Tag Archives: jewish women international

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.

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.

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 time.com, “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.    

On a Journey to Uganda, an Important Lesson Learned

Ari EisenBy Ari Eisen, JWI

My name is Ari Eisen and I am one of the 2014 summer interns for JWI. I am a rising senior at The University of Michigan majoring in International Studies with a focus on global health. Driven by my passion for international human rights, global health and women’s rights, I am inspired and motivated by JWI’s work and am thrilled by the opportunity to help out this summer!

I would like to share a personal experience as it relates to the work we do here at JWI. Last summer, from June to August 2013, I lived and worked in a village in Eastern Uganda. I was interning for the Uganda Village Project, a non-profit public-health organization that promotes health education as the key to disease prevention. Stationed in Bukaigo village in the town of Iganga, I worked with my team to plan and carry out educational programs specific to the needs of the village. After conducting a village-wide needs assessment, the following issues proved most prevalent: malaria, HIV/AIDS, hygiene and sanitation, safe water access, family planning and reproductive rights. My team conducted weekly sensitizations providing the local community with helpful information for both treatment and prevention of diseases through implementing proper health and hygiene practices.

Throughout my experience, I was most fascinated by the interactions between the men and women in my village and, interestingly, how the gendered power dynamics affected health. As resilient and hardworking as they were, the village women were consistently treated with disrespect by their husbands and male leaders, excluded from all major decision making (financial and child education, for example) and shamed or punished if they digressed from these norms. Forced into submissive roles, the women of the village were victims of physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse.

Specifically, I witnessed abuse when it came to sex education. My team planned a compressive sensitization that included information on family planning and sexually transmitted infections, and that concluded with the distribution of contraceptives. While the majority of the village women were excited to learn about the importance reproductive health, the men were reluctant and uncooperative. They interrupted our presentation by calling out and laughing and many prevented their wives from taking advantage of the free contraceptives we offered. Some men would not even permit their wives to attend the session. It quickly became evident that the women in my village did not have control of their reproductive rights, their health practices and, in essence, their own bodies. Their husbands decided if and when condoms or other contraceptives were to be used and when it was time to have another child. To me, this was abuse.

That being said, it is important to acknowledge that I am a university student from North America who has a different perspective on women’s rights. My greatest challenge with development work thus far has been being intentional, respectful and cautious in shaping my role as a provider of foreigner aid. For the conservative village women who believe firmly in keeping tradition, who am I to come into their homes and impose my own beliefs? What gives me, a young adult from a completely different part of the world, the authority to tell people that how they are living is wrong? Is it possible to effectively and sustainably distribute aid without creating these unequal power dynamics and without fostering dependency? I am constantly challenged by these and many other questions that make up the core of development theory and practice.

Significantly, during my stay in Uganda a controversial law was passed that made it illegal to wear revealing clothing, including tops that showed too much cleavage and miniskirts (anything above the knee). The implication of this legislation, that the way a woman dresses incites a man to rape, perpetuates the victim-blaming mentality that has proven ineffective and seriously harmful.

Rita Achiro of the Uganda Women’s Network remarks that, “Such laws actually take a country like Uganda backwards in regards to women’s empowerment. I do not want to look at it just as the miniskirt, but rather look at it from controlling women’s bodies, and eventually that will end up into actual total control of women.” (Voice of America, New Law Bans Miniskirts in Uganda)

As Achiro emphasizes, this issue is way larger than the just the miniskirt. It is a reflection of the lack of control Ugandan women have over their reproductive rights and personal sexual health. Regaining control begins with education. And I saw a glimmer of success with my work. I was able to debunk multiple myths concerning contraceptives such as condoms causing cancer, birth control pills piling up in the stomach and IUDs growing within the uterus. Not surprisingly, these myths are largely perpetuated by the male portion of the population, who believe that the number of children a man can produce is a measure of his masculinity. I was able to distribute contraceptives to women that had never before used them and am hopeful this initial push will promote future contraceptive use and smart family planning choices. I am confident that at least a portion of women benefited from our sessions. And that’s all it takes to initiate change.

Women and girls, both locally and globally, are being deprived of their fundamental human rights, reproductive rights being just one of numerous examples. It is imperative that action be taken to educate women and girls about their health and human rights, to advocate for educational, legislative, social and economic reforms and to empower women and girls everywhere to stand up and do the same.

