Friday, September 15, 2017

Title IX is a promise not yet realized, but worth fighting for

By Kaethe Morris Hoffer, CAASE Executive Director
Since Title IX became law in 1972, girls and women in the United States have been entitled to receive education unencumbered by sex discrimination.  
More than four decades later, however, colleges, universities, and secondary schools too often lack policies and practices capable of making real the promises made by Title IX.  To this day, significant minorities of girls and women (as well as too many boys and men) experience sexual violation at the hands of classmates and teachers, only to then discover that the communities in which they are embedded are woefully unequipped to respond to them, or to the people (who are mostly male) whose acts of sexual intrusion throw worlds, and educations, into trauma and chaos.
The ways in which colleges and universities have long been incompetent at preventing or responding to sexual violation have overwhelmingly hurt women, and violated the promises of Title IX.  Having been so bad, for so long, at acknowledging or taking appropriate responsibility for the realities of sexual violation, it is predictable that certain schools will develop new policies and practices that are ham-fisted at best.  It is clear, in fact, that some schools have simply ping-ponged from being stupid and cruel in the way they treat victims of sexual assault, to being stupid and cruel in the way they treat men in their community against whom allegations of sexual violation are made.  This is not the outcome that feminist activists seek, and it is not a reason to jettison efforts to demand that schools and universities learn how to do better.
In the last few years young women activists have been spectacularly successful at increasing awareness regarding the epidemic levels of sexual violence inflicted on (mostly women) in campus settings, and there have been significant, positive developments across the country.  New, thriving conversations about the importance of affirmative consent, and the imperative of seeing that sexual assault is as much a “men’s issue” as it is a “women’s issue," have been critically bolstered by never-before-seen levels of enthusiastic support from male allies and the Federal Government’s Department of Education under former President Barack Obama.
Given President Trump’s apparent lack of concern for the sexual dignity of women, many in the anti-rape movement have been anxious about what steps would be taken by his administration regarding campus sexual assault, and last week Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a stinging rebuke of efforts made by her predecessors.  At the same time, she announced that her Department will launch a notice-and-comment period regarding regulations, with the aim of ensuring that schools are better informed and guided, and have processes that better serve both victims and perpetrators. CAASE supports those aims, and we agree with Secretary DeVos on this point: the Department of Education can do a better job of helping institutions get it right.
We worry, however, that Secretary DeVos believes that false rape accusations are routinely (rather than very rarely) leveled against men.  There are no facts to support that claim, although it is an effective and powerful lie that plays a key role in silencing victims. We are also disturbed by the Secretary’s suggestion that rapes occur because of  individual “personal weakness,” and her failure to acknowledge the ways in which the violation of young women’s bodies is simultaneously normalized and ignored by our culture. We worry that the Department of Education will promote policies that undermine school efforts to rid their campuses of sexual violation.  
We will not stand for any roll back of Title IX rights for survivors. We will continue to amplify the voices of the victims, students, and communities that support Title IX. We will continue to fight for the realization of the law’s promise: students are entitled to an education unencumbered by sex discrimination, harassment, and assault.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Young men find a role in ending sexual exploitation

By Caleb Probst, CAASE Educator 

Students at Chicago Quest High School learn about the realities of the sex trade.

Imagine a laser beam – a perfectly straight line of colored light – that is part of the lighting design for a rock concert. The beam itself would remain unseen by the audience, much like a laser pointer in a lecture hall, if there were not also fog machines putting haze in the air. The haze elucidates the presence of the beam, allowing the audience to appreciate its existence. If the existence of sexual violence and exploitation is a laser beam I am a fog machine blowing smoke so that young people can see it.

Sexual violence and exploitation exist on a continuum that is often hard to detect. All of us, simply by living in this cultural moment, are positioned somewhere on this continuum and gradually move back-and-forth along it. At one end, there are seemingly benign actions like buying a ticket to a romantic comedy that reinforces gender stereotypes. At the other end reside the far more obvious actions like buying sex.

When I accept a stereotypical movie plot line that presents the love of a woman as a prize to be fought for and won, then I will have an easier time accepting the woman herself as a prize to be won.  Prizes like trophies and medals are often awarded for persistence and hard work. When I view some women as prizes, it becomes easier for me to view some women as objects. And if I then continue down the road where some women can be treated like objects, then I eventually come to the end where some women can be purchased for sex.

Nearly every high school student I have worked with identifies buying sex as “bogus” and believes that it is something only “desperate losers do.” As Dante told me,“If you’re paying for sex, there is obviously something wrong with you, man.” Most of these same young people, however, indicate having absolutely no reservations about patronizing a strip club, watching pornography, or calling a girl they know a “slut” as a way to insult or degrade her. (Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure I should note that “slut” is actually rarely used by young people, as the word has been replaced with “THOT” – an acronym for That Hoe Over There. But, I think you see my point.) All of these behaviors clearly lie somewhere along the continuum, but most young people are not able to see that because these actions are seen as normal, if not acceptable, parts of society. Our society typically blames the victims of sexual assault for wearing the wrong clothes, or walking on the wrong street, or going to the wrong party, but rarely holds perpetrators accountable. Our society typically arrests and re-arrests people in prostitution, yet the men paying for sex generally get to go home with little more than a warning. When we take a step back to examine our societal responses to some of these problems, the reality of what exploitation looks like becomes clear.

Throughout the four sessions of Empowering Young Men, the students and I examine the continuum and wrestle with a few of these challenging questions.Why are men celebrated for their acts of dominance, and forgiven for their acts of violence? Based on my actions, where am I situated on the spectrum? What can I do to make our society better? 

During one class we listen critically to a variety of songs, and look for the subtle ways in which violent gender-norms are reinforced in current popular music. While listening to one of the songs, Zac had an epiphany.“That’s like the first time I’ve listened to the lyrics that closely, but he hit the woman.”  In a later workshop, Zac pointed out that there is no single source responsible for normalizing sexual violence and exploitation,“so we all need to be more aware and just do something.”

Zac is not alone.

Most of the young men who go through our program, leave saying they intend to stop calling girls “THOTs.” Most of the young men also say they intend to never patronize a strip club, and some even go so far as to say they are going to stop watching porn. When asked what they will do, many respond like Antwan. “Man, we need to start respecting women. And when your friends say things like,‘She’s such a bust-down’ you need to say,‘Bro you trippin’!”

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