Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Get it together, Olympic commentators.

By Kelsey Jones

This headline is a metaphor for the entire world, reads the caption for a photo of a newspaper story about the 2016 Rio Olympics. The headline? “Phelps ties for silver in 100 fly.” Underneath it, in smaller type, sits the sub-headline: “Ledecky sets world record in women’s 800 freestyle.”

Katie Ledecky beat the world record and won the gold and was celebrating in the pool before her competitors even touched the wall. That phenomenal performance was placed beneath—in both newspaper layout and newsworthiness—the silver medal performance of Phelps.

The caption spoke to the rampant sexism at the 2016 Olympics, where fans and viewers are repeatedly left dumbfounded by media and commentator coverage. But also to the way that women’s accomplishments are viewed in the world of sports more generally. According to the UK’s Cambridge University Press, male athletes are three times more likely than female athletes to be mentioned in the context of sports, while women are routinely described with regards to their appearance, marital status, and age.

From the opening day of competition, the media aligned with that study. During the women’s gymnastics team final, an announcer commented that Team USA’s gold-winning Final Five appeared to “just be standing around at the mall” while they were waiting for their turn on the next apparatus. And after Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú’s gold medal and world record performance in the 400-meter individual medley was immediately attributed to her husband and coach, despite the fact that he most definitely was not the one in the pool. Along that same vein, the Chicago Tribune published an article headlined “Wife of Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today at Rio Olympics.”

During Ledecky’s performance mentioned in the headline above, she was referred to as a “female Michael Phelps” and was said to “swim like a guy” by fellow USA teammate Ryan Lochte.

The United States has swept up 78 medals so far in Rio. Two of the top three medalists are women: gymnastics star Simone Biles and swimming phenome Katie Ledecky. Yet despite dominating performance after performance, the female athletes have faced blatant sexism in media comments, headlines, and social media commentary.

Of course, the athletes themselves aren't the only ones affected by this gross display of misogyny. Of the millions of people who watch the Olympics, many are undoubtedly young girls who aspire to be like Simone Manual, the first African American woman to win an individual gold medal in women’s swimming; or like Katie Ledecky, who appears to be superhuman in the water with her record breaking speed; or like any member of the Final Five, a group that is more diverse and more dominant than any other gymnastics team. Focusing on athletes' appearance or marital status over their accomplishments is unnecessary at best and, at worst, damaging to young girls' perception of their ability to become an Olympic athlete.

The Olympics do not exist in a vacuum. Women’s sports, and women’s accomplishments in general, are much more likely to be belittled or filed under those of a man. In 2016, there is more pushback than ever, but the fact that these instances still occur with shocking regularity is appalling.

Women don’t compete “like a man” when they do well. They perform like the strong, disciplined, talented world class athletes that they are. No comparison necessary.

Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Photo credit: Agência Brasil | Creative Commons

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sexual Harassment and Powerful Men

By Kelsey Jones

It usually remains hidden for some time, as the victim grapples with societal victim blaming, job pressures, and the larger manifestation of the everyday sexism she has endured her whole life. But then she comes forward. And then more women come forward. And then consequences, or hope of consequences, for the offender.

Roger Ailes is the latest in a string of highly publicized sexual harassment and assault cases. The former chief of Fox News recently stepped down after sexual harassment allegations, and a subsequent lawsuit, were brought by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. After that, other reports of sexual harassment came pouring in from employees and former employees.

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly also said she was harassed by Alies, along with other unnamed employees. Ailes’ response to Kelly’s accusations, as released through a statement by Ailes’ lawyer stated: “Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”

The sinister implications of those words, the indifference to Kelly, and the direct attempt to justify any sexual harassment by claiming to have helped advance her career are all indicative of an abuse of power.

Like in the case of Bill Cosby, who was accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by more than 40 women over the past 40 years. The case is currently working its way through trial but the position of power he held in respect to many of the women is eerily similar to that which Ailes had and used to manipulate women.

This past spring at the University of California, Berkeley, students came forward and accused an assistant professor of sexual harassment. The investigation unearthed unnerving evidence that the university may have been protecting professors who were accused of misconduct against students.

Rape culture and the stigmatization of sexual harassment already minimize and silence victims; compounding those societal pressures with the power dynamic of an influential man makes it even more unlikely that a survivor will speak up—or, if she does, that someone will listen. This abuse of power runs rampant in workplaces, Hollywood, schools, and government institutions like the military, which struggles with a sexual assault rate higher than that of the citizen population.

In 2014, 90% of sexual assaults in the military happened in a military setting, by a higher-ranking service member who knew the victim. Roughly 160,500 men and women were sexually harassed and 20,300 were sexually assaulted, and around 86% never even report the abuse. The military’s pervasive sexual assault and harassment problem again echoes the nationwide pleas for a societal reform.

It is a national crisis. Vice President Joe Biden has worked diligently to raise awareness of the extremely high rate of sexual assault on college campuses, and the military has attempted to create better programs and stricter disciplinary measures.

But a problem so widespread and systemic will not be erased by mere procedural changes for a few institutions. The problem is bred by a culture that promotes the hypersexualization of women, systemic racism and bigotry, and dangerous ideas of masculinity.

Roger Ailes is no longer a public face of Fox News, but the exact details of his departure are still unknown. The suit is still in its infancy and it is unknown whether or not it will lead to any justice for Carlson or the other women Ailes is accused of harassing.

A society that makes it that difficult for consequences of extremely heinous and appalling behavior is a complacent one. We will continue to watch in shock as people come forward, exposing one abuser after another for a handful of headlines and maybe a long trial that may or may not bring any restitution or justice. When will it end?

Ailes' abuse of power is not unique. And that is terrifying.

Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Photo credit: PumaByDesign | Creative Commons

Friday, July 29, 2016

#NotMyConscience: The Ever-Growing Prioritization of Religion Over Patients' Needs

By Rachel Kuenzi

“The consciences we should protect belong to women who should choose their own reproductive destiny.”
–Rep. Lois Frankel

On July 13, 2016, the House passed the Conscience Protection Act. Based on the title, this bill is agreeable and has nothing to do with my uterus, right? Wrong.

This bill would considerably expand and make permanent the Weldon Amendment, an annual appropriations rider that restricts funding to abortion care. The Conscience Protection Act would allow any “health care entity” to refuse to “facilitate,” “make arrangements for,” or “otherwise participate in” abortion care in order to safeguard the “conscience” of religious employees and institutions. Under this bill, a hospital could refuse to serve a woman in need of medical care and refuse to inform her of her potential treatment options.

This bill is part of a growing trend of “right of conscience” legislation and policies that allow prioritization of religious freedom over medically appropriate standards of care. For instance, Catholic hospitals are guided by the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD), a set of regulatory guidelines outlining religious healthcare, which mandate that Catholic hospitals cannot provide sterilization procedures, end-of-life procedures, gender transition procedures, contraceptives, abortion, or fertility treatments. Conscience protection laws permit Catholic hospitals to employ the ERDs, ensuring that physicians have no obligation to provide or even inform a patient of her full treatment options if the procedure conflicts with the institution’s “conscience.”

For example, if a woman is suffering from an extra-uterine ectopic pregnancy (that will likely kill her without medical treatment) and is rushed to a Catholic hospital for assistance, the hospital can refuse to treat her because of the ERD and her physician has no obligation to inform her of another institution that could assist her. Such delays in treatment are extremely dangerous and can be life threatening. Further, ERDs routinely prevent physicians from providing treatment they wish to prescribe. In fact, one in five physicians report a conflict between ERDs and their desired recommended treatment.

This growing trend towards prioritizing provider’s “conscience” is particularly concerning given the prevalence of Catholic hospitals and the increase of hospital mergers. Republicans in the House posit the myth that a patient can simply choose another hospital if she does not want her care directed by Catholic beliefs. However, in Washington State, where Catholic institutions own more than 40% of hospital beds in the state, this claim is highly unrealistic. Traveling to non-Catholic hospitals can take hours of driving, substantial amounts of money, and may not be covered by insurance, posing substantial burdens on access to needed health care. What’s more, while there are efforts underway to improve hospital policy transparency, patients often do not realize that their local hospital operates under the ERDs or other restrictive policies and will not provide the services they need.

