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You have my partner to thank for the above title — the product of a compromise, softening what would have been “The American Sociological Association Doesn’t Care About Survivors Of Sexual Violence” (channeling my pre-MAGA Kanye West on former President George W. Bush’s racism). Though I desperately need to prioritize recovering from a busy, sleep-deprived five days of conferencing, while also finishing up my tenure dossier, annual report, and course prep all in a couple of weeks, I find myself writing another blog post about sexual violence in sociology.
For the first time, I’ve left an ASA annual meeting feeling angry, disappointed, and defeated. Rather than my usual practice of journaling about how great the conference was, and new heights I reached in my career and journey to self-definition as a scholar-activist, I ended up launching into a Twitterstorm about whites’ defensiveness in the face of being called out (or “called in”) for being offensive toward people of color. (I recommended, instead, that whites view this as a courageous act of patience and kindness to hold you accountable, even seeing it as a gift from a person of color who could otherwise dismiss you as hopefully racist. I don’t want to get into specifics here, but suffice it to say the ASA 2018 annual meeting’s theme of Feeling Race was ironically absent from many white conference attendees’ self-reflection during the conference.)
It is the first time I’ve left the conference seriously considering letting my ASA membership lapse and not attending next year’s conference. But, I don’t want to follow the pattern of radical, marginalized sociologists who swear off ASA because it is unwelcoming and conservative, instead attending Association of Black Sociologists, Sociologists for Women in Society, Society for the Study of Social Problems, Humanist Sociology, and/or National Women’s Studies Association conferences. While I fully understand that decision, I don’t want to give ASA the pleasure of my silence and invisibility. You can’t get rid of me that easily.
One ASA staff member asked me not to villainize the organization, which is actually staffed by “allies.” (The quotation marks here reference a direct quote, not me doubting those claims, per se.) My partner asked me to ensure that this blog post be productive — not merely another condemnation of ASA. So, to honor these requests, I want to present an investigation of the evidence — does ASA care about survivors of sexual violence, or not? — rather than jumping to any conclusions (i.e., that it doesn’t).
ASA Cares About Survivors Of Sexual Violence — The Evidence
To offer historical context, ASA meetings are notorious for instances of sexual violence. Two years ago, I found myself gifted with the trust of two survivors who disclosed to me that they had been harassed or raped during prior ASA meetings. The cis male privilege that is perpetually bestowed upon me, despite my queer sexual and gender identities, had long shielded me from recognizing that sexual violence could occur even in sociology contexts. (Just last week, I finally came to terms with the sexual harassment I endured and witnessed during graduate school.) Once I knew these women’s horrific stories, I felt an obligation to call ASA’s and the discipline’s attention to what may be an epidemic, or at least the problem of victims’ fear of reporting. (At the time, ASA’s policy was to notify sociologists accused of sexual violence of the identity of their accuser[s].) In doing so, a dozen other survivors disclosed their own experiences with sexual violence to me, ranging from being choked in the middle of a crowded conference room, to groping, to invitations to hotel rooms, etc.
In the two years since, ASA created an anti-harassment working group to improve the organization’s anti-harassment policy, host workshops on sexual violence at ASA, and provide further recommendations to ASA to better address the issue and support victims. Six scholars with expertise in sexual violence were tapped to generously volunteer their time to help ASA do this work more effectively. A few members of the anti-harassment working group released essays through the organizations Footnotes newsletter:
- Dr. C. Shawn McGuffey, “#MeToo and the ASA Working Group on Harassment“
- Dr. Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, “Can Anti-Harassment Programs Reduce Sexual Harassment?“
- Dr. Justine E. Tinkler, “Sexual Harassment Training: Promises, Pitfalls, and Future Directions“
Every conference attendee was asked to read the new anti-harassment policy and check a box that indicated they did so and agreed to follow these guidelines during the meeting. The working group created a 2-page document that explains the new policy and what to expect if one reports sexual violence, and offers resources to support survivors during the meeting in Philly and after when they return to their own campus. And, the working group hosted two workshops: 1) Bystander Intervention for Combating Sexual Misconduct in Sociology: Everyone Can Be Part of the Solution (which was cosponsored by Sociologists for Women in Society); and 2) Sexual Harassment in Professional Associations.
In addition to receiving training in handling reports of sexual violence ahead of the conference, ASA staff also passed out copies of the aforementioned 2-page document, as well as copies of Sherry Marts’s (of S*Marts Consulting, LLC) “No Means No: How to Respond to Harassment” guide. (Also see this site and this training.) I also heard several times that “sexual harassment is all ASA has been working on lately,” or “most of ASA staff members’ time has been going to this issue.” And, two ASA staff members kindly attended the Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting, held late at night on the Saturday of the conference.
ASA, I will give credit where credit is due. You have stepped up your game. But, it’s not enough, especially in light of other concerning actions and messages I received or witnessed.
ASA Could Care Less About Survivors Of Sexual Violence — The Evidence
I can only imagine the beast of an undertaking it is to plan and host a conference attended by 5,000+ people in a major city. I never saw a staff member sit or stand in one place for longer than an hour before running off somewhere else. To ASA’s credit, it must be incredibly difficult to also be forced to deal with the big flaming turd that was left on their doorstep just days before the meeting: several accusations of harassment were made against gender scholar Michael Kimmel in light of his selection to win the 2018 Jessie Bernard award for enlarging the horizons of the sociological study of women. And, to their credit, I fully recognize that they (as well as the anti-harassment working group and the Jessie Bernard award committee) were left to clean up a mess made by Kimmel’s own institution. With that in mind, I think it is still fair to call out ASA’s failures, at least in hopes to see a much better approach to addressing sexual violence in the future.
Weaknesses Of ASA’s New Policy And Other Documentation
I still have little hope that the anti-harassment policy will do anything to curb the epidemic of sexual violence. The new policy is a slight improvement from the previous protocol for reporting sexual violence, which seemed to automatically reveal the identity of accusers to the accused; the new policy vaguely promises that “Information will be kept confidential to the extent possible.” It seems anonymity is still not offered. Therefore, only a few brave (or naive?) victims will bother reporting. And, it is still too early to tell how many reported cases result in sanctions for the perpetrators and/or justice for the survivors. Many in the discipline are well-versed in the research that suggests that: 1) few victims report sexual violence, 2) even fewer reports are taken seriously, 3) even fewer result in sanctions for the perpetrators, 4) the reporting process serves as a secondary form of trauma, 5) retaliations against accusers are very common. ASA’s reporting system seems to mirror other systems that we already know don’t work.
ASA’s efforts to educate potential and actual victims of sexual violence about how to avoid sexual violence falls into the old trap of placing the burden on victims to end sexual violence. Though the new anti-harassment policy explicitly identifies “unacceptable behaviors,” I do not see an attendant effort to educate potential or actual perpetrators to not rape, assault, or harass. I am worried that ASA is a bit naive in thinking having to read (or, more realistically, skip over) the new policy and checking a box will actually stop sexual predators from harming others. Indeed, I’m sure every perpetrator is aware that sexual assault and rape are illegal and punishable crimes. I am worried the organization fails to acknowledge power dynamics that facilitate sexual violence. For example, the S*Marts Consulting “No Means No” guide seems woefully ignorant of the fact that telling a more senior colleague “don’t talk to me” or “move away from me” won’t be as simple in the face of potential professional consequences or the real threat of intensified harassment or even physical violence. This guide seems to assume embarrassment will be enough to stop a predator in their tracks, or that others will do their job as bystanders to intervene.
Repeated Instances Of Ignoring What Survivors And Allies Want
In mid-July, I invited two ASA staff members to attend Saturday’s Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting in large part to be present in case attendees wished to report sexual violence they witnessed or experienced and/or became upset during the conversation. They accepted the invite and offered to provide copies of the aforementioned anti-harassment 2-page document and the “No Means No” guide. The email read: “Just let me know and I’ll make copies according to your preferences.” I declined both, expressing concern that these documents placed all of the burden on potential or actual victims to stop sexual violence and, worse, could be used to blame victims for not taking these actions. So, I was surprised to see that stacks of both documents were held out to me at the beginning of our meeting. “Well, they were already printed,” one staff member said to me, continuing to stare expectantly at me in hopes that my desire to be polite would override my desire to forgo engaging in victim-blaming. I caved, noting that I would hand them out with the caveat that these documents are as problematic as they are helpful. I feared the already tense relationship with ASA would become even worse. Essentially, ASA ignored my “preferences” and put me in a position to be an asshole or to override my convictions.
As the two ASA staff members left the Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting, I shouted to their backs that the doors to the Pennsylvania Convention Center were locked keeping some late-arriving attendees out. “Well, they shouldn’t be locked until 11,” was their response. And, they continued walking off to their next engagement. What am I supposed to do with what should be when it wasn’t the case in reality? The next night, during the Sociologists for Trans Justice meeting, the same thing happened. Apparently this was not ASA’s problem — that conference attendees were locked out of the building during officially scheduled meetings.
The next day, a friend texted me about a concerning thread on the notoriously misogynistic, white supremacist, cis- and heterosexist Sociology Job Market Rumors wiki (that has since been deleted):
Mind you, these anonymous, cowardly bigots-as-colleagues have been trashing me and other scholar-activists for years (though the “Grollbaby” reference to me is new). So, this is nothing new nor is it even upsetting anymore. But, what concerns me is that someone from this cesspool of a site attended the Sociologists Against Sexual Violence meeting with the sole purpose of mocking us on the wiki. It violates our sense of trust and privacy, and went against our explicit instruction that nothing of the meeting be discussed online.
I emailed the ASA staff members who attended the meeting. I received the following response:
I am truly sorry to hear this. It saddens me to learn of this violation of trust. Unfortunately, thought, there really isn’t anything ASA can do. This is one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of social media. These days we always have to be prepared for the possibility of something like this everywhere we go.
Maybe they were tired or overwhelmed or truly are pessimistic about their role in fighting sexual violence in sociology. However, I find this defeatist attitude irresponsible on their part. These two staff members sat in the meeting, faced directly with an ASA member who, through tears, said they expected much more from ASA after years of paying dues, giving up time and labor, mentoring students, etc. – what does the organization owe it its members? While I do not expect an immediate solution, I expect ASA to at least take some time to search for potential means to prevent this from occurring in the future, to signal that this behavior is abhorrent. Perhaps attending a meeting of survivors and their allies with the purpose of intimidating them online could constitute a form of harassment and, as such, should be added to the new anti-harassment policy. I cannot help but wonder whether ASA would do more if a white supremacist sociologist did something similar against race scholars of color.
I cannot help but read this is “why I’m not a fan of social media” as a feeble attempt to deflect responsibility. And, the last sentence — telling me to simply be prepared for this everywhere we go — at best reads as resignation and, at worst, reads as alluding that I should have known to expect this given the work I do.
Allusions That There Is A Right Way To Fight Sexual Violence
In light of accusations that Michael Kimmel perpetrated sexual harassment, ASA has attempted to police how survivors and witnesses come forward. Nancy Kidd, executive director of ASA, is quoted saying:
Should a complaint be filed and investigated, through us or other investigative bodies, that leads to a finding of misconduct, ASA will take appropriate action.
What we can take from this is that the anonymous @exposeprof does not warrant ASA concern. Dr. Bee Coston’s brave essay on Medium, accusing Kimmel of harassment, anti-LGBTQ bigotry, sexist discrimination, and stealing students’ work, is not of concern to ASA. Instead, ASA will take seriously reports from those who are brave/naive enough to subject themselves to a confidential-to-a-point reporting system — and, it seems, only those reports ASA deems worthy of investigation.
Through several brief interactions with ASA staff and some members of the anti-harassment working group, it became clear to me that my approach to speaking up about sexual violence in the discipline was deemed radical, perhaps radical enough to prove disruptive. Ahead of the meeting, I received a very suspicious-sounding email about the the call for conference attendees to wear white to raise awareness about sexual violence — was this to target specific members accused of sexual violence? When I responded that we were not interested in devoting attention to any one person accused of sexual violence (when there are so many besides Michael S. Kimmel — Robert Reece, Matthew Hughey, Martin S. Weinberg, John DeLameter, Stephen M. Cohen), and asked whether they’d be willing to take part, I was told “we’ll have to see…” That was the last time we’d communicate about it.
As I noted in my opening here, one ASA staff member privately asked me not to forget that ASA is taking sexual violence seriously, and that I should recognize them as allies rather than enemies. At the time, I saw the genuine pleading behind this exchange. But, subsequently, I began revisiting the conversation as a potential threat — were they saying “don’t make an enemy out of us”? Or, were they alluding that I am a villain here, giving ASA too little credit for what it has done so far?
A couple of members of the working group praised me for my radical approach. But, I had to ask — what about my approach is so radical? As I did the math — #MeTooPhD and Sociologists Against Sexual Violence buttons + a panel on addressing sexual violence + a meeting with survivors and their allies + wearing white to stand with survivors — I wasn’t able to compute what constituted radical activism. I trust that these individuals were being kind, even appreciative, but their compliments add to the sea of others’ opinions about my activism that I have been wading through for a couple of weeks. Many fellow conference-goers stopped me to thank me and commend my bravery. Yet, some leveled veiled criticisms that I was ignoring how Kimmel’s graduate students would be affected (what about the children! what happens if we prevent an accused rapist-thief-bigot-fraud from working with the children!), or not-so-veiled accusations that I was leading mob violence. (Wait — buttons, white clothes, and meetings that were a part of the official ASA program are “mob rule”? Isