The Courtroom Doesn’t Always Have the Final Say

“If a judge finds me innocent, then there should be no reason why the university should take any unfair or unjust action against me,” he said. 

A USC student who was arrested for sexual assault’s case was dismissed after a judge ruled video footage from earlier in the night as consent. The case was dismissed regardless of the fact that the victim was intoxicated and admitted to the hospital shortly after, where she was deemed “nearly unconscious when she arrived,”  and her roommate described her as “passed out” when she saw his naked body on top of hers. It was dismissed regardless of the fact that consent can be withdrawn at any time (the video footage was taken long before any sexual contact began) and footage of individuals interacting with each other does not equal consent to sexual activity.

The judge in this case may have ruled this encounter consensual, but USC’s Title IX Coordinator and office are continuing their investigation for a reason. And regardless of their ultimate decision, let’s get one thing clear: innocence is not guaranteed by way of case dismissal. Far too many cases of domestic abuse and sexual assault are thrown out, dismissed, or result in a not-guilty verdict, but that does not mean the abuse or assault did not occur. Yes, some individuals are falsely accused and are hopefully -rightfully- expunged of their accusation when such a case goes to trial. And it’s terrible when this happens. But this is rare. Very rare. As rare as mostly every other crime where false accusations are made. About 2-8% of cases.

In opposition to the disturbing lyrics of Robin Thicke, consent cannot be blurred. Consent is actually very simple. If someone is impaired, unconscious, passed out, or any other variation of the sort: consent is not possible. The judge ruling consent from the footage makes a lot of sense for someone who does not understand how consent works. Because they see a person flirting, making sexual gestures, and inviting someone over. Therefore, they are obviously consenting to sex, right? Wrong.

She is completely 100% entitled to not consent at any time. Even if she flirted all night. Even if she suggested she wanted to do something previously. Even if she invited him over. None of that gives him the right to do something sexually to her; only her enthusiastic, willing, and sober consent in that moment does and not a moment sooner.

As victim blaming is rampant in our culture, some might say, “she was asking for it” or, “she deserves it” or, “she shouldn’t have gotten that drunk”. Our society loves to slut-shame individuals who choose to engage in partying behaviors on their own time. Yes, there is more risk involved when there is alcohol/drug consumption. But that in no way means that someone ever deserves or asks to be sexually assaulted. There is something seriously wrong if our mindset when we see a drunk person is ‘have sex with this person’ instead of ‘help this person’. I would like to believe, and statistics show, that most of us fall into the latter category.

Then why is so much of our focus on how the victim was behaving, but no one stopped to think about why the perpetrator chose to engage in sexual activity with her when she was too drunk to stand up? Why didn’t her friend say, ‘let me make you sure get home safe’ instead of watching her drunkenly walk off with someone she just met? As bystanders, we have a responsibility to help others when we know something is not quite right. There are many, many ways to help and we always want to assure we are not putting ourselves at risk of danger or harm by doing so, either. But in reality, the accountability should be on the perpetrator alone, not the bystanders and certainly not the victims.

See What He Does With Passed-Out Girl

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All in all, there are systems in place that are sometimes flawed, sometimes broken and sometimes do not offer justice where it is needed. Whether you are convicted and found guilty or not, the courtroom is not the only place where justice lives. It’s on us to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and support survivors.

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Taylor Swift, I Stand With You

Recently, the story of Taylor Swift’s alleged sexual assault has come into light. To recap, at a meet-and-greet before one of her concerts in 2013, Taylor Swift was posing for a photo with a radio DJ, David Mueller, when he allegedly reached under her skirt and groped her. What happened next really doesn’t even matter, because whether she told anyone or not, it still happened (allegedly, for legal reasons) and that cannot be invalidated. Period.

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She did, however, tell someone. She told her mother and other people on her team. That alone is brave and should be commended. It is not easy to disclose that you have been violated in any way, particularly when you live in such a public eye. Taylor wanted to keep this incident quiet, as many victims do, and therefore did not report it to the police. This is not an uncommon reaction. Many survivors of sexual assault do not report what happened to them to authorities. Some feel embarrassment, shame, fear, denial, or confusion. Some need time to cope with their experience before deciding if or how they wish to take action. It is a grueling process for many survivors to endure, so many often choose not to endure it at all.

But when Mueller sued Taylor for slander two years later, suggesting she fabricated the story with the intentions of getting him fired, Taylor stood her ground and counter-sued for assault. “Swift countersued Mueller for the symbolic amount of $1. The singer, who spoke to The Guardian in 2014 about embracing feminism, is seeking Mueller’s recognition of responsibility as ‘an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.’ She pledged to donate any financial reward from the trial to charities supporting survivors of sexual assault and gender-based violence.”

