Women's eNews

How a Student Run Database is Changing the Way Universities Respond to Rape

Is there at least one full-time person working on campus sex-assault? May rape survivors report their attack confidentially and-or anonymously? Does the school's policy cover the sex assault of a man? Is emergency contraception available in the school health center?
These are the questions that students across the country are answering through the Campus Accountability Project, an open-access database designed for students, applicants and parents.
The database ranges in alphabetical order, beginning with the University of Alabama and ending with Yale University. It finds plenty of schools failing to present friendly survivor policies.
Of about 250 schools now in the database, 19 don't cover the cost of counseling after a sexual assault or rape, including such well-known universities as University of California-Berkeley and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
Only 30 offer victims amnesty from punishment for offenses surrounding the assault, such as violating school policy against underage drinking. The fear of being punished for such offenses is considered a major deterrent to bringing a report.
A victim's sexual history and attire are allowable points of discussion in 108 schools in the database, including such highly ranked institutions as Williams College in Massachusetts; UNC-Chapel Hill; and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The database is produced by a partnership between Students Active for Ending Rape, or SAFER, based in New York City, and V-Day, the global anti-violence franchise that on Feb. 14 announced its largest campaign to date entitled One Billion Rising, which invites one billion women and their loved ones -- representative of the one billion female survivors of sexual violence worldwide -- to gather and dance in their communities on V-Day's 15th anniversary, February 14, 2013.
The database is housed on SAFER's website, and SAFER staff members vet each submission for accuracy. V-Day provides financial assistance and organizational support.
SAFER's data-gathering project provides a way to screen schools for a survivor-friendly campus culture. By showing stronger and weaker policies, it also provides a tool for student activists.
Critical Resource
Survivor-friendly campus policies are considered a critical resource for victims, since a local justice system can lose jurisdiction when students graduate or for other reasons move away from campus. District attorneys can shy away from cases involving alcohol and drugs and a shortage of strong physical evidence.
Organizers intend that the database will eventually be integrated into college ranking systems to catch the eye of school administrators, parents and prospective students.
By providing an at-a-glance look at better and worse campus policies it's also meant to serve as a tool for activism.
Ninety-five percent of college rapes are not reported, according to a 2000 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A major explanation for that, according to a 2009 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, were institutional obstacles, including administrators and trustees who fear a strong rape-response policy will spur bad publicity.
Dan Wald, a SAFER board member, says that ignorance and a paucity of sexual-health education also accounts for historically poor treatment of rape survivors on campuses.
"Why would they [administrators] have any better education than many of us do?" he asked in a phone interview with Women's eNews.
Wald said he became involved with the organization following his own project to revise his college's policy. After a series of rapes on his campus at Ithaca University, Wald managed to work with campus safety groups to establish a system that allows victims the option of submitting a written document or audio or videotape recording instead of appearing at disciplinary proceedings, sparing a victim from appearing before his or her alleged attacker. Victims may also request the school provide an advocate to give legal and moral support through the proceedings.
Wald said those changes took about a year and a half to institute, requiring the approval of various school offices and boards, underscoring the serious commitments required to achieve such reforms.
Aiming for 400 Schools
Organizers plan to produce a report on the database once it amasses policies for 400 schools.
The project accepts rolling submissions but also works in bursts. In December, for instance, organizers launched their second push for students to review and submit policies during winter breaks, in between the pressures of semester deadlines.
Volunteers are asked to submit the entire text of their schools' policies and answer a probing 54-question survey. Do survivors have the option of reporting confidentially or anonymously? May a student's sexual history or clothing be discussed during disciplinary proceedings?
In 2009, SAFER published a preliminary report, based on 93 collected policies, which identified 11 basic components of a strong, survivor-friendly policy. These included amnesty for victims who may have been violating other school prohibitions during an assault or rape.
Another element: student input into the formation of a campus rape-response policy.
SAFER's database can assist students by showing the array of school policies and the questions that advocates can keep in mind as they push for reforms.
Last spring, Vice President Joe Biden released an open letter to universities explaining how federal law should be implemented in order to comply with Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. While Title IX has long been used to maintain equality in school sports, advocates are now actively broadening its application to the realm of sexual aggression.
At the same time as Biden was making that announcement, the Department of Education was investigating allegations that prominent universities -- including Yale, Princeton, Duke, Harvard Law School and the University of Virginia--violated Title IX by failing to counteract or combat environments of sexual hostility on campus.
Policy Updates
In the past year, these institutions have updated or are now updating their sexual assault policies. Yale, for instance, expanded its definition of sexual assault to include sexually harassing speech and online communications and implemented a mandatory sexual misconduct training program for student organizations.
While top-down pressure from government institutions can compel colleges to abide by the law, the Campus Accountability Project works in reverse; giving students the resources and knowledge to jumpstart change.
Data from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education suggest that schools--whether due to advocacy pressures or their own reforms or some combination of both--are finding ways to encourage more victims to report sex assault.
In 2010 the number of students reporting on-campus sex assault rose to 2,933, up from a range of 2,605 to 2,738 between 2005 to 2009. This rise occurs as Bureau of Justice data is tracking an overall decline in U.S. rape.
This interpretation of the new numbers -- that more rape reporting means more reporting, not necessarily more assaults--is speculative, however. The higher figure in 2010 could simply indicate a worsening of the already severe problem of campus rape.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2000 estimated that a staggering number of women--between 20 percent and 25 percent -- were subject to rape or an attempted rape during college.
"I think that students still face resistance in even defining rape and consent," Sarah Martino, board chair of SAFER, said in an e-mail interview. "Even as schools respond to the call to create more comprehensive policies, there is a feeling that on the ground it is still treated like a 'he said/she said' discrepancy between 'regretful' young people."

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Financial Crisis Sends Women Voters Flocking to Obama

The economic crisis has been stretching the voting gender gap in favor of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama.

Polls from mid-October show women, already more inclined to vote Democratic, embracing Obama with growing vigor, a trend that political analysts attribute to an economic crisis that is leaving women feeling acutely vulnerable to threats to their jobs, health care and financial stability.

A Gallup poll from Sept. 7, the day the federal government took over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, found female registered voters favoring Obama by 49 percent compared to 42 percent for his rival, Republican Sen. John McCain.

Following a six-week period when bad economic news dominated the headlines, that lead of seven percentage points widened to 16 points, according to an Oct. 26 Gallup poll. Women favored Obama 54 percent to 38 percent. Men, by contrast, were split almost equally between the two candidates.

"He's going to need that women's vote in order to win," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick.

The Obama campaign is courting donations from women as well as votes. It held a fundraiser Oct. 10 and 11 in Chicago billed as the National Women's Leadership Issues Conference, where panels included Democratic stars like Robert Rubin and Madeleine Albright. About 1,000 women paid $2,500 to attend. A $28,500 donation guaranteed a meeting with Oprah Winfrey.

Women Write Checks for $75 Million

Women have given Obama more than $75 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington research group which tracks money in politics. Men donated almost $122 million.

McCain received $34 million from women and almost $88 million from men, according to the center.

If past patterns continue, more women will turn out than men in a year when voters, in general, are expected to turn out heavily. Women have voted in higher numbers in every presidential election since 1964, and they've voted at higher rates since 1980. In 2004 about 60 percent of women older than 18 voted, compared to 56 percent of men.

Women's greater trust in Obama's approach to the economy was echoed by the Economists' Policy Group for Women's Issues, a network of more than 40 economists from across the country. On Oct. 23 the group released a report card on the two candidates' positions on 10 economic issues critical to women. Obama earned an overall B grade; McCain earned a D.

The group formed in 1992 to evaluate the presidential candidates that year, and this is the first time they've released a report card since that election. Robert Drago, a professor of labor and women's studies at Penn State University, said the group felt the economic crisis had crowded out discussion of women's issues.

Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who helped grade the candidates, underscored that point. "We're tired of hearing about the Joes, as in Six-Pack and Plumber," she said. "We want more attention (paid) to the Joannes; the women in our economy who typically earn less money and shoulder more family responsibilities than men."

Grade Gap on Equal Pay

In the specific category for pay and employment equity McCain earned an F for voting against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which would expand the amount of time a worker has to sue for employment discrimination. The act would have countermanded the Supreme Court's 2007 ruling that Goodyear Tire employee Lilly Ledbetter waited too long to sue her employer, even though for years she didn't know the company paid her male counterparts more.

Obama voted for the act and supported other anti-discrimination legislation, but because he lacks a comprehensive plan to promote pay equity, he earned a B.

The group gave out few As, but Obama did receive two for his positions on domestic violence and reproductive rights. McCain's highest grade was a C-, which he earned in two categories: health care and nontraditional families.

McCain's paucity of initiatives to alleviate poverty merited a D grade. Obama received a B for wanting to expand early childhood education, the earned-income tax credit and opportunities for affordable housing.

McCain and Obama received a D and a B+, respectively, for their support of paid sick leave for workers. No federal law requires paid time off, but a handful of states and municipalities have instituted policies that are creating a patchwork of varying benefits. The nonprofit advocacy group 9to5, National Association of Working Women is trying to pass a paid-leave measure on Election Day in Milwaukee, where it is based. California, Washington state, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are among those that already have similar laws on the books.

Trying to Seal the Deal

The Obama campaign was trying to capitalize on its edge with female voters in the last week of the election.

Becky Carroll, field director of Women for Obama, the campaign's national initiative to reach out to female voters, said the campaign has been targeting female voters through woman-to-woman phone banks, house parties thrown by supporters and the heavy use of female surrogates at campaign events such as New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon.

The campaign also encouraged women to vote early to sidestep last-minute complications that could prevent them from voting, like a sick child on Election Day. Carroll emphasized that early voting allows women to "vote around their own schedule and their own time."

The initial interest McCain generated among women by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has subsided, Walsh said. "Women are saying, 'What about these economic issues? What about my survival?' And that's what they're going to vote on."

The widening gender gap stands to reason in light of women's distribution within the economy, said Susan Carroll, a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. (She is not related to Becky Carroll of the Obama campaign.)

Women account for almost two-thirds of minimum-wage workers and are more likely to head households alone.

In August, before the worst economic news arrived, 58 percent of women were already saying they were "very concerned" about the job market, compared to 38 percent of men, according to a survey released by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

"Whether I've spoken with women in New Mexico or Indiana or Wisconsin or Florida or Colorado, they're all asking the same questions," said Women for Obama's Becky Carroll. "They all wake up in the morning with the same concerns. They're worried about their family. They're worried about their jobs. They're worried about retirement security and the cost of health care, and they want specific answers about how the candidates will address these issues."

Copyright 2008 Women's eNews. All Rights Reserved.

How This Election Could Change the Meaning of Masculinity in America

In the waning days of the presidential campaign, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are the leads in a gripping national drama about masculinity and Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin are nominees for best supporting actors.

Sen. McCain has replaced George Bush as the standard bearer for conventional manhood -- stubborn, controlling, shoot-from-the-hip, inflexible. From his sneering angry attacks on Sen. Obama's character to his Marlboro Man response to the perilous financial calamity, John Wayne (and Richard Nixon) would be proud. While his handlers spin his behavior as a sign of decisive, manly leadership, his campaign has devolved to the point former Secretary of State Colin Powell crossed party lines to endorse Sen. Obama. Neither on Main Street, nor on Wall Street, polls indicate, are people buying the Republican ticket's bullying tactics (which McCain briefly curtailed, only to resume with zeals). No cross dresser, Gov. Palin, meanwhile, is behaving in a way that would make that bastion of masculine behavior, the late Charlton Heston, proud indeed. Sen. Obama, who has been described in scores of newspaper editorial endorsements as sensitive, thoughtful, composed, and collaborative, reflects a gentler brand of masculinity. Polls suggest his "let's stay calm" approach to the financial crisis -- and in general -- is playing much better with voters than the McCain-Palin fear-mongering. While "It's the masculinity, stupid" is unlikely to become a last minute campaign theme, manhood is a subtext in the campaign. Consider how a less strident brand of American masculinity as practiced by an Obama-Biden administration would contribute to polishing our tarnished reputation internationally.

Obama has resisted supporters' calls to find his "killer instinct" and "go for the jugular." They miss the point. Obama really does want to do things differently. He understands that old school manhood translates into old style politics and visa versa. Whatever legitimate criticisms can be made about some of Obama's positions, his conduct signals an effort to expand the definition of masculinity away from suspicion and isolation and toward trust and collaboration. For growing numbers of voters, being willing to talk with our enemies (now central to the Bush administration's diplomatic strategy) is seen not as a naïve flaw but as a quiet strength.

As gender's role as a force in the campaign has unfolded, a new political reality has emerged: "kinder, gentler" expressions of masculinity are being viewed positively. Mean-spirited representations, as evidenced by Gov. Palin's snarly attacks, rather than attracting Hillary Clinton's supporters, aren't getting much traction. Among the electorate those most excited about her candidacy -- portraying Dick Cheney in a dress -- are Tina Fey and her writers at "Saturday Night Live."

By contrast, remember Sen. Biden's emotional moment at his debate against Gov. Palin? There was a time (think Sen. Edmund Muskie crying in New Hampshire 40 years ago) when a display of such feeling by a man would have been seen as a game-changing moment of weakness. Biden's moment only made him seem more human and, when commented on at all, elicited a positive response. Clearly, ideas about manhood are changing. It's about time. (In case you've forgotten, the Delaware senator choked up for a moment while recalling his life as a single father 35 years ago in the aftermath of his wife and baby daughter dying in an automobile accident that also seriously injured his two young sons). Notably, Gov. Palin didn't acknowledge Biden's tender moment. How old school male. Imagine what the response would have been if the roles had been reversed?

All of the vital issues facing the nation -- from civil liberties to global warming, from finding a way out of the financial morass to ending two wars -- have been directly impacted these past eight years by the old style masculinity practiced by the president and much of the senior members of his administration. The now laughable image of George ("Mission Accomplished") W. triumphantly striding in his flight suit across the aircraft carrier deck, may be one John McCain longs to reprise, but it is the polar opposite of the brand of manhood Obama and Joe Biden are symbolizing. And lest some presume that a "new masculinity" is only something Obama is embodying, consider this: That at 65, Biden, a white, senior, respected Senate leader, is willing to play second fiddle to his younger, African American colleague, communicates volumes about what's possible in redefining masculinity.

Women have long asked the question: "Is it possible for more men to grow and change?" For them, and for all voters, this campaign season offers a simple, clear answer: "Yes, we can."

Copyright 2008 Women's eNews. All Rights Reserved.

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