Thursday, March 3, 2011

Northwestern Incident and Porn: Things to Consider

We’ve been asked what CAASE thinks about the Northwestern University sex toy incident. If you haven’t heard about it, catch up here. Our initial concern was for the people in the audience—had they been given enough opportunity to avoid viewing this? Certainly what’s been described could have been traumatizing to anyone, but especially to those who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. We wonder if the value of witnessing this act was worth the potential trauma it could inflict on the viewers.

If you’re upset about the idea of students being exposed to this, I invite you to examine your beliefs and actions regarding pornography. I wonder what would be happening if Northwestern students had been shown this act on video instead of live on stage? Would we even be having this discussion? And really, sex acts on video deserve a lot more scrutiny than this. Why? Because, as icky as I personally think it was, the couple at Northwestern say the “performed” because they both wanted to and enjoyed it. That’s called consent. And that makes this act different from some pornography. Here’s why:

When watching porn online or on a DVD, there’s no such guarantee that the people you’re watching have given consent. Many sex traffickers are found with filming equipment and cameras with the intent to create and sell pornography. Some women in the sex industry are coerced or even physically forced to act against their will in order to create this “entertainment.” People who consume porn may unknowingly contribute to the assault and abuse of women and children, even if watching the final “product” doesn’t make that apparent.

Then there are the harms that porn causes to people who watch it. One 1994 study found that men exposed to violent pornography were six times more likely to exhibit rape behavior, and a second one in 1995 found pornography use was the strongest correlate of sexual aggression. Pornography changes the way we think about sex and the way we think about people—as objects, instead of human beings. One man interviewed about the effects of porn said:

"Porn makes more men try things. Men who are shown porn at a younger age categorize women more and see it as a harmless crime, because they don't see them as a person."

How does this relate to what happened at Northwestern? What happened at the university was sexually graphic, and that’s scandalizing and surprising a lot of people. And yet pornography is generally accepted as something that’s just part of life, and not worth examining or questioning. If you’re concerned about exposing our college students to graphic and damaging material, it’s time to take a stance on pornography.

Learn more about these issues on the CAASE resource page. Specifically we have a sheet with myths and facts, along with action steps you can take. You can also contact us to make a presentation or to host a screening of "The Price of Pleasure," a documentary on the realities of the sex industry.

-Kristin Claes is CAASE's communications manager. She can be reached at

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Victory! Cook County Board Approves Amendments to Fund Rape Crisis Services by Serena Curry

Last week, the Cook County Board unanimously approved two budget amendments that will provide $275,000 in funding for six area rape crisis centers for the second consecutive year. This is a huge victory for CAASE and its partners who greatly benefit from these funds, including Rape Victim Advocates, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, and the YWCA, to name a few. Under the direction of Advocacy Director Lynne Johnson, I worked closely with Communications Manager Kristin Claes, and Advocacy intern Lindsey Lapointe to encourage County Commissioners to continue funding rape crisis services in the community.

Rape crisis services are a vital, valuable resource for rape and sexual assault survivors. In Cook County, the rape crisis centers that we work with provide around-the-clock bilingual and culturally sensitive counseling, legal and medical advocacy, and outreach services. Unfortunately, funding these services is difficult during an economic crisis, especially with the threat of State budget cuts and a lack of support from the City of Chicago. The grant that each rape crisis center receives from the County helps them to effectively serve the members of their communities, and improve each client’s quality of life.

While working with County Commissioners to advocate for funding, I was given the opportunity to meet with rape crisis providers and ask them specifically about how the grants have made an impact in their communities. I was able to collect survivors’ stories, and learn more about how absolutely crucial rape crisis services are to an individual’s mental and emotional well being. We then used this information to create a document which shared the survivors’ experiences at each rape crisis center to encourage the County Board to continue their funding.

The opportunity to meet one-on-one with clients and providers offered me a whole new perspective on CAASE’s advocacy efforts and the significance of the work that we do here. One woman that I spoke with at Mujeres Latinas en Acción explained that the services she received helped her come to terms with the fact that she is a survivor of rape, and empowered her to move forward with her life. Another woman explained that she received services that helped her re-build a relationship with her children. By working to maintain funding from the County, CAASE is helping improve survivors’ lives, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of these efforts.

-Serena Curry is a volunteer and intern for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.