Use Your Voice to #BringBackOurGirls

By Robin Rubin, JWI 

You’ve heard by now that on April 14, 240 girls ages of 15 to 18 were abducted from the Government Secondary School in Chibok in Northern Nigeria. A terrorist group called Boko Haram – which translates to “western education is a sin” – claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and threatened to “sell” the schoolgirls as wives, servants and sex slaves. These girls were kidnapped merely for pursuing their education.

It took more than two weeks for the media to start reporting seriously on this incident. What message have we sent by our silence? When the Malaysian flight went missing, there was non-stop news coverage and an international search mission. What these girls have likely suffered in the time it took the world to notice is too awful to imagine. When we say nothing, we send a global message that girls don’t matter and their futures aren’t important, and we embolden those who commit horrific violence against women and girls with impunity. This atrocity deserves and requires international outrage.

Sadly this case is not the first and it will certainly not be the last reminder that, in many places around the world, it is dangerous simply to be a woman. Since this kidnapping, we know of eight more girls who were taken from a nearby village in northeast Nigeria. Numerous news outlets are reporting that the girls are already being forced into marriage or sexual slavery.

The Nigerian government is offering a reward for any information on the girls’ whereabouts and the United States has offered its help in bringing the victims home to their families. We must not stand idly by as human rights are violated.

Please take a moment and join Jewish Women International by calling for a safe and immediate rescue by tweeting, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. For more information on this issue please contact Robin Rubin, rrubin@jwi.org.

Obama’s New Sexual Assault on Campus Initiative is Needed

By Dana Fleitman, JWI

People just don’t think about it.

As a society, we are not asked to think critically about sex and consent.

Sure, we’ve heard that “no means no” (unless it’s really a coy yes, of course). And we’d all basically agree that rape is wrong (violent stranger rape, anyways, anything else might be ambiguous). As we grow up, the media and our peers send us the message that sex is the absolute pinnacle of the human experience (especially for men), but our sexuality education focuses on sex as a cause of disease and shame (especially for women). Parents usually don’t say much of anything. We know some people think sex should wait until marriage, other people are for it in just about any circumstance, and rape is bad.

That’s about it. That’s what we got.

Is it any wonder, then, that when young people step onto their college campuses, they have no idea how to navigate sex and consent, or what sexual assault even really is?

I’m the author and a trainer for Safe Smart Dating, an original program addressing sexual assault and dating abuse in Greek life on college campuses. The program is co-ed, peer-led and was created in a unique partnership between JWI, Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) and Sigma Delta Tau (SDT). Through the pilots and the feedback I’ve received, there is no doubt in my mind that college students desperately need (and even want!) guidance, non-judgmental information and structured time to actually talk about sex, consent and relationships.

Most people do not connect their own sexual behaviors to the spectrum of sexual assault. As a society, we tend to think about sexual assault as violent rape of a stranger, maybe somewhere seedy like a back alley, and it’s easy to think “well, I’d never do something like that!” and make our own sexual behaviors seem incredibly distant from something as horrible as rape. It is eye opening when young people learn that – while violent rape and stranger rape do exist – sexual assault is any sexual activity that takes place without the explicit consent of the recipient, and that most sexual assault is perpetrated by an intimate partner and/or someone the victim knows and trusts. Having sex with someone who is passed out or very drunk, refusing to wear a condom, and assuming everything’s fine because no one has yelled “no!” are all forms of sexual assault.

One major focus of the program is shifting the framework from “no means no” to “yes means yes,” guiding students to seek enthusiasm from a partner rather than begrudging consent. Whether it is with one person after marriage or with a different partner every night, sex should be consensual, pleasurable, something both parties feel they had control over and wanted. By the time the question becomes “okay, but was it really sexual assault?” there is already a problem; everyone should be looking for an enthusiastic partner who wants to have sex in the first place.

The student participants tell me that this framework is very different, very new – and very helpful. One girl literally took a picture of a slide showing ways non-consent can look to share, and told me, “It really clicked. The ‘yes means yes.’”

In the post-session surveys, students were asked to write in what they learned that was new. Men’s responses included: “I learned that it is best to explicitly ask for consent. ‘Blurred lines’ are not okay,” “Sexual abuse does not just include rape but any unwanted interaction,” and “I learned how consent is more than just not hearing no.”

Female student responses included: “Not being able to say no doesn’t mean a ‘yes,’ so one has to ask for a positive answer before continuing,” “I learned sexual assault is more than just rape,” and “I learned that sexual assault is not played up in any way, shape, or form. It is real.”

This was new information, learned for the first time through this program.

Safe Smart Dating is a valuable first step and conversation-starter, but so much needs to be done on college campuses to address the structural, cultural and individual contributors to this epidemic as well as create effective systems for reporting, supporting survivors and punishing perpetrators. Today, the Obama Administration took a bold step and launched the Not Alone initiative, a truly groundbreaking project from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault that makes preventing and addressing sexual assault on campuses a national priority.

With the shocking numbers of sexual assaults on college campuses – one in five undergraduate women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault before she graduates – it’s about time. 

People just need to start thinking about it. And talking. And acting.

Dana Fleitman is JWI’s manager of prevention and training programs.

Read JWI’s statement on the administration’s new sexual assault on campus initiative.

You Don’t Need it “All,” You Just Need a Sofa

This post originally appeared on Double Booked, a blog from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

By Lori Weinstein, JWI

I had done it all: worked full time, part-time, downtown, from home, started my own business, even ran someone else’s business. From the time that my son was born, through the births of his two sisters and through their early childhoods, I was engaged in the chaos of career building in an inhospitable environment to prioritize parenting over work. I searched for balance (a fiction that I was well aware of) but my main priority was to be 100% mom while being the best employee as I could be.

I needed a career that was flexible enough to accommodate the single most important aspiration of my life – being a mother. Looking back on it now, it is funny how things have changed in a generation. Back then, flexible workplaces, benefit packages for less than 40 hours a week of work, and ascending any sort of career ladder when one prioritized family life was a self-inflicted tactic for career derailment.

I write this knowing something that is both true and ironic – having children and making a career out of a dedicated feminist framework created moments of irreconcilable conflicts.

For a period of time, the mom in me won out. I never missed a soccer practice, was part of a co-op nursery school, led the brownie troop, was a room parent, and hosted regular, energetic gatherings of half a dozen kids for play dates, sleepovers and fun outings. I had the mom role down and as far as my children could tell, work never got in the way of their lives – just mine! I worked all around the edges of their lives and they never doubted that I’d be there for carpool, gymnastics, and baseball practice.

Then an offer arrived that changed our family forever. It forced us to bend to a different formation, yet ultimately deepened our roots and strengthened our foundation. I was offered the opportunity of lifetime to lead the re-engineering of a century-old Jewish women’s organization that sought to take the brave steps of reinvention in order to be vibrant force in the 21st century. Its mission was my passion – ending violence against women and girls. It offered me all that I could have wanted, but it was beyond a full-time job. It was a round-the-clock-job. I traveled often, the hours were long and I was in Israel three times a year. My part-time work life came to an end.

I remember how upset my children were when I started my new job. Living in a community of mostly stay-at-home-moms, they felt cheated that I was no longer home for carpools, cupcake baking and play dates. One day I had been home and then, just like that, I disappeared from 8 am to 8 pm – returning to cook dinners that often didn’t begin until they should have been in bed. I wondered about the damage I might be doing, about the things that I was missing, about how difficult it is to not be there when one of your children needs your love, your counsel, and your affection.

If there was one thing that saved the day during this transition from mostly-home-mom to mostly-gone-mom, it was my sofa. A large and loving sofa with muted colors and beautiful flowers waited for me to arrive home every day. When the chaos of getting home set in – I simply moved my 9-, 7- and 4-year-olds over to the sofa where the decibel level quickly dropped, and where each person got to share the high and low point of their day snuggled and nurtured by our sofa.

Here is my advice to everyone who feels double-booked: give up on balance, know your kids will survive, probably thrive, and they will go on to admire the life you are leading by example. Oh, and buy yourself a large and loving sofa – something that can contain the noise, hold the love and bring everyone back together after a day apart.

Lori Weinstein is the CEO/Executive Director of JWI, an organization committed to fostering women’s leadership and protecting the rights of all women and girls to live in safe homes and thrive in healthy relationships. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, and has three grown children and two young golden retrievers.

This blog is part of a special RACBlog series, “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century,” dealing with the many issues that affect working families, and featuring everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.

The Fearless Women of Passover

By Jordana Gilman

Moses gets most of the press when it comes to Passover, the epic story of freedom from slavery we are commanded to repeat every year around this time. Moses is the Prince of Egypt, the Prophet, the face of the Israelites. He gets credit for being God’s agent, for raising his staff to split the Red Sea and for leading the Israelites out of bondage.

But who gets credit for Moses?

