Rape prevention tips

Ten rape prevention tips:

1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.

2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.

3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.

4. If you are in an elevator and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.

5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.

6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.

7. Remember, people go to the laundry room to do their laundry. Do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

8. Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.

9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.

10. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.

My co-worker recently created this list, inspired by sites like this. As I was reading, I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or be horrified by the reality that violence prevention tips are always aimed at what the targeted person should do (judgment strongly implied) to protect themselves.

In the past two weeks, headlines about rape have flooded the news—CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault, Congo study sets estimates of rape much higher , Peace Corps volunteer speaks out on rape. And, of course, IMF Chief charged with rape. I am glad to see people speaking out about rape. But raising awareness isn’t enough. How do we actually change perpetrators’ thoughts and convince them not to rape?

If you experienced rape as a reporter, a Peace Corps volunteer, a war survivor, a hotel maid, or by your partner, you don’t need rape prevention tips. It is the rapist and the culture around us that excuses, supports, and looks away that we must change.

What leads to radicalization?

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Last month, the White House released the first report on the Status of Women since Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) under President Kennedy. Really? There’s been no report on this since the ‘60’s?

This made me want to learn more. Do these commissions actually do anything? I was fascinated to learn that PCSW members didn’t think it was enough. The government was not enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s sex non-discrimination laws. And the commission wasn’t going to change that.

To deal with their government’s indifference or hostility, PCSW and others formed the National Organization of Women. NOW, pun intended, activists could openly rally public support for women’s equality and the end of racial discrimination.

This got me thinking about what led me to the violence against women movement? I had no plan of action. No neon sign telling me to volunteer for a battered women’s crisis line. My past feels more like a mosaic—hard to single out one piece without stepping back and seeing the whole pattern.

Part of my mosaic was formed in the 1980’s. I was a bank secretary in Washington DC on K Street; we secretaries were called “K Street cuties.” I was sitting in the lunchroom one day reading Susan Schechter’s book, Women and Male Violence. One of the executives, a woman, came up and lectured, “You know women who are abused ask for it.” I looked at her thinking, I can’t believe she just said that and—not knowing how to respond —I said nothing.

At the same bank, the chief executive used to slide his hand down the backs of secretaries, and pop our bra straps—which again left me speechless. My own silence bothered me, and I began asking myself, “How do I want to spend my work day?” A dramatic shift in my career path soon followed.

Not everyone is going to form the next NOW or become a domestic violence advocate. You don’t have to. You can change the fabric of your community or your own life in small ways. What gives us the little push to move towards something meaningful and take action? Believing you matter may be radical enough.

Egyptian women demand a voice

On February 11, Hosni Mubarak resigns and headlines blare –“This is what freedom sounds like,” “People win” and “Egypt will never be the same.”  Together, courageous women and men forced radical change. Yet, incredibly, some things remain the same. As the Egyptian people work to build a new government, women have not been invited to the table.

There are no women representatives in the Constitutional Committee that has been formed to prepare for free elections. The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights just released a statement protesting the exclusion of women experts.

Why aren’t women included? For that matter, why can’t they walk down the street without being disrespected? A 2008 poll found that 83% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment. Nihal Elwan, an Egyptian who has worked on social development in the Middle East, describes the daily reality of most Egyptian women: “whether you’re rich, poor, you take public transportation, … you’re doing your shopping, whatever social class you’re from, you’re bound to get sexually harassed.”

The way I see it, both of these issues have the same cure – and it’s also at the root of my work. We have to support women’s right to self-determination. Only then will they be allowed to participate in their government, walk safely down the street, and have relationships free of violence.

Can the end of a dictatorship also lead to revolutionary change in the lives of Egyptian women? I am reminded of the words of Abigail Adams, in 1776 “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Women trump guns

Imagine living in a place where your healthcare and schooling is free. Where you are given a plot of land to farm and a fishing boat. All that is required in return is that you do not beat your spouse.

Is there such a place? Yes, and its location will surprise you.

In war-torn Somalia, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two daughters started a one-room hospital on her private land. A city of 90,000 refugees sprung up around it. The women of this city in turn, have created their own social services and justice system, which makes it a sanctuary from the violence, disease, and famine around them. But it is also a threat to those in power in the region.

I read in the news last week that a group of armed militants decimated Dr. Abdi’s now 400 bed hospital. They held Dr. Abdi and her daughters at gun-point for days and interrogated the doctor. “Why are you running this hospital?” the gunmen demanded. “You are old. And you are a woman!” Dr. Abdi said “I told the gunmen, ‘I’m not leaving my hospital … If I die, I will die with my people and my dignity.’ I yelled at them, ‘You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?’ ”

Thousands of women from the refugee city surrounding the hospital organized a protest and forced the militants to back down. A written apology was wrung out of the militants by Dr. Abdi.

We live in one of the wealthiest places in the world and yet we don’t replicate the type of community Dr. Abdi created. As a matter of fact, many of the riches we do have are being eroded. What will it take for us to stand together and demand communities that are prosperous and free from violence for everyone?

TSA — Taking Security Apart

What does it take to feel secure? I wondered about this as I read about the new TSA body scans. As impossible as it seems to figure out how to keep millions of travelers safe, planning for the safety of one can be just as challenging. Women who’ve been abused are faced with this all the time. No one can build them a wall tall enough to keep out a persistent abuser or a machine to screen potential boyfriends for bad tendencies.

Really, what makes us feel secure? I think it is our community of friends and acquaintances. In my community, there is someone I can call any time day or night.  Someone who would bring me a pot of soup without asking. And, if they haven’t seen me in a while, someone who would knock on my door. I don’t have to rely on any one person. I have a whole network of people I can count on, and that makes me feel secure.

I think the reason people are upset about the TSA approach is that, in their gut, they realize it isn’t going to make us safer. But is there anything that can? Actually, other safety experts around the world have developed flexible approaches that prioritize engaging with each individual.

People often ask me how they can help someone who is being abused. It’s not so easy  — we can’t rely on an automated program or a machine to deal with coercive or violent people. But we can start by being a part of a network of friends paying attention. We can help her feel secure by listening to what she says. And we can make our approach nuanced in a way that the TSA is missing.

The tough questions

After reading last week’s post, I took the call to action and talked to my 13-year old twins about bullying. Because of my work, we’ve had lots of chats about violence in families. But we hadn’t yet talked about how kids treat each other at school.

I asked if they say anything when kids call someone “gay” or “faggot.” Turns out they might – if it’s directed at one of their friends. But more often they don’t, because they’re scared and don’t know what to say. Their school has an anti-bullying curriculum, but it hasn’t given any concrete answers to their questions: “What can I do?” “What if they start saying those mean things to me?”

They deserve answers. I can’t be the only adult in their life having this conversation with them. I want their school more involved. I want their teachers to have strategies for integrating bullying prevention into daily school life and I want them to answer those tough questions. I want my kids to learn, as the poet Audre Lorde said “Your silence will not protect you.”

After I talked to my kids I felt discouraged. But then I found that a local organization has become a national expert on this. Did you know The Safe Schools Coalition will intervene on behalf of individual students? And they have great practical advice for kids and teachers. I encourage you to print one of these out and give it to a kid or teacher you know. I did.

She’s lying to me

These are the questions that run through my head when people tell me that battered women lie:

  • What do you really need to know?
  • Why do you need to know it?
  • Why do you think you need ‘the whole truth’ in order to help her get what she needs?
  • How does your judgment of her affect what you do?

Omission does not equal deception. And, lying does not mean that she doesn’t deserve our help. When we focus on her honesty or lack thereof, we’re saying that battered women are not credible and therefore are not worth our time, our compassion, our action.

Listen to what she is asking of you. Figure out what you can do and offer help. You don’t have to fix anything or anybody. Don’t underestimate the power of trying to connect with her and understand what she wants.

Believe that she’s telling you everything you need to know. Believe that you can’t choose for someone else. Believe that you can act.

It is hardest thing in the world to trust someone else – just ask a battered woman.