All posts by tessadolt

‘The ball is in WMATA’s court’: The future of WMATA’s anti-harassment campaign

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Anti-harassment ad at Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro stop: Tessa Dolt.

By Tessa Dolt                         December 10, 2017 6:05p.m.

WASHINGTON – Metro partnered with grassroots organization Collective Action for Safe Spaces’ (CASS) in 2012 to launch their anti-harassment campaign with the goals of raising awareness of harassment on the Metro and increasing incident reporting. Since then, Metro has yet to follow through with the initial goals of the campaign.

CASS began pushing for changes in 2012 when members testified at the DC Council Performance Oversight Hearing on WMATA. CASS recommended a three-prong approach to making changes: a public awareness campaign, data collection, and training for employees and transit police on how to address sexual harassment.

In April 2012, the anti-harassment campaign began with an online portal that allows people to report unwanted experiences. This new reporting system immediately sends the report to Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) and allows victims to remain anonymous.

According to Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly, “Metro also has a comprehensive employee training program and works with community groups on public outreach efforts in addition to the online reporting portal.”

CASS’s Executive Director Jessica Raven said, “Within the last year, we’ve seen a spike in reports of harassment across our city — especially targeting people of color, LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people, and people who are part of multiple marginalized groups.”

Raven said that harassers take advantage of buses and trains as environments where targets can’t easily escape. This is exactly why public transit is an important space to address this problem.

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Data courtesy of WMATA. Graphic by Tessa Dolt.

According to WMATA’s first comprehensive study of sexual harassment prevalence in January 2016, 1 in 5 riders have experienced sexual harassment on the system. But 77 percent of those people said they never reported it. “However, those who had seen the PSAs were twice as likely to report,” according to Raven.

Among the 1,000 participants in Metro’s survey, 21 percent of riders have experienced harassment. Of the 21 percent of people, 75 percent of people experienced verbal harassment, 28 percent were followed, 9 percent were groped, and 2 percent were raped. This data suggests that verbal harassment is the most frequent form of harassment that is reported.

Verbal harassment frequently comes in the form of catcalling, but it can also be any form of unsolicited comment. As the anti-harassment campaign ads read, “If it’s unwanted, it’s harassment.”

“Once I was asked to go to the beach and when I said no, he continued to bother me about it.” Autumn Kalikan, a manager at Little Red Fox coffee shop, said. “Plenty of people were around to witness this, but this behavior is very much normalized and a part of women’s experience on public transit.”

“When we launched the awareness campaign, we expected that the numbers would increase before they decrease,” Raven said. “We think of this increase as an indication that people feel more comfortable reporting incidents on Metro and that the ad campaign is working.”

Maya Vizvary, sexual assault prevention coordinator at American University (AU) and co-director at CASS, said that she thinks people aren’t aware of how to go about reporting. Vizvary said, “I think it’s become a culture of this is just what happens on the Metro. So I think giving the tools for people to step up and report what happened is the first step of changing that culture as well as the bystander intervention.”

Vizvary said she suspects that people could also have a fear of retaliation or of not being believed. “I think depending on the severity of it, when it’s somebody that you don’t know, you’re like ‘is anything going to actually happen?’”

Despite the small percentage of reported harassment, data shows that hate crimes have increased since President Donald Trump took office. “We have seen a rise in hate over the past year as bigotry and misogyny have been emboldened by the current political climate. An increase in sexual violence would be consistent with that pattern,” Vizvary said.

Vizvary suggested that a follow-up to the 2016 study be conducted to see whether there’s been an increase in incidents and/or an increase in reporting. According to Metro spokeswoman Ly, MTPD tracks reports and the data is released publicly to Metro’s Board of Directors on a quarterly basis, but these reports are nowhere to be found on Metro’s site.

“The Street Harassment Prevention Act (SHPA) that just recently passed includes a comprehensive data collection and surveying of actually what percentage of people are experiencing it and what kind of discrimination or harassment people are experiencing.” Vizvary said. “Hopefully that’ll give us a better idea about the climate.”

The SHPA was passed on February 21 and established the Advisory Committee on Street Harassment (ACSH). The Office of Human Rights and ACSH will “develop and publish online written guidelines and procedures to educate District employees on street harassment,” according to the Council of the District of Columbia. It also requires that District agencies ensure that all employees who interface with the public shall be trained on identifying and addressing street harassment.

For those that do report harassment, victims have a couple options for legal protection against their perpetrator. Vizvary, who handles harassment and assault cases at AU, said that victims can apply for a temporary protection order (TPO) and if they are granted that, they have to go in front of a judge to get a civil protection order (CPO), which provides legal protection for a up to a year.

Vizvary said, “CPOs are interesting. You have a piece of paper and the question is, how much does a piece of paper provide protection? It’s more like proof for police, so if somebody were to violate it, you can call the police and show the CPO.” According to Vizvary, if a perpetrator violates a CPO, it is considered a felony.

If a perpetrator is not convicted of a crime, stay-away orders may still be granted. But Metro officials have raised concerns about judges issuing stay-away orders that only bar suspects from the specific route, line, or station where the alleged crime took place. In one case, a man had over 20 indecent-exposure arrests but could not be legally banned by Metro from using the entire system.

“We are in the process of developing processes and procedures to more broadly use this authority, including suspension from using Metro for longer periods for selected or repeated conduct violations,” Ly said.

Metro currently has no formal process in place to administer longer-duration suspensions from the system. “Today, the code of conduct is used by MTPD to deny entry to the system on an individual, same-day basis, but there is not yet a more structured process to handle longer-term suspensions,” Ly said. Currently, the only way to temporarily ban an offender is through a court-issued stay-away order.

“Metro is interested in making broader use of our authority to suspend transit privileges in the interest of maximizing the safety of Metro customers and employees,” Ly said. Metro is currently researching best practices among its peer transit agencies across the country, most of whom already have this ability and use it routinely.

 “Somebody should set a parameter, so after a certain number of offenses you should be banned,” Vizvary suggested. “I would think that if somebody is perpetrating serially on the Metro, they are probably perpetrating on other parts of the world in their lives.”

“Obviously my gut instinct is to say they shouldn’t be allowed to ride Metro, but I don’t know if that’s plausible or ethical. One offense is too much, but how do you measure the severity of offenses?” Kalikan said. “There’s a huge difference between some guy asking me to go the beach with him and a much more serious incident of harassment, so how do you treat those situations accordingly?”

Metro is faced with striking a balance between public safety and providing transit to dependent communities. Should Metro be able to permanently ban perpetrators of harassment from using the entire system, even if they are dependent on transportation for their livelihood?

Tenleytown resident Amelia Covington said, “Some system should be in place where they are perhaps not completely barred, but have to complete a course to potentially learn forms of respect that they should be applying to their life.”

But according to Vizary, “There’s not any great sort of evidence-based programming that works in changing that kind of behavior.”

Audio: Maya Vizvary on the role of prevention-based advocacy and working with WMATA.

“We need community-based solutions,” Raven said. “Our bystander intervention trainings for police officers are an example of that. In these training sessions, we give officers the tools they need to recognize and effectively respond to harassment.”

Bystander intervention fosters a sense of community that encourages people to report their experiences and seek legal protections. “Stepping up for somebody that is a fellow D.C. resident really does create this community of care that’s a larger community than just AU,” Vizvary said.

It can be difficult to rely on other people for protection though, according to Kalikan. “People haven’t helped me when I’m being harassed. I’ve been in a situation where the bus driver could have helped, but I could tell they didn’t want to get involved,” Kalikan said. “But I have seen bus drivers help other women who were being harassed by kicking the harasser off the bus.”

Vizvary said that there is a lot more work to be done, and CASS has only been a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization for 3 years. Raven said, “We are urging WMATA to conduct a follow-up study of sexual harassment on public transit to determine whether the increase in reporting is an actual increase in incidents, a sign that people feel comfortable reporting, or both.”

CASS will continue to hold WMATA accountable for collecting data on sexual harassment cases on the transit system.

“WMATA has committed to collecting audio recordings across the transit system to send a message of support to those experiencing sexual harassment and assault on its system,” Raven said. “But it has yet to follow through on this commitment.”

Vizvary said that CASS is a resource for WMATA if they decide to take further action in promoting safety and awareness of harassment. “I think a lot of the ball is in WMATA’s court too. We’re here if you want the expertise and help,” Vizvary said.

CASS will be taking on the task of training all Washington employees in bystander intervention. CASS leaders will be training at the manager level with the expectation that these managers will train their employees accordingly. Last summer, they trained parks and recreation staffs as well as summer employees such as lifeguards.

“We are working with community groups and will be meeting with representatives from the LGBTQ community in the coming weeks to develop a new campaign for this spring,” Metro spokeswoman Ly said. “Also, Metro’s Youth Advisory Council will be discussing this topic during its upcoming meeting.”

If you have been harassed, assaulted, or have feared for your safety on Metro, you can: call (202-962-2121), text MyMTPD (696873), or fill out an online form to report your experience.

REVISED: Senate Committee Demands Vote on New War Power Authorizations

feature senateSenate Foreign Relations Committee met with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday at 5 p.m.

By Tessa Dolt                         November 29, 2017 9:00p.m.

WASHINGTON — The heated debate on Capitol Hill about repealing and replacing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) has senators demanding a new AUMF, especially after the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday regarding the post-9/11 military authorization.

“The 2001 AUMF remains a cornerstone for ongoing U.S. military operations and continues to provide legal authority relied upon to defeat this threat,” Tillerson said.

However, if a new AUMF were to be passed, Tillerson and Mattis both asserted in their opening statements that there should not be any lapse in authority, time constraints, or geographical limits. The secretaries want to ensure that the president will be able to respond to the U.S.’s involvement in perpetual war, as terrorism is not limited to time or location.

Tillerson said that Mattis, the administration, and he are completely aligned on these three points. Tillerson assured the Senate, “We fully recognize the need for transparency with you as we respond to what will be a dynamic regional and potentially global issue. We will continue to regularly update Congress to make sure you and the American people understand our foreign policy goals, military operations, and national security objectives.”

Mattis gave a brief overview of the passing of the 2001 and 2002 AUMF. He said, “In the aftermath of the deadly 9/11 attack, and to prevent future acts of international terrorism against the United States, Congress passed the 2001 AUMF,” which gave the president authority to take action against terrorist threats. Additionally, “The 2002 AUMF provided the president with authority to and I quote, ‘defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq,’” Mattis said.

Mattis expressed some opposition to the new proposed AUMF, introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Az. and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., though. In his opening statement, Mattis said, “Repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs would only cause unnecessary policy and legal uncertainty which could lead to additional litigation and public doubt. The uncertainty accompanying that situation could only signal to our enemies and our friends that we are backing away from this fight.”

The three branches of government all agreed on the 2001 and 2002 AUMF, which was difficult to do, according to Mattis. He said, “Though a statement of continued congressional support would be welcome, a new [war authorization] is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.”

Current members of Congress were not intimately involved in the AUMF, according to Sen. Flake, R-Ariz. He said that none of the members of Senate in the room were present for the 2001 and 2002 AUMF decision. Flake said that fewer than 100 members of the House were at the 2001 AUMF vote and 70 percent of Congress hadn’t voted on either AUMF. “Our troops need to know that we speak with one voice,” Flake said. “We ought to aspire to be more than a feedback loop.”

Paul gave an intense speech in front of the Senate committee, stating that Congress should reassert their power and limit executive powers on the AUMF. He said, “We haven’t been checking and balancing the executive branch for 60 some odd years, maybe longer.”

Tillerson said, “You can’t fight war with a collective approach. You need a commander-in-chief,” but according to Paul, “Initiation of war comes from Congress.”

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. questioned the U.S.’s legal authority for being in Niger, to which Mattis said that U.S. troops are there under Article X, carrying out combined patrol with Niger troops.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said, “I’m alarmed that Article X has us involved in civil wars in Africa.” He said that he suspects there’s more going on in Niger than “train and equip.”

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. asked the two secretaries how they would answer constituents’ concerns when it looks like troops are doing more than a training mission. Markey said, “A training mission can very easily morph into military intervention.”

The U.S. also has troops stationed in Iraq, and “We will remain in Iraq until ISIS is defeated,” Tillerson said. According to him, Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi said that he is in no rush for U.S. forces to leave Iraq as long as ISIS has a presence.

Tillerson said that the troops are there to train local police forces in order to “liberate and stabilize these areas.” He said, however, that the U.S. needs to pull back troops from villages to increase civility in these war-torn areas.

Cardin asked if the president has the authority to pursue Boko Haram atrocities, including the deployment of ground troops. Mattis said, “They [Boko Haram] have quite the allegiance to ISIS. I believe he [Trump] would have the authority to address Boko Haram threats because it’s an associated group of ISIS.”

Markey asked if the administration would need congressional authority to take action against an imminent threat on the U.S., to which Tillerson said, “It is a question of the threat and severity of it.”

Members of the Senate committee asked many questions about what classifies as an imminent threat to the U.S. with specific concerns to North Korea’s possession of a nuclear weapon.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. said, “It’s essential for the president to have clear authority to respond, but the president or any one person should not be able to authorize a first-use nuclear strike without the Congress’ approval.”

Both Mattis and Tillerson confirmed that there’s no congressional authorization of the use of military force against North Korea.

Merkley asked if Mattis is concerned that Trump will authorize a first-use nuclear strike on a country that has not struck against the U.S., and will do so without the Congress’ approval. Mattis said that he does not like to talk in hypotheticals, but Merkley said he no longer feels that the situation is hypothetical.

“What if there’s no time for AUMF in the event of a nuclear strike?” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho asked. It depends on President Trump’s decision at the time, according to Mattis. “Ballistic missiles would do what they’re designed to do,” Mattis said. “Congress would be intimately involved.”

Tillerson said that the current situation with ISIS does not elicit a declaration of war. “[ISIS] is a very unique and unusual group that we don’t know for how long we’ll be fighting. That is the nature of this situation.”

