Monthly Archives: March 2013

Publishing the identities of minors . . . who bully rape victims

On the Media has an amazing interview with Matt DiRienzo, editor of the Connecticut Register Citizen newspaper, about yet another victim-blaming sexual assault case out of Torrington, CT. This time the victim is 13, the defendants 18. And still, local kids are tweeting hate at the victim, calling her a whore, blaming her for her sexual assualt, and calling for her to be punished, rather than the alleged rapists.

DiRienzo and his team decided to post screen captures of the hateful tweets, including the full Twitter handle and image from each kid. And in the interview, he’s totally unapologetic about it. When asked if this makes him an “advocacy journalist,” he says he is more than happy to be seen advocating against 13 year old sexual assault victims being called whores in the public square.

Give it a listen – it’s just  a few minutes! And while you’re at it, you might check out the entire show from this weekend, where they discuss Steubenville and rape culture in a very measured, thought-provoking way.

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How to prevent rape

dont rapeI’ve seen this image going around in the wake of the Steubenville verdicts, and it’s a great rhetorical salvo: Hey, what if we actually put the responsibility for rape on the rapists, instead of the victims? Crazy, right? It’s a very good reminder that most of the rape prevention advice we’ve heard is directed at women, instructing them how not to be raped, and how messed up that is. The implications behind it include the assumption that men are just gonna rape, nothing to be done about it, and that women could possibly do or wear or drink something that “causes” them to be raped.

So I’m not trying to criticize that list here. However, I think we could go further, and construct a list that isn’t directed satirically at malicious rapists, but to every good person out there who wishes they could help prevent rape. Not in a “potential victims: don’t wear slutty clothes!” way, but guidelines that all well-meaning people could actually use to make rape less prevalent.

I think Men Can Stop Rape is a good start. Sometimes they veer a little paternalistic, especially considering their advice is aimed solely at men. But the idea that we should protect and support our friends from creepers, jerks, and potential rapists is most welcome.

So I sat down and thought “What do I want my daughters to know? What do I want their friends to do? What standards do I try to hold myself to?” What would be on a sincere list of suggestions for all people who want to help, not just focusing on potential perpetrators or potential victims?

I was heavily influenced by this excellent post on Captain Awkward. It tells stories of social groups passively allowing creepers to test group tolerance for sexually invasive behavior. Read this! It’s chilling how even women who are themselves harassed and groped feel awkward calling the creeper on it, and how the groups tend to exclude women who complain, rather than the perv who is assaulting people. And Captain Awkward’s response is wonderfully wonderful.

All that said, here is my proposed list of ways to prevent rape. These are for men, women, girls, boys, people who worry about being raped and people who worry about their friends being raped, and people who just want to make our society less tolerant of rapists in general.

How to Prevent Rape

  • Remind yourself often that women are human people worthy of respect.
  • Remember people’s bodies belong only to them.
  • “No means no” is fine, but better to look for an enthusiastic YES!
  • Don’t let anyone have sexual contact with an unconscious person.
  • Yes, even if “it’s their own fault” they’re unconscious.
  • If you have to stop and wonder whether something is illegal, assume it’s not acceptable behavior.
  • Look after your friends – don’t stand by while someone takes advantage of them.
  • Look after strangers too!
  • Call people on their inappropriate behavior!
  • Don’t put up with creeps in your social group.
  • Don’t blame women for complaining about unwanted touching and other invasive sexual behavior.

I’m including an image for easy sharing, but if people like it, maybe someone with more graphic design skill than I have (i.e., any) could think of a way to pretty it up like the image up top. Let me know!

Problem solving with kids

IMG_2094“I don’t want to go to gymnastics anymore! We have to do the high bar AND I’M SCARED OF IT!!!” *hysterical, terrified crying*

This popped out of nowhere right around bedtime this week. Instead of voicing my first thought, “They require 30 days’ notice before quitting, and if I’m paying, you’re going,” or even a more constructive, loving solution, I worked from the key fact – it was the end of the day, and Claire did not have the resources to discuss something she clearly found so distressing. At this time of day, and with this much emotion, there was no prayer of having any rational information go into her brain. So I empathized, telling her I understood that she was very scared and wanted to quit gymnastics. Then I said we needed to wait till tomorrow to talk about it more.

When she brought it up again the next day, we were lucky enough to have time and space for a mini family meeting. I told her about brainstorming. We would sit together and write down every idea we thought of for the problem, no matter how silly or weird. Then we would look through our list and pick one or two approaches to try first. She caught on pretty quickly, and gave me some ideas. Even one or two other than “I quit gymnastics,” so that was a great start! Here’s our list:

  • Mom helps Claire on the bars
  • Mom talks to teacher about alternatives
  • Claire quits gymnastics
  • Claire goes to drop-in daycare while Chloe’s at gymnastics
  • Claire does the high bar even though she’s scared
  • Claire doesn’t do that part of class and sits off to the side
  • Claire takes a water break during that part, and sits with Mommy

You can probably guess which ones were my contributions! I did tell her about the 30 days notice, and that I would expect her to go to classes we had committed to. So that helped motivate her to try some of the other ideas. In the end we decided to combine me talking to the teacher and Claire taking her water break during that part of class. She really is petrified by it – I think being physically separate from the gym floor and being right with Mommy during that part of class is helping her agree to this compromise measure.

I wanted to share this process because it would have been awfully easy for me to simply impose my own solution. Of course, the “traditional” parenting approach would have been “No, just suck it up.” My mushy mommy heart wanted to say, “Of course you don’t have to go – I won’t ever let you be scared!” The funny thing, though, is even if I had said, “You can’t quit, but I’ll talk to the teacher so you can take your water break during that part,” it wouldn’t have gone over well. Instead I allowed my child some space, giving her a voice in the process, and showing I respected her feelings and her problem-solving skills. I feel this really helped her accept a solution I liked better, plus it helped her build skills for the future. As she grows, this is a foundation for her to work around strong emotions, use reflection and openness, and feel more confident in her resilience when she faces something daunting.

Of course, I don’t always rise to this level of evolved parenting. Sometimes I don’t have the resources or I don’t stop to think. But I’m going to try to remember this experience and invest a couple neurons in creative openness in the future. I think it brought us both to a better outcome and prevented us from being opponents on this issue.

Dr. Amy and Conspiracy Theories

tinfoil hatA friend pointed out this 2012 article by Amy Tuteur about skepticism versus denialism. It’s a worthy topic, and I’m right with her (or perhaps more accurately with her cited material from Andrew Dart) regarding vaccine and evolution “skepticism.” But I take issue with her broad brush getting paint on me when she states, “Though it isn’t as obvious, natural childbirth and homebirth advocates are denialists, too.”

I’m a natural childbirth and homebirth advocate in part because I’m a skeptic! (The other major impetus for me is gender equality and bodily autonomy.) Look, I realize there are loonies in the natural/home birth camps. There are people so out there that Koi-Assisted Birth was greeted not simply with “Great satire!” but with many readers taking it as real. But there are plenty of advocates interested in evidence-based medicine and freedom of choice. Take someone who questions the benefit of routine continuous electronic fetal monitoring. That’s a reasonable question to ask when the intervention was introduced on the guess that it would be helpful, then later research showed it may result in worse outcomes. When you equate a skeptic about that issue with a crank who believes against all evidence that the earth is 6,000 years old, you’re being both inaccurate and insulting.

Here’s a rundown of the most glaring logical problems in Dr. Tuteur’s article.

Universal statements – Note the lack of “some” or “many,” or “the most extreme,” preceding the terms natural childbirth advocate and homebirth advocate. The existence of a single skeptical, reasonable advocate of natural childbirth upsets her argument.

False Dilemma – she gives the impression that a person either supports typical hospital birth, or is a loony conspiracy theorist who ignores all evidence that homebirth is imperfect. There’s no intimation that some people might occupy a middle ground.

Equivocation - Tuteur quotes Dart’s discussion of conspiracy theories, then uses an unexplained, idiosyncratic definition of “conspiracy theory” to assert that natural childbirth advocates are conspiracy theorists. Under her implicit redefinition of “conspiracy theory,” anyone who acknowledges unconscious bias (such as the possibility that a doctor might intervene quicker if he wants to get to a golf game) is evoking a conspiracy theory.  She also redefines conspiracy theory to include the realization that medical schools often teach by tradition, rather than strictly keeping to the latest evidence-based practice. The normal definition of “conspiracy theory” hinges on deliberate plotting. Dr. Amy’s special definition includes totally unconscious, unplanned behavior. I guess if she used the real definition, she couldn’t include natural childbirth advocates under Dart’s definition of denialists.

Guilt by association: “And natural childbirth and homebirth advocates share key attitudes with vaccine rejectionists, creationists and other denialists.” First she lumps natural childbirth and homebirth advocates together, then further assumes that homebirth advocates universally support poorly trained CPMs, and don’t care about any evidence that they might be less safe. Through this chain of association, suddenly a mother who gave birth in a freestanding birth center because she was worried about unnecessary interventions is equated with believers in a global conspiracy to give kids autism with vaccines.

Personally I get the impression that “The Skeptical O.B.” is herself a bit of a denialist, that she believes typical hospital birth with lots of interventions is the best, safest practice, and that no evidence will ever be good enough to dissuade her. So rather than searching out the best evidence about these practices and questioning her own biases, she targets people who do question, and paints us all as crazed fringe ideologues who don’t care about dead babies.

I admit I am biased toward natural childbirth and questioning medical interventions. But, I at least try to remember that I have that bias and attempt to embrace the foundation of skepticism – watching out for my own perceptual foibles. If there is solid, evidence-based consensus that the benefits outweigh the risks for routine continuous electronic fetal monitoring, routine episiotomy, or nil by mouth during labor, I would be interested in seeing it, and if it’s convincing I would change my mind about the desirability of these procedures. Being willing to change your mind is what skepticism is all about, while protecting your current beliefs at all costs is denialism – even if your beliefs are culturally mainstream.

(For the record, I’m a natural childbirth advocate and homebirth advocate in that I believe in making these options available to women, I am skeptical of some of the typical hospital practices, and I was personally more comfortable birthing outside a hospital, where I felt my providers’ approach to birth dovetailed with mine. I’m 100% in favor of making CNM-attended homebirth a common option. I am not personally as comfortable with CPMs, and unattended childbirth scares the hell out of me. But I still think women have the right to do either, though they should have access to the risks and benefits information as best we have right now.)

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