Instead of prioritizing the hospital’s conscience, shouldn’t we be prioritizing the “conscience” of the patients seeking accurate and legal health care options? What about the “conscience” of the physicians attempting to provide medically appropriate services? Our health system should aim to endorse medically based treatments, use best health care practices, and fully inform patients of all treatment options.

The Obama administration stated that the President would veto the Conscience Protection Act if it arrives on his desk, acknowledging that it would “limit women’s health care choices.” However, with the upcoming election and with “conscience” laws rapidly becoming an expanding frontier for preventing access to reproductive health care, we should be concerned about the passage of the Conscience Protection Act and the ever-growing prioritization of religion over health care needs. This bill is #NotMyConscience!

Rachel Kuenzi is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising second-year student at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a Public Interest Fellow dedicated to alleviating intimate partner violence and day dreams about founding a domestic violence advocacy theater troupe that includes pro-bono legal services for victims.

Photo courtesy of Pexels | Licensed by Creative Commons 0

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I Want Justice for Rape Survivors—but I Don't Think Incarceration is the Answer

By Lara Hengelbrok

Like so many others, I was, and continue to be, outraged by the sentencing of Brock Turner last month after he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault. It felt wrong that Judge Perksy lowered Brock’s sentence below the minimum for a horrific crime that is common, underreported, and largely unprosecuted. It’s monstrous to dismiss the profoundly traumatic impact that these crimes have on victims in avoidance of the impact incarceration can have on perpetrators. It isn’t justice when privilege upon privilege becomes an excuse for rape, for inflicting trauma, for ruining a life. I’m disheartened by the relentless apathy we exhibit in the face of rape. I read the survivor’s statement and wept at her pain, wept that she had to be so strong and passionate after experiencing such trauma, and then re-experience it again and again and again throughout the proceedings. I’m sickened that our legal system so failed to hear her voice over the wail of Brock Turner, mourning his lost privilege.


(There shouldn’t be a “but.” I don’t want there to be a “but.”)

But I don’t believe in incarceration.

I hate that Brock Turner successfully shielded himself from repercussions by blaming “drinking and sexual promiscuity,” as though promiscuity has anything to do with the assault of someone who’s unconscious; as though alcohol consumption inevitably ends in rape. I hate that his “lost future” is more important than what the survivor lost – “[her] worth, [her] privacy, [her] energy, [her] time, [her] safety, [her] intimacy, [her] confidence.” I want Brock Turner and other people who commit rape and sexual assault to go to prison for long enough to reflect the horrible crimes they commit, because that’s what justice looks like in our system.

But I don’t actually think that incarceration is justice at all. It won’t undo what he did. It won’t make sure he never hurts anyone again. It won’t make her whole.

What's more, incarcerating perpetrators of rape will not end rape. Within three years of release, 46% of convicted rapists are arrested for another crime. Within 15 years of release, 24% recommit sexual crimes, a high rate considering that two-thirds of rapes and sexual assaults are unreported and only 2% of reported rapes actually result in conviction.

The Stanford survivor repeated the outcome she wanted from the proceeding multiple times in her statement: “What I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing […] We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it head on, I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on.” But she, too, seems ambivalent. She said that she didn’t “want Brock to rot away in prison,” but that a sentence of a year or less is a mockery. She would have accepted a lighter sentence if he’d admitted his guilt and remorse, but his sentence should clearly communicate the seriousness of rape. Maybe this dissonance, on her part and mine, stems from the limited and unsatisfying options the legal system offers: only innocence or guilt; freedom or incarceration and a lifetime of revoked rights and collateral consequences. There isn’t room for healing, for accepting responsibility and sincerely trying to rehabilitate; there is only more damage, endlessly.

