Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence – NYTimes.com

Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence – NYTimes.com

If you are a Republican, or live in an area where your political representatives have opposed the Violence Against Women Act, I would encourage you to contact your senator and congressman/woman to urge them to vote for VAWA. Find your House and Senate representatives (check your state for your local Congress members).

This bill is S. 1925 To Reauthorize VAWA. It has passed in its committee by a narrow margin (10 to 8) and now has to go through the House and Senate. If current voting patterns don’t change, it will not pass. Senator Chuck Grassley is proposing a different form to replace VAWA — one which weakens its power, lowers its funding significantly, and significantly leaves out certain groups of women.

You can click on your representative’s name in this list, go to the bottom of the page under “External Links,” and find the official’s own web page. That’s where information should be posted on how this official has voted on VAWA, in the past and in the present.

Here is more information about individuals voting for/against VAWA:

Supporters and opponents

VAWA update (as of February 2, 2011)

Congress is comprised of the House + the Senate. So your state should have one or more members of the Senate, and one or more members of the House. These are the people to contact — your representatives who vote for/against VAWA.

Read the VAWA link I posted above; it will bullet-list many of the specific goals that VAWA has accomplished in the lives of victims of violence of both sexes.

It has passed overwhelmingly in 2000 and 2005 in Congress, and it should have passed easily again this year. We can only speculate as to why these leaders have changed their minds on an act that has done so much good for so many.

VAWA has accomplished what it was passed to do, and that is not something you can say about every act of Congress. We must keep it going to support victims of sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, and other crimes.

Thanks for contacting your local Congressional representative to support VAWA.  I am thanking you personally and on behalf of others I know who are grateful for VAWA and the difference it has made in their lives. VAWA is a lifeline, and it works.

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Profile of a Female Perpetrator

This is another one of the promised articles for calendar year 2008, and it took more research than usual. There’s less data on female sexual offenders than on male offenders, and the data that exists is interpreted in many ways. The information below is culled from a number of sources (see the source list at the end for examples) and represents an overview of generally accepted conclusions about female sexual perpetrators. If we are dedicated to rooting out sexual assault in our society, we must face facts.

The truth about female perpetrators and child sexual abuse

The heartbreaking introduction must be this: Twenty to 25 percent of substantiated child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by women. That’s right — one-fifth to one-quarter. Please understand this number correctly: It’s estimated that females report only about 10 percent of their sexual assaults, but males (especially children) underreport their sexual attacks even more.

What that means is that if 20 to 25 percent of substantiated cases are committed by female perpetrators, the real percentage is likely somewhat higher due to the fact that males underreport female attacks at an even higher rate than females underreport male attacks.

Current numbers show that about half the victims of female perpetrators are male, half female. In the case of the male victims, we can draw a fairly immediate line from victim to victimizer: About 59 percent of male sex offenders have a background of female sexual abuse.

Tragically, another line is even more direct than that: A male sex offender who has been sexually abused exclusively by a female chooses only female victims on average over 93 percent of the time.

What is a female perpetrator like?

It is widely acknowledged that women sexually attack for different reasons than men, particularly in the case of molesting a child. For example, where a man may use a child for sexual gratification, a woman may use a child sexually as part of her search for intimacy. Female perpetrators are often loners and have trouble forming relationships. Most come from abusive backgrounds.

So far as we have information, female offenders are significantly less likely than male offenders to perpetrate a violent sexual attack such as forcible rape, although those do happen. Their sexual attacks tend to be predicated on “winning” the victim and having a relationship with him or her.

Female sexual perpetrators are far more likely than male perpetrators to have an opposite-sex partner in crime. Many female sex offenders assault at the behest of a male partner, or at least facilitate and witness his assault. Far fewer female perpetrators act alone than male, and when they do, they typically have a longer, more severe history of abuse than male perpetrators. Far more male perpetrators than female actually don’t have a history of sexual abuse. Studies show that women are extremely unlikely to sexually assault a child where there’s no history of abuse in their own lives. These are simply informational statements as of 2008.

Female child molesters target boys significantly more often than girls. Female perpetrators of forcible rape or sexual assault against adults, however, tend to select female victims.

There may be truth to the idea that females are less likely to sexually offend than males. This unfortunately tends to feed our unwillingness to see females as abusers, to take their offenses as seriously, to hold them as culpable, and to sentence them as we sentence male offenders. There is no excuse for any blindness that interferes with protecting people from sexual assault (particularly children) and prevents effective justice and treatment for all offenders.

The double standard: How we portray and punish sexual offenders

Our society often thinks of women as the nurturers and caretakers of society and doesn’t want to see differently. Over 85% of male victims of female perpetrators are not believed when they tell their story. Media stories of male perpetrators use terms like rape, forced sex (another problematic term), and sexual assault, where stories of female perpetrators often use deceptive terms such as had an affair, had sex with, slept with instead of the more accurate raped or sexually assaulted. With a female perpetrator and an underage boy, in particular, people more often assume a kind of caring relationship between the perpetrator and her victim. The boy’s experience might even be regarded as a rite of passage. Male attackers are animals, while female attackers are “troubled.”

This double standard does not go only one way, however. Male sexual assault of females is considered sad, but a fact of life, and people even have sympathy and understanding for male attackers. “He must have had a terrible childhood,” “Boys will be boys,” and so on. Female attackers, on the other hand, are considered to be far sicker than male attackers. There can be perceptions such as “He’s just doing what men do; she’s a sociopath.”

Regardless of perceptions and prejudices, today’s laws should at the very least reflect the equal responsibility of women who have committed a sexual assault. They do not. The tragic result is systematic injustice perpetrated via the legal system. Female child molesters, for example, are arrested, charged, and prosecuted at significantly lower rates than male. They are sentenced more lightly. That’s if they reach the legal system at all, which they also do at a lower rate. Most female sexual perpetrators are never even arrested — fewer even than male rapists, and not many male rapists are ever arrested. So it’s a very small number.

Myths and messages about male sexual assault victims

If the injustice stopped with the legal system, that would be bad enough. But male victims find they’re lucky if they’re not simply laughed at when they tell their story of being sexually assaulted. Social custom still sends false and crushing messages to male victims — messages as antiquated as the lopsided sentencing laws. People’s reactions to male victims — whether the victims are children or adults — can include:

  • “You should feel lucky.”
  • “A real man would be glad to have sex.”
  • “What’s the matter with you? It was just sex.”
  • “What did she do — hold you down?”
  • “You got attacked by a woman?”
  • “I wish she’d come to my house and attack me.”
  • “Honey, she’s your babysitter. You probably just misunderstood.”

These are some of the same messages people give to women who are raped, and if there’s anything I’d like today’s post to communicate, it is this: Sexual assault, and the painfully false messages and lack of support that can follow, are equally damaging to female victims and male victims alike.

In today’s culture, men often don’t — and often don’t dare — allow themselves to appear vulnerable. It’s incredibly difficult to even talk about a sexual assault, especially if a man has internalized, all his life, any of these common cultural myths:

  • Real men always want sex.
  • It’s impossible for a woman to rape a man.
  • Women don’t sexually assault people. Women don’t molest children. If they do anything, it’s just play. It’s not really bad or serious.
  • It’s OK for an adult woman to “have sex with” a teenage boy, even though it’s not OK for an adult man to “rape” a teenage girl, because boys and men are just sexual animals.
  • A real man would be grateful for it.
  • Men want it. And if they don’t, something is wrong with them.

We’ve begun challenging myths when they’re applied to female victims. Now it’s time to stop perpetuating myths when they’re applied to male victims too.

What about female victims of female perpetrators?

Younger female victims are reluctant to say they’ve been assaulted by a woman because they may question their own sexuality or worry about how they’ll be judged by others when people find out they were attacked by a woman. Like male victims of all ages, female victims of all ages are also much more likely to grow up to assault someone else than someone with no history of abuse or assault.

Resources for male sexual assault victims

As we’ve mentioned in this blog before, resources for male sexual assault victims are fewer than for female sexual assault victims. Here’s my earlier post on this subject. (Update in 2012: I’m sure there are more resources now. I’ve seen them, but haven’t had the time to go back and update all the relevant posts.) You would expect this, given the lopsided ratio of female sexual assault victims to male victims overall, but the ratio of resources for men is not even equal to that. Part of the problem is that while women have pressed for, and gotten, research done on their assaults, men’s relative silence due to severe shaming and social pressure has guaranteed that very little research has been done specifically on male victims. This is a heartbreaking oversight that needs to be remedied immediately.

Here’s a bit of the little we do know: If you are the wife, girlfriend, etc., of a man you suspect has been sexually assaulted, be a safe person for him to talk to. If you have children, let him see you being fiercely protective of them — and tell him you’re protective of him too. Open up a space for him (as opposed to badgering him) to talk to you if he chooses. Prepare ahead of time by having resources in hand that he might want to look at. If you sense he’s not open to talking to you about it, give him the materials. Be willing to be wrong about it and look foolish; you’d be shocked at how many men carry this secret. Eventually he may take action. Support his absences while he goes to meetings or counseling, and be willing to go to counseling with him if he wants you to. Above all, never, never shame him or blame him for any part of what happened.

Where is a child least safe?

It’s worth noting that despite the news stories in recent years, schools are still one of the safest places for children. Sexual abuse by teachers comprises less than 10 percent of all sexual assaults on children. The least safe place for a child is in the family. The vast majority of child sexual assaults are committed by family members. Incest stories tend to not make the news as often or as memorably because they’re so much more common than sexual abuse by others.

Wrap-up

Did anyone else notice the obvious conclusion to this research? The biggest single step we can take to help get rid of sexual assault in our society is to stop assaulting and abusing people today — especially children, who are tomorrow’s attackers if we assault them instead of protecting them. To stop a sick pattern — stop it!

Resource list for this post

Profile of a Male Perpetrator

Four major types of rapists are consistently identified by law enforcement experts, profilers, and psychologists. The vast majority of research has been done on male perpetrators, and this information reflects studies of men. The four rapist types are:

  1. Anger-excitation rapist
  2. Anger-retaliation rapist
  3. Power-assertive rapist
  4. Power-reassurance rapist

When people say, “Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power,” they’re especially correct about the power-assertive rapist. This person is looking for the power trip. He feels entitled to a woman’s body if he wants it.

That attitude isn’t isolated. You’ll see that sense of entitlement in many areas of his life. This makes it a good warning sign if you’re considering dating someone. He may not be a rapist — most men aren’t rapists — but either way, he won’t be someone you want to date. His sense of entitlement won’t go away, and you can’t make it go away. Don’t waste your time and energy, and risk your own safety, trying to fix him.

About 44 percent of reported rapes are committed by this type. He may be violent and aggressive, slapping the woman around during the attack, but he probably isn’t trying to kill her. That’s not what gives this type of rapist his power rush.

The anger-retaliatory rapist lives exactly up to his name: He’s mad at someone female, so he’s going to find a female victim and retaliate. Perhaps 30 percent of reported rapes fall into this category. This is the rapist who’s going to want to degrade his victim. His physical attack on a woman will be punitive and humiliating, and if she resists, he’ll likely feel provoked and violently angry.

The type of rapist you often see in TV programs is the anger-excitation rapist–the true sadist who becomes excited through torturing his victim. Her pain turns him on. Although this type is popular among TV writers, in reality it accounts for only about 5 percent of reported rapes. He is the most likely of all types to kill a woman he has raped.

Finally, the power-reassurance rapist is another popular TV staple, though only about 21 percent of reported rapes are committed by this type of rapist. Without the skills to develop a romantic relationship with a real person, he substitutes a fake relationship for the real one by raping someone. This may involve romantic declarations and even his idea of foreplay.

Since he prefers to believe his victim is interested in him sexually–he may even view her as his date or his girlfriend–he wants to keep the violence to a minimum. He may threaten a woman with a weapon, and with a minimum of physical force gain control, but he may not even have a weapon. This type of rapist is most likely of all the types to be dissuaded by crying, begging, or talking to him.

Male gang rapes are considered a different type. Men who wouldn’t necessarily rape a woman on their own are more likely to do so in a group that rapes.

Keep in mind that any and all of these rapists can be people you know. You can be date raped, acquaintance raped, stranger raped, maritally raped, by any of these types of rapists.

  • There is no universal rule about whether to fight back or not. One of the tools you have in making this decision mid-attack is your gut instinct. You are the only one who’s looking into this rapist’s eyes. Don’t mistake your fear as a message from your gut that you shouldn’t fight back–you’d feel terrified during any attack. Do listen to your gut telling you whether this guy is willing to go all the way and kill you, or not.
  • The best time to deal with a pending attack is right at step 1, by trying to prevent it. This won’t always succeed, but far better to avoid the whole thing if it’s at all possible. Run into a crowd of people in a public place. Run out of the house into the street. Speak assertively and let him know you’re not a victim. Speak soothingly and tactfully and try to reason with him until you can get safe. Whatever you can think of to get out of the situation.

Recommended to read next: New post up called “The Self-Defense Dilemma: Blaming the Victim?”

Getting safe and getting help: Stalking

woman with shadowy stalker in backgroundStalking Isn’t Like Other Crimes

See this previous post on stalking, with a definition and basic info about stalking. Today’s post will provide you with a safety plan and tell you what to do in a stalking emergency.

Stalking is a major issue for both sexes. Unlike rape, where the victim ratio is heavily skewed toward female victims, stalking happens to over a million women each year–and also to almost 371,000 men, over a third. Eighty-seven percent of stalkers are male, which means women comprise 13% of stalkers, a far higher rate than for any of the other crimes we’ve provided information for so far.

Interestingly, out of the 28% of female stalking victims and 10% of male stalking victims who obtained a protective order, 69% of the female victims and 81% of the male victims had the order violated. For whatever reason, protective orders against stalkers are more effective for female victims than for male victims. (This is not true, however, of protective orders against male stalkers who have committed domestic violence.) This information is worth noting if you’re facing a stalking situation.

The good news: Stalking is against the law in all 50 states. Whether it’s unwanted phone calls, letters, vandalism, threats, being followed, or other stalking actions, you have legal recourse. For information about specific laws in your state, visit “Stalking laws state by state.” For more information that’s well organized and easy to follow, visit Washington State University‘s Stalking Resource Center page (looks like it’s sponsored by their Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Taskforce).

Stalking Safety Plan: Immediate Danger

If you’re in immediate danger from your stalker, your first priority is to find a safe place. Family and friends can help you get out of a dangerous situation. Be very careful. Don’t pick tactless or argumentative people to help you–pick people who can focus on effectively helping you get out of danger.

  • Home of family/friend, a place your stalker doesn’t know;
  • Police station;
  • Domestic violence shelter;
  • Church;
  • Public area.

Your next priority is to contact the police. Call 911. If the police don’t respond, ask for a supervisor, or ask someone to contact police for you. Identify yourself, report the incident and request confidentiality. If you’ve previously obtained a protective order, tell the police so that the current incident will be linked to the order and the stalker can be penalized for violating the order. You might also decide to contact other social support services in your community as needed, such as a therapist or victim assistance program.

Here’s what the Stalking Resource Center (SRC, part of the National Center for Victims of Crime) suggests as an emergency safety plan*:

While a victim may not be in imminent danger, the potential always exists; therefore, a contingency plan (a sort of “fire escape plan”) may be appropriate. Suggested considerations include:

  • Knowledge of, and quick access to, critical telephone numbers, including:

    • Law enforcement numbers and locations;
    • Safe places (such as friends, domestic violence shelters, etc.); and
    • Contact numbers for use after safety is secured (such as neighbors/family, attorneys, prosecutors, medical care, child care, pet care, etc.).
  • Accessible reserve of necessities, including:
    • Victims may wish to keep a small packed suitcase in the trunk of their car, or at another readily accessible location, for quick departure;
    • Reserve money may be necessary;
    • Other necessities — such as creditors’ numbers and personal welfare items such as medication, birth certificates, social security information, passports, etc. — should be readily available;
    • Miscellaneous items — like always keeping as full a tank of gas as possible in the car, backup keys for neighbors, etc. — are practical; and
    • If a victim has a child(ren), she/he may want to pack a few toys, books, or other special items belonging to the child.
  • Alert critical people to the situation who may be useful in formulating a contingency plan, such as:
    • Law enforcement;
    • Employers;
    • Family, friends, or neighbors; and
    • Security personnel.

Stalking Safety Plan: Not in Immediate Danger

1. Apply for a protection order. These are given at the discretion of the courts–they’re not guaranteed. They may cost money. Contact your local court clerk to find out where and how to apply. While you may need an order to help your case–it’s just a piece of paper, not an armor, and it only takes effect when it’s violated. Continue taking steps to keep yourself safe as suggested below and in other resources listed here.

2. Research and find out your local stalking laws. State laws can be found here, and you may want to Google your local city and county as well. What precisely is defined as stalking? What’s the penalty? What do you need to do to support the legal process in dealing with your stalker? Contact your local prosecutor to find out more, and search “stalking+[your city]” on the Internet.

3. Document your stalker. Take pictures of the stalker stalking you and of any physical damage he/she does to you or your property. Keep a written log of times when you see the stalker–where, when, what circumstances. Keep this file in a secure place. This will support your case against the stalker, and as such, it may become evidence in court.

Steps to Keeping Yourself Safe

The SRC suggests these safety guidelines if you’re being stalked.* Ask police for other suggestions when you report. It may not be practical to, for example, hire a personal bodyguard, but utilize all the safety steps you can.

Preventive Measures.

  • Install solid core doors with dead bolts. If victim cannot account for all keys, change locks and secure spare keys.
  • If possible, install adequate outside lighting. Trim back bushes and vegetation around residence.
  • Maintain an unlisted phone number. If harassing calls persist, notify local law enforcement, but also keep a written log of harassing calls and any answering machine tapes of calls with the stalker’s voice and messages.
  • Treat any threats as legitimate and inform law enforcement immediately.
  • Vary travel routes, stores and restaurants, etc., which are regularly used. Limit time walking, jogging, etc.
  • Inform a trusted neighbor and/or colleagues about the situation. Provide them with a photo or description of the suspect and any possible vehicles he/she may drive.
  • If residing in an apartment with an on-site property manager, provide the manager with a picture of the suspect.
  • Have co-workers screen all calls and visitors.
  • When out of the house or work environment, try not to travel alone if at all possible, and try to stay in public areas. If you ever need assistance, yell “FIRE” to get immediate attention, as people more readily respond to this cry for assistance than to any other.
  • If financial means exist, use a “dummy” answering machine connected to a published phone line. The number to a private unlisted line can be reserved for close friends and family, then the stalker may not realize you have another line.

If someone is stalking you, you need the Stalking Handbook. It’s a terrific booklet full of solid information, not speeches, and it’ll help you stay safe.

Other helpful resources and web pages I found while putting together this entry:

*All rights reserved. Copyright © 1997 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, in its entirety and includes this copyright notice.

“For Men” category, but no “For Women”?

Stylized drawing of two parents + two children.A word of clarification is in order. You may see that the category “for men” has a number of posts, while the category “for women” doesn’t even exist. Why?

Because: While men are rape victims, rape is overwhelmingly a female experience perpetrated by males. Therefore, nearly every post in this blog is for women by default.

Sadly, rape is heavily skewed toward male attackers and female victims. Perhaps someday that will change, and rape–no matter who the attacker or survivor–will become a rare crime. We can dream (and hope and work).

I make a conscious effort to provide information and resources that include and can be used by male victims in most posts. They need and deserve the same quality of support as any other rape survivor.

Sexual Assault Resources Specifically for Men

Photo of man w/bruises and cuts on faceThat men are raped is not in question. For example, see the Abused Empowered Survive Thrive and website, which has several large sections specifically for men, such as Male Rape Myths and Research and Statistics on Male Abuse Survivors.

As of 2011, the CDC estimated that almost 20% of women suffered rape in their lifetime. (By the way, just as a man’s physiological body response to rape is involuntary, so is a woman’s. This does not indicate arousal or consent for either sex. Keep reading.)

The same as for female rape survivors, many ignorant people in society hold bigoted or erroneous views about male rape survivors:

  • Men can protect themselves, so he must’ve wanted it or else he would’ve stopped it.
  • Now that he’s been raped, he’s homosexual.
  • He was homosexual anyway, so it’s all just sex for him.
  • He was homosexual anyway, so he deserved it.
  • A real man could have kept it from happening.

While many of the emotional needs of male survivors are the same as those of female survivors, men have some unique needs. First, here are some struggles both sexes face:

  • They feel violated and disempowered.
  • They question themselves.
  • They lose confidence in their ability to protect themselves.
  • They wonder if they did something to bring the attack on themselves.
  • They think they should’ve done more to stop it. Or less. Or something different.
  • They feel blamed by society (“If she hadn’t gone to a bar dressed like that it wouldn’t have happened,” “If he was straight it wouldn’t have happened,” “Why did you provoke the attacker?”, etc.).

Here are some of the unique struggles men face:

  • They feel emasculated.
  • They wonder if they’ve become homosexual.
  • They wonder if it happened because they’re homosexual (data shows that homosexuals are in fact targeted; I don’t know of an exhaustive study showing how rapists target male victims in general).
  • Society believes men can’t be sexually assaulted by women, but they can be–and this is a stigma as well, with many people viewing the male victim as weak or as less of a man, or thinking that a “normal” man would be glad to “have sex,” or assuming that no woman could be strong enough to rape a man. (Aaaand we’re back to the “not a real man” myth.)
  • Sketchy information shows that men (no matter who does the attacking) are even less likely to report rape than women because of the stigma attached to the “weakness” of a male victim or the stigma of questions about his sexuality or masculinity.
  • There aren’t many resources for male rape survivors, so they’re more isolated and less served than women. Even factoring in the lower proportion of male survivors to female survivors, there aren’t a proportionate number of resources specifically for male survivors. Most services for female survivors also serve male victims, but here I’m talking about services that are dedicated to male survivors.
  • Male survivors may have had an erection or ejaculation during an assault and feel guilty about it; the attacker or the victim’s friends/family may assume this means the victim must have “wanted it,” when in reality, both erection and ejaculation are physiological responses to stress that don’t require sexual arousal and that a man can’t voluntarily control.

Some of the good resources I can find for men are listed here.

No one, no matter what their age, race, or sex, deserves to be raped or has “asked for it.” Rape doesn’t change people’s sexual orientation, and it isn’t OK to rape a man because “men want it all the time anyway.” Rape is never a turn-on. Raping men isn’t OK, and it’s never the victim’s fault — not ever. I will shout this from the housetops. To male assault survivors: You are not alone. We women have been attacked too, and we stand with you. We believe you. We believe in you. We want more for all rape survivors, no matter who has been attacked.