Monday, February 18, 2013


Ninety percent of survivors are women and 99% of perpetrators are male.  This is a statistic one could use to explain why one might use the female pronoun to describe a survivor or a male pronoun to describe a perpetrator.  This statistic also highlights the gendered aspect of sexual violence.  However, this statistic often covers up the stories of the other 10%.  Adherence to the idea of sexual violence as being gendered, as identified by this statistic, dangerously excludes the experiences of those who do not conform to a gender dichotomy.  This discussion is brought up on Feministing in the article, “The dangers of a gender essentialist approach to sexual violence."  The article explains the dangerous effects of using binary language that excludes many people and perpetuates a narrow-minded thinking of sexual violence.
It also presents an underlying difficulty. One needs to remember that sexual violence is a gender-based crime while realizing that genderless language to describe sexual violence has the potential to promote change in our society on many levels.  One example of where more conscious use of language could improve thinking would be in the realm of decreasing stigma or misunderstanding associated with those who do not conform to a gendered binary and its consequent translation to policy.  Sexual violence should not pin a gender on the survivor or a perpetrator.  A two-sided way of thinking about sexual violence perpetuates homogeneity and undermines the individual’s story.  One way of gaining empowerment is through validation of an individual survivor’s story (something SAPAC and the NPA’s promote every fall!).  As suggested in the article, one way to hold on to the recognition that sexual violence is a gendered crime is by looking at the deeper cultural aspects of it related to gender norms and masculinity.  This is absolutely true.  Change occurs by changing culture. The effects of hyper-masculinity are a component of culture worthy of examination.
On another note related to language, the article on Feministing went back and forth between using “survivor” and “victim.”  This was surprising for me, because through my volunteering at SAPAC, survivor is the only term I use and hear.  It has become so much a part of my thinking now, and here’s the reasoning why it is this way for me. 
The link I’ve just given brings me to another point related to this whole idea of using language that promotes a gender binary.  The article on SAPAC’s site says, “We, along with many other experts in the field, use the term “survivor” because it is a more empowering term.  Because so much power is taken from a person when she or he is raped, the idea is to restore that sense of power.”  Did you notice the use of “she or he”?  This also represents a gender binary.  English grammar rules would tell me everything is right in this sentence.  However, I am so glad to have been given permission ( Contact Robin Queen, UM linguistics professor) to now use “they” instead of “he or she” or their instead of “him or her”, much to the dismay of my high school English teachers.  This is one small step I am taking to be gender-inclusive in my language. 


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

U of M Police Seeks Information Related to a Recent Sexual Assault

According to a crime alert sent out Sunday morning, a female U of M student reported to the University of Michigan Police that she was sexually assaulted in a West Quad common room by a man who had walked her home.

An update Monday evening released several photos and video clips of the suspect, and police are asking for any information that may be used to identify and apprehend him.

More information on the suspect can be found at the University of Michigan Police Website. If you have any information, please contact the University of Michigan Police at (734)763-1131.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Survivor Speak Out

Thanks so much to everyone who attended this year's Speak Out. It was an incredible success, with one of the largest turn outs in recent years. The compassion and support provided by those present, allies and survivors alike, was wonderful. This year, we asked speakers and supporters to light a candle as a visible show of their strength and support.

We also asked attendees to write one word that described their experience or feelings at the close of the event. Here are some of the words they came up with.
Finally, here is how some students felt after attending, in their own words:

I thought Speak Out was amazing. It was emotional with all of the sharing of such personal heartfelt stories, but it was also empowering. There was palpable support in the entire room throughout the evening. It really made me feel part of a community full of love and support, even though I didn't personally know many people in the room. The bravery of all the people there, both to share and absorb stories, was shocking to me. This was by far the best Speak Out I have ever attended!  - Kara Marsh
The new set up made it feel more intimate. - Lauren McIntosh 
It was amazing. Sitting there and realizing just how prevalent sexual violence is in our society, and being astounded at how many girls thought they couldn't say anything for fear of being blamed - it was powerful. I will never forget it. - Sam Arnold
The strength of those who spoke was inspiring in a culture that often silences survivors. - Emily Rion 
Thanks again to everyone who came out and supported survivors at this years Speak Out. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Survivor Speak Out

SAPAC will be hosting our annual Survivor Speak Out this Thursday, November 8th. This event is a forum for survivors of sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence, and harassment to share their stories and break the silence surrounding sexual violence. Survivors and their allies are invited to join us from 7 to 9 pm in the Michigan Union Ballroom.

