October 30, 2009

This week in the news (October 30, 2009)

Posted in Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (Rape Drugs), Intimate Partner Violence, News Release, Popular Culture, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 8:29 pm by sacetalks

The following is a list of news articles and editorials on sexual assault in communities across the globe (over the past 7 days).  Many of the articles below may contain victim-blaming language, distortion of information which supports sexual assault myths, and/or triggering content.  What these articles do showcase is the prevalence of sexual assault (given that only a small percentage of the 1 in 10 sexual assaults in Canada which are reported receive media attention, several articles on sexual assault within one week indicate a huge number of assaults), what kinds of sexual assaults are reported and how rampant sexual assault myths are.  Please be aware that SACE does not support the content or delivery of any of the following news pieces.

Edmonton

Alberta

Canada

International

October 23, 2009

This Week in the News

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:10 pm by sacetalks

The following is a list of news articles and editorials on sexual assault in communities across the globe (over the past 7 days).  Many of the articles below may contain victim-blaming language, distortion of information which supports sexual assault myths, and/or triggering content.  What these articles do showcase is the prevalence of sexual assault (given that only a small percentage of the 1 in 10 sexual assaults in Canada which are reported receive media attention, several articles on sexual assault within one week indicate a huge number of assaults), what kinds of sexual assaults are reported and how rampant sexual assault myths are.  Please be aware that SACE does not support the content or delivery of any of the following news pieces.

Edmonton

Alberta

Canada

International

October 16, 2009

Bodily integrity of transgender individuals

Posted in Current Events, Rape Culture at 9:59 pm by sacetalks

Over twenty years ago, members of New York’s queer community rioted at Stonewall Inn, a place in which those who identified as what many now term as LGBITTIQQ sought community, refuge, safety and, of course, fun.  The riots were in response to police brutality against sexual minorities and marked the beginning of international queer rights activism.

While rights for LGBTTIQQ individuals have certainly come a long way since Stonewall, those who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, two-spirited, intersex, queer and questioning still face a number of significant barriers.  Not only do people who identify (or are labelled) as sexual minorities or gender variant experience a disproportionate amount of violence, including sexual assault, but are also the targets of prejudice, bigotry and hatred.

Recently, the St. Albert Catholic School district made the decision to fire Jan Buterman.  Buterman, labelled a girl when born and now transitioning into a man, was dismissed by the school board who justified this blatant discrimination by arguing that changing one’s gender contradicts Roman Catholic values.

Interesting that welcoming all people, regardless of their identity, isn’t a part of Roman Catholic values.  Even more curious is that what one claims as a religious value seemingly trumps human rights.

Not 0nly is such treatment unjust, but seriously misguided.  We don’t know the reasons Buterman has for transitioning, but many trans people explain that a “gender change” isn’t so much of a change as much of an adjustment.  That is, it is arguable that Buterman was always a man, but one born in a woman’s body.  After all, “gender” is a social construct – one’s gender is a set of values a culture ascribes onto one’s sex (in this context, “sex” refers to one’s genitals).  Perhaps Buterman, like some other trans people, feels that his gender has remained static; it is simply his sex that is changing.  Whatever the reason, however, a transgender person is just that – a person deserving of justice, freedom and integrity.

Some may question why this topic is being explored on a sexual assault blog.  The reason is that sexual assault and the rights of LGBTTIQQ individuals are intertwined because both rest on the value of bodily integrity.  Any concept of freedom must include the right to control one’s own body – what comes out of it, what enters it, what parts it changes and what parts stay the same.  Our bodies are ours to manage, not a school board’s to pathologize, medicalize and make deviant.

Ultimately, Buterman is not a deviant individual whose body may negatively impact the children with which he works.  Rather, Buterman is a human being whose value as a teacher must rest on his teaching methods, not on his body.  To do otherwise is to deny him the fundamental right of bodily integrity, just as sexual assault survivors (and victims) are denied on a continual basis.

I urge people to remember Stonewall and the rights for which LGBTTIQQ groups have been fighting which are, simply, the right to live freely.  To do otherwise is not only to deny the human rights of LGBTTIQQ populations, but to use the same reasoning others use to justify sexual assault.

