Digital Story is complete!!

My digital story focuses on the prevalence of rape culture in our society and highlights the recent news stories of high school girls who have been raped by their male peers and humiliated through social media. From my research on this issue, the underlying issue is a lack of education or discussion about consent, sexuality, and respect.

Song credit: “We Are What You Say” by Dead Sara

Here We Go Again…and Again…

I hate that I have to discuss this…again. Within the past couple weeks, more Steubenville-like rape cases have emerged into the public eye; however, sadly, these most recent cases have more unfortunate – and devastating – endings.

Last week, Rehtaeh Parsons, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, committed suicide. She was only 15 years old. She was gang raped at a party by four other teenage classmates over a year ago. Since then, Rehtaeh suffered not only due to the trauma of being raped, but because she was continually cyber-bullied by classmates. The rape was documented by the perpetrators who shared the photos across the internet; however, the police could not find “enough evidence” to arrest anyone. Rehtaeh lost her friends, and had to leave her school. Since the news has hit social media, Anonymous and other online activists have called for action to be taken agains Rehtaeh’s rapists; while, her mother, Leah Parsons, has asked that no one causes any more violence or harm. Thankfully, the last I read, law enforcement in Nova Scotia was looking into re-opening the case.

A similar incident occurred in Saratoga, California in September 2012. Audrie Pott, 15 years old, committed suicide after being sexually assaulted by three boys who later distributed explicit photos of her around their high school. The three boys were finally arrested last week after almost seven months of police investigation that involved interviews with Audrie’s high school classmates and subpoenas of cell phone records. Audrie’s parents are pushing for them to be prosecuted as adults. The family’s attorney was reported saying, “We’re talking about, other than murdering someone, the highest degree of a crime you could possibly do, which is to violate them in the worst of ways…and then to effectively rub her face in it afterwards.” From what I have gathered, Audrie’s family did not know about the assault until after it happened and her friends revealed the information. Prior to her death, pictures had been shared over the internet and Audrie shared on Facebook that her “life was ruined” since her entire high school knew about the incident. The assault occurred when Audrie stayed the night at a friend’s house for a sleepover when their were no parents or other adults present. Alcohol is also reported to have played a part in the case.

Jane Doe of Steubenville, Rehaeh Parsons, and Audrie Pott’s stories are devastating. It’s clear to me that cases like this have always happened; however, today social media adds an additional layer of humiliation.

In addition to all three cases have social media involved, there are other similarities. All cases happened within a social setting, with little or no parental or adult supervision, and the presence of alcohol. Already, and with little surprise, I’ve heard and read people’s comments saying that the girls were “party animals” or “promiscuous” or “knew what they were getting into.”

I think it’s time to stop this kind of language and to start educating our children and adults about rape culture, what consent looks like, medically-accurate sex education, and respect for all human beings.

It’s clear to me that we are not on this path when I hear stories of people like Pam Stenzel slut-shaming female high schoolers about being sexually active by saying:

“I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous”

This kind of information being fed to high schoolers is part of the rape culture problem and it needs to stop.

A call for more comprehensive sex ed

An externality is a cost or benefit which results from an activity or transaction and which affects an otherwise uninvolved party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.

As I have been researching domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and other forms of violence against women, I have been searching for a “root” or for a common factor that could be used to alleviate this issue.

For me, the Steubenville case has highlighted the external factor that contributes to high rates of violence toward women in our society.

The Steubenville case focused on children. Children who were glorified because they were boys and good athletes living in a small town. Children who were taught the bare minimum about sex from the public school teachers. Children who’s parents probably never sat down with them and explained what rape is. Of course, their fathers and others surely told them never to hit a girl, but did they advise them not to rape one? Doubtful. (I acknowledge that I’m making assumptions here.)

From my experience in public schools, sex education is minimal, awkward, and ineffective. Aside from showing pictures of herpes as a form of – hopefully – scaring students away from sex, many schools not only allow students to opt out of sex ed, they teach abstinence-only sex and fail to provide contraceptive protection or tell students how to access it themselves.

If many schools (and I don’t have stats for this) are only teaching abstinence, I wonder what information students are missing out on?

  • They miss out on learning about protection and how to use it effectively (i.e. condoms, birth control, Plan B, etc.)
  • They miss out on learning how to identify the signs of an STI and how to avoid it
  • They miss out on learning what happens to their bodies when they get pregnant
  • They miss out on learning what happens to their lives socially and economically when they have a child
  • They miss out on learning what consent looks like
  • They miss out on learning how alcohol and other drugs affect a person’s ability to make decisions
  • They miss out on learning what the consequences are of raping or sexually violating another person
  • They miss out on learning that what a person wears is not an indication that they are looking for sex

Imagine if American students started learning about these things in school? I’m a strong believer in the saying, “Those who know better, do better.” Studies show that children who learn about sex and how to protect themselves are less likely to engage in sexual intercourse, and if they do they are more likely to use protection. However, when a child is taught abstinence-only sex education, they are more at risk of becoming pregnant and contracting a STI.

What if schools started having conversations about rape too?

We’re lying if we say that teenagers aren’t experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex.

If we’re honest with ourselves and each other, then we should be able to acknowledge that students need to learn about rape and sexual assault at an early age in order to be able to stand up for themselves and others and know that it is wrong to rape.

I believe that if we started with the schools by revitalizing sex education and incorporating information about rape and sexual assault, within a generation the number of rapists and rape victims would decrease. We would not only be reducing the number of potential rapists in our society, but we would be arming young people with knowledge of what rape is. This could empower future generations to stand up and speak out.

As one blogger – who is also a teacher – describes: children are ready and eager to learn and they are paying attention to what the media says. It’s our responsibility to engage them and show them in the classroom what consent is.

Nonprofits committed to advocating for more comprehensive sex ed are beginning to crop up in our country. One nonprofit – TellThem, SC! – has done research throughout South Carolina and found that sex ed is lacking due to abstinence-only education and lack of accountability among health educators. Because of this SC has an average of 21 teen pregnancies per day and higher than the national average of STIs (2011). SCCADVASA reports that South Carolina ranks #2 in the country for the highest number of women killed by men; their teen dating and sexual violence statistics are equally horrifying. I have no doubt that better sex education could contribute to lowering this staggering numbers.

South Carolina is just one example. It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between high rates of teen pregnancies, STI, sexual violence, etc. and the quality of sex ed programs in other states.

Regardless, knowledge is power, and people need to learn at younger ages how to protect themselves and how not to rape.


The Steubenville 2 Convicted

Last August 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio, a 16-year-old West Virginia girl was kidnapped and raped by two high school football players. The girl was inebriated and unconscious; the boys – Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond – took the girl from party to party, Instagram’d, Tweeted, and texted pictures of them assaulting her. There was even a YouTube video of a former Steubenville football player joking about what had happened to her.

This is unthinkable and I can’t imagine the trauma the victim has lived through since August. What’s even worse is the overwhelming support that Mays and Richmond have received from the community. Their parents, their football coaches, even the police have aided them and contributed to America’s increasingly prevalent rape culture and slut-shaming.

As the case has received national attention, hacker group Anonymous released private information on many of the football players and community members involved in the case, alleging that even more people should be prosecuted for enabling and protecting the rapists.

While many from the Steubenville community seem to support the rapists based on the old saying “boys will be boys” and their high-profile status of being star high school athletes, many advocates on the internet have spoke out against this injustice.

Michael Kimmel of Ms. Magazine blames all 18,437 Steubenville residents for the crime saying that this incident is not surprise given the “athletic privilege” that star athletes receive in their communities. Kimmel, a sociologist, is the author of Guylandwhich is based on 400 interviews of men ages 16-26 regarding “Guy Code” (i.e. “locker room behaviors, sexual conquests, bullying, violence, etc.). Kimmel suggests that allowing the “boys will be boys” stereotype to prevail in our society assumes that boys can be nothing more than “wild rapacious animals.” We must expect more than this from men, we must acknowledge that men are more than just rapists and must be raised to respect people – especially women – by honoring their right to say “no” to sex. And certainly, a girl who is unconscious and unable to speak for herself is not consenting to being drug around from party to party, sexually assaulted, and video recorded for the entire Internet to see.

Thankfully, on March 17, 2013, the juvenile court ruled for Mays and Richmond to spend at least a year in juvenile detention and to register as sex offenders. Attorney General Mike DeWine hopes that in mid-April more charges will be made possibly against other teens, parents, school officials, and football coaches. While the sentences for Mays and Richmond seem minimal to me and other advocates in the social media, CNN caused a stir yesterday during their report of the trial. Corespondent Poppy Harlow, news anchor Candy Crowley, and legal expert Paul Callan all described how “emotional” it was to see the two rapists convicted focusing on their “youth” and “vulnerability.”

Here are some excerpts:

Poppy Harlow to Candy Crowley

“Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart…when that sentence came down, [Ma’lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney…He said to him, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.’ Very serious crime here, both found guilty of raping the sixteen-year-old girl at a series of parties back in August.”

Paul Callan

“Sixteen-year-olds just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like sixteen-year-olds…what’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?”

“The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law…That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see that they’re registered sex offenders. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet, where these things are posted, neighbors will know that they are registered sex offenders.”

Social media advocates were quick to point out that Mays and Richmond made a CHOICE to kidnap and rape the victim, and they are simply being punished for their actions. However, the victim’s life was destroyed back in August and she is continually being re-victimized and shamed for what happened.

Mallory Ortberg of Gawker commented:

For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are.

For those that are infuriated as I am by how CNN and other rapist-sympathizers are treating this case, I would suggest visiting UniteWomen’s Facebook as they are doing a wonderful job at tracking the progress of the Steubenville case and advocating on behalf of survivors of rape. Check out this letter to Jane Doe of Steubenville.

A petition was recently filed with demanding that CNN apologize for their coverage of the trial. Please sign and share the petition, here.

So readers, what do you think about this case? Were Mays and Richmond’s sentences long and harsh enough? How could CNN have covered the trial better? What can we, as a society, do to reduce the prevalence of rape? How does “athletic privilege” play a role in this case? Are young male athletes too entitled in our country?

Feel free to share your thoughts!

PS: I plan on reading Guyland by Dr. Michael Kimmel soon, and will be discussing it soon!

UPDATE: Since I posted this entry, Fox News has topped CNN by neglecting to redact the victim’s name from their latest coverage of the Steubenville case. ThinkProgress also notes at the bottom of the article that MSNBC also ran a clip of the girl’s name on Sunday. Great. This is turning into one giant media fail at the victim’s expense. Sounds like our top news stations need a lesson on respect.

It’s Not Over Yet.

As I’m sure many know by now, but perhaps not: VAWA was finally passed by both the House and the Senate with the added protections of LGBT, Native American, and immigrant women!

I’ll admit that I was worried at first, but I’m glad the all-inclusive Senate version succeeded!

However, the fight is not over yet. VAWA still has a long way to go thanks to the sequestration. Approximately $20,000,000 in funding will be cut from programs supported by the Act. This translates into over 34,000 victims losing access to services like shelter or legal aid. The sequester’s impact on women doesn’t end there; women’s health programs, Head Start, and SNAP face cuts too.

In addition to policy concerns, violence against women will not stop until there is a shift in society’s perception. On the cultural level, Americans are still debating which party (the abuser or the victim) has the obligation to prevent sexual assault and rape.

Some, like Sean Hannity and Gayle Trotter in the video below, argue that women need to be trained to protect themselves (using a gun, in this case) when attacked by a man. They argue that it’s about choice. If women don’t want to carry a firearm, fine! But that’s the solution to the problem. If women only had guns, they’d never be harmed by a man. Hannity was a marksmen by age 11, so he knows what he’s saying.

Enter, Zerlina Maxwell – a political analyst and writer – who agrees that women should have the right to defend themselves, but that isn’t the essence of the problem. Women should have the choice to protect themselves at all times; however, the priority should not be to arm women. That puts the pressure on the victim to stop the violence that is happening to them, and when they do not succeed, there is more potential for society to say the victim is at fault than the abuser.

What will decrease violence, as Maxwell argues, is training men not to rape. That simple. Stop the action before it can start. Teach men to listen when a women says “no.” Maxwell so accurately describes (while Hannity is talking over her) how abusers are most likely to be someone the victim knows – this isn’t some “faceless, nameless criminal…a lot of times it’s someone you know and trust.” So if we start with men, if they learn at a young age to respect women, to honor their right to say “no” without fear of harm, to speak out when they see injustice occurring and to view women as equals then maybe violence against women will begin to decrease in our culture.

However, as you will see, not everyone believes this to be true. Some believe that it is impossible to train men not to be rapists. Check out the full video (it’s worth it) of Maxwell’s – discussion – with Hannity and Trotter:

No Surprises from the House

On Friday, February 22, 2013, the House released their version of VAWA (S. 47) leaving out protections for LGBT, Native American, and undocumented immigrants. Virginia’s very own, Eric Cantor, helped draft this version. 

Despite the pressure from the Senate, the White House, and 17 Republican Representatives who wrote a letter to John Boehner and Cantor expressing support of the legislation, the House is determined to not add any additional protections to vulnerable LGBT, Native American, or undocumented women.

Here’s what MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry had to say: 

“Is it that lesbians and gay men can just a take punch better than straight women? Or maybe you’ve decided that Native American women are particularly good at handling intimate violence because you and the other House Republicans still refuse to support a bill that gives tribal authorities the ability to prosecute those who commit acts of violence on tribal lands. Maybe your refusal to reauthorize VAWA is actually based on a belief that when some people are abused it’s just not a big deal because they can handle it.”


The House version will be discussed again in the Rules Committee on Tuesday, February 26.

One Billion Rising Guest Speaker: Rebiya Kadeer

One of the speakers at the One Billion Rising RVA event was Rebiya Kadeer. I was unfamiliar with her activism beforehand, but her story is inspiring.

She comes from Xinjiang region of China. In the 1980s she became one of the richest women in China through real estate and other business ventures, and she has also held office in China’s parliament. However, she was imprisoned for over 5 years in China for releasing confidential government information. In 2005, with pressure from the U.S. and human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Kadeer was released and exiled to Washington, D.C. In 2006, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout her life, she has always been an advocate for women’s rights throughout the world. During her speech, she describes the cruelty toward women that she witnessed while in prison in China and how women around the world need to come together to end violence toward all people.

One Billion Rising RVA Pictures

Last week on Valentine’s Day, I attended the One Billion Rising RVA event at the Richmond Coliseum. I wasn’t able to attend the entire event, but I went from 12-1:30 to hear the guest speakers. It was a very inspirational, empowering, and sometimes tear-jerking experience!

Here are a few of the pictures I captured:

Above: A picture of the advocates listening to Susan Singer’s introduction of One Billion Rising

Above: Everyone was asked to “claim their dragon” by writing a statement that was important to them (i.e. a confession, a quote, a name, etc.) on a construction-paper heart and then gluing it to the dragon. What an empowering activity!

Above: An up-close look at the dragon…”I own that I spoke up when I saw signs of abuse in my friend’s relationship” … “For my grandmother, my mother, my sister & myself” … “Do not sink below, rise above those who bring you down!” … “I have the power to do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”


Above: The walls through the Coliseum to the One Billion Rising event were lined with posters like this.


Good news, y’all!

VAWA passed in the U.S. Senate today with bi-partisan support.

This means that $659 million will be allocated toward VAWA programs over 5 years (note: this is a 17% decrease since 2005 reauthorization) and protections will be extended to the LGBT community and Native Americans.

BUT VAWA still needs to pass the House, so the fight isn’t over yet!