The Institutionalization of Rape on Campus

This article was originally published on the Ms. Blog:

Editors’ note: We wanted to address the controversy surrounding the op-ed below, and note that we have changed the title and one asterisk-marked sentence in order to more accurately represent the position of the author. We are extremely concerned about the horrors of ISIS’ terrorist campaign of rape, grotesque violence and murder and want to be clear that neither the Ms. Blog nor Amy Lauricella, the author of the piece, intended to equate ISIS’ mass rapes as an instrument of war with rape on college campuses. The author, an attorney who is fighting on the frontlines of the movement to end violence against women, intended to issue a wake-up call about the high and unacceptable levels of institutionalized rape on college campuses. Ms. and the Ms. Blog have always provided a platform for feminist ideas, including controversial positions. While we certainly do not think that the rape campaign of ISIS terrorists can be equated with the high levels of college rape, we do think that sexual assault is becoming institutionalized on college campuses, and we must continue to push college administrators to take action to protect students. It is believed on the basis of sound research that at least one in five college women will experience a sexual assault on campus. And a recent report from the Association of American Universities put that number at least as high as one in four. This is unacceptable—and it’s an institutional, not individual, problem.

The horrors of the Islamic State are becoming increasingly well known. This month, The Washington Post released a series covering life in the Islamic State, with one piece centerStop Rapeing on women and highlighting that they live in constant fear of sexual violence. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch reported on “a system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery and forced marriage by ISIS forces” of Yazidi women.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, David Brooks expressed his alarm about ISIS’ rape program. Writing, “[t]his wasn’t supposed to happen in the 21st century,” the reader gets the impression that ISIS’ treatment of women is an anomaly in modern-day society. As an attorney at Global Rights for Women, a nonprofit that works around the world to achieve effective reform on violence against women, I know that the institutionalization of rape occurs around the world, even in the U.S. According to a 2013 global review, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence.

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Sending a Message to Amnesty International

ProstitutionAmnesty Logo and sex trafficking, which are often indistinguishable, perpetuate a severe form of violence against women and girls. While prostitution is sometimes characterized as a “choice,” few women would freely choose to sell their bodies if they have other options for economic survival. Therefore, it is inexplicable that Amnesty International, one of the leading human rights organizations in the world, will be submitting a draft policy supporting full decriminalization of the sex industry at its International Council Meeting from August 7 – 11.

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When Culture Conflicts with Human Rights

In Global Rights for Women’s work to end violence against women and girls around the world, we get the question, “Aren’t you trying to impose ‘western values’ on people who have different cultures and traditions?” There are several answers to this question, but they all come down to the fact that women’s rights are human rights. The right to be free from violence is not limited to certain countries or cultures.

women-protesting-violenceOne answer is that we only work in places where we’re invited, usually by a local women’s rights NGO. Often these local organizations are seriously under-resourced and working against tremendous obstacles. When they see a conflict between culture and women’s rights their priority is to keep women safe in their communities.

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A tribute to Sharon Rice Vaughan

Sharon Rice Vaughan

Sharon Rice Vaughan, cofounder of Women’s Advocates, the first battered women’s shelter in the U.S., was a tireless activist for victims of domestic violence. Her groundbreaking work is a great inspiration to those who work to end violence against women. “Sharon changed our lives. She changed the world.”

Read more about Sharon Rice Vaughan’s legacy: National Bulletin on Domestic Violence Prevention

From South Carolina to Saudi Arabia: The Common Roots of Intimate Partner Violence

At best, here in America, we are still dealing with the vestiges of legally enforced patriarchy. At worst, many areas of the pulitzer_logocountry have never sincerely addressed gender-based discrimination and violence. The winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the South Carolina Post and Courier’s series, “Till Death Do Us Part,” reveals how violence against women in the United States exhibits the same patterns and causes as violence against women in countries around the world.

The South Carolina report acutely brings to light the fact that domestic violence in the United States generally follows global trends. As in other parts of the world, there are insufficient resources for victims and insufficient prosecution of perpetrators. Judicial enforcement of court orders is inadequate, and community attitudes and lack of understanding normalize and minimize intimate partner violence. In the United States, approximately 24.8 percent, or 38 million women will experience intimate partner violence. This rate of violence puts it among the ranks of Haiti, El Salvador, Germany and Jordan when it comes to domestic violence.

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Our story from Lithuania and Serbia

Dear Friends,

Last Wednesday morning, we gathered in a conference room at the Prezar hotel which is situated in the hills high above the Serbian town of Vranje.   Legal professionals and advocates had come from around the region and we were about to begin the second day of our training on improving the legal system’s response to violence against women.  Before we started, we learned that the 13th domestic violence homicide in Serbia for 2015 had happened the day before. One per week, since the beginning of the year.

IMG_2300When we announced this murder to our 35 training participants – police, NGO’s, Centers for Social Work,  prosecutors and judges, I sensed something in the room.  It was a feeling of urgency that I have noticed more and more in recent years from those who are the first responders to cases of violence against women.  Continue reading

Legislation is Not Enough: Turkey Fails to Enforce its Violence Against Women Laws

Protests erupted in Turkey in February after the discovery of twenty-year-old Ozgecan Aslan’s burnt body in a riverbed. Aslan was stabbed to death while resisting an attempted rape. The perpetrator attempted to cover-up the murder and prevent Aslan’s identification by burning her body and cutting off her hands. Aslan’s death has drawn attention to the tragic reality that passing legislation is not sufficient by itself to end violence against women—there must also be enforcement of the legislation along with cultural recognition of the rights of women.

Özgecan_Aslan_-_VOASince 2000, Turkey has modernized its laws to provide greater protection to women. The Turkish Civil Code now grants women and men equal rights within the family. Following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Turkey had failed to protect a victim of domestic violence, Turkey enacted domestic violence legislation in 2012. Turkey’s Penal Code has also been updated to eliminate antiquated and paternalistic views of sexual assault and honor killings. Sex crimes are now defined as crimes committed against the individual victim rather than the family, and references to chastity, morality, shame, and public decency have been eliminated.

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Workshop in Morocco: Making a Difference Now and Later

10606392_812576058824447_534051577579020973_nMorocco is an incredibly beautiful place, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. Just leaving the lingering Minnesota winter and stepping into a land of warmth and palm trees was a gift. When I arrived on Sunday evening I walked around the plaza by the train station in Rabat where people had gathered to enjoy the last hours of the weekend. Many people – men & women -were dressed in the traditional djelaba, children chased pigeons & balloon sellers added to the festivities. It felt like a very peaceful place.

On Monday morning we got to work and despite the differences – and the peacefulness – on the surface, the issue of violence against women is the same in Morocco as it is around the world – and worse than in a lot of places.

  • A government study there showed that in 2011 almost 63 percent of women in Morocco ages 18- 64 had been victims of some form of violence in the preceding year. 63 percent in one year!
  • 55 percent of these acts of violence were committed by the victim’s husband & only 3 percent of the wives reported the violence.

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Don’t Feed the Trolls: A Report from CSW59


GRW’s Executive Director, Cheryl Thomas with Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, Lily Greenan, Rosa Logar, Rashida Manjoo and Jackie Jones.

Global Rights for Women’s three days at the United Nations 59th Commission on the Status of Women meeting was a mix of exhilaration and challenges. We were exhilarated by the heady experience of hearing from experts on women’s rights from around the world about their many accomplishments, reconnecting with old friends, and of course the response to the two events we sponsored and the other two that we participated in as panelists. At the same time our exhilaration was tempered by references to a backlash, obstacles and barriers.

Monday morning started with a standing room only crowd for our panel on “International and Regional Legal Standards on Violence Against Women.” The panel, led by Cheryl Thomas, included experts on European and Latin American treaties and a thought-provoking presentation on the United States’ potential to influence other governments’ response to violence against women through the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), currently pending before Congress. I had to leave our event early to participate in a panel sponsored by the Inter Parliamentary Union on cyber-violence. The widespread interest in this topic in several panels and discussions during the conference is an indication of the Internet’s role in an exponential expansion of violence against women throughout the world.

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Coercive control now a crime in the UK

The United Kingdom’s New Domestic Abuse Law

In December, the United Kingdom announced a new domestic abuse offense targeting “patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour,” commonly referred to as coercive control. Coercive control is broadly defined as an act or pattern of acts of assault, sexual coercion, threats, humiliation, and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a victim. Domestic violence offenders who engage in coercive control do things like limiting the victim’s contact with friends and family, controlling her access to money, and determining aspects of the victim’s everyday life, such as when and what she eats.

The United Kingdom previously expanded its cross-governmental definition of domestic violence to include coercive control. The cross-governmental definition was used by government departments to target support services but was not a legal definition or part of the criminal law’s definition of domestic abuse. The criminal coercive control law is expected to come into force this year. It will serve as a model of domestic abuse legislation to other countries.

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