I’d have a few concerns. But I’m not a mom of a girl going away to school, I just teach personal safety skills to girls whose moms are concerned as their girls are growing into independence.

Recent headlines tell us about a young man at one of America’s elite prep schools who engaged in the school tradition of “senior salute.”  How that particular encounter turned into non-consensual sex and a rape charge.  The young man was convicted by a jury of one count of using the internet to have sex with a child, and three counts of misdeameanor sexual assault and child endangerment.  He was acquitted of the more serious charges of felony rape.

According to CNN’s legal analyst Sunny Hostin, “the jury did not appear to believe the former prep school student’s claim that there was no intercourse, but it also seemed to dismiss his accuser’s testimony that it was against her will.”

My focus, as a self-defense teacher, is less on the legal issues and more on what we’re teaching girls, explicitly as well as implicitly.

This article from the New York Times details the young woman’s testimony.  She describes a mixture of emotions during and after the assault — of politeness and pain, then secrecy versus standing up for herself.

“I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl,” she said. “I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I didn’t want to offend him.”

Afterward, she said, she felt physical pain and utter confusion, and blamed herself for the events; it took several days for her to tell anyone, in full, what happened.

“I feel like I had objected as much as I felt I could at the time. And other than that I felt so powerless,” she said, adding, “I was telling myself, ‘O.K., that was the right thing to do, you were being respectful.’ ”
This girl’s feelings of powerlessness are common among teens in this sort of situation.  Girls encounter a host of contradictory messages.  They should be polite, nice, and certainly not rude — while at the same time keeping themselves safe.
I believe respect is a very important social grace, and it should not trump safety.
My concerns include:
  • The jury’s verdict indicates that many adults still don’t believe girls could be telling the truth about rape.  These jury members are also community members, and could very well be among those from whom a girl seeks advice and help.
  • The girl not being aware of other tools at her disposal to discourage and perhaps prevent the rape.
  • The girl’s feelings of powerlessness over her own body.  As noted sexual health educator Amy Lang says, she should be the boss of her body.

Not only should any girl expect to have her “no” respected, she should have other options in case it is not.  That’s what I teach, and in self-defense classes we practice skills when unfortunately “no” isn’t enough.

In local news, some residents of Seattle’s Capitol Hill are getting fed up with street assaults.  According to this article in The Seattle Times, a new neighborhood watch group is in the works.  Dubbed “OutWatch” and modeled after Q-Patrol in the early 1990s (which was modeled after NYC’s Guardian Angels of an earlier decade), the current plan seems to have patrols consisting of 4 persons.  Initially, at least 2 of the 4 are supposed to have self-defense training.

[Which is all very nice, except that self-defense may or may not be what they need.  I sure hope their self-defense training included de-escalation training and bystander intervention, which are more valuable skills for this endeavor.  I hope they are also planning on background checks for all volunteers.]

According to the article, it seems the patrols’ primary aim is to escort people safely to their cars, homes, or other safe place.  This should be useful — after all, the police do advise us to keep with a group to reduce risk of assault.  Simply having a presence can also remind us to keep safety and awareness of our surroundings in mind, as well as send a message that people are watching and won’t put up with violence in their community.

I wish them luck organizing and sustaining this project. 

My friend Kinny (you likely met her if you took some of my self-defense classes, as she often assists) is an inveterate newspaper reader, and just could not let Jerry Large’s column in this week’s The Seattle Times pass by without comment. 

I’ll let her tell it.

Jerry Large’s column touched on ethics and values in sports. All well and good until he wound it up with this:

“I couldn’t escape from real issues through sports that day, so I turned to other entertainment and settled in with my wife (who looks askance at football) to watch an episode of “Downton Abbey.” There’s entertainment for someone with strong Seattle values — the good old days, when aristocrats dressed formally for dinner and of course always behaved perfectly, never raising their voices, even to chide the loyal servants scurrying about their feet.” (Full column: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022731774_jdlcolumn23xml.html)

This sounds like vanilla unless you’ve actually been watching “Downton” lately. A current storyline involves rape.

So I emailed him the following:

Hi Jerry,

I watched both the Seahawks game and “Downton Abbey” on Sunday, and after reading your column today I can’t quite believe you did as well. One of the current “Downton” storylines involves the shocking, brutal rape of Anna the lady’s maid and its horrific effect on her and those she loves.

