Are We Setting Women Up to Be Raped?

Who has control over your body? Who gets to decide who does and does not get to touch you, and how, and when? My answer would be: you do. But is this really what we teach women? Maybe not.

A post on the “Yes Means Yes” blog,  “Good Touch, Bad Touch,” discusses those annoying cheek-pinches and hugs from relatives in a light I’d never considered before. It argues that when society — and parents in particular — teaches girls to accept unwanted touching of any kind, it sets them up to not fight back against sexual assault or rape. It tells them that somebody else gets to make the decision about what is appropriate touching of their bodies, not them. (I’m reminded of the scene in Sixteen Candles when the grandmother give the growing breasts of her shocked teenage granddaughter a good squeeze.)

I’m sure everybody’s seen a child trying to squirm out of a relative’s enthusiastic hug. Most people probably laugh. But is it really that funny? When we tell our children to put up with undesired touching, can we expect them to report when the “line” is crossed? Maybe, for them, they feel that the line has already been passed.

The post asks: “what’s the point of alerting children to how they feel about inappropriate touch if we also teach them that there is nothing they can do about it?”

It also links to some other excellent pieces about the issue. Rebecca at City of Ladies argues, in a moving personal letter, that the different between an unwanted kiss or hug and rape is only a matter of degree: “So he put his penis in your vagina without your consent. Oh my god such a big deal.”

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Spike in Female Ambassadors to the United States

In what the Washington Post refers to as the “Hillary effect,” D.C. is playing host to a record number of female ambassadors. More points to Secretary of State Clinton for improving the position of women from around the globe!

The 25 women currently posted in the United States include Oman ambassador Hunaina Sultan al-Mughairy, a trailblazer in cracking into the boy’s club of Arab ambassadors. And they get those cool diplomatic immunity license plates! I wish I had one of those.

But I wouldn’t break out the champagne just yet. (Unless you’re trying to drink another diplomatic under the table — I hear they enjoy that game.) These women, who make up a mere fraction of the 182 ambassadors stationed in the United States, have to put some serious chinks on the male-dominated diplomatic profession to get the respect they deserve.

Even when identifying themselves as an ambassador, these powerful women continue to be mistaken for the “wife-of.” Especially ironic since, in many cases, their husbands don’t come along for the ride — while an ambassador’s wife is still expected to make boring dinner conversation with a bunch of stuffy politicians, ambassadors’ husbands have better things to do, like their own jobs.

And there’s another disappointing nugget: Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, worries, “Is the relative feminization of diplomacy indicative of its decline as a center of power and influence?”

If only equality could finally catch up to the point where a profession gaining women wasn’t taken as a sign that it was going down the tubes.

Photo credit: rubberpaw

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Working for Uncle Sam Screws Over Immigrants

You’d think that serving the United States’ military — even giving up your life for the country — would be one of those things that helps you or your loved ones gain legal status here, right? Two recent stories let us know how wrong that assumption would be. Turns out, serving the country doesn’t carry much weight with immigration officials.

Michael Ferschke, a U.S. Marine, was slain in the line of duty. And now his wife and one-year-old son have been deported.

When Ferschke’s son was born in Japan last January, he’d already lost his father to an ill-fated mission in Iraq. But the Marine had wanted his son raised as an American, and Ferschke’s parents were eager to bring his wife and their new grandson into their Tennessee home.

Unfortunately, the State Department refused to recognize the marriage, which took place by proxy (a longstanding military tradition) while Ferschke was deployed, because it was never consummated — he died before he could see his bride again.

Ridiculous. Hello, people! The couple consummated it in advance. How exactly do you think they ended up with a son? Do I need to explain the birds and the bees?

Immigration law requires consummation to avoid potential sham marriages — but if sexual intercourse is the standard for marriage, clearly that wasn’t a problem there. Immigration lawyer Brent Renison says the 1952 law is from “a different time” and must change to recognize prior consummation of a marriage.

At least the Marines got it right: the military does recognize this marriage and has been sending survivor benefits to the widow.

But wait, there’s more! In another “let’s deter people from serving our country” story, an Iraq refugee has been denied a green card for working as a translator for the U.S. Army.

