Tag Archives: sexual assault

A Call To Action: When Leading By Example Isn’t Enough

Let me be clear when I say that I have the utmost amount of respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend this country every day.

But the recent arrest of the Air Force’s Chief Sexual Assault Prevention Officer for sexual battery highlights one of my growing concerns about complacency over sexual assault in our country to date.

It is no longer enough to say “we are so much better off” than we once were and that we can “all lead by example.”

Case in point – despite the changing sexual assault policies in the US Armed Forces, reports continue to climb significantly among all three branches of the services. Despite a focus on values congruence, fraternity men continue to actively engage in rape culture promotion, harass victims of sexual assault, and chapters continue to be investigated for sexual assaults on premises each semester. This year has also seen several high profile investigations regarding athletes and sexual assault (in both high school and college). It isn’t just groups either – institutions of higher education also have a major role to play in sexual assault prevention as well as contributing to the problem. Despite changes to policies regarding Title IX and Clery Act as well as the adoption of the College SAVE Act (under the Violence Against Women Act) several high profile institutions are being investigated by the Department of Education for failing their obligations to investigate claims of sexual assault and support victims or going so far as to discourage victims from seeking help and filing reports.

While I do not believe that rape is the exclusive purview of the military, fraternity men, and athletes, these groups do exist in the spotlight not only for the risky behavior certain members continue to engage in BUT also for their extraordinary capability to make a difference in their communities.

All of which brings me back to my original point – yes, being a good guy is important. Not raping someone (for lack of a more diplomatic turn of phrase) is a necessary part of who we have to be. But here’s the problem, modeling good behavior is not enough. Silence in the face of so many overwhelming examples of men hurting others will not dispel the myth that all men are rapists. Silence will not tell the men who do hurt others that their actions are harmful. Silence will not tell the victims that they are safe and supported by their friends, family, communities, and the world around them.

So here’s a message for my fellow men. Enough is enough. You know that strength, independence, resiliency, and leadership we’re so fond of talking about? Time to put that into action. Break the silence, stop the violence, and help make a difference in your community. Violence is as acceptable or unacceptable as society permits it to be. Society is not just one gender, one race, one religion, one sex, one class, or one sexual orientation.

We all have an obligation to work with each other to promote a safer, healthier, more respectful environment.



Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2013 in Iowa City, IA

Today marks the beginning of sexual assault awareness month. If Steubenville (OH), Torrington (CT), Missoula (MT), Seattle (WA), and New Delhi (India), are any indications then we still have a long way to go in our efforts.

As part of our ongoing efforts to raise awareness about issues surrounding sexual assault and encourage men to speak out against gender violence, we wanted to bring attention to the many great events that the Rape Victim Advocacy Program is hosting in Iowa City!



Rape Culture and the Steubenville Gang Rape Media Response

The verdict is in. Two young boys, among a group of football players of Steubenville Ohio, were found delinquent (the juvenile equivalent) of guilty in the case of sexually assaulting a 16 year old girl and one boy was found guilty of distributing nude photographs of a minor.

For more information on the tragic case of the Steubenville gang rape, you can read the full timeline at the Daily Kos.

The case was remarkable for the incredibly publicity generated both by the male perpetrators and the media both before, during, and after the case. Unlike other “acquaintance rape” trials, the evidence (provided by the defense itself through social media) was clear and unambiguous that rape had occurred.

It also mirrored the recent gang rape of a woman on a bus several months ago that spawned nationwide protests. The case in Steubenville was particularly noteworthy because of the age of everyone involved. Though, like many cases, it involved athletes, alcohol, and victim blaming.

Now the deconstruction of the tragedy has begun in earnest in a 24 hour news cycle desperate for lurid details.

On on hand, we celebrate any successful prosecution of perpetrators of rape. According to the Department of Justice, the decision to prosecute was roughly 50% of cases brought to police. On the other hand, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network reports that only 5% of rapists will ever be convicted of their crimes. 

But rape culture isn’t just a matter of statistics. In the literature, it is defined as ” a complex of beliefs that  encourage sexual aggression and supports violence, a society  where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent, and a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones  physical and emotional terrorism and presents it as the norm”. Society reflects these beliefs in the portrayal of sex, sexual relationships, power, and normality in every day words, action, and images.

You can find more articles about rape culture, challenging rape culture, and the affects of rape culture here, here, here, here, and here among many places.

Rape culture is especially prevalent in how the media talks about rape and rape enforcement. Jackson Katz does a particularly good job highlighting how men are decoupled from gender violence perpetration through simple grammatical syntax.

In particular, pay attention how the statement “John beats Mary” becomes “Mary is a battered woman.”

We see the degenderization of violence in the coverage of school shooting. BOYS don’t shoot up schools, STUDENTS shoot up schools. We also see it in the coverage of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill rape case and federal lawsuit.

But what does all of this have to do with Steubenville media coverage? Stuebenville exemplifies how pervasive rape culture is in our society still.

First, we normalize the behavior of the perpetrators and identify the victim as abnormal. Second, we justify even the most egregiousness behavior as relatively normal for our community. Third, if we can’t degender the perpetrator, we change the focus of agency to the victim. This is known as victim blaming.

CNN may have made the worst of the leaps into rape culture. Candy Crowley lamented the “lasting impact” on the lives of the boys who raped a “nearly unconscious” young woman. Further, their bottom screen texts routinely established the young boys as “football stars” versus the young girl as the “drunken girl” or “drunken victim.”

In these statement we see CNN attempt to gender and normalize the male perpetrators while degendering or abnormalizing the female victim.

However, CNN isn’t the only news organization that gets in on the controversy. ABC stressed how “this was every parent’s worse nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s world.” (emphasis added). NBC did a character piece on the male perpetrators as “promising football stars.” It was the Associated Press who focused on the level of intoxication while Yahoo News highlighted the emotional trauma for the town of Steubenville Ohio. You can find these examples and more from Think Progress.

Just recently, Fox News (among others) released the name of the female victim survivor in direct violation of state statutes that protect victim survivors who are minors.

The one element that ties these narratives together is in fact what is missing from the narrative – a focus on the female victim of sexual assault. This is a component of rape culture – a systemic set of blinders to the impact of rape on the individual and the fact that women are statistically far more likely to be raped by a man that they know. Though anyone of any gender can attack anybody else.

In fact, this blind spot is highlighted best by The Onion, who ran a parody news video about a young male basketball player “overcoming rape” after a “drunken mistake” his freshmen year.

It is time we stopped normalizing rape. We need a culture change to a firm stance for “affirmative consent” and we need to start teaching it to both boys and girls EARLY. No one has a right to your own body except for you.

As Dr. Harry Brode argues in his lecture “Asking For It: The Ethics and Erotics of Affirmative Consent” if you get into a car accident, telling the cops that you were drunk as well does NOT help your case.

Further, we need to reject efforts to blame victims for what they were doing or what they were wearing. In this particular case, the defense tried to argue that “she could have said no if she wasn’t interested in sex”. What they did not say was whether she had said yes to sex. In fact, there is strong evidence that not only was the girl too drunk to give consent, but that she was nearly comatose.

Moreover, why does it matter if she was drunk? We need to move towards a society that sees sex as something that is not an entitlement but a mutually respectful activity.

As a side note, I think such a culture change could and would lead to better, healthier sexual relationships, but that is neither here nor there.

The fundamental basis of affirmative consent is that sex is principally up to the person being asked if they want to have sex or not.

A Department of Justice report indicates that 73% of victims know their attackers. Most rapists are men, though not all men are rapists. There is no magical bodily function that rejects rape sperm in the female body, rape-rape is not “fundamentally different” from acquaintance rape, and rape is not sanctioned by god.

It is time we start teaching boys not to rape, rather than teaching everyone else how NOT to be raped.

If Steubenville has taught us anything, it is that we continue to discount the dangers and impact of acquaintance rape. As a society, we still see how pervasive unhealthy sexual relationships are and are unable to seperate our own anxieties about sex to hold a critical frame to male perpetrators without seemingly attacking all men. We also desperately need to do more work to talk with children about healthy relationships and affirmative consent to promote safe and respectful communities.

If we take nothing from the Steubenville case, we accept that rape culture is an acceptable state of mind.

Do you agree with the idea alcohol negates your ability to give consent to your body? If not , then join the conversation and speak out against sexual assault and speak for affirmative consent.

Why I Am (and every Nice Guy should be) Supporting One Billion Rising and Other Efforts To End Gender/interpersonal Violence

As a guy, I wasn’t sure I ever really “Got It.” I was never told to watch out for where the next attack was coming from. I was never told that certain clothing or certain drinks were “off limits.” I was never told I needed to go to a personal defense class before I could begin classes.

I never had to worry about the kind of things that this woman talks about in her blog.

But I did have a very similar experience where I found myself as That Stranger. I was walking out of a meeting at the Old Capital Mall. As I rounded one corner, singing along to my iPod, a woman left the rest room ahead of me and turned left towards the parking lot. By pure coincidence, our steps turned in lockstep with me about ten feet behind her. Though I did not say hello, her reaction was as immediate and instinctual as my surprise was to find us in this classic workplace awkward situation.

She immediately glanced over her shoulder, clutched her purse closer to her self, and started walking faster.

Her response was not at all surprising in hindsight. When society tells women to not wear skirts, avoid drinking alcohol, or talk about sex and does not talk to men about how to prevent sexual assault, we have a problem.

I have a problem. Selfishly, I don’t want to be considered a perpetual perpetrator on sight.

But if I, and the other “Nice Guys” of the world want to avoid being labeled perpetrators, then there needs to be a communal response to gender and interpersonal violence that goes beyond not participating in hostile behavior.

We have to speak out against those who do.

That is why I will be at the One Billion Rising dance at the Old Capital Mall this Thursday (February 14) at 5pm. It isn’t a huge action, but I refuse to be silent when over 1 billion women in the world will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, often by my fellow men though not always. Students, faculty, staff, and the greater Iowa City community will come together and dance in solidarity with victims and advocates world wide. It may seem like a small thing, but the the more people stand together and speak out, the greater chance we can to show the small minority of perpetrators (of any gender identity) that their behavior is not acceptable.

Check out the event’s Facebook page here.

One Billion Rising is an organization built in cooperation with Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues production. It brings people of all genders together to show their support in the movement to end gender violence. It is but one of many organizations dedicated to the cause of violence prevention.

Whether or not you are able to make it to this Thursday’s event, I hope that you do SOMETHING in recognition that there is just TOO MUCH violence in our society. What you do, when you it, and with whom is not the issue. The issue is that we can no longer do NOTHING.

Not if we want to consider ourselves Nice Guys at any rate.

Move forward and speak out. Together we can help create a new culture of respect and safety. Together we can make a difference.

Thank you,


Sexual Assault Awareness Month event calendar

Mark your calendars! April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and there are a number of events that you won’t want to miss. For those of you in the Iowa City area, RVAP has created a convenient 2012 SAAM event calendar. There are a number of powerful and engaging events happening right here on the UI campus and throughout the community. If you want a safe space to learn more about sexual assault and how to prevent it, discuss your experiences and receive support, or be a visible and supportive ally, consider attending one or more of the events on the calendar below. 

UI Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event was a success!

The University of Iowa’s first ever Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event was a great event! Approximately 150 women and men participated in the October 1st fundraiser that benefitted RVAP. The route took the walkers down Clinton Street in Iowa City, past some of the residence halls, back through campus and into MacBride Auditorium for an educational program about the issue of sexual violence and how members from the community can make it a safer place.

We wouldn’t have had the event if it weren’t for the hard work of Billy Davies and Patrick Grim from Phi Delta Theta fraternity and Erica Sheck from Pi Beta Phi sorority, and the 150 individuals from their chapters that attended, participated, and spoke out against sexual and gender violence in our community. The educational afterwards highlighted the importance of bystanders to speak up and speak out against inappropriate conduct in the community.

You can check out the UI fyi coverage and the press release for the event here and here. You can also learn more about the Walk A Mile events on their website http://www.walkamileinhershoes.org.

1 is 2 Many

Check out this great video and initiative from Vice Preside Joe Biden at The White House blog. The campaign is called 1 is 2 Many. Anyone who works in victim services, advocacy, or violence prevention knows that there are too many victims and survivors of violence in our communities. We’ve all heard depersonalized statistics about the incident and prevalence of violence. Millions of violent acts, millions of survivors. Sometimes those numbers are too great to comprehend the actual impact of violence in our community. However, the title of this campaign is spot on. One is too many.

Often, audience members will ask me why they should get involved. What can they do to help? Why should they make it their business? Eliminating violence is too great a task for one lowly, scared bystander. Surely, there must be other ways than community members getting directly involved. However, that is exactly what it is going to take. It has to. Think about it. Victims and survivors want it to stop. That isn’t enough. Perpetrators and offenders are part of the problem. Who’s left? Everyone else in the community is left. The good news is that we are the majority, but if we are silent, it’s as if we don’t exist. The only way this will stop is if people in our community take a stand. My answer is always the same. “No one deserves to be abused or treated like that. It won’t stop until we do something to stop it.” Bad things occur and continue when good people remain silent.

Watch the video below and spend some time thinking about how you can help make our community a safer place. Chances are, you aren’t part of the problem. However, please think of a way that you can put some effort into being part of the solution. We need all the help we can get.


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