Rape is a crime and it is NOT part of our “strong Seattle values.”

Football players and fans consent to play and watch the game. Consent – by definition – is not part of rape. Its inclusion in an entertainment program is an ethical question worth as much, if not more consideration than problems in sports. Please ask your wife about the current “Downton” episodes. Though you may have been in the room with her, in my head you were paying a lot more attention to the Sunday funnies or Facebook than the TV. Or maybe you actually were hanging out in the kitchen for most of the program. I don’t want to believe you were oblivious.

The football game was a lot less jarring. I loved Richard Sherman’s emotional, adrenaline-fueled and completely genuine rant. A little honest trash talk (that wasn’t even bleep-worthy) for once, instead of the usual boring platitudes, turns the world upside-down?

Rape: crime. Football: game. 

Sincerely,

Roseanne Kimlinger

What did you do today to challenge rape culture?

This afternoon I taught a class for tween girls (and a mom or two), and afterwards one mom and I were talking about this “blaming the victim” of rape nonsense.  She mentioned that one of her friends, many years ago, was raped right after her high school graduation.  The girls was at home in bed, and a robber with a gun broke into the house. He raped her.  The police later asked her what she was wearing.

I remembered a speaker from the 2011 Seattle SlutWalk with the same story.  I asked if the women spoke at SlutWalk and the mom said yes.  Got the speaker’s name, found her on YouTube, and here she is, just as I remembered.

If you do not see a video here, or it is not playable on your device, you can view it directly on YouTube.

And the most important takeaway is that she was raped because a rapist made a choice to commit rape. True then, true now.  True always.

Judge Thomas Lipps ruled today that the two young men who are alleged to have raped a fellow 16 year old student have been found guilty.

CNN’s report this morning emphasized the emotional heights of this ruling. The two young men, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were sentenced to time in juvenile detention. Richmond cried after the sentencing, while trying to apologize to the victim and her family. CNN’s reporter, Poppy Harlow, reported on how hard it was to watch “as these two young men — who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students — literally watched as they believed their life fell apart. . . .
One of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, as that sentence came down, he collapsed, . . . the convicted rapist told his attorney that “my life is over, no one is going to want me now.”

Yes it is true that their lives will be changed forever.  They are now considered sex offenders, and will carry that label for the rest of their lives.  The boys, however, will not be the only ones to carry a live-long burden.  Their victim will be carrying a hefty burden, for the rape as well as for all the photos and videos that were widely distributed and viewed by her friends, family, classmates, and even people who never knew who she was before. Perhaps her promising future too has been diminished (what do you think, Poppy Harlow)?

Sure I know that much of the media feels compelled to find the “human interest” side in every story, to tug on our heartstrings in a bid for viewers.  But this “tug” felt more like a heave.

Yes, these young men’s lives have been diminished.  But it was not the sentence that did them it.  It was their own actions, for which they are now being held accountable.  And that’s how justice is supposed to work.


If you can’t see the CNN video in the viewer above, try this link to YouTube: http://youtu.be/MvUdyNko8LQ.

Zerlina Maxwell had the audacity to suggest, on Fox News no less, that to end rape we should teach men to NOT RAPE

What a concept.

In response, she received of messages from FOX viewers intent on intimidation by calling her names, dismissing her ideas, and even threatening her with rape. This is a typical tactic of misogynists, to try to silence articulate women who speak out. 

Did not work. 

Since then, Maxwell has published these suggestions for how to teach men not to rape.

The context of Maxwell’s comments was a conversation on Fox News’ Sean Hannity Show about gun ownership maybe preventing rape.  Maxwell, herself a rape survivor, took issue with how the topic was framed:

“I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Don’t put it on me to prevent the rape.”

As a rape survivor, the conversation about how to best combat rape and domestic violence is personal and can be very challenging.  Rape culture is a pervasive part of our society because of social conditioning. Yet we struggle to find ways to avoid patterns of victim blaming and many of us would rather advise women on the precautions they should take to avoid being raped as opposed to starting at the root of the problem: teaching men and boys not to be rapists in the first place.