Articles used in writing this piece:

-Post by Pragya Sharma

This week’s news

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:27 pm by sacetalks

The following is a list of news articles and editorials on sexual assault in communities across the globe (over the past 7 days).  Many of the articles below may contain victim-blaming language, distortion of information which supports sexual assault myths, and/or triggering content.  What these articles do showcase is the prevalence of sexual assault (given that only a small percentage of the 1 in 10 sexual assaults in Canada which are reported receive media attention, several articles on sexual assault within one week indicate a huge number of assaults), what kinds of sexual assaults are reported and how rampant sexual assault myths are.  Please be aware that SACE does not support the content or delivery of any of the following news pieces.

Alberta

Canada

International

October 13, 2009

Roman Polanski and the Rights of Survivors

Posted in Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (Rape Drugs), Popular Culture, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 6:02 pm by sacetalks

The Roman Polanski case has recently garnered a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, a number of celebrities have added to this media attention by signing a petition in support of him.

There are a lot of complex issues with this case, which I would like to share, but I would like to begin with what is not complicated:

  1. Polanski sexually assaulted a child. She could not consent because of her age. Furthermore, she was given drugs by Polanski and indicated “no”. Any of these aspects, even individually, constitute a sexual assault.
  2. What Polanski did was not only morally but legally wrong
  3. Celebrities who stand in support of Polanski are fueling a ‘rape culture’; that is, a society which condones sexualized violence.

What is complicated, however, is how we approach this as individuals, as legal systems and as local and global communities when it comes to the rights of the girl (now an adult woman) who was victimized by Polanski.

This woman has asked that the case be dropped. She has asked for this because the media attention and any further court involvement will be retraumatizing for her. And I believe her when she says this.

On the one hand, there have been very valid arguments that this is a crime against society that must be punished. That is, sex offenders must be held accountable for the crimes they commit and society must be kept safe from sexual predators.

The Canadian Justice System (which is not involved in the Polanski case) is based upon this premise; sexual assault/abuse crimes are not only crimes against individuals but also crimes against the state, and here in Canada, individuals who experience sexualized violence are not only seen as victims but also as witnesses to a crime, by the Justice System. (The term used is victim/witness).

And this is where it gets complicated.

How do we balance the rights of persons who experience sexual abuse/assault with the need to hold offenders accountable?

In sexual violence cases, the scene of the crime is the survivor’s body, and often, the strongest piece of evidence is their statement. Thus, the survivor is usually needed to prosecute allegations of sexual abuse/assault.

Because the majority of sexual offenses occur where the survivor knows their perpetrator, forensic evidence (e.g. “rape kits” and subsequent DNA evidence) may not, by itself, be enough to convict. This is because accused offenders often argue in their defense that the sexual contact was voluntary. And unless survivors are minors (and under the age of legal consent), they are often required to explain how and why voluntary consent was not granted.

As well, many sexual assaults occur without witnesses, with only the survivor and perpetrator present.

This can put people who have experienced sexualized violence in a terrible position. While many survivors feel empowered to speak their truth in a court of law and explain what really happened, for many others, the court process is incredibly scary and disempowering.

The process can be lengthy and occur long after the survivor feels some degree of healing and resolution; as well, survivors may be made to feel that they are the ones who need to defend themselves in court, even more so than the accused.

Which brings me back to why this whole Polanski business is complicated.

Should the person who experienced the sexual abuse/assault have the right to refuse to engage in the legal process, at any point? Does justice and holding sex offenders accountable outweigh the potential harm inflicted on the survivor?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. I do believe that we must empower people who experience sexualized violence by allowing them to make choices about whether or not they will engage in legal processes.

In instances of child sexual abuse, this area is more grey because just as they cannot consent to sexual contact, it is perceived that children cannot really consent to participate or not participate in criminal proceedings.

In Edmonton (Alberta, Canada), victim’s rights advocates work hard to minimize the potential harm on children. We have a specialized agency called Zebra which interviews children in a child-friendly environment. Investigators are sensitized to interviewing children and their disclosures are video taped which means that they may not have to disclose explicit details, again, in court. Zebra also offers court accompaniment and support to child victims.

At the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE), we offer counselling to people of all genders 3 years of age and older, at no cost to clients. This can help not only with the healing process as a whole, but to emotionally prepare clients of all ages for legal processes.

Unfortunately, not all communities (in Canada, and elsewhere) offer this to children who have experienced abuse. Smaller communities may not have access to the financial resources to create specialized agencies such as Zebra and SACE, and investigators may not necessarily have the training needed to interview a child.

But what about the instances of adult sexual assault or child sexual abuse where the survivor is now an adult? What rights should they be given to withdraw from criminal proceedings?

I believe people when they say that court processes may do more harm than good to themselves, and I wish that Justice Systems were set up in such a way that we could hold offenders accountable without potentially retraumatizing survivors.

I do believe that we, as individuals and communities, can lessen the impact of traumatization by believing people when they disclose sexualized violence. We can listen without judgment, by not asking “why” questions (e.g. “Why were you drinking?” “Why did you go home with this person?” Why didn’t you fight back?”)

Media can also help by presenting sexual abuse/assault cases in such a way that does not blame the survivor. What a survivor did or not do is not and should not be the issue. For instance, many people who are experiencing sexual assault/abuse “freeze” and may not be able to fight back, run away or even necessarily verbalize no. This is especially the case when the offender is known to the survivor (which is the majority of the time), and if the offender is someone the survivor trusts or loves. This is also more likely if the survivor has been sexually abused or assaulted in the past.

It is the responsibility of all of us to solicit voluntary consent when engaging in sexual contact (e.g. check in with our partner, pay attention to body cues, ensure our partner is not too intoxicated to consent, not use alcohol or other drugs to make our partner more likely to engage in sexual contact, ask our partner what they want to do and don’t want to do, etc.)

It is our responsibility to not use positions of trust, authority and power in order to engage in sexual contact. It is also the responsibility of adolescents and adults to not have any sexual contact with children, or expose them to pornography.

In the Polanski case, it is clear that he committed a very serious crime. I just wish that justice systems here in Canada and around the world were set up in such a way that the potential harm of survivors was minimized or eradicated all together.

As I sometimes tell individuals accessing services at SACE, I believe our legal system does not always work for sexual abuse/assault cases in that survivors often need to explicitly explain a traumatizing event. We need to revamp the systems, with the input of persons who have experienced sexualized violence, so that their needs and well-being are a priority.

-Monika, Child & Adolescent Counsellor at SACE

October 9, 2009

This week in the news (October 9, 2009)

Posted in Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (Rape Drugs), Intimate Partner Violence, Popular Culture, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 9:50 pm by sacetalks

The following is a list of news articles and editorials on sexual assault in communities across the globe (over the past 7 days).  Many of the articles below may contain victim-blaming language, distortion of information which supports sexual assault myths, and/or triggering content.  What these articles do showcase is the prevalence of sexual assault (given that only a small percentage of the 1 in 10 sexual assaults in Canada which are reported receive media attention, several articles on sexual assault within one week indicate a huge number of assaults), what kinds of sexual assaults are reported and how rampant sexual assault myths are.  Please be aware that SACE does not support the content or delivery of any of the following news pieces.

Edmonton

Alberta

Canada

International

October 6, 2009

In the news this week (October 1, 2009)

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:32 pm by sacetalks

Edmonton

Crown stays sex charges against priest

Edmonton police release sketch of sex assault suspect

Alberta

Police issue warning after sex offender moves to Calgary

Canada

Sexual assault charges for Waterloo man

Port Alberni RCMP arrest sexual assault suspect

Prince George extreme fighters charged with sexual assault

Child sexual assault unit called in to investigate Newfoundland choir

Sexual Assault in Kindersley

Ladysmith neighbours shocked by home invasion, sexual assault

Two men from BC facing sexual assault charges in Nova Scotia

Suspect sought in alleged sexual assault near west-end park

Police officer charged with sexual assault

Police seeking number of sexual assault suspects

International

Spotlight on trio of child abusers

Officer cleared of sexual assault

Day care to shut down after janitor is charged with sexual assault

Teenage boy charged with sexual assault in Blackburn

Lebanon man charged with sexual assault of girl, 11
Newark teen could be tried as adult in sexual assault
Unforgivable Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski’s life of crime
Roman Polanski arrested in Switzerland 31 years after fleeing trial
Bronx Teacher Charged With Sexual Assault
West End woman wakes to sexual assault

October 2, 2009

Why the Roman Polanski Case Really Does Matter

Posted in Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (Rape Drugs), movies, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 9:40 pm by sacetalks

This week, it’s been almost impossible to miss the media coverage surrounding Roman Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland. After evading justice for three decades, Polanski may finally face the sentencing hearing he skipped out on when he fled to France after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

One might assume that people would celebrate a fugitive rapist finally being brought to justice. But that would be forgetting the pervasive influence of rape culture–the mindset that says it’s okay to drug and then force sexual contact on a child. Hollywood celebrities, along with many of their European counterparts, signed on to a petition demanding that Polanski be freed. Some names in that list, including Woody Allen, aren’t really surprising. Others, such as Tilda Swinton, are definitely unexpected.

And then there are the other defenders, including Whoopi Goldberg, who argued that it wasn’t “rape-rape” on The View. She attempted to clarify her statements the next day in a telephone call to the Today Show, claiming that she was just trying to address the actual crime Polanski had been convicted of: unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Whoopi’s opinion seems to be that statutory rape isn’t really rape. The reality is that the girl was well under the age of consent, which was 16 years old in California at the time of the case (it’s now 18) and that in the grand jury transcripts (warning: graphic descriptions, some people may find the testimony triggering), the survivor describes being given champagne and quaaludes before the assault. She also describes saying no and trying to get away from Polanski multiple times. Any way you look at it — age, drug facilitation, the survivor communicating no — there’s simply no consent. I’m not sure how you can get much more “rape-rape” than that.

So many people try to defend Polanski’s crime in some way. They say the girl’s mother was complicit, that she was pushing her daughter on the director. In reality, it doesn’t matter how much the mother might have encouraged anything. Polanski is still the one responsible for his choice to sexually assault a child. They say that Polanski survived so much trauma — the Holocaust, his wife Sharon Tate’s murder — and it’s true that he survived significant tragedy. But that explanation is an insult to the millions of people who are victims of trauma, who lose loved ones to murder and survive genocides, and who still live compassionate, caring lives where they somehow manage to not sexually assault anyone.

There are allegations of judicial misconduct in the case, of questions around sentencing and other problems. However, the way for Polanski to resolve those problems was to face the court system, not to flee the country. The original judge in the case is dead now, so Polanski’s sentence will be imposed by someone else anyhow. Questions around sentencing don’t change the fact that Polanski plead guilty to the crime as part of a plea bargain that meant he didn’t have to face much more serious charges which would have seen him face life in prison–no matter what, he would have faced a much lighter sentence than the original charges would have carried. The perception that his 42 days in a psychiatric institution constituted a sentence is false. Polanski was there for evaluation before his final sentencing hearing (not a bizarre occurence). If there was any misconduct, it was and is up to Polanski and his lawyers to address that through the court process. Fleeing the country was a criminal act on top of the crime for which he’d already plead guilty.

Then there are those who say that because the girl, now an adult woman, has asked for the case to be dropped, Polanski should be allowed to walk free. I feel deep sadness and compassion for what she has been through — the media intrusion into her life, the constant debate and analysis of her testimony, the violation of privacy on top of the violation of self that she experienced — but the justice system doesn’t just act on behalf of one victim of crime. The system acts on behalf of society, and in this case, it really is acting on behalf of all survivors. How we respond to this case tells the many, many other survivors out there what we really think of what happened to them.

When people defend Polanski, they tell every survivor who’s listening that their experiences and their lives are worth less than a few films. When we as a culture refuse to see what is happening or make excuses, we tell survivors that they don’t count. It’s not surprising that people don’t come forward when they hear people condone rape and blame the victim. And when we let Polanski off for what he did, we also tell offenders what we think of them. We tell them that what they’ve done or will do is okay, and that they too can just walk away and not face justice.

When we talk about the Polanski case, we’re not just talking about one assault on one girl on one night. We’re talking about how we as a society view sexual violence. I can only hope that we voice the strong condemnation this crime deserves.

A couple of excellent responses to Polanski’s defenders:

Rex Murphy, “Hollywood’s Strange Morals”, The National

Kate Harding, “Reminder: Roman Polanski raped a child”, Salon

Melissa Silverstein, “Does Being an “Artist” Trump Being a Rapist?”, Women and Hollywood

Sign the petition to prosecute Roman Polanski.