Girls View Sexual Violence As Normal

April 15, 2014
That's the title of a press release from Sociologists for Women in Society, which announced on Monday that a new study in the journal Gender & Society supports the theory that many young girls avoid reporting rape and other types of assault because they view this as "normal" behavior and/or feel they will be shamed for making a "big deal" about it.

The study, conducted by sociologist Heather Hlavka of Marquette University based on interviews with 100 girls aged three to 17, aims to go deeper than simply answering the question of why girls don't report abuse, to focus on "how violence is produced, maintained and normalized among youth," and on the language that girls use to describe this violence.

It's a study of the direct impact of rape culture, or what Hlavka calls "a patriarchal culture that normalizes and often encourages male power and aggression, particularly within the context of heterosexual relationships," citing Fineran and Bennett and Deboral Tolman.

In introducing the study, Sociologists for Women in Society cites a statistic from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

RAINN has recently found itself a springboard both for those who decry rape culture and those who claim that it doesn't exist. It issued a letter to the White House in February with recommendations for how the Obama administration should address sexual assault.

To feminists and sexual assault victims and advocates, the language - RAINN put "rape culture" in quotes and asked the White House to focus on perpetrators instead of cultural factors - seemed a bit strange, but didn't necessarily read as a rejection of the existence of rape culture, or societal norms and factors that contribute to high rates of sexual assault, low rates of reporting and conviction and further victimization (by law enforcement and peers) of those who experience rape.

To those who argue that the idea of rape culture is absurd, or that it implicates too many people in what is a singular violent act, RAINN's words were a signal that feminists and advocates may be doing more harm than good by putting energy toward the destruction of cultural norms like catcalling, songs about "blurred lines" and jokes about rape and women's "place" as subordinate. 


I won't go too much into my personal feelings on the issue here. You can see my Twitter timeline for that (it comes up a lot). But I just wanted to point out that regardless of whether or not you subscribe to the idea that ours is a culture that encourages - or fails to discourage - sexual assault, this new study includes some compelling evidence that at least some young girls believe that it's "normal" for boys to touch them without their consent, that boys "can't help it," and that it isn't safe for girls to report unwanted touching or sexual advances because adults are not likely believe them, and other female students or friends will label them "sluts" and "whores." 

Not to undermine my last post, I will note that yes, this is obviously just one study. But it's clear from this study as well as the many others Hlavka cites and increasingly prevalent anecdotal accounts on social media that we have a problem. 

Whatever we label it, the evidence is hard to deny: young girls - and many grown women - feel that their sexual assaults are inevitable, something men "just do," and something they need to just "get over" and accept. While the interviews in Hlavka's study are hard to read, I'm hopeful that her work will help to push forward the conversation about why that is. 
 

To veg or not to veg? The jury's probably still out.

April 4, 2014
There's some interesting research being reported today about the health impact of a meatless diet. Specifically, an Austrian study found that people who ate a vegetarian diet had 50 percent more heart attacks and 50 percent more cancer diagnoses than those who ate meat. 

A little shocking, right? 

The debate over whether or not being a vegetarian is healthier than being a carnivore is ancient, but for those on both sides, the scientific evidence thus far has been largely frustrating. I think th...

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Growing Pains

March 15, 2014
This week, two of the subjects I follow most closely - sexual assault activism and critiques of the media - converged to create a tense (and intense) conversation about how the latter should approach the former, when Christine Fox (@steenfox) asked sexual assault victims to tweet what they were wearing when they were assaulted. A writer at BuzzFeed who has covered sexual assault extensively for the site put together a post using some of the tweets, and what ensued was what I hope will be the ...
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Something Big Is Happening In Iowa

February 24, 2014
A little back story: Like many colleges and universities, the University of Iowa has had a sexual assault problem for a while. Examples herehere and here. And stats here

It's not just a problem of too many rapes; many argue that the way the university handles them is a huge part of the problem. 

Whenever a sexual assault is reported on campus, students and members of the university community get a "Timely Warning" email. One recent email (forwarded to me by a friend) included this language:...

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Recognizing The Impact Of "Uncivil" Discourse Online

February 17, 2014

As someone who chooses to discuss her opinions online -- usually on my Facebook wall after linking to an article that invokes thoughts of sexism, racism, environmental or legal issues -- I'm used to having heated discussions with both friends and strangers on the internet.

The common advice for those who publish their work online is to not read comments at all, and for those who read online and discuss in forums like Facebook, the advice is "don't feed the trolls." In other words, don't engag...


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Journalism After Snowden

February 1, 2014
On Thursday night, I headed up to Columbia after work for the J School's Journalism After Snowden panel. It was the inaugural event in what, according to Tow Center for Digital Journalism leader Emily Bell, will be a year-long project aimed at considering how journalism has changed in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks and the media's coverage of them. Bell also mentioned that the Tow Center is working on new tools to help investigative journalists with stories like this one.

The panel include...

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What everyone can learn from the Grantland "Dr. V" controversy

January 22, 2014
Just wanted to share this thoughtful (in my opinion) apology and explanation from Bill Simmons of Grantland, responding to the backlash against "Dr. V's Magical Putter."

When I first read the story, I definitely cringed, both as a journalist and as a person who has recently become more educated about what it means for someone to be transgender, and the best way to talk and write about it. I tend to agree with Simmons and many of my colleagues that Dr. V's history as a man was relevant to the s...

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Journalist, feminist, runner, cat mom. 

Living in Brooklyn, where else?