Yes means know

[Excerpts from]
Yes means know: Respect, ravishment, and the non-con job of being a wanton woman
A conversation with the best in the bizz about consent, slut-shaming and “Guys We F*cked”
By Emily Jordan   Salon

 Of course, James has always been a radical. Or at least, she’s lived what her many loyal fans call her “double life.” Her father is poet and author Robert Bly. After graduating from Harvard University, James got her M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale, eventually becoming a Shakespeare professor. She’s also published a whopping 26 romance novels, 23 of which have hit the bestseller list. Her newest novel, the brightly entertaining “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” about a woman who runs an agency for governesses and against her better judgment, falls for a demanding rake, was just released in January and hit the NYT and USA Today Bestseller lists. Its central plot point, a sexy kidnapping, is the focus of our meeting. How does one write things like kidnappings responsibly and yet still keep the heat? What are the ways that this trope has evolved over time? And whatever happened to the alpha brutes? Are they so 2007?

“Our culture continues to change in terms of eroticism,” James informs me, futzing in her bag. “On one level, it has something to do with economics — we’re all exhausted! It’s the ‘Fifty Shades’ question: how far would you go for someone who’s solvent and owns a car? Because in a contemporary romance, the girl can make love to 15 people. The parameters are defined by her. This is refreshing and fun to see. But in a historical romance, for instance, which is what I write, slut-shaming isn’t a viable thing. Because there’s no space in which you wouldn’t be shamed in the Regency period. It’s like being gay before the Wilde trials. You can’t say ‘gay’ in Shakespeare’s time. These words— slut-shaming, rape, gay— didn’t have the meaning and impact that they do today. You have to remember how culturally specific sex is. When Keats says ‘shagging’ we don’t know what he means. We think of ‘Austin Powers’ but that isn’t it.”

In other words, if you once obsessed about the incestuous flowers in V.C. Andrews’ infamous attic, or followed Luke and Laura over the summer with “General Hospital,” the sticky pickle of soft-pedaling sexual assault has possibly fallen on literary hard times. Or has it?

For starters, if you live in a culture where women are chattel and have no agency, a woman is an entropic force. She is merely a dowry. She can only give birth to the people who get to own the property and then quietly die. She is even not a separate gender, but the absence of maleness defined for and by men. So the assertion, or rather, insertion, of maleness through marriage or, in the worst case scenario, rape or war, is a negation of the woman’s absence by filling her. She can neither grant nor take away consent. This is the rub.

It makes sense, therefore why the honorific ‘Ms.’ was so essential to Gloria Steinem and all the other white second-wave feminists as a redefinition of women’s social identity. It was no longer “who squirted me into my mother?” or “who’s squirting other people into me?” Suddenly, you had your feminism. What’s more, the Pill became widely available. At first glance it would seem that “bodice rippers” (a term no longer in parlance for obvious reasons) were a secret bedroom backlash against the “The Feminine Mystique” and “the Female Eunuch.”

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Hutchinson throws in, “I added the tagline, “The Anti Slut-Shaming Podcast” because we like to do comedy with a purpose as often as possible. Using humor is the best way to make a statement and have that statement really sink into your brain to make you think or reassess. I love talking about sex and was always so turned off the the clinical, dry approach most people use when approaching the topic. So many people have a stick up their ass when it comes to talking about sexuality, which makes sense given how little we hear candid, overly honest conversations about it.”

“I feel like ‘slut’ is a very vague concept,” Fisher continues. “Once you really know a human being, it’s hard to think of them as any shitty word and that goes for all words with historically negative connotations. When you hear a person’s story, their actions make a lot more sense — sexual stories are no different. Our intention was to be very honest about what we’ve done without apologizing for it. Slut-shaming is thinking less of someone, usually a woman, for the amount of sex, sexual partners, and kind of sex she has. I also think the real power in slut-shaming comes from creating a cloud of shame around people so they can be controlled. Once a person is free in any way (including sexually), they are less easily controlled. And that’s no good. Especially for women.”

For Sarah MacLean, the idea of “policing women’s kink,” is the worst kind of feminism. Yet the romance writer’s job is still to pepper consent markers throughout any sex scene or even prior. In other words, no means no, but by all means, talk dirty to me! Another method is establishing clearly delineated boundaries and safe words, as in Lilah Pace’s controversial “Asking for It”—a novel in which the protagonist has fantasies of being raped and chooses to enact them safely with a partner— or other romance novels that push the boundaries of sexual consent, (like pretty much all the books on your bookshelf by any Western author, because, rape culture).

