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.

Not In The Pay 7/29/15

Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights

Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

The worker’s rights movement has exploded in the last few years, with fast food, agricultural and other workers staging strikes and other nonviolent actions to demand increased wages, benefits, and better working conditions. One group of workers that has received far too little attention is adjunct college professors.

According to data collected by the Chronicle of Higher Education, adjuncts at one college and two universities near my home in Southeast Florida earn between $1,380 and $3,000 to teach a fifteen week, three credit course. My own university’s published rates range from $1,500 to $3,000. A national survey found the average pay for a three credit course to be $2,700. Given that the typical equation for calculating preparation and grading time for a three credit course is three hours for every one hour of class time, it’s safe to assume that adjuncts put in a good 135 hours during a semester. That works out to just over $10 an hour for someone making the lowest rate and about $22 an hour for the higher rate based on the rates listed above. This is appalling, and it puts many adjuncts in the same camp as 42 percent of workers in the U.S who earn less than $15 an hour, according to Forbes. The American Association of University Professors has noted that of the more than 30,000 adjunct professors who would like to obtain a full-time academic position, more than 60 percent hold one or more other jobs.

These wages are not nearly ample to afford the basic necessities of life in the U.S. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) estimates that in New England, an adjunct professor would have to teach 17 to 24 classes a year to be able to afford a home and pay for utilities. Teaching four classes per year would cover only the grocery bill for a family of four. The work is also unstable, as classes can be cancelled at the last minute if enrollment is not adequate. One adjunct even described her class being canceled the morning it was to start.

According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, a living wage in Miami is $11.45 per hour for a single adult.

In addition to these low wages, adjuncts do not receive any kind of benefits. Many times, they are not even allotted a space on campus to meet with students, or if they are, it might be one without a computer or phone. A report from the University of California at Berkeley found that nearly a quarter of all adjunct professors receive some form of public assistance, like food stamps or Medicaid. Many must, as grown adults, live with their families, and struggle to afford basic food requirements. One adjunct professor reported, “I lived off of fried potatoes and onions for the semester. I actually lived better as a grad student than I do now.”

To make ends meet, many adjuncts become “gypsies,” jetting from one campus to another to teach as many classes as possible. I did this some time ago, at one time teaching seven classes at three different universities, just so that my family of three could afford a cheap apartment. The hours spent on the road, of course, are not calculated in the pay.

Adjunct faculty are rarely integrated into school or departmental activities. One study of 105 research universities found that faculty senates at approximately two-thirds of the sample excluded adjuncts from participation. Another study conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adjunct Project found that more than half of the respondents had no say at all in faculty governance. My own experience is that the adjuncts are physically separated in that, when office space is allotted, it is nowhere near the other faculty. I was never invited to nor was I welcomed to departmental activities. Indeed, most faculty members had no idea who I was.

Even worse, while often being hired sight-unseen, adjunct professors can be undermined when administrators determine they need to excessively control the curriculum. At one university where I was hired based only on my curriculum vitae (no personal interaction, not even a phone interview) to teach an introductory course, I received an email three weeks into the semester detailing my syllabus, lecture notes, and exams. Given that I had obviously already provided my students with a syllabus and the course was well underway, I chose to ignore this email from the department chair (whom I never met) and carry on as I had planned. Not surprisingly, there was no follow up to that email and, despite ignoring these requests, I was asked (but could not) teach again for that university.

In essence, while they are among the the workhorses of higher education, adjuncts are decidedly second-class citizens. In February, the SEIU recommended that adjuncts earn $15,000 per course. They admit this might be reaching for the sky, but argue that a national conversation about adjunct wages is desperately needed. If we truly believe that education is the pathway not only to financial success but also to personal satisfaction, it is completely deplorable that we compensate a significant portion of the people who provide it so poorly. In particular, at universities that pledge to value social justice and human rights, it is an atrocity that employees who perform such a valuable service are not afforded a living wage.

Too Much Justice 7/8/15

Disparate Impact Claims Essential for Justice

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

by Laura Finley

Like many other progressives, I was very excited about some of the Supreme Court decisions this term (healthcare, gay marriage) and deeply disturbed about others (Facebook threats should not be judged on a “reasonable person” standard, executions using new drugs can continue). One decision that did not receive as much attention but that is tremendously important, I think, is the Court’s ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. In that decision, the Court held 5-4 that housing segregation, even if done unintentionally, violates the Fair Housing Act. In doing so, the Court affirmed that “disparate impact claims” about housing are legitimate. Although it is not clear that this will be the case, I hope that the decision paved the way for greater use of social science data by courts on other issues.

The Supreme Court has often rejected statistical evidence in support of disparate impact claims. For instance, in McKleskey v. Kemp, held that the significant body of research showing the racially disproportionate impact of Georgia’s death penalty was inadequate to overturn that state’s system of capital punishment. The court held that the ownership for proving that someone was a victim of discrimination fell on the petitioner, who must provide “exceptionally clear proof” of discrimination in his or her case. Likewise, in civil law, the court ruled in Washington v. Davis that laws that have a racially discriminatory effect, but which the plaintiff cannot demonstrate were enacted with the intent to discriminate, are not unconstitutional. It is nearly impossible to prove someone meant to discriminate against you, barring obvious statements of intent to which petitioners generally do not have access. Legal scholars have named McKleskey one of the worst Supreme Court decisions post World War II, and others call it “the Dred Scott of our time.” Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, maintains that the refusal to recognize statistical data as evidence of discrimination has inoculated the criminal justice system from both judicial and public scrutiny. It has essentially affirmed that racial discrimination in the courts is inevitable and thus acceptable. In fact, in McKleskey several justices admitted they were fearful of accepting the statistical evidence, lest it open the door for other claims of racial discrimination in criminal justice, or what Justice Brennan claimed in his dissent…the Court was afraid of “too much justice.”

