Project Safe and the Power of Language

 

The power of language becomes very evident when trying to tackle issues that are very prevalent yet rarely discussed. With sexual assaults increasing at alarming rates throughout the nation, we are at a point wh

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What’s Sex Got To Do With…The Military?

According to servicewomen.org, despite 25 years of investigation under the Pentagon due to sexual assault cases in the military, military cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment continue to grow. One would think that an institution of our country that prides itself on justice and valor would be different, however, tens of thousands of unwanted sexual acts are committed yearly in the military, and only a fraction are reported. Those that are expected to be covered up and not talked about.

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These statistics are shocking for multiple reasons. One of the most is because these assaults occur in all realms of the military, including present Active Duty, the Reserves, the National Guard and in the military academies. More importantly, there is a culture of victim-blaming, lack of accountability, and lack of liable command in these situations and it has become prevalent. These statistics threaten the strength, readiness, and morale of the United States military system. It takes away validity from our nation and US national security.

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Recently, a New York Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand has been making a bipartisan push to change how the military deals with cases of sexual assault with the help of Col. Don Christensen, former chief prosecutor of the Air Force. They are hoping to bring recognition to the Military Justice Improvement Act, which aims to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether or not to prosecute sexual assault cases. The issue with this is that commanders are oftentimes friends with both the alleged victim and perpetrator, and they become the enablers in this situation.

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The current situation present in the military is no different than that of college campuses. Both contain a lack of accountability, however, at colleges, it is that of university administration in failing to handle cases properly. Also, in both institutions, the misconception that victims ask for it and are at fault in sexual assault cases is present, when in reality, victims are never to blame. Another similarity between the two is that there are similar programs present at Vanderbilt and within the military to combat sexual assault and educate people about it.

Why do you think that there is such a heavy push-back on sexual assault and measures of prevention are just now being brought up with both institutions?

Is CASA Really All That?

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, commonly known as CASA is a bill presented in congress that aims to accomplish a number of things. Specifically, according to the preamble of the bill, the purpose of CASA is “to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act to combat campus sexual violence, and for other purposes. This incredibly vague inclusion to the purpose of the bill has come under scrutiny and raises the question of what the true motives of the bill actually are.

The bill starts by amending the Clery Act of 1965 to require colleges to report a number of sexual assault statistics on their website. Also included in this section is a survey that colleges and universities are supposed to give to their student body to more accurately gauge how sexual assaults are happening on campus. The next section of the bill is titled “Coordination with Local Law Enforcement” It goes into detail about a variety of penalties and fines that will be handed out by the Department of Education if schools are found to not be in compliance with CASA. It also details the role that the Secretary of Education has in determining the validity of the infractions. The next section of the bill outlines what systems and programs colleges and universities have to implement for survivors of sexual assault. It goes into detail about the roles of “responsible employees” and what legal options survivors have available to them.

There are a number of clauses and lines within the CASA bill that do not help and may even hurt the war against campus sexual assault. Starting with the very first page, the preamble of the Bill gets kind of shady in its intentions by the inclusion of “and for other purposes.” Considering that this Bill is an amendment for another campus sexual assault legislative piece, I find it hard to believe that this Bill would have many other purposes. If it did, as a voting citizen, I would like for them to be outlined more explicitly for me. In fact, I think a greater level of transparency in all parts of the Bill would be a massive step up from the vague policies and language used in the Bill as it stands now.

For example, in Section 2 the amendment requires that colleges and universities include sexual assault statistics “on the website of the institution”. Not only does it not specify where on a website these statistics have to be (i.e. how easy they are to find), but the statistics that institutions are required to show are not very thorough. For example, there is no requirement for a statistic that shows what percentage of cases had repeat perpetrators. Another issue I found within Section 2 of CASA is the outdated and inconsistent language that is present in the bill. This bill is making amendments to a law passed in 1965 and uses definitions from a separate Act passed in 1994. Especially since the rise of the internet and social media, definitions of sexual violence, dating violence, stalking, consent, rape, and coercion have been rapidly changing. It is not productive to reference definitions from essentially three different generations in a bill that requires solid definitions.

In Section 3 of CASA, a number of penalties and fines are described for institutions that do not adhere to the new Bill. One noticeable flaw within the logic of this section is the power given to the Secretary of Education. While I personally do not know much about our current leadership in the Department of Education, it appears that they could potentially waive the penalties for favored institutions, even if a conflict of interest may be present. Section 4 of CASA attempts to provide ways a number of avenues for students to report their assaults. However, the confusing terminology and the fact that “the confidential advisor shall inform the victim of the victim’s control over possible next steps regarding the victim’s reporting options” may do more harm than good. As we all most likely saw in the Rolling Stone article, presenting a survivor with an overwhelming amount of options without any real guidance does not really do anything for the survivor.

How do you think CASA should be changed? Do you think Congress has the right ideas with this bill?

Racial Hierarchies in Relation to Immigrant Women

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Many women that are associated into a Diaspora culture are, more often than not, discriminated against, and seemingly forgotten about. Informal power unfairly shapes the sexualities and employment statuses of immigrant women. These women constantly find themselves in situations that they have no control over. Basic human rights, social justice, and fundamental equality are all nonexistent in the lives of undocumented female farm workers. People of considerably higher power take advantage of these undocumented workers, give them zero respect, and take away their dignity. With a strong sense of fear of deportation and no longer being able to provide for the families, female immigrant workers remain silent and accept sexual abuse. Racial hierarchies confine immigrant women to a status of diminished personhood where their rights, culture, and sexual agency are all reduced to nothing.

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Undocumented laborers that come to America have very limited options for work. Jobs in the field are really the only available choice that illegal immigrants have. In the NPR documentary, “Rape in the Fields,” the hidden truth about what really happens to female farm workers, in the fields, is portrayed. This film exposed me to a horrible secret that most people throughout the United States still are oblivious to. Undocumented laborers, but very specifically—women, are raped and abused by their superiors. It is very easy for their powerful male superiors to get away with these horrendous acts, in the land hidden within the fields. These illegal immigrant women feel that they cannot speak up or else their supervisors will rat them out and they will have to leave America. This sad, yet real fear of deportation is the only reason male supervisors are getting away with this sexual violence. Many of these women have families and children to support—so they accept this violence and remain silent. No person should ever feel like this. Female undocumented laborers are truly being torn down to nothing. They have no voice, no say in anything, no protection, and absolutely no rights.

Although racial hierarchy plays a major role in the discrimination against immigrants—male hierarchy plays a bigger role. Female immigrants are easily taken advantage of and forgotten about. I do think there is a strong sense of racial hierarchies, but women are being dominated by men—regardless of what race their superior is. These men feel that they own the women and can make them do whatever they desire. Because the undocumented women are in the United States illegally, the men know that these women will basically do anything to stay. This is just disgusting and unacceptable. The males in charge use their mechanisms of power to reduce women to plain nothingness. Along with the awful nature of this situation, nothing has been followed up by our society to put it to an end. This abuse and rape is most definitely still occurring in the fields and women are still being silenced and stripped of their personhood, along with their rights.

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The undocumented female field workers who speak in “Rape in the Fields” risked a vast amount by speaking out publically. Their lives consist of days spent fearing deportation. Along with this fear of losing jobs and being forced to leave America, these undocumented workers also carry heavy loads of shame with them. No woman should ever be ashamed of being a victim of sexual assault and violence. Which is why California has created a new bill as an attempt to prevent and put an end to sexual violence towards female workers in the fields. The Bill is called “Bill to Protect Female Workers From Sex Abuse.” This Bill was originally brought up after the documentary “Rape in the Fields.” The law has made sexual harassment training mandatory for labor contractors and supervisors—and all other employees. Interestingly enough, before this Bill came into law—agricultural supervisors with 50 or more workers had to go through sexual harassment training every other year. Now all supervisors and employees, regardless of the number of workers employed, have to go through training. Along with these minor improvements to our justice system (California’s at least) the state can take away the license of a supervisor who has harassed an employee. This Bill gives me hope (and I am sure it gives female field laborers hope as well) that our country, and maybe even global society, is opening their eyes to the reality of sexual assault. While sexual assault and violence in the field has not been put to an end quite yet, the California Bill is helping us to get there.

We live in a society that is advanced enough to be able to comprehend how offensive, horrifying, and disgusting these men are to immigrant women. It was appalling to me too see the NPR documentary. Undocumented women are still receiving the same abuse and neglect. While steps are being taken towards helping the female field workers, undocumented laborers will still always have a fear of speaking up—even if it will get their abuser fired. Female farm workers should feel safe while working and protected from sexual abuse. The undocumented female laborers are being stripped of their basic human rights and are receiving no social justice. Women are constantly being sexually violated, abused, and exploited. As a society, we have to work to put this to an end and give all these women their rights and dignity back.

 

Do you think sexual assault and violence in the field can be stopped? What do you think should be done to help end it? What can be done to help these female immigrant workers?

What’s Sex Got to do With…CASA

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This year Congress released the 2014 Campus Accountability and Safety Act. The purpose of the Bill is to educate the people of our country (and hopefully the rest of the world at one point) about sexual assault and to fight back and stop sexual violence. This is a serious issue we are currently facing and it is not going away. Not only is it not going away, but it is in fact becoming an even bigger problem as time goes on. The Bill is very informative and it is a good start, and a conscious effort by America, towards tackling the major concern of sexual assault on college campuses (and everywhere for that matter).

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The CASA Bill begins with the preamble. In it—it explains how, as a collective body of people, we need to come together to combat sexual assault. People need to become much more aware of what is going on around them and then proceed to take action to end the disturbing violence. The language throughout Section 4: University Support for Survivors of Sexual Violence is very strange and differs from previous sections. The section only managed to mention federally funded schools—so school that are not funded by the government don’t have to follow the same rules. The section also used a lot of words such as survivors instead of victims and harassment instead of sexual assault. The transition of word use in Section 4 seemingly confused the rest of the Bill.

#YesAllWomen Live Rally in Seattle supports victims of violence

Overall, the Bill was very interesting to read. If I could change anything about it—I would make a few revisions. I thought the Bill provided quite ambiguous definitions. It could potentially be much clearer and more effective if there were in-depth and specific definitions. The CASA Bill also uses various different words for the same concepts. This was slightly confusing and unhelpful. If the Bill used consistent discourse it would help readers to better understand the concepts. Lastly, while non-federally funded schools are allowed to do whatever they please—I think they should have to follow the same rules in the CASA Bill that federally funded schools do. This would contribute to the decrease in sexual assault…if anything. Although I would change these few minor details, the Bill is very progressive and our country is headed in the right direction.

What’s Sex Got To Do With…My Final Thought?

Before taking this class; Sex and Society, I never really thought about sexual assault, how common it was, or understanding it from an academic stand point. I now know so much information that really has shifted my thinking in the best way possible. I feel like I have the knowledge to pass on to others and would be able to help anyone with questions in understanding various topics we have discussed such as; the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, intersex, asexual community, BDSM, sexual assault, the hookup culture, and how society influences sexuality. However, in my opinion, the most influential and most important topics that we discussed are LGBTQIA communities and the hookup culture. The reason why I believe these were the most influential is because of how prevalent they are in the college scene and within society.

Learning about LGBTQIA was incredibly influential because I wasn’t very familiar with what really goes on in the community and what everything exactly meant. I had no clue what asexual meant before this class, I didn’t fully understand the process of a transgendered person, I didn’t understand the difference between queer and gay or lesbian, and finally, I didn’t fully grasp the impact that legislation plays in a person’s life that falls into one of the LGBTQIA categories. I also think one of the most helpful and impacting parts of this topic was when the LGBTQIA group came to our class to share their stories and answer any questions that we had. It was great to hear first hand accounts about what their experiences were like when they came out and what motivated them to be in this organization. After listening to them speak, I quickly learned how important it is for these organizations to be on college campuses all around the country because it is the best resource for someone that needs guidance in trying to figure out who they truly are. Also, learning about this topic has made me more sensitive about what I talk about and how I phrase my words because I realize how easily I could offend someone if I’m not careful.

The other topic I felt was most beneficial and influential was discussing the role of hooking up, whether it is on campus or after college. Within this topic, I felt it was necessary to discuss the battle against sexual violence and how much of a role it plays on campuses. I had no idea that one out of five women would be sexually assaulted. That statistic shocked me and still shocks me to this day. Discussing how frequent sexual assault is was important for me so that I can be more aware of the people around me. I have also used this to be safer on campus and to watch out for my friends around me if we go out. We discussed the role alcohol plays in hooking up and how dangerous it can be. Learning about this is beneficial for every college student to learn, especially before they enter their freshman year. Overall, this class has been incredibly important and helpful in learning about sex and society. I have learned so much about the topics that really matter and really impact our society.

When Will Universities Finally Understand?

As rape cases are becoming more and more public on university campuses, more is being done with this terrible problem of sexual assault. One out of every five females will be sexually assaulted on campus and one out of sixteen males will be sexually assaulted on campus. Why are these numbers so high on campuses and how can we stop this problem? It seems like the more people know about this, the more people will do something about it. On November 19, 2014, an article was released by Rolling Stone magazine about a rape that happened on the University of Virginia’s campus to a freshman girl. She is just now sharing her horrific story, but sadly it’s a story that is too similar to other rape victims.

From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill, we’re gonna get drunk tonight
The faculty’s afraid of us, they know we’re in the right
So fill up your cups, your loving cups, as full as full can be
As long as love and liquor last, we’ll drink to the U of V
—”Rugby Road,” traditional University of Virginia fight song

This fight song sets the stage for the female student that was raped on Virginia’s campus because of the effect that alcohol had on her perpetrators and the influence it has around campus. After reading about what happened to “Jackie” (the name was changed in the article to Jackie for her anonymity), many things line up perfectly with what we have discussed in class and with what has happened in other cases of rape victims. In the article, one of the quotes that I could most relate to was: “Jackie’s orientation leader had warned her that UVA students’ schedules were so packed that “no one has time to date – people just hook up.” We find this same type of culture on the Vanderbilt campus. I wonder if it has to do with the level of academics at both universities- the students are so dedicated to succeeding in the classroom and with extra-cirriculars that they do not feel the desire to date or have the time. Do you think this is a valid reason for hooking up? Do you see this trend on campus or with other campuses?

In class we learned that conservative estimates suggest that twenty five percent of women experience sexual assault in their lifetimes and about eighteen percent of those assaults involve rape. Also, eighty to ninety percent of sexual assaults are perpetuated by an acquaintance. This was true for Jackie. She went out to dinner with a Junior in one of the best fraternities on UVA’s campus and afterward went to the fraternity house for a party. They went upstairs to “talk” and when she got in the room there were other guys in there waiting for her. A sad and scary quote she gave in the article was about what one of the guys said about her: “Grab its motherfucking leg,” she heard a voice say. And that’s when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.” This quote can be a reality for many people, more common than what we realize. Jackie was raped by multiple college fraternity guys in a small amount of time and could not protect herself. Forty four percent of United States sexual assaults are perceived to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and this was no exception in Jackie’s case. She explained how for three hours she could smell marijuana and hearing them drinking alcohol while seven different men took turns raping her. They abused her sexually and violently and Jackie escaped around three am once she was finally alone and she woke up. 

Once Jackie escaped the horrific scene and found her friends, the friends did not want to take her to the hospital because it would ruin their reputations on campus and Jackie’s. In the article, it explains how Jackie recalls what was said from her friends about what to do; “Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.” I believe that this issue is why many people do not report when they have been a victim of sexual assault. It is a topic that can hurt so many people, that victims are afraid to share what had happened to them. The fear of reliving the story and the fear of their perpetrators out weighs their ability to go to an authoritative figure who can help. While I was reading this, I was wondering if the University of Virginia had an organization like Project Safe on campus. After the representatives from Project Safe came to our classroom, I realized that this organization is necessary on every campus because it truly is a safe place for people to get help and learn what their next step is after being a victim of sexual assault. One in five women are sexually assaulted on campus but only twelve percent actually report the crime to the police. The importance of an organization like Project Safe would have helped Jackie figure out what exactly she needed to do. 

What are the next steps to prevent something terrible from happening on campus like it did to Jackie? How do you think we could better educate people about the seriousness of sexual assault on campus? This needs to end but I believe it begins with us.