Monday, November 28, 2011

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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Media's Response to Lara Logan's Assault and the Prevalence of Rape Culture Logic

Trigger Warning

Hey ya’ll. It’s been awhile since the last blog post, and this post in particular has been a long time coming. Over the past few months, there have been some reoccurring themes cropping up in the media that are really getting to me. I’m going to try to focus on one of these themes and examine how it is at the heart of so many of the things we struggle against.

For those of us following the revolutions around the world, February 11th was truly an amazing day for Egypt, as President Mubarak finally stepped down. For me, however, the celebrations will forever be tainted by what soon transpired. Shortly after the announcement in Cairo, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted by a gang of protestors.

According to a CBS report, "[Logan] was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.”

Unfortunately, this is neither an uncommon nor an unknown risk to female reporters. Largely, assaults like this go unreported, and it’s kind of a big deal that this one was made public. In consenting to allow her story to be told, Logan took a stand against the silence blanketing this relatively unspoken of issue. I think that was incredibly brave of her and it had the potential to raise awareness of a serious problem in the media business and around the world.

However, the inverse seems to have happened. Reading blog posts and forum discussions about the assault makes you feel like you’ve stepped through a wormhole into the 1950s.

“Well, what did she expect? No woman should be over there.”

“She deserved what she got.”

“What was a hot, blonde reporter doing in Tahrir Square anyway?”

“Is there a video of this somewhere? I wish I could see it.”

An online poll was even created, asking if people thought that Lara Logan was to blame for her assault. While not all reactions were as outrageous, the sheer amount of victim-blaming and slut-shaming was overwhelming.

Journalists were no better. Mary Elizabeth Williams, a contributor to, writes about a sickening article that appeared in LA Weekly:

In a stunningly offensive blog post titled "Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and Warzone 'It Girl,' Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration"…writer Simone Wilson managed to mention Logan’s "shocking good looks and ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action" before getting to the assault itself. She then went on to imagine how it happened: "In a rush of frenzied excitement, some Egyptian protestors apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter." Well, sure, what other motive for an assault could there be, given that Logan is, in Wilson’s words, a "gutsy stunner" with "Hollywood good looks"? And how else do Egyptians celebrate anyway but with a gang assault? It's not like she deserved it, but well, she is hot, right?

Debbie Schlussel (sort of a neo Ann Coulter figure) wrote a blog post entitled “Islam Fan Lara Logan Gets a Taste of Islam.” She goes on to say

So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows. Or so we’d hope. Hope you’re enjoying the revolution, Lara! Alhamdilllullah [praise allah].

Others still accused Logan of simply trying to get the most sensational story. "Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson," Nir Rosen (a liberal journalist) tweeted, referring to correspondent Anderson Cooper, who was physically assaulted during the protests in Egypt. Rosen went on to accuse Logan of warmongering and expressed doubts as to whether she was actually assaulted. (Rosen has since apologized and resigned from his post at New York University.)

These responses to Logan’s assault, to quote a friend, “utterly exemplify rape culture and rape culture logic.”

· That only young, attractive women are sexually assaulted

· That sexual assault is seen as the natural consequence of choices the survivor makes

· That survivor’s often lie about assault for attention and/or secretly want to be assaulted

· That the a person’s attitudes and dress can provoke assault

· That rapists cannot control their sexual urges

The idea that it is the survivor’s fault for being assaulted is still quite entrenched in our culture and it can be painful and infuriating to come into contact with it. However, I feel like it’s something that we need to meet head on, that it is something that needs to be combated. Misconceptions need to be addressed, myths dispersed, and people need to be educated.

Take care everyone,

Further reading:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Edmonton Sexual Assault Prevention Campaign Challenges Myths Around Assault

Sexual Assault and Rape Prevention campaigns often are associated with self-defense classes and the modification of women’s behavior (check out this educational video from the Department of Defense 1977), depicting rapists as inevitable predators and ultimately implying that women who are sexually assaulted were too weak to defend themselves or were otherwise responsible for their assault.

With this kind of precedent, the new assault prevention campaign from the Edmonton police department and Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) stands out and has gotten quite a bit of media attention. The campaign is called Don’t Be That Guy, and it’s targeting potential perpetrators. The images and languages focus on debunking myths surrounding sexual assault, particularly emphasizing that women who are drunk and unconscious or nearly so cannot consent. The launch is timed particularly for the holiday party scene and print advertisements will be posted above the urinals in the bathrooms of bars as well as magazines and bus stops in order to target men between the ages of 18 and 24.

While it could be said that the campaign reinforces gendered myths around sexual assault, there is something to be said for specificity. The ads not only target a certain audience, but also challenge several pervasive myths around sexual assault. By making it about “That Guy” rather than “an evil rapist”, the ads make it clear that predatory behavior is not inevitable or distant – you could, in fact, be that guy. Your friend could be that guy. Maybe you already are that guy. The guy that sexually assaulted someone. Maybe you didn’t know that having sex without direct consent was sexual assault. Now you know. Rapists aren’t just racialized/mentally unstable/homeless/drug addicted/sociopathic strangers that hide in alleyways and kidnap women. They are just another guy at the party.

Edmonton Police Service Superintendent Danielle Campbell unveils two posters that are part of the Don't Be That Guy campaign focusing on the issue of alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults.

(image by Larry Wong for the Edmonton Journal)

Just the refocusing of attention onto perpetrators seems revolutionary. It is crystal clear from the get go here that this woman did not ask to be sexually assaulted, even if she is blackout drunk. The popular victim blaming strategy, prevalent not only in our common culture but in our courts, does not have a place in this campaign. It directly tells the perpetrator “You are the one exclusively responsible for this sexual assault” and by doing so, implicitly lets all survivors know that it is not their fault. While the ads are depicting a particular kind of assault, the clear responsibility can easily transition to other scenarios. Instead of the copy reading “Just because you help her home, doesn’t mean you get to help yourself” could easily be adapted:

“Just because her clothes are revealing, doesn’t mean she wants you to touch her”

“Just because she’s said yes before, doesn’t mean she can’t say no”

“Just because she likes you, doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you”

With all the national media attention around the campaign, we can only hope that this style of assault prevention material continues and catches on.

Article in the Toronto Sun:

Article in the Vancouver Sun:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Yale Frat Proves Itself Particularly Insensitive to Issues of Sexual Assault

Fraternities at North American universities have not been traditionally recognized as particularly sensitive to issues surrounding sexual assault (…or women).

Thanks so much Yale for proving us right.

Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity has recently come under media-fire for making their pledges march around campus (and stopping outside an all-female dorm) and chanting “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!” among other declarations mid-October.

There has been outrage, from within as well as outside of the Yale community. DKE has issued an apology swiftly. Here is an excerpt:

The brothers of DKE accept responsibility for what we did, and want to sincerely apologize to the Yale community. We were wrong. We were disrespectful, vulgar and inappropriate. More than that, we were insensitive of all women who have been victims of rape or sexual violence, especially those here at Yale. Rape is beyond serious – it is one of the worst things that any person can be subjected to. It is not a laughing matter, yet we joked about it.

They have agreed to work with the Yale Women’s Center to create dialogue on campus around sexual violence.

I think we can all appreciate the sentiment. And while I can recognize that these boys were young, drunk and stupid and accept their apology as sincere, this is certainly not an isolated incident at Yale let alone in a larger university culture.

There’s something bigger going on here.

Salon recently interviewed an anonymous member of DKE. When asked about his previous experience as a member of the fraternity he was quoted as saying:

“Since I've been here, DKE has never actively promoted misogyny. This particular incident is an example of a thoughtless and hurtful joke, not an indication of a dangerous culture.”

I’m not so sure I agree. When a group of men are running around screaming, “No means Yes!” they are not taking consent seriously. Consent does not seem to be important to them at all. It’s even less funny when you take into consideration that 1 in 4 women in university have been sexually assaulted or experienced an attempted sexually assaulted. Or the fact that, in one survey, over half of college men reported that they have engaged in sexual aggression on a date1

Words are important. They matter and they represent ideas; in this case dangerous ideas about consent that result in the physical and emotional harm of real people every day.

The pledges of DKE may feel sorry and embarrassed for doing what they did (or maybe for getting caught) but forgive me if I don’t totally buy the idea that this fraternity or others like it are not misogynistic. McGill is not exempt from this. Remember, that awesome Engineering Frosh chant from a few years back?

I’m glad that the Women’s Center at Yale was able to turn this disaster into a learning experience for everyone. We definitely need more forums to discuss sexual assault on university campuses. It just sucks that such an awful event had to occur to spur one.

Related Links:

The Last Straw: DKE Sponsors Hate Speech on Yale’s Old Campus via Broad Recognition

Yale Frat Punished for Stupid Chant via Jezebel

Privileged boys, impoverished ethics via Feministing

Yale frat boy talks about "thoughtless and hurtful joke" via Salon

The Daily’s Amelia Schonbek tackles the notion that a song is just a song via The McGill Daily


Friday, November 5, 2010

Stranger Rape Subplot Just in Time to Boost Ratings

This week is sweeps week in television, when Neilson Media Research surveys are taken of television viewers and shows try to get the ratings they need to stay on the air. For years this has meant that shows toss crazy plot twists at the viewers left and right, with tense cliffhangers and violence and drama. Private Practice (you know, that spin-off from Grey’s Anatomy with the red haired lady and Taye Diggs?) is pulling out all three. Charlotte King, a strong, sexual, and sassy female character played by KaDee Strickland, is going to be violently raped by a stranger. This isn’t really being sold as a big reveal or surprise – the show is doing its best to sell the plot in interviews and special features. According to the press, the plot is going to focus mostly on the aftermath of the attack and the way in which it effects the relationships in the show.

The idea here is that the show is aiming to give a voice to survivors of sexual assault by validating experiences about being attacked and going through a healing process. The show worked closely with Rape Abuse Incest National Network and the whole project seems very informed. Strickland notes that this experience will be a part of the character for as long as the show is on the air, and in interviews notes that this is surely not the only way that rape or sexual assault is experienced, but that the script includes elements of shame and shock that many women report experiencing. It should also be noted that this is not the first time that this show has discussed sexual assault. A different character, Violet Turner, experienced rape in college, though she never goes into detail, and as a psychologist on the show, she has also had patients who have experienced sexual assault.

Strickland recently gave an interview with TV guide (not the video shown here) where she talked about her “joy” at being able to give a voice to this kind of issue, how she is “thrilled because it's a very personal thing to me, especially if you break down the statistics that one in six women will be raped in their lifetime.” The show is clearly trying to do something a little different, “really creating a legitimate experience for the audience in a way that you may not see on network television”. Irin Carmon noted on Jezebel that 1. it’s a little strange to hear someone get so excited about rape, and 2. How easy it is to use stranger rape as a source of drama, even though it erases the more common experiences of sexual assault committed by acquaintances or family members.

Update: Ratings for Private Practice experienced an unprecedented 44% boost in ratings for the sexual assault episode. The more detailed plotline includes 2 important details: 1. Charlotte is a recovering drug addict, so she has to endure her wounds without anesthetic and 2. She is refusing to go to the police or report the rape, and has only told one other character on the show that rape was even a part of the assault.

The implications of these script choices is interesting, and certainly a lot is yet to be determined. Jennifer Arrow, a blogger for E! did bring up an interesting point regarding the recent trend in plotlines where strong female characters do not report assaults committed against them:

"Is that just a more dramatic story to tell, or Is there something in our culture that doubts women who suffer rape and then speak out boldly—but trusts in women who keep their silence?"

For more on the subject you can read a follow-up by Irin Carmon on Jezebel, or a thoughtful review from NY Magazine entertainment blogger Emily Nussbaum which concludes: "No matter how well-motivated, a rape scene is a sex scene, and TV shows are fantasies. This one wasn’t sexy, but there was part of me that didn’t want them to show it at all."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Consent Comic!

Its a web comic! About consent! Its informative, adorable, important, sex positive, and well drawn! Yay! The blog might not be able to show the entire layout, so you can find the original version by clicking on the title of the post (Consent Comic!). Written by Maisha, you can find more of her web comics here.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, SEX TALK: A comic about communication, consent, and gettin' it on.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pro Wrestler Now Fighting Against Sexual Violence

Mick Foley, pro-wrestler, just wrote a new memoir (his fourth!). His favorite chapter is about how he started listening to Tori Amos, and the place that her music had in her life. Tori Amos, it turns out, co-founded an anti-sexual assault group called RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network) in 1996. After meeting Amos in person, Mick Foley decided to get involved. Very involved.

Not only to all of the royalties from the new memoir go to combatting sexual assault (50% to RAINN and 50% to Childfund, giving financial support to survivors in Sierra Leone), but Foley has given much of his time and his face to the group. He volunteers weekly with the group's anonymous internet hotline and is on the organization's National Leadership Council. He's gotten a lot of press for the new book, and the wrestler has used every interview as an opportunity to talk about the RAINN and the fight against sexual violence.

Foley wrote an article for Slate, posted today, that talks about all of the things above (it should be noted that he's a very good writer). You can also read his blog to hear more. Here's some highlights about his involvement with sexual assault activism:

" I'm thankful for everything Tori has motivated me to do inside, and especially outside, the wrestling ring. For many years, I had thought of the fight against sexual violence as one best waged by women and survivors of assault. But then I heard that voice one night, in my beat up Chevy minivan, on my way home from some other road trip I can't recall. "When you gonna make up your mind? When you gonna love you as much as I do?"
Since February, I have been a weekly volunteer for RAINN's online hotline, doing my best to help victims of sexual violence piece together their lives. Last week, I was named RAINN's volunteer of the month. It's a tremendous honor, and it's amazing to think that it might never have happened if I hadn't heard that haunting voice in the back of Maxx Payne's car. So many years after that first listen, Tori Amos still inspires me every day. Most of all, she still convinces me to believe that I'm strong enough to do the things I already know need to be done."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Professional Reporter Harrassed by Professional Football Players, Blamed Because of Her Outfit

Last week, Mexican sports reporter Ines Sainz came forward with the claim that she had been sexually harassed by the Jets football team when she went into the locker room to conduct some interviews. The main debate in the media, of course, surrounds this woman’s attire and her appearance, with headlines like "Jets Flagged Making Passes at Hot Reporter" that turn sexual harassment into flirting.

The story of what happened is often noted in subsequent reports as “unclear”, but what is clearly understood is that there were inappropriate things said to and about Sainz made by Jets team members that made both she and other members of the media in the locker room at the time very uncomfortable. Sainz, in an effort to be professional, says she tried to ignore the harassment of other players and move forward with her interview.

It should be noted that English is not Sainz’s first language, and her choice of words in interviews in the English speaking press, imply subtly that their difficulty in understanding each other might contribute to the reliability of her story. The reporter’s nationality might also have contributed to the behavior of the players in the first place, but this question has not been addressed in any media prominent media reports. Meanwhile, many remarks have been made by media members about the prevalence of sexual assault in Mexican culture and how she must be used to these kinds of catcalls, because that’s the Mexican “mating call” (that’s a quote by Joy Thomas, actor and radio personality, on a panel at the Joy Behar Show on Friday).

The exclusive interview Sainz gave with Joy Behar is also interesting in that Behar, a female comedian and star of the View, spends a lot of time talking about her outfit at the time and her title as “hottest reporter in Mexico,” a question with Sainz avoids answering. She instead makes it clear that her dress is not the point, that she did nothing to provoke this harassment, and that she’s just trying to do her job. Sainz also implies that she has encountered sexual harassment for her entire career, and that she really is bringing this forward at this time at the behest of other members of the media, a point ignored by Behar.

It should be noted that there has been a varied response in the media, mostly within the frame of a “debate” over whether or not sexual harassment actually happened, but the response from the football community has been quite different. While Jets PR representatives present in the locker room at the time of the harassment refused to stop it, Woody Johnson, the Jets owner, apologized to Sainz directly, and on the same day as the incident, with the message that all team members are expected to act respectfully towards members of the press. The Association of Women in Sports and Media has pursued a series of conversations and investigations within the NFL and has said that they expect all offending participants in the incident to be punished by the NFL and the Jets. In fact, the whole incident seems to be a lot less “controversial” and instead be quite clear within the procedures of the NFL, and is framed as much more of an unclear issue within the news media like in this interview from ABC.

The debate does seem to make a jump from 'Are these outfits professional?' to 'Should anyone this attractive wearing clothing such as this expect to be sexually harassed in the presence of male athletes?' There does also seem to be a bit of a more nuanced controversy in whether or not sexually harassment needs the clear accusation of the survivor in order for behavior such as this to be punished. Sainz has said that she isn't sure if sexual harassment happened, and that it really is up to the NFL and their investigation (at the end of the ABC interview).

For commentary from the blogosphere, the Bitch Magazine blog has issued a “Douchebag Decree” to the media for their coverage of the story, with particular attention to a slideshow by The Daily Caller called "Baby Got Back".

Monday, May 10, 2010

Miami's Child Sex Offender Homeless Colony

Trigger warning (especially for the articles linked here)

In 2005, a powerful lobbyist in Miami Beach named Ron Book (after discovering that his young daughter was the survivor of sexual assault) helped to pass local residency restrictions on child sex offenders found guilty in a court of law. These restrictions barred child sex offenders from living within 2500 feet of any place where children gathered: schools, daycare centers, or playgrounds. These restrictions meant that entire cities became off limits for these perpetrators to live after being released from prison. While probation restrictions may differ, many of them face only a curfew and living restrictions within this curfew, but are free to work or spend their days without spacial restrictions.
What ended up happening due to this ordinance and others around the region, is that sex offenders were released homeless, and told that one of the only places that they could live was under the Julia Tuttle causeway, a homeless colony of child sex offenders living under a bridge of the highway. This has caused major problems for the government of the region, as they try to deal with a very specific homeless population. The DMV even started issuing drivers licenses with the address listed as "under the Julia Tuttle causeway bridge". Other regions around the country have found themselves with similar colonies, prompting people to doubt the effectiveness and safety of the original ordinances meant to create a safer space for their children. By destabilizing the sex offenders, experts on sexual crimes were saying that it could create a much less safe environment for children.
For more information, you can read an article from Newsweek from last July about the situation in Miami (warning, very detailed and very triggering). Embedded in the article is also a short video clip about life under the bridge. And you can also listen to a story from this week's The American Life episode - theme Bridges - which looks at the more recent developments and is much less about the offenses of perpetrators and more about the legal and political ramifications of the policies