Tag Archives: sexual violence

Woman from Street Harassment Video Receives Rape Threats, No One is Surprised

30 Oct

Over the past few days a video documenting the degree to which women experience street harassment in New York City has been making the rounds on the internet. As of this moment, 11:49am on Thursday, October 30, 2014, the video has been viewed 15,831,699 times and that is only the official link from Hollaback!. The Hollaback! video was a small excerpt from a 10 hour long silent walk that Shoshana B. Roberts did, all the while being videotaped by Rob Bliss who walked in front of her, a camera hidden in his backpack. If you haven’t watched it, you should. This will either bring back memories of your own experience of street harassment, or give you a little taste of what it is like to be a woman walking the streets of New York, and, really, any other city.

Watch it. Because while there are some problems – as pointed out in this Slate article although the video claims that she was harassed by people of every background, the vast majority of the men featured in this video are either black or Latino – it makes a really great point of what it means to be female in public. Just yesterday, for example, on my walk home from the super market, a man in a truck honked at me, and then proceeded to park in the crosswalk I was about to enter in order to comment on my outfit and my legs. The only response when you’re on a relatively desolate street right near Hamilton Avenue? Keep your eyes straight ahead and walk on lest you are dealing with a person with anger management problems. And the thing about it, the thing that is so incredibly fucked up, is that that shit didn’t even phase me. I had already experienced 3 other men commenting on my legs, been “god blessed” about half a dozen times, been leered at, honked at, had cars slow down as they passed me, been wished a good day, and had someone tip his fucking hat at me. And it was only 4:30 pm. I had left the house at 1. This shit is so goddamn normal that I completely forgot about it until I came across an incredibly upsetting article.

Since the release of the video, Shoshana B. Roberts has been receiving rape threats on the internet. I would love to say that I am shocked by this but the reality? Not so much. This is completely and totally unsurprising. And I am not the only one to feel this way. Kelsey McKinney over at vox put it really well in her article on the subject, emphasis mine:

“Let’s lay this out in plain terms. Women are forced to feel uncomfortable and scared for walking down the damn street. Then, when one woman takes the time to show just how uncomfortable those interactions are, people threaten to physically assault her. If the video reminded us that women are constantly made to feel unsafe when they leave the house, the response is a reminder that women are constantly made to feel unsafe when they simply turn on their computer.”

And it is so true. I don’t know if you guys remember a few months back when I decided to poke the bear that is the Men’s Rights Movement. I wrote three different articles on the subject and I have to say I don’t think I have ever received so many comments, all of them negative. None of the comments were scary or violent in nature. They were just, well, stupid. They were written by angry people who have created for themselves some incredibly bizarre alternate reality within which they, American white men and their brain-washed white female supporters, are somehow the oppressed class. There is no reasoning with them. They live in a land where logic simply does not exist and all events can somehow be changed and manipulated in order to feed into their myth of the misandry of American culture spear-headed, of course, by the “feminist agenda.” They have been in the mix of people claiming that if Roberts were to have worn something less revealing then maybe she wouldn’t have been harassed so much. As David Futrelle from We Hunted the Mammoth said,

“Today I learned that wearing clothes that cover up most of your body is the same as going outside practically naked.”

Sadly I am reminded of this fact daily, whether I am wearing running clothes, a dress or a puffy fucking winter jacket. Back to the point. So after Day 3 of me fucking with a bunch of MRAs, my dad called me up and said, and I am paraphrasing here,

“I know this is going to make you mad but hear me out. I need you to lay off this stuff you’ve been writing about.”

And you know what? It did make me mad. Because I should be able to say whatever the fuck I want. I mean, everyone else does, right? I should be able to call people on their bullshit and tell people that there is nothing complimentary about having a man whisper in your ear as you walk down the street on your way to mail your cable bill, or have some assholes in a pick up truck comment on your clothing while they drive past, only to then run into them 20 minutes later in the super market. But my dad also had a point. The reality of the situation is that while the internet appears to be a safe place for the anonymous rape and death threats that men seem to feel entitled to hurl at women who speak their minds, the internet is very much not a safe place for those of us doing the speaking. Under our real names. Because we are responsible people who stand by our beliefs. I didn’t really see it at the time, probably because I am stubborn as shit and don’t like to be told what I should and should not discuss on my own personal website. And I also believe that I have a responsibility to myself, and to women in general, to say these things. We should be able to speak our minds, to design video games, to call out bullshit, to believe that we are deserving of respect and safety. And you know what? We shouldn’t have to fear our information being made public. We shouldn’t be bombarded with threats of violence. We shouldn’t be going into hiding. This is fucking ridiculous.