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Dr. Tiller’s Killer Could Get Less Than 5 Years Prison Time

What should have been a straight-forward case against late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller’s confessed killer took a frightening twist last week, when a judge ruled that Scott Roeder’s lawyers can present a “voluntary manslaughter” defense.

The sentence for voluntary manslaughter can be a pitiful five years, and the maximum sentence is set at less than 13 years.

Katherine Spiller, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, says that this move could lead to “open season on doctors.” Another late-term abortion doctor, Warren Hern, says, “‘This judge has basically announced a death sentence for all of us who help women.”

Rev. Don Spitz, who maintains the website for the Army of God, an extremist anti-choice group that promotes the use of violence, was himself (pleasantly) surprised at the decision. Spitz agrees with Spiller and Hern that removing the risk of a death sentence or life imprisonment for killing a doctor “may increase the number of people who may be willing to take that risk.”

Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” Prosecutors warn of far-reaching implications for this decision: “Taken to its logical extreme, this line of thinking would allow anyone to commit premeditated murder, but only be guilty of manslaughter, simply because the victim holds a different set of moral and political beliefs than the attacker.”

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A Special Visa Just for Abused Immigrants

The New York Times reports on what an immigration advocate refers to as “island of niceness” in the United States’ generally unfriendly policies toward undocumented immigrants.

Under the U visa, victims of abuse — frequently domestic violence — are relieved of the fear of deportation for four years and allowed to apply for legal resident status. Police say this law protects communities, because it encourages victims to bring to light crimes that occur behind closed doors. Since law enforcement has found that domestic violence offenders with one victim often has abused other women as well, making the crime especially important to uncover.

Yet this remain a bittersweet story. Take the story of one woman, an undocumented immigrant brought to the U.S. by her mother at age 14. At 16, she met her husband to be, who turned out to be a bad egg: keeping her from attending school, refusing to file for citizenship on her behalf, subjecting her to mental and, finally, physical abuse and attempted rape.

Now that he’s in jail, and she’s been permitted to stay in America under the U visa, she says, “Of course, I would have preferred another way to stay here. But this was the way it happened, and it was worth it.”

No one should ever be put in the position of calling physical and sexual assault “worth it.” Our twisted immigration laws put her in danger as an undocumented girl under the power of her husband in the first place. In the Times’ words, her husband “beat her bloody.” Our twisted laws make suffering that violence worth it?

Photo: U.S. Army

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Nevada Personhood Initiative Tossed Out

Why go through all the trouble of getting abortion, birth control, stem cell research, and in-vitro fertilization banned separately when you can knock them all out with one fell swoop? That’s the motivation behind the “personhood” initiatives launched by anti-choice right-wing groups.

In Nevada, a judge last week scrapped a proposed egg-as-person ballot initiative to define a “person” as  “everybody possessing a human genome,” deeming it too vague and unintelligible, in addition to violating laws prohibiting a single initiative from targeting multiple issues. The attorney for the losing side claimed that “any eight-year-old” would be able to comprehend the proposal. I’m sure the judge appreciated having his mental ability compared with a fourth grader’s.

In “now wouldn’t that be nice” land, if these personhood initiatives were written to say that a “person” must possess a human genome — though the mere existence of DNA does not cells a person make — that would be another story. Then maybe we could get rid of some of this “corporate personhood” nonsense.

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New York and San Francisco Use Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution

Thursday, I pointed out that police in D.C., which has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country, are reported to use possession of condoms as evidence of sex work. (Yeah, they can clearly afford to discourage safe sex techniques.) Turns out, the nation’s capital isn’t the only one.

After being tipped off by a commenter that San Francisco police use an unspecified number of rubbers as evidence of sex work, I investigated further and was shocked to discover that safe-sex devices have been used as evidence in my own hometown, New York — which is particularly ridiculous given that New York City has been distributing free condoms to combat STDs since 1971. Some businesses are even afraid to offer the city’s snazzy free condoms because they can also be used as evidence of “maintaining a premises for prostitution.”

(Hello, readers: do you know of any other places where condoms are misused as evidence of sex work?)

Knowing that planning ahead for a night out could be used as evidence against you is enough to make anyone uncomfortable, but most people needn’t worry about getting randomly arrested for condoms. The major problem is the impact of discouraging sex workers — which do include men, though women are the majority — from using protection. (Although the Urban Justice Center states that many transgender women, even those who aren’t sex workers, fear carrying condoms because they are frequently profiled by police.)

San Francisco police defend the practice by claiming that “a pocket full of condoms alone is not a basis for arrest.” Guess what: condoms shouldn’t factor at all into potential arrest for sex work. It’s a health disaster.

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Eyeing the Presidency, Lou Dobbs Suddenly LOVES Immigrants

In Salon’s War Room, Alex Koppelman reports finding a weird letter on his desk last week. It came from a firm representing former CNN commentator Lou Dobbs — and suggests that he’s trying to become former immigrant-hater Lou Dobbs as well.

The letter, which Koppelman believes was sent to political journalists who have recently written about Dobbs, tells us: “Lou has always been supportive of high levels of legal immigration … Lou is working hard on solutions that will help illegal immigrants in the country meet necessary conditions for a path to legalization.”

What now? Are these the same immigrants that Dobbs has (repeatedly) blamed for starting a leprosy epidemic — an epidemic that, you know, doesn’t exist? The ones he’s accused of being criminals, drains on the economy, and part of a “reconquista” conspiracy movement to take over part of the United States? Riiight.

Somebody just realized he needs those Latino votes to nab the presidential seat that he has his eye on.

Apparently, we can expect Dobbs to “reach out into the Hispanic community.” Well, Mr. President-wannabe, don’t expect much reaching back. It’s going to be hard to erase the memory of you spending 70 percent of your air time railing against undocumented immigrants — or, to recall your own words, “illegal aliens.”

Photo: NASA Images

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Nelson Mandela and the Elders Say God Doesn’t Hate Women

When the world’s a mess, what do you do? Nelson Mandela says: look to your Elders.

The Elders was formed as a small, independent group of committed — well, changemakers — who would take advantage of the fact that the world is shrinking to work together “to resolve global problems and ease human suffering.” Founded by Mandela, other members of the Who’s Who include former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Ela Bhatt, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

I probably don’t have to point out that many of the Elders’ progressive big-shots are religious leaders (they start each meeting with a silent prayer). Coming from within the system, they see much to be desired in the way religion addresses women’s human rights.

As Nicholas Kristof indicates in a New York Times column on “Religion and Women” yesterday, the Elders have a message for the world’s religions: “the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.” Translation: God(s) doesn’t hate women, so stop justifying sexism and misogyny on those grounds. Human rights aren’t contingent on your genitalia.

A statement on their website challenges religions to root out the prejudice against women that has “infected” societies around the globe, acting as a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Religion is a powerful force in our world, so it’s nice to see a group of the older-and-wiser pointing it in the right direction. It’s a big win for gender justice when major religious leaders like the Dalai Lama call themselves feminist. He says: “Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights?”

Photo: K. Kendall

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Grand Jury Has an Eye on Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Abuses of Power

It’s about time. Rumors of an investigation of anti-immigrant, hate-filled, authority-abusing, all-around nasty guy Sheriff Joe Arpaio have circulated for months, but now two witness subpoenas confirm that he’s finally landed firmly in the hot seat.

The Arizona sheriff was already in trouble for wasting time and money going undocumented immigrant-hunting instead of doing his job. Then, when county officials finally cut off his cash flow, he threw the legal equivalent of a three-year-old’s temper tantrum: accusing everyone of conspiracy. (They’re all against him!) Because nothing says “I don’t waste money” like launching dozens of investigation into county workers for  withholding your allowance.

Paul Charlton — lawyer to County Supervisor Don Stapley, suspiciously arrested by Arpaio’s minions after calling for an audit of the sheriff’s office — compares the infamous Arizonian to “an eastern European dictator who deals with dissent by having outspoken citizens shot, so as to warn others not to speak up.”

It would be nice if Arpaio had lost his job back when he launched a forced march of hundreds of immigrant detainees, shackled, to a tent city surrounded by electric fences. But hey, at least someone’s finally getting around to checking into his massive (and highly wasteful) abuses of power.

For his hard work, Sheriff Arpaio is the proud winner of TPM’s Golden Duke Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Corruption-based Chutzpah.” Slate writer and Golden Dukes judge Jack Shafer remarks: “There’s a thin line between chutzpah and villainy, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio erases it.”

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