Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How CAASE Empowers Young Men to End Sexual Exploitation

By Caleb Probst, CAASE Education Outreach Associate

I was asked to come into a high school in Chicago to work with their 9th grade boys. The school indicated that they were troubled by the behavior exhibited in the halls by some of the boys toward some of the girls, and thought the boys would benefit from going through our program. At the start of the first day, I asked the boys to write down words they would use to describe “a prostitute.” The majority of the responses were words like, “slut,” “hoe,” “THOT” (That Hoe Out There), “easy,” “nasty,” “dirty,” and “worthless.” Many of these words were the same words that the administration reported hearing directed at the girls in the school. At the end of the 4-session program, the boys had a new perspective. They really understood how different the realities of prostitution were from the myths they were accustomed to hearing and how many prostituted people endure violence, poverty, and trauma. They also learned about about how society frequently shames and isolates people in prostitution. 

As these young men went through our 4-session program, they had an opportunity to examine what they know about “being a man” and think critically about how those shared perceptions influence their own decision making. They also had a chance to consider how their behavior, and the behavior of their peers, can impact their community. One student wrote, “I’ve learned that men treat women like crap, they use them as an object… I know that this puts girls in danger of becoming a prostitute.” He and his classmates began to see that objectifying women and degrading them with words like “slut” can have serious consequences. When asked how girls end up in prostitution, many responded with “they had a traumatized life,” “they had a rough childhood,” or “[society says] they have less power.”

Now, not every girl who is objectified and degraded will end up being commercially sexually exploited, and these young men acknowledged that. But as one student said, “we [never] know her story.” At the end of the final session, I asked the young men if there was anything that they would do differently now, based on what they had learned during the program. The two most common responses were “I will stop saying words like ‘thot’” and “I am going to respect women more.” 

School is out for the summer now, but there's hope yet for these young men who have just begun their journey to better understanding and respect for their female peers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Victims of Sex Trafficking and the Illusion of Choice

  By: Leena Saleh
When you read a news story about a young girl getting involved in the sex trade, what are some questions that come to mind? Did she want to make money? Does she not know the consequences of getting involved? Was she abused at home? Notice that none of these questions address the people directly responsible for buying or selling sex and profiting, quite successfully, from the exploitation of said young girl.

In a recent editorial, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times wrote about Emily, a 15-year old girl who ran away from home and became involved in the sex trade. Kristof said she became a prostitute and abandoned her parents, who were stricken with grief when they heard the news. He, too, tried coming up with rational answers for these types of questions and took it once step further to insinuate that Emily had made some poor choices. While Kristof mulls over whether other 15-year old girls like Emily will “consent” to being sold into prostitution, pimps work on recruiting their next victims.

Let’s take a step back and address the obvious elephant in the room. Under federal law, minors cannot give consent. No, as Kristof said, Emily did not have a “gun to her head,” and yes, she seems to have “voluntarily connected with her pimp,” but what seems to have been left out of the discussion are the proven methods of coercion carried out by pimps, such as showing false romantic interest, posing as benefactors, trapping victims in debt bondage, and performing other acts of psychological manipulation. Kristof’s glaring oversight aside, Emily is 15, well below the age of consent. So her ‘voluntary connection’ wasn’t voluntary at all.

Kristof is not unique in his deficit of attention to the real problem. Our culture perpetuates a particular framework: girls become victims of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and rape; this requires us to find out what they did to cause it. Sex trafficking victims are often put under a magnifying glass. Their individual choices, state of mind, and behavioral patterns are relentlessly analyzed and questioned over and over again. Rather than being rescued from their situation, they are re-victimized, which is exactly why federal law continues to be reformed in order to protect minors.

Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. What concerned parents like Emily’s have to lose is everything traffickers have to gain. Do we want to live in a society where women and girls are purposefully recruited, bought, sold, and exploited for years on end, only to have those who profit (those selling and buying) emerge completely unscathed?

Kristof’s equation for a solution comes down to dealing with girls like Emily by figuring out why they “choose” to become trafficked. The idea is that this will prevent pimps from recruiting them. However, there is a more viable solution that has been backed by credible research: deter men from buying sex by holding those who profit accountable. This will result in a shortage of demand, and therefore a decrease in the supply: women and girls.

For those who doubt that ending demand for paid sex is possible, consider the study conducted by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation that reveals otherwise: the study found that men could be deterred from buying sex if they faced real consequences, such as fines of $1,000 or more or public accountability for what they had done.  A deficient demand will cripple the industry and put an end to the recruitment process, giving girls like Emily a fighting chance.

Woody Allen and Rejecting the Monster Myth

By: Kaethe Morris Hoffer
I enjoy (many) Woody Allen movies, even though I've long believed he molested his daughter. I sing along when I hear Michael Jackson on the radio, even though I think he was a pedophile. I'd even vote again for Bill Clinton, even though I've always regarded the women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault as credible.

It's not that I think there shouldn't be consequences for abusive sex--I just believe that we should be able to hold predators accountable while still making space for them in our society. Condemning someone's worst acts simply doesn't require that we stop acknowledging their humanity or talents. Allen, Clinton, Jackson: I think all these men engaged in some monstrous acts of violation. But I don't think they are monsters, and the idea that only monsters engage in sexual violation is a myth we need to reject.

I am the Executive Director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, an organization whose mission is to create accountability for sexual harm and eradicate sexual exploitation. I've spent the better part of the last twenty years standing with individual survivors of rape and prostitution, urging police and prosecutors to believe victims and initiate prosecutions, and filing civil lawsuits to create accountability when the criminal system fails to act (which is very often).

But does vilifying those who engage in sexual predation actually help survivors? To begin with, the more we insist that being decent or admirable is fundamentally incompatible with engaging in sexually abusive behaviors, the more difficult we make it for individual survivors who are abused by people whose humanity and/or talents are undeniable. While most people never engage in sexual abuse, most of those who do have good qualities that are plentiful and undeniable.

The monster myth isn't only a problem because it increases hostility and skepticism towards victims who report being harmed by apparently or otherwise decent men (or, rather less often, women). Extreme rhetoric and draconian penalties also discourage violators from taking responsibility for their actions: admitting to a sex offense is tantamount to declaring oneself an irredeemable degenerate. The legal consequences include lifetime pariah status and never-ending career and housing limitations pursuant to sex offender registry laws.

When Dylan Farrow recently wrote about being sexually violated as a child, she challenged readers to name their favorite Woody Allen film before and after reading a description of the sexual abuse he inflicted on her--quite explicitly endorsing the idea that it is not possible (or acceptable) to celebrate a person's talent and believe they engaged in sexual abuse. I can't blame her. An unwillingness to acknowledge that individuals can be capable of both extreme good and extreme bad is not unique to her, and our entire culture bears responsibility for the fact that she regarded celebrations of Allen and his work as a personal rebuke to her—a message that she should be silent and "go away."

So I understand that admiration for Allen feels like a slap in the face to his accusers. But still, I don't think that standing with victims requires adherence to the view that only evil men engage in rape. This view is far too simplistic, and it promotes the idea that evidence that a man is capable of kindness, love, respect, or gentleness, somehow constitutes proof against allegations of him engaging in sexually violating behavior. Just last week, for example, Barbara Walters implied that she could not believe Dylan's allegations because she has personally seen Allen be a loving and attentive father.

As a society, we must stop acting as if there are only two legitimate responses to an accusation of sexual violation: either choice A) "He is a monster" or choice B) "She is lying (or mistaken)." We must stop this because as rape victims quickly apprehend, most people quickly gravitate towards option B. For as long as those victims who do speak up are mostly disbelieved and disregarded, the great majority of victims will continue to nurse their wounds in silence, and that minority of men who engage in sexual predation will have little incentive to change their ways.

To prevent sexual violation from occurring, we must be willing to see that otherwise good people might be perpetrators. Consider, for example, what Woody Allen said to People Magazine in 1976: "I'm open-minded about sex.  I'm not above reproach; if anything, I'm below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with fifteen 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him."  I find this quotation chilling, but it is not proof that he is a monster. Despite this quote—which rather clearly suggests a sexualization of pre-teens--I imagine that the majority of people in his inner circle--people who were exposed, as Barbara Walters has been, to his genuine capacity for loving and attentive kindness--viewed him as someone who "couldn't" be a man who would sexually violate a seven year old.

For as long as our rhetoric about sex offenders continues to be as extreme as it is, accusing someone of rape will continue to be taboo (perhaps more taboo than engaging in sexual violation).  And expectations that only 'monsters' are capable of rape will continue to limit our ability to acknowledge or respond to conduct that violates dignity and integrity--let alone attitudes or comments which suggest that an adult is inappropriately sexualizing children.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why context matters when it comes to prostitution

As I read the sad coverage of the death of a high school teacher, who was killed by a young woman with a "history of prostitution," I brace myself for the public discussions the story will stimulate. The realities proven by local and global research- specifically that most who are bought and sold for sex are first sexually exploited as children, are victims of astronomical levels of rape and battery by pimps and traffickers, and don't want to be doing what they are doing but don't see any way out- fail to take the spotlight and are overshadowed by the popular, misinformed trope that prostitution is just another kind of work- the harms of which would be ameliorated by legalization and a rejection of prudish morality.

What my organization, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, and countless others know- both from those who have been sold for sex, but also from research with men who purchase sex- is this: prostitution is dangerous and often deadly for those who are bought and sold; men who purchase sex (respectable or not) know more than most about the separate circumstances that lead girls and women to be for sale; 'customers' frequently take knowing advantage of the vulnerability and desperation of those who are bought. In Illinois, where nearly 95% of prostitution-related arrests are of those who are purchased (despite the fact that the population of 'customers' is vastly bigger) men face virtually no risk of legal consequence for purchasing sex, as they face little risk of other harm.

As the current case makes clear, men who buy sex are not always and only predators: as humans, they too, are vulnerable and can be harmed. But as we discuss and consider the problem of prostitution in the context of this current tragedy, I hope that the exploitation of those who are purchased is not ignored. I hope that people will also remember what is made manifest by the lives of most men and women: sex is not like other acts that people willingly engage in for money- it's not like flipping burgers or doing someone else's taxes or cleaning someone's house or being hired to do any other activity that is legitimately called "work." It is the kind of activity that girls and women mostly only do for money if they have been abused and are desperate.

As the community grapples with this tragic event, I hope there will not be too much thoughtless vilification of the young woman who took a life. And I hope there won't be an over-simplification of the problems posed (and faced) by men whose disposable income creates the demand that fuels all sex trafficking and prostitution.

For those who consider the purchase of sex to be trivial- or worse, to be a marker of 'manhood'- it is worth pointing out that no research has ever suggested that most men purchase sex. And if most men- or even if many men- can spend their lives refraining from funding an industry that depends on its existence for a ready supply of girls and women who have been trained for it by child sexual abuse, poverty, and abusive pimps, then all men can refrain from being customers.

Kaethe Morris Hoffer is the Executive Director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). She represents individual survivors of sexual assault, including through prostitution, advocating for them through civil litigation and within the context of the criminal system. Kaethe has spent the last twenty years doing legal and political advocacy opposing sex inequality and sexual violence.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CAASE co-pilots workplace sexual violence curriculum

By Sheerine Alemzadeh

This past Sunday, CAASE co-piloted a full-day training called "Ending Workplace Sexual Violence: A Know Your Rights Curriculum and Guide for Community Educators." The training was hosted by Latino Union of Chicago in Albany Park and led by CAASE staff attorney Sheerine Alemzadeh. The room was packed with 30 people, including not only representatives from the Latino Union and CAASE, but also Rape Victim Advocates, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, ARISE Chicago, Fight for 15, Chicago Community and Workers Rights Center, and the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union.

The goal of the training was to provide learning tools to organizers and activists in Chicago’s worker rights community to combat workplace sexual violence. Sunday's training included sexual assault 101 training and an introductory module for workers centers, as well as two advanced training modules: for workers experiencing sexual violence and a module on bystander intervention for allies. Participants were also provided with an organizer's legal guide on sexual assault laws in Illinois and English and Spanish know your rights brochures for workers.

The day started with participants sharing the labor of their mothers and grandmothers, and learning about the historical connection between workplace sexual violence and economic inequality. Later, audience members role-played making a report of sexual harassment to their employer, and intervening in support of co-workers experiencing sexual harassment. Presenters also discussed how the legal definition of sexual harassment does not protect workers against a wide range of sexual violence in the workplace. Elisa Ringholm of the Latino Union said, "This training opened the door towards a shared vision in the workers center movement to prioritize ending sexual violence in the workplace."

The curriculum pilot is part of a larger effort by CAASE to build bridges between the anti-rape and labor rights movements, drawing on the transformative work of each movement to build a stronger, more holistic, and more organized response to workplace sexual violence. The curriculum was a labor of love, produced over the past year by a CAASE-led coalition of worker rights organizers, attorneys, government officials and rape victim advocates. The coalition has met monthly since the fall of 2012, discussing ways to educate workers on sexual violence in the workplace and brainstorming intersections for activism in the labor rights and anti-rape movements. In the next year, CAASE hopes to provide training and education to the rape crisis community on labor rights and activism in Chicago.

CAASE would like to thank the Skadden Foundation for its generous support of this initiative.  It would also like to thank its outstanding coalition partners, including LAF-Chicago's Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project, Rape Victim Advocates, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, the Latino Union of Chicago, the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, Pillars, ARISE-Chicago, ROC-Chicago, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, USDOL-OSHA, and the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Learn more in CAASE's Know Your Rights brochure on sexual harassment, available here in English and here in Spanish (PDF links).

Friday, August 30, 2013

Meet Our Runners: Ruth Rankin

The Chicago Half Marathon and 5K are quickly approaching. The rest of this week, we’d like to introduce you to three of Race for CAASE team runners and encourage you to give to them and/or to any other members of the team to give them a boost before the race.
Ruth Rankin was introduced to CAASE through our former legal intern Rachel Johnson and her mother, Amy Stearns, who are both also Racing for CASE. Ruth ’s husband also filmed this video of her getting ready to go out on a run. So great!

CAASE: How did you get connected to CAASE?
Ruth Rankin: I’m a friend of Rachel Johnson [former CAASE legal intern] and she’s an absolutely wonderful woman. Through my friendship with her, I learned about CAASE. The work being done is so important. Amy [Rachel’s mom] let a lot of her friends know that the race was coming.
How is your training going?
I’m 63 and doing a couch to 5K program, as in couch potato. I’ve never done anything like this in my life. One of my friends said to me, “I kind of always thought of your form of exercise to turn the pages of a good book.” Everyone supporting me believes in CAASE’s mission and is really happy to support me. I have a feeling this is going to be my debut and sawn song (laughs). But I’m having a good time.
There are some people who are surprised and impressed. They’re all really happy to let me know that I’m pushing the envelope, and they think it’s great.
How are you feeling about being part of the team?
It’s great fun, and it feels fun to be a part of something. When I run with Amy the time goes a lot quicker. It is very exciting to be part of this and to feel like we’re part of something that really matters. And this really, really matters. I honestly didn’t know until Rachel helped me to understand how widespread and horrifying this is.I really am excited for the race and to be with all these people who believe it should be addressed and change. That kind of energy is a big part of my motivation.

Support Ruth by donating to CAASE via her page here, or donate to other runners by visiting the whole list here.  

Many Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Meet Our Runners: Lisa Belter

Lisa Belter
The Chicago Half Marathon and 5K are quickly approaching. The rest of this week, we’d like to introduce you to Race for CAASE team runners and encourage you to give to them and/or to any other members of the team to give them a boost before the race.

CAASE: Why did you choose to run for CAASE?
Lisa:  I'm moved by the organization's purpose. It is heartbreaking to hear about the injustice that occurs in our society.

CAASE: Have you run a marathon before?
Lisa: I have run 9 marathons before, but due to some back issues, I had to take some time off from running. I thought running a half marathon would be a good way to ease back into marathons, and it's for a great cause!

CAASE: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Lisa: I think the biggest challenge has been the fundraising. It is great how many people do fundraise for other events, but sometimes, I think people can get overwhelmed by all the donation opportunities.

Ok, internet, let’s give Lisa a boost today! Donate to her page here, and view the full list of runners here.

Many Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors: