Monday, October 28, 2013

I learned to use my voice!

Shireen Gul describes how attending an IMPACT workshop increased her knowledge and confidence.  To see the full article originally published September 21 in Tech News, the student newspaper at Illinois Institute of Technology, click here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"If She Hadn't Worn That": Saying NO to Blaming Women for Rape

Slutwalk protests started in Toronto in 2011 in response to a Canadian police officer saying that women could avoid rape if they didn’t dress like sluts. Chicago (most recently September 2013) and other major cities have also held rallies and marches since 2011 protesting the idea that women are responsible for sexual assault because of how they dress or behave. 

Like Slutwalk, IMPACT Chicago is working to create a world where women are not told they are responsible for violence they experience because of how they dress or behave. In addition to believing women should dress as they want, we also want to shout from the rooftops that women learning and using physical and verbal self-defense skills is a powerful approach to creating social change and increasing safety for all women.

IMPACT International Directors recently reflected on the mission of Slutwalk and how it connects to our work. One theme Directors addressed was the lack of relationship between ways women dress and sexual assault. In this blog, Lisa Scheff, IMPACT Bay Area; Jill Shames, IMPACT Israel; Richard Chipping, London Centre for Personal Safety; and Heidi Hornbacher, IMPACT Personal Safety-Southern California offer their views on the lack of relationship of dress to sexual assault.

Lisa Scheff of IMPACT Bay Area says: “Slutwalk was born out of an egregious statement of victim blaming, ‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.’ One of the (many) problems with that statement is that how a woman dresses does not cause or prevent rape. Period. It is important for people to avoid confusing teaching women how to avoid rape and teaching people not to rape. There has been a tendency for people to start from the premise that you shouldn't teach women to dress differently and then generalize it to ‘you shouldn't teach women to change their behavior to prevent rape’ which gets interpreted as you shouldn't teach women to defend themselves."

Jill Shames of IMPACT Israel notes that “researchers have found no significant correlation between how women dress and their likelihood to be assaulted. The factors that actually contribute to vulnerability have much more to do with how a woman moves (i.e. lack of confidence, attentiveness, physical coordination and purpose) and not with what she chooses to wear. In Saudi Arabia, women are covered from head to toe and have severe sexual assault problems.”

Richard Chipping of London Centre for Personal Safety adds: “We need to focus on the perpetrators’ calculations.…babies in nappies and nuns in habits have suffered sexual violence. This violence hasn't happened because of their behaviour or dress-sense. There was a 90's study in the City of London that mapped hemlines onto the economic cycle, but found to researchers surprise that there was a slight increase in sexual violence during recessions when hemlines were descending.”

Heidi Hornbacher of IMPACT Personal Safety-Southern California notes: “We want to be absolutely clear that nothing in a woman's behavior or dress promotes or incites rape; the cause of rape is rapists, however, all of us can develop better skills for recognizing people (strangers or familiars) who are likely to rape and getting out of dangerous situations. We are not at fault, but we can develop skills that make us ‘hard targets.’ ”

Over the next three months, IMPACT Chicago will run additional blogs highlighting key points made by IMPACT International Directors: self-defense is about safety for all (November), self-defense can stop violence for ourselves and others (December), and addressing our own language (January 2014).

IMPACT Chicago promoted Slutwalk 2013 on our Facebook page  with the following post: “Slutwalk 2013 Chicago-because we need to change victim-blaming culture by working at multiple levels, from women knowing how to prevent, stop, report, intervene, and prosecute rapists to creating communities committed to stopping rape and rapists so that all women and girls are safe.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

IMPACT Chicago Instructors Make An IMPACT

IMPACT Chicago instructors are part of a larger community of IMPACT instructors and self-defense instructors who teach empowerment self-defense outside of IMPACT. The past few months, IMPACT Chicago instructors have been part of national forums where we have exchanged self-defense resources, skills, and knowledge.

2013 National Organization for Women Conference

IMPACT Chicago Instructor Martha Thompson was a panelist in the Violence Against Women track of the 2013 National Organization for Women Conference in Chicago. For more about that, see the IMPACT Chicago blog “Addressing Mis-Perceptions About Self-Defense and Feminism".

2013 National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) Self-Defense Instructors Conference and Martial Arts Camp (photo)

IMPACT Chicago instructors Margaret Vimont and Martha Thompson were trainers for the NWMAF Self-Defense Instructors Conference and Martial Arts Camp. Rob Babcock, Bruce Brio, and Ben Ruiz joined Margaret and Martha along with DC IMPACT Instructor and Director Carol Middleton to offer Introduction to IMPACT to camp participants. Class Assistants who were also attending the camp were Deb Mier (Chicago), Patti Fievoli (Ontario), and Katy Mattingly (Michigan).

IMPACT Chicago Instructors Katie Skibbe and Martha Thompson attended the the NWMAF Self-Defense Instructors Conference, learning from other self-defense instructors such as: Shura Gat, Energy Awareness and Self-Defense; Joy Williamson, Teaching Self-Defense to Blind and Visually Impaired People; Carmel Drewes, Understanding and Explaining Trauma to Self-Defense Participants; Kate Webster and Susan Barney, Five Fingers of Self-Defense.

Margaret Vimont offered a session: “From The Beginning Into The Do: Teaching To The Adult Student.”

Martha Thompson was on two panels:
“Does Self-Defense Really Work? Experience, Evidence, and Research” with Darlene DeFour (Hunter College), Jennifer Keller(Stanford), Silke Schultz (MA thesis on self-defense), Lee Sinclair (No Means No Worldwide).

“Working with Men and Boys” with Nancy Lanoue (Thousand Waves), Clara Porter (Prevention, Action, Change), Lee Sinclair (No Means No Worldwide).

National Women’s Martial Arts Federation Self-Defense Instructors Research Reading Club
Martha Thompson joined 10 other self-defense instructors on a 1 hour conference call to discuss the article "Emancipatory Sexuality Education and Sexual Assault Resistance: Does the Former Enhance the Latter?" (2011, Senn, Gee, Thake, Windsor, Ontario).

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's Not a Life Sentence, Henry Rollins

by M. Sophia Newman

Boy meets girl, boy rapes girl, girl has a fabulous life anyway. I won.

Oh, for the love of God.

There have been a million different stories about the Steubenville rape case by now. The facts are well-established. (If you’ve missed them, here they are in review: a group of American high school students at a party hauled an unconscious classmate from place to place, raped her, urinated on her, and filmed themselves laughing at these violations. One boy posted a video about the incident on Youtube, where it went viral. The outcry prompted an investigation, which ended this week with the conviction of two boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Both will spend a year or more in prison.)

The whole thing has been commented to death by now. Yesterday’s controversy revolved around CNN’s overly sympathetic treatment of the rapists. Countless blog posts and Gawker articles and who knows what all have been written.

Many comment on the leniency of the prison sentences. Famous punk rocker of yesteryear Henry Rollins wrote a blog post that noted this specific injustice at length. Then he added, “I have yet to say anything about the damage to the young woman involved. It is ironic and sad that the person who is going to do a life sentence is her.”

Like many people, I sympathize with the rape victim. And my sympathy makes this comment essential: Rollins' statement is disturbing and false.

Actually, I might sympathize more closely with the rape victim than many people, having lived through violence myself.

Someone raped me when I was 21. Being violated caused me tremendous, heart-shattering fear, like it does for many victims. I wondered how I could possibly live with the knowledge of my rapist’s stark, hideous disdain for me. When I told friends I trusted – asking only that the guy, who we all knew, get some counseling – they stunned me by sending an email to dozens of members of our shared social network, insisting I had lied and I was “ruining [the rapist’s] life.” The disrespect and victim-blaming were roughly similar to some aspects of the events in Steubenville.

Years later, I would read health research that established what I learned firsthand: it is not the rape itself that causes long-lasting trauma, but the victim-blaming that comes afterwards. Being raped was an encounter with something deeply sinister. But being deliberately bullied and denied help precisely because I had encountered this sinister destruction was a uniquely evil act. It implied a downward spiral of victimization awaited me. With deeply ugly memories of rape still ringing in my head, the terror of being treated as even more subhuman made me wish for death.

But I did not die.

Instead, I went to work.

“I want to congratulate you, Sophia,” my social worker told me some years later. “People who get treated like you got treated end up on heroin.”

I didn’t take heroin, nor any drugs at all (although I can see why victims wish to numb their pain). I didn’t have time for that. I was too busy with graduate school.

In my master’s program, I studied violence prevention closely. I also lived in a Zen temple, where I meditated fifteen hours a week. I took self-defense classes, and later helped teach them. I went to counseling sessions faithfully for a year. I worked, in other words, as hard as it was humanly possible to work to heal the brain injury that the rape had caused me. Through relentless effort, I rebuilt my life.

No justice ever came to my rapist. There was no court case, no conviction, no compensation. The people who slandered me publicly have never apologized or acknowledged their wrong-doing. I worked, but society mostly didn't work with me.

But I won anyway.

I had friends who supported me. I found a community of progressive martial artists and self-defense people. I developed a meditation practice I truly love. My brain damage healed while I earned my public health degree, and when I finished, they inducted me into the honor society. Then I won the Fulbright Fellowship – and when I went to the doctor to complete my medical clearance papers, he looked at my health history, said, “You don't have this problem anymore,” and archived those medical records.

I got well. I got my life back. I won completely.

Between the day I got raped and the moment I was officially well, eight years passed. That was much longer than it should have been. I wish I had been helped much earlier and not blamed for the crime my rapist committed.

But here’s the math, Henry Rollins: eight years is not a life sentence.

Actually, rape is not a life sentence for most victims. It is a particularly potent form of violence, and the intense stigma and victim-blaming are why its traumatic effects last so long.

But the reality is that most people who are traumatized are resilient. Most people get better, whether with professional help or the support of their communities. They get well, move on, and often have very good lives. I am living proof of this.

Insisting that the worst five hours of the Steubenville rape victim’s life will degrade all of her entire remaining fifty years is not friendly, and it is not factually accurate. It places additional stigma on the victim by assuming she is irrevocably damaged. It asks that she remain in the prison of rape trauma for far longer than is natural or necessary. It is an unjust imposition on this young woman.

I have faith that the victim in Steubenville will one day be fine. I applaud her for pursuing justice, and I hope this week’s verdicts bring her some relief. I hope she gets all the help she needs.

And for myself, I must insist: I served all the time that I have to serve in the prison of rape trauma and stigma. I worked to earn my liberation, even though I never did anything wrong in the first place. I deserve to be free now.

Really, I already am.

I plan to use my liberty to go back to mostly ignoring Henry Rollins.

UPDATE (March 21, 2013)

When I wrote this article yesterday, I retrieved Henry Rollins' email address from his website, and sent this link, saying, "I can tell from your words that you are sympathetic to the plight of rape survivors. I appreciate that. But I take exception to your remark that the victim in the Steubenville rape case is serving a 'life sentence.'"

Henry himself responded a few hours later. His response was exceedingly kind and respectful, and ended with the line, "Things get better when we stand up to this brutality."

Considering I was directly criticizing a guy who first got famous for his screaming vocals (as the lead singer for the seminal hardcore band Black Flag and a hard rock act called Rollins Band) and for generally being an angry guy, the classy response was rather unexpected and even a little sweet.

It feels so good, in fact, that he made the last sentence of my essay wrong. Since yesterday, I'm not ignoring Henry Rollins much at all. In fact, I've been on a huge Black Flag kick all day. Thanks, Henry. 

For more of M. Sophia Newman's writing, check out her blog