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., questioned how the 2001 and 2002 AUMF applied to ISIS, to which Mattis said, “They [ISIS] change their name as often as a rock and roll band.”

“This is a fight against the transnational enemy, one that doesn’t respect its inadequate borders,” Mattis said. According to him, a new AUMF “would have to be an authorization that defines this enemy sufficiently, that is does not restrict our operations in the field, and sets a condition under which we are to fight for an objective.”

In a closing statement, Cardin said, “I think there’s a real willingness among us to work together to modernize the AUMF.”

 

 

Senate Committee Demands Vote on New War Power Authorizations

feature senate

Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday at 5 p.m.

By Tessa Dolt  November 1, 2017 6:30 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The heated debate on Capitol Hill about repealing and replacing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) has been of recent concern after the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday regarding the post-9/11 military authorization.

“The 2001 AUMF remains a cornerstone for ongoing U.S. military operations and continues to provide legal authority relied upon to defeat this threat,” Tillerson said.

However, if a new AUMF were to be passed, Tillerson and Mattis both asserted in their opening statements that there should not be any lapse in authority, time constraints, or geographical limits.

Tillerson said that Mattis, the administration, and himself are completely aligned on these three points. Tillerson assured the Senate that, “We fully recognize the need for transparency with you as we respond to what will be a dynamic regional and potentially global issue. We will continue to regularly update Congress to make sure you and the American people understand our foreign policy goals, military operations, and national security objectives.”

Mattis gave a brief overview of the passing of the 2001 and 2002 AUMF. He said, “In the aftermath of the deadly 9/11 attack, and to prevent future acts of international terrorism against the United States, Congress passed the 2001 AUMF,” which gave the president authority to take action against terrorist threats. Additionally, “The 2002 AUMF provided the president with authority to and I quote, ‘defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq,’” Mattis said.

Mattis expressed some opposition to a new AUMF though. In his opening statement, Mattis said, “Repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs would only cause unnecessary policy and legal uncertainty which could lead to additional litigation and public doubt. The uncertainty accompanying that situation could only signal to our enemies and our friends that we are backing away from this fight.”

The three branches of government all agreed on the 2001 and 2002 AUMF, which was difficult to do, according to Mattis. He said, “Though a statement of continued congressional support would be welcome, a new [war authorization] is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.”

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. questioned the U.S.’s legal authority for being in Niger, to which Mattis said that U.S. troops are there under Article X, carrying out combined patrol with Niger troops.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said, “I’m alarmed that Article X has us involved in civil wars in Africa.” He said that he suspects there’s more going on in Niger than “train and equip.”

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. asked the two secretaries how they would answer constituents’ concerns when it looks like troops are doing more than a training mission. Markey said, “A training mission can very easily morph into military intervention.”

The U.S. also has troops stationed in Iraq, and “We will remain in Iraq until ISIS is defeated,” Tillerson said. According to him, Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi said that he is in no rush for U.S. forces to leave Iraq.

Tillerson said that the troops are there to train local police forces in order to “liberate and stabilize these areas.” He said, however, that the U.S. needs to pull back troops from villages to increase civility in these war-torn areas.

Cardin asked if the president has the authority to pursue Boko Haram atrocities, including the deployment of ground troops. Mattis said, “They [Boko Haram] have quite the allegiance to ISIS. I believe he [Trump] would have the authority to address Boko Haram threats because it’s an associated group of ISIS.”

Markey asked if the administration would need congressional authority to take action against an imminent threat on the U.S., to which Tillerson said, “It is a question of the threat and severity of it.”

The Senate committee were keen on understanding what classifies as an imminent threat to the U.S. with specific concerns to North Korea’s possession of a nuclear weapon.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. said, “It’s essential for the president to have clear authority to respond, but the president or any one person should not be able to authorize a first-use nuclear strike without the Congress’ approval.”

Both Mattis and Tillerson confirmed that there’s no congressional authorization of the use of military force against North Korea.

Merkley asked if Mattis is concerned that Trump will authorize a first-use nuclear strike on a country that has not striked against the U.S., and will do so without the Congress’ approval. Mattis said that he does not like to talk in hypotheticals, but Merkley said he no longer feels that the situation is hypothetical.

“What if there’s no time for AUMF in the event of a nuclear strike?” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho asked. It depends on President Trump’s decision, according to Mattis. “Ballistic missiles would do what they’re designed to do,” Mattis said. “Congress would be intimately involved.”

Current members of Congress were not intimately involved in the AUMF, according to Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. He said that none of the members of Senate in the room were present for the 2001 and 2002 AUMF decision. Flake said that fewer than 100 members of the House were at the 2001 AUMF vote and 70 percent of Congress hadn’t voted on either AUMF. “Our troops need to know that we speak with one voice,” Flake said. “We ought to aspire to be more than a feedback loop.”