Way back in October, Colorado prosecutor Ann Munch spoke in Seattle about blaming rape victims for their attacks. She was not the first to notice how jurors would often torpedo a case with solid physical evidence because the victim did something to bring it on herself, such as leaving her home to go out for pizza, riding the bus, or being at work.

Maxwell’s point is that when men and boys commit rape and the victims get blamed, it perpetuates a cycle of acceptance that men and boys will be men and boys, and that rape is a natural, expected occurrence.  Almost makes it seem as benign as April showers.

Rape is not a natural, expected occurrence. Rape is a deliberate, planned act of domination. Rape happens not because of how a woman dressed, or how much she drank, or what she drank, or which dark alley she may have walked down. Rape happens because a rapist was present.

I don’t give out list of what to do or not do in my self-defense classes.  Any good self-defense class should give you tools to better navigate the world you choose to live in, not lock you up “for your own safety.” Any good self-defense class should place the responsibility for sexual assault and rape squarely on the perpetrator.  And any good self-defense class should equip you to make safety choices for expanding your presence in the public world.

Anne Munch has certainly seen her share of rape cases. A prosecutor for the state of Colorado, she  she spoke to a full auditorium at the University of Washington on October 19, 2012, about the all-too-often occurrence of victim blaming in sexual assault.

First she asked the men in the audience what they did on a daily or weekly basis to avoid rape – there was dead silence. “Nothing, right?” Same question to the women and answers popcorned out: go to parties with friends, carry pepper spray, don’t walk alone at night . . . Ms. Munch asked the guys, “Did you know women – your sisters – think like this?” You could almost hear jaws dropping.

Only a short while into her career as a prosecutor, Munch realized that in addition to the victim and the accused, there was always a 3rd party in any rape case, which she dubbed The Unnamed Conspirator.  It’s a petri dish for enabling predators, made up of societal attitudes towards rape victims and women in general. And it is these overall societal attitudes that guide police and prosecutors, judges and juries, in determining how to let the vast majority of rapists off the hook.

[Note: this concept has been around a long, long time. At least 3 or 4 decades. It’s generally called “rape culture.”]

Munch cited 2 cases from Colorado that she had worked on.  Both cases had incredible amounts of physical evidence and no indication whatsoever that the women had consented to sexual activity.

In the the first case, three out of 12 jurors would not vote to convict. The Unnamed Conspirator likes safety “rules”, and the victim had broken a biggie. One of these societal “rules” is that if you don’t go out alone at night you won’t get raped. This survivor had ventured out, all by herself, at 9 pm in a small resort town to get a slice of pizza. Uh-oh. The Unnamed Conspirator: “She should never have been walking alone at night.” Hence three women on the jury refused to vote guilty, even though the defendant’s culpability was clear.

Munch believes the way to negate The Unnamed Conspirator is through education, which is why she now travels around the world speaking, training, and consulting on sexual assault and domestic violence cases.  The two most pervasive and insidious myths she works to banish are:

  1. Sexual assault can be prevented by following a large and highly restricting list of “rules” (one of which was referred to above), and
  2. Men cannot control themselves (so women become responsible for some men’s actions).

Let’s return to the Real World, where neither of the above “rules” are true. Vulnerability by itself means nothing. It’s only significant when someone tries to take advantage of it. In other words, the only person responsible for a rape is the rapist.

In every self-defense class I teach, you will not be getting those “laundry lists” of people and places to avoid, activities to not engage in, or limiting dress codes.  Because they do not work — they do not keep you safer.

And the second Colorado case – it had a pile of evidence as high as the Rocky Mountains but never came to trial. The accused’s name was Kobe Bryant. Celebrities will rarely be held accountable for bad behavior (and that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post).

Julian Assange was back in the news last week.

Assange, in case you’ve missed these fireworks, is the founder of Wikileaks.  Wikileaks is a website that publishes documents that their writers had hoped would never see daylight. All sorts of writings by diplomats, military men, and politicians. Not too complimentary. And he puts them online, so that we can see what our governments are really doing. As a result, he has become persona non grata to the US government.

But he’s been accused of rape. One woman is said to accuse him of engaging in sex with her as she slept (after having engaged in consensual sex earlier) without a condom. Another is alleged to say he held her down, preventing her from reaching condoms, and engaged in sex with her sans protection.