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Some Good News for Sexual-Assault Victims

“You matter. What happened to you matters.”

The Department of Justice announced more than $38 million in funding on Monday to help state and local agencies address the backlog of untested sexual-assault kits. The funding, part of a national initiative launched last year, will go toward increasing the inventory and the testing of kits, training law enforcement officers on sexual-assault investigations, helping police departments collect DNA that could lead to the identification of serial sex offenders, as well as several other efforts.

Sexual-assault kits, more commonly known as rape kits, are the DNA swabs, hair, photographs, and detailed information gathered from victims of sexual assault and used as evidence for the prosecution of rapists. The forensic exam can often be long—from four to six hours—and, as activists note, invasive, but it can provide key evidence for identifying assailants. But getting the contents of a rape kit tested is expensive, costing between $1,000 and $1,500 on average. Lack of funding in police departments, as well as murky protocols around testing, has created a backlog of more than 400,000 untested kits across the country, according to a 2015 estimate. As a result, victims may never see their cases prosecuted, and serial rapists could go on to commit more crimes. New York, among other states, is still in the process of counting the number of untested kits it has, while others simply do not know how many untested kits there are, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation’s Accountability Project.

This round of funding could go a long way toward helping cities and police departments close cases, identify serial offenders, and better handle sexual-assault cases in the future. (Last fiscal year, the DOJ awarded nearly $80 million in grants to state and local agencies in 27 states, but there are still states that have yet to participate in the initiative.) After Detroit received a pilot grant to test rape kits, its police department has been able to make DNA matches, identify potential serial rapists, and secure convictions against perpetrators. In a 2011-13 DOJ-funded study on rape kit testing in Detroit, researchers had found that in many cases, law enforcement stopped investigating cases after minimal effort and were biased in how they conducted sexual assault investigations, with officers expressing “negative, victim-blaming beliefs about sexual assault victims.” The DOJ later released guidance on how police departments could better address gender biases in how they investigate sexual assault and domestic violence. A study this June by Case Western Reserve University of nearly 5,000 rape kits collected in and near Cleveland found that serial rapists are more common than previous research has suggested.

Maile M. Zambuto, CEO of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a sexual-assault advocacy organization, applauded the new funding in a statement. “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence,” she said. “You matter. What happened to you matters.”

Bill Cosby To Face Criminal Charges For Sexual Assault

Bill Cosby To Face Criminal Charges For Sexual Assault
by Zack Ford  ThinkProgress   12.30.15

Bill Cosby -Credit AP/Phelan M EB

Bill Cosby -Credit AP/Phelan M EB

Prosecutors announced Wednesday morning that Bill Cosby will face criminal charges for a sexual assault he allegedly committed in 2004 against a former Temple University employee. He is expected to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.

Kevin Steele, First Assistant District Attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, explained the charges at a press conference. The statute of limitations in such cases is 12 years and has not yet expired. A new investigation opened this summer found that Cosby established a relationship with the victim. The victim, Steele explained, “came to consider Mr. Cosby her mentor and her friend.” Before the night in question, he previously made two sexual advances that she rejected. The night of the violation, he encouraged her to take pills with wine, and then sexually assaulted her, the prosecutor alleged.

The official charge is “aggravated indecent assault,” a felony under Pennsylvania law. According to the official criminal docket, the charges include assault without consent, assault while complainant is unconscious or unaware, and assault that includes impairing the complainant. Steele explained that similar accusations from other women about Cosby’s use of Quaaludes was a “significant factor” that prompted officials to consider the charges.

Though more than 50 women have accused the comedian of sexual assault, this will be the first time that Cosby actually faces criminal charges. He previously settled a civil suit with the victim, Andrea Constand, after authorities declined to press charges. In that case, Cosby admitted to giving women Quaaludes to facilitate having sex with them.

Cosby has denied the many accusations against him, and has even filed countersuits against seven of the women who have claimed he sexually assaulted him, calling them liars.

Rape’s Horrible Inhumanity

 The Brutal Inhumanity of Rape

[Excerpt Below] 12.18.14 Published by The Washington Post

It should never be too late to tell your story of rape. 14 years later, this is mine.

By Abigail Hauslohner

As this newspaper’s Cairo bureau chief, I live and work with the risk of sexual violence all around me. I’ve covered war and political turmoil in the Middle East for the past seven years, spending five of those in Cairo, where sexual harassment is an almost daily experience. When I was groped amid a crowd of protesters battling police outside Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque on the fourth day of the uprising in 2011, I turned around and punched the guy in the face.

My friends tell me I’m “tough.” But it wasn’t until I completed an intensive course of therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in October that I was able to finally confront pain I’ve been carrying with me for 14 years. I had gone to see a PTSD therapist to seek relief from what I’ve witnessed and experienced as a Middle East and war correspondent, to deal with the fear that had taken over my dreams and had begun to affect my work. I wanted to be able to react calmly to loud noises — instead of sensing an explosion every time a door slammed or a car backfired.

But we also ended up spending a lot of time dealing with an earlier experience that had nothing to do with the Middle East and yet almost outranked my war experiences: one night in 2001, when, as a 17-year-old, I visited a friend at his college and he raped me.

Until stories broke about rape accusations against Bill Cosby and an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, I had generally avoided reading about rape. I avoided reporting on it, too — as much as that pains me to admit. When I tried to write about Egypt’s sexual assault problem two years ago, I had great reporting and great timing — it was Valentine’s Day, also a day of anti-rape activism. I knew it was an important story and I wanted to put it out there, but I couldn’t do it.

My experience in therapy helped unburden me of the shame that I have carried since I was a teenager and prompted me to speak out now. I’ve found inspiration in the willingness of rape survivors to talk about their assaults, years or decades after the fact. I decided it was time for me to do the same. It should never be too late.

Nearly 14 years ago, I went to visit my friend — I’ll call him “X” — at his college campus. I saw X as a goofy but caring, older-brother type; we’d overlapped in high school and had a platonic and confiding sort of friendship. I never found him attractive.

When X went to college, he joined a fraternity and promised to take me to a real college party. My parents, who were fairly strict and usually would not have let me spend a weekend visiting a boy on a college campus, let me go because X was a friend. I packed my coolest top — a bright pink, sleeveless turtleneck sweater — a pair of Guess jeans and a new necklace that I loved.

The party was hosted by X’s fraternity. I remember walking into a relatively empty house and settling in nervously on a couch. Most of the people in the room were guys, and I was eager to seem cool. X asked if I wanted a drink; I said sure. He brought me a big plastic cup full of red punch.

The rest of that night I remember in flashes of images and sound. I can’t remember anything between sitting on the couch and drinking from that cup, and then being propped up in the back seat of a car that wasn’t X’s, with someone else driving someplace. I think I lost consciousness somewhere between the couch and the car.

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Creatively Confronting Rape Culture-Carry That Weight

Students get creative to confront rape culture with Carry That Weight

By Kate Aronoff    From Waging Nonviolence   November 1, 2014

Students at Penn State University participate in a “collective carry” in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. (Facebook / Carrying the Weight Together)

Students at Penn State University participate in a “collective carry” in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. (Facebook / Carrying the Weight Together)

Ever thought of creative non-sleeping uses for a vinyl-covered, extra-long twin mattress? Students at 130 colleges across five countries did just that on Wednesday, when they used their university-issued bedding to participate in Carry That Weight Together, an international day of action to confront sexual assault.

The driving forces behind the day of action were Columbia University student groups Carry That Weight Together and No Red Tape, founded this past year by Allie Rickard and Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, respectively, along with other students. No Red Tape’s Facebook page states that it seeks “to end sexual violence and rape culture at Columbia University, and [fight] for transformative, sustainable, survivor-centered solutions.” The group’s name refers to the administrative hurdles survivors go through when attempting to report their assaults to the university. No Red Tape, formed in January, pushes for university-level policy changes with actions like the ones this week, while also providing direct services related to sexual violence: a survivor support group, bystander training for staff at local bars, and consent education workshops to name just a few.

While there has been work around sexual assault on Columbia’s campus for decades, the most recent wave began last winter when Anna Bahr, then a senior at Barnard College, published a two-part expose in a campus magazine revealing — from the perspective of those assaulted — the gaps between college policy, the law and survivors’ needs.

“We are organizing at Columbia because this is where we are and this is what we know,” said Michela Weihl, a sophomore at Columbia who started working with No Red Tape when it began in January. “But this is not only about Columbia having a rape problem. It’s about living in a world where rape culture pervades everything. That’s something people experience every day.”

Carry That Weight — also known by the more literal name“Mattress Performance” — began in early September as a project by Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz for her senior thesis. Drawing comparisons to the aesthetics of Jesus Christ, Hester Prynne and Marina Abramovic, the ongoing “endurance performance art piece” comes with its own publicly posted “Rules of Engagement.” Sulkowicz must carry the mattress around at all times while on Columbia’s campus, and leave it in a secure location before she leaves university property. While onlookers can volunteer to help carry the mattress, the rules stipulate that Sulkowicz cannot solicit assistance. She intends to carry on the piece until her alleged assaulter is expelled, or until they both graduate next spring.

Since the project began, survivors and their allies at Columbia and around the country have organized “collective carries” in solidarity with Sulkowicz. Rickard, another Columbia art student, told Think Progress about how quickly the concept caught on: “Pretty much every day I’ve been finding new pictures of students, faculty and staff doing their own versions of the project — carrying mattresses around, holding rallies, doing speakouts.” This week, a group from the Central European University in Budapest posted photos from a #CarryThatWeight action in Hungary.

Mattresses carry considerable symbolic weight for Sulkowicz, who has been one of many survivors to share her story with the media. She went public only after unsuccessfully reporting her rape to university administrators, who, after a seventh-month long process, found her alleged assaulter “not responsible.” She told the Columbia Spectator in September, “I was raped in my own dorm bed and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there since then.” The piece adds a collective and highly public element to an issue that’s so often considered a private matter.

Columbia students presented the administration with a list of 10 demands on Wednesday, calling for greater administrative transparency and a comprehensive policy review process that would incorporate feedback from survivors. One demand was to re-open Sulkowicz’s case. Weihl said, “I hope that she doesn’t have to carry that mattress on stage with her when she graduates.”

Columbia students, however, are by no means the first to expose universities’ mistreatment of survivors. Wednesday’s actions are the latest spike in a national, multi-year effort to change the way colleges deal with sexual assault. Organizers — working as individual campus groups and with national networks like Know Your IX and Ending Rape on Campus — have kicked off federal investigations at over 55 colleges and universities, according to a list released by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last May. The schools represented on the list speak to the widespread nature of the problem — from Ivy League universities like Dartmouth and Princeton, to elite liberal arts colleges, to massive state institutions like Penn State University and Ohio State University. Since May, the number of schools being investigated has jumped from 55 to 79.

Six months ago, Sulkowicz and Ridolfi-Starr were among 28 students to file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against Columbia for violations of Titles II and IX, as well as the Clery Act — all of which relate to gender-based misconduct in education. As of October 9, they had yet to hear back from the Department of Education as to whether the Office for Civil Rights will pursue a formal investigation. Similar complaints have been filed at Swarthmore, UCLA, Kansas State University and Harvard, among others. While 76 schools are currently undergoing investigation, some administrations chose to initiate federal review processes without having received a complaint.

Columbia made national headlines again last spring when anonymous students posted lists of four perpetrators of sexual assault — Sulkowicz’s alleged assaulter and three others that the university found officially “responsible” — in public places around campus. Such actions show that students’ efforts are changing — or even starting — the conversation about sexual assault on college campuses. As Weihl put it, “That people are talking about it at all is a change.” In no small part thanks to the prestige of the schools where complaints have been filed, the campaign has gained national and international media attention, and forced many universities to undergo lengthy overhauls of their institutional policies.

Responses have also come from the federal level. “It’s Not Us” is a White House initiative to involve more bystanders in the prevention of sexual assault. Affirmative consent laws, like the one passed recently in California, define consent as an active “yes” rather than the absence of a “no,” with jurisdiction specifically bound to the state’s college campuses.

Neither of these efforts are perfect; there remains a long way to go in confronting rape culture on the national and international scale. That said, new regulations and actions like Carry That Weight are emblematic of a broader cultural shift to put survivors’ needs above their schools’ reputations.

Now, taking a short “breather” after weeks of planning to catch up on schoolwork, Weihl explained that “the point of our policy push is to make cultural change happen, and to make it so that the systems in place at the university are constantly working towards that culture rather than relying on a set of passionate students to push for that cultural change. We want it embedded in the school.”

Kate Aronoff is an organizer and freelance journalist based in Philadelphia, PA. While in school, she worked extensively with the fossil fuel divestment movement on the local and national level, co-founding Swarthmore Mountain Justice and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network (DSN). She is currently working to build a student power network across Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff