Not For Me 7/20/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Refusing the “New Normal”  by Laura Finley

It has been a rough few weeks, to say the least. Philando Castile, killed by police during a traffic stop, July 6, 2014. Dylan Noble, also killed by police during a traffic stop, July 14, 2016. Both unarmed. Five Dallas police officers are killed, and nine others wounded in alleged “payback” for police violence, July 7, 2016. Some 40 people, including women and children, executed by the Islamic State in Um al-Housh, Syria, July 5, 2016. Two dozen local soldiers killed by al-Qaeda suicide bombers in Aden, Yemen, July 6, 2016. Noncombatants killed by US bombs against ISIS and unknown US drone civilian victims in up to seven nations. Seven killed and 11 injured in Rashidiya, Iraq suicide attack, July 13, 2016. At least 84 people killed in terrorist attack in Nice, France, July 14, 2016. Sadly, but surely, there are more. So much heartbreak. So many questions.

Pundits and social media alike have discussed that global violence may be “the new normal.” In these troubled times, some turn to their faith, as evidenced by the hashtag #prayfornice or the like. I do not write to judge that response, but it is not for me. It’s easy to see how these events and the belief that violence is ubiquitous lead to hopelessness and despair. While I understand it, my heart heavy as well, that too is not for me.

Both these responses, I believe, do not challenge this so-called new normal. They leave me, and perhaps others, feeling powerless. And that is something I refuse to feel. I know that I personally cannot end gun violence, terrorism or any of these major problems. But I will not pretend that I there is nothing I can do, that even my simple daily actions have no impact on the world. I by no means want to be sanctimonious or to bury my head in the sand about the seriousness of these issues. But, reflecting on what I can do, I offer the following list:

· I can believe in the humanity of all people and treat each person I encounter with respect and dignity.

· I can reach out to people I don’t know, making them feel comfortable and included.

· I can do good by my family, my neighbors, my colleagues and others, offering a helping hand, encouraging word, or even just a smile.

· I can share what I have with others through donating my time, skills, food, money, or other things.

· I can speak up when I hear people speak with hatred or prejudice.

· I can make my voice be heard politically by educating myself about candidates and about their voting records so that, perhaps, elections at all levels are won by people who are determined to reduce the violence.

· I can continue teaching my daughter about both the problems and the beauties of the world today, and can help her see that she can use her imagination, her intelligence, and her motivation to be part of the solution.

· I can ensure that I do not act or react with violent words or behaviors, even in the face of conflict.

Although it might be easier to numb the heartbreak, to be resolved to the horrid normalcy of violence, I won’t do it. I hope that others feel that they, too, still have the power to make a much-needed change toward a safer and more peaceful world.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Far From Funny 6/22/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Rape is Rape, Nothing Else Is  – by Laura Finley

Let me begin with a simple declarative. Nothing, I repeat, nothing, is like being raped. Rape is a horrific invasion of the most sacred thing we have, our bodies. So, it infuriates me to hear celebrities and politicians minimize rape by equating their life experiences to being violently victimized, or by using their powerful public platform to blame victims.

In the latest in public figures who leak stupidity from their lips, Indian actor Salman Khan attempted to equate filming a difficult scene with being a victim of rape, professing that afterwards he “couldn’t walk.” Kanye West once compared the paparazzi following him and his family to being raped. Likewise, Charlize Theron, who has been a Stop Rape advocate for the UN, commented that having her privacy violated was tantamount to rape. Johnny Depp compared having to participate in photo shoots with fans to being raped, while Kristen Stewart likened fame in general to enduring sexual assault. And of course, there’s Donald Trump’s comment that China has been allowed to “rape our country.”

My least favorite comedian (unless you count the multiple rapist Bill Cosby as one still—I don’t and never have found him funny) Daniel Tosh, when called out by a female audience member for saying rape jokes are always funny, doubled-down to state “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?” Speaking of Cosby, Damon Ways attempted to defend the man from rape allegations by pronouncing some of the accusers as “unrapeable.” Then, of course, there’s Congressman Todd Akin, with the infamously moronic comment regarding rape and abortion: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” Not to be outdone, former North Carolina Republican Representative Henry Aldridge stated that when women are “truly” raped (note the heavy implication that women falsely claim they are sexually assaulted) “the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant.” Ron Paul similarly called it “honest rape.” Clearly none of these fools has read even a bit of literature on rape, or they’d know that false reports of rape are quite infrequent and occur no more often than do false reports of other crimes.

More rape myth spewage: In 1988, basketball coach Bobby Knight compared the stress of a game to rape, exclaiming ‘I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” Just two years later, former Texas Gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams echoed that asinine tidbit. Many celebrities have also made jokes implying that drugging someone then having sex with them is completely acceptable. Such comments have come from a diverse array of celebrities, including Miley Cyrus, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug actor Martin Freeman, and Al Franken. Far from funny and definitely not clever, these remarks are definitely not going to help young men and women navigate sexual relationships.

Victim-blaming is a common trope as well. Whoopi Goldberg, Chrissie Hynde, Serena Williams, musician Cee Lo Green all sadly, and likely scores more, have blamed women’s clothing, drinking, or other so-called “inappropriate” behavior for their victimization. Commenting about Rihanna, Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones wrote that the artist had a “fashion sense on stage that surely invites rape at worst, disrespect at least.” When actor Shia LaBeouf said he had been raped years prior, pundit Piers Morgan thought he needed to weigh in, calling it, with no proof at all, “a load of baloney” and insisting that it insults other victims. Hmm. How about they get to decide if they’re insulted? And when did he become the rape truth-teller?

It pains me to review the frequency of these comments, some even issued by people I would generally have respected. While some did apologize afterwards, many used that insincere “I didn’t mean to offend anyone” garbage. Surely it can’t be that hard to avoid equating any minor life annoyance with being sexually assaulted. And time has more than come for people everywhere to withhold their personal diatribes about a victim’s personal appearance or behavior. Please. Enough, already.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Lighthouses of Ourselves 6/15/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Applauding Joe Biden  by Laura Finley

So often, criticism is levied at politicians for an array of issues, much of it warranted. Sometimes, though, these folks use their office to make powerful statements that reach millions and have the potential to generate real change. On numerous occasions, Vice-President Joe Biden has done so, and he recently did again in a statement issued in response to that made by the woman who was raped by Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Biden’s heartfelt note of solidarity moved me to tears, and his continued advocacy for ending rape culture represents some of the best of Washington, D.C. Biden had no motive to write this other than genuine empathy. Here’s what I think Biden did so well in his response.

First, he acknowledged the courage it took this survivor to share her story in such detail. While no survivor should ever be pushed or coerced into rehashing the assault, those who do so help pave the way for others, and they also serve to educate people about the reality of rape. Although repeatedly stating that he does not know her name, Biden’s letter is deeply personal, for he notes, “you so eloquently represent every woman.” This, of course, is reference to the everyday sexism, the routine harassment and assault of women, that is all too real.

Second, Biden recognized that a lot of people have failed this survivor, not just on the night of the attack but in the months following. He calls out the people at the party who could have intervened when she was clearly incapacitated, the people who question whether her drinking somehow “brought this on.” Biden clearly dismisses those who would refer to this situation as “two drunk kids who made a mistake,” explaining that this incident will not define her, but it will indeed define Brock Turner.

Third, Biden indicts the broader culture that allows young people to not just turn a blind eye, but to disbelieve. Biden similarly denounces Turner’s father for referring to the incident as “20 minutes of action,” an appalling implication that the “action” was mere sex, not a violent crime. He notes that rates of sexual assault on campuses have not changed in decades, stating that “it’s a failure that lies at all of our feet.”

Fourth, Biden implores others to read her story, to share it, and to use it to facilitate conversations. This, he maintains, will help save lives and stimulate people to intervene in cases of sexual assault—as Biden powerfully wrote “We will make lighthouses of ourselves, as you did—and shine.”

Many are engaged in efforts to remove the judge who sentenced Turner to a ridiculous six months in county jail and three years of probation and to otherwise address the many problems with how our courts handle sexual assault. I applaud these efforts. I do hope, however, that this survivor’s story, and Biden’s supportive response, will remind us that it is not just the courts that fail victims, it is all of us. And, as Biden has repeatedly said, it’s on all of us to change rape culture.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Born with a Vagina 5/18/16

I’m Not Your Shorty –   by Laura Finley, Ph.D.

It wasn’t the first time.

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Like most women—84 percent across 22 countries, in fact– I have been catcalled by random men many times. In a widely shared 2014 experiment, a woman in New York City received 100 catcalls in just ten hours. But last night was definitely the scariest I have ever experienced. This man amped up his harassment, not only hollering a barrage of “compliments” but following me as well as I walked through an apartment complex. Surely he felt quite clever at the uniquely revolting ways that he described my body and the things he planned to do to me. His amusement at my fear was clear from both his commentary and his demeanor. I am both proud and sad to say I said nothing and responded with a hasty retreat. Upon arriving home, described what happened to my 12-year-old daughter.

I feel good that I sensed that the potential danger with this one was greater than with the typical degenerate that shouts out at women. Some women who have been sexually assaulted by strangers report that they sensed something was off but chose to ignore their feelings. And, I think it was really important to discuss what he did and how I felt with my daughter, who, unfortunately, already has experience with guys hooting at her. A 2014 survey found that 71 percent of women experience street harassment for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17. More than half of the reporting women had been fondled or groped on the street.

What makes me sad, though, is the power this individual ended up having over me. He didn’t change what he was doing or where he was going last night. I did. He doesn’t have that scary experience as background the next time he goes somewhere that is new to him. I do. He didn’t have to hold his tongue out of fear of escalating the situation. I did.

Like so many women, I wish I had felt comfortable telling him how unwelcome and repulsive his comments were. I wish I didn’t have to prepare my child for how to handle these things, or mentally ready myself for harassment before I walk somewhere. I wish that women didn’t have to change their lives in any way for fear that someone will do worse than shout out obscenities.

One way to address catcalling is to criminalize it. Belgium and Portugal have laws about street harassment and issue fines to offenders, while other countries like Canada and Argentina use existing harassment laws to address it. The U.S. could do the same, but generally does not. Nor do I necessarily believe that these laws will deter men from harassing women on the streets, although it is a sign that the government recognizes the scope of the problem and the seriousness of the issue.

