Excuses for rape – men and the myths that won’t die (commentary)

Joan Smith: Excuses for rape – men and the myths that won’t die
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Let’s talk about men behaving badly. No, actually, let’s talk about rape and sexual aggression, the accurate descriptions of some of the behaviours that have just caused a media frenzy. Most of the myths around the subject have surfaced during the past seven days. I’m going to list them as a small public service.

It wasn’t really rape. The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, claimed some rape cases are something else, such as consensual sex between an 18-year-old and his 15-year-old girlfriend. This has never counted as rape in English law; Clarke got it wrong, going on to cast doubt on “date rapes”and putting his fitness to continue as Justice Secretary in question.

She’s too ugly to have been raped. Sections of the French press reported that lawyers for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF, were shocked when they saw how “unattractive” his accuser was. Such claims are a further assault on the alleged victim, based on the myth that suave, successful men couldn’t possibly have a sexual interest in someone who isn’t young and beautiful. Rape is an indiscriminate crime, perpetrated against girls, women and indeed men of all ages, appearances and ethnic groups.

She overreacted. He didn’t mean anything by it. When influential men misuse their position to grope someone with less power, their behaviour is reinterpreted as something less culpable. DSK has been known for years in France as a “great seducer” even though his aggression towards women was an open secret. A French journalist, Tristane Banon, broke the silence when she claimed DSK tried to tear off her clothes during an interview in 2007, but she was persuaded not to make a formal complaint.

He can’t help himself. He likes women too much. The former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, portrays himself as a red-blooded male who can’t resist an attractive woman, but he’s been accused by more than a dozen women of grabbing their breasts and bottoms. Schwarzenegger is a serial predator. That he had sex (and a child) with a domestic employee while his wife was pregnant should surprise no one.

It wasn’t a serious rape – he didn’t use violence. Ken Clarke again, suggesting that rape involves a man “forcefully” having sex with an unwilling woman. Rape is a serious crime whether or not it involves physical force. As with other serious crimes, individual circumstances are taken into account at sentencing.

It’s a conspiracy. Sixty per cent of the French public believe DSK was set up. There’s a parallel here with the accusations against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which his supporters dismiss as a dastardly plot to lure him to Sweden andthen extradition to the US.

He’s the real victim. It was reported (wrongly, says her lawyer) that DSK’s alleged victim is HIV-positive. This is a sneaky way of casting aspersions on a woman’s sexual history, while the suggestion that DSK may need an HIV test turns the alleged attacker into a victim.

But after a week in which these myths resurfaced, something interesting has happened: DSK faces serious charges, Clarke is only just hanging on to his job and Schwarzenegger is being divorced. Even Le Monde accused French journalists of dressing up sexual aggression as libertinage and reinforcing toleration of sexual violence. “Libertines” everywhere had better watch out.

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Maryland legislature fails to expand domestic violence laws (commentary)

Source – Baltimore Sun

What would you do if your spouse punched out your television? What if he (or she) threw a table across the room and it smashed to pieces against the wall in a fit of rage? Even if you weren’t touched during this episode of violence and intimidation, aren’t you a victim of it? Do you deserve protection?

By Maryland’s narrow definition of abuse, you may not. It virtually all cases, it will take more than destroyed property, incessant and harassing text messages, or even your abuser coming to your home uninvited to convince a judge that you deserve the protection of the state.

It seems we have a high standard of proof in Maryland for what constitutes domestic violence. It’s a high standard that nevertheless puts us in low company: the dwindling number of states that don’t recognize a wrecked TV or a destroyed room as an indicator of escalating abuse — a big hint that physical harm could be next. And now, with the legislative session just ended, those who represent the people of Maryland have declined to do anything about it.

This is not the first time the Maryland legislature has neglected to expand domestic violence laws. You might remember Amy Castillo, the Montgomery County woman who, in the middle of a custody dispute with her estranged husband, was denied a protective order due to the rigid standard of proof of domestic abuse. At a particularly volatile moment in their failed relationship, Ms. Castillo’s husband took their three children to a hotel in Baltimore and drowned them. It was a sickening headline across the country, and it cried out for some measure to be taken to try to stop it from ever happening again. But even the wrenching testimony of Amy Castillo would not convince the legislature that changes to Maryland’s domestic violence laws are overdue.

That was just over a year ago. Fast forward to 2011, and little has changed. During the just-past session, the House and Senate considered legislation that would have permitted domestic violence victims to obtain a protective order from their abuser for more forms of abuse than those that are strictly physical. The bills cited trespassing, harassment and malicious destruction of property as forms of abuse in which victims of domestic violence could seek protection. They didn’t even get out of committee. If the legislation had passed, Maryland would have joined 27 states and the District of Columbia in having a more inclusive definition of abuse within their protective order statutes. Yes, it would still be difficult to obtain a protective order under Maryland’s stringent standard of proof, but the expanded definition could help more domestic violence victims (disproportionately women) seek protection.

As a student attorney in the University of Baltimore Family Law Clinic, I saw firsthand how Maryland’s limited definition of abuse makes it difficult for victims of domestic violence to obtain protective orders. I will not forget my time representing a woman whose husband, in a fit of rage against her, punched a hole in their 50-inch television. Then, with his knuckles still bloody, he threw an end table across the living room, shattering the table and causing damage to the wall.

This man never physically harmed my client. But he frequently destroyed their personal property as a way to intimidate and instill fear in her. Believe me, it worked. Still, it was nearly impossible to obtain a protective order because he had never hit her.

Unfortunately, my client is not an exception. Many abusers pride themselves on never touching their victims and employ other methods of abuse to intimidate and control. Maryland’s failure to recognize this as abuse is a national disgrace.

Watching the legislation fail this year, I had to ask: What will it take? Does every lawmaker have to stand in a wrecked room before they can grasp what’s going on? Who is really being protected by our state’s domestic violence law?

Another year has gone by, and Maryland has failed to take needed steps to protect victims of domestic violence. I want to believe that it will change, but a busted TV and a splintered table leave me thinking, and feeling, otherwise.

Naomi Sternlicht is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law.
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Rape In The Fields: A Silent Epidemic

Cases Of Rape, Sexual Harassment Of Fieldworkers On The Rise
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Christine Dinh – 23ABC East Bakersfield Reporter

May 24, 2011
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Fieldworker rights advocates say rape in the fields happens a lot but rarely is reported. It happens so much that there is a field in Salinas dubbed the field of panties because so much rape has occurred there. But it’s not just there. It’s everywhere, including Kern County.

For Veronica Reyes, coming to a field on Copus Road where she used to work is difficult.

“I feel a bit sad to remember what happened and be in this location where such bad things happened to me,” said Reyes.

Reyes says it happened last summer. First, a fellow fieldworker offered her money for sex. “He said to me, ‘Would you prefer to work in the sun or get a week’s worth of pay for 15 minutes?'” said Reyes.

A couple of weeks later, another co-worker decided to rape her. “He was a fieldworker who just started the job a few days before. I never noticed anything suspicious,” said Reyes.

She said one day after work at the field, he invited her to sit in his truck while they waited for their paychecks. “I was sitting there looking out the window when he grabbed my mouth with his hands and kissed me. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t talk. And then he shoved his hand down my pants. I tried to pull his hand out but he was too strong. So I just froze, paralyzed with shock,” said Reyes.

She said he raped her for 20 minutes. Fortunately, they were interrupted by another car.

“When he saw the car drive up, he gave me a towel and told me to clean myself up,” said Reyes.

She said he has since disappeared. But the attack is always on her mind. “I feel dirty, sad, with no desire to do anything,” said Reyes.

Oscar Teran of the California Rural Legal Assistance said unfortunately, cases like this are common.