I don’t know what to do with this conflict. I don’t know how to square the outrage and horror of this moment – along with the overwhelming commonality of rape and sexual assault that are not reported, not prosecuted, and not convicted – with the knowledge that the carceral system is a seat of dehumanization and racist social control; that it serves to punish the poor and marginalized; that it doesn’t stop people from reoffending.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s no room for ambivalence when someone has violated you in this way, when that person has dragged you over the coals, forcing you to relive that violation again and again and again while silencing your voice. Maybe there is only room for punishment and retribution, for a loud, unequivocal NO, because, the Stanford survivor's words, “we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”

But I can’t help wanting more. I can’t help wanting our justice system to hold people accountable for rape and sexual assault, while also wanting that accountability to not be inhumane, socially damaging, and ineffective. I want our justice system to take rape seriously and work towards ending it without re-traumatizing the survivor. I want perpetrators to be rehabilitated in truth, not dehumanized and marginalized to the point that reoffending is almost inevitable. I want a justice system that is actually just. 

Lara Hengelbrok is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising third-year student at the University of Washington School of Law. She received a PILA Grant to pursue public interest work and hopes to work towards ensuring access to quality education and curriculum reform. She is also a baking goddess and unapologetic pop-culture junkie. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Don't Leave Women Out of the Conversation on Police Brutality

By Kelsey Jones

Last week, in the span of less than 48 hours, two black men—Philando Castile and Alton Sterling—were killed by law enforcement, reigniting protests across the country against police brutality. Thousands of men, women, and children marched in the streets, and millions more shared their grief and outrage over social media.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was started by three women in July 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, has been at the heart of the push to end police brutality since its inception.

Although the #BlackLivesMatter movement itself has made a point of recognizing the specific experiences and intersections of police brutality and gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, much of the media portrayals and public perceptions label police brutality as an issue facing black men exclusively.

Women are primarily discussed as fearing for their sons and husbands, which is an important reproductive justice issue. But without the acknowledgement of black women’s specific experiences with police violence, this framework isn’t telling the whole truth.

“I think any conversation about police brutality must include black women,” said Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history at Georgetown University, in an interview with Dissent magazine. “Even if women are not the majority of the victims of homicide, the way they are profiled and targeted by police is incredibly gendered.”

The African American Policy Forum released a report last year detailing police violence against black women. The list of names is long, and their stories cross lines drawn by age, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and location.

As the report says, “The erasure of Black women is not purely a matter of missing facts. Even where women and girls are present in the data, narratives framing police profiling and lethal force as exclusively male experiences lead researchers, the media, and advocates to exclude them.”

This week marks one year since Sandra Bland died in police custody after being arrested at a traffic stop. She was originally pulled over for failing to use her blinker to switch lanes, and the officer eventually pulled her out of the car after she declined to put out her cigarette and demanded to know why she was being arrested. She was found dead in her jail cell three days later, sparking national outrage after a video of the arrest surfaced.

#SayHerName, a campaign to increase visibility of black women who are victims of police violence, was chanted at protests and rallies across the country. Sandra’s death was a sobering reminder of the vulnerability of black people and the necessity of an inclusive movement.

But the public uproar surrounding Sandra’s death was an outlier to the countless other stories that have been underreported, or not reported on at all. We cannot exclude these women from the discussion on police brutality, race relations, and systemic oppressions. When we #SayHerName, it must carry the weight of every woman who has experienced, and who will experience, injustice at the hands of law enforcement.

Meagan Hockaday and Janisha Fonville were both shot and killed in 2015 after officers responded to calls of a domestic dispute and domestic violence, respectively. Within the span of a few months, videos surfaced of two teenage girls, one in Texas and one in South Carolina, who experienced excessive force by officers. Rekia Boyd was shot and killed by an off-duty officer after he confronted her and her friends for talking too loudly. And the list continues.

Women—especially transgender and queer women—experience the same systemic oppression and violence that black men face. But what makes black women’s experiences distinct is the perceived power dynamic between men and women and the threat of sexual violence.

For instance, Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer, raped and sexually assaulted at least 13 black women—ranging in age between 17 and 57 years old—in the neighborhood he patrolled, targeting women he believed would be less likely to report him or press charges.

Black women experience police violence at a rate almost identical to that of black men, but aside from a handful of cases—Sandra Bland being one of them—those acts of violence do not always spark the same public outcry.

In order to recognize the purpose of Black Lives Matter and create true systemic change, the media, and culture writ large, needs to afford the harassment, assault, and shooting of black women by police officers the same outrage and outcry as that accompanying the deaths of black men.

Because black women’s lives matter, too.

Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Photo credit: Johnny Silvercloud | Creative Commons