Unfortunately, many survivors face the blame and disbelief that Taylor is experiencing. Many do not have physical evidence to prove that their assault occurred, but that does not mean that it didn’t occur. It is so rare for someone to lie about being sexually assaulted. Yet, many victims are accused of fabricating or exaggerating, which only minimizes, denies, and invalidates their experience. And then we wonder why this crime is so under-reported.

So, thank you, Taylor. Thank you for having the courage to speak up about what happened to you, and for doing so with the intention of being the voice for the voiceless.

My hope during this trial is for the continuation of the outflow of support for Taylor with an added understanding of what some victims and survivors may experience. We still have many minimizing and demeaning beliefs about survivors of sexual assault; about how they are to blame, about how they should react, about how they should feel, about how they should report, and the list goes on. Hopefully, the more education we have about these issues, the more we will believe and support survivors.

As the trend on social media states, #StayStrongTaylor and all of the survivors out there. I stand with you.

Consent IS Sexy

Although I mentioned in my last post that I do not watch reality TV, I am mentioning it yet again because I found this so, so interesting! In this season’s The Bachelorette, a contestant asks the bachelorette, Rachel, for a kiss on his one-on-one time with her. You can see the quick clip here. Even the title of the article uses the term ‘awkward’, painting consent in a totally negative turn-off kind of light. So, I wonder: what is wrong with asking for consent?!

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As an educator, I go out into schools and talk to kids in middle and high school about consent and sexual assault. We talk about what consent means, when someone cannot give their consent, and its undeniable importance. We acknowledge that without it, you risk a sexual assault. We discuss ways you can ask for consent and address the fact that it doesn’t have to be “awkward” or a “mood killer”, but rather quite the opposite. We are giving them the tools to be able to enter any future sexual encounters safely and responsibly.

So, when I saw this clip from The Bachelorette, I wanted to scream at the screen – mainly, Rachel – for dissing this man’s attempt at being respectful in asking for consent. Her response of, “No one has ever asked me before, they just do it,” is exactly what is wrong with the culture we live in.

Consent is not just simply a look or a wink or a flash of a smile; it’s a conversation, and a necessary one at that. We cannot assume what someone else wants and we are not mind readers. A smile can mean a lot of different things. A wink could be flirtation, not necessarily Morse code for “kiss me.” Passion does not equal “just doing it” without checking in with that person first. On the other hand, consent does not have to be a complete awkward mood-killer. It’s also about reading people’s body language and gauging their interest. Most importantly, if you are unsure of their body language or if they are interested or not: ask them! Which is exactly what Frederick did, and got insulted for it. The surest way to know if someone is interested is to ask. But it’s also important to remember that even if someone does not say ‘no’, that does not mean they are saying ‘yes’.

This post is not to pick on Rachel (sorry, Rachel!) because it’s not at all surprising that she has this expectation of her suitors. We are inundated with this faux passion in the media we consume in movies like [insert almost any popular romance movie title] where persistence and refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer are mistaken for romance. Or, where grabbing someone and kissing them is mistaken for passion. Let’s follow the lead of the consent-askers and consent-respecters, like Kristoff and Anna from Frozen:

Kristoff: “I could kiss you! I could. I mean, I’d like to. I. May I? We me? I mean, may we? Wait, what?”

Anna: (Smile.) “We may.”

anna kristoff frozen

 

Rob Kardashian: What You Did is a Crime

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge reality TV fan. Regardless of what I watch on TV, though, I quickly became aware of the news with Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna. If you are not familiar with this story, check it out here and for an update on the story, click here.

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Take away the mere fact that these individuals are celebrities for a second and this is the most basic outline of what happened:

  • a couple breaks up
  • a person from that relationship angrily posts nude pictures of their ex on Instagram with insults and hateful comments about their ex
  • Instagram takes these photos down and blocks the account as it was deemed inappropriate
  • this person then takes the same photos and posts them on Twitter, with the same hateful messages
  • Twitter also takes these posts down and blocks the account as it was deemed inappropriate

When you take away the details, the backstory, and the celebrity names, there is no question of the intent of this person or the fact that what this person did is wrong. Suddenly, this person is a celebrity and his ex whose pictures were exposed is a former exotic dancer who is very open about her sexuality. Suddenly, it becomes: well, she shouldn’t have sent those pictures, or she has no respect for herself, or he thought she cheated so he was just angry and therefore justified. The list of excuses and victim-blaming continues.

The bottom line here is simple: revenge porn is illegal in California among many other states. Private messages that are sent between two consenting adults are meant to be just that: private. When one person then shares or exposes that photo to others (in this case, 10 million others…) with the intention of humiliating or insulting that person, it becomes a crime.