Paul gave an intense speech in front of the Senate committee, stating that Congress should reassert their power and limit executive powers on the AUMF. He said, “We haven’t been checking and balancing the executive branch for 60 some odd years, maybe longer.”

Tillerson said, “You can’t fight war with a collective approach. You need a commander-in-chief,” but according to Paul, “Initiation of war comes from Congress.”

Tillerson said that the current situation with ISIS does not elicit a declaration of war. “[ISIS] is a very unique and unusual group that we don’t know for how long we’ll be fighting. That is the nature of this situation.” Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., questioned how the 2001 and 2002 AUMF applied to ISIS, to which Mattis said, “They [ISIS] change their name as often as a rock and roll band.”

“This is a fight against the transnational enemy, one that doesn’t respect its inadequate borders,” Mattis said. According to him, a new AUMF “would have to be an authorization that defines this enemy sufficiently, that is does not restrict our operations in the field, and sets a condition under which we are to fight for an objective.”

In a closing statement, Cardin said, “I think there’s a real willingness among us to work together to modernize the AUMF.”

 

 

#MeToo campaign brings harassment on public transportation to the forefront

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(A non-passenger train passes by Cleveland Park Metro. Credit: Tessa Dolt)

By Tessa Dolt, October 23, 2017 8:15a.m.

WASHINGTON – With the “#MeToo” hashtag campaign going viral across Twitter and Facebook, it seems like harassment is an unfortunate, but common experience among women and femmes.

According to a survey by Shogull Research, 21 percent of transit riders in Washington had experienced some form of sexual harassment, with verbal harassment being the most common. “Women were three times more likely than men to experience sexual harassment,” according to Stop Street Harassment’s reporting on the survey.

“I think I share this with a lot of people when I say I have so many stories from being harassed,” Autumn Kalikan said, who is a manager at coffee shop and market Little Red Fox.

Kalikan was sitting on the Metro one day with her headphones in when a man interrupted her by telling her to smile. “If you know me, you know that I go out of my way to make myself seem unapproachable. I wear sunglasses and headphones, and I try to sit near the window in the back of the car,” Kalikan said. “So when people approach me, it feels like a concerted effort was made to bother me, and that can be really unsettling.”

Kalikan is a Capitol Hill resident and spends a lot of her time on the Metro, commuting from Union Station to Van Ness-UDC five days a week for her job. Like many commuters, Kalikan rides the Metro alone. Sometimes this means walking home alone at night from the Union Station stop.

“When I lived in a different neighborhood where the Metro stop was a longer walk from my apartment, I would have friends meet me at the stop when I get off so that they could walk me home at night,” Kalikan said.

It can be difficult to rely on other people for protection though, according to Kalikan. “People haven’t helped me when I’m being harassed. I’ve been in a situation where the bus driver could have helped, but I could tell they didn’t want to get involved,” Kalikan said. “But I have seen bus drivers help other women who were being harassed by kicking the harasser off the bus.”

Ignoring harassers is common practice for many women and femmes because it reduces the risk of a violent response, according to Tenleytown resident Amelia Covington.

“I always try to ignore it [harassment]. I’ll just get up from my seat and move elsewhere. If it persists for awhile and there’s no option for me to move away, I might say to please stop. If they’re more aggressive, I might be less inclined to talk to them,” said Covington.

According to Covington, creating physical distance between herself and a harasser is the most effective way to get someone to stop. “I was waiting on the platform and a man who was somewhat talking to himself, somewhat talking to me, asking me questions that I wasn’t comfortable answering.” Covington said.

“As far as I could tell, he was drunk. I made it obvious to the people around me that I wasn’t comfortable, so the person sitting on the other side of me scooted over to make it easier for me to move away. He ended up leaving me alone,” Covington said.

There are times when perpetrators are not stereotypically predatory grown men. 24-year-old Kalikin was harassed by six Georgetown charter school students who looked like 13-year-olds, according to Kalikin.

For an hour-long bus ride, “The bus driver watched and everyone knew it was happening at the time, so I thought if I made a scene we might all be kicked off the bus,” Kalikan said. She ignored them, but they followed her into Union Station, and she had to lose them by going into a Victoria’s Secret.

Nora Button, a barista at Little Red Fox, recently experienced being followed on her way to her boyfriend’s house from the Metro. “This guy literally followed me for two blocks walking right behind me and was saying gross things to me. I got to my boyfriend’s house and just bawled for awhile,” Button said.

Button lives in Petworth off the Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro stop and takes public transportation to and from work three times a week. She said that she always ignores harassers and has never been defended by a bystander.

Many women and femmes are taught to avoid certain situations that might increase their risk of harassment, such as walking alone at night. “I still use it [the Metro] when it’s dark because I have to,” said Button.

Covington tries to get her friends to walk her home if it’s dark outside, but she generally feels fine walking alone in Northeast DC, she said. “If it’s dark out, I just try to be more aware. Part of that might be because I’m slightly paranoid. I have paranoia generally because of my gender and inability to fight back because I don’t think I’m very strong,” Covington said.

The #MeToo campaign has given survivors of harassment a social media platform to speak about their experiences. Many women have reported that they experience harassment on public transportation in particular. The pressure is on WMATA to take further steps to protect its riders and workers from harassment.

Students Against Sexual Violence (SASV) Empowers Victims of Abuse on American University’s Campus

lauren bowring

(American University student activist, Lauren Bowring: Photo by Tessa Dolt)

By Tessa Dolt, October 8, 2017 10:24p.m.

WASHINGTON – Current SASV Education and Consent chairperson and sexual abuse survivor, Lauren Bowring knows the power of student activism and empowerment.

Bowring is a third-year student at American University’s School of International Service and is serving her first semester on SASV’s executive board.

Last September, Bowring attended the SASV event, “WTF’s the Deal with Brock Turner?” The discussion about rape culture resonated with her, said Bowring, and she began to get more involved. “I ended up going to more of their events and learned how my past relationships that I had an icky feeling about were abusive. It kind of just gave me a way to put words to my own experience,” said Bowring.

Bowring joined SASV’s executive board this semester and is currently organizing a self-care event. Bowring said she hopes to work on a curriculum on consent for upperclassmen in the near future.

The curriculum that Bowring proposed could replace Empower AU, a program ran by the Office of Advocacy Services for Interpersonal and Sexual Violence (OASIS), which stopped running as of this semester. “We’re changing gears right now. Last year and the year before that, we held a lot of more informational sessions. But we’re trying to move towards being a radical education group,” said Bowring.

According to Bowring, SASV’s goal is to become a structural part of the university. “There’s so many different organizations that are talking about sexual assault on campus like Women’s Initiative, Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG) who works with administration, and then there’s Queers and Allies. But we’re trying to be more of a base so that things are standardized when e-boards come and go,” said Bowring.

SASV is an on-campus resource for any student who is a victim of emotional or physical abuse. “I think it’s really easy to feel lost, like even with Title XI. If you file a complaint, it can be really confusing and we don’t have lawyers. What college student has a lawyer on retainer? So if they need information, we are a resource to point people in the way that they want to go,” said Bowring.

The campus organization hopes to do more activist work in the greater Washington area, according to Bowring. In the past, SASV has partnered with End Rape on Campus (EROC), local organizations, and clubs on campus that provide funding for the consent carnival held annually on the quad.

“The consent carnival that happens every year on the quad is co-sponsored by the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT), which I have mixed feelings about because it’s always riding a line when you associate with Greek Life in terms of sexual assault,” said Bowring.

Many reported sexual assault cases on college campuses involve fraternities. According to EROC’s website, fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than their non-Greek peers.

“I think most people at this point know that college campuses are really a hot bed for sexual assault,” said Bowring. “College is a big time where people get into relationships and they’re away from home. Your friends might not know you and your habits as well, so it’s really easy to sink into something that might be toxic and/or unhealthy and/or abusive and not know it.”

Some students may not realize they are victims of abuse if they’ve never received education on consent. Bowring was one of those students. “This organization gave me a way to express my experience and justify it and sort of have a community to help me with that, even if they didn’t know they were helping me,” said Bowring.

Bowring knows the difficulties of navigating relationships and having meaningful conversations about consent. “I think [SASV is] really important because we help empower students, and that’s the biggest thing is that when you’re in college, you might not know the options you have or might feel you have to do a certain thing if you experience any sort of violence or abuse. We help inform students about what to do if they’re affected or if their friends are affected and ultimately, empower.”

[REVISED] A Gen X-er’s Investigation Into Sexual Assault and Activism on College Campuses

Feature photoAuthor Vanessa Grigoriadis talks about her book at Politics and Prose last Saturday. Credit: Tessa Dolt

By Tessa Dolt, September 12, 2017, 5:20 p.m.

WASHINGTON – Vanessa Grigoriadis, mother of two, had her 24-year-old babysitter’s driver’s license in hand, ready to prove to any fraternity brother that she belonged at the party. Little did anyone know, Grigoriadis jotted down observations in her reporter’s notebook next to crushed cans of beer sprawled out on the bathroom floor.

It was the summer of 2014, and Grigoriadis was reporting on campus sexual assault for New York Magazine. Three years later, the award-winning journalist in profile writing is a contributor at New York Magazine and Vanity Fair. On Saturday she talked about her book, “Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus” at Politics and Prose Bookstore.

“[The book is] about the new rules of sex on campus. It’s about how students are now figuring out, negotiating about how to have sex that is thoughtful and compassionate, leaves the partner with more self-esteem versus less self-esteem,” Grigoriadis said. “And a lot of us grew up in a country that really didn’t promote that. But right now there’s a vast transition going on on college campuses.”

“Blurred Lines” addresses this nation-wide debate across college campuses about what is considered consensual sex and what is sexual assault.

43-year-old Grigoriadis spoke to a largely older audience at the Washington bookstore. The conversation about consent and what is considered sexual assault has expanded with the current generation of students on college campuses, according to Grigoriadis.

The research for “Blurred Lines” began at Grigoriadis’ alma mater, Wesleyan University. Twenty years after her graduation, all-male fraternities had been banned from the school because of the number of sexual assault cases involving fraternities, according to Grigoriadis. “These incidents at Wesleyan weren’t necessarily happening at the fraternities’ parties, but often times afterwards and involving students in Greek life,” Grigoriadis said.

While students looked the same to her, “they’re more concerned with racism, sexism, gay rights, trans rights, and sexual assault,” said Grigoriadis. She read from her book, “But the way that they talk about these issues are very different. It’s about what is consensual and what is not. What type of sex is ethical and what is immoral are essential to life at Wesleyan today.”

At Columbia University, students are known to be outspoken about their unjust experiences, said Grigoriadis. She met with Emma Sulkowicz, a former student at Columbia University who made a name for herself in the mainstream media in fall of 2014 when she gave the school an ultimatum — unless they decided to expel her rapist, she would carry her mattress around campus until graduation.

Activists on Columbia University’s campus like the Queer Army and Students for Justice in Palestine joined in protest with Sulkowicz by bringing their own mattresses that read messages like “Don’t Rape.” “This is the primary message of this new wave of activism,” she said. “We don’t want to hear ‘Don’t get raped.’ We don’t want to hear about what we did wrong. Let’s talk about the behavior that led to the problem,” Grigoriadis said.

“Columbia was slow-footing a lot of cases that they shouldn’t have been,” Grigoriadis said. A group of sexual assault survivors called Red Tape formed in response to Columbia’s ineffective Title IX policies. Their name refers to the red tape that they said the university forced them to go through to report sexual assault incidents.

Under the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Students across the U.S. started filing Title IX complaints, going to Capitol Hill with petitions, and going to the media with their grievances, according to Grigoriadis. “If you hear the students’ narrative, they’re not so sure that the Office of Civil Rights was going to follow through until they started doing their own activism,” Grigoriadis said. Currently, over 300 federal complaints are in existence across 55 universities, and several stories from victims have reached the media’s attention, according to Grigoriadis.

The false story that came from the University of Virginia set back the movement on campus and in the media, Grigoriadis said. An alleged victim of a gang rape involving seven men who went by the alias “Jackie” told her story to a reporter from Rolling Stone, which was later retracted and proven to be false.

“This was a story that took all of the most violent tropes, married them with the idea of a corrupt, Southern school that wanted to protect boys who that had really done wrong,” Grigoriadis said.

University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo sued Rolling Stone, claiming that they portrayed her as the “chief villain” in the story. Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, the alleged perpetrators of Jackie’s false rape, also sued Rolling Stone for defamation. The magazine lost both cases.

According to Grigoriadis, the Rolling Stone story inspired groups of accused men to speak up and organize. Grigoriadis spoke with several of the accused’s families who felt that American young men today are “guilty before innocent.” Grigoriadis quoted one mother in particular that said, There’s a big difference between being an 18 or 19-year-old and not having good judgment and being a criminal with intent to harm.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently gave a speech at George Mason University where she said policies need to balance the rights of the victims and the accused in Title IX investigations. “She’s positioned herself really well as Mrs. Mom,” said Grigoriadis, who said DeVos, a mother of four, is thinking carefully about what she is going to do in terms of policy.

Grigoriadis said, “The question of good judgment and when that crosses into being a sexual assaulter is a very interesting question to contemplate.”

“Many Americans think of rape as a physically violent act of penetration. That’s right – if it didn’t happen that way, it’s not rape. Sexual assault does not have to involve penetration,” Grigoriadis said.

“Consent. Nobody really has the same definition. We’re trying to figure it out. Students love this word [consent]. It’s really interesting to the undergraduate mind. It’s interesting to my mind. What is it and what is it going forward? That is really the question that needs to be answered right now.”

 

 

 

 

A Gen X-er’s Investigation Into Sexual Assault and Activism on College Campuses

Feature photo

Author Vanessa Grigoriadis talks about her book at Politics and Prose last Saturday. Credit: Tessa Dolt

By Tessa Dolt, September 12, 2017, 5:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON – Vanessa Grigoriadis, mother of two, had her 24-year-old babysitter’s driver’s license in hand, ready to prove to any fraternity brother that she belonged at the party. Little did anyone know, Grigoriadis jotted down observations in her reporter’s notebook next to crushed cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon sprawled out on the bathroom floor.

It was the summer of 2014, and Grigoriadis was reporting on campus sexual assault for New York Magazine. Three years later, the award-winning journalist in profile writing is a contributor at New York Magazine and Vanity Fair. Last Saturday she paid a visit to Politics and Prose Bookstore in D.C. to talk about her book, “Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus.”

“It’s about the new rules of sex on campus. It’s about how students are now figuring out, negotiating about how to have sex that is thoughtful and compassionate, leaves the partner with more self-esteem versus less self-esteem,” Grigoriadis said. “And a lot of us grew up in a country that really didn’t promote that. But right now there’s a vast transition going on on college campuses.”

43-year-old Grigoriadis spoke to an audience whose memories of college are foreign to the millennial’s experience today. The conversation about consent and what is considered sexual assault has expanded with the current generation of students on college campuses.

The research for “Blurred Lines” began at Grigoriadis’ alma mater, Wesleyan University. Twenty years after her graduation, all-male fraternities had been banned from the school directly because of the number of sexual assault cases involving fraternities. These incidents aren’t necessarily happening at the fraternities parties, but often times afterwards and involving students in Greek life, Grigoriadis said.

While students looked the same to her, dressed in plaid flannels and Dr. Martens boots, Grigoriadis said they’re more concerned with racism, sexism, gay rights, trans rights, and sexual assault. Grigoriadis read from her book, “But the way that they talk about them are very different. It’s about what is consensual and what is not. What type of sex is ethical and what is immoral are essential to life at Wesleyan today.”

At Columbia University, students are known to be outspoken about their unjust experiences. Grigoriadis met with Emma Sulkowicz, a former student at Columbia University who hit the mainstream media in fall of 2014 when she gave the school an ultimatum — unless they decided to expel her rapist, she would carry her mattress around campus until graduation.

Activists on Columbia University’s campus like the Queer Army and Students for Justice in Palestine joined in protest with Sulkowicz by bringing their own mattresses that read messages like “Don’t Rape.” “This is the primary message of this new wave of activism. We don’t wanna hear ‘Don’t get raped.’ We don’t wanna hear about what we did wrong. Let’s talk about the behavior that led to the problem,” Grigoriadis said.

“Columbia was slow-footing a lot of cases that they shouldn’t have been,” Grigoriadis said. A group of sexual assault survivors called Red Tape formed in response to Columbia’s ineffective Title IX policies. Their name refers to the red tape that the university forced them to go through to report sexual assault incidents.

Under the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Students took matter into their own hands and started filing Title IX complaints, going to Capitol Hill with petitions, and going to the media with their grievances. “If you hear the students’ narrative, they’re not so sure that the Office of Civil Rights was gonna follow through until they started doing their own activism,” Grigoriadis said. Currently, over 300 federal complaints are in existence across 55 universities, and several stories have reached media sources.

The false story that came from the University of Virginia set back the movement on campus and in the media, Grigoriadis said. An alleged victim of a seven-attacker gang rape who went by the alias “Jackie” told her story to a reporter from Rolling Stone, which was later retracted and proven to be false.

“There’s a lot of really messed up stuff going on, but this was a story that took all of the most violent tropes, married them with the idea of a corrupt, Southern school that wanted to protect boys who that had really done wrong,” Grigoriadis said.

This story inspired groups of accused men to speak up and organize. Grigoriadis spoke with several of the accused’s families who felt that American boys today are “guilty before innocent.” Grigoriadis quoted one mother in particular that said, There’s a big difference between being an 18 or 19-year-old and not having good judgment and being a criminal with intent to harm.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently gave a speech at George Mason University where she said policies need to balance the rights of the victims and the accused in Title IX investigations. “She’s positioned herself really well as Mrs. Mom,” said Grigoriadis, who believes DeVos, a mother of four, is thinking carefully about what she is going to do.

Grigoriadis said, “The question of good judgment and when that crosses into being a sexual assaulter is a very interesting question to contemplate.” “Blurred Lines” addresses this nation-wide debate across college campuses about what is considered consensual sex and what is sexual assault.

“Many Americans think of rape as a physically violent act of penetration. That’s right – if it didn’t happen that way, it’s not rape. Sexual assault does not have to involve penetration,” Grigoriadis said.

“Consent. Nobody really has the same definition. We’re trying to figure it out. Students love this word. It’s really interesting to the undergraduate mind. It’s interesting to my mind. What is it and what is it going forward? That is really the question that needs to be answered right now.”