In its recent decision the Court did limit disparate-impact claims to cases where a law or policy raises “artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers.” Lower courts thus have a lot of leeway to interpret whether disparate impact is the result of those barriers or other factors. Further, the Court held that statistical evidence alone is not enough—plaintiffs must also be able to prove that it was the specific law or policy that was the cause of the impact.

Nonetheless, this ruling potentially sets a precedent for using disparate impact claims to address discrimination outside of housing. Advocates hope that it can be used in employment discrimination cases, in cases in which someone was discriminated against based on their genetic data, and in cases involving the effects, or “collateral consequences” of incarceration on women, who often suffer disproportionately from policies that denied formerly incarcerated persons food stamps or certain types of jobs. I hope it now reopens the door for hearing disparate impact claims about the death penalty, as even more research studies have been conducted since the decision in McKleskey that show a racially discriminatory effect. For instance, a 2014 study by Katherine Beckett of the University of Washington found that jurors in that state were three times more likely to recommend death sentences for black defendants than for white ones, and Amnesty International has pointed out that more than 20 percent of black defendants who were executed were convicted by all-white juries.

The Court may finally be recognizing that parsing out intent and effect are not so easy, and may not be at all what is required for justice to prevail.

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

Zero Great Choices 6/24/15

Corporations Over People

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Here we go again. Another court decision favoring businesses over human rights. Sadly, it is no shock that the Supreme Court is friendlier to business more than anything or anyone else. From its 2010 Citizens United blunder that allowed even greater corporate influence on our political process to the 2014 Hobby Lobby case affirming the “religious beliefs” of private corporations, the court’s continual siding with corporate entities over individual rights is maddening and ludicrous, but not surprising. Now, we learn that the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled in favor of employers in a case that addressed whether persons with lawful medical marijuana cards can be fired for testing positive for the substance.

In a 6-0 decision, Colorado’s highest court ruled that an employer’s zero tolerance law trumped the state’s medical marijuana legislation. The court held that employers can fire employees for testing positive for the substance even if usage was lawful under state law and occurred when the individual was off duty. Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic after a car accident, has been lawfully using medical marijuana to control leg spasms. Dish Network, his employer, fired him in 2010 after he tested positive on a random drug test. Coats had informed his employer before the test about his use of medical marijuana and displayed his state-certified medical marijuana card.

The issue, according to the court, was the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, which they determined covered only activity that is lawful under both state and federal law. Since federal law still considers marijuana to be a Schedule 1 controlled substance, use of it is not protected even though state law allows it, said the court. The Supreme Courts of California, Montana and Washington—all states that have legalized medical marijuana—have ruled similarly in past. Spokespersons for Dish Network commented, “As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law.” So, Coats was told that he could cease using the only legal substance that actually helped him or he could find an employer that didn’t have a zero tolerance policy. Great choices.

The Denver Post has reported that when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana last years, employers responded by expanding drug testing. So, essentially corporations determined that they would exploit the discrepancy between state and federal law. Rife with problems, workplace testing has not been found to deter illicit drug use, nor to increase workplace productivity. It doesn’t reduce absenteeism nor on-site accidents, as is often claimed. Instead, like Coats, many positive tests simply detect drug use, typically marijuana, that occurred days or even weeks ago and that has no impact on the individual’s abilities. In fact, research has shown that very tired or distracted workers are a greater risk to the workplace than are those who smoked marijuana five days prior, but no such test is administered to assess sleepiness or distractibility.

Coats is a Colorado resident. He, like the residents of the 22 other states in which medical marijuana is legal, should be confident that he won’t be arrested, fired, or otherwise face sanctions for behavior that is consistent with state law. There is no evidence that he was anything less than a good employee. Not only should all state laws be consistent on issues like this, but the federal government should take cases like that of Brandon Coats as yet even more reason to revamp its antiquated designation of marijuana. Here’s hoping that Coats’ case can further propel that movement.

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

Gender Not a Factor 6/17/15

U.S. Soccer Should Not Look the Other Way on Hope Solo

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

If the U.S. is serious that domestic violence is unacceptable, even when perpetrated by the heroes we idolize, then there is absolutely no way we should be looking the other way when it comes to U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo.

In early June, ESPN’s Outside the Lines aired an interview with Solo’s sister, Teresa Obert, about the incident that occurred a year ago. Obert’s story differs dramatically from the one that Solo keeps getting the chance to repeat. Solo’s story centers on herself as victim. She claims her nephew, who is 6 foot 8 and weighs 270 pounds, was the one who hit her on the head with a broomstick and then threatened her with a gun. She claims that she was severely concussed from the incident, although no medical evidence has yet confirmed that conclusion.

Obert claimed that Solo arrived to her home drunk and upset with her husband. Obert says that after more drinking, Solo began insulting her 17-year-old nephew, and then he claims she lunged at him, trying to hit him in the face. She connected multiple times, the boy says, and then he subdued her briefly but she grabbed his hair and began “repeatedly” slamming his head into the concrete. Obert alleges that when she tried to intervene, Solo punched her “multiple times.” At this point Obert’s son called 911, although the melee continued until police arrived.

As is often the case, when the police arrived all parties involved looked visibly upset. Officer Elizabeth Voss observed physical injuries on Obert’s son and that his clothing was in disarray. The other officer, Chuck Pierce, recorded similar injuries on Obert. Sergeant Phil Goguen, the first on the scene, noted that Solo’s breath smelled of liquor and she was slurring. She claimed she was protecting herself but refused to provide any specifics. The report notes that Goguen did not observe any injuries on Solo. Given all of the above, Goguen determined, per state law, that Solo was the primary aggressor.

Her poor behavior did not stop there. When she was being booked at the Kirkland Jail Solo allegedly yelled profanities at the officers involved and repeatedly harassed the officers, making fun of them because, as she allegedly put it, her necklace was worth more than their salaries. She was then transferred to another facility and in the process continued to abuse the officers involved.