Much like we address victim-blaming in sexual assault cases, revenge porn is a form of sexual violence and domestic violence and it is not the victim’s fault. Instead of asking why she took those photos of herself (which many individuals may choose to do to be intimate with their partners), we should be asking why he chose to publicly shame her not once but twice. This was an act of power and control over Chyna; to prove to her that he could humiliate her and hurt her by the click of a button.

Revenge porn is a huge issue we are seeing more and more of. We often forget that sexual assaults occur via technology through revenge porn as well as coerced or unwanted sexts. We live in a digital age, and thankfully our laws are catching on to these new crimes and attempting to keep up as best they can. But we clearly still have a lot of work to do. Rather than needing to create a new law every time a new crime of interpersonal violence occurs, perhaps we can focus on working to change the culture that cultivates these behaviors rooted in harmful beliefs and attitudes. (I ❤ prevention).

Love Shouldn’t Cost a Thing

One of the forms of domestic violence that is often overlooked is financial abuse. To be honest, this is one that I hadn’t given much thought to until recently.

financial abuse

One of the biggest questions asked in regards to domestic violence is, “why do they stay?” To anyone who is not knowledgeable about these issues, that is a very valid question. It is natural for someone to assume that anyone would not tolerate abuse and would leave right away if that started to happen. Unfortunately, it is not typically that simple. There are a lot of reasons why victims do not or cannot leave an abusive relationship, and one of those reasons is money.

Financial abuse is when abusers restrict, monitor or limit their partner’s access to money, jobs or transportation. For another description and specific examples, check out this resource from the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Having no control over one’s own finances has a major impact on one’s life: with little to no access to jobs, resources, or housing, it’s not a mystery why victims feel trapped. Also, keep in mind the cost of domestic violence in the workplace. Many victims lose days of work due to the abuse they experience, either by spending time in the hospital from physical abuse or by being restrained by their partner to have the means of transportation or otherwise to actually go to work. If policies on domestic violence in the workplace are not strong, many victims might lose their jobs for lack of attendance or their partner harassing or disturbing them at their place of work.

There is also a huge link between domestic violence and homelessness for this very reason. Victims do leave their abusive relationships, but they do not have the means to secure or maintain housing due to the financial abuse that occurred. The number of individuals who are homeless who have experienced domestic violence is staggering. For more research, read about it here from the National Coalition for the Homeless.

I was actually reviewing my own finances recently (when you work for a non-profit, you do this regularly) and felt so fortunate that my dad taught me how to be financially independent and literate at a very young age. It’s both a skill and a practice that I took for granted up until I lived on my own and realized I would be lost without it. Financial empowerment is vital in helping victims help themselves. Even if victims leave the relationship, they often return to their abuser because they have nowhere else to go.

We need to be able to provide individuals with the tools to help themselves and the resources for when they aren’t able to help themselves.

I want to share this powerful video from Allstate Foundation Purple Purse along with my own disclaimer that although this campaign is centered around women, abuse can and does happen to people of all genders.

America’s TV Dad Bill Cosby and Everything We Don’t Want to Believe About Him

bill cosby

You have probably heard of the name Bill Cosby before. Most recently, you’ve probably heard it in a very different context than you’re used to. I grew up watching The Cosby Show, so I share similar shock to those who were in disbelief when he was charged with sexual assault. Although everyone is innocent until proven guilty, my brain is trained to believe the survivors. Not just because people do not typically lie about being sexually assaulted, but because I understand how hard it is to report it, and can only imagine the added challenges of reporting it when the accused is a well-known, well-loved celebrity.

This article was brought to my attention. The headline itself practically made me fall out of my chair. Bill Cosby plans to teach athletes and married men how to avoid charges of sexual assault. Yes, you read that correctly. I had to double check, too.

Unfortunately, the attitudes discussed in this article are not all too surprising. I’m going to pull a few quotes or lines from the article that I’d like to parse out.