There will be a short debrief at the SAPAC Office in the basement of the Union.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Film Screening: Half the Sky

On Tuesday, October 23 the Sexual Assault Prevention andAwareness Center will be showing the documentary
Half the Sky in the Rackham Ampitheater.

Half the Sky is based on a book by Nicholas Kristof, which examines the oppression of women across the world.

We hope that you will join us for the screening and the following discussion.

The Rackham Building is located at 950 E. Washington St.  Doors open at 7:00 and the film begins at 7:30.

The book and documentary have sparked a global movement, with organizations everywhere showing the film.  The film has been both celebrated and critiqued, provoking important discussions about the status of women in the Global South, and what people in the U.S. can or should do about gender inequality around the world. 

To learn more about Half the Sky, and see what people are saying about it, see the reviews and comments below:

New York Times Book Review, "Changing Lives": “Half the Sky” tackles atrocities and indignities from sex trafficking to maternal mortality, from obstetric fistulas to acid attacks, and absorbing the fusillade of horrors can feel like an assault of its own. But the poignant portraits of survivors humanize the issues, divulging facts that moral outrage might otherwise eclipse.  

HuffPost Review, "Half the Sky":  "What Nick and Sheryl have done is lay out a case for why empowering women in the developing world is both morally right and strategically imperative. Their essential message is that Lifting Women Lifts the World."

Racialicious Review, "Your Women are Oppressed, But Ours Are Awesome":  "Inspired by a book co-written by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and supported by talking head cameos from the likes of Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, George Clooney, and officials from the United Nations, CARE, and other non profit and development organizations, the film, unfortunately, reeks of KONY 2012 style missteps." 

The Atlantic Review, "The White Savior Industrial Complex": "The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening."

The Guardian Review, "How the Other Half Suffer": "The authors describe brutality towards women as "a malignancy that is slowly gaining recognition as one of the paramount human rights problems of this century." Raising awareness of brutality towards women is not a slow process; the problem is rather that the flash of outrage soon dissipates, to lie dormant until somebody or something triggers it again, while the vileness carries inexorably on, partly because the concerned public is unaware of its own misogyny."

Amherst College Student's Account of Sexual Assault

A former Amherst College student wrote this incredibly moving account of an assault by a fellow student, and the school administration's awful response to her suffering.

"An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College"
Trigger warning

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization

The Republican party counter-bill of the VAWA reauthorization, which removed provisions from the original bill that extended services to immigrant, Native American, and LGBT survivors, has passed in the House of Representatives. This bill is a huge step back in the fight to end sexual violence. By specifically denying services to populations that are already vulnerable or under served, this bill would exacerbate the already disproportionate violence committed against these groups.

This is a great segment from Rachel Maddow, that really sums up how messed up this all is:

-Emily, NPA Volunteer

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts on the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference 2012

I feel so lucky to have been able to go to the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in DC! I was inspired by all the other university students looking to expand their program or create one. The general assemblies were packed full of lectures from a wide range of speakers addressing the issues of sexual assault, HIV/AIDS, the LGBTQ movement and feminist work done on the international level. I felt I gained new skills and ambition to tackle the issues of sexual violence back here on our campus. After meeting many different people, I realized how progressive SAPAC is an a student organization, with positive behavior workshops and specific outlets to get men involved in the movement. I found that I have taken for granted the institutional infrastructure that allows SAPAC to continue to exist after students graduate and leave. 

I felt that the most rewarding part of our trip was the opportunity to meet with staffers from Senator Stabenow's office on Capital Hill! i became interested in seeing how our work could translate into political action, political action that took place in the Senate and in the Congress! I loved hearing their stories of how they came to find their passions in public service and how they began working for Senator Stabenow. Both were excited to hear about our Men's Activism program and about the new Relationship Remix workshop. 
As a PE, I was so happy to have been able to meet and spend time with the other volunteers from the NPA and the MA programs. They were awesome to road trip with and I am so happy to have gotten to know them better.

One of my favorite parts of our trip to D.C. besides getting to know people from SAPAC that I didn't previously know was the Regional Caucus.  This was a part during the conference when students from around the country got together by region and spoke about the feminist work they were conducting at their universities.  I was excited to know that SAPAC is ahead in a lot of the work we conduct.  We were able to help give other schools ideas on how to start doing workshops and events of their own to generate awareness about healthy relationships and preventing sexual assault on campuses.

