve the same clergy rights as men in the Church. “I cannot possibly speak out about injustice in society and at the same time be silent about this injustice in my church,” Bourgeois affirmed. WOC — along with cosponsors the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Call To Action, and Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA — wants the Vatican to know that a respected priest shouldn’t be kicked out for supporting women’s ordination when there’s no scriptural prohibition for this practice.
“After much reflection, study, and prayer, I believe that our Church’s teaching that excludes women from the priesthood defies both faith and reason and cannot stand up to scrutiny,” Fr. Bourgeois wrote in response to his threatened removal from office in the Maryknoll Catholic order. ‘This teaching has nothing to do with God, but with men, and is rooted in sexism. Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against women, in the end, it is not the way of God, but of men who want to hold on to their power.”
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week overruled a decision requiring a Texas cheerleader to pay $35,000 in legal fees after she sued the high school that forced her to cheer for a basketball player who pled guilty to assaulting her.
H.S. was removed from the cheerleading squad by Superintendent Richard Bain for asserting that she would not cheer for her rapist by name. This incident and the school’s general misconduct motivated her family to bring a lawsuit against the school district on free speech, equal protection, and due process grounds.
The decision, issued Monday, alters a ruling by a lower court which previously found the cheerleader’s entire suit “frivolous,” ordering the sexual assault survivor to pay the school district $35,000 in legal expenses. The new ruling finds that the free speech portion of the lawsuit was not frivolous, and orders the amount owed to be recalculated accordingly.
The news comes after more than 140,000 people joined a popular campaign on Change.org calling on Silsbee High School to admit to mistreating the student, apologize for the actions against her, improve district policy for dealing with sexual assault, and refuse to take money from the girl and her family. As of yet, the school has not responded. This court decision represents a golden opportunity for the Silsbee Independent School District Official to say they don’t force money from rape survivors.
In late June, a vital bill to support rape survivors landed on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s desk. The bill, which had strong bipartisan support in both legislative houses, was to bar rape survivors from being charged for their own rape kits — collections of forensic evidence after a sexual assault that can be used in a criminal investigation. It would go into effect immediately upon signing, instantly protecting rape survivors.
June petered out. Then all of July. Then, we come to late August, with the deadline for signing or vetoing the bill coming up on the 25th, still without Christie bothering to take action. His office said the straightforward potential law remained “under review.” A New Jersey resident, Sarah Rowley, decided this week that enough was enough.
Rowley launched a petition on Change.org calling on Gov. Christie not to stick rape victims with the bill — and to sign the legislation already. Within less than 72 hours, after almost 1000 signatures from Change.org members, the drawn-out “reviewing” process was over: Gov. Christie affixed his John Hancock yesterday.
Thanks to action by almost 7,000 Change.org members, if you live in Illinois, you no longer have to worry whether your doctor is a rapist.
Now, maybe this isn’t the first concern that might pop into the standard patient’s head. But the Chicago Tribune revealed that not only did a gynecologist sexually assault multiple patients in his care, a state regulatory board that found him responsible for these heinous acts decided that the just sanction was a nine-month suspension. Then, he could get back in the office, telling unsuspecting women to spread their legs for an exam.
As a woman, thinking of a gynecologist raping vulnerable patients awaiting exam in those awful stirrup, I have to shudder. This is certainly not that action of somebody who adheres to the Hippocratic Oath. Fortunately, the outraged response to this investigation spurred the Illinois state legislature to take action to revoke medical licenses from convicted sex offenders. Then, thousands more Change.org members called upon Gov. Pat Quinn to get moving and sign the law. Last month, he acquiesced to their demands, and the bill to protect patients became law.
Last month, we asked you to take action for no co-pay birth control coverage, as part of a National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood blog carnival putting pressure on Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Now, we can announce that these efforts from Change.org members and across the blogosphere have paid off: yesterday, HHS made the long-awaited and very welcome announcement that birth control will now be entirely covered for women with insurance.
This victory was won by pressure from many organizations and individuals across the country, including petitions on Change.org from CREDO Action and member Augusta Christensen, with thousands pressuring Secretary Sebelius to protect women’s health. This change will significantly increase women’s contraceptive access and ability to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Even better, not only is contraception fully covered, other women’s preventative health services and breastfeeding expenses are now co-pay free as well.
Unfortunately, not all women will reap the benefits of this decision. In fact, for uninsured women who already struggle the most with access to contraception and health services, it doesn’t do them much good at all.