“It would almost be impossible to get an accurate estimate of the number because there are so many silent victims. What we do know is that those cases are on the rise. Not only is the CRLA seeing more cases, but so is the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They’ve reported an influx of these cases,” said Teran.

The United Farm Workers organization said it knows of at least eight to ten cases per year, usually occurring during the harvest.

“Because that’s when there’s a higher percentage of women working in the fields,” said Armando Elenes of the UFW.

Elenes said the assaults or harassment usually happen in the field or labor camps.

“It happens in the middle of the orchard. It happens after work. And it happens all the time,” said Elenes.

Marivel Acuna from the California Rural Legal Assistance said supervisors and coworkers are usually the perpetrators. She offered some insight as to why the rapes happen.

“Because they feel empowered. They feel power in the them, the authority they have,” said Acuna.

“A supervisor will say, ‘If you want to keep working here, you’re going to have to help me, do something for me,” said Elenes.

Another issue that empowers them is the legal status of their victims. For instance, Veronica is undocumented.

“He probably thought, ‘Oh, she doesn’t have papers. She’s undocumented so I’ll rape her and nothing will happen because she doesn’t have papers,'” said Reyes.

To this day, Reyes has not reported the rape to law enforcement.

“It happens all the time,” said Acuna.

Acuna said cases like Veronica’s go unreported all the time.

“The majority of the problem is that they are not documented. That’s the first thing,” said Acuna.

Acuna said undocumented fieldworkers fear deportation if they go to law enforcement.

“Personally, and I know my department, we do not care and we do not ask if somebody is legal or illegal when they are reporting a crime,” said Detective Dona Wood of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

Victims and their families can even be protected from deportation by getting a U-visa. It gives them temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States for up to four years as long as they assist in the investigation of the crime.

“If you’re able to provide and prove that you’ve suffered extensive mental and physical abuse from it, then that qualifies you to be a recipient of the U-visa,” said Raye Bugnosen of the Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.

Teran said another reason victims do not report the crime is for fear of losing their job. “There is a lot of retaliation. We’ve seen a lot of cases where someone reports the problem, not only are they fired, but their family members who work on the same crew are fired,” said Teran.

They would not only be fired, but are often blacklisted from getting other jobs.

“And a lot of it is they are uneducated, they don’t know where to go or who to talk to,” said Acuna.

Reyes said she has not reported her rape because she thinks she doesn’t have enough proof. She does not know her attacker’s name or anything about him.

“Even though she may not know the name or identity of the person who harassed or assaulted her, the employer themselves still has the degree of responsibility. So it would be important for her to engage in the legal process of making sure her rights are vindicated,” said Teran.

“And the saddest part about it is that men and women don’t know their rights,” said Acuna.

Undocumented workers have the same rights as anyone else, but they often do not know that. “They have right to be free from harassment. They have the right to be free from discrimination based upon their gender. They have the right to be free from sexual violence or intimidation in the workplace. They have the right to a safe and secure workplace,” said Teran.

“We need you to come forward. Because nine times out of 10 a suspect or perpetrator is going to do this again. Especially when it comes to a sexual assault or domestic violence,” said Wood.

“Right now what I want is to have justice. I hope he’ll pay for what he did,” said Reyes.

If you or anyone you know has become victim to sexual harassment or assault, you should:
1. Report the crime to call law enforcement.
2. If raped, go to Kern Medical Center or Memorial Hospital to have a rape exam performed. They are the only hospitals that do it.
3. Make sure to bring a victim’s rights advocate such as someone from the Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault or the Victim Witness Assistance program.
4. Contact an attorney. The California Rural Legal Assistance and greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance are available to help people who cannot afford attorneys.

Once the case goes to court, a judge can order the perpetrator to pay restitution or the employer to change company policies to ensure the crime will not happen again.

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Related: Rape in the Fields – Part 2