More important than criminalizing catcalling, however, is changing the way men are taught to view and talk about women. We need to teach young men that hollering at women just isn’t OK. That a genuine compliment is always nice, but a litany of adjectives to describe women’s anatomy shouted from across the road is not. That they might feel quite cute when they compete with each other to offer up new harangues, but that women do not find them at all witty for doing so. We need to teach young men that true power isn’t about making women fear you. Such conversations need to happen in homes, schools, churches, and other institutions. And they need to happen often, starting at a young age. It’s time we put some more focus on the daily microaggressions that women must endure, rather than treating them as if they’re an inevitable fact of life if you were born with a vagina.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Deal Me In 5/4/16

Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

The “woman card.” It’s so much nonsense. Donald Trump is merely the latest to accuse a woman of playing identity politics because she, well, actually discussed the fact that the U.S. still has much to improve in terms of gender equality. Trump alleges that Clinton is discussing women’s issues so she can win the votes of women. The nerve of her, trying to win the support of more than 50 percent of the population! It’s like she’s running for the highest office in the country, or something. Clinton’s response was terrific: “If fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.”

Other responses to Trump’s comments bothered me, though. Elizabeth Warren said that Trump “wears the sexism out front for everyone to see,” which is undeniably true. More than just one man’s sexism, though, the whole affair is a stark reminder that we really need to change the conversation when it comes to gender. And, doing so has to go beyond attacking people for the same things women abhor—emphasizing our looks more than our words. For instance, Warren made fun of Trump’s hair in her response to his comments. There’s no need to play that same game; his remarks would be no more palatable were he to shave his head or sport a mullet. Likewise, Clinton’s recognition of the importance of equal pay would mean no less were she a supermodel.

Too often, advocates of gender equality are marginalized because of how they appear. It is way past time that we worry about someone’s actions, not the package in which they are wrapped. Feminists come in so many varieties, and their work shouldn’t be trivialized because someone doesn’t like their voice or pantsuit or because of the antiquated notion that men can’t be feminists. Likewise, advocacy for gender equality should not be marginalized because the proponent happens to be attractive or even sexy, as is often the case when female celebrities like Beyonce speak out. Similarly, when we disagree with a sexist remark, like those made by Trump, we have to resist the urge to comment on his appearance, as it also shifts the focus and entrenches us into the same duel mentality.

It’s unbelievable that issues affecting all of us are even still called “women’s issues.” In this patriarchal society, labeling something a woman’s issue reinforces the same binary way of thinking about gender that produces the problem in the first place. Like Gloria Steinem argued decades ago in her classic piece “If Men Could Menstruate,” shifting who is the oppressor or the oppressed does not challenge structural inequality. Birth control and reproductive freedom, for instance, are not “women’s issues,” they are concerns for anyone who wants to (or does not want to) have children, not about males or females. Paid family leave is about families, regardless of the gender of both parents. Domestic violence is not a women’s issue, it’s a public health concern that costs the country an estimated $8.3 billion annually. These are issues of justice and of human rights. But, it will be impossible to change the way we view these problems until we stop using the same tactics that the sexists use.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Awareness Month 4/6/16

Politicians and Sexual Assault Awareness Month – by Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Far more than a mere chance to don a teal ribbon and say you support survivors, the month is a critical time for raising awareness about rape and sexual assault. On March 31, 2016, President Obama issued a statement acknowledging the continued importance of the month and highlighting some of his administration’s initiatives. As a long-time advocate and activist on this issue, I applaud President Obama’s leadership and am hopeful that the next president will expand them. Unfortunately, should some of these candidates be elected, I fear that sexual assault will receive minimal attention. That would be a tragedy with devastating consequences.

In his statement, President Obama noted that too many women and men are victims of sexual assault and that in far too many cases, they receive little support. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds. Only 68 percent of those sexual assaults are reported to authorities, in large part due to the victims’ fear that he or she will not be taken seriously and will even be judged or blamed for the incident. Repeated studies have shown that the risk is even more acute for college students. Yet many campuses are failing to both adequately respond to sexual assaults and to engage in effective prevention programs, as evidenced by the 197 investigations at 161 institutions as of January 19, 2016.

President Obama’s statement also noted that sexual assault is a significant problem in the military, and he pledged to continue prioritizing this issue. Indeed, one study found that nearly five percent of active-duty women and one percent of active-duty men had experienced unwanted sexual contact. Nearly half of the incidents reported by female victims involved penetration. These are surely underestimates. A 2014 survey found that 62 percent of respondents suffered from some form of social or professional retaliation when they reported a sexual assault. In 2015, the UN’s Universal Periodic Review Panel denounced the U.S for failing to curtail sexual violence in the military.

Further, Obama noted initiatives he began to help end the backlog on analyzing rape kits and discussed the creation of training and resources for law enforcement that will increase their sensitivity to victims of all genders and cultural backgrounds. It is estimated that more than 400,000 rape kits remain untested around the country, resulting in delayed accountability for offenders and prolonged trauma for victims. Survivors often tell about police officers asking inappropriate questions that clearly imply they are to blame for their own assault. For victims who are transgender, the situation is even worse, as has been documented by human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

What about Obama’s successor, then? Bernie Sanders has been on the record stating that his support for affirmative consent and bystander programs, both of which are best practices according to advocacy groups like Faculty Against Rape. Sanders and rival Hillary Clinton have both called for serious national conversations about sexual assault on campuses, and Clinton has long spoken out about women’s rights as human rights. While neither has made sexual assault a primary campaign issue, both do seem poised to continue President Obama’s initiatives and to take sexual assault seriously.

For the Republicans, Ted Cruz has said little about the subject, but he voted against the amendments to the Violence Against Women Act passed in 2013 with the weasel-like dodge that these should be issues handled by the states. Donald Trump has a terrible track record on pretty much anything related to gender, so it is difficult to imagine his support for survivors or for sexual assault prevention. For instance, Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists, lobbied for zero prison time for his chum Mike Tyson, who was convicted of rape, and his ex-wife Ivana claims he made her feel “violated” during sexual interactions. His special counsel, Michael Cohen, defended Trump and inaccurately maintained that you cannot rape your spouse. In May 2013, Trump tweeted about the scope of sexual violence in the military “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” implying that rape is inevitable among a mixed-gender crowd.

There is still time to press these candidates on their positions relative to sexual assault response and prevention. Given the scope of the problem and its long-term traumatic effects, we must all push our politicians to explain how they can carry on and even expand President Obama’s initiatives.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Chill Immediately Visible 3/2/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Stifling Academic Freedom, the NRA Way   by Laura Finley

That conservative forces have long sought to squash dissent and curtail rigorous academic debate on campuses is far from a secret. From the militarization of many campuses, academic repression of faculty, excessive and difficult-to-navigate bureaucracies, limitations on free speech and more, college students, staff and faculty members today face many challenges as they seek to explore, debate, and take action on critical and difficult issues. The gun lobby has seized on this environment of academic stifling, promoting firearms as the answer to an array of problems on campuses and beyond. Don’t want to get raped? Carry a gun, or it’s your own fault. The best way to prevent an active shooter situation? Everyone pack heat. The chilling effect of the campus carry laws that have been enacted has been immediately visible.

The state of Texas passed a campus carry law that is set to take effect on August 1, 2016. Already, professors at the University of Houston were told that once the new law is effective, they might want to “be careful discussing sensitive topics,” “drop certain topics from your curriculum,” “’Not go there’ if you sense anger,” “limit students access off hours,” “go to appointment-only office hours,” and “only meet ‘that student’ in controlled circumstances.” Evidently, if I taught at that university my sociology classes could no longer cover well…anything. The NRA supports campus carry bills being considered in Florida, and in a memo to NRA members and friends dated November 2, 2015, NRA Past President Marion Hammer denounced educators who oppose the bill, amping up the rhetoric about how gun-free campuses are unsafe, there “murderers, rapists, terrorists, and robbers may commit crimes without fear of being harmed by their victims.” Hammer’s memo even uses quotations around the words “educators,” clearly implying that the many college administrators, professors and faculty members who do not support campus carry laws have dubious credentials.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has noted that case law is clear: faculty have primary responsibility for determining curriculum, and academic freedom is critical for teaching their courses such that they include the most essential and evolving topics in their fields. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has issued similar calls to vigorously resist efforts to undermine academic freedom by people with “ideological or commercial agendas.” It is hard to see the NRA and its cronies as anything but having both an ideological and commercial agenda.

The courts have long noted that the primary purpose of higher education is to afford a marketplace for the full exchange of ideas. It is through this exchange that students come to see the very real problems in the world and how they might be part of the solution. That is next to impossible when faculty are told to abort discussion of anything that might stimulate or even upset a student, who then might start firing indiscriminately.

While surely we must consider how to keep our campuses safe, arming campus security and students, faculty and staff like they are living in occupied zones is counter to creating any sense of peace or community. Our students deserve better. We deserve better.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Get A New Car 2/24/16

It’s Time to Stop Tinkering  by Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Most off us have that person in our life—maybe we even are that person—who hates to throw anything away and thus, despite multiple problems over a length of time, will tinker with something in an attempt to patch it up enough that it remains functioning, at least in part. My dad would do this with cars, borrowing parts from other cars, painting over scratches, and attempting to jimmy-rig whatever he could to get a few more drives out of the old Caprice Classic. At some point, though, he realized that it’s just not a good plan to have to jumpstart the car every time before you drive it. Having such a broken vehicle is cumbersome, inefficient, and prone to other bigger problems, like leaving the drivers stranded somewhere dangerous. A desperately broken car can even be deadly. The time comes, sometimes, to just get a new car.

This is how I feel about many vexing social issues in the U.S. Take the death penalty. It has been decades since the Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that the processes used by states to impose death sentences were far too arbitrary and issued a moratorium that lasted four years. Since that time, many states have elected to abolish the death penalty, but others carry on, despite continued requirements to make an array of adjustments, including ensuring only judges issue death sentences, prohibitions on executing the mentally ill and juvenile offenders, and more. Justice Harry A. Blackmun renounced such “tinkering with the machinery of death” in February 1994. Repeated cases before the Court could have been “the one,” the time when they finally decided enough already.

But no. The Court has not yet had the courage to do more than monkey around with the desperately broken systems of capital punishment. For example, the Court’s decision in Hurst v. Florida this year has prompted my current home state of Florida to Macgyver their system once again, rather than stop tinkering and abolish the death penalty altogether. The time has come to get a new car, people. Stop tweaking this fatally flawed system.

Then there is the issue of gun laws. Hotly debated and politically charged, the conversation is almost always focused on tinkering with our laws—adding here, removing there—a brutal catfight that has resulted in a total hodgepodge, all revolving around the interpretation of a one-sentence Amendment adopted 225 years ago. This despite the fact that a recent study found more Americans have died from gun violence since 1989 than from all combat since the Revolutionary War. Stop tinkering, people. Abolish the Second Amendment and make all guns illegal. There, I said it.

Another unrelated issue on which tinkering can no longer be our answer: Football. Not only do numerous studies show the physical damage to players, with high rates of concussions and data showing that professional football players have life expectancies some 20 years less than both white and black males, but new research is also linking football games to increased rates of sexual assault on campuses. A report by Shankar Vedantam on NPR on February 17, 2016 noted that on home game days, there was a 41 percent increase in rape reports among 96 Division I universities with football teams. Enough, already. No amount of tinkering can change the fact that football is inherently violent. Let’s end this violent sport and allow gifted athletes to pursue other less dangerous (individually and socially) athletics.

I doubt this perspective will be popular. That’s fine. I am not out to win a popularity contest. Rather, I wish only that the U.S. would be brave enough, strong enough, creative enough…all those qualities on which we pride ourselves, which are viewed as quintessentially American…to stop messing around with deeply broken systems and to pursue radical transformations that will make the U.S. a better country.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Lack of Concern 1/20/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

It’s Not a Backlog, It’s a Lack of Concern for Rape Victims- by Laura Finley

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds. “Rape kit” is the term used to describe the physical evidence obtained from a victim who reports being sexually assaulted. Victims’ bodies are, in essence, the crime scene. They endure what some might describe as a second sexual violation, being scraped, poked and prodded, only out of hope that their perpetrator can eventually be held accountable. And perhaps not rape again, as so many do.

In January 2015, Florida officials announced that some 13,435 rape kits remain in police storage facilities around the state. The largest number of non-processed rape kits, more than 3,700, were in Miami-Dade County. Of course this is an underestimate, since some 11 percent of police agencies in the state would not respond to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s inquiry about the issue.

Florida is not alone. The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by actor Maritza Hargitay, estimates that there are more than 400,000 untested rape kits around the country. Many have referred to it as a “rape kit backlog.” While surely there are some issues with funding and staffing to analyze this type of criminal evidence, when officials admit, like they have pretty much done everywhere, that they don’t test all the kits, it is clear that they care little about rape cases.

Indeed, officials in many precincts have said that if it’s not a stranger-rape case or if it’s a case in which the victim doesn’t want to participate they won’t exert any effort to analyze the rape kits. Those arguments are garbage. Even in acquaintance cases, the evidence can be important, as it might show a pattern of behavior that can help convict an offender, and, in particular, in cases of younger victims who are raped by family or friends, it is crucial evidence that a jury often wants in order to convict.

Maybe a victim doesn’t want to endure a trial. She should never be forced to do so. But what if knowing that evidence existed would convince her to do so? Or, what if the prosecution had that strong physical evidence and thus didn’t even need her to participate in the trial?

The reality is that police want to close cases and prosecutors want to win them. What that means for rape victims is clear: If your case isn’t perceived as “winnable,” sorry about your luck. Few other crimes warrant such neglect.

Testing these older rape kits has proven to be a useful expenditure of time and resources. In 2003, New York City analyzed 17,000 rape kits, resulting in dramatic increase in its arrest rate for rape, from 40 percent to 70 percent. In 2009, Detroit police found 11,000 untested rape kits in storage. After analysis of just 1,600 of them, 100 serial rapists were identified and 10 were convicted. The city also found 487 serial rapists who committed crimes in 39 states. Other cities have found similar results.

If we truly care about crime victims, we absolutely must devote whatever resources are needed to collect and analyze the physical evidence that will not only hold accountable but may also deter offenders. Otherwise, we are merely paying lip-service to accountability while declaring our lack of concern for stopping rape.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology.

He Didn’t Care 1/6/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Making 2016 More Peaceful – by Laura Finley

It’s a new year and already we’re off to the same old tricks. Donald Trump released his first televised advertisement in which he doubled down on his threat to prohibit Muslims from entering the country if he becomes president, while also vowing to “chop the head off of ISIS.” When he was informed that terrorists were using video footage of his comments, Trump proclaimed that he didn’t care.

Although President Obama is announcing expanded background checks for gun purchases, many states are moving in the opposite direction. Texas started the year with new legislation allowing people to openly carry their guns, and Florida looks poised to pass open carry as well as campus carry laws. This despite the fact that 27 Americans were shot and killed on Christmas Day alone, a number equal to the annual gun homicide rates in Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Iceland. Combined.

Just before the end of 2015, a grand jury in Ohio refused to indict the two white officers who shot 12-year-old African-American. This does not bode well for better police-community relationships.

While Bill Cosby will finally stand trial for sexual assault, his defenders are still babbling incessantly about “his side of the story,” a not-so-subtle code for “we don’t believe the victims.” Even less subtle are those who call the women “gold-diggers.” Harvard University and Florida State University, both of which were critiqued for their poor response to sexual assault victims in The Hunting Ground, have launched public campaigns to discredit survivors.

Despite being on the decline nationally, and its system being reviewed by the Supreme Court this year, Florida Governor Rick Scott is set to resume his execution binge on January 7.

Not only did an armed militia group occupy a federal wildlife sanctuary, but media has in many cases referred to it as a “peaceful protest.” I must be missing the peace part of their actions. The response by many on the left has been to mock the group, referring to them as “‘Y’all Qaeda,” “VanillaIsis,” “Yeehawdist,” and “YokeHaram.” How it is helpful to use the same demeaning language we decry when used to describe progressive activism escapes me.

A Florida woman admitted to killing her toddler and stuffing him into a suitcase because she believed the world is about to end in a great biblical flood. Meanwhile, close to 500 children died in a six-year period, all while child welfare officials were either investigating or had investigated their homes for abuse and neglect.

While so many of us make New Year’s resolutions for personal betterment, I think addressing these things and so many more should be our collective resolution for 2016. In addition to exercising more, spending more time with family and all the other things we vow to do annually, perhaps we can vow to take more seriously the call to reduce violence in all its forms. We should commit to being more careful with our language, to demanding better of our politicians and candidates, to supporting victims and families, to holding accountable those who perpetrate violence, and to promoting peace in our homes, schools, and communities

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Can We Please Stop 12/9/15

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Surely some uber-conservative political candidates will call me out on “politicizing tragedy” but I don’t care. I don’t want to pray for victims. I don’t want to seek vengeance on perpetrators. I want this never to happen again; I want to never feel this weight again.

Not just something but so many things must be done. My heart is so heavy to learn of not one but two mass shootings in the U.S. today. While the news is focused on San Bernadino, California, as I write at least 14 people are dead and 17 seriously injured, another mass shooting occurred earlier in the day on December 2 in Savannah, Georgia. We have now endured more shootings in 2015 than days in the year. Yes, that’s right, an average of more than one per day.

What do we do? It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. But there are some obvious components, and some other things we need to consider that are rarely part of the public dialogue.

Gun control? Check. We have to create sensible policies that at least make it more difficult for dangerous people to acquire dangerous weapons.

Provide better mental health services? Check. Without a doubt we need to be way better at recognizing who is suffering from mental illness, who among that population might be a threat to themselves or others, and offer supports for them to reduce the chances of horrific violence.

But in addition to those seemingly obvious answers, we also need to think about what motivates mass shooters in the first place. While some suffer from mental illness, many are simply people who have lost hope, who see themselves as worthless. The above-listed solutions do nothing to address how we change the hearts and minds of people. I do not profess to have all the answers, nor do I think any one thing is “the” solution, but I do think we need to talk a lot more, and act a lot more, to create a populace that sees violence itself as abhorrent. We need to create a society in which people’s natural instinct for dealing with difficult times is not to pull out a gun or other weapon but rather to seek help and guidance and to use their humanity and creativity to work out another answer.

What I am not hearing much about is the importance of teaching people to think and act differently. We need to teach young people (and every age—it’s never too late!) that they can and have to express how they feel. We need to teach people how to receive that information and how not to judge but to empathize and support. We need to help people learn how to adapt when things don’t go as planned, and we need to learn to be better cheerleaders for one another. We need to teach people resiliency, as things will likely be challenging at some point but with ample coping skills we can not only survive but thrive. We need to figure out how to help people see a ray of light, a bit of hope, in what can often be perceived as a hopeless situation.

In essence, we need peace education. Everywhere. All the time. Peace education teaches people that not only are there nonviolent ways to resolve conflict but that each one of us is responsible for doing so. It emphasizes that we have to build our capacities for love, acceptance, and understanding if we want a better world. Laws and policies can help, but changing the way we think is imperative.

Can we please agree to do this? It’s hard, but also not that hard. Our future seriously depends on it. Another way is possible, people. Let’s make it happen.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Not Nearly Enough 11/4/15

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Candidates Must Speak about Domestic Violence

By Laura Finley, Ph.D.

While the presidential candidates have been asked about their stance on many key issues, there are some major problems on which they have been notoriously silent to date. Here is one that I would love to see elevated as the campaigns move forward: no one is overtly discussing domestic violence, despite the fact that it is among the most prevalent forms of violence endured by women, children, and even men in the U.S and globally.

In a Huffington Post article almost a year ago, Alana Vagianos pointed out that, between 2001 and 2012, 11,766 women were murdered by current-or-ex male partners; nearly double the amount of casualties lost during the war in Afghanistan (6,488). Three women are murdered by current or former partners every day—the leading cause of homicide for women. Some one in four American women and one in seven men in the U.S. will endure serious violence by an intimate partner during their lives, while a ridiculous 70 percent of women globally will endure an abusive relationship. Between 40 and 45 percent of the women who are victimized will also be raped by their partners. Approximately 40 percent of gay men and 50 percent of lesbian women will domestic violence in their lifetime.

On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton has long been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, notably pronouncing that “women’s rights are human rights.” The only attention she has made to domestic violence during this campaign, however, is to the issue of access to guns. While I wholeheartedly endorse her proposals to ensure that batterers do not have access to guns, it is not nearly enough.

