Current Events

York University has seen a number of sexual assaults on its campus recently, including one this past week. In response to the high rate of sexual violence, the York Federation of Students (YSF) has proposed that the administration implement mandatory women’s studies or equity courses as a preventative measure.

In requiring all student’s to take a women’s studies or equity course, the YSF hopes that students will become familiar with the root causes of sexual assault, such as inequality and discrimination. They propose that students would have the option to choose from a variety of courses based on their particular interests and previous experience with women’s studies or equity material. As Eva Karpinski, a professor from York’s School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, points out, there are few disciplines where students will encounter analyses of oppressive systems that lead to sexual assault and other forms of violence. Women’s studies and similar courses often offer a rare opportunity to engage in a dialogue on systematic violence. A single course though, Karpinski says, is not enough to implement real change:

“I would really envision a much wider role for the York Federation of Students on campus to become advocates, to take leadership and provide spaces for a much wider non-violence policy that should become like our daily mantra here.”

Students have had mixed reaction to the proposal of a mandatory women’s studies course. According to York’s community newspaper, Excalibur, some students are against the notion of being forced to enroll in a course that has nothing to do with their major. Others feel that a full semester’s course load would be too much, and would prefer a lesser degree of commitment. Robyn Urback of the National Post writes that the mandatory course would simply be a waste of students’ time and money, and that energy should instead be spent on increasing security.

But York has already spent millions of dollars on increased security; according to the Toronto Sun the university spent $9.5 million on improving security and still two cases of sexual assault have been reported since the term started this month. Students’ safety should be the priority of any university, but simply increasing security does not address the root cause of sexual assault. Sexual assault is not an expression of sexual desire nor is it always simply an isolated act of violence; rather, it is an expression of power and dominance over another person that can often be linked to not only gender, but also race, sexuality, ability, class, etc. Mandating a single course in women’s studies or equity will not change York’s campus overnight, but it does indicate that its students are seeking to prevent sexual assault by addressing it at its core.

York is far from being the only university whose campus has been conducive to violence or rape culture; American Universities Columbia and Boston University have had a number a high-profile incidents of sexual harassment and violence as well. Whether or not the proposal goes through, hopefully York students will be able to implement progressive measures towards preventing further violence on its campus.

Thanks to Corey for the tip

YFS lobbies for mandatory equity or women’s studies course [Excalibur]

Robyn Urback: York students solve sex crimes with mandatory women’s studies [National Post]

Another sexual assault at York University [Toronto Sun]

Columbia PhD Student Alberto Leguina, pictured above, was fired because, he claims, he rejected the advances of his supervisor. Leguina, 25, came to Columbia from Chile in the spring to work under Dr. Qais Al-Awqati, a professor of medicine, nephrology and hypertension at Columbia’s Medical Center, but by the summer was forced out of the university and has now filed a lawsuit against Columbia.

Leguina says he received a message on Grindr from someone claiming to be Al-Awqati, which he initially assumed was a prank. When Leguina ignored the message, he received subsequent messages, this time more threatening. After Leguina rebuffed the messages, Al-Awqati stormed out from the next room and yelled at Leguina, “You’re out!”

Leguina sought the help of the human resources department, where he was then told to “deal with this matter as a big man.” Leguina was also threatened to be sent back to Chile if he hired a lawyer or sought help from the authorities in his native country.

It was not until a few months later when Leguina was in fact fired. After he spoke with the HR department, Al-Aqwati apologized for his advances and gifted him a new MacBook. Leguina claims his workplace conditions severely changed at this time. His supervisors began to shun him and when he again sought help from HR, was told he was simply overwhelmed by the big city. Leguina then in June received an email from his supervisors in Chile stating that due to poor feedback from Al-Aqwati, he would need to leave his position at Columbia.

Leguina’s story is exemplary of the power dynamics that can easily be taken advantage in a place such as a prestigious university, one that in this case was particularly exploited because of his status as a foreigner. In a graduate studies environment where students work very closely with professors and need the help of supervisors in order to succeed, as shown by Leguina’s story, students need a system in place to seek help should their supervisor’s abuse their power. Because Leguina is male, he was also expected to deal with sexual harassment through silence rather than speaking out and seeking help. According to Queerty, Leguina is now interested in pursuing workplace activism:

“You cannot let these [things] happen anymore. I know I’m not the first person, but I hope I can be the last.”

Ph.D. student alleges he was sexually harassed, unfairly fired [Columbia Spectator]

Grad Student Says He Was Fired By Pervy Prof Who Hit On Him On Grindr [Queerty]

In merely thirty-eight seconds, Republican representative Todd Akin of Missouri revealed an incredibly ignorant and offensive perspective on rape and its potential consequences. When asked if abortion should be permitted in the case of rape, Akin, currently the state’s republican nominee for the Senate, dismissed pregnancy as a result of “legitimate rape” as a rarity. Akin did not expound on what constitutes “legitimate rape” versus “non-legitimate rape,” but his distinction implies that the estimated 32,101 pregnancies as a result of rape were somehow or another not born of a real crime. Akin goes on to say that doctors have informed him that the female reproductive system “shuts down”  in the event of rape, and thus pregnancy as a result of rape is a rare occurrence.

As the LA Times reports, women’s rights advocates have since spoken out against Akin’s remarks. Among them is Gloria Allred, who cited Akin’s ill-informed views on biology and hierarchization of rape as dangerous:

“Sometimes it’s child rape, sometimes it’s stranger rape, sometimes it’s acquaintance rape, but whatever you call it, it is rape. For him to put misconceptions into the marketplace of ideas, this is dangerous.”

Mike Huckabee, however, defended Akin’s remarks on his radio program, citing people such as Ethel Waters and James Robinson as admirable human beings who were the result of forcible rape. In an effort to shine a positive light on Akin’s statement, Huckabee also shows little sensitivity to the potentially traumatic after-effects of rape or sexual assault by focusing on chance positive outcomes. Though by citing extraordinary people as products of rape, Huckabee does contradict Akin’s statement that “legitimate rape” does not often result in pregnancy.

The Onion satirized Akin’s absurd viewpoints in a recent article. The article quotes a fictional woman who has become pregnant after what she thought was rape, but is now “relieved” to learn it was not, though her words are ridiculous, they are perhaps what people such as Akin believe to be true of what constitutes “legitimate rape”:

“Now that I know the truth, I realize none of the telltale signs of legitimate rape were there at all,” mused Byers, noting that her body did not in any way shut down but in fact continued to register excruciating pain throughout the entire cruel ordeal. “I must have at least subconsciously wanted it—otherwise, the sperm wouldn’t have been able to enter my body.”

Rep. Todd Akin: No pregnancy from ‘legitimate rape’ [LA Times]

Pregnant Woman Relieved To Learn Her Rape Was Illegitimate [The Onion]

The Los Angeles Times reports that mobile app Skout has shut down its forum for teenagers after adults used the forums to pose as teens in order to sexually assault two teenaged girls and one teenaged boy. The incidents are indicative of the potential dangers that mobile social networking apps pose to young users, which due to the fact that they combine profile information with mobile devices’ GPS information, can make them potentially more susceptible to abuse than non-mobile social networks. Skout provides a forum for users to not only share photos and messages, but also make plans to meet up, a saftey aspect teenagers may not think twice about doing.

With social networking and and mobile apps becoming more common and more accessible to teenagers and children, parents have a responsibility to educate themselves and talk to their children about media literacy. Companies behind these apps and networks also need to be more vigilant about monitoring their forums for potential predators. Skout claims that a quarter of its staffers are responsible for monitoring the forums, but police say they failed nonetheless to catch the adults who gained access to teenaged users.

The Christian Science Monitor says Internet Safety Education should shift its focus from avoidance to literacy. According to their findings, many teenagers are well aware of the dangers of sharing information online and are very active in social media. Parents should start a dialogue with their children rather than rely on constantly monitoring their behavior in order to better protect their safety.

Skout app may shut teen forum permanently over safety concerns [LA Times]

Internet safety: Teenagers are well aware of dangers online [CSM]

MSNBC reports that on Friday Egyptian women and a few men gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest against sexual harassment and demand its criminalization. The demonstrators were subject to the very thing they were fighting against: harassment and violence by men attempting to scare them out of the square. Women involved in the protest demand the right to walk the streets unmolested; one referred to harassment as a “disease.”

“You know when you leave home it will happen, either touching or bad language. Every day [harassment] happens here on the streets.  Some days it’s escalated,” said May Abdul Hafiz, a travel agency supervisor. She explained that women are considered at fault for encouraging unwanted male attention by dress or behavior. “You are not supposed to say anything because they think you brought it on yourself.”

The men who attacked the demonstrators were angry that the women would distract from the “legitimate” protests against the candidacy of former Egyptian Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq. One young man said that now is “not the time” to fight harassment. But, as Marwa Salah, a banker, says, the protest is part of a struggle for women’s rights, widely important and frequently neglected struggle:

“When you have freedom you will have your rights. It’s about freedom for all Egyptians,” said Salah. “We have been brainwashed for 60 years. All people were so busy fighting poverty, women’s rights were a low priority.”

Despite the violence they faced, protestors who survived the assaults found another chance to speak. According to MSNBC, some were invited to speak out against sexual harassment on a popular Egyptian talk show, thus reaching a nation-wide audience.

Women brave attack to protest sexual harassment in Egypt [MSNBC]

Egyptian Women Protesting Harassment Harassed by Counter-Protesting Dicks [Jezebel]

According to the US Justice Department, Native American women face rates of rape more than double that of the national average, but as the New York Times reports, they receive very little protection from rape or sexual assault. Particularly vulnerable are Native women in rural Alaska; in a survey conducted by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural Alaskan communities is 12 times that of the national average. Despite these high rates, Indian Health Services hospitals lack resources to aid survivors of sexual assault, such as proper training and sexual assault kits. Native American women also have limited access to birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and the morning-after pill.

In the face of these issues, Congress is struggling to implement protective measures against rape and sexual violence in Native communities. The US Senate passed a new version of the  Violence Against Women Act of 1994 that would allow tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners. The House, however, removed this authority in the version of the bill they passed. Both House Republicans and Senate Republicans fear the power it would give to tribal courts, despite the fact that 86% of reported rapes against Native women are committed by non-Native men.

The Emmonak Women’s Shelter has offered protection for many years to Native women who have been abused or raped, but will likely face closure.  Due to the frequency of assault and rarity of prosecution, this shelter is often the only option Native American women in the surrounding Alaskan villages have, however in 2005 Alaska chose to cut off funding to the shelter.

Charon Asetoyer, a women’s health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, says rape has become the norm.

“We should never have a woman come into the office saying, ‘I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped. That’s what’s so frightening — that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women.”

When it comes to fighting the frighteningly high levels of rape, Native American women are left behind by the tribal, federal, and state level. With insufficient funding and resources to combat sexual violence, it seems likely their rates will continue to soar above the national averages.

For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice [NY Times]

Hollaback! has already spent years fighting street harassment and is now taking a stance against campus harassment. According to the initiative’s website, “62% of women and 61% of men report being sexually harassed on college campuses,” and within the US “51% of male students admit to sexually harassing their female counterparts.” Recently there have been many high-profile incidents of sexual assault or harassment on college campuses, including otherwise well-regarded universities  Yale and Boston University.

Like street harassment, harassment on college campuses is often portrayed as “normal” and not taken seriously, though it in fact contributes to a hostile environment for specific groups that are frequently the targets of harassment. As the video above explains, the Hollaback! Against Campus Harassment campaign hopes to create a space for students to share their stories and learn that they are not alone. The initiative also hopes to provide educational resources on campus harassment create an online community where students can receive support. For more information, check out their website where you can also donate to the cause.

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