Outrage Over Footage of Officer Assaulting Black Student in South Carolina High School

National shock and outrage has followed the spread of cellphone footage showing Deputy Ben Fields attacking a female student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina for allegedly refusing to leave the classroom. The event has sparked national conversation on the disciplinary treatment of African American girls in schools.

via  HuffingtonPost
via HuffingtonPost

The video shows the female student, who is African American, sitting at her desk in a classroom with other students. Deputy Fields, who is white, then puts his arm around the student’s neck, throwing the chair and desk backwards to the floor where the Deputy then drags the student several feet before telling her to put her arms behind her back. It is reported that the Deputy was called to the classroom after the teacher and principal asked the student to leave the classroom because she was “disturbing the class,” and she refused. Several students have now said that the Deputy was called to the classroom because the student was using her cell phone during class, according to Shaun King, who has been reporting on this story since it broke on Monday. This morning Sherriff Leon Lott, whose agency is in charge of the school resource program, asked that the US Justice Department conduct an independent investigation.

Tony Robinson Jr., who recorded the event, said, “I’ve never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don’t know what to do, and are just scared for their lives.” He added, “That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scared off, or afraid.”

“The cellphone footage says it all. This is horrific and unconscionable treatment of a student. How can students learn in an atmosphere of fear where they are being treated with zero respect?” asked Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

The student was arrested and charged with “disturbing schools” and has since been released to the custody of her parents. A second student, Niya Kenny, was also arrested after she attempted to stand up for the student that Deputy Fields was attacked. Kenny has since been released on a $1,000 bail.

“I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like ‘no way, no way.’ You can’t do nothing like that to a little girl. I’m talking about she’s like 5’6″,” Kenny said.

Kenny’s mother was shocked and upset, but says that she thinks her daughter did the right thing. “Looking at the video, who was really ‘disturbing the school,’ was it my daughter or was it the officer who came into the classroom and did that to the young girl?” she asked.

Deputy Fields is no stranger to complaints about his actions and tactics as a school resource officer. He is set to stand trial in January 2016 for a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleges that Fields “recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”

There has been a spotlight on the mistreatment of black women and girls recently, spearheaded by Kimberlé Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum (AAPF). The AAPF released a report last year titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected,” which explains how girls of color face harsher school discipline than their white peers. The data collected reveals, among other things, that nationally black girls were suspended a startling six times more than white girls, while black boys were suspended three times as often as white boys.

Crenshaw and the AAPF also released a report this summer titled “#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” which highlights stories of Black women who have been killed by police, and studies forms of police brutality, such as sexual assault, that are often disproportionately experienced by women. “There is a paucity of data in cases of police violence against Black women, which perpetuates the myth that they are not impacted by this problem,” the report says.

Crenshaw said in a press release,  “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality.”

Women and girls are often at the center of police violence. Since the #SayHerName campaign began, the hashtag has taken off on social media sparking marches, protests, rallies, and vigils across the country. Protests in San Fransisco and New York took place this summer, and were joined by family members of Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseux, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, and Alberta Spruill, all of whom are Black women killed by police violence.

Media Resources: WLTX 10/27/15; AAPF Report July 2015; AAPF Press Release 7/16/15; Feminist Newswire 6/10/15; 5/28/15; Ms Magazine 5/27/10;

Fraternity Signs Promote Rape Culture, Elicit Outrage

Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia is receiving national attention for a fraternity’s vulgar and offensive signs that were on display as first-year students moved into their dorms.

via  Raw Story
via Raw Story

The signs, which were hung on fraternity Sigma Nu and displayed derogatory messages for incoming female students- and their mothers- have since been removed, and the University has promised disciplinary action. They read “Rowdy and fun/ Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop off,” with an arrow pointing to Sigma Nu’s front door, and finally, “Go ahead and drop off mom too.”

The University and national fraternity representatives were quick to respond. “This incident will be reviewed immediately by those on campus empowered to do so. Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action,” a statement from ODU President John Broderick read. The Sigma Nu national fraternity has already suspended the ODU Sigma Nu chapter, and ODU student government released a statement saying the incident “does not reflect the University’s commitment to the prevention of Sexual Assault and Dating Violence. Not only do these actions taken by a few individuals undermine the countless efforts at Old Dominion University to prevent sexual assault, they are also unwelcoming, offensive, and unacceptable.”

Signs like these undoubtedly feed into what is known as “rape culture.” Rape culture is a complex set of beliefs that create an environment in which sexual violence is prevalent, normalized, and sometimes encouraged. It is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language- like calling a woman entering college “baby girl”- objectification of bodies, and glamorization of violence, usually against women. Behaviors associated with rape culture include victim-blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, or refusing to acknowledge the harm of sexual assault.

A further break-down of the messaging of these Sigma Nu signs also shows a concerning notion of consent. “A good time” is a clear reference to sexual activity, and “hope your baby girl is ready” implies that this activity is going to happen- regardless of whether she wants it or not.

It has been widely proven that first-year students, specifically first-year women, are particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual assault on college campuses. The first six weeks of school have been termed the “red zone” by experts to refer to the time when there is an increased risk of victimization for female students.

Fraternities in particular have been under national scrutiny for accusations of rape and sexual assault, and neglect on the behalf of colleges to act accordingly. The Hunting Ground, an unprecedented documentary that premiered this year, details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice.

Just this year, a Yale University fraternity was banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the university’s sexual misconduct code. Similarly, the University of Virginia announced in January new regulations to prevent sexual assault and enhance safety on campus, and required all organizations to sign onto new regulations. Two fraternities, however, announced that they would refuse to sign the new regulations. More recently, a Penn State fraternity was suspended for creating a private Facebook page with photos of nude women, some of whom appeared to be unconscious. And as of yesterday, male students at Ohio State University flew similarly offensive flags targeting incoming female students.

The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Feminist Campus has a comprehensive toolkit and other resources for students interested in combating rape culture and preventing college sexual assault.

Media Resources: Jezebel 8/24/15; 8/25/15; Norfolk VA Fox 8/24/15; Raw Story 8/24/15; Philly Voice 4/7/15; Feminist Newswire 1/16/15; 3/17/15;

Texas Woman Files Complaint After Officer Forcibly Searches her Vagina

An African American woman in Texas says an officer sexually assaulted her when the officer searched her vagina for marijuana outside a Texaco gas station after a traffic stop last month.

via Raw Story

21-year-old Charnesia Corley was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign on June 21st, whereupon the Harris County deputy said he smelled marijuana. Corley was handcuffed and put in the back of the sherrif’s car while her car was searched for almost an hour. No marijuana was found.

The deputy then returned to his car and called a female deputy to conduct a cavity search. Despite Corley’s protests and lack of consent to a cavity search, Corley was forced to the pavement of the gas station parking lot, stripped, and searched.

“I bend over and she proceeds to try to force her hand inside of me. I tell her, ‘Ma’am, No. You cannot do this,” Corely told local TV report station KTRK.

“It’s undeniable that the search is unconstitutional,” said Sam Cammack, Corley’s attorney.

Corely is charged with two misdemeanors, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana, as investigators claim they found .02 ounces of marijuana on her. The Harris County Sherriff’s Department insists that Corely consented to the cavity search, leaving many to wonder why she is then being charged with resisting arrest.

Corely is calling the incident sexual assault. The current federal definition of rape is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim.”

A spokesman for the Harris County Sherriff’s’ Department said that “the deputies did everything as they should.” As the Washington Post put it:

“And so there you have it. Holding a woman down and forcibly penetrating her vagina to search for pot is official policy in Harris County.”

Corely has filed a complaint with the Harris County Sherriff’s’ Office Internal Affairs Division. The County Sherriff’s Office is refusing comment until the completion of the internal affairs investigation.

“Once again, it seems that a Black female body has been violated by Texas law enforcement for no reason,” Jamilah Lemiuex wrote for Ebony Magazine.

Police violence against women of color, specifically Black women, often manifests as sexual violence, although sexual assault by police officers is not often considered in public dialogue about police violence. The African American Policy Forum, founded by UCLA Professor of Law Kimberlé Crenshaw and leading theorist in race and racism, issued a report in May of this year titled “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” in which gender-specific issues of police brutality are analyzed. In this report, Crenshaw and other authors hope to expand the analysis of police violence to include gender-specific issues faced by Black women.

Currently, there is a great paucity of data surrounding gender-specific of police brutality against Black women. There is no concise collection of sexual or other forms of gender-based violence committed by police officers in this country. But as the AAPF report says, “the erasure of Black women is not purely a matter of missing facts.” National media attention for #BlackLivesMatter has largely been on the shooting deaths of African American men at the hands of white police officers, and this media attention shapes how researchers and advocates tend to shape national dialogue.

Media Resources: ABC13 8/5/15; AAPF Report May 15; Ebony Magazine 8/12/15;

Trump Lawyer Gets Marital Rape So Wrong

Recently Michael Cohen, special counsel for the Trump Organization, in denying a story by Daily Beast reporters Tim Mak and Brandy Zadrozny that claimed Donald Trump had raped his first wide, Ivana, said: “Of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

Although Ivana denied this claim, Cohen’s gross misunderstanding of marital rape is cause for alarm. Cohen’s remarks have many feminists hoping to set the record straight; marital rape is illegal in all 50 states.

Spring2011Cover
Ms Magazine Spring 2011

 

Feminists fought in the 1970s to change laws regarding marital rape, and the first success came in 1976 when a law was enacted in Nebraska making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife. Although narrow in its definition of rape, this law was a reflection of the rapidly shifting paradigm around the topic of rape and where it falls as a crime. For over a century, rape had been considered a “crime of passion,” which was believed to be “understandable,” and given significantly less punishment than other crimes like murder or theft. The feminist intent, along with shifting the blame from the victim to the perpetrator, was to have rape seen as an act of violence.

Prior to the 1970s, rape within the confines of marriage was excluded from laws against rape. State-by-state campaigns, led largely by the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women, demanded that rape be recognized for what it is, regardless of a person’s marital status. The view that rape is an act of violence, in which a person uses sex as a weapon to hurt, humiliate, or exhibit power over someone, was one that was fought for and popularized by feminists, and slowly adopted into state law. By 1993, all 50 states had outlawed rape within marriage, although a handful of states still prosecute marital rape differently than rape outside the context of marriage. For these states, laws against marital rape are often more narrow than other sex laws, and include shorter or more lenient penalties.

Misunderstandings about what constitutes rape and sexual assault, as well as what consent means, are considered by many to be contributing factors in rape culture- but changing definitions of rape has been a long and sluggish process. As recently as 2012, the FBI definition of rape read “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” and had not been changed since 1929. Thanks in part to the “Rape is Rape” campaign led by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine, the new definition is much more broad, including persons of all genders, and says rape is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim.” Although this definition still leaves out some concepts of comprehensive consent, it was applauded as a hard-won leap in the right direction.

As always, there is still much further to go. Insufficient data exist on the prevalence of spousal rape, and few cases are every brought to trail. And, as Trump’s lawyer Cohen demonstrated when he claimed that “you can’t rape your spouse,” public education on rape and consent is still greatly needed.

Media Resources: The Daily Beast 7/27/15; CNN 7/28/15; Huffington Post 12/15/11; Feminist Newswire 1/9/12; Health Research Funding 10/9/14;

Businesses in the UK Will Now Be Required to Report Differences in Earnings By Gender

United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron announced a measure last week aimed at making the gender pay gap much more visible. In an effort of transparency, big businesses in the UK will soon be forced to publish the difference in earnings between male and female employees.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

“Today I’m announcing a really big move: we will make every single company with 250 employees or more publish the gap between average female earnings and average male earnings,” Cameron wrote in UK newspaper The Times. He hopes that this kind of transparency and emphasis on the gender pay gap will “create the pressure we need for change, and drive women’s wages up.”

Cameron also wrote of tackling other barriers for women in the workforce, including access to affordable childcare and encouraging girls from a young age to enter into careers where women are under-represented.

The gender pay gap in Britain, although better than that of the United States, is still significant, with the average gender gap for all British employees at 20 percent. For full-time workers in Britain, that gap lessens dramatically, with women making 10 percent less than their male counterparts.

In the United States, on the other hand, women still earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latinas earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers – impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women’s Social Security, pensions, and retirement.

Media Resources: The Times UK 7/14/15; Office for National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2014 Results; Feminist Newswire 4/8/14

President Obama’s Definition of Rape is a Sign of Progress

Following a White House press conference on the deal recently struck with Iran, President Obama was posed with a question about Bill Cosby and his admittance of using drugs to have sex with women. In response, he called the act rape, giving a modern definition of consent that has feminists across the country applauding.

Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

“If you give a woman – or a man, for that matter – without his or her knowledge a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape,” the President said. “I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”

This comprehensive definition of rape vastly differs from one used by the FBI a mere three years ago, which read “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” and had not been changed since 1929. Thanks in part to the “Rape is Rape” campaign led by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine, the new definition is much more broad, including persons of all genders, and says rape is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim.” Although this FBI definition still leaves out some concepts of comprehensive consent, it was applauded as leap in the right direction.

Most progressive organizations have a more intricate notion of consent, and therefore a more complicated idea of rape and sexual assault. For example, Feminist Campus gives a much longer definition of consent in its Sex-Positivity Toolkit:

Consent is the expression of a mutual desire between parties to participate in a sexual activity. Sexual activity without consent is sexual violence. Period. Consent is fundamental in creating a sex-positive space. It is vitally important to respect other people’s consensual choices when it comes to their identity and body.

Consent can be withdrawn at any time and it is given without coercion. Someone saying “yes” because they are too afraid to say “no” is not what consent looks like. Someone changing their mind about a sexual desire and then being forced to engage in it anyway is not what consent looks like. Consent isn’t always spoken, but it should never be assumed. The absence of a “no” is not a “yes!”

The toolkit also reminds readers that minors, people who are mentally incapacitated or unconscious, and people under the influence of drugs or alcohol are unable to give consent.

The Obama administration has been clear from the beginning in making the prevention of sexual assault a priority. “Rape is rape is rape,” said Vice President Joe Biden back in 2011, leading up to the release of the It’s On Us campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

Media Resources: Mother Jones 7/15/15; Feminist Newswire 1/9/12; Huffington Post 12/15/11; FeministCampus.org;

National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day is More Important Than Ever

Today is National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, and with clinic violence on the rise as well as legislative attacks against clinics nation-wide, celebrating abortion clinics and care providers is more important than ever.

via Jon Chiang
via Jon Chiang

Activists around the country are coming together to celebrate the 19th annual appreciation day, established after the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1996. Since 1996, clinic violence has been on the rise, endangering the lives of doctors, nurses, staff, volunteers, escorts, and patients at abortion care clinics across the country. Just last month, anti-choice extremists picketed outside the private residence of the director of the South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas, with signs meant to intimidate and threated the director and her family.

“While the incidence of severe violence is down since the last survey, there is an alarming increase (almost doubling from 27% to 52%) in clinics reporting the most severe threats by extremists, including targeted harassment and intimidation at physician homes, cyber-stalking, and WANTED-style pamphlets –the kind of threats that have historically preceded deadly attacks,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, reminding us that providing support for clinics is all the more important.

Organizations interested in women’s well-being and access to comprehensive reproductive health care are encouraging folks to show their appreciation for their local abortion care providers, who continue to face significant risks such as harassment, stalking, threats, violence, and sometimes murder. The 1 in 3 Campaign is sending post cards to abortion clinics, organizations such as the Feminist Majority Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Advocates for Youth, and Planned Parenthood are encouraging social media visibility in support of this appreciation day.

Take Action: Sign our thank you card to abortion providers!

Media Resources: National Clinic Violence Survey 2014; Feminist Newswire 1/26/15; 1in3campaign.org;

Wheels in Motion: Meet Afghanistan’s First All-Woman Bicycling Team

Women in Afghanistan are rediscovering a vehicle of freedom that has galvanized social change since the turn of the 20th century: the bicycle.

via Mountain2Mountain
via Mountain2Mountain

Transportation by bicycle is no foreign concept to the people of Afghanistan, specifically those in the nation’s capitol, Kabul. Indeed, Dr Ahmed Abdul Javid, the former Chancellor of Kabul University, reminisces about the decade that he calls the “golden period for Afghans,” when the relatively liberal city flourished as a popular tourist destination during treks between Europe and Asia. As former journalist and Kabul native Farah Hawad recalls, “Afghanistan was the first Asian country that had women in parliament,” an act that invokes an impression of progressiveness about the now conservative country. But since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in 1996 the lives of women have been affected drastically.

It now seems, however, that the pendulum is swinging in a new direction. Things are changing, and women are becoming more visible in public. The number of women in the workplace and in universities is increasing, and Afghanistan now has its first women’s national bicycling team. The team, funded largely by nonprofit Mountain2Mountain, bravely faces strong social taboos against women riding bicycles, and often has to endure shouts, leers, and threats of physical violence. Through these outward criticisms the 10 members of the Afghan National cycling team keep their helmets held high. “For us,” says Marj Sidiqui, assistant coach of the national team, “the bicycle is a symbol of freedom.”

The national team, who hoping to go to the Olympics, train in dangerous conditions, conceding to requirements of Muslim modesty despite the heat through their long sleeves, long pants, and headscarves tucked under helmets. Dodging trucks and traffic, as well as the hostility of onlookers, the team pedals proudly. “I just want to introduce to the world the women of Afghanistan, and show that they are able to do the same things that other women are able to do,” says Sidiqui.

via Mountain2Mountain
via Mountain2Mountain

The bicycle has acted as a medium of change for women in the US, too. As Sue Macy writes in her book Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom, women used the bike as a visual representation of the shifting times at the turn of the 20th century, which changed the lives of women forever. Macy writes that for women of the early 20th century, the bike was “a steed upon which they rode to a new world.”

For assistant coach Sidiqui, cycling is a means of promoting a more open-minded society. “We’re riding in front of all of these men,” she says, “and I’m sure some of their minds have opened up.” The team is creating national and international dialogue, putting Afghan women and sports on the map. She and the other members of Afghan National team are a racing-clad symbol of hope for women across Afghanistan, proving that a wheel in motion stays in motion.

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