There is a saying that “behind every great man, there is a great woman.” In this case, there’s a whole softball team of great women behind Moses. And these women had no reassuring chats with God in a burning bush, no magic rods, no plagues to back them up. These women were just fearless.

First, there were the women who gave Moses life. These were the midwives who did not follow Pharaoh’s command to put all newborn Israelite boys to death. As Rashi understands it, Pharaoh gave this command to Yoheved (Moses’ mother) and Miriam (his sister) directly, and they directly disobeyed, allowing the baby boys to live. This included Moses.

Then, there were the women who saved Moses’ life. This was Pharaoh’s own daughter, who found the floating baby Moses and recognized him as “one of the children of the Hebrews” and had compassion on him (Exodus 2: 5). She raised him as her own, knowing from day one that Moses was alive because her father’s orders were disobeyed. Then came Moses’ wife, Zipporah. In one of the Torah’s most mysterious dramas, an angel of death swallows half of Moses’ body while they are camped in the desert, and Zipporah recognizes this as a sign to circumcise her son. “So Zipporah took a sharp stone and severed her son’s foreskin and cast it to his feet” in order to save Moses’ life (Exodus 4:25). This tale of “the bridegroom of blood” is an often overlooked example of Zipporah’s bravery and quick-thinking.

Finally, after Moses has led the people of Israel on a dangerous, miraculous, and utterly exhausting chase through the desert and the sea, Miriam sees the people are in need of a pick-me-up. “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances” (Exodus 15:20). Miriam’s energy was contagious, and all the women joined in without being asked. Miriam’s selfless style of leading by example and inspiring people to action through her own enthusiasm is a model for all of us.

So this year, when you tell your children of our exodus from Egypt, don’t forget to give credit to the fearless women in the Passover story who made it possible.

And may you love life like the midwives, be brave like Yoheved, have the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter, be quick-witted as Zipporah, and exuberant like Miriam. 



Jordana Gilman graduated Cornell University this January and will be attending SUNY Upstate Medical University in the fall.

Children’s Author Laurel Snyder Shares Her Favorite Book for Kids

Author Laurel SnyderLaurel Snyder is the author, most recently, of Seven Stories Up, a middle-grade novel set in 1937 Baltimore. Her last picture book, The Longest Night: A Passover Story, was awarded the Sydney Taylor Book Award. She shares her favorite children’s book, which she would love to see donated as part of the NLI:

The Ballet Shoes book cover

“There are so many books I’ve loved and reread over the years. But the book most deeply embedded in my brain is Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield. It’s the unlikely story of three orphans collected by an eccentric archaeologist, then raised by his niece and her governess, and forced onto the stage as professional dancers.

I don’t know exactly what I love about it so much. It’s got bits of humor, and some moments that really capture what it’s like to be a kid. But maybe the best thing is that it makes history dazzle. The frocks and cakes and borders in the old house. I love books that really give readers a sense of the past.”

All it takes is a $7 donation to bring joy to a child in need through the gift of books like this one recommended by Laurel Snyder. Show some love in the final days of the month and donate to JWI’s National Library Initiative February Book Drive.

Lisa Eisen’s Favorite Children’s Book

Lisa Eisen

Jewish Women International’s National Library Initiative transforms rooms in domestic violence shelters into children’s libraries – creating both brand-new educational resources and safe havens for kids escaping violent homes.

Lisa Eisen, National Director of the Schusterman Family Foundation and 2013 JWI Woman to Watch, tells us the book she loves most and would like to see donated:

Harold and the Purple Crayon book cover“My favorite children’s book is Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, because it is about discovery and imagination. The story speaks to the possibility of creating a world of your own and fulfilling your own vision. I love the simplicity and the power of the way this message is delivered by Harold and his crayon.”

All it takes is a $7 donation to bring joy to a child in need through the gift of books. Show some love and donate to JWI’s National Library Initiative February Book Drive.


Battling Sexual Assault on Campus From the Ground Up

By Jordana Gilman

As a third year resident advisor (RA) at Cornell University, I was asked to help with a special part of new RA training at the beginning of the year called “Behind Closed Doors,” a program that simulates difficult situations and asks new RAs to deal with them as if they were the real thing. My assignment was to sit in an empty dorm room and explain to the new RA, over the course of about 25 minutes, that I had been sexually assaulted. I was given a script, and the health center’s victim advocate sat in the room with me to facilitate a debrief after each RA tackled this tough conversation.

Although this was a simulation and I was merely playing a part, the experience wore on me as I performed this scenario over and over again. I heard myself saying, “I feel so alone,” or “I’m not really sure what happened,” and “I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t really say no either.” My acting debut became less of an act as I embodied my part and came face to face with my own blurry consent conversations.

The rest of RA training passed, with Orientation Week and the first few days of school. Then, as I was standing in Rosh Hashanah services, I felt a nagging inside me rather than the usual joy that the new year brings. I made an appointment with the victim advocate after my apples and honey nosh.

By the time Yom Kippur rolled around, I was feeling empowered. The victim advocate had given me the vocabulary I needed to understand my experience, and I had the confidence to own my choices. Months before, when I had a sexual encounter that didn’t feel right and didn’t come with consent, my friends jumped to conclusions. Their accusations that I had been assaulted, although not directed at me, hurt me deeply. I felt that something had gone awry, but I didn’t feel assaulted. The victim advocate (which, by the way, is a free, confidential, walk-in service) listened to my story and offered ways for me to look at it. I left feeling clean and light, free of the shame I had endured for months because my friends told me I had been assaulted and I didn’t do anything about it.

While I have been able to learn from this and move forward, I am well aware that many conversations in the victim advocate’s office don’t have the same sunny outcome. The more I open up about this topic, the more I realize just how many people have experienced sexual encounters that leave them feeling violated, used, or assaulted.

On the bright side, Cornell University (and many others!) are taking great strides. Cornell recently revamped its sexual assault policy in a proactive effort to support victims. There are a number of social media campaigns being spearheaded by students, most notably the Every1 Campaign, a creative and interactive online project that generates conversations about consent. Countless attempts have been made to change campus culture and increase bystander intervention, such as the Cayuga’s Watchers program, a student-run, independent, not-for-profit organization established to curb issues associated with high-risk drinking at Cornell University using non-confrontational bystander intervention techniques. Blue light phones and shuttles to and from the libraries abound. Students, administrators, and law enforcement are working together on all sides of this issue to protect students and reduce sexual assault at Cornell.

So what’s happening? We know how a consent conversation should go. We know there are options for getting home safely and we know that the policies have our backs. We’re highly educated, motivated and, though I can’t speak for everyone, we make good life decisions.

So how did I end up having non-consensual unprotected sex, and why did it take me nine months to talk to a professional about it?

I wish I had the answer to this question, and I wish I could take that answer and implant it on a chip in people’s brains so they can learn from my experiences. I wish that the convincing, eye-catching social media campaigns could jump out of the computer as I sit down on the bed with someone and remind me of everything I already know. I wish that the wise words on flyers in the dorm bathroom stalls didn’t fade into the background after the third time I sat down to pee.

I do not have a cure-all for sexual assault on college campuses, but I have an idea about where we can start. Let me preface this by saying I do not think that people who have had traumatizing sexual experiences should discuss them before they are ready. But I think we need to talk about rape and sexual assault, in person, face to face, with boys and girls, students and adults, in a serious and supportive way. We can’t rely on hypothetical, feel-good online campaigns or administrative policies to change decisions in the bedroom.

It will never be comfortable, but broaching these topics directly with friends of all genders and sexualities is an important step in preventing it. This is not solely a women’s issue or a straight issue or a young issue. It doesn’t matter if you wrote the book on safe and healthy sex or if you’re a virgin or if you’re in a committed relationship. Sexual assault can happen and we have the power to talk about it openly and honestly.

Since I am no expert in this field, I can only speak from my own experience. I can report that as I have opened up more about what happened to me, friends around me have started to open up too – about experiences they’re unsure about, nights they can’t remember, regrets or fears they have. I have been able to suggest that they go speak to the victim advocate, or merely tell them, from the bottom of my heart, that it is not their fault.

I think the scariest thing about sexual assault on campus is the feeling that you are alone; that there’s no one to talk to, no one who can really understand what happened (because you might not even understand yourself), no one who can be there unconditionally, without judgment. That feeling exists at the point of giving (or not giving) consent as well. There is no one there to help you with your decision or remind you of all the smart things that the Internet tells you about empowerment and healthy conversations. I believe that talking about sexual assault will address this feeling of isolation and prepare people for difficult conversations in the real world in real time.

On the most basic level, I hope that opening up about this on a blog will not be in vain, and will encourage people who read it to be more open to having these types of conversations, to speak up when someone makes a rape joke, and to be sensitive to the unseen struggles of others.

Lynn Schusterman’s Favorite Children’s Book

JWI’s National Library Initiative transforms rooms in domestic violence shelters into children’s libraries – creating both brand-new Lynn Schustermaneducational resources and safe havens for kids escaping violent homes.

Lynn Schusterman, founder and chair of the Schusterman Family Foundation, tells JWI her favorite children’s book that she would love to see donated:

Love You Forever by Robert MunschLove You Forever by Robert Munsch is my favorite book, and I cannot read it without crying. Not only does the story describe the special relationship between a parent or grandparent and child, it also explores the power of unconditional love in enhancing  our lives and making the world a kinder, happier place.”

All it takes is a $7 donation to bring joy to a child in need through the gift of books. Show some love and donate to JWI’s National Library Initiative February Book Drive.

Spread Awareness to Stop the Violence

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month logo

By Alison Pastor, JWI

Since President Obama declared February to be national Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TDVAM) in 2012, support for the issue has been growing exponentially. Last February’s national TDVAM campaign reached more than 1.3 million young adults and teens through education and training, community outreach and social media. This January, the White House released a report on rape and sexual assault that includes current and consistent data about the prevalence sexual violence in America and the economic consequences of sexual assault, as well as descriptions of the government’s actions to reduce sexual violence and plans for further steps. And this month, the TDVAM campaign is expanding even more, educating larger populations of teens and young adults with increased outreach to local and national partners, specifically to organizations focused on violence prevention. Additional funding from the government and various organizations will help the TDVAM campaign answer the growing demand for educational programs with more resources – especially videos, webinars and other user-friendly online materials.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 1 in 5 women who ever experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking first experienced some form of violence between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. Additionally, about 70% of college students say they have been sexually coerced. Sexual assault has become an issue on college campuses nationwide; many cases go unreported and victims are often traumatized and suffer from mental disorders as a result.

My own school – the University of Maryland – is a good case study in the right way to respond: The University Health Center implemented CARE (Campus Advocates Respond & Educate) to Stop Violence to spread awareness about and prevent sexual assault on campus. The initiative works to respond to incidents of sexual assault and educate the UMD community about the prevalence of sexual violence, how to be more aware in order to prevent it, and how to respond to various situations that could potentially lead to sexual assault. CARE offers students a 24/7 crisis phone line, assistance with incidence reporting, information on how to help victims, and access to more campus resources for support. CARE also offers four educational presentations on Sexual Violence; Rape; Relationship Violence; and Stalking.

There are several ways to get involved this month:
• Wear orange show your support for the issue, and post pictures on Facebook and other social media sites using the hashtags #TDVAM and #respectweek.
• Read the National Respect Announcement on February 14th. Share it on social media or post flyers in schools, offices and community centers.
• Access various educational and outreach resources through the toolkit and sign up to receive updates about TDVAM.
• Encourage government officers to issue official proclamations recognizing and supporting TDVAM in your community.
Host an event such as a speaker, a rally or vigil, or a house party to inform community members about the teen dating violence epidemic and instruct them on how to get involved and spread awareness.
Attend a webinar to understand dating abuse and develop the tools needed to administer and engage in conversations about healthy relationships with teens.

For information on JWI’s violence against women advocacy and other women’s issues, visit JWI’s action center.


2014: Taking Action to Equalize Pay

By Alison Pastor, JWI

Jewish Women International is a champion of women’s economic security, and a vocal advocate for paycheck fairness. Our advocacy network continually urges Congress to support policies that enhance and promote women’s equal representation and compensation in the workforce. During the State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama emphasized plans to combat inequality and improve our nation’s economy, referring to 2014 as a “year of action.” Specifically, he addressed paycheck fairness and equality in the workplace for women.

“Women deserve equal pay for equal work,” he said. “Today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”

Reaffirming that 2014 will be a year of action, Obama proclaimed “This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”

Implementing equal and economically just policies for women in the workplace would also help to boost the nation’s economy overall. According to The Shriver Report, bridging the gender wage gap would add nearly half-a-trillion dollars to the national economy and boost the gross domestic product by 23 percent–double its current growth. The Report also examines obstacles that a woman may face when advocating for equal payment, including not fully understanding her worth, being unaware of how to present a counter offer, or accepting that an offer is sufficient. Additionally, if women were paid as much as their male counterparts, the US economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income.

While some progress has been made, women still face serious economic hardships. It’s 2014—high time for policies that will reinforce women’s economic security and equalize pay in the workforce. To learn how to get involved and support these and other women’s issues, visit JWI’s action center.