To Prevent Abuse, Young People Must Know their Rights

Content note – this post refers to sexual violence and suicide.

Recently, a Twitter user named @twadi_doll shared her story fearlessly and curtly online – giving many people a reality check and leaving them feeling shaken.

Twadi narrated in her thread that at 13 years – orphaned and young – she found herself living with a pastor and his wife.

A respected…no, scratch that…a revered member of society, the man of God raped Twadi her on a regular basis. On other occasions, he would call his friends and they took turns exploiting her body. As if that wasn’t enough, the pastor would ask her constantly to seek forgiveness from God, for making him commit a sin.  

Since she had nowhere to go and was being blackmailed by the pastor for receiving food and shelter from him for 3 years, Twadi couldn’t escape the reach of the preacher’s hand. Even when she spoke out in church, she was called a liar and a demon who had been sent to tempt and disorganise the pastor in his job of shepherding the Lord’s people.

As a result of the continued sexual abuse, Twadi became pregnant and 6 months later, her teachers learnt of her story and offered her immediate support. They opened a case against the pastor, who in shame committed suicide. An abortion was arranged for Twadi and painful as it was, she took the option because she had long decided that either the baby dies or she commits suicide herself.

Twadi’s story calls upon us all to play our part in improving SRHR information and service access to young people.

This lack of access spirals into multiple other challenges, and sadly, it is the young person who suffers. Their untapped potential is heavily undermined.

For starters, we should always be able to come out and condemn what is wrong, no matter the position or reputation of the person in question. The pastor’s wife, years later after her husband’s death, wrote Twadi a letter saying she knew about the abuse the whole time, but found it better than her man going out to cheat. In Twadi’s own words, “she used me as a glue to hold her marriage together.” The pastor’s wife betrayed and failed Twadi, and her suffering falls as equally on her shoulders as it does on the pastor’s.

We need to pay special attention to young people’s voices on their reproductive health concerns with as open a mind as possible.

Sometimes we can’t understand young people by assuming we know who they are and what they want, especially if we aren’t young people ourselves. The pastor’s congregation was way off course in this case, defending the pastor simply because of his position and ignoring the truth Twadi was telling.

If even one of them had taken time to hear her out, it could have changed her fortune. We should seek virtual spaces where young people are free to talk about their challenges with no fear of judgement, and where they are sure they will be believed and helped.

It is critical that we provide young people with information on their rights so that they can know when to say no, how to say it and how to defend themselves against manipulation and abuse.

The more we starve young people of such information, the more we make them vulnerable to attacks and abuse and the multiple challenges that ripple from those.

Finally, we need to work with stakeholders who can put policies in place to ease the combatting of these challenges. In Uganda, for example, we have been advocating for an operational School Health Policy where we can provide sexual and reproductive health and rights information to young people that fits the context we live in.

Such a document is key, because then we can arm young people with knowledge, and we will have the backing of the law. It is something that policy makers and governments should consider, lest we see more young people come out with stories similar to Twadi’s.

This selfless story should be an eye opener.

Many young people are undergoing such horrific challenges, and the veils of religion and culture, which otherwise should be guiding us to a sane and loving society, are being used as defences and barriers against SRHR access. Such incidents are indeed present in our society and the best we can do is speak out against them, bring the perpetrators to justice and provide young people with information and services so that they can make informed decisions and protect themselves.

PS: Twadi has moved on and is strong now. However, is that what we want, for all young people to become strong like her and move on? Or is it better to stamp abuse out once and for all? Something must change in our communities, right here and right now.

What #MeToo did in Sweden

Unless you haven’t been on social media or read the news for the past few months, you can’t have missed #MeToo. In Sweden, the campaign was taken from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and put into practice in the real world, showing that activism on social media can generate actual change in society.

It is now almost 3 months since use of the hashtag peaked on several social platforms globally. Facebook reported that the phrase was used in over 12 million posts in just 24 hours. They also found that in the U.S., almost half of all users had a friend who had used the hashtag.

In the end, the most successful feature of the campaign was that it made a problem visible. #MeToo united women globally, and they all told a version of the same story – they had been subjected to some kind of sexual harassment or abuse. This abuse was no longer surrounded by silence, but rather recognised by people of all genders as a systematic problem in all societies. There were, however, many who doubted the effectiveness of an online campaign. Could a hashtag make a real change in society?

In Sweden, #MeToo quickly took hold of the country and was eagerly reported by media. In the few days after the campaign went viral, women from several different professions organised and collected names and stories of people affected by sexual harassment within their sector. Actors, doctors, chefs and lawyers were just some of the groups that launched their own follow-up campaigns, making the scale of the problem even more apparent.

Soon, several Swedish male celebrities were accused of rape, sexual harassment or misogynistic behaviour, and many of them had to leave their jobs as a result. The culture of silence was breaking down and companies could no longer cover up such accusations. High profile individuals within politics, TV and academia were exposed and removed from their posts, one by one. Power was no longer enough to protect people from the consequences of their actions. Hopefully, this cleanse of misogynistic plutocrats can create space for a more healthy, equal and sustainable culture within all sectors in Sweden and around the world.

But how can we make this change last? Media campaigns come and go and very few make it off the screen and into everyday life. Sexist structures are deeply rooted in most societies, and merely recognising the problem won’t be enough to eliminate it. But it is a step on the way. People can no longer deny the scope of this problem, and awareness is crucial when fighting social issues. Hopefully, grassroots activists will no longer be operating in headwinds. And maybe, Sweden can lead the way in this fight.

A new law that would require explicit sexual consent has been proposed by the Swedish government. TV-personalities have been fired and companies are adopting new policies of dealing with misogynistic behaviour. People are fighting for more thorough legal consequences for perpetrators of sexual harassment. Although we are far from finished, change is happening, and we must act quickly before things go back to ‘normal’. Effective change in society requires everyone to act, and it is crucial to use the energy, anger and hopefulness that has been generated during this campaign.

We have a long way to go, but for me, the #MeToo campaign is a sign of progress and shows what can happen when women unite. After all, this is what Girls’ Globe is about – raising the voices of women and showing that our experiences and voices matter.

Everyone knows someone who has been subjected to sexual harassment. Women have spoken up, the world has listened, and now all of us must act. The internet is powerful, and so are women. The culture of silence has been broken, and so let’s not only hope it stays that way, let’s make sure that it does. Let’s include everyone on that journey – him, her, them, and #metoo.

#MeToo: Reflections from a College Student

Harvey Weinstein; a man who used to be synonymous with Hollywood films, but who now carries the weight of sexual assault allegations after a tsunami of testimonies. From Kevin Spacey to Roy Moore, the past couple of months have been an explosion of sexual assault accusations. This isn’t about just one man and one woman. It’s about dozens of men and countless women across industries both near and far.

Marginalized voices – women and children especially – have been and continue to be vulnerable to abuses by powerful men.

Since The New York Times published an investigation into accusations against Harvey Weinstein, there has been a growing list of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct of all forms. As I scrolled through the list, I could not help but notice that every person on the list was male-presenting, white, and in positions of power.

The wave of testimonies is shocking in terms of sheer numbers – if this is how many people have made accusations, how many other painful abuses remain in the shadows? While all of the men on this list are primarily based in the United States, it would be foolish to think that this problem is a national one.

All around the world, powerful men take advantage of vulnerable people. It is a global phenomenon. And it terrifies me.

As an eighteen-year-old woman in college, I go to class everyday preparing to enter the ‘real’ world around me. I take classes about market economics and international politics and listen as people try to impart knowledge to me, but I cannot help but think that I am so wholly unprepared for this big, scary world. Part of me does not want to believe that sexual assault is so widespread. Every day I turn on the news to see another powerful man has abused his power, and I think about how scared and afraid and disgusted I would feel if I was ever faced with a situation like that.

We must not let fear get to us. We cannot stop fighting for our sisters and brothers who have experienced the pain and trauma of assault.  It is on all of us to be allies and to support the people around us. Gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue, it’s a people’s issue. We have to be role models and teachers for our children, to tell them and show them that abuse, violence and harassment are not okay.

In an interview with Vanessa Stair earlier this year about parenting in color, Vanessa talked with me about teaching her five-year-old daughter Peyton the important lesson of consent. She said that it can be as easy as “no, means no.” But that only works if all children are taught the same thing.

As well as teaching our children, we must also listen compassionately and learn from one another. We all carry biases, expectations, and opinions; by thinking about ourselves and engaging in challenging dialogues we can better understand the world.

This is not easy work. It takes time, energy, and an emotional toll to think about the misogyny, hate, and abuse around us. While we must continue to fight, we also much continue to take care of ourselves and those around us. A mentor of mine recently told me, “we must live in the needs of the present”. So we continue to fight to elevate the voices of women globally, work to eliminate gender gaps and discrimination, love to heal our pain, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Girls’ Globe is publishing opinions and ideas on tackling gender-based violence from our global network of bloggers and organizations during each of the 16 Days of Activism. We’re also crowdfunding to be able to continue to raise the voices of girls and young women in 2018 – voices like Grace’s. Donate today and help us to continue building a safer, more equal world. 

What Kesha’s Case Really Reveals

On February 19th, outlets published a photo of singer Kesha sobbing in a courtroom as a judge revealed she’d ruled against her. In a much-publicized case, the singer had been trying to get a preliminary injunction to allow her to stop recording with her producer, Lukasz Gottwald (better known as Dr. Luke). Kesha has said her producer abused her physically, sexually, verbally and mentally from a young age, allegations which Dr. Luke denies and claims are an attempt at extortion.

The ruling sparked an outcry from Kesha’s fanbase as well as support from celebrities like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Amid the frenzy of lawsuits, countersuits, hashtags and Hollywood, we’re ignoring the deeper meaning of Kesha’s case.

In a case that boils down to he-said, she-said, as Kesha’s does, even strong advocates of feminism have to leave room for a sliver of doubt.

What is troubling is who consistently gets the benefit of that doubt.

A Big Ask

“You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry,” said Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich to Kesha’s attorneys. Which is indeed true. However, if you flip the sentiment and examine its alternative, Dr. Luke’s attorneys are asking the court to discredit an allegation of deeply painful abuse, on multiple levels, in favor of a business contract.

The record label, Sony, did offer Kesha the opportunity to continue recording under a different producer. Kesha’s attorneys argued that without the presence of Dr. Luke, Sony would not market Kesha’s music as heavily, which is vital in the short-lived life of a pop star. The judge, however, did not find this sufficiently believable.

In a perfect world, a simple switch of producers would be the optimal solution. However, in the modern work environment, which has been known to demote or dismiss women for offences like being “too aggressive“, “too attractive” or for having the audacity to have a child, it isn’t hard to justify a fear of being indirectly punished for villainizing a highly profitable producer – a job which has a much longer lifespan, and therefore more potential for profit, than a singer’s.

A Woman’s Worth

The Hollywood Reporter stated:

Kornreich heard arguments that Dr. Luke had invested a substantial amount — $60 million in her career — and that the producer had agreed to allow her to record without his involvement. The judge told Geragos that “decimates your argument,” adding, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.”

The judge’s instinct to prioritize commercial losses over perceived slight may make financial sense, but stands on shaky moral ground.

From a financial standpoint, there is little to be gained by granting this injunction. From a human standpoint, there is little to be gained by denying it.

Ruling in favor of Kesha, Dr. Luke could gradually recoup his financial losses, innocent or no. Kesha, on the other hand, could not so easily recover a sense of well-being, a full recovery or arguably, a career, if he were guilty.


Burden of Proof

“What disturbs me is a lack of facts,” stated the judge. As it should. But once again, we should ask the question – a lack of facts supporting which argument? 

As it stands now, sexual assault cases must prove that there was indeed inappropriate activity, rather than the opposite. Yet sexual encounters are, by nature, intensely private affairs. With the added factors of shame, abuse, skewed power dynamics, deliberate attempts to conceal, and fear, coerced encounters are even more shrouded in doubt and denial on both sides.

That isn’t to say there is no merit in due process. But what it suggests is that perhaps instead of focusing on proving something did happen, we should be working equally to prove something didn’t.

Dispassiontely viewed, there is no way to know who is telling the truth without hard evidence. In cases like these, someone is going to lose without irrefutible evidence that they deserved to. That isn’t in question. What we should question is why in the overwhelming number of cases, the loser is the victim.

When the judge ruled against Kesha, she ruled for a system that continues to doubt victims of violence over their alleged abusers. That, on it’s own, is injustice enough.

Cover photo credit: Peter Neill / Wikimedia Commons

Jon Krakauer’s ‘Missoula’

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula is a brutal – and important – read.

Jon Krakauer has an impressive bibliography. Into Thin Air, about the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest; Into the Wild, the tragedy of Christopher McCandless, who undertook a fatal adventure into the Alaskan wilderness; Under The Banner of Heaven, an in-depth investigation of the religious-fueled murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby, to name a few.

MissoulaSmallInitially, Missoula seems a departure from Krakauer’s usual fare. Named for the town in which it is set, Missoula, Montana, Krakauer explores the shocking events that prompted a 2012 investigation. Young women reported a rash of rapes (some committed by members of the town’s beloved football team) and an abysmal failure to prosecute them.

In Missoula, there is no wilderness, no adventure and little inspiration. Instead, it is a setting dominated by violence, frustrating legal loopholes, never-ending procedures and ultimately, a lack of any real resolution.

Yet Missoula is just as gripping, visceral, timely and full of heartbreakingly human characters as any of his other works. And like his other books, it forces us to re-examine how we treat the people around us and the values we claim to uphold.

Krakauer does not spare his readers any details; we are forced to confront the horror of what the girls in Missoula went through. He describes what it is like for Allison Huguet to fall asleep on a childhood friend’s sofa after a party, then wake up to find him moaning while he rapes her. Kelsey Belnap details swimming in and out of consciousness, finding someone forcing her to perform oral sex, and then later waking to herself bent over a bed while men come in and out of the room to have sex with her. He recounts the violent assault of Kaitlyn Kelly, whose attacker leaves her sheets and mattress covered in blood after violently jamming his fingers into her repeatedly, and steals her jeans when he leaves to brag about his sexual conquest. Perhaps harder to read, he reports how hard each girl has to fight for each assault to be recognized, and watch as some of the perpetrators wriggle free of real punishment, aided by a system sympathetic to them.

Critics have noted that Krakauer has clearly taken sides in the book. While Krakauer may not hide his empathy for the victims in the book, what critics may not realize is the extent to which art is reflecting life. Rape victims who go public face incredible hostility, undergo humiliation and very seldom is there justice at the end of the road. (Even after the publication of the book, the girls are fighting opposition. Kristen Pabst, a lawyer painted in an unflattering light for her actions during the trials of the boys, attempted to smear Belnap’s image in response.)

Krakauer also brings up the case of Brian Banks, who was falsely accused of rape. He was eventually exonerated after 5 years in prison, but as an athlete, it robbed him of 5 crucial years in his career, not to mention the emotional trauma he underwent.

Krakauer notes that the incidence of false rape is said to be around 2-8% and writes, quite compellingly:

“It’s easy to forget that the harm done to a rape victim who is disbelieved can be at least as devastating as the harm done to an innocent man who is unjustly accused of rape…And without question the former happens much more frequently than the latter.”

Krakauer wrote the book after finding out that a friend had been sexually assaulted twice in her lifetime. Said Krakauer, “I’d had no idea that rape was so prevalent, or could cause such deep and intractable pain. My ignorance was inexcusable, and it made me ashamed.”

Ignorance about rape in general is astounding – so embedded is rape culture that some rapists don’t realize they’ve committed it. Krakauer reports a 2009 study in which researchers asked enlisted Navy a group of questions, careful not to include the word ‘rape’ to see the responses:

Have you attempted to have sexual intercourse with a female when she didn’t want to by giving her alcohol or drugs but you did NOT succeed?

Have you made a female have sexual intercourse by giving her alcohol or drugs or getting her high or drunk?

Have you attempted to have sexual intercourse with a female when she didn’t want to by threatening or using some degree of force but you did NOT succeed?

Have you made a female have sexual intercourse by using some degree of force or threatening to harm her?

Have you made a female do other sexual things like anal sex, oral sex, or putting fingers or objects inside of her or you by using some degree of force or threatening to harm her?

13% answered yes to at least one of the questions. They did not consider what they had done rape. Rape was seen as strangers jumping out of bushes. “Nice guys” didn’t rape.

It is little surprise, with an accepted entitlement to others’ bodies, vicious retaliation against victims who speak out and thin hope of conviction, that rape remains such a pervasive phenomenon.

Indeed, what is the most tragic about Missoula, as noted in the book itself, is that Krakauer didn’t choose to focus on the town because it was an exception in its level of sexual assault. Missoula, in fact, has a lower-than-average rate of sexual assault.

The fact that this is happening with such frequency, in so many places, and remains such, is as Krakauer says, “that’s the real scandal.”

If you are a victim of sexual assault, search here for an international directory of helplines. 

MissoulaCover image by Ryan Polei, licenced under creative commons.

When Time Stood Still: A Story of Courage, Survival, and Healing

Once in a while a book comes around that will have a profound impact on the lives of others. In a rare combination of personal reflection and professional insight, When Time Stood Still is a book that will not only assist in the healing of survivors, but also in public acknowledgement and understanding of childhood sexual abuse.

​The prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine in the world, as many victims are too young or vulnerable to disclose the experience. According to the Children Assessment Centre (CAC), an estimated 500,000 children were born in the US in 2014 will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Statistics available state that child rape occurs every two minutes and that 90 percent of molesters abuse children they know. Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18. This translates to more than 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse living in the US.

When Time Stood Still is a rare experience, not only for the authors, but for readers.

Survivors of abuse face numerous long-term negative effects, such as eating disorders, substances abuse disorders, sexual dysfunction, and most commonly experience guilt, shame, depression, relationship difficulties, and/or other types of dissociative disorders. Historically, there have been two broad approaches to the treatment of child sexual abuse: a victim advocacy/child welfare approach and a family-systems model. However, over the last two decades there have been a number of clinicians and researchers who have studied and developed new comprehensive treatment models. One such model is uniquely described in When A Time Stood Still.

When Time Stood Still gives readers a “living picture” of the use of art therapy in treating child sexual abuse in conjunction with professional therapeutic dialogue. With astonishing courage and bravery, Ziv Koren, a 36 year-old social worker, who was sexually abused by her uncle from ages 6 till 16, shares her personal story of recovery. The book lays out full narratives, including email exchanges between Ziv and Professor Rachel Lev-Wiesel, PhD., founder and head of the Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies & the director of The Emili Sagol CAT Research Center at the University of Haifa.

While Ziv had never drawn in her life, she was encouraged to take much of the written material she had created over the past six years of therapy and translate them into art. In the first half of the book, readers are given the unique opportunity to not only see the drawings created – which at times can be very difficult to view – but to read the exchange between therapist and survivor as they try to determine what emotions and memories are exemplified within the art. Readers travel with Ziv as she moves from a state of dissociation and detachment from her past, to a full confrontation with her memories, as well as with her perpetrator.

The second part of the book presents and summarizes the current data on the uniqueness of childhood sexual abuse, including the five “traumagenic constructs” that Prof. Lev-Wiesel introduced to the field: Soul’s Homelessness, Captured in Time, Entrapped in Distorted Intimacy, Betrayal Entrapment, and Reenactment.

It is clear from the very first drawing that Ziv and Prof. Lev-Wiesel were embarking on an incredible journey of healing. Throughout their time together, Ziv created about 60 drawings, each reflecting various times of the abuse, unconscious symbols of pain, and integration of body and mind. Thanks to an intensive and continuous relationship with Prof. Lev-Wiesel, Ziv began to transform, healing the severe symptoms of her trauma. She became less addicted to pornography and ended S&M sexual relationships. She began to sleep for longer hours, and taking better care of her nutrition, hygiene and appearance. And after 20 years, Ziv was able to confront her uncle and see him clearly as a perpetrator and someone who hurt her.

When Time Stood Still is a rare experience, not only for the authors, but for readers. Insight into such personal trauma can, at times, feel overwhelming and too personal, as if someone’s personal diary was placed in your hands. It will not only assist professionals to better understand the uniqueness of child sexual abuse, the resulting trauma, and the healing process, but will give much to survivors and those seeking to learn more about abuse. Thanks to Ziv’s persistence and bravery, the unique tool of art was uncovered that will assist therapists working with victims of trauma. And it will no doubt, help countless of survivors.

The book can be purchased on Amazon in Paperback, Kindle, or E-Book.

 

Professor Rachel Lev-Wiesel, PhD. has been a therapist helping survivors of child sexual abuse for over 30 years, and has published 130 scientific papers and chapters on trauma, child abuse, sexual abuse, and the use of drawings for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. 

Ziv Koren, MA, is a social worker and art therapist at the unit for treatment of released prisoners in the Ministry of Social Welfare, in Israel.