Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Victim blaming extends beyond rape into stalking

MSNBC recently reported on a Facebook stalker who posed as a sorority alum in order to get private information from current college students. The stalker, apparently feeling he had some authority over the sorority, contacted real sorority girls, and demanded from them personal information and nude pictures, implying they would advance in their sorority if they turned over said information. While some girls refrained from sending their photos, others did. One of the victims, Ashley, went straight to the police to report what had happened. Unfortunately, the Facebook stalker has yet to be caught.

With stories like these popping up left and write, it’s important we remember we should not to blame the victims for these happenings. Even though it is recommended users refrain from putting personal information on their Facebook profiles, people are not at blame people when this information gets out. Instead, we need to catch stalkers like this one and prosecute them. They are the ones truly in the wrong.

But the problem of victim blaming extends beyond the world of Facebook stalking. When looking at rape cases, it’s important not to blame the victim for whatever happened. Our society a the habit of bringing up what a woman was wearing or the suggestive comment she made prior to being raped, and thus determines she’s fault. This tendency is ultimately degrading to both men and women. It suggests that women are just sex objects who deserve to be raped depending on outfit or speech, people ready to service men because of the mini-skirt they’re wearing. Victim blaming also harms men, though, by suggesting all they want is sex; they’re animals who can’t control themselves. We need to focus on the perpetrator's actions and avoid making assumptions about such complicated situations. Only then will an open dialogue take place, and the problems of rape, stalking and beyond be solved.

Link to original article: http://jezebel.com/5704278/sorority-girls-duped-by-pervy-facebook-stalker

—PAVE Volunteer Kristine Omen

POWA creates moving ad that challenges community

People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) recently brought recognition to the astonishing amount of domestic violence that occurs in South Africa. One in three South African men reported having committed rape, moving POWA to create an advertisement that sheds light on the high number of incidences in this area. The ad features an experiment in which a man plays his drums and in turn receives numerous noise complaints. In this same neighborhood a few days later, POWA made noise reminiscent of a couple arguing and engaging in violence. Astonishingly, unlike the drumming incident, no one reported any kind of noise disturbances or recognized the noise as an indicator of issues at hand. It is shocking to learn that community members did nothing to help the woman in jeopardy, but were quick to complain about something that posed no physical treats to themselves or other community members. Having learned this, it’s necessary we realize what we would do to help this situation. Would we help, though? Would we report the noise? Or would we stay silent, letting this happen, and reassuring ourselves that it’s not our business? It’s time to reconsider our roles as community members, actively supporting the idea that we can, and will, stop domestic violence here and around the world.

—PAVE Volunteer Kalina Seavecki

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Rape": a word not to be used casually

I recently read a story in the LaCrosse Tribune about the use of the word “rape” to describe situations that have nothing to do with sexual assault. The article itself was very even-handed and made no accusations against people who use the word “rape” inappropriately. It didn’t claim that people who use this word casually are intentionally trying to belittle victims of sexual assault or are otherwise sexist. It certainly didn’t call for fining or imprisoning people who use the word to refer to situations other than an actual rape.

Yet, that is the reaction some people had to this article. The article was an effort to convince people to make a free choice to use more accurate and polite language in their conversations. It was very similar to recent efforts to encourage people not to use the word “retarded.” However, many commenters saw it differently. One cried, “More censorship from the oversensitive liberal masses.” Another even claimed to sympathize with victims of rape or other sex crimes, saying, “There are too many people I know who've been victims of sexual crimes for me to make light of what's a very serious issue. That being said, we as a society cannot allow this type of politically correct censorship.”

If the article had argued that people who use the word “rape” inappropriately should be subject to criminal penalties, I would wholeheartedly agree with the above commenters. But the article didn’t say that. It was merely a reasoned argument about why people shouldn’t use the word to describe things that don’t have anything to do with sexual assault. In fact, by the (incorrect) logic of these commenters, they are themselves “censoring” the writer of the article.

In this country we are fortunate enough to have the right to say just about anything we want. But we don’t have the right to speak without being criticized. You can say anything you want, no matter how offensive it is. But other people have the right to criticize you for saying it. You can respond by changing your language. You can respond by making a logical argument about why what you said actually isn’t as bad as the other person thinks it is. Or you can just ignore the people who think you are offensive, and continue doing whatever you want. What you can’t do is accuse people who criticize you of censorship. Well, you can—but you are being factually inaccurate.

Link to original article: http://lacrossetribune.com/news/opinion/article_0ae7bee4-f449-11df-b3a5-001cc4c002e0.html
—Alex Wagner

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Abusive relationships not a simple issue for victims

As his fingers closed around my throat, my brain flipped a switch that went primal. My only instincts were to keep breathing and to kick. Turns out, heels come in handy.
Four years ago, I experienced an all too familiar scenario in an intimate relationship. My partner exerted his physical strength in an altercation witnessed by five of our friends. A gaping hole was left in my apartment wall and barely-visible bruises remained on my neck. The sharpest memories I have of that night were of unadulterated heartbreak, confusion and fear.
Scenes like the one I lived through play out all too frequently for women everywhere, including this campus. While dating violence, sexual assault and rape are severely underreported crimes, at least 32 percent of college women have experienced dating violence at the hands of a former boyfriend. Violence against women is often socially sanctioned behavior reinforced by a "rape culture"-a term that refers to social norms that encourage rape behavior. But this rape culture is not limited to rape. Rather, it is part of a larger cultural discourse that envelops many other forms of violence against women, including dating violence.

There were five other people in my apartment that night. Only one of them actively intervened on my behalf. I am forever grateful and indebted to her for the choice she made.
Bystander intervention, which is what my friend engaged in when she inserted herself in the drama unfolding before her, does not occur often enough. In taking action, she contradicted what usually happens in situations like these, labeled the "bystander effect." The bystander effect was in full force in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was publicly assaulted within earshot and view of allegedly 38 people. While each of those 38 bystanders assumed that someone was calling the police, her attacker had time to flee the scene, returning later to rape and murder her. This is the downfall of collective behavior. People are significantly more hesitant to act during a nearby assault when the former are not alone, while a lone bystander is more likely to come to a victim's aid.

Many of us have misconceptions about what it means to successfully intervene in a dangerous situation. Contrary to popular belief, which assumes that intervention guarantees danger to the good samaritan, there are other means by which we can combat rape culture. These include giving a silent stare when someone voices sexist or violent rhetoric, using an appropriate amount of humor to lighten tension and distracting a perpetrator by asking a mundane question like "Do you know what time it is?" to divert attention. By adding these methods to our arsenal, each of us can be prepared to actively intervene in a moment of gross injustice.

"How could you ever stay with him?" "When will you stand up for yourself and stop letting him run the show?" "How could you let him do that to you?"
I can't count how many times my family and friends asked these questions. The relationship that I had with my ex-boyfriend lasted nearly six years. Four years after the brief but remarkable display of physical abuse occurred, our involvement finally came to a dramatic yet violence-free ending. Nearly a full year later, I am still amazed not only at how long our attachment lagged on, but also at how slowly I came to realize the pattern of power so outwardly apparent to others observing our relationship. Ultimately, power and control are the necessary components to violence. There is little room for respect and trust; traits that characterize healthy relationships. Although my boyfriend never violated my body again and apologized deeply for his actions, there was little respect and virtually no trust left between us.

It can be easier to pass judgment by grandly proclaiming that you would never allow someone to get away with treating you "like that" than it is to patiently listen, sans judgment, to a survivor's story. Relationships are always complicated, but the key to most abusive relationships is that these bonds begin much the same as non-violent ones.

There is love and potent physical chemistry first, but then the ingredients for a darker, violent dynamic slowly come together. This often emerges as a subtle pattern of behaviors that may or may not crescendo to violent outbursts. This contradicts a popular myth that women enter into relationships that are immediately dangerous, or that a woman knew he was a "bad" guy before she committed to him. This misconception leads many to a victim blaming mentality, wherein responsibility is shifted from the abuser to his victim. There is never an excuse for abuse. One never "loses control", rather an individual chooses to assert power over another human being.

-Kristina Nailen

Friday, October 15, 2010

The realities of emotional abuse

The term “domestic violence” tends to bring up sharp images of physical and sexual assault. Granted, these are severe and frighteningly common tragedies (1 in 4 women experience rape or attempted rape during college), but the term doesn’t necessitate physicality. The problem is far more wide-ranging and covert than outright assault, and in the face of the most horrible cases of sexual violence, this fact is sometimes overlooked. Often, domestic violence takes on a more subtle or psychological form: Emotional abuse.

Every couple fights, and everyone has moments they regret. What distinguishes abuse from occasional mistakes is the repetition of the hurtful behavior. Ignoring someone once is one thing; ignoring someone on a regular basis to deliberately sabotage their self-respect is completely another.

Essentially, emotional abuse is the systematic use of emotional tactics to psychologically tear someone apart. These tactics include subtle diminishing remarks, angry outbursts, cold indifference, withering sarcasm, impossible demands, stonewalling and manipulation. Such repeated abuse kills confidence, self-esteem, self-perception, joy and vitality in the victim. Victims build a prevailing sense of inadequacy from countless accusations, even blaming themselves for their own pain.

In contrast, many abusers have a pathological need for power over another human being. If their partner opens up emotionally, they may interpret it as weakness, pride themselves for holding all the emotional cards and contemptuously get colder. If their partner sparks a conversation, an abuser may consider it a victory in the competition for attention and triumphantly shut their abused out. They may also regularly trivialize and downplay their partner’s accomplishments.

Emotional abuse is alienating. Clever abusers are personable to outsiders and careful to only deride their partners behind closed doors, adding to feelings of imprisonment and confusion. They may also attempt to drive anyone their partner turns to for companionship away through ridicule or anger.

Emotional abuse is unpredictable. One day the abuser is loving, but the next day they are cruel, leaving their partner “walking on eggshells,” living on hope.

Perhaps the worst part is the fact that emotional abuse is often starved of evidence. No outward bruises or scars remain, though victims have described emotional abuse as just as painful as physical abuse. If the victim is successfully alienated, there aren’t any witnesses either.

Emotional abuse is also often fiercely denied. Among countless other forms of denial, emotional abuse is commonly masked behind an attitude of “What’s wrong with you? I don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re overreacting!” These comments are meant to make the partner feel guilty or stupid for their own hurt feelings.

Is this really an overreaction? Not if we look at the statistics:

In a study of 1,000 women 15 years of age or older by the Women’s College Hospital in 1995, 39 percent reported being emotionally abused in a relationship within the past five years. Furthermore, 36 percent were emotionally abused while growing up and 43 percent had experienced some form of abuse as adolescents.

According to a 1998 Statistics Canada study, 35 percent of all women who were married or in common-law relationships experienced emotional abuse, whereas 29 percent of women have been physically assaulted by their male partners. The study also found that emotional abuse is the single greatest predictor of physical violence.

A focus group formed by Education Wife Assault in 1999 found that most women reported emotional abuse affects them as much as (if not more than) physical violence and attributed long-term problems with health, self-esteem, depression and anxiety to it.

Men are also victims of emotionally abusive relationships, but significantly less often than women. Research done by the American Psychological Association in 1996 has shown that being female is the single largest risk factor for being a victim of abuse in heterosexual relationships.

For someone mired in a toxic relationship, emotional abuse can actually be incredibly difficult to recognize. Obstacles to its recognition include the victim distrusting their feelings or perceptions, intermittently forgetting the abuse while the abuser is friendly, believing their pain is their fault, feeling invalidated or stupid without any witnesses, being preoccupied in a career or raising a family or considering the abuse too insignificant to start an argument over. One of the greatest difficulties is the painful realization that someone you love and care about may be more devoted to a pathological power game than reciprocating your love.

Emotional abuse is devastating to lives, relationships and families. If you or someone you know is being abused, it is widely recommended to look for a nurturing, supportive and qualified professional counselor.

-David Zietlow