After the incident, Obert obtained a temporary restraining order against Solo and then a permanent order was issued in January 2015.

Just like the NFL with the Ray Rice incident (until it got too big to ignore), U.S Soccer was largely silent on the case. Three months later it released a statement saying that Solo was cleared to play. In their investigation, Outside the Lines found no evidence to suggest that U.S Soccer did any kind of investigation into the incident…no records that it contacted the prosecutors, police, or Obert and her son, nor did it request the police records of the case.

Sure, there are inconsistencies in Obert and her son’s stories, but that too is not unusual. Incidents of domestic violence are often a blur, as victims are more concerned with protecting themselves than recording the specifics. On January 13, 2015, a judge dismissed the case on procedural grounds, not based on evidence, and on February 9 the prosecutor’s office announced it was appealing the decision, which Prosecutor Tamara McElyea said was extremely rare.

Sports journalist Keith Olbermann has been most vehement in his calls for U.S Soccer to suspend Solo, noting that not only is she supposed to be a role model, but that because she is representing the U.S. she, her coach, Jill Ellis, and U.S. Soccer President Sanil Gulati are also representing each of us.

But of course she has not been suspended, as the U.S Women’s Soccer team is performing well in the World Cup and Solo is considered by many to be the hero of those victories. Most media outlets are contributing to the free pass Solo has received, calling the last year a “roller coaster” instead of providing specifics. Despite her many embarrassing debacles, Solo was even named team captain. Coach Ellis even had the audacity to claim that most of the players have no idea that the incident even happened and that those who do have “moved on.” And, of course, Nike continued her endorsement package, which is odd, given that it separated with Rice who was actually cleared of all charges while those against Solo are pending.

While it is up to the court’s to determine whether Solo is guilty of domestic violence, U.S. Soccer and Nike can and should engage in a serious investigation of her behavior. Her gender and her gifts as a goalkeeper should not be a factor. Sadly, both seem to be.

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

Court Screws Up Again 6/10/15

Supreme Court Fails Victims Again

by Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

The Supreme Court has a very mixed track record when it comes to protecting women. As a domestic violence advocate, Criminologist, and activist for a decade, I am deeply concerned that the U.S still fails to prioritize women’s safety. Given that globally more women ages 15-45 die from men’s violence than of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined, far more needs to be done to protect women and girls. The courts can and should play a far bigger role in doing so.

In 2000, the court overturned part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allowed women to sue their abusers in federal court. So, we can sue darn near anyone for anything, just not the people who hurt us most deeply. In 2005, the court ruled in Castle Rock v. Gonzales that a town and its police cannot be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order. Jessica Gonzales, now Lenahan, had a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking and harassing her. Simon was prohibited from seeing her son (not his biologically) and the couple’s three daughters except during specified visitation times. Simon violated that order by taking the three girls on June 22, 1999 around 5:15 p.m. Jessica first called the police about two hours later, then proceeded to call multiple times and visit the station in person over the next several hours. The police took no action, even though Simon had called Jessica admitting he had the girls at an amusement park in Denver. At approximately 3:20 a.m., Simon showed up at the Castle Rock police station and engaged in a shoot-out with police that left him dead. The police then noticed the bodies of the three girls in his vehicle. The court held 7-2 that the Colorado statute did not require that police actually enforce restraining orders.

What?! Absolutely insane.

Gonzales and her attorneys took the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which ruled that the Supreme Court had erred and that the U.S was violating Gonzales’ human rights through this decision. The IACHR cited international human rights treaties and agreements that urge states to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of violence against women and to address shortcomings in legislation that fail to protect women.

In 2014, the court seemed to improve, as it determined in United States v. Castleman that a state law requiring persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, even when it did not involve force, must still surrender their firearms per federal law. In doing so, the court used a broad interpretation of domestic violence, recognizing it as more than physical.

Yet the court screwed up again, although this time on a case not specifically about abuse. On June 1, 2015, in Elonis v. United States it ruled 7-2 that a man’s threats to his wife via Facebook were not such a big deal, as there was no indication that he intended to threaten her. In one of the first cases to address free speech via social media, the court rejected the “reasonable person” standard that is typical in cases of verbal threats. Anthony Elonis of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was convicted in 2012 and the conviction was upheld by Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2013. The court did not specify what would actually constitute a threat via social media. Instead, its decision was related to the statute on which Elonis was convicted. The federal statute, 18 U. S. C. §875(c), says that anyone who “transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another” has committed a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Elonis served 44 months. The statute does not specify that the individual intended to make a threat nor that a court must determine his or her mental state.

Among Elonis’s gems to his wife, Tara, was: “There’s one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya, And I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, Soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die bitch.” A judge determined this was indeed threatening and granted her a restraining order requiring that Elonis not only stay away from his wife physically but that he also cease contacting her online or posting anything about or to her. Yet three days after the restraining order hearing he was at it again, posting a joke, and then a week later writing, “Fold up your protective order and put in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?” He then posted that he wanted to “make a name for himself” with “the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.” This caught the attention of FBI agent Denise Stevens, who paid Elonis a visit. Even that didn’t stop him, as he posted after she left: “Little agent lady stood so close. Took all the strength I had not to turn the bitch ghost. Pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat. Leave her bleedin’ from her jugular in the arms of her partner.” Elonis contended that his posts were in the form of rap music and thus were merely expressive.

In failing to address the fact that Elonis persisted in these hateful and scary comments after the restraining order was issued, the court again protected abusers, not victims. One of the first things a domestic violence advocate knows is that if an abuser is making claims that he intends to hurt his partner, we should go ahead and presume he will at some point act on them.

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

Divorce In China 4/15/15

In Solidarity with Chinese Brides Activists

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

I write this having just returned from a nonviolent protest in which I wore my bridal gown smeared with fake blood. How ironic that it was exactly that type of action that led to the arrest and now 38 day imprisonment of five Chinese domestic violence and human rights activists.

Initially, ten Chinese women were arrested on March 6, 2015 and five remain in detention as of April 12, 2015. Li Tingting, 25; Wu Rongrong, 30; Zheng Churan, 25; Wei Tingting, 26; and Wang Man, 33, wore bridal gowns covered with fake blood in an effort to raise awareness about domestic violence. They were also organizing a public campaign against the sexual harassment of women on public transportation that would have taken place on March 8, International Women’s Day, and attempted to occupy men’s restrooms in an effort to prompt officials to build more women’s facilities. Additionally, the detained are all well-known activists for LGBT equality. Wu and her colleagues had used performance art, shaved their heads to protest barriers to higher education for women, and other nonviolent forms of activism. These women have been unjustly held in prison for more than a month and are being held for at least another seven days while prosecutors decide whether to bring charges that could result in prison sentences of up to five years. Some reports have stated that the women had been denied medical access at points in their incarceration. In addition, CNN reported that Chinese authorities raided the office of a non-governmental organization that had supported the women.

While the issue hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it should have, Hillary Clinton posted on Monday, April 6 on Twitter: “The detention of women’s activists in #China must end. This is inexcusable.” Clinton and others have noted the ironic timing of the repression of female activists, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Congress on Women that was held in Beijing. It was at that conference that Clinton famously announced “women’s rights are human rights.” Similarly, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, tweeted: “In China speaking out against sexual harassment is ‘creating a disturbance.’ Disturbance is restricting NGOs fighting for universal rights.”

As a nonviolent activist who seeks to raise awareness about dating, domestic and sexual violence and to promote appropriate legal and community-based responses to these problems, I am deeply concerned that the arrest of these women will have a chilling effect on activism in China and beyond. We know it is only through the tireless work of so many activists, female and male, before us that domestic violence is illegal in the U.S and in many other countries. Yet this work remains tremendously important, as an estimated one-third of the world’s women will endure an abusive relationship during her lifetime. Despite legislation, there are an estimated 1,300 domestic violence murders in the U.S each year. China had drafted its first domestic violence legislation in fall 2014, amidst data that shows some 40 percent of women who are married or in a relationship had suffered from abuse. It was not until 2001 that physical abuse was accepted as grounds for divorce in China.

I implore all who read this to express their support for these women and to call on China to release them. Activists are using the hashtags #FreeTheFive and #FreeBeijing20Five to offer support. People can also contact the U.S. State Department to encourage their continued action on the behalf of these nonviolent activists. Learn how to take immediate action to address the women’s health concerns in prison at http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/uaa05415_1.pdf. For additional information about South Florida dating and domestic violence activism, see http://www.collegebrideswalk.com.

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

Not Actually Real 3/25/15

On “Real Women”

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

I am an unreal woman, evidently. A fake, a fraud, an alien-woman of sorts. At least that’s what I keep hearing and reading. Because evidently, real women have “curves,” “back fat,” “bass,” and “booty.” Real women struggle to lose weight after childbirth. They have droopy bits and wrinkles, so I am told.

I am 42 years old. I am 5’10 and weigh 110 pounds. I do not have an eating disorder, I am just naturally tall and thin, I eat generally healthy foods, and I am a lifelong runner who paid for most of my college by competing in Division 1 track and cross country. I lost all the weight I gained with my healthy (7.1 pounds, 20 inch) baby within one week of delivery. According to popular culture, this makes me not “real” at best, and, if you listen to popular music, it might make me a “silicone Barbie doll” or a “skinny bitch.”

This focus on so-called “real women” may sound nice, but in actuality is as divisive as the excessive emphasis on being model thin. When former super model Cindy Crawford released an untouched photograph showing her beauty but also her flaws, people went crazy, claiming that this made them love her even more because she is now more “real.” Dove has lead the “real” women movement with its “Campaign for Real Beauty,” featuring several supposedly “real” women in their bras and panties. While these women definitely don’t have typical celebrity or model bodies, it was revealed in 2008 that these photos were also photoshopped, hence not actually real at all.

People magazine recently featured the photography of Jade Beall, who captured “real” women after pregnancy. The focus, of course, is on those who struggled to lose their baby weight. Because that’s what “real” women do. When pregnant model Sarah Stage released pictures of her small and still muscular stomach, she suffered from skinny-shaming, with many asserting that somehow she was delinquent because she didn’t gain enough weight. Yet Stage’s baby is by all measures so far completely healthy. Maria Kang, now known as “fit mom” ignited an online war when she photographed her very fit body asking women “What’s your excuse?” Kang is the mother of three children under the age of three, and has argued that many women use children, work or other obligations as an excuse not to take care of their personal fitness and health. Women accused her of fat-shaming, of bullying, and demanded that she apologize.

Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate any chance to open up a conversation about women’s many body types and the strange and oppressive pressures placed on us (and that we place on ourselves) to meet these socially constructed standards. I fail to see, however, how skinny-shaming is any better than fat-shaming. It is unclear to me how poking fun of women who are thin and fit serves to challenge the excessive focus on women’s bodies.

Film star Maggie Gyllenhaal offered a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of women in her commentary about the roles for which females were being considered for Oscars. She noted that “these women who are sometimes powerful and sometimes not. Sometimes sexy, sometimes not. Sometimes honorable, sometimes not.” In sum, not “real” or “unreal” by some visual criteria but instead different from one another in many ways, physical and otherwise.

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

No Charges Brought 2/11/15

Three Years Post-Trayvon: What Has Changed?

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

On February 26, 2012, supposed “Neighborhood Watchman” George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black man, as Martin walked home from visiting a convenience store in Sanford, Florida. The case ignited questions about racial profiling, vigilantism, and Stand Your Ground Laws. On July 13, 2013, Zimmerman, was acquitted of both the second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Despite national and even international attention to the case, one has to wonder what has really changed in the three years since the murder of Trayvon Martin.

The murder of Black men by police or their wannabes has not stopped.

This is a mere sample of cases that occurred after the murder of Trayvon Martin.

16-year-old Kimani Gray was shot by two plainclothes officers in Brooklyn, New York as he walked home from a birthday party on March 9, 2013. The two men who killed him claim he had a gun, but no weapon was found at the scene. Three of the seven bullets that penetrated Gray’s body entered from the back, suggesting he was moving away, not threatening the officers. No criminal charges were brought against the assailants.

Randall Kerrick, a Charlotte, North Carolina police officer, shot and killed former FAMU football star Jonathan Ferrell as he sought police assistance after an automobile accident on September 14, 2013. Kerrick was not charged for Ferrell’s murder.

On December 2, 2014, 24-year-old father of four Rumain Brisbon was killed when an officer mistook his bottle of pills for a gun.

Just seconds after seeing 12-year-old Tamir Rice at a park in Cleveland on November 22, 2014, an officer shot and killed him. While Rice did have a BB gun, video footage seems to show that the officers arrived at the scene and were not threatened but instead decided to pull the trigger.

Unarmed Akai Gurley, 28, was shot in the dark stairwell of an East New York housing project on November 20, 2014. Even Police Commissioner William Bratton has called Gurley a “complete innocent.”

Officer Daniel Pantaleo killed 43-year-old Eric Garner by inflicting a prohibited chokehold when Garner dared to speak out about being continually targeted.

Supposedly, Victor White III shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser in Iberia Parish, Louisiana on March 22, 2014. Yet reports show that he had to have been Harry Houdini reincarnated to make that move—far more likely is that he was shot by officers.

20-year-old Reynaldo Cuevas was shot by police as he fled armed men who had attempted to rob his bodega. The Bronx District Attorney did not find the officers at fault.

And of course, Office Darrin Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was not indicted. Since Brown was killed, 14 Black teens have been killed by police officers, according to a November 25, 2014 article on the Daily Beast.

It’s not just Black men who suffer from this official or quasi-official violence. On February 16, 2014, 47-year-old African-American Yvette Smith was killed when she opened the door to officers responding to a domestic violence call at her home.

George Zimmerman has not changed.

Zimmerman has been arrested multiple times since being acquitted for the murder of Trayvon, most recently for aggravated assault and domestic violence with a weapon. Zimmerman was accused of domestic violence in 2013 but no charges were brought.

Stand Your Ground Laws Remain.

Although Attorney General Eric Holder stated that it was time to question Stand Your Ground Laws, no state has repealed its law. In fact, states like Georgia and Florida have considered expansions of the Stand Your Ground protections. Florida alone, at least 26 children and teens have been killed in Stand Your Ground cases since Trayvon’s death. Research by the Urban Institute has found that in Stand Your Ground states, white-on-black homicides are 354 times more likely to be ruled justified as white-on-white homicides.

Three years post-Trayvon, little has changed except there is now a nation-wide movement to fix this. I remain hopeful based on the courageous organizing I see occurring in most of our cities. For instance, peace and justice activists are working with affected communities to organize the first Truth Telling Weekend in St. Louis, Missouri the weekend of March 13-15, 2015. Rather than simply expressing outrage, these folks are acting to bring people together to discuss solutions. Really….It’s time for change.

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

A Lot To Offer 1/28/15

Charlie Hebdo, terrorism, and the problem with rights talk

by Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

I know this piece comes in the midst of great trauma and global challenges that are deeply emotionally charged. But I see great value in offering another perspective on the Charlie Hebdo publications and subsequent attack, as I feel as though to date the conversation has been entirely binary. Either you are for free speech and support Charlie Hebdo or you are, in the U.S and the Western world, for terrorism. That is a false binary, and one that I believe contributes to the problem. I think there is a vast place between the two that can help us move toward a more peaceful coexistence with people who value freedom of speech and those who care deeply about freedom of religion. Although I do not agree 100 percent with what Pope Francis said about the issue, I do think his perspective has a lot to offer.

I agree that verbal provocation is no excuse for violence, as the Pope clearly said. But I also see how some like Polly Toynbee in The Guardian can argue that the Pope’s comments were akin to a “wife beater defence.” However, another way of looking at the issue is that the folks at Charlie Hebdo are little more than bullies. It is obvious that continual harassment about an issue on which people are terrifically sensitive will not be well-received. In this case, the victims of the harassment are billions of people—it is all those who follow Islam’s dictates that it is blasphemy to denigrate Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. This is what the Pope said…not that violence is justified, just that it shouldn’t surprise us, either, as it was intended to incite and disrupt.

I am not saying we should never critique unfair policies or practices. In fact, we probably need to do even more of that without suffering repercussions, as is Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Bedawi, who has been lashed for his secular commentary. Satire and political cartoons can be an incredibly useful tool for raising awareness about various atrocities. But I have a hard time seeing how provocative images of who an estimated two billion people believe is their savior does anything to question policies, to shine a light on injustices, or to move the world in a better direction. Poke fun at dictators? OK. Of politicians who make promises then repeatedly renege? OK. At pompous messengers of “religious doctrine” who themselves violate the very tenets they profess? OK. But of the actual deities, I feel less confident. For instance, while I see the merit in satirizing the priests who allowed decades of abuse to be swept under the rug or the alleged followers of Islam who terrorize children in the name of their religion, I have a harder time seeing anything but bullying when it comes to attacking Jesus, God, Allah, Buddha, or other deities themselves. In the U.S, we pass laws prohibiting bullying. We train educators about it so that they can disrupt the behavior. The White House has weighed in on the issue and issued reprimands to schools and universities who fail to disrupt bullying behavior. Yet here, when journalists pick and poke at the most holiest of holies, they couch their behavior in “rights language.”

At least in the United States, journalistic enterprises have the “right” to poke fun at religious leaders and doctrine in the name of free speech. But I think what the Pope means is that perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at this as a rights issue at all. Perhaps it is, quite simply, mean to do what Charlie Hebdo repeatedly does and that, instead of an even greater divide between adherents to Islam and those who defend free speech, we should be looking for ways in which people can come together. Many scholars have argued that “rights talk” limits the dialogue or simply results in opposing sides trenching deeper into their positions. Harvard Law Professor and author of Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse Mary Ann Glendon argues that “A penchant for absolute formulations (“I have the right to do whatever I want with my property”) promotes unrealistic expectations and ignores both social costs and the rights of others.”

So, what next? I’d like to see an international dialogue that addresses the complexities of the issue, not just the surface opposition of freedom of speech versus freedom of religion. I’d like us to move to a place where we understand that, while we technically have the right to say or write something, we should exercise better judgment unless we can truly support the fact that our efforts will result in something better. I remain hopeful that others will view the issue similarly. I remain hopeful that, rather than dig deeper into their defenses, the many people with diverse perspectives on this issue will choose to consider another option.

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

Resilience and Humor 1/21/15

The Importance of Hope

by Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Hackers target 19,000 French websites after extremists rampage leaving 17 dead. Two people are killed as police thwart a terror attack in Belgium. Former Detroit Rotary Club president gets life sentence for arranging the murder of his wife. Twenty Mexican state officials are being investigated for covering up threats and torture of witnesses to alleged extrajudicial killings. These are all stories in my local newspaper today.

It is easy to get depressed about all that is wrong in the world, to feel as though we are doomed. Yet many do indeed remain hopeful that a more peaceful world is possible. Too often, those of us who keep a more sunny outlook are dubbed simplistic or even silly…a bunch of hippies holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Research in psychology and sociology shows, however, that hope is more than naïve optimism. It is perhaps the most important part of actualizing our goals, be they personal or collective.

Scholars argue that hope is the combination of agency and pathways. That is, when we are hopeful, we not only develop appropriate and challenging goals but believe that we have the ability to achieve them despite the challenges that may lie ahead. Hopeful people encounter challenges or difficulties with the belief that better times and things lie ahead. Those with no hope either make no goals, or set goals that are too easy or next-to-impossible to achieve. They then get either bored or dejected and quit.

Further, studies have found that hopeful people earn higher grade point averages, are more likely to graduate from high school and college, and generate more and higher quality ideas in the workplace. Those who remain hopeful rate higher on measures of overall happiness.

Pediatrician Smita Malholtra identified five characteristics of resilient, or hopeful, people. First, they practice mindfulness, which she describes as “the art of paying attention to your life on purpose.” They pay attention not only to what is wrong but also what is right in their lives.

Second, resilient people resist the urge to compare themselves to others, “they are their own measuring stick of success.”

Third, they see every setback as an opportunity for transformation. Instead of devastating us, challenges offer stepping stones for change.

Fourth, resilient people maintain a sense of humor, finding opportunities to laugh even at the mundane, a quality associated with lower blood pressure and increased vascular blood flow.

Finally, do not seek excessive control but rather are willing to go with the flow, adapting as needed.

According to Shane Lopez, Ph.D., author of Hope Matters, hope can be learned. The best way to learn hope is to practice more of those things we are excited about and to surround ourselves with people who are hopeful. People who have experienced great trauma but survived, even thrived, have much to teach others about hope and resilience. As Lopez explains, “Hope has the power to make bad times temporary.” People who have hope have both the ability to respond in negative times but are also initiators, ultimately, they are the people who have the most power to effect change.

Gandhi was hopeful. Martin Luther King Jr. was hopeful. Mother Theresa was hopeful. Indeed, all of the people associated with nonviolent social change have much to teach us about confronting obstacles with a sense of our own agency.

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

Eat Ice Cream, Fall in Love 1/7/15

Make Commitments, Not Resolutions

by Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

It’s 2015. People everywhere are making resolutions…lose weight, read more, quit smoking, etc. To resolve is the act of finding an answer or solution to a problem. Yet most of our resolutions are never achieved. According to Marti Hope Gonzales, Associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, just six weeks after making a resolution, 80 percent of people either have broken them or cannot even recall what they resolved. And of course, we feel like losers when we don’t achieve these goals.

According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor, the process of making resolutions then failing to achieve them could actually be doing more harm than good: We set ourselves up to fail, and when we do, our self-esteem tanks, making us even less motivated than we were before making the resolution. Among the many reasons why so many of us fail is the fact that our focus tends to be largely if not entirely on personal improvement. In a highly individualistic culture, it is not surprising that people tend to think largely about personal, not societal, changes.

To that end, I suggest that instead of making resolutions, we should make commitments for the new year. The word commitment means “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” Some would say this is simple semantics, that commitment means almost the same thing as resolution. But I argue that making a commitment connotes a much more sustained emphasis on something, hence the word “dedicated” in the definition. Further, when most of us think of commitment, we think of relationships, which by definition involves someone other than ourselves. My idea, then, is that we should pledge to be committed to a cause or activity that betters others or our communities. Clearly, there is no shortage of community needs for which our assistance would be tremendously beneficial.

I recommend the making of commitments instead of resolutions because not only would more people will get involved in community-level instead of merely personal change, but more involvement in the community inevitably results in new friendships and interests. It also feels good, and, according to the National Corporation for National and Community Service, results in a number of positive health benefits for older adults, including lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression later in life, and increased functional ability. Youth who are involved in their schools or communities tend to earn better grades and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

For all of us, volunteering or serving our communities results in reduced stress and helps build emotional resilience. According to Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, authors of the new book A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, who both underwent brain scans to see which parts of the brain were activated by engaging in charitable acts, “the parts of the brain that light up when you give are the same areas that light up when you indulge in pleasures like when you’re eating ice cream or falling in love.”

New year, new commitments. Let’s go.

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

Not So Free Speech 12/10/14

This Time, “Free Speech” Cannot Prevail

By Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Like many in the U.S, I normally consider myself a staunch advocate of free speech and against most forms of censorship. I agree with a previous U.S court of appeals decision that determined a Facebook “like” was constitutionally protected free speech. As a long-time anti-domestic violence activist, though, I am deeply concerned about the use of social media to harass and abuse others. A decision in favor of Anthony Elonis in Elonis v. United States, expected in summer 2015, will have potentially grievous implications for the safety of persons in abusive relationships.

Elonis was convicted of making threats against his estranged wife, Tara, and also later an FBI agent. He was sentenced to 44 months in prison. He utilized his Facebook page to issue a series of disturbing rants after his wife left him. “There’s one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya, And I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, Soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die bitch.”

Concerned that Elonis would act on these threats, Tara sought and obtained a restraining ordering her husband to cease posting threatening or harassing comments or from contacting her directly or indirectly. Anthony persisted posting this comment three days after the court hearing: “Did you know that it’s illegal for me to say I want to kill my wife?” he wrote, explaining, “Now, it was okay for me to say it right then because…I’m just letting you know that it’s illegal for me to say that.” A week later, he posted this: “Fold up your protective order and put in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?” Carrying on, Elonis posted the next day that he intended to “make a name for himself” with “the most heinous elementary school shooting ever imagined. Hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class. The only question is…which one.”

It was that post which got the attention of FBI agent Denise Stevens, who then visited Elonis at home. He posted this after she left: “Little agent lady stood so close. Took all the strength I had not to turn the bitch ghost. Pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat. Leave her bleedin’ from her jugular in the arms of her partner.”

Elonis maintains that he was merely exercising his free speech rights in the same fashion as have many musicians, most notably rap artist Eminem, whose lyrics have expressed fantasies about killing his ex-wife. At issue is whether the judge erred in telling the jury that they should determine whether Elonis’ posts were true threats by using a “reasonable person” standard. In his appeals, Elonis has contended that the jury should have been asked to determine whether Elonis himself actually intended for his words to be threatening, not whether any reasonable person might believe them to be. His attorney notes that Elonis posted disclaimers on his page expressing that he did not intend to threaten his wife, merely to express himself and to entertain.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and domestic violence advocates, disagree. They note that the fact that Elonis posted the remarks after Tara obtained a restraining order and posted them without restrictions shows that he was trying to send her a powerful message. Without a doubt, the most lethal time in an abusive relationship is when the victim attempts to end it, as Tara did by first leaving Anthony and then obtaining the restraining order. All of the lethality assessments used by police and domestic violence advocates include questions about the frequency and nature of prior threats. Further, Cindy Southworth, vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, noted that “We have stalking statutes all over the country that are based on a reasonable person versus proving the intent of the stalker or abuser.” A survey conducted by the Safety Net Project at NNEDV found 90 percent of domestic violence programs had victims seeking help for online or digital threats. A 2013 study by the Urban Institute found more than a quarter (26 percent) of youth in a relationship reporting that they had experienced some form of cyber dating abuse in the prior year. Additionally, social media posts have been introduced as evidence in numerous court cases, in particular those regarding domestic violence and stalking.

So far, comments and questions from the justices suggest that they may be learning toward interpreting Elonis’ posts as threatening, with Justices Ginsburg and Alito noting the difficulty of “getting into the mind” of someone who posts something on social media. Although free speech is an important human right, decades of knowledge about the cycle of domestic violence and warning signs of potentially lethal behavior should indeed prompt the Court to rule against Elonis. To do otherwise undermines all that we know about abusive behavior and puts victims in serious jeopardy.

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

Protection For Children 11/19/14

Commemorate Universal Children’s Day: End Child Labor

By Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

November 20 is Universal Children’s Day, a day devoted to observing the welfare of the world’s children. Unfortunately, in the U.S and elsewhere, children are still denied fundamental human rights. Children worldwide suffer from corporal punishment in homes and schools, are denied access to schooling, are forced to join violent militias, and a endure a host of other atrocities that clearly violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other international human rights treaties. One issue that has received attention in the past few months is that of child labor.

According to the International Labor Office, there are about 168 million child laborers globally, which accounts for approximately one in 10 of the world’s children. Albeit a one-third reduction since 2000, the problem remains acute. An estimated 13 million children work in India alone, despite laws prohibiting child labor and mandating school attendance. About four percent of child laborers are in forced or bonded labor, prostitution, or fighting in armed conflict. The remainder of the world’s child laborers work in family businesses or on family farms, where they often toil as much as 27 hours per week and are, like the child tobacco laborers, exposed to a variety of dangerous chemicals and pesticides.

In a report from May 2014, Human Rights Watch found that child laborers in the U.S. were routinely exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, extreme heat, and other dangers. Interviews with these children found widespread reports of headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting whole working, which is suggestive of acute nicotine poisoning. In the US, there is no minimum age for children to work on small farms, and children as young as 12 can work on tobacco farms with no regulations to protect them from the hazards of the work.

Thankfully, there does seem to be some movement on these issues. Kailash Satyarthi, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prizes (with Malala Yousefzi), founded the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, which has raided factories across India, freeing more than 40,000 bonded laborers. Many of the workers were children who lived under armed guard.

On October 14, 2014, labor ministers and representatives of 25 Latin American and Caribbean countries signed a declaration launching an initiative to rid the region of child labor. And, while I have never been a smoker and am not a fan of the tobacco industry. I want to applaud tobacco giant Philip Morris International, however, for its initiative to reduce the harmful exploitation of child laborers in the U.S. On November 5, 2014, Philip Morris International announced that it will begin buying US-grown tobacco only through third-party leaf supply companies. Previously, the company purchased tobacco directly from tobacco farmers. According to Human Rights Watch, of the world’s 10 largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris International has the most rigorous standards related to child labor. It prohibits children under the age of 18 from many of the most hazardous tasks on tobacco farms. According to researchers at Human Rights Watch (HRW), this decision will now mean that thousands of tobacco farms will now have to meet much higher child labor standards.

Still more can and should be done. In the U.S, we should move to ratify the CRC. Only the U.S and Somalia have not done so. While ratification of a human rights treaty by no means ensures that all human rights violations will cease, if nothing else it is a powerful symbol that the rights of children are important and it can be a much-needed prompt to address some of our inadequate protections for children.

Globally, one of the obvious primary reasons that children work is because their families need the income. As Charles Kenny wrote recently in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, passing laws alone sometimes makes the situation worse. Economists Prashant Bharadwaj and Leah Lakdawala studied the impact of India’s 1986 child labor law and found that it drove wages for children down and the number of hours they worked up, with the biggest impact felt in poor families. Instead, we must support the education of children and help cover the costs of schooling for families who cannot afford it. Some countries have begun paying families to keep their kids in school. Mexico’s Opportunidades program gives mothers two-thirds of what their daughters would earn in the labor force if they keep the girls in school through the ninth grade, which has reduced that country’s child labor rates by as much as a quarter. Other efforts include covering some of the expenses associated with schooling in the developing world, like school meals and uniforms.

As Whitney Houston sang, “the children are our future. We must teach them well and let them lead the way.”

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

It’s Not Too Late 11/5/14

Break-ups, Rejections and School Shootings: Educate Youth for Resiliency

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

By Laura Finley

The tragic shooting on Friday, October 24, 2014 at Marysville-Pilchuck High School outside of Seattle reignited public conversations about the factors that prompt young people to commit mass murders on school grounds. As usual, these conversations largely focused on access to guns and school security. Because the 15-year-old perpetrator, Jaylen Fryberg, was not a stereotypical loner, victim of bullying, or suffering from any previously diagnosed mental illness—the typical explanations for school shootings– people have struggled to identify the specific cause of his attack. Scholars like Jackson Katz have pointed out school shooters are almost all male and most seem to be desperately concerned with defending or proving their masculinity. Although it is not entirely clear if this was the case with Fryberg (as details are still emerging), I’d like to draw attention to an issue that has been a factor in many other school shootings: the inability many young men have to respond appropriately when a dating relationship fails to develop or when it ends abruptly.

Author Jessie Klein has shown that, in 12 U.S. school shootings occurring between 1997 and 2002, assailants specifically targeted girls who had either rejected them or broken up with them. In these cases, the boys had previously made overt threats against the girls, in person and often online, yet school officials failed to take the threats seriously. Evan Ramsey, 16, killed one student, the principal, and injured two students in his February 19, 1997 assault at Bethel High School in Bethel, Alaska. Ramsey’s girlfriend had just broken up with him. Eight months later, 16-year-old Luke Woodham killed his mother then his former girlfriend, Christina Menefee, and her friend at his school in Pearl, Mississippi. Woodham’s assault injured seven others. Just two months later, 14-year-old Michael Carneal killed three girls at his Paducah, Kentucky school, including one who had rejected him and another who would not go out with him.

On March 24, 1998, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden brought an arsenal to their Jonesboro, Arkansas school. Fourteen of their 15 victims were female. Johnson killed his ex-girlfriend, threatened to kill others who had talked about their break-up, and shot two girls who had refused his dating attempts. Golden killed his ex-girlfriend. Exactly one month later, 14-year-old Andrew Wurst killed one male teacher, but after his girlfriend broke up with him he threatened to kill her and attempted to target another girl who had laughed at him when she declined his invitation to a school dance. Not even one month later, 18-year-old Jacob Davis killed the boy who was dating his ex-girlfriend at his Fayetteville, Tennessee school. Kip Kinkel, who shot and killed his parents than killed two students and injured 22 others at his Springfield, Oregon school had been deeply depressed when his girlfriend broke up with him some months before the shooting. While they did not target specific ex-girlfriends, two of the most infamous school shooters, Columbine High School assailants Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold repeatedly ranted about the relentless rejection they received from girls. Thomas (T.J) Solomon injured six in his school attack on May 20, 1999 in Conyers, Georgia. Solomon was depressed about his break-up, and targeted the “jock” that his former girlfriend seemed to be interested in. Even Dedrick Owens, who was six when he shot peer Kayla Owens in Flint in 2000, seems to have been influenced by disdain for the girl.

The FBI has also recognized the connection between breakups and the threat of school violence in their report The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective. Further, the FBI’s report documents that most shooters engage in “leakage,” or the intentional or unintentional revealing of clues about their state of mind and the possibility of violence. Some news sources have reported that Fryberg targeted one of his victims, Andrew Fryberg, who is believed to be his cousin, because he had begun to date Shilene George, Jaylen’s former girlfriend. The UK Daily Mail reported on October 25, 2014 that Jaylen tweeted one month before the shooting: ‘Dude. She tells me everything. And now I f***ing HATE you! Your no longer my ‘Brother’!’ More recently, his tweets took a darker turn: “Your gonna piss me off… And then some s*** gonna go down and I don’t think you’ll like it…’. That so many of these boys repeatedly wrote about their hatred of girls should have served as a warning sign.

Although sadly it is too late in these cases, it is not too late for educators, counselors and parents to help young men through the emotionally difficult middle and high school years, when relationships will inevitably end in breakups. We can and should pay attention to the warning signs in their social media activity, their school writings, and changes in their behavior. Additionally, we should all be committed to helping our young men and women develop healthier relationships through education and support services. The need to build the resiliency of our youth has never been greater.

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

Page 3 of 5
1 2 3 4 5