Assange is now ensconced in the Ecuadorian embassay in London, claiming asylum to avoid extradition. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador has said that it can’t have been rape if he was already consensually in bed with them. That his actions would not be considered a crime in 90 to 95% of the world. (Yeah, that’s a problem, and why taking rape claims seriously is a big problem.)

WARNING WILL ROGERS: CRUDE LANGUAGE AHEAD!!!

Because there are men who believe they are entitled to use women as blow-up dolls. As a warm, wet, soft hole to cum in.

(Sex while she’s asleep?  Really?  How can that not be rape?)

Unfortunately, both the British and American governments have less than stellar track records in prosecuting rapists.  So it is no surprise that Assange has a highly vocal fan base who are claiming the only reason he’s “wanted” is because the US is just drooling to get their hands on him for the leaked documents. He is holed up in Ecuador’s embassy because he fears being spirited off to some American-run prison, never to see daylight.  He’s probably justified in his fears.

Alas, these rape charges and his role in bringing transparency to our government’s activities is a bad combo for women. Is he a sex creep? Yes. Is he a rapist? If we stick with a legal conclusion, we may never know.

And, once again, women are re-victimized.

A few days  ago I posted about a FOX News “pundit,” Liz Trotta, who expressed incredulity that women would enter the service and not be expecting sexual assault. The whole episode reminded me more of an old Monty Python routine (“NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) than real news commentary in how surreal Trotta’s opinions were.

Former Marine Sarah Anderson wrote a truly AWESOME piece about Ms. Trotta’s inane comments, and at the end asks us to sign an online petition demanding that FOX fire Trotter. I signed, and I highly recommend you do too.

I looked up “pundit” in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, hoping for some pithy and witty quip to quote. Nothing. I think it’s the season for a new, updated dictionary.

I really hate it when women in public positions spout off anti-feminist platitudes. For example, how does Liz Trotta think she got where she is, if not on the backs of women who pushed to be able to engage and be taken seriously in public discourse (i.e., “feminists”)?  Maybe you never heard of Liz Trotta either? I hadn’t, until I saw this video. Lis Trotta is a FOX News “pundit,” and here she’s opining about women serving in the US military who’d been raped while in service.

(if you received this post as an email and cannot view the video, you can see it on my blog online or at Media Matters. If you are using an iPad or iPhone, you may have to go to a computer that plays Flash.)

So much deliberate ignorance, packed into less than 4 minutes.  I’ll just point out the parts I consider most egregious.

  • She objects to how much is spent on issues around sexual assault. $113 million annually, she says. Is that a lot of money? It would be to me personally. However, the military commands a budget is somewhat larger than mine, and this military expenditure is fiscally comparable to my buying one plain old coffee, not even a latte (double short, non-fat milk, please).
  • She is astounded that people in the military are still people. Apparently, once you join the military you can be disregarded as having any real needs other than to protect Americans. Because the mission of the Army and other services is to defend and protect us, not those actually fighting the war. I am astounded at the sheer lack of humanity of that statement. Liz, the people sent to defend and protect us ARE US. 
  • She believes that rape just happens when men and women are in close proximity. Bull. People make the choice to rape. When “pundits” spout off that we can expect men to commit rape, they are giving their permission for rape to happen. 
  • She seems to believe that this is strictly a male-female problem. While a greater percentage of women in military service are raped, a far greater number of men are raped while in military service. Funny how she doesn’t mention that.
  • She objects to “feminists” wanting to be warriors and victims at the same time. Really? I’ve worked for years with women veterans who had been sexually assaulted. None of them wanted to be victims. Almost all of them were proud of their service to the United States, and wanted the wrongs done to them recognized and justice served. And isn’t that at the core of being American?

Adam Weinstein’s article in Mother Jones points out some fascinating facts of Trotta’s background that make her statements appear even more ludicrous.

You can help. One female military veteran has begun a petition on Change.org to ask the US House and Senate Armed Services Committee to change the way sexual assault is handled. Because rape should NOT be expected, or tolerated, when women sign up to serve. Please sign it today; remember that sharing is caring, so pass it along to your friends.