The hypocrisy of advocacy and sports

By Hannah Stein, JWI

Our society has a hypocrisy issue when it comes to violence against women. Yesterday concluded Sexual Assault Awareness Month— four weeks of explicit dedication to addressing sexual violence. Through heightened social media activism, White House engagement and cross-campus programming, awareness on the topic has spread nationwide. The month of April raised optimism surrounding the understanding of sexual violence, an issue that has gained noticeable attention in the past year.

This advocacy, however, conflicts with another societal message: athletes are above the law. Last night, former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was selected as the number one overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. In 2012, former FSU student Erica Kinsman accused Winston of sexual assault, filing charges against the athlete. After conducting a seemingly flawed investigation, the Tallahassee Police Department cleared Winston of the accusations. Kinsman shares her story in The Hunting Ground, a documentary exposing the epidemic of rape on college campuses.

Tomorrow night, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights Manny Pacquiao in what ESPN calls “The Fight of the Century.” Mayweather has a long history of domestic violence, including seven assaults against five women that led to arrests. The boxer’s violence does not wane outside of the ring; in 2010, he attacked the mother of his three children until his son called 911. Mayweather only served two months in jail.

What message does this send?

We just spent an entire month talking about sexual assault. Politicians, activists and survivors across the nation spoke out against the violence, debunking rape myths and challenging victim stereotypes. We emphasized saying #NoMore to sexual assault, highlighting the importance of bystander intervention.

But now we’re praising athletes like Winston and Mayweather?

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t advocate against sexual violence and then endorse athletes who perpetrate it. This mixed message is extremely confusing, especially for those who look at athletes as role models. If we want to truly address sexual assault, then we must fully commit to condemning it, even— no, especially when it comes to athletes.

Title IX complaint at American U. reinforces need for campus activism against sexual assault

Title IX graphic

Image via Feministing.

By Katie Gifford, JWI

American University, my home for the past four years, is frequently cited as one of the most politically active campuses on the country. Students lobby and protest for causes ranging from fossil fuel divestment to tuition freezes to sexual assault prevention, and there’s a club for almost every issue you could think of. I personally am a member of the organization Students Against Sexual Violence, which was started last year in response to leaked emails from a banned, underground fraternity known for drugging drinks at their parties.

Since that time, we have advocated for survivor support programs and mandatory sexual assault prevention education, among other things. Some calls have been met, such as the hiring of a victim advocacy services coordinator, and the administration is finally attempting to work with us on other demands.

But that banned frat? They’re still on campus, wearing their “letters” and recruiting new members. When approached about these issues, the administration has been difficult to work with or just plain unresponsive.

That’s why I was not surprised when I found out that AU is under investigation following a Title IX complaint. Disappointed, of course, but not surprised. When it comes to Title IX and sexual assault, schools are tasked with investigating any sexual assault charges and making sure that survivors and all students can receive their education in an environment safe from fear of sexual violence. If the school doesn’t live up to its responsibilities, students may file complaints, and an investigation is opened.

On March 11th, while we were on spring break, an investigation into the complaint at AU began. It took the administration a week to notify students, and they only did so after the student newspaper reported it first. This late notification made me nervous. Why didn’t they tell us right away? Did they think they could keep us from finding out? Beyond that, the email they sent included that they would use the complaint to “learn if there is more we can do… to create an environment that is safe, responsive, and compliant with the law.”

As a student activist, this upset me even more. We have been lobbying the school for a year. Why are they just now paying attention, why didn’t they listen to us in the first place? Why did it take this, a national media event, for them to start paying attention? Deep down, I know why. But it’s horrible to realize that the school cares more about headlines than students.

American University is my chosen home away from home. It hurts to know that the administration does not care about students, does not care about me, to such a point that a complaint needed to be filed. It hurts to know that it took a complaint for them to be interested in learning what they could do to make the university safer, as if we have not been telling them for months what actions can be taken.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM), and various groups on campus are holding events to support survivors and promote sexual assault prevention. We will take back the night, promote our right to party without fear, and help carry that weight.

I can only hope that the administration finally listens to us and starts taking necessary action to prevent sexual assault on campus, because even one is too many.

Katie Gifford, a senior at American University majoring in International Service and Women, Gender and Sexuality Issues, is a program intern with JWI.

On #EqualPayDay, a soon-to-be college grad faces her future – and the wage gap.

By Katie Gifford, JWI

On May 10th, I will be one of hundreds walking across a stage to receive my diploma declaring my graduation from American University. Excited as I am to leave a world of endless papers and exams to start a career in a field I love, I’m anxious.

Not only do I have to find a job, but once I find a job I need to think about whether I will be making as much as I deserve to make, and if I will be earning as much as my male classmates.

Throughout my time at AU, I’ve been bombarded by the statistics. In her lifetime, a woman earns just 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. According to the numbers, one year after graduation I might be earning just 82% of what my male friends will be.

Not enough change: in 2013, among full-time, year-round workers, women were paid 78 percent of what men were paid.

Image via AAUW.

But I’m actually pretty lucky — I’m young, white, not starting a family. Black women earn 68 cents compared to white men’s dollar. Hispanic women earn only 54 cents.

And the pay gap gets wider with age, usually increasing after 35. I’m not planning on becoming a mother anytime soon, but if I ever am, I can count on the “motherhood penalty” to keep that wage gap strong.

The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. Women could also benefit greatly from paid sick days and raising the minimum wage. Some legislators are bringing these issues up, but real action must be taken to enact laws that will help close the wage gap.

We’re told that the wage gap is our fault. We’re told that women, unlike men, don’t negotiate for a higher starting salary, which starts us from behind and doesn’t allow much ability to catch up. We’re told that women are more likely to go into lower-paying careers. That we lose company time when we take maternity leave or have to leave work to take care of sick family. We are told that our individual choices are entirely to blame for the wage gap. Some of these may be true on an individual level, but the fact remains that there is a huge, across-the-board wage gap between men and women.

Unfortunately, narrowing the wage gap isn’t as simple as telling women to negotiate for higher salaries. While this can help, women’s labor is simply undervalued, and the pay gap even exists in women-dominated fields.

On May 10th, I will be one of hundreds of bright, shining faces, looking forward to my future in the “real world.” I can only hope that on April 14, Equal Pay Day 2015, speaking up for #EqualPayNow will inspire action to eliminate the wage gap so that my female classmates and I don’t end up thousands of dollars behind our male counterparts, who might not have to think about if they’re getting paid what they deserve.

The pay gap is real, it is dangerous, and it is time to close it.

Katie Gifford, a senior at American University majoring in International Service and Women, Gender and Sexuality Issues, is a program intern with JWI.

The Grammys’ mixed messages on domestic violence

By Hannah Stein, JWI

In between dramatic performances, corny jokes and tearful acceptance speeches at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, President Obama spoke out against domestic violence. Obama reminded artists and the music industry that they have the power to shape a culture that denounces domestic violence and sexual assault. In his video appearance at the awards ceremony, the president encouraged artists to take part in the It’s On Us campaign. Just a week after NO MORE’s eye-opening Super Bowl ad, domestic violence and sexual assault were again in the national spotlight.

After the president’s message and before Katy Perry’s performance, survivor and activist Brooke Axtell shared her own story of abuse. Axtell emphasized the reality that violence is not love, preaching, “authentic love does not devalue another human being.” She spoke directly to the audience and delivered an important message: domestic violence is inexcusable, and we need to talk about it. It seemed that on a night typically known for it superficiality, the 2015 Grammys stood for something bigger.

Or at least they tried to.

While heightened awareness marks progress, there’s a much bigger issue at hand: the entertainment industry continues to glorify abusers.

Sunday’s Grammys sent viewers very mixed messages. Our president demanded that celebrities raise awareness for and stand up to domestic violence, stressing the importance of being proactive. Axtell shared her gut-wrenching story of survival, empowering people around the nation to get help and recognize their worth. Yet among the nominees for Best R&B Performance were two men whose careers include instances of mistreating women, R. Kelly and Chris Brown.

In addition to his indictment on child pornography charges, R. Kelly faced numerous rape accusations throughout the 2000s. He was eventually acquitted of all charges in 2008. Chris Brown, just before the 2009 Grammys, beat his then-girlfriend Rihanna so badly that she went to the hospital. He recently finished his court-mandated community service and faced no jail time.

Adding to the confusion of the night’s message-filled show, rapper Eminem won the Grammy for Best Rap Album. His music is known for praising violence against women, often threatening female icons in his lyrics. He has rapped about hurting women from Lana Del Ray to Christina Aguilera and his own wife. And the recording industry just gave this guy an award? Listening to his lyrics, we should ask what message young people who are learning what it means to be in a relationship receive, when we are part of a culture that rewards violent imagery, or too quickly forgets aggression toward women and girls.

Our culture idolizes celebrities and makes them into role models whether they like it or not. We have to hold artists accountable for their actions, showing that violence is never acceptable. It shouldn’t matter whether a person has one dollar or a million to their name — abuse is abuse, and it’s not OK.

President Obama asked viewers to take the #ItsOnUs pledge to end domestic violence and sexual assault. This is a great start, but it cannot be the only thing we do. Most people feel that taking the pledge means they’ve done their part, but there’s so much more work to be done.

Start the conversation with your friends. Provide support to a local domestic violence shelter. Raise awareness on campus. Every action matters because, remember, it’s on all of us to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

The real game changer: Super Bowl ads

By Hannah Stein, JWI 

The day after Super Bowl XLIX, people aren’t just talking about the athleticism. The commercials alone draw in millions of viewers, and this year (in our opinion!) stole the show. From the NO MORE campaign’s chilling 911 audio to Always’ “#LikeAGirl” for female empowerment, advertisers evoked emotions that most viewers were not expecting.

Domestic violence and sexual assault PSAs are new to the NFL this year. After video footage of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée (now wife) leaked in July, league commissioner Roger Goodell partnered with NO MORE to take a stand. As a result, every NFL broadcast of the 2014-15 season aired PSAs to combat domestic violence and sexual assault, giving the issue a wide, national audience.

And then Super Bowl XLIX advertisements took sensitizing gender and women’s empowerment to another level.

Themes of this year’s commercials included empowerment, domestic violence awareness and the influence of fathers. Yes, the clichéd Victoria’s Secret ad and others that objectify women slithered into the lineup, though these were impressively overshadowed by more significant messages. Nissan and Dove each portrayed the importance of fathers in children’s lives, shifting the traditional focus on mothers as primary caretakers. The Always brand tackled girls’ drop in self-esteem when they reach puberty, challenging stereotypes of female inferiority by asking what it means to do something “like a girl.” Even Coca-Cola addressed cyber bullying, preaching the that “the world is what we make it.”

Why the sudden shift in tone from last year’s game?

The explosion of public awareness of domestic violence in the NFL has made the issue impossible for the league’s leadership to ignore. As a result of numerous high-profile cases, relationship violence is finally receiving the national attention it deserves. From incidents involving Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson, football fans who might not have previously considered the magnitude of domestic violence and sexual assault are forced to confront these issues.

Raising such awareness has also influenced the challenge of gender stereotypes, redefining “what makes a man stronger” and what it means to “throw like a girl.” The last six months mark a pivotal change in societal views of domestic violence and gender roles. With its national reach, it’s clear that the NFL has played a role. We’re wondering, what else do you think has induced this shift in focus?

Let us know what you think! Comment here or contact me at hstein@jwi.org to weigh in on this year’s Super Bowl ads.

Stanford, Vanderbilt and bystander intervention on college campuses

By Hannah Stein, JWI

This has been a profoundly important week for the sexual assault movement. On Tuesday, January 27, a Nashville jury convicted former Vanderbilt football players Brandon Vandenberg and Cory Batey of crimes including aggravated rape and unlawful photography, stemming from a 2013 gang assault. Pending sentencing on March 6, Vandenberg and Batey will each face at least two decades in prison.

Just hours later, news broke that last week, Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, a freshman All-American swimmer, raped an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party. Two students happened to bicycle past the assault and, upon noticing the woman wasn’t moving, chased Turner down. Turner will be arraigned on felony charges of sexually penetrating an unconscious person and assault with intent to commit rape on Monday, February 2.

In contrast to the Vanderbilt case, bystanders played significantly active roles in the Stanford incident. Rather than ignoring the situation, the two students dropped their bikes and ran after Turner, tackling him to the ground before dialing 911. Members from the fraternity party also took action, aiding in holding Turner down until the police arrived. Neither Turner nor the survivor was a member of Greek life.

Without bystander intervention, Turner likely would have gotten away with his crimes.

In the Vanderbilt assault, though, countless people witnessed — yet failed to report — the gang rape of an unconscious student. Law enforcement only learned of the incident after school officials saw the assault on video; they had retrieved the surveillance footage for a completely unrelated issue. The woman was unaware of her rape until contacted by police.

In these cases, bystander intervention and technology helped bring offenders to face the justice system.* They played instrumental roles the investigations, aiming to hold the rapists accountable for his actions.

However, this is not representative of many assault cases.

Women are most often assaulted by people they trust, resulting in attacks where no one else is present. This eliminates the possibility for bystanders to step in, when rape occurs in private settings. Because survivors frequently know their attackers, assaults often take place in the survivor or attacker’s home. No bystanders, no security (or other) footage. Without statements from witnesses or proof from surveillance, sexual assault cases boil down to the survivor’s word versus the rapist’s word.

Proving sexual assault is hard. Not only do survivors become crime scenes, but they face more skepticism than any other victim of crime. Undergoing post-assault examinations is often as violating as the attacks themselves, so what survivors need most is support. The best thing we can do for survivors isn’t to question, doubt, or belittle them; it’s to believe them.

College students often find it difficult to intervene once they realize that someone needs help. For this reason, JWI works on college campuses to teach the importance of bystander intervention through our Safe Smart Dating program. To learn more about this program, visit jwi.org/SSD.

*Brock Turner has not yet been tried; the arraignment will take place on Monday. February 2.

Alcohol, athletes and assault: Playing the blame game at Vanderbilt

By Hannah Stein, JWI

In late June of 2013 Vanderbilt officials watched dormitory surveillance footage to address rumors of vandalism. However, what they saw was far worse. A group of athletes — each of whom played football for the university — were dragging an unconscious student through the hallway, snapping pictures and cracking sexually explicit jokes before carrying her into one of the rooms.

Sickening. That’s the only word I can think of to even remotely describe the case. As details have emerged, I am horrified that she knew nothing until law enforcement informed her. Yes, the woman knew she had blacked out. But no, she didn’t think she had been assaulted. Why would she have? That night she went out with people she trusted and wanted to hang out with. Co-defendant Brandon Vandenberg was her friend.

The defense subpoenaed an expert to testify that the co-defendants were drunk the night of June 22, 2013. During jury selection they asked potential members to define what it means to be drunk. They asked how alcohol affects the brain and what implications that might have. The defense spent so much time focusing on the objectivity of intoxication, yet every aspect of “being wasted” is subjective. Two drinks for me does not equal two drinks for you, as our alcohol tolerances differ. So how can you define intoxication when such ambiguity exists?

Our reactions to and interpretations of the Vanderbilt rape case are nothing but subjective. This presents itself through social double standards, especially when it comes to partying. But let’s think about this for a second. A police officer detains an intoxicated driver who then cries, I’m too drunk to be responsible for my actions! How would you respond? I hope you’d laugh at the absurdity of this remark. I certainly would. How many times have you heard of someone talking his or her way out of a DUI? It just doesn’t happen.

So why should sexual assault be any different?

Co-defendant Cory Batey testified that he was too intoxicated to know what he was doing. Rather than accepting responsibility for his actions — all of which, by the way, were caught on camera — Batey played the blame game. It was Jack Daniels’ fault. The college culture made me do it. My friends pressured me to do it. Yet even after identifying himself in the video and then apologizing to the victim, he refused to change his plea to guilty. Despite the concrete evidence of his crimes, Batey truly believes alcohol is to blame for his actions.

According to the defense, intoxication serves as an excuse for atrocious behavior. Perpetrators of sexual assault are often given the benefit of the doubt, especially when alcohol is involved. However, this doesn’t go both ways. When victims drink too much, they tend to face more criticism than compassion. Society tells women to limit drinking in order to prevent getting raped. But at what point does society hold rapists accountable? The focus on accountability has shifted in recent months, but we won’t be able to truly progress until we start preaching don’t rape instead of don’t get raped.

UPDATE: On January 27, 2015, co-defendants Brandon Vandenberg and Cory Batey were found guilty of four counts of aggravated rape, one count of attempted aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Vandenberg was also found guilty of tampering with evidence and unlawful photography. Their bonds have been revoked and sentencing is scheduled for March 6.