What about the enforcement of restraining orders, which is so poor that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a scathing condemnation in August 2011 after reviewing the case of Jessica Gonzales (Lenahan, now)? Her former husband took their three daughters despite a restraining order and the requirement that all visitation be supervised. Jessica called the Castle Rock, Colorado police multiple times to report the violation and was put off each time. Ultimately, Simon Gonzales pulled his vehicle into the police station, opened fire on officers who returned it, and the three girls were found dead in the aftermath.

While a year ago Clinton made some statements pronouncing it “embarrassing” that the U.S. is the only democratic country not to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it has not been a component of her campaign speeches or debates this fall. No one else is touching it either.

Her primary competitor, Bernie Sanders, is perceived by many as far more progressive but doesn’t seem to have really addressed domestic violence, other than agreeing with Clinton that batterers should not have guns.

The Republican contenders, who have again been accused of waging a war on women, are noticeably silent on domestic violence. Except Jeb Bush, although his rhetoric is clearly greater than his reality. Bush’s wife, Columba, is a founding Board member of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Jeb often points to his work as a governor to protect women. Yet, as Jessica Valenti pointed out, simply saying “domestic violence” frequently doesn’t actually mean your actions were enough or your position adequate. Indeed, other positions he supports put domestic violence victims at greater risk, including limiting access to abortion (as studies are clear that carrying out an unintended pregnancy puts women at greater risk for continued violence) and, as his Democratic challengers understand, limiting access to guns reduces the risk that victims will be murdered by abusers at least eight-fold.

Donald Trump has been accused of not only sexual harassment but also rape. Hard to imagine he will be an advocate for domestic violence victims nor a catalyst for change. Similarly, Ben Carson has previously cast doubt on the extent of domestic violence in the U.S. and has equated women who have abortions to slave owners. Brilliant. Not likely to do much on these issues, it seems.

Perhaps these candidates could spend a little less time sniping at one another and at the media and instead provide their plans for how the U.S. can become safer for women. Not holding my breath, though.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Grass Isn’t Greener 9/30/15

The Grass Isn’t Greener

By Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

The old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” refers to the common belief that things must be better elsewhere. While sometimes that is true, in reality the belief that somewhere else is preferable can result in dissatisfaction with what one has and can dissuade initiatives to improve one’s own situation. I see this mentality played out in many ways, but one that has bothered me a lot in recent years is the way that community and campus groups—both of which I am integrally involved—seem to always believe that the “experts” from outside are an improvement on the ones they have among their ranks.

Campuses and community organizations often pay these so-called experts exorbitant fees to impart their words of wit. Honoraria of up to $10,000 is not uncommon at universities who bring in renowned speakers to discuss important topics. Likewise, community groups who are often struggling to fund their daily work, have been known to cough up significant sums to speakers or trainers. Typically, these sessions are one-time only, and, as amazing as some of these presenters are, data is clear that one-off presentations are unlikely to be impactful beyond the very short term. Bullying and sexual violence seem to be the two topics in which campuses and community organizations insist on relying on a grass is greener mentality.

Further, bringing in a national speaker to talk about a local problem often fails to inspire attendees to see how they can take action in their communities. It suggests that there is actually nothing going on locally so organizers had to look outside of the region to find an appropriate presenter. This is hardly the message we want to send to students, social service providers, and other community organizations.

Oftentimes campus groups or community organizations hire outsiders in order to draw down a budget or grant funds, out of fear they will lose them in future if excesses remain at the end of the year. One has to wonder, however, how else those funds could have been devoted should organizers instead have employed a community “expert” who would likely present for free or a very minimal fee? Instead of hiring a sexual assault speaker at several thousand dollars, a university could utilize one of the many faculty members on every campus that has expertise in these areas. I know I have long offered my services at my campus and in my community, only to learn sometimes that an outsider was hired already. Those funds that would have been saved by using me, for free, could instead provide scholarships to survivors or seed money to student groups to engage in prevention campaigns with their peers, for example.

Similarly, instead of hiring a bullying “expert,” a non-profit organization could look at what exists in their community already and couple with that group to engage in a collaborative initiative that would reach more people, be more sustainable, less duplicative, and inevitably more impactful. For instance, where I live in South Florida, The Humanity Project has been offering high quality, free, arts-based bullying prevention programs in schools and the community for ten years. For more information about this wonderful group, see http://thehumanityproject.com/

Sometimes, there’s absolutely no need to search for greener grass, especially when your own backyard is lush and plentiful.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Actually Prevent Rape 9/23/15

Rape on Campus: Guns Are Not the Answer

Laura Finley, Ph.D

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Several days ago, the Miami Herald published an editorial from a college student who argued that allowing students on college campuses to carry concealed weapons was not only a constitutional right but would help prevent rape. While I appreciate her passion for the subject and am saddened to read about anyone’s victimization, this position is deeply problematic. I don’t wish to take up the constitutional argument here, but I cannot in good conscience fail to respond to the argument that a woman with a gun can prevent a rapist from sexually assaulting her.

First, studies do not bear out that arming women helps prevent sexual assault or domestic and dating violence. In part, this is because frequently sexual assault occurs within a dating relationship. Since many victims are not only “acquainted” with their assailant but are actually in a relationship of sorts with them, it is unlikely that they will arm themselves with a weapon before heading out for the night with their partner. Thus the weapon would do no good.

Further, since most sexual assaults occur when students (both offenders and victims) are under the influence of alcohol, having a gun involved is unlikely to make things better. In fact, numerous studies have found that guns actually make the situation worse. Far worse. Even when the disinhibiting and aggression-promoting effects of alcohol are not a factor. Studies show that women are far more likely to be murdered with a handgun than kill a stranger in self-defense. In fact, 300 times more likely. Rape rates are consistently higher in states where gun ownership is also higher. A woman is 83 times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than to kill him in self-defense. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation has been estimated to increase the risk of homicide (to the victim of sexual attack, largely) 500 percent. Because of our easy access to guns, a woman in the U.S. is 11 times more likely to be murdered with a firearm than are women in other high-income countries. I could go on, but there’s no need. Data is entirely clear on this issue: Guns are far more likely to be used against victims of sexual assault than by them, escalating harm instead of attenuating it.

Add to the equation that allowing concealed weapons on campus can only confuse the first responders, who don’t know the context or details of the situation, and will inevitably incite fear and trepidation amongst other faculty and students who worry about nervous people packing heat, and the result is a powderkeg that is based on rhetoric, not reality.

But, the rhetoric is powerful and backed by the full financial and propaganda power of the National Rifle Association (NRA). For instance, one Nevada lawmaker asserted earlier this year that “young, hot little girls on campus” should arm themselves to prevent being raped. Not only do her comments reek of very odd sexism, they also promote a very dangerous form of victim-blaming which suggests that it is not the responsibility of rapists to resist offending but rather the would-be victim from being a target. We will never end rape when we continue to tell women it is their responsibility to avoid it. There is only one culpable party to any rape: the rapist.

In Florida, State Representative Dennis K. Baxley argued, “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible.” If Baxley wanted to reiterate the responsibility of campuses to prevent rape that would be fantastic, but that is not the case. Instead, he also took blame from the perpetrators by holding accountable everyone but the rapist.

What campuses need to do is address the fact that rape is a crime that offenders choose to commit because they are immersed in the broader rape culture. Programs, policies and laws that put the ownership for change on victims play into this very culture, and as such, can never be truly effective. Rather than changing the perceived target, we need to change the motivation of the offender. The best programs address the nuances of relationships, focus on helping people set boundaries and communicate effectively with one another, and help others learn and be motivated to stand up and speak up when they see or hear something that is potentially dangerous. Let’s move from rhetoric to reality so that we can actually prevent rape on campus.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Yoga Pants Scourge 9/9/15

Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

A new school year has started or is about to start and once again public schools across the U.S. are clamoring to control girls’ bodies. The offender this time: my alma mater in Midwest Michigan. As of August 18, 2015, the district decided to prohibit the wearing of yoga pants, leggings and stretch pants when students return to the middle and high schools on September 8. The previous dress codes allowed these items as long as they were covered by another garment that was at least finger-tip length when students held their arms straight at their sides—basically, you could wear form-fitting pants as long as you wore something over top of them. Not surprisingly, students did not all follow that rule, which takes me back (way back) to my high school days when we thought it was imperative to wear shorts over our leggings. As is so often the case, the justification for such policy changes is framed as though it helps teachers and staff maintain an appropriate educational climate. The Superintendent commented, “We are not trying to impart style on our students … We just want to eliminate disruptions and distractions.” In reality, it seems these decisions are typically because someone or a vocal group alleges that “hormonal” boys cannot control themselves if they have to attend classes with girls who dare to show that they actually do have legs under their pants.

This district is by no means the first to adopt or consider adopting such a policy. Earlier this year, a North Dakota district determined that yoga pants were a “distraction,” noting that they might prompt boys to “focus on something other than schoolwork.” Evidently the school even asked students to watch the film “Pretty Woman” and compare their attire to the prostitute character played by Julia Roberts. Hundreds of middle school girls in Evanston, Illinois wore leggings to school in protest of a similar policy change. Students also held signs with slogans asking “Are my pants lowering your test scores?” More than 500 students signed a petition against the dress code.

In fall 2014, a group of students in New Jersey started the hashtag #Iammorethanadistraction to highlight the problems with school district policies that focus on girls alone. In spring 2015, Montana Republican state Rep. David Moore went so far as to propose HB 365, which was an effort to prohibit nudity as well as “any device, costume or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region.” At a hearing about the bill, Moore announced “Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway.” In Missouri, state legislators decided that the problem was in that institution as well. They announced they are considering instituting a dress code for interns, ostensibly to “protect them” from sexual harassment.

This type of victim-blaming couched in paternalism is deeply problematic. We can oppress you, it says, but it’s for your own good. It’s not a matter of whether schools should be allowed to institute dress codes. Of course, they can and should. But these policies are not about students, they are about girls. And they reinforce a dangerous logic that if a girl looks a certain way then she is the problem.

Let’s be clear – like all human beings, the bodies of women and girls vary dramatically. So, yes, some girls will fill out their pants differently than others, or their shorts will be shorter because, hey, imagine that, they are taller. This human diversity should not be policed, especially not in a culture in which many girls already suffer from dramatic self-esteem decreases in these years due to concerns about their bodies. Schools (and other institutions) should indeed be concerned about sexual harassment, but requiring that the would-be victims change their behavior instead of the would-be offenders merely allows the perpetrators to absolve themselves from responsibility.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

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