  1. “The laws are changing, the statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault are being extended, so this is why people need to be educated on a brush against the shoulder,” said Benson [one of Cosby’s spokespersons]. “Because anything at this point can be considered sexual assault and it is a good thing to be educated about the laws.”
    So, let’s first clear a few things up. Sexual assault is when one or more person manipulates or forces another into unwanted sexual activity. It is true that laws are different per state, and each degree of sexual assault differ as well. However, this language of the ‘brush of a shoulder’ minimizes the true sexual assaults that do occur. In case this isn’t obvious: it is not okay to touch someone on a sexual part of their body, or in a sexual manner on their body, if they do not want it. Just like it is not okay to kick someone, punch someone, or otherwise assault another person physically. It’s just simply not okay.
  2. The juror suggested that Constand having worn revealing clothes that showed “a bare midriff” while at Cosby’s house had influenced how he perceived the alleged assault. The fact that Cosby admitted to dosing Constand with sedatives before their sexual encounter, he said, did not sway his opinion on whether or not Cosby had been given consent by Constand before he allegedly penetrated her with his fingers. “He openly admitted that what he gave ’em, he gave ’em pills,” said the juror. “He almost incriminated himself.”
    In case this is also not obvious: someone who is unconscious, drugged, or impaired is not able to give consent to sexual activity. Hopefully that goes without argument, but something that was said here that often goes hand-in-hand with arguments is the victim-blaming comment about Constand’s attire and its role in the alleged sexual assault. What someone is wearing or how someone is behaving does not constitute as consent to sexual activity. It also, most certainly, does not excuse sexual assault. Ever. No one ever asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted. The only cause for sexual assault is the person committing the sexual assault. Not the victim’s clothes, or alcohol, or flirtation, or walking alone somewhere. The only thing that constitutes as consent to sexual activity is consent. And THAT is what we should be teaching: consent. Consent is when someone is giving their permission or agreeing to a specific behavior or activity. They must be of age, sober, willing, and again, conscious. It is not just about ‘no means no’. It is about ‘yes means yes’.
  3. However, the juror also expressed doubts about Constand’s credibility, saying that, “It took her one year to report it … to the police, after the incident. That was a big question.” The juror said that an expert testified that it’s rather common for sexual assault victims to not report an alleged crime, and try to “rectify it in their minds,” as the juror put it, or report it years later. “That’s hard for me to believe,” he said, “that I’ve been injured and it takes me a year to report it. That’s difficult for me to believe.”This is another common misconception about survivors of sexual assault and reporting. The process of reporting a sexual assault can be daunting on a survivor and sometimes re-victimizing or re-traumatizing. It is not something most people view lightly or would do to get their “ten minutes of fame”. A lot is at stake for someone who chooses to report; it is extremely time consuming, their private life (and most intimate details of their life) become public in a way, they have to tell (and re-live) their story over and over again, they have to face their accused and hear their side of their version of the story, and the list goes on. Everyone responds differently to being sexually assaulted; where some people might be angry or want to report it right away, some feel numb or sad and want to forget it ever happened. Some people are embarrassed or ashamed. Some people might seem ‘normal’ after an assault, or even more outgoing or social as a way of dealing with their own experience. There is no right or wrong way to feel, but either way it can be overwhelming. A lot of survivors need time to cope with the traumatic event that took place, so it’s actually not hard to believe at all that it might take someone a year, or years, to come forward and report it when they are ready.

Part of the problem with the culture we live in is a lack of education about what consent means, what sexual assault is, and how survivors might respond to a sexual assault. We tend to have a cookie cutter concept of what a ‘typical’ victim/survivor looks like and how they are expected to respond to their experience. The best way to debunk a lot of these myths and misconceptions is by listening to survivors and their stories (and believing them), and education. So, how about instead of teaching individuals how not to get charged with a sexual assault, we teach individuals not to sexually assault others. Just a thought.

A Necessary Ongoing Conversation We Aren’t Having

women talkingI’ve written about this before. I’ve actually written a blog about these exact issues before. So, why am I still writing about domestic and sexual violence as an issue in our society? Because for as long as it is still an issue in our society, I will continue to talk about it. Because we all need to be talking about it.

The reason I started this blog was because of a moment I shared with a parent at Western Connecticut State University while staffing a table about the organization I work for, talking about our services. After explaining that we serve women, men, and children in the community dealing with domestic or sexual violence, she looked up and asked, “Is there a need for that?” Her question was genuine, non-confrontational, curious. It was not argumentative nor sarcastic. She genuinely did not know that there is, unfortunately, a monumental need for services for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence for individuals of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, races, religious backgrounds, etc. etc. etc.

It shocked me, yet at the same time not at all. It shocked me that people still do not see the prevalence of these issues. It shocked me because earlier that day I had already read two articles, one local and one national, about sexual assault and rape. It shocked me because as an educator where I work, I teach youth about these issues daily. It shocked me because statistically speaking, that woman probably knows someone in her life that has been affected by either domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse. It’s nearly impossible to go through life without knowing someone who has been. That may be a bold statement to make, but I welcome anyone to challenge it.

So, I returned to the office and thought to myself, ‘I can’t keep teaching youth about these issues, reading articles about these issues, and seeing these issues in my friends’ and family’s lives and NOT keep talking about it,’ This conversation is not just necessary because it’s important and relevant. It’s necessary because it can save lives.

Welcome to My Page

My name is Cara and I’m here to talk about domestic and sexual violence. Welcome to my blog. Although I work professionally in this field, this blog is my personal page with no direct affiliation to the organization I work for or its specific mission or values. Although of course they align very much with my own, I want to make a clear separation that I am speaking for myself, not for my organization.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you on these pertinent issues, and I welcome you to a page that I hope stirs up a conversation in your lives.