From August 29th through 31st, Polly McDaniel, Director of Business Development, and Eliisa Laitila, Solutions Expert Team Lead, will both attend the 2018 National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) in Anaheim, CA.
We first attended this national conference in 2017, though organizations that address sexual violence and help sexual assault survivors have long been a part of the iCarol family. Our first experience at NSAC last year was exciting and inspiring; we were thrilled by the number of talented and passionate advocates we met. They do invaluable work toward awareness, breaking the silence around rape and sexual assault, preventing violence, and helping survivors heal. In the year that followed we welcomed a number of new organizations serving this space into the iCarol network of users. We’re eager to attend the conference again this year so we can meet more people doing this amazing work, reconnect with those we met earlier, and show everyone some of the latest solutions we offer to enhance service delivery to survivors.
So, if you’re going to be at the NSAC conference, please stop by our booth in the Platinum 5 exhibit room and say “hello.” We’re looking forward to the opportunity to answer your questions and hear more about the amazing work you’re doing for sexual violence survivors in your community and beyond.
If you think the media does a poor job covering sexual violence today, check out how it was done 45 years ago, when BARCC was founded. Few media outlets wrote about sexual assault and when they did, the language is rudimentary and lacks nuance—a direct reflection of the fact that up until the rape crisis center movement of the 1970s, U.S. society had yet to grapple in a meaningful way with an epidemic of sexual violence that we are still living with today.
The Boston Globe’s coverage of BARCC’s opening consists of six short paragraphs devoid of context, statistics, survivor stories, or even quotes from the founders. The piece assumes that the only people in need of services are women.
Fortunately, as survivors and advocates broke the silence surrounding sexual violence and educated the public, law enforcement, policy makers, and the media on the issue, our vocabulary expanded and made its way to the mainstream. Now, major media outlets consider nuances like when to use the term “survivor” rather than “victim.” Journalism watchdogs and other stakeholders have created resources to aid reporters in reporting on sexual violence. Colleges and universities publish vocabulary lists to contextualize their sexual assault response and prevention work, defining terms like “affirmative consent” and “bystander intervention” for the campus community. And social media is amplifying the unfiltered voices of hundreds of thousands of survivors through viral phenomena like the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BelieveSurvivors movements.
But change like this takes time, and we see evidence of that in coverage of sexual violence through the years. Consider this 1977 headline from a Boston Globe front page story:
Written early in her career by Judy Foreman, now the author of several books and a highly regarded medical specialist and science writer, the piece opens: “Rape isn’t supposed to happen to nice, quiet people who leave the city for the suburbs. Even more important, rape is not supposed to be talked about, even if it happens. That kind of hysteria is for city people.”
Buried deeper in the story was the less sensational—and more important—truth of the matter: “What is clearly happening is that the taboos surrounding rape and sexual assault, the shrouds of silence in which rape was hidden in suburbia, are falling away under the combined pressure of new state laws and the growing demand for rape crisis services.”
In July 1981, the biased and myth-laden media coverage of a case in which three Boston physicians were convicted of raping a nurse prompted BARCC to hold a press conference to point out problems with the reporting. Among other complaints, BARCC’s Aileen O’Neill blasted the media for identifying and sympathizing with the defendants while ignoring the “effects of rape and the trial experience on the woman,” according to Globe coverage of the press conference.
A week before the press conference, for example, the Globe had published a story headlined, “For 3 Doctors, Future Is Uncertain,” that detailed the financial, employment, and personal troubles that had befallen the convicted rapists, quoting their attorneys and family members—including a parent who portrayed his son as the victim: “The stigma, the emotion, the trauma, is something you can’t forget,” he said of his son’s rape conviction.
Of course, we still see this focus on the harm done to perpetrators when they are held to account for their actions. The most prominent recent example is probably that of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University student who was convicted of having raped a 23-year-old woman on the school’s campus in 2015. Turner’s father petitioned the court to sentence him to probation, writing, “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Although his crime was punishable by up to 14 years in prison, the judge in the case sentenced Turner to six months (he served just three), citing the “severe impact” that prison would have on Turner.
More favorable shifts in tone and balance were evident by the 1990s and 2000s, when media championed the privacy rights of sexual assault survivors who sought mental health treatment as part of their recovery. Coverage of the issue was prompted by a Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling in favor of making survivors’ records available to defendants in a 1991 ruling and another 2000 decision prompted by BARCC’s refusal to hand over a rape victim’s records to her accuser.
With each ruling, in addition to reporting that focused primarily on how the ruling would affect sexual assault survivors as opposed to how it would serve defendants, media gave ample space to critics of the decisions.
After the 1991 ruling, Boston Globe columnist Bella English wrote a scathing critique that featured the voices of survivors and advocates, including then–BARCC Executive Director Sharon Vardatira. The “dubious ruling” robbed survivors of hard-won privacy rights, English wrote. “A defense attorney is not going to subpoena a victim’s psychiatric record to ‘determine if she had motive to lie,’ as the SJC naively believes. A defense attorney is looking for dirt, period, whether it’s relevant or not.”
After the ruling against BARCC in 2000, the Globe not only published an op-ed by then–BARCC Executive Director Charlene Allen, it also editorialized that the SJC had “unnecessarily lowered the bar for protecting” the privacy rights of rape victims against due-process claims by defendants. “What happens now?” asked the Globe. “To protect clients, crisis centers may keep even less detailed written records, so they have less to surrender—even though this threatens to hurt the continuity of care.”
Such concern for sexual assault survivors is a far cry from sympathetic coverage of convicted rapists. Though we still have far to go in dismantling a culture that enables sexual violence, it’s clear that the conversation about sexual assault has shifted in a direction more favorable to survivors.
Today, BARCC is a go-to source for reporters covering issues related to sexual violence. We regularly share our expertise in media outlets, including national publications like the Hill and Huffington Post, as well as local outlets like NBC Boston, WBUR, and of course, the Globe.
And though we need to do it less now than in the past, we speak up against unbalanced or misleading coverage when we see it—because continuing the conversation is how culture change happens.
This article first appeared on the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) website and is reprinted with permission from the staff at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. The views and opinions expressed in guest blogs are those of the guest blog author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol.
The offense of sexual trauma can be debilitating against anyone. Whether male or female, the crippling effects can be the same when it comes to how a victim internalizes and ultimately handles the healing processes as well the aftermath of the trauma. The offense can be an actual rape, sexual assault, harassment, child abuse and/or molestation, incest, drug facilitated assault, intimate partner sexual violence, or any other form of unwanted sexual offense that violates one’s privacy and respect of their personal space while threatening the protection of their person as it is certain to create a victim in every circumstance.
Although these offenses are committed against the victim it is the victim that takes on the daunting responsibility of not revealing the crimes against them or as society loosely translates it “keeping silent” of the heinous things that have transpired. Many may say this almost sounds ridiculous as to why would a victim “keep silent” about such things performed against them especially those individuals that “keep silent” for extended periods of times even decades later. What are they hiding? What are they afraid of? Why didn’t they tell it then? Why are they protecting their perpetrator? These are just some of the questions that society haphazardly throws at victims without even thinking of how much greater the evil versus the good while asking these type of questions, and I can promise you it’s like you’re throwing daggers into their stories while piercing their souls at the same time.
There was a practice that is noted first in Scotland then later in England in the 1500’s called “scolding” or “branking.” It was where a scold’s bridle, sometimes called a witch’s or brank’s bridle, was used as an instrument of punishment or as a form of torture and public humiliation. The device itself was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head with a bridle bit projected into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue. Although it may have been used on men, this form of punishment was primarily used on women whose speech was deemed “riotous” or “troublesome” so the bridle would prevent them from speaking publicly. It is noted that when the brank is placed on the “gossiper’s” head that they would be led through town to show that they had committed an offense or “talked” too much. This was in fact to humiliate them into repenting their “riotous” actions. Then not only did they have the audacity to place a spike inside the gag to prevent any talking since obviously any movement of the mouth would cause severe piercing of the tongue, but in some locations, branks would be permanently displayed by publicly attaching them, for example, to the town cross or tolbooth as displaying the branks in public was intended to remind the populace of any rash action or slander.
Unfortunately it appears that this practice of “branking” is still happening today in present day society although an actual scold’s bridle may be invisible to the human eye it still carries the same mental torment and public humiliation. Many victims walk around with a forced bit in their mouths to keep silent of the sexual offenses committed against them. A victim of sexual violence is led to believe that if they speak out against the crime against them or against their offender that some form of retaliation and or humiliation would ultimately lead to the discrediting of their reputation or an untimely demise. When we tell a victim that we do not believe them as they attempt to come forward with their account of incidents we are telling them that they are indeed “riotous” in their public speech. When we silence a victim by intimidation and dare them to speak publicly against their offenders, no matter how powerful or prestigious their offenders may be, we are giving them the impression that they are “troublesome” in their actions.
The real crime is how society stands idly by as victims are shamed in public humiliation not only afraid to share the truth but literally dared to speak the truth against their offenders. While you are wondering what victims are hiding you should be wondering what they are not revealing, because with the unwelcomed gawks and stares of the unbelieving public, along with the mental excruciating pain from the “invisible” spike inside the gag, has caused them to shut down in the midst of speaking their truths. So I ask you, if you knew that your fate was destined to be permanent public degradation for reporting a sex crime against you must we still ask, what are sexual assault victims afraid of or why don’t they report their crimes sooner? I am sure that no one wants to be muzzled because they are considered “gossipers” that “talk too much” then basically forced to repent and/or recant their truths. This was not an equitable form of justice back in the 1500’s and it most definitely not an equitable form of justice now in the 21th Century.
Victims of sexual violence did not want, ask or desire to be traumatized. As there is no glory in allowing an individual to take your virtue by force, violate your body and space without permission, rob you of your innocence while making you question your self-worth then at the same time lose your identity. The time is now that we turn public humiliation into crowd participation by helping victims everywhere remove the “branks” from their heads and the “bits” from their mouths and that is with our support as we encourage them to continue to come forward and speak up and out publicly against sexual violence and offences against them. When a victim looks into the public’s eyes it is imperative that compassion and concern is displayed as the forces of evil always seem greater in the eyes of their offender and it is here that they seem to lose all hope when they feel that they stand alone against predatory giants.
Since when is speaking the truth supposed to cause open shame? Since when did a person that wants to be released from their physical torment not released at all because they have to live with the mental torment for the rest of their lives? Since when does the public have the power to keep a victim victimized? Since when does a violent sexual predator get the opportunity to intimidate and silence his victims?
Only compassion can offer comfort in the midst of these present dehumanizing times as we are definitely dwelling in a land among predatory giants. Sexual violence has no place here yet it exists and speaking up publicly against it is unusual yet it continues. However, I am still confident that we will win the fight against sexual violence as it was merely a stone that killed Goliath. Or, in other words, as long as we continue to stand in courage and face our giants, whether standing in public humiliation with lacerated tongues, scandalized names while being questioned by many, sometimes even our loved ones, we will slay these sexual predator giants that dwell among us.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol
The following blog post discusses the topic of sexual violence and harassment.
Dozens of women have recently come forward with sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a movie mogul and producer. While it’s unclear if any formal criminal charges will be filed as a result, Weinstein has so far lost his job at The Weinstein Company and was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The stories being shared in the wake of these allegations reignite an international conversation about sexual violence, particularly the prevalence of violence against women. Experiences of sexual violence or harassment are extremely difficult to talk about. Survivors often feel pressure to remain silent about what happened. Trauma, fear of not being believed, being shamed/blamed, fear of retaliation or further violence, and other potential consequences keep many from telling someone or reporting crimes. Many people don’t realize or perhaps don’t believe that this sort of harassment and abuse is widespread and unfortunately a fairly universal experience for women in particular.
Tonight, the hashtag #MeToo went viral, bringing attention and opening eyes to just how prevalent these experiences are. It began with a tweet by actor Alyssa Milano, who resurrected a movement originally started years ago by an activist named Tarana Burke.
While it originated on Twitter, the posts and hashtag quickly spread to other social media platforms like Facebook.
So far, several thousand people are posting, sometimes simply sharing the hashtag as a way to acknowledge their experience without sharing any details. Others are sharing their stories. It’s too soon to know how much of an impact these stories might have on the broader conversation about sexual violence, including how we can eliminate it. But it’s clear that people are feeling safer discussing it online when surrounded by others telling their stories. Perhaps this solidarity, in such large numbers, can bring about positive change.