The Forward, take note: Voyeurism is violence

By Rabbi Marla Hornsten, West Bloomfield, Mich., and Rabbi Ari Lorge, New York, N.Y., co-chairs of JWI’s The Clergy Task Force Against Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community

The Clergy Task Force Against Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community of Jewish Women International takes strong exception both to the choice to include Rabbi Barry Freundel as one of the “Forward 50″ and to Editor Jane Eisner’s defense of that choice. The shameful accusations leveled against Rabbi Freundel were considered serious enough for the civil authorities to place him under arrest. The disgraceful and abusive actions attributed to Freundel hardly warrant celebrating his notoriety. The editor’s recourse to technical criteria of “impact” established under previous leadership does not respond to the question of the appropriateness of a choice, which is surely to a large degree a subjective one. The Forward is not just any Jewish newspaper, and its choice of who to call attention to has consequences.

What is truly dismaying is that The Forward‘s defense of that choice focuses on alleged abuses in the conversion process, as if that were the issue. The issue is violence against women. As JWI Vice President of Programs Deborah Rosenbloom wrote in response to the use of “voyeurism” to describe Freundel’s actions, “voyeurism is part of the continuum of violence against women, a continuum with catcalling on the less severe end and violent rape on the most severe end.

Given the circumstances of Freundel’s arrest the choice by The Forward is regrettable in itself. The defense of that choice, which cites “breaking the cone of silence” around conversion and the increased awareness of the word “mikvah,” regrettably misses the point — which ought to be the abuse and violence against women that the actions of which Freundel is accused embody.

Sorry, TIME. “Feminist” is here to stay.

By Sasha Altschuler, JWI
Sasha Altschuler headshot
If someone called me a feminist, I would take it as a compliment.

I feel extremely grateful to be growing up in a time when women are thriving. Women are graduating college at greater rates and are excelling to new heights in business, politics, philanthropy and medicine. When I saw the Time magazine poll asking readers to vote on the word they would ban in 2015, I was pretty angry to see that it included “feminist.”

Before this term is condemned, I would like people to understand the true meaning of the word. Feminists believe in the political, social and economic equality of men and women. Feminists believe that women should not earn 78.3% of men’s earnings. In 2013, the average difference in men’s and women’s earnings was $10,876 annually. Someone who believes this isn’t fair is a feminist. Someone who believes that men and women deserve the same rights is a feminist.

And feminism isn’t just for women. Men are feminists when they believe in these issues too. As UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson said, “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

So why is the term still stigmatized, taken by some to mean extremist, man-hating people placing their needs above everyone else’s in society? People think feminists portray men as the enemy. Taylor Swift recently stated that “a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.” Women (and men!) are realizing that believing in equality of rights and opportunities constitutes being a feminist, and they are owning it.

As a recent college graduate, I am aware of the importance of Title IX in creating equal opportunities for men and women. What I don’t think about too often is the fact that Title IX has already been in place for 40 years. Growing up, I couldn’t fathom a time when my gender might have limited my opportunities in college. My parents always told me, “You will be successful. You will excel in anything you set your mind to.” That sentence was never followed by, “But don’t aim too high, because you’re a woman.”

The only time I felt held back was when I told them I wanted to run for president of the United States. I thought that wasn’t out of the question at all because I had good grades and wanted to help people – the qualifications any 8-year-old would deem necessary.

“You can’t run for President, sweetie. You are Canadian.”

Electing a woman to the presidency in this country seems inevitable, and I believe it will happen in the foreseeable future. Though I was once upset it wouldn’t be me, I am glad to live in a time when 8-year-old American girls can dream of when it will be their chance to proudly lead this country.

It is a blessing to grow up in a time when women are excelling and my mind knows nothing else. I am surrounded by intelligent, successful, motivated women every day. I have friends who are working hard to be lawyers, family members equipped with talent to run their own TV programs and women who I know will eventually be the CEO of a company.

Instead of fixating on what it perceives to be annoying buzz words, perhaps Time should learn the true meaning “feminist” – someone who supports a movement that has made society better for everyone.

If someone called me a feminist, I would take it as a compliment.

Stories of DVAM: Caroline Griggs

This past August in Oklahoma City, 20 year old Caroline Griggs was shot and killed in the middle of a park surrounded by school children when her estranged boyfriend, 25 year old Ricky Knowles opened fire. Knowles had a history of violence, including arrests for domestic assaults against Caroline.

For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are honoring the women who lost their lives at the hand of their husbands and boyfriends by sharing stories of those who have been affected by the lethal intersection of gun violence and domestic abuse.

More than half (54%) of women killed by guns in the U.S. are murdered by a current or former dating partner or spouse. Federal law only prohibits the purchase of guns by a person who has been convicted of a felony, not a misdemeanor crime like domestic violence. The loophole in the current law is allowing domestic violence incidents to escalate to murder when an abuser can lawfully purchase or possess a firearm.

These are the stories we hear daily in this line of work. Stories like Caroline’s remind us why we work so hard to strengthen gun laws and spare the lives of American women.

Tell Congress to support closing dangerous loopholes in federal firearms protections for victims of dating violence and stalking.

The Evil on Modern Campuses

By Lori Weinstein, CEO/Executive Director, JWILoriWeinstein

While I’ve never called out another woman, I have a problem with Camille Paglia. Here, I’m talking about her recent post on, “The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil.” In less than 750 words, she summarily dismisses the issue of assault on college campuses, denigrates women and attempts to set the domestic violence movement back decades. Her post is dangerous, misleading and ill-informed. When a 20 year old man takes advantage of an inexperienced 18 year old woman in order to have sex with her against her will, Camille, this is not a case of mixed consent, or “oafish hookup melodrama.” It is rape. Rape is not just committed by psychotic strangers. It is committed by acquaintances and friends and lovers. It is not about the animalistic male sexuality that responds uncontrollably to provocatively dressed co-eds. Rape is about power and control and is has become an epidemic on our nation’s campuses.

There is no hierarchy. We do not put predators at the top of the list and sexual assault on college campuses at the bottom. Violence is violence is violence.

We used to segment violence—stranger rape vs date rape. But rape is rape. And violence is violence. Paglia writes as if those women who were sexually assaulted against their will by another student should just shake it off—feel lucky that they weren’t the victim of a real crime. That they have no right to complain because somehow their attacks are less than.

Lilly Jay at the launch of White House Initiative

Lilly Jay at the launch of White House Initiative “It’s On Us.” Photo by Nicole Radivilov | Contributing Photo Editor, GW Hatchet.

So explain that to young women like Lilly Jay, who was raped as a freshman at Amherst and spoke last week at the White House about her struggle to “reclaim college.” Understand what actually happens here—imagine, being raped or assaulted and having to sit in class or walk the hallways with your assailant. Could you concentrate on your studies? Imagine being all to certain that any attempt to report the attack will go nowhere—or worse, that you’ll have to confront your attacker face to face only to have him exonerated because maybe you were drinking. Or were wearing a crop top. Or didn’t say no that final time.

So, you stay quiet. Or transfer. The physical and psychological pain forever scarring.

Just today, the University of Oregon, a school not even named on the list of 55 colleges under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education about their handling of sexual assaults, released the results of a survey that 10 percent of the students surveyed were raped and 90 percent of the students assaulted, never spoke of the violence.

And Paglia thinks colleges should “stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives.” Camille, it is the colleges’ responsibility to protect our students, even if that means from each other. More than responsibility, it is law. Our universities are charged with creating safe environments. The danger is not in violating civil liberties, the danger is when colleges are not honest about the number of complaints they do get; when they aren’t in compliance with the Clery Act or Title IX; when they protect star athletes; and leave women walking home alone and afraid.

Fact sheet: Paid sick days

By Sara Yufa, JWI

Unpaid sick leave forces millions of Americans to sacrifice pay and risk losing their jobs when they, or a family member, become ill.  Yet in the United States there is no federal standard for paid sick days. nonsense     Women suffer disproportionately from this injustice since this happens:tumblr_mnvi5zzwi11rarypbo1_500   More often than this:  tumblr_n878wnJrdO1tg7u77o1_500Women are usually the party responsible for caring for their sick children.UStuw0TPaid sick leave is good for stronger businesses and the economy at large! Proven by successful national models, paid sick days foster financial security and healthy and productive work environments. a-b-yay   The Facts:

  • More than 40 million American workers cannot earn a single paid sick day to use when they get common illnesses.


  • Millions more cannot earn time to care for a sick child or family member.


  • Overwhelmingly, mothers have primary responsibility for selecting their children’s doctors and accompanying them to appointments.


  • Nearly half of mothers report that they must miss work when a child is sick – and half of those mothers do not get paid when they do so.


  • Just 3.5 unpaid days off costs a family without access to paid sick days, on average, its entire monthly grocery budget.

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  • One-fifth of women workers report that they have lost a job or were told they would lose a job for taking time off due to personal or family illness.

yj2Success at Home: The District of Columbia’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008 offers paid sick days to an additional 307,000 private sector workers in D.C. In assessing the impact of this law 5 years later, there was no evidence that businesses were ambivalent about staying in the city or that employers were discouraged from starting new businesses. In 2013, the D.C. City Council passed the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act, expanding the original law to cover an additional 20,000 tipped restaurant and bar workers.  

The Healthy Families Act (S. 631/H.R. 1286) would provide workers with paid sick days to use to recover from illness, access preventive care or care for a sick family member.

Women, their families and our nation urgently need this vital political reform. Jewish Women International strongly supports public policies that strengthen economic security for women, especially those that combat unpaid sick days!  

This fact sheet was created with information provided by the National Partnership for Women and Families.    

We have to shift our understanding of the ‘sexual’ in sexual assault

Sara Yufa headshotBy Sara Yufa, JWI

In the last five years, 60% of rapes were not reported to police. Factoring in these unreported assaults, only 8% of rapes were actually prosecuted and only 3% of rapists will spend even a single day in prison.

Many sexual assaults go unreported because the victim fears she will be victimized again by peers and insensitive officials. This threat of public humiliation is due to a misconception of the cause of sexual assault, and a fear of slut shaming or being blamed for contributing to her attacker’s sexual desires.

The sexualization of sexual assault perpetuated the false popular myth that sexual assault is driven by sexual desire when in fact, sexual assault is an act of violence, power and control. Making the conversation about sexual desire diminishes the severity of the violence and minimizes the crime to uncontrollable human nature.

However, just as sexual conquests are misogynistically worn as badges of honor, so too have sexual assault cases surfaced via social media as a flex of power and sexual shaming of the victims. For example, the March 2013 case in Steubenville, Ohio, in which the victims’ pictures were posted online, and the similar, more recent July 2014 case in Houston, Texas. In Houston, the photograph was appropriated into a meme of the pose of the victim, and posts of people mocking the girl went viral on Twitter. Until the hashtag was flipped around to show support for the victim, it was used to mock the girl for being caught with her underwear down. No one publicly questioned how she arrived at the situation or why it was documented and made public.

When posts like this appear online, it increases the power aspect of the crime, marking sexual assault as something to be proud of and displayed for public viewing. Not only did the perpetrator rob the victim of her privacy when he assaulted her, he did it again by publishing the crime and forcing the private matter to be public.

And victims of sexual assault are discouraged from reporting the crime in other ways – such as lack of proof, fear of retaliation by the perpetrator, fear that authorities will treat them with hostility or not take the incident seriously, not knowing how to report the crime and a desire to hide the assault from family and others.

Sexual assault in the U.S. is especially prominent on college campuses: one in five women is a target of attempted or completed sexual assault while she’s a college student and college-aged women are four times more likely than any other age group to face sexual assault. Despite these facts, so many sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported. Date and acquaintance rapes are less likely to be reported than stranger rapes – so considering the nature of college social interaction, the likelihood of reporting sexual assault is lower on college campuses. When assaults are reported, universities often handle the case in a way that conceals the assailant, especially if they have a lot of influence at the university, such as athletes or officials.

On Thursday, July 17, JWI held a roundtable on sexual assault as part of its Summer Series for Interns and Young Professionals in the D.C. area. As a female college student, I feel it is important to have a thorough understanding of what sexual assault means and to know my rights and to understand that every sexual encounter should have clear established consent and that consent can come in the form of verbal or non-verbal indicators. It is also important to be an active bystander and step in if you see someone who is not in the position to show consent.

Specific to college campuses, under Title IX and the Clery Act schools are legally obligated to provide protection for students against discrimination based on sex, and provide transparency of crime on and around campus. Each school must have a sex discrimination policy and a Title IX coordinator easily available to students.

This information is vital for both women and men, girls and boys, as sexual assault can happen to anyone. To decrease the number of sexual assaults that happen every year, we have to shift our cultural understanding of sexuality and gender roles away from the traditional patriarchal system to one of equal, safe, loving relationships.

“It’s called prevention”: Changing the sexual assault on campus conversation

Ari Eisen headshotBy Ari Eisen, JWI

My freshman year in college there was a serial rapist on campus who committed six assaults, including two rapes. He was never caught. So I learned early on never to walk alone at night.

My sophomore year I experienced firsthand people drugging my friends at parties in order to take advantage of them. So I learned never to drink anything that was not mine – even if a friend poured it.

My junior year I studied abroad, and there were six incidents of sexual assault on campus by the same perpetrator who was, again, never caught. So I learned that this problem not only crosses state lines, but international borders.

I will be a senior this year. And I have never been more afraid to be a woman on a college campus.

I expected drinking and drugs. I expected pressure to look sexy and have sex. But I never expected the extent to which this massive cultural crisis would be relevant to my life. Indeed, the root of this problem is, undoubtedly, cultural. In preparation for college, girls are taught don’t walk alone at night, do not drink anything you did not see poured, do not dress promiscuously… The list goes on and on.

But these victim-focused statements are completely misguided. Sure, they aim to address the problem, but how about targeting the perpetrator? It’s called prevention. We should be teaching: drugging someone against their will is always wrong, attacking women when they are alone and vulnerable is a crime punishable by prison, the way a woman dresses is not any indication of her sexual availability. And while you may think these statements are obvious — to your friends, your kids, your classmates — from my experience on two college campuses, they most certainly are not.

This widespread societal problem is perpetuated by the media and popular culture. Celebrities, the music industry, athletes and commercial advertisements are messaging male entitlement and the objectification of women. They are tacitly condoning and even promoting behaviors that are certainly classified as gender-based violence and sexual assault.

Gender-based violence, specifically sexual assault on college campuses, is an epidemic – and yet it is the most underreported crime nationwide. JWI’s advocacy team and I participated in a series of three roundtable discussions aimed at addressing sexual assault on America’s college campuses. These sessions, facilitated by Senator Claire McCaskill and attended by Senators Tammy Baldwin and Richard Blumenthal, focused on the challenges surrounding the implementation of the Clery Act and the Campus SaVE Act. These acts require the annual collection and dissemination of statistics regarding crime (sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking) on campuses across the country. The roundtables also included an extensive discussion on victims’ rights under Title IX and how the criminal justice system can more effectively help victims and strengthen enforcement.

In coordination with the White House Not Alone campaign, these roundtables—and the movement’s mass of advocates and supporters—are finally bringing crimes of sexual assault on college campuses to the forefront of the conversation, and instilling in this country a sense of urgency that cannot be underplayed. The violence must end now.
Safe Smart Dating logo
One of the ways in which JWI works to address sexual assault on college campuses is through our Safe Smart Dating program. Safe Smart Dating is an innovative workshop that helps college students define, identify, and prevent dating abuse and sexual violence on campus.

I am proud to be part of an organization that is actively pursuing justice to repair this broken system, and am hopeful that the women just beginning their journeys through college will be able to feel safe, secure and confident in pursuing their academic and professional goals.