Thinking Comprehensively: Preventing Sexual Violence

There is a parable used often in education to describe the reforms that are needed to better serve those students who are left behind or pushed out of our educational system:

A man and a woman were having a picnic along the river outside of their village. As they were eating, they heard a baby crying and, looking around for the source, saw a baby floating down the middle of the river.

The woman waded out and caught the baby and passed it to the man, only to realize there was another baby coming. The man ran to the village to get help, and before long, there was an organized party who were forming a chain across the river to stop the ever growing number of babies who were floating down the river. They saved a lot of children, but the number of babies was too many, and they could not save them all.

Then a young girl walked away from her duties on the riverbank and marched upstream. People yelled at her, “Where are you going!? We need your help!”

She replied, “I’m going to find who is throwing all these babies in the river so that we can stop them!”

Here’s the lesson for any social justice cause: If we don’t get to the root of the issue, all we’re doing is pulling some individuals to safety while losing others to the river.

In combatting sexual violence, undoubtedly, we must work to help survivors heal, seek justice, and find the “new normal” in their life, but that cannot be our only work.

We must prevent sexual violence before it happens. But how do we do that? What does it look like?

Expanding Who We Think of As Survivors

We can start by changing how we think about who experiences sexual assault.

In most prevention and response work, the focus tends to be on cisgender, straight women as victims and cisgender, straight men as perpetrators.

And there’s good reason for that: The vast majority of survivors are straight, cisgender women.

And with limited resources (especially in these times of austerity), those who work to prevent violence and support survivors tend to focus on that majority in order to best serve as many survivors as possible.

But to prevent sexual violence, we must acknowledge the incredible diversity of survivors and perpetrators.

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism.

Rethinking Lisak & Miller – Checking the Math

Over the last month or so, I have received a lot of criticisms in personal messages and emails regarding the piece I published on the groundbreaking Lisak & Miller 2002 study.  In particular, many of the criticisms relate to the math done by Thomas MacAulay Millar in his piece, “Good Men Project’s Rape Faceplant, Predators and the Social License to Operate.”  Rather than continuing to respond individually to this concern, I figured it would make sense to post my response here as a quick blog post to further the discussion.

In his piece, Millar attempts to extrapolate the results of Lisak & Miller’s research to a larger population:

Let’s use Lisak & Miller’s numbers, with a population of a million men and a million women.  If 2% of the men are single-offense rapists meeting Lisak’s definition, and a further 4% are repeaters with an average of 5.8 victims, that implies that 20,000 of the men are single-offenders with 20,000 victims, and the 40,000 repeat offenders have 232,000 victims.  To oversimplify and assume that no women rape, no men are victims, everyone is either a man or a woman and there are no repeat victims, we then have 252,000 victims, or about a quarter of the population of women.  If we believe the various victim-report data, that’s about what we would expect.  So, while Lisak & Miller’s questions certainly will not capture every rape, they do capture the vast majority — they have to, unless she’s postulating a victimization rate much higher than the victim report data account for. If she’s saying that maybe half of all women are raped … well, you can say that, but where is the data to back that up?

If the reality of sexual violence were as simple as Millar’s “oversimplifications,” then his math would be spot on: The offenses committed by the men in Lisak & Miller’s study would account for 25% of women experiencing sexual violence, which reflects the common estimates of victimization rates.  Unfortunately, the reality of sexual violence is not so simple.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

Millar’s oversimplifications are incredibly problematic if we are trying to understand the true nature of sexual violence.  To say that “no women rape” and that “no men are victims” ignores a few important realities: sexual violence happens in 14% of Lesbian relationships and 13% of Gay relationships, and approximately 8% of all men are raped by a former partner (both male and female).  Further, to simplify the gender spectrum by saying that “everyone is either a man or a woman” further hides the reality that as many as 50% of Transgender people , many of whom do not fit into the simple categories of “man” and “woman,” experience sexual violence.

Perhaps the most egregious oversimplification in its impact on estimates of sexual violence, though, is when he says “there are no repeat victims.”  In a review of the research on the subject, Classen, et al, found that two thirds of those who are victims of sexual violence will experience sexual violence more than once.  This is not one isolated study.  This is a review of the research, and TWO THIRDS of survivors are likely to experience sexual violence more than once!

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“Invisible Oppression:” Cece McDonald and Violence Against Transgender People

Have you heard about Cece Mcdonald?

If you haven’t, you definitely need to read up on her and her case.  In short, “In June of 2011, CeCe, [a Black, Transgender Woman] was attacked while walking to the grocery store with her friends. After a group of White bar patrons shouted slurs at CeCe and her friends—calling them “faggots,” “chicks with dicks,” and “niggers”–a woman in the group smashed a glass into CeCe’s face, cutting through her cheek. A fight broke out and one of CeCe’s attackers [was killed]. The police arrived and singled out CeCe, who was seriously injured, for arrest. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged her with second-degree murder.”  Since her arrest, she has been denied proper medical care and has been housed with male inmates despite the fact that she does not identify as a man and that prisons and jails are notoriously abusive spaces for Trans people (source for account of Cece’s attack and subsequent treatment).

Eventually, Cece accepted a plea bargain for second degree manslaughter (which could carry a sentence of up to 3 1/2 years in pris0n), but she has been clear from the beginning: she acted in self defense.  The man who died that night would be alive if he and his friend had never attacked Cece and her friends, and it was clear that Cece was attacked because of her race and her gender identity.

It is hard to get a clear picture of the levels of violence that Transgender people face in the United States.  After all, the Federal government doesn’t collect hate crime data on Transgender hate crimes, and few states collect any data.  Studies have shown, though, that the rates of violence against Transgender people in the U.S. are SIGNIFICANTLY higher than other forms of violence.  Plus, there is evidence to indicate that the the murder rate of Transgender people is more than 10 times the murder rate in the general population in the U.S..

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Why Gay Pride Matters

I’ve recently been hearing a lot of straight folks say things like, “Why do the gays have to flaunt their sexuality?” or “Why is there a gay pride parade? You know that people would freak if there was a straight pride parade!” or “What happens in the bedroom is your business, but don’t flaunt it.  I don’t want to have to see that sh*t.”

On the more innocent side, I’ve had a few straight young people ask me to explain Gay Pride, particularly as this month is (officially) LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Month.  They seem a bit confused as to why Pride expressions look the way that they do or even exist at all.  Well, in honor of LGBT Pride Month, I figured I would explore a little of why Pride matters!

Despite some popular perceptions, Pride is not simply an excuse for scantily-clad gay men to dance around on colorful floats (though that is an awesome part of any Pride parade).

Nor is Pride simply about throwing a middle finger to the Straight world (though that also can be a pretty fun part of Pride).

Nor is Pride simply an excuse to get pretty drunk and party like its 1999.

Pride actually has 3 main premises:

  1. People should be proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
  2. Diversity is a gift, a gift we should celebrate.
  3. Sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent and cannot be intentionally altered, so we should celebrate ourselves as we are – Whether we are Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or somewhere in between, we were Born This Way.

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