Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Uncovering Sexual Assault in the Military"

Check out this article.

A relative of one of our professional staff members at SAPAC was part of the group of Yale Law students who filed the lawsuit! How exciting!

Friday, December 10, 2010

CouchSurfing ignores violence against women.

CouchSurfing is an organization that lets travelers keep costs low by connecting members with other members who let the traveling members stay at their home. Their mission statement from their website reads,

At CouchSurfing International, we envision a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates a global community.
However, recently they haven't been holding up their mission statement, especially when it comes to the respect of women. Change.org recently published a blog with stories from a couple of women describing their very negative experiences with CouchSurfing. One woman, Melissa Ulto, had been repeatedly sexually harassed by her host, and in the end decided she did not feel safe at his house and went to a hotel. Another woman was not able to escape the situation and ended up being held captive and raped by her host.

CouchSurfing's resposne to Ulto? That they had a "higher than usual workload" and that since there were no witnesses they must remain as neutral as possible. In fact, CouchSurfing seems to continuously ignore the various complaints from many women on their own message boards, and only give out the standard response, that members need to look into their potential hosts more closely. The only way it seems to get CouchSurfing's attention is through proof of legal action, where the responsibility is completely on the survivor to lodge a complaint and seek the authorities. In a completely different culture than the one they are accustomed to. Obviously this solution is not effective.

One of CouchSurfing's "Guiding Principles" is
We seek continuous personal development for ourselves and others.
Well, they need to realize that something is wrong with the program, especially in regard to women's safety. They need to start listening to survivor's stories, and develop the program so it no longer is unsafe to participate in. They need to realize that safety is something they need to develop so that the responsibility is not on the member to vigorously search information about potential hosts in hopes that they are not harassed or assaulted. All in all, CouchSurfing needs to step up.

In the end, a lot of people are asking the question, should CouchSurfing be shut down? Does CouchSurfing ignore  the safety complaints of it's members enough that it is no longer a reliable and good service?


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Upsetting Conversation

Hey Blog-Readers,
I wanted to share a conversation that I had with a friend of mine recently and get some feedback from you guys about it. We're going to call my friend "Bobby." I was talking to Bobby on the phone the other night and we got started on a conversation about dates and dating and what is expected on a date.  His argument was that if a guy and a girl go out on a date and the guy pays for everything, that it is expected that the girl "repay" him.  It would be "unfair" to let the guy pay when the girl has no plan to "at least hook up with him."  He argued that if a girl did not plan to pursue sexual activity with the guy, she should offer to split the bill up front.  If the guy then refused to let her pay, "it's his own fault if he doesn't get any." I brought up the argument that a girl could have intentions of "hooking up" with him at the beginning of the date but decide later that she no longer wants to.   He said that in that case, it was the guys fault for "screwing something up" that led her to no longer want him sexually.  This then turned into an argument about gender roles.  He claimed that people could either choose to be "old-fashioned" or "progressive." If the couple was to be "old-fashioned" then it was the man's role to pay and the woman's role to "repay."  If the couple chose to be progressive, then "clearly" they would split the bill and there would no longer be any "expectations" of either party.  Being the romantic that I am, I brought up that it used to be that a man would pay for a date out of both a sense of obligation and just to pay for the right to be in the woman's company.  To this he replied "well that's just stupid." He also said that in general, a woman would "go out" to have fun, whereas a man would "go out" to "get laid."  When I brought up the fact that all of these were complete gender stereotypes and had no real validity in a real-life situation, he said that "these things are portrayed in movies and TV for a reason....that's how things are."  He also claimed that if it wasn't for man's "need to go out and get laid" and woman's desire to "hold out until she found the right (biggest, strongest, smartest) guy," that there would either be no furthering of mankind or the children would small, weak, stupid, and not survive.


As I'm sure many of you will understand, this conversation was very frustrating for me. I hold very different  opinions about the situation.  Paying for something and expecting sexual repayment? That's the definition of prostitution.  How is it then that he is able to so "solidly" justify this?  It's because this is the image of dating that we see in the movies and on TV.  But just because it's in the media, doesn't make it okay.  The entire time I was trying to get him to understand my point, I realized that I would never be able to back it up as strongly as he could back up his point.  My evidence is that "it's just wrong!" Whereas he can show his point of view in all sorts of media.

I wanted to blog about this to get your opinion on a few different things:
How would you have responded to this conversation?
How can we possibly try to overcome these media stereotypes that have infiltrated and polluted our society?
And most importantly, I disagree with what the majority of society is telling me. But I'm not crazy, am I?

Frustrated and Confused,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

CNN Hero of the Year

Since 1993, Anuradha Koirala and her organization Maiti Nepal rescued over 12,000 girls and women from human trafficking. She has created a safe home for these women and children to live in. Since she has been so successful in saving so many people's lives, she and her volunteers sometimes have to have bodyguards in some cities to help rescue girls. Many of her volunteers are sex trafficking survivors.

Koirala's history of an abusive marriage inspired her to start Maiti Nepal. After that marriage ended, she saved her income of $100 per month and started helping other women who had experienced sexual violence. Now Maiti Nepal doesn't only take in sex trafficking survivors, but also women with HIV/AIDS and abandoned children.

Because of her courage, strength, and the empowerment she has instilled into these women and children, Koirala is more than worthy of the honor of being named CNN's Hero of the Year 2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Slippery Slope Of "Advance Consent"

Canada's Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could have serious implications for future sexual assault cases.

A Canadian woman consented to erotic asphyxiation with her husband, but not anal penetration. She eventually passed out, and woke up to find that she had been anally penetrated with a dildo. The woman pressed sexual assault charges against her husband.

A lower court convicted the man, but it was appealed and is now being considered by the Canadian Supreme Court. The defense is insisting that by agreeing to erotic asphyxiation, the survivor had consented to sexual activity, implying blanket consent on all sexual activity. The claim that the woman gave advance consent to activity that would occur while she was unconscious was not only incorrect, but besides the point. "Advance Consent" would take away a person's right to change their mind. Someone can say "yes" a hundred times, but if one "no" is heard, the sexual activity must stop. This can't happen if someone is unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

The blanket consent defense sounds very similar to defenders of marital rape or rape that occurs in a relationship. The idea that once someone consents to sex once, it applies to all future cases or all possible sexual activities is just plain wrong. The Canadian Supreme Court has an opportunity to show how important un-coerced, consent is. Alternatively, they have the option of setting back rights to one's own body quite a few years. Hopefully they choose correctly.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Trauma Resources

Here are a list of valuable trauma support resources provided by River Willow Fagan during SAPAC's writing workshop on November 30th:


     Trauma/Narrative Theory:

  • Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence-- from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman
  • The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics by Arthur W. Frank
  • Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Changes Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo
  • Walking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter Levine
     Autobiographical Narratives:

  • Black Boy by Richard Wright
  • The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde
  • Dangerous Families: Queer Writing on Surviving edited by Matt Bernstein Sycamore
  • I Am a Red Dress by Anna Camilleri
  • A Language Older than Words by Derrick Jensen
  • Exile and Pride by Eli Clare
     Fictional Narratives:

  • A Map to the Next World: Poems and Tales by Joy Harjo
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson

  • Activist Trauma Support- http://www.activist-trauma.net/
  • Allied Media Projects- http://alliedmedia.org/
  • Center for Digital Storytelling- http://www.storycenter.org/index1.html
  • Healing Trauma- http://healingtrauma.pscap.org/
  • Power-Under: Trauma and Non-Violent Social Change- http://www.traumaandnonviolence.com/
  • Rape Abuse and Incest National Network- http://www.rainn.org/
  • Storytelling & Organizing Project- http://www.stopviolenceeveryday.org/

If anyone has any suggestions of resources to add to the list, please contact me at hscol@umich.edu

-Heather Colohan

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sexual Assault Case at Notre Dame

A recent issue in the news is the story of Elizabeth Seeberg.  She was a 19 year-old girl who attended St. Mary’s College, a sister school of Notre Dame.
In the beginning of the school year, she was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. The following day, she reported the incident to the Notre Dame police, who neither took action, nor made the incident public knowledge. Nine days later, Elizabeth was found dead after having overdosed on medication she had been taking.
Even when the investigation of her death was taking place, the Notre Dame police still did not inform the county of the report Elizabeth made over a week earlier. It wasn’t until two months later that the Notre Dame police finally shared the report with a county prosecutor.
According to the second article below, Notre Dame police apparently forward all sexual assault cases to prosecutors for action to be taken, if it is considered necessary.
Why was it not forwarded sooner? Whatever the reason was, it was meaningless. There is no excuse for failing to acknowledge sexual violence. It took a lot of strength for Elizabeth to report the incident in the first place. To have her case put on the backburner until much later is absolutely ridiculous. Based on this incident, the Notre Dame police should definitely reconsider how they handle sexual assault cases. 


1st article:

2nd article: