Tara Culp-Ressler

TED Talks Don't Cover Abortion Because They Say It Doesn't Count as a Human Rights Issue

Editorial Note:  After The Nation's Jessica Valenti first reported that TED Talks had featured no talks on abortion, saying that it did not fit into “wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights,” TED staff claimed that the quote from Content Director Kelly Stoetzel was taken out of context and the organization was “welcome talks and conversations on abortion as a social justice issue.” In response Valenti released a screen shot of the email exchange between herself and Stoetzel to demonstrate that the quote was presented in the correct context.

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National Abortion Rate Sees Huge Drop As More Women Are Using Birth Control

Between 2008 and 2011, the national abortion rate declined by 13 percent, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health journal. That puts 2011′s abortion rate at 16.9 abortions per every 1,000 women of reproductive age, the lowest rate recorded since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973.

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Another 'Marlboro Man' Dies from Smoking-Related Disease

Eric Lawson, the actor who portrayed the “Marlboro Man” in the iconic 1970s cigarette ads, has passed away at the age of 72. He died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — a disease that makes it progressively more difficult to breathe over time — which is primarily caused by cigarette smoking.

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PA Man Confronts Governor For Refusing To Expand Medicaid: ‘How Many People Have To Die?’

This week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) had a run-in with one of his constituents as he was leaving a fundraising event. Scot Rosenzweig — who identified himself as a fellow Republican — showed Corbett a large photograph of his fiancee, Dina Nelson, who died at the age of 41 because she was uninsured and couldn’t afford a liver transplant. “I think maybe we should consider accepting the Medicaid expansion,” Rosenzweig told his governor, explaining that people like Nelson need access to lifesaving health treatment.

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The Myth of the Absent Black Father

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published new data on the role that American fathers play in parenting their children. Most of the CDC’s previous research on family life — which the agency explores as an important contributor to public health and child development — has focused exclusively on mothers. But the latest data finds that the stereotypical gender imbalance in this area doesn’t hold true, and dads are just as hands-on when it comes to raising their kids.

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The 'Polar Vortex' Has Already Left More than 20 Dead

The icy winds and plunging temperatures across the nation this week have already claimed at least 21 lives, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday night. The so-called “polar vortex” comes on the heels of a recent snowstorm that killed 16 people last week, making this winter a particularly deadly one already.

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Maryville Teen Rape Victim Attempts Suicide After Cyberbullying

Daisy Coleman, the teenage girl at the center of the controversial Maryville rape case that came to light in October, has been hospitalized after attempting to take her own life on Sunday night. Her mother, Melinda, told a local Fox News affiliate that Daisy experienced an onslaught of cyberbullying after attending a party this past weekend.

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The Six Worst Attacks On Reproductive Freedom In 2013

2013 hasn’t been a great year for reproductive rights.  Ever since 2010, abortion opponents have imposed a flurry of state-level legislation intended to slowly chip away at abortion access, and that trend certainly continued this year.

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What the Company Marketing ‘Anti-Rape Underwear’ Gets Wrong About Rape

A company named AR Wear is making waves by marketing “a clothing line offering wearable protection for when things go wrong.” The line includes several different types of underwear and shorts that are intended to be difficult for a sexual predator to remove, and the founders explain that could help women feel safer when they’re “going out on a blind date, taking an evening run, ‘clubbing,’ traveling in unfamiliar countries, and any other activity that might make one anxious about the possibility of an assault.” AR Wear has currently raised about half of its $50,000 fundraising goal on the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo.
It’s fairly clear that AR Wear’s founders have the best of intentions. In a press release about the crowdfunding campaign, they explain that they want to help women reclaim control over what happens to their bodies. And on theirIndieGoGo site, they note that as long as sexual predators are still out there, it’s important to protect women from them.
Nonetheless, their effort has been widely criticized, derided as a new type of chastity belt for the “modern rape victim.” That’s not because people are opposed to preventing rape, of course — it’s because AR Wear seems to be missing a few crucial points about the reality of sexual assault. Here’s what the campaign gets wrong:
1. Rape isn’t an accident.
From the onset, the tagline of AR Wear’s campaign signals that this isn’t exactly the right framing for effectively tackling sexual assault. Marketing anti-rape underwear “for when things go wrong” suggests that sexual assault is an accident, or simply a night of partying gone sour. It subtly frames the incident in terms of the victim’s bad luck rather than in terms of the perpetrator’s decision to rape. In fact, sexual assault isn’t a slip-up; it’s a crime that a rapist has consciously committed.
“A woman or girl who is wearing one of our garments will be sending a clear message to her would-be assailant that she is NOT consenting. We believe that this undeniable message can help to prevent a significant number of rapes,” AR Wear notes. That’s not exactly right, either. Extensive research has shown that the people who commit rape aren’t simply confused about whether or not their victim consented. Rapists typically carefully select their victims and use a variety of tactics to manipulate them in order to accomplish their goal of sexual assault. In fact, especially when it comes to date rape, it’s often the victims who are confused about what constitutes consent, and that’s how the rapist gets away with it.
2. Rape doesn’t typically occur among strangers whom women encounter at clubs.
AR Wear’s product totally obscures the reality of date rape or intimate partner violence — which actually comprises the majority of sexual violence in this country. Of course, some women are the victims of random violent crimes. But most women aren’t raped by strangers who accost them while they’re jogging or out dancing. According to RAINN, nearly 75 percent of rape victims are assaulted by someone they know. Anti-rape underwear doesn’t seem so helpful for the women who grow to trust a partner before he ends up raping them.
AR Wear’s IndieGoGo campaign notes that the “work of changing society’s rape culture” still needs to move forward — but the myth that date rape is some kind of lesser version of sexual assault, or that it’s somehow less serious or less violent than stranger rape, actually contributes to unhealthy societal assumptions about sexual crimes.
3. White, pretty girls aren’t the only ones at risk of sexual assault.
AR Wear’s campaign doesn’t explicitly address race. But the founders of the clothing line still sent some clear messages about the type of women who need to be protected from the strangers lurking in the bushes waiting to rape them. Although there are a few stock photos of women of color at the beginning of the video, the vast majority of the women who appear — and every single woman who actually speaks — is a slim, pretty white woman. They all fit mainstream society’s conventional standards about what is considered to be beautiful and desirable.
Watch it:

That’s a subtle dynamic, but it furthers a dangerous myth about rape: The idea that it’s about sexual desire. In fact, rape doesn’t happen because men are wildly attracted to beautiful women, even though that’s been society’slongstanding approach to female sexuality. Rape is about power and entitlement. That’s why teaching women to cover up isn’t actually an effective rape prevention strategy.
Purity and whiteness have also typically been linked in our culture. Society has a troubled relationship with black women’s sexuality, and tends to portray women of color as inherently promiscuous. That ultimately means they’re assumed to be at less risk for sexual assault. Our deeply-ingrained rape culture typically eschews the idea that promiscuous women can beraped — since they must have “asked for it.”
4. It’s misleading to suggest there are simple steps women can take to guarantee they won’t be raped.
AR Wear’s founders acknowledge that their new line of underwear won’t put an end to all sexual assaults. “No product alone can solve the problem of violence against women,” they note. But putting forth this type of product in the first place suggests that there are small steps every woman can take to mitigate her risks. It’s understandable that many people are eager to help women feel safer. That’s arguably why so many well-intentioned public figures continue to tell women to drink less, hoping that advice will help protect them.
But every time we tell women that they should take another precaution to keep themselves safe — wear more clothing, stop drinking as much alcohol, watch their drink carefully, and don some anti-rape underwear — we’re furthering the fundamental premise upon which rapeculture rests. As Slate’s Amanda Hess notes, “Rape is a societal problem, not a self-help issue.” Even if women follow all the instructions that are given to them, that still won’t necessarily prevent them — or other women — from being victimized. It will simply end up laying the blame at their feet if they do fall victim to a sexual crime, since they’ll wonder what more they could have done to protect themselves.
5. We already know about some very effective strategies to prevent rape; we’re just not implementing them.
Of course, this isn’t to say we’re all powerless in the face of the global sexual assault epidemic. There are very real ways to tackle rape culture. Sexual assault prevention advocates believe that it starts with comprehensive sex education, to help educate kids about how to recognize when someone is violating their consent. And when kids age, the education campaigns should continue. College activists are attempting to implement more bystander intervention programsto teach students how to get involved when they see something that might turn into a sexual assault. Strong criminal justice policies that make it easier for victims to report crimes, and that actually hold the perpetrators accountable for those crimes, are another important area ripe for policy change.
It’s easier to develop products like anti-rape underwear than it is to take on theactual roots ofrape culture. It’s easier to raise awareness about sexual assault than it is to actually implement the right policies to prevent it. It’s easy to have good intentions. But it’s also largely unhelpful when it comes to advancing the real goal of creating a world that’s safe for women.

New Campaign Takes on Abortion Stigma by Encouraging Women to Share their Experiences

Tuesday marks the beginning of the “1 in 3 Week of Action,” a grassroots effort to push back on the pervasive abortion stigma that continues to impact women’s experiences with their reproductive health. Despite the fact that abortion is a very common aspect of women’s health care, many people feel like they’re not allowed to talk openly about it — largely because they’ve internalized society’s shame-based message that having an abortion means they’ve done something wrong. The events held during the “1 in 3 Week” hope to change that.

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