Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sexual Harassment in the Technology Era: “Apps Against Abuse”

Sexual Harassment in the Technology Era: “Apps Against Abuse”
Blogger: Soojin Ock, Political Planning and Action Intern

Angry Birds, Wikipedia, Fruit Ninja…other than having the amazing capability of entertaining us during our morning commutes, what do these things have in common? Well, if you haven't figured it out already they're all Smartphone apps. With the rise of Androids and iPhones and everything else in between, there seems to be an app for almost everything you could ever need. Recipes? Check. Directions? Check. Sexual harassment and assault prevention? Maybe?

According to various studies on sexual misconduct, the number of women being sexually harassed and assaulted is much higher than the number of reported cases. The American Association of University Women for example, in a current study states that almost half of middle and high school students faced sexual harassment in the last year with most of the cases going unreported. With fears of victim blame, judicial error and concern for privacy, there is no wonder why the reported numbers are so low. With a seemingly endless list of superfluous features offered by mobile companies these days, it seems that technology and social media may be able to help to some extent.

To combat sexual harassment, local and international organizations have launched new apps that allow victims and witnesses to safely and anonymously report them. When victims report details of incidences, a campaign, started by Hollaback Philly, maps out the location and time of assault as well as sends supportive emails to women to encourage reporting the incident. Whypoll, a women's nonprofit group based in India, is releasing a new app called Fight Back that allows women to send SOS messages to friends and the police. In addition, the app allows women to report the location of street harassment so that other women in Delhi can avoid these areas. Here in the US, the Department of Health and Human Services recently released a campaign highlighting “Apps Against Abuse.”

These new apps are targeted at preventing sexual assault and partner violence by allowing women to quickly get in touch with friends or emergency contacts when in trouble. The app, “Circle of Six”, allows women to call friends with pre-programmed texts while, “On Watch”, activates a GPS coordinate to a friend if a situation goes south. These apps no doubt can and will help a lot of women who find themselves in trouble. However, technology can only go so far in protecting the rights and safety of women.

For the most part, these apps are largely based on sexual harassment and assault that occur outside of the workplace. Though greatly supported by sexual assault groups, these apps can do little to change the work culture if the complaints are not brought forth to the proper authorities. Yes, reporting these incidences anonymously online may help other women; however, it is only a small fix rather than a greater systematic change. Smartphone apps may not be helpful in workplace or school situations but reporting sexual harassment and assault will. By reporting cases we are encouraging other women to do the same so that we can change the overall dialogue of sexual misconduct in any social situation.

While a systematic fix only temporarily manages a problem, a systematic change can permanently transform the rules and enforce the protections that Title VII guarantees. We need to empower ourselves, our friends and even strangers to report any misconduct that they may fall victim to either in the street, the workplace or classroom. Without accurate information, resources that could be used to combat harassment and assault will be diverted elsewhere while perpetrators continue to victimize others. While informally reporting grievances may prevent other women from being harmed, our society needs to encourage an atmosphere where no occurrence of sexual misconduct or violation goes unreported or uninvestigated.

As with any progressive social movement, this will undoubtedly be an uphill battle. While massive underreporting is a current problem, we need to also acknowledge that legislation and enforcement of the law are imperative to these measures. Without support from legislators and voters, over time sexual misconduct laws be degraded into nothing more than a joke. Without our votes and representatives, these laws and policies can lose the strength they had to protect against violations. It is imperative that we, from the unemployed to the employed, from the student to the teacher, vote for measures and legislators willing to fight on our behalf. In the age of wireless tablets, touch screen computers and talking phones, anything seems possible. If science can go this far, there is no reason that we cannot go further.

 This is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Welcome to the Jungle: Sexual Harassment in College

Welcome to the Jungle: Sexual Harassment in College
Blogger: Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director 

One commonly noted sign of progress in the gender equality battle is that women now make up the majority--yes that is more than 50%--of college students.  This is an enormous advance and reflects the hard work and dedication of generations of women:  Women who have fought to be heard and taken seriously in the education system.  From an educational standpoint women definitely stand out; unfortunately, the college experience is not just consigned to lectures, exams and textbooks. 

Sexual harassment is a paramount concern for young women in today’s social climate.  We prepare our youth with college entrance exams, AP courses and “Week-One” icebreakers, but there is no curriculum or learning curve that adequately prepares for the new freedom college life offers.  Maybe it’s a result of my own collegiate Biology major, but I can’t help but equate the social college experience to that of a wild animal jungle.  Life may rely on discipline within the classroom, but once outside of those doors there is no truly enforceable law and order.

To comprehensively analyze the issue of sexual harassment would require hundreds of pages.  There is the fact that men, who throw the parties, inhabit the fraternities and dictate what makes their coed colleagues attractive, most often define social tiers and social order.  There are the issues of self-esteem, bullying and lack of sisterhood to be dealt within the women’s culture.  Worst of all there is the school administration that turns a blind eye--or worse blames victims--for fear of losing financial backing or support.

A few months ago I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn, and sincerely doing my best to leave work behind (there is no rest for the feminist), when I just couldn’t hold back.  Our barista was lamenting that her college just released a report that stated that there were no rapes on her campus and she “just knew that was not true!”  I admit it, I interjected.  I explained to her that more often than not the reports are sent to potential donors including well-heeled parents, alumni and federal agencies, who, as hoped for by the college, will bring in an important source of their revenue.  Federal law requires that colleges and universities, to retain federal student aid under Title IX, distribute these statistics annually.

I could tell that initially she wasn’t catching my gist.  I decided just to lay it out for her, “People don’t donate and are reluctant to apply to schools that report a lot of rape and sexual harassment.”  At first she didn’t want to believe that money beat out the safety of students, but after a short while it clicked.  I launched into my conviction that schools should hire women’s advocates to assign to all cases of rape and sexual harassment to ensure the victim is treated respectfully and the facts are collected without bias.  On my way out the door, she yelled out to me “this is why feminism can’t be dead.”  I told her I agreed.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is not a phenomenon that just pops up when young adults unpack their belongings, dreams and expectations at their new college campus.  In fact, the American Association of University Women just published a new study Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School documenting the growing pervasiveness and dire consequences of harassment experienced by students in grades 7-12.   One approach that can help to combat this discouraging trend is to hold educational institutions to the level of accountability that is required to comply with Title IX to protect our youth.

Another important step is to protect the legislation under Title IX of the Education Amendments, prohibiting sex discrimination, including sexual harassment.  A combination of pressures and congressional opponents are threatening to weaken the enforcement of Title IX.  We can’t afford to let this important legislation, and legal resource, be taken away from our young women and children.  Until we can fix the system, it’s the only recourse we have.  Advocate with your voice, advocate with your vote.

“Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.”

—U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights

·       U.S. Department of Education.  Office of Postsecondary Education.  The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool. http://ope.ed.gov/security/, Accessed Nov 15, 2011.

This is a part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Initiative 26 and "Personhood": A Lesson in Deductive Reasoning

A Lesson in Deductive Reasoning
Brought to you by Politics 2011
Blogger: Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director


According to Justice Scalia in 2011: Women are not defined in the Constitution as “persons.”


As asserted by Mississippi’s Initiative 26: “Personhood” begins at the time of conception.  Heretofore, criminalizing abortion, miscarriage and birth control pills.

THEN: Only male life (as persons) begins at conception. Therefore, abortion, miscarriages and birth control that prohibits fertilization of female life is fully legal.

No, that just doesn’t seem right.  I guess two irrationalities really don’t make a logical point.

We seem to be at the dawn of a new political era.  A time when reason and logic are overruled by emotional reactionism, often at the result of a union of church and state.  A time when the simple muttering of “initiative” or “resolution” can send chills down a woman’s back.

On the ballot in the upcoming November 8th elections one can find a multitude of conservative measures.  Simply put, the aim is to take back the Civil Rights that have been so passionately fought for over recent, and many, decades.  One not so discreet example can be found in Mississippi, under the guise of “personhood” or Initiative 26.

Initiative 26 aims to assert that “personhood” begins at the moment of conception- when the sperm works its way into the egg.  As a result, any harm caused to this fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, or whatever term you prefer, would be criminal.  This technically would put not only the right to choice under assault, but also family planning via birth control and even miscarriage. 

One would hope that this knowledge would alarm women instantly of the possible harm and control the government would hold over them.  However, it’s polling rather well.

In a moment of liberal compassion, a group of young feminists and I tried to understand the logic behind the minds who put forth such legislation.  After a minute or two we stopped.  We realized it didn’t matter and truthfully we didn’t care- it had little effect on our lives.  Their thoughts, their actions, their choices, that is.  The legislation, well, that truly can affect us- our thoughts, our actions, our choices.  It seemed unfair, oppressive, and yes, very illogical.

One may wonder why a single initiative in a single state is such a big deal.  Well, it goes back to that domino analogy.  Once you figure out the perfect angle to knock down the first piece in the set, the rest fall easily into place.  We must use our hands, voices and votes to block this initial play.  If we let even one state fall, we may not be able to stop the rest from following. 

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.