Power of a Bystander: It Only Takes a Little

This is slightly different from my normal posts or topics but it is so important. Bullying is a huge problem. Everywhere, in schools, the workplace, the street, on the internet. Anyone could be a bully and anyone can be bullied. It doesn’t matter what gender, sexual orientation, race, economic status, or education level a person comes from. This is something that affects all of us.

According to BullyingStatistics.org 35% of kids have been threatened online and 1 in 4 have been verbally attacked more than once.  About 77% of students admit to being the victim of some form of bullying.  One out of every 20 students have seen another student with a gun at school (2010).

70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools.  70.4% of school staff have seen bullying. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more (source).

When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time.

The video below shows not only the power of stepping in but what it looks like when someone doesn’t.

via YouTube

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When Stalking Wasn’t a Crime…

The vote in the Senate for the Violence Against Women Act is expected to pass by a wide margin.  Then it will move to the House where advocates are a little more unsure of the outcome.  This is fundamentally wrong.  In the 18 years since the inception of this piece of legislation it has never not passed.  There has never been a question of its importance.

I’ve posted a couple of times on my feelings on this act and the failure to pass it.  I will continue to do so until Congress stops acting a fool and passes it.  As an advocate for women who have experienced violence this is very important to me.  I am also very disappointed in the lack of news coverage this has received in major media outlets.  25% of women experience domestic violence in their life time.  That means that more than likely you and/or several women you know have been the victim of intimate partner violence.  This is a huge part of our population.  It should be something that is important to us as a nation.  People should intimately care about the outcomes of this vote and the fate of this act.

That being said I’d like to share with you a story that was posted on Being Feminist’s Facebook Page in January.  One of their readers shared the following story and I share it with you now with their permission:

This is a letter from one of our members who chooses to remain anonymous.

*trigger warning*

I suffered terrible abuse from a boyfriend I broke up with. He seemed nice but something was always nagging at me in the back of my head and when I finally broke up with him my nightmare began.
I broke up with him as he never respected my boundaries. I was a single full time working Mother and i tried to keep my dating him separate from my home life. I was afraid to allow any man too close to my daughter. However he started showing up at my home anyway. I did not allow him in most times but he became more and more insistent. When I broke up with him he physically assaulted me. He started stalking me everywhere. He broke my window to my apartment. I had police at my house all the time to report all the threatening calls. He even threatened to abduct my daughter from her daycare. This went on for months and despite the police going to talk to him over and over it just got worse. He had a drinking problem which was another reason he was out of control. I begged the police to press charges but they never did. Finally I found out about a law under the child protection act in Toronto Ontario where I lived. They MUST act if I child is in any physical or mental danger. I went down to the police station and had to be very forceful. I told them if anything happenend to my child I would not only sue them I would contact every media outlet that would listen! Finally they pressed charges and he was in jail for 5 days. As soon as he got out it was worse than ever. I was poor I could not just MOVE. In the end after three months of terror one night I just thought maybe if I just sleep with him one more time and blame myself for being unworthy of him etc he would be satisfied and go away. So I drank a huge bottle of wine called him up went to his house and did the DEED.

Unfortuantely I ended up pregnant and had to get an abortion. All I got from the doctor was that was a stupid thing I did! I KNOW IT WAS STUPID BUT I WAS SCARED TO DEATH! He only backed off when he found out I got pregnant. I not only had to stop paying rent so I could afford to move I ended up in court for non payment or rent, had to leave the city and it messed up my job and my career in that field.

BUT I have been blamed. I was willing…maybe but maybe not. I was desperate! I felt raped. I felt I had to give him what he wanted to keep myself and my child safe! What happened to me? Date rape?

You can share this but not my name because I wonder if I am the only woman who ever went through a stalker situation and did what I did?

PS: This took place about 18 years ago so I hope they are more vigilant regarding stalking now. I still feel like “I asked for it” in some ways but after months of being terrorized I could not think straight anymore. It did not help that I am disabled. I am legally blind so trying to avoid him was impossible. I could not see well enough to see him until he was within yards of me!”

Stalking was not always considered a crime.  That seems crazy, right?  Police had to wait for the perpetrator to commit another “real” crime before he or she could be arrested.  As stalking can escalate over time the next crime may be murder.

It was not until 1990 that the first anti-stalking law was passed in California [source].  This was a reaction to the death of Rebecca Schaeffer.  It took an actress being stalked and then murdered before “we the people” decided to do anything about it and this was only in one state.  In 1994, under the Violence Against Women Act, stalking was made a federal crime.  In 1996 this was expanded to include any type of stalking, regardless of the presence of a previous relationship or not.

1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced being stalked.  Stalkers may do anything from follow a person, or send them “gifts,” to threatening to harm a pet, friend, or family member.  Stalking is a very serious crime.  For more information please check out the Stalking Resource Center.  It is important for victims to have the knowledge to understand what is happening to them and the resources to get help.  The Violence Against Women Act made this possible.  It made people take this crime seriously.  This is only one of the many reasons it must be reauthorized.

Malala Yousafzai: A Girl with a Book

Malala Yousafzai

“At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education — she wanted to become a doctor, she said — and became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation.”

This young girl, now 14, was shot by the Taliban on a school bus full of other children this last Tuesday for speaking out.  She is now in critical condition and faces continued threats of attack.

“She knew her voice was important, so she spoke up for the rights of children. Even adults didn’t have a vision like hers,” said Samar Minallah, a documentary filmmaker who has worked among Pashtun women.

Check out these links for the full story:

Taliban Gun Down Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights

Taliban Reiterate Vow to Kill Pakistani Girl

Malala Yousafzai, the Girl Shot by the Taliban, Becomes a Global Icon

A Girl with a Book

UPDATE: Ironically (terribly) this happened during the same week as International Day of the Girl.

**If you are wondering about my absence I have been taking a break as I get down to the nitty-gritty of applying for graduate school.  I broke the hiatus because I believe this girls story is important.  Also note that I started a Facebook page.  Feel free to click around on Facebook or in the archives as I study.

How to Aid a Rapist

(I meant to make my next post about something lighter, I really did.  There are just too many idiots out there to correct.  And of course I, and I alone, have all the answers.  🙂 )

The internet is a great thing.  If I have a question all I have to do is google it.  I don’t have a television but I can still keep up to date with what’s going on in the world through the net.  It has allowed easy access to knowledge for the masses.  Whether or not the information is correct is a different story.  Which brings me to my point.

Turns out everyone has an opinion.  While we’ve always known this, the internet is able to give anyone and everyone a space to voice their opinions.  All kinds of trolls and idiots who used to only bother their friends and families with their opinions are suddenly able to spew ignorance and hate anywhere they please.  The barrier and anonymity of the computer screen also allows for dehumanization.  Not saying that every person who says something mean or spiteful online wouldn’t also do it in person, but they may think twice.  Instead of using all the potential knowledge that is at their finger tips they insist on spreading the ignorance.

Take for example the following commenter and why I am currently so angry that I keep having to pause, and refrain from saying something incredibly stupid and hurtful back.  I have learned not to read through the comments on pieces related to rape, domestic violence, and sexual assault.  They are often hurtful and intended to shame or blame the survivor.  This upsets me more than virtually anything else as it is something that I am well-educated on, have personal experience, and know several survivors.  I do not understand how there are so many misconceptions and so much ignorance around these issues.  So many of the things I hear from people are either archaic notions about a woman’s purity, or myths that have been debunked over and over again.

I was recently reading an article about how many states do not have laws against a rapist seeking parental rights if he impregnates the woman and she decides to have the baby.  This is extremely upsetting to me in and of itself and I naively thought others would be upset as well.  So, I went against my better judgement and scrolled through the comments.  Not only did people not agree with me but the comments turned towards defining what rape is and who can be raped.  That is when I came across this gem.  Pay attention to the second commenter.

Chartreuxe: “It happens: 90% of rapists get away with their crimes because of the 18th century attitudes of society. The victim is held responsible for her rape. Most rapes aren’t reported. I didn’t report mine.”

sc2pilot: “Chartreuxe: If you did not report it, then you were not raped. Failure to report is tantamount to consent. That’s all there is to it.”

Are you kidding me?!  There are so many things wrong with this statement I don’t even know where to begin.  I am so mad right now I can hardly type.  Failure to report does not equal consent.  Not even close.  It is attitudes like this that keep survivors from reporting.  The article mentions a quote from Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale,  “In a rape case it is the victim, not the defendant, who is on trial.”  The above comment proves his point perfectly.  It becomes more important to define rape and prove that there was a reason for it than supporting the survivor.

No one is responsible for the rape but the rapist.  It is the rapist who decides to rape.  It has nothing to do with the clothes, behavior, or attitude of the survivor/victim.  It does not matter if she was drunk.  It does not matter if she was high.  It does not matter if she went on a blind date.  It does not matter if they were married.  And it does not matter if she doesn’t report it.  Rape is rape.  The only person responsible for someones actions is that person.  I don’t know how to say it any clearer.  Rape is about power and control.  It is not about sex.  The rapist maintains that power and control by making the survivor afraid to report it.  This doesn’t have to be done overtly.  The rapists power over the survivor is aided by the silence and disbelief of other people.  Did you catch that?  By shaming a survivor or blaming her for what happened to her you are taking the side of the rapist.  You are helping the rapist keep the survivor down.  You are helping him to disempower her.  You are helping him to take away her voice.  You are aiding the rapist.

“Please Make it Stop:” Journalist Assaulted in Egypt

**Trigger Warning**

Lady reporters face a different kind of risk across the globe, especially in countries with political unrest.  Countries where rape is used as a weapon.  When we think about rape being used as a weapon one of the first places that comes to mind is the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Here it is a weapon of war.  But what about other countries, where there is no war, just unrest and a restlessness, or even jubilation from a president being freely elected for the first time?  Natasha Smith, a student reporter from the UK, was in Egypt covering the story.  She had male body guards with her and was caught up in the moment of excitement.  Just when she decided to leave “in a split second, everything changed.”  She found herself being drug away by an large angry mob of men.  They stole her equipment, ripped off her clothes, and tore her away from her friends.  It is only due to the kindness of a few strangers that she survived.

Read her interview with CNN.

She later recounts the experience on her blog.  She remembers thinking “please God. Please make it stop. Please God. Please make it stop.”  And yet after this terrifying experience that no one should ever had people are criticizing her.  If you do choose to read her story on her blog I gently warn you about the comments section.  There is a lot of support for her but there is also a lot of bigotry, Islamaphobia, hate, and victim blaming.  Why is it that when something happens that we don’t understand or don’t have an adequate explanation for we turn to hate.  I would say it is out of fear most of the time though that is absolutely no excuse.  I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, victim blaming is not okay.  A person is responsible for their own actions.  A rapist is responsible for raping, the victim, or survivor is never responsible.  They deserve support, and even if you cannot understand, they need empathy.  It will be hard enough processing through the assault without the judgmental assumptions and intolerance of the people around them.  Let a survivor heal, on their own terms, and in their own way.  Support and love, that is what’s needed the most.

Denim Day: Jeans with Purpose

I ran across an article today that talked about “Denim Day.”  Having never heard of it I decided to do some research.  Turns out Denim Day is a way to show support for victims of rape and sexual assault, bring awareness to the issue, and stop victim blaming.

The inspiration for this day of awareness comes from a crime that happened in Italy in the 1990s.  A teenage girl is starting her very first driving lesson.  She is picked up by her older, male instructor.  He takes her out to an isolated area and rapes her.  He then makes her drive home and swear not to tell anyone.  Later that night she tells her parents.  They help her to press charges and the instructor is convicted of rape and sentenced to jail.

He appeals and it makes it all the way to the Italian Supreme Court.  There the case is overturned and dismissed.  The judge’s reasoning is that, “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”

Women in the Italian parliament were outraged and almost immediately, within hours, protested by wearing jeans to work.  From there the movement spread.

This is an amazing example of how people can be motivated to band together after an incredible injustice.  People recognized how wrong it was to blame the victim.  Unfortunately there are people who would have agreed with the statement made by the Chief Justice.  Those people are still around today.  They are the ones who say the survivor was raped because she had a plunging neckline, or her clothes were too tight, or she looked “loose,” or wiggled her hips too much when she walked, or because she was alone on a dark street, or she didn’t struggle enough, or scream loud enough, or didn’t tell anyone right away, or any other number of reasons.  The victim blaming has to stop and I love the idea of wearing jeans to do it.

Turns out the next Denim Day is April 25th, this upcoming Wednesday.  I for one plan on participating (though I almost always wear jeans, so I’ll have to be creative).  I would love to hear from you about what you think of this awareness tactic, and if you participate what the experience is like for you.

The following website is done by Peace Over Violence and contains a lot more information.  I encourage you to check it out.

Mandating Good Parenting?

“Can Motherhood be Criminalized?” by Kathy McManus

(Click on the link above to go to the article)

My Thoughts:

“She has a fundamental right to reproduce, so I couldn’t order her to be sterilized. But she can be forced to forfeit certain fundamental rights.”

I have conflicting emotions about this article.  Of course child abuse is wrong and we should do everything humanly possible to prevent it.  But on the other hand is taking away a woman’s right to reproduce the answer?  Then, I asked myself if the judge was sentencing a man to forfeit his right to reproduce would I be as conflicted and upset?  The answer: probably not.  That’s when I knew I needed to take a deeper look.

I have often thought that there are some people who should just not be able to reproduce, whether I am joking around after hearing a story about something incredibly stupid someone did, or listening to a woman’s story at work about her childhood.  I find myself upset at irresponsible and neglectful parents.  This is normal and I believe the appropriate response.  I do not know whether or not it is “hardwired” into us as a culture to want to protect our children, but there is something deep inside of me that reacts when I think about a child being the recipient of any type of violence.  There should be serious repercussions for perpetrators of child abuse.

On the other hand, there is so much more at play in a story, and when we do not know the whole thing we need to be careful with our judgements.  What is known about domestic violence is that it is very complicated.  Maybe the fact that men are more likely to be perpetrators is why I would have an easier time agreeing with the sentence if the recipient was a man.  It might also have to do with the fact that I am a woman and can more easily identify with the woman in the article.  I still wouldn’t wholly agree, but it would be easier to accept.  Either way, I wonder if restricting a person’s reproductive rights (and/or ability) is the right course of action.  This seems to be bordering on something much more dangerous and is beginning to sound a little Brave New World(y)…

Thoughts from you?