“It’s great being around likeminded people” was a common statement mentioned during the three days SAPAC spent at the National Youth Feminist Leadership Conference (NYFLC) hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation. Participants enjoyed the comfortable space this conference offered to feminists of all walks of life. One of the strengths of the trip was being likeminded, yet different.  I learned a lot from our guest speakers, but also from the comments, advice, and experiences of other attendees. The open dialogues I witnessed several people engaging in (myself included) were powerful.  Even among our small group of seven SAPACers was an interesting exchange of perspectives on a plethora of topics (including what items are best paired with peanut butter ). For me (and I’m undoubtedly bias) one of the highlights of the trip was speaking to the congressional staffers from Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office. These two young women were genuinely interested in knowing what SAPAC achieved on campus, our presence, tremendous success, and ambitions for the program.  Ms. Alexander and Ms. Rivera also offered the group valuable resources to stay in more regular contact with our elected representatives.  Overall, as I’m sure any participant would agree, the NYFLC conference was a valuable and rewarding trip. Thanks SAPAC!

The National Young Feminist Leadership Conference provided a space for both learning from and interacting with other feminist organizations around the country. One of my favorite aspects of this conference was the wide representation of females, males, and transgender alike, which served as an important reminder (and hopefully takeaway message) that feminism is not only a woman’s issue. Due to this wide representation of participants, I was very excited to attend our Midwest Caucus workshop, where SAPAC got to hear the great feminist work going on in our area. The only regret is not having more time to truly get acquainted with our fellow feminists at the conference.

Personally, one of my favorite parts of this conference was the Reforming Rape Culture and Responding to Sexual Assault on Campus Workshop. This workshop had a fantastic and inspiring panel, including Angela Rose, founder of PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment); Rhett Walker from Men Can Stop Rape; Emily Greytak from SAFER (Students Active for Ending Rape); and Ariana Katz from the Boston University Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism. This workshop allowed participants to see how each of these organizations worked, in terms of policy and day-to-day organization. Prior to this workshop, I did not have a lot of knowledge of other rape crisis organizations around the country, so it was incredibly refreshing and comforting to be surrounded by other organizations that share our goals and support our work!

Furthermore, it was an absolutely amazing experience going to Capitol Hill and having the opportunity to speak with members of Debbie Stabenow’s staff! The staffers we met with were incredibly welcoming, very interested in SAPAC’s initiatives and goals, and gave us some great advice about how to continue our work both at SAPAC and as activists in general. It was truly a wonderful meeting, and a major shout out to the Men’s Activism Program at SAPAC for funding our extra night’s stay so we could make this possible!

And lastly, this trip was a great opportunity for some pan-SAPAC bonding! It was wonderful to spend the weekend with new and familiar volunteers alike, both in workshop and on the town! A major thank-you to SAPAC for allowing us to take this journey together!

Overall, the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference was an amazing experience. It was so wonderful to be able to connect with other campus activists from all over the country, especially those who have incredibly active. My favorite speaker by far was Sandra Fluke. She gave incredibly practical advise on how to really make a difference, something she is well practiced in doing. Her advise stuck with me: Find an issue, something tangible that people can rally around, and get it fixed. Think outside the box to try and get other people involved. Stay level-headed.

I wish more of the conference had given me more practical advise such as this, but the workshops I attended were fascinating nonetheless. My favorite workshop hit close to my SAPAC home: Reforming Rape Culture and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses. The speakers were amazing, and it was nice to hear about what people were doing on a national level to combat sexual violence.

Also, getting to meet with staffers from Debbie Stabenow's office was incredible.

This really was a wonderful experience, and I'm so grateful that I got to go.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

PETA's sexist advertising

"People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals" (PETA) seems to come with a caveat or two. Especially if you, like me, consider sexism and objectification of women unethical. PETA, however, seems to have no such qualms. They have a long history of offensive and sexist ads, whose only goal seems to be to offend enough people to get attention. Here is a list of some of the worst ads in PETA's history.

PETA knows what it's doing is offensive. That's what they're trying to do, in a misguided and immoral attempt to get attention. In fact, the first FAQ on their website "Why does PETA sometimes use nudity in its campaigns?" has this lovely tidbit:
"...colorful and 'controversial' demonstrations and campaigns like activists stripping to 'go naked instead of wearing fur' consistently grab headlines."
Their most recent ad depicts a pants-less woman in a neck brace hobbling through the street, because apparently her boyfriend went vegan or something. This ad normalizes violence against women by implying that people should want their boyfriend have them end up in a neck brace. Bitch magazine has an excellent critique.

Also, PETA has sunk to the lowest of the low by announcing plans to launch its own porn site. Now, I have nothing against porn per se, but when an ANIMAL RIGHTS organization is so desperate for attention that they will start a porn site, something is seriously wrong. More on that here.

The bottom line is that PETA is acting incredibly irresponsibly, and is muddling its message in cries for attention and unnecessary sexism. People should absolutely treat others ethically, and PETA would do well to remember that that includes women.

-Emily, NPA Volunteer

Project Unbreakable

I found a really interesting art project - a woman photographs rape and sexual assault survivors along with words that their attackers said to them. This is an incredibly moving art project because it places the viewer in such close contact with survivors. Be warned that there is triggering content and the material can be very upsetting.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Yale Quarterback Accused of Sexual Assault

This article was found on the blog Jezebel, and describes how Yale quarterback Patrick Witt was accused of sexual assault by another Yale student. The description of this event was very vague and the media portrayed it as though it was the victim's fault for not reporting it, yet there can be many reasons that a survivor would not want to report a sexual assault. Also, this is just one more example of an athlete being accused of sexual assault and not facing any repercussions (as of the publishing of this article). Athletes should not be held to different standards than the rest of society and have to set an example, since their lives are covered more heavily by the media.

See article here:

Monday, February 6, 2012

One Step Closer

I'm sure you have heard about the changed definition of rape in the FBI Uniform Crime Report.  The old definition, created over 80 years ago, has been replaced with the new: “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."  This is a huge milestone for sexual assault prevention and awareness activists, with huge implications for more accurate crime statistics at the national level.  This new definition will abolish many stereotypes surrounding rape including the misconception that all survivors are women- as persisted by the old definition of rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will”. In addition, a step away from victim-blaming ensues as the removal of “forcibly” in the definition means that proof of physical resistance by the survivor is not a necessity.  The addition of consent is a major improvement as well.
The Feminist Majority Foundation's website celebrates the promise the new definition will bring to more accurate reporting statistics and praises its collaborative, “Rape is Rape campaign that contributed to the push for a new definition. However, our work is not done.    The new definition will only provide a broader definition for what local and state level police choose to report. Eric Holder, attorney general, describes in the UCR update, "
The new definition does not change federal or state criminal codes or impact charging and prosecution on the local level." State crime reporting to the UCR is voluntary, and the action taken to acknowledge rape crimes within a state varies across the nation.
On another note, I mentioned that consent was an important addition, however, education on exactly what consent means, and coercion for that matter, from a primary prevention standpoint, can make this new definition even more effective.  (Kudos to SAPAC's Relationship Remix!) 
The UCR program will also collect data based on the historical definition of rape, and compare it to reporting trends that occur with the implementation of the new definition. I have confidence that the data collected in this way will show just how silent this crime has been kept in the past due to the exclusiveness of the old definition.
For more ways to get involved: The Rape is Rape campaign’s second initiative (besides changing the definition of rape) is to decrease the backlog of rape kits. Directions on how to take action on the rape kit backlog are included on the Rape is Rape: No More Excuses web page.  I am currently looking in to whether or not Ann Arbor has a backlog of rape kits.

-Lindsay, NPA Volunteer

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Be Careful"

I've been thinking a lot this semester about advice I get from concerned friends and relatives, especially after the string of assaults this past summer. I got a can of pepper spray and a whistle from my aunt, and countless people warn me against walking home alone. I think I can safely say that nearly every college-aged woman hears this kind of thing (along with "don't drink too much,""watch what you wear," etc). I get it. This advice is nothing but well-intentioned. It's coming from a place of love and concern, and I appreciate the sentiment. I really do. But what I don't appreciate is how this advice is part of our culture that nearly always teaches "don't get raped" instead of "don't rape." 

A commenter on the blog Jezebel posted the following in response to a story about an awesome campaign in the UK to finally send out the message "don't rape." This was in response to the comment by adventure!: "This is highly refreshing in a sea of 'don't wear that sort of clothing, don't get drunk, don't flirt with dudes, don't walk alone, close your windows at night, wear a chastity belt, carry a gun with you everywhere you go, live in a plastic bubble, etc.'" BIP_Roberts' comment really sums up my feelings about why this kind of advice is problematic.

I agree with you 1000%, so don't misconstrue anything I say following 

The problem with that kind of advice isn't that it's not somewhat legitimate, it's that a)it mischaracterizes the more common occurances of rape, and b) it's presentation as a public service highlights the victim-blaming portion of the advice. 

One, this kind of advice is stranger-rape-centric and stranger-rape is far less common than non-stranger-rape. 

But, the victim-blaming aspect of that kind of advice is kind of based on a false dichotomy. In essence and intent, such advice is really just saying "be careful." It's saying you can do things to help minimize the likelihood that you are victimized. Let's take this out of the rape realm for a second to a less loaded analogy. If I told my new hip hop superstar buddy, hey, it might not be a good idea to wear that $60K to the projects, I'm not sure people would leap out of their seats in outrage. 

It does not unilaterally follow that because you can do things to minimize the likelihood of you being victimized, if you do get victimized it is because you failed to sufficiently guard against that. 

The fact that people are so sensitive to the victim-blaming undertone of this advice is due to the larger victim-blaming culture that surrounds rape in general. There are other analogous pieces of advice that aren't called out as victim blaming (don't flash your jewelry in the hood, eat right and exercise to prevent a heart attack) not because analogous advice isn't given, but because there isn't as strong a culture of victim blaming around these issues in general. 

I guess my argument is that if people really took rape as seriously as it need be taken and address rape culture head on, reminders to "be careful" wouldn't carry so much baggage. ...This is just a symptom of the larger disease.
I certainly agree with everything BIP_Roberts says, but I would add another point. For me, hearing this kind of advice is just a constant reminder that I, as a woman (and especially as a young woman in college), am likely to be attacked. Not more likely than not, but it is far from a vanishing chance. Our culture that accepts rape, excuses its perpetrators and blames its survivors victimizes women in many ways. We are attacked, we are forced to live our lives with caution and fear, and then we are constantly reminded by those around us that we should be afraid. As a SAPAC volunteer, I am part of the movement to change the big ones, but as an individual the least I can do is change the latter. I would rather my family and friends not constantly remind me to be afraid, remind me that I am not safe and remind me that those around me have been victimized.

So, thank you for caring about me enough to want me safe. It's wonderful to be so loved, but please stop the advice like this.

-Emily, NPA Volunteer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Why Rape Jokes Need to Stop

Around finals time here at U of M, you tend to hear a lot of rape jokes in the form of "that exam raped me," or "I raped that exam." To some people, saying things like that is No Big Deal. They don't really mean it. It's just a joke. But I'm not laughing, and neither are survivors. A "Words Matter" campaign by U of M's Expect Respect has signs up around campus that say "I was raped, and it was nothing like your Stats exam" in addition to posters about the word "gay," "ghetto" and other hurtful statements that we hear all too often.

We can explain how hearing these statements can be triggering to survivors, how they feed into a culture that minimizes and even condones rape. And we should. But there are other reasons to stop rape jokes. This blog post outlines another, very important reason to stop rape jokes. Psychological evidence shows that rapists tend to think other men are rapists, and when rape jokes go uncontested or are laughed at, this reaffirms their belief that what they are doing is normal and accepted, rather than a horrific and violent crime.

So please, don't make rape jokes and don't let them stand when you hear it.

-Emily, NPA Volunteer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bias in New York Times Article

            “Wife Who Fired 11 Shots is Acquitted of Murder”, a New York Times article published on its website on October 6, discusses the result of the trial of Barbara Sheehan, a woman from Queens, New York.  Although the article seems to portray a neutral opinion on the case, a second look at it more carefully leads me to recognize the article’s dramatization of Ms. Sheehan’s defensive action, and also the article’s implicit focus on Ms. Sheehan as a criminal.
First of all the title of the article says it all. If the writers of the article were trying to be more sensitive to the situation, why didn’t they call it, “Survivor of Intimate Partner Violence is Acquitted of Murder.”  Also, the article refers to the husband as the “slain husband” at one point.  Although, “slain” is often used in journalism, when one thinks of the verb to slay, it’s referring to a violent way of killing.  Why is this woman suddenly highlighted as the violent one in the situation, when it obviously is much more complicated than that?
             The article mentions disbelief of her true personality as one of the arguments in the case against her, and the word ‘compromise’ is used when discussing her final verdict.  Also, the authors of the article choose to include an idea presented by Richard A. Browan, the Queens district attorney, who, “said the case was a cautionary tale that those claiming domestic abuse should not take the law into their own hands,” which implies by its use that the authors are framing Ms. Sheehan to be at utmost fault.  With these components, the authors put most of the blame on Ms. Sheehan and fail to take into account any barriers that might have prevented Ms. Sheehan from acting otherwise.
             The article overall frames Ms. Sheehan in a negative way, leading me to believe that someone who might not look at this article critically would assume that Ms. Sheehan was "let off easy".  I also can't imagine what her kids might think if they read this article.  It is horrible to see the media- especially a prominent component of it, such as the New York Times- implicitly support the argument against a survivor.  This is just a friendly reminder to carefully read how news articles choose to describe their subject, taking time to recognize their often inaccurate and exaggerated portrayals of survivors.

Here's the link to the article:

NPA Volunteer