And the thing that makes it even more ridiculous is that all this shit does is prove the point that women, and our allies, are trying to make. That we are not safe. Anywhere. That we are not valued. That our opinions don’t matter. But guess what? We aren’t going anywhere. So bring it, mother fuckers.

Also, that video has now been viewed 16,451,646 times and counting. Let’s keep the conversation going and let Shoshana and the Hollaback! team know that they are supported and, hopefully, safe..

And the Army Fails Another Victim of Sexual Violence

20 Mar

Seriously you guys, when are we going to get this right?  When are we going to figure out how to deal with sexual violence within the justice system, the military, colleges, our society?  Just now I was sitting at the computer, catching up on training videos for the upcoming Jesolo gymnastics meet when my phone made a little chirping noise.  I got all excited, thinking it was a text message or someone emailing me to offer me The Most Awesome Job Ever on the Face of the Planet but no.  It was neither of those things.  What it was was the following headline from The New York Times:

General Accused of Sexual Assault Receives Minor Punishment, No Jail.”

So here’s the deal.  Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair “pleaded guilty to charges that included mistreating his mistress, adultery and requesting explicit photographs from female Army officers” and instead of any sort of punishment he was ordered to pay $5,000 of his salary for the next four months.  That’s it.  He keeps his pension.  No jail time.  Just a measly $20,000.  What a bargain for assaulting someone.  Here is the meat of the article:

“The sentencing ends a two-year prosecution that highlighted sexual misconduct at even senior ranks of the military at a time when Congress was demanding that the Army crack down on the problem, but which came apart after military lawyers concluded that their chief witness may have lied at a hearing and the judge ruled that political considerations may have improperly influenced the case.”

In the words of my good friend Carrie: MUTHER FUCKING FUCK OF A FUCKING FUCK

So maybe some of you readers don’t think this is as big a deal as Carrie and I do.  Let’s just take a moment to learn a little bit more about this case, shall we?

According to a Los Angeles Times article published yesterday, General Sinclair “pleaded guilty Monday to mistreating the captain. He also pleaded guilty to twice misusing his government charge card to pursue the affair, disobeying an order not to contact his mistress, and making derogatory comments about other female officers.

“A week earlier, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery; impeding an investigation by deleting sexually explicit emails to and from a civilian woman; possessing pornography in a war zone; conducting inappropriate relationships with two other female officers; and improperly asking a female lieutenant for a date.”

I like how the article sort of glosses over the situation with the army captain as simple “mistreatment” but we will talk about what that word means in a minute.  What is interesting to me here is that you have this guy, a general, a man of power, who uses this power to ask women out on dates.  That is bad enough in and of itself.  The real problem arises when you realize that he is operating within a system that not only has a very well-defined power structure, but also has a very clear and documented history of not taking cases of sexual misconduct and instances of sexual violence seriously in the least bit.  He asked women out on a date within an environment in which they understandably could have felt that turning the general down could result in unfavorable treatment and that if such a thing occurred, they would have absolutely no recourse because the army does not give a shit about sexual misconduct and intimidation and violence within its ranks.  It is institutionalized.  Given this reality, and the fact that the military is claiming to make moves towards addressing its embarrassing record on punishing actions of sexual misconduct, the fact that his asking women out is not seen as hugely problematic and possibly symptomatic of a larger issue is insane to me.

The original charges, the “mistreatment,” were actually charges of sexual assault and making death threats against a woman with whom he had a three year affair as well as her family.  Sexual assault. Death threats.  All dropped.  And this guy has the nerve to break down in tears in front of a judge, talking about how his family shouldn’t be denied his military benefits because of his adulterous affair.  What about her family and what they endured?  Okay, if that were actually the case I would feel for his family. An entire family shouldn’t be punished because this dude can’t seem to keep it in his pants.  But in the same tearful outburst, he also apologized to his accuser and to the two officer’s whom he pressured to send nude photos of themselves.  Again, a man in power within the context of the US military abuses an army captain and also uses his power to pressure his subordinates into sending him nude photographs of themselves and all he gets is a $20,000 fine?! Give me a fucking break.  I mean, I know that’s some money.  I wouldn’t mind having an extra twenty grand lying around right about now.  But what kind of a deterrent is that?  He is one of a very small number of generals to be court marshaled and, given the information we have about the depth of sexual misconduct within the armed forces, it seems unlikely that that small number accurately reflects the real number of generals who have misused their power to coerce subordinates to perform sexual acts.  It seems like the risk of getting caught are simply not high enough to stop anyone from misusing power for sexual gain if that is what they’re into.

What this is is another example of how we simply do not take sexual violence seriously in this country.  This man is a predator.  Easy as that.  And why shouldn’t he be one?  I mean, take the morals and the ethics out of the equation here.  The existence of a legal framework to try and punish those who commit crimes of a sexual nature against others would be a deterrent if that system actually fucking existed.  And I am not even talking about within the context of the army here.  I am talking about in the wider context of everything.  We simply do not think of sexual violence as being a scourge on our society.  We do not see sexual violence for what it is.  We blame those who are the victims and we, as a society, put up every single possible road block in order to keep people from getting justice for their abuse.  You need look no further than the thousands upon thousands of untested rape kits sitting in storage units across the country.  There is evidence of serial rapists who have gone unpunished because the kits containing evidence of their crime sit in storage units gathering dust.  To think that women and men who are raped and then go to the police to then have an invasive evidence-gathering procedure conducted in hopes that their assailant will be caught and they will have some justice went through all of that for nothing is absolutely sickening.  Thousands of victims.  Thousands of assailants who are told that their crime is not actually a crime, who are essentially, through state inaction, given permission to attack again.  Oh yea, and then there’s the statute of limitations which is up on so many of these kits.  Victims who have to live with their attack for the rest of their lives with no hope of any sort of punishment for their attackers.  What the fuck is that.

And then there are the college campuses.  Read the story of Sasha Menu Courey.  Time and time again we hear about colleges trying to handle sexual assault cases themselves, resulting in the revictimization of the victim and a slap on the wrist for the attacker, if that.  That is if we read about these cases at all.  Most of the time when we hear anything about them it is because the victim comes forward to try and hold their university accountable for improper handling of cases, inaction, or the fostering of an environment that does not address the issue of rape culture.  It is everywhere.

It is everywhere and I think it starts in casual conversation.  This shit is so ingrained in our culture it is amazing.  The number of times I have tried to stand up for myself in public or at my work when someone has made an inappropriate comment to me and I have been told to “relax” is unreal.  I should not have to ignore poor behavior because me calling someone out might hurt their feelings.  You know what?  You calling me baby, telling me to smile, and whispering “God bless you” in my ear as you walk by didn’t exactly make me feel good.  We should be able to stand up for ourselves.  We should not be made to feel as though we are overreacting.  We should not have to justify our anger and hurt and fear.  This case with the general is so upsetting because it is simply another example of people not being held accountable for sexual misconduct.  It is another example of women being second guessed and doubted and told that their bodies are not protected.  Not on the streets, not in college and not in the armed forces.  It is fucked up and it simply has to stop.  When are we going to treat sexual violence, threats, assault, misconduct with the seriousness that it deserves?

When is it safe to be outspoken?

16 Jul


This past weekend I had one of those experiences that goes into the negative column of my pluses and minuses analysis of being a bartender in New York City.  It was my second night working until 4am in a row and, if you know me, you know I am not at my best on little sleep.  Around 9:30pm, about 1.5 hours into my 8 hour shift, these two guys walk in.  One of them orders a vodka soda, the other an orange juice.  I serve them and go about my business.  Every time I look over, the one with the alcoholic beverage is looking at me expectantly, despite the fact that his drink is almost full.  I walk over to see what he wants (a glass of water, perhaps?) and he looks me up and down and says, in a thick Russian accent while simultaneously miming squeezing someone’s ass cheeks,

Those shorts look nice but they could be tighter.

Cue Rebekah’s Blind Rage.  I do a few quick deep-breathing exercises, turn to the asshole sitting across the bar from me and say

Yea, this isn’t going to go like that.  Mind your manners or leave.

I continue doing my job, hoping that the many shades of anger have drained from my cheeks.  Whenever I look up, however, the man is still staring and I vaguely hear him asking me questions.  Do I work out?  What’s my name?  Where do I hang out?  Okay, that is it. I grab the man’s credit card from where I had placed it behind me, run it through the machine, and slap his card and receipt down in front of him.  He gently takes it, signs it, and pushes it back towards me.  Good, I think, he got it.  But that would be too easy.

Can I get another drink?

No.  There are plenty of other bars around here that you can go to but, just a word to the wise… keep your opinions about your bartender’s wardrobe to yourself if you want to be welcome anywhere for more than 5 minutes.

And then the fun really begins.  He stares across the bar at me with this awful little smirk on his face, arms folded in front of him while his friend looks on with knowing silence.  Clearly this wasn’t his first rodeo.  I stand there, staring back, blood pressure rising.  I tell him to leave, he seems to think his comment was completely acceptable.  I get more and more annoyed.  He isn’t going anywhere and I’ve decided neither am I.  I am fully aware that as long as I am standing in front of him, he is going to try and stay in control of the situation but I just can’t allow it to happen.  I have to prove a point, even though I know the point will be completely drowned in his misogyny.  He tells me I am harassing him.  Clearly he needs a dictionary.  Finally, I’ve had it and I say, calmly with my arm pointing towards the exit,

Get the fuck out of my bar.

And, all hell breaks loose.

What did you say to me?  You wouldn’t say that to me on the street, bitch!

I absolutely would, actually.

You whore!  I will kill you!  When I see you out of here I will fucking kill you!  I will knock you down and spill your blood on the street!*

At this point, standing up to achieve the highest possible level of intimidation and still yelling his head off, his accent getting thicker with each spat threat, he reaches a pointed finger across the bar and, unintentionally I think, pokes me violently in the bottom lip.  His face registers just the tiniest bit of shock and he turns on his heel and walks out of the bar, friend silently following behind.  My anger goes through the roof.  I storm down the length of the bar, and out the front door, screaming at him as he retreats down the street.  Some friends and regulars of the bar, looking an even mixture of confused and concerned, pursue the man down the street and I retreat to the office to catch my breath, leaving the fate of the bar to my bar back who was of relatively little help during the whole altercation.  My boss and I check the business name on the card, a garbage and carting business.  Great.  As usual I get into it with the wrong guy.

*This is not a word-for-word quotation but I’m pretty sure I got all the key phrases down.


There was, of course, the inevitable moment when I retraced the build-up to the blow-out, thought about all the things I did and what I could have done differently.  Did I overreact?  Should I have just ignored him?  Could the whole thing have been completely avoided?  Could I have calmed this man down rather than riling him up?  The list of questions amassed, relating to ways that I, the victim of sexism, verbal abuse and assault had actually been the instigator.  How classic.  This then led me, the next day, to a downward-thought spiral about what it means to be female.  It means that, to many, my body is public property there to be ogled, critiqued and touched.  It means I have to think about when it is safe for me to stand up for myself and when it is best to put my head down and walk faster.  It means that, as much as I disagree with this, I feel compelled to contemplate my outfit before I leave the house lest it lead to additional attention that I don’t want, am not looking for, did not ask for.  I know that me calling this man out on his behavior was not the most productive use of my time, anger, righteousness, but behind the bar, for the most part, I am safe and, for once, powerful.  I have something that he wants and cannot just take.

On the other side, though, his over-sized reaction got me thinking about issues of power, powerlessness and safety.  I know what my capacity for violence and reaction is.  I can assume where that line lies for most of the people I come across but there are some, mostly male, oftentimes white, who have never had their privilege questioned by someone they see as lesser than they whose actions I cannot predict.  It was at that moment when I realized I was not safe.  As a woman, I am not safe.  The power dynamic between genders that flourishes, oftentimes unchallenged, in everyday life is one that puts me at an express disadvantage.  I am worth less, I have less ownership of my body and because of these things it is my responsibility to pick my battles wisely because, in asserting my own equality, in demanding respect, my body can easily become the battleground and that is a battle that, sadly, I would lose.

I do not regret what I did and, if placed in the same situation tomorrow, I would handle it the same way.  But I will take the experience as a teaching moment in which I got a glimpse into the depth of violent anger possessed by, and uncontrolled by, someone else.  It’s a scary thing to face.  I was (relatively) safe where I stood and I had plenty of people there to back me up.  But if I came up against that guy on the street, alone, and hurled my favorite choice words in response to his degrading comments, I might not have been so lucky.  It’s an unfortunate reality.  What we as women face is not only violent language, it’s violent actions and in the latter case we are largely disadvantaged, we will oftentimes lose.  It’s something to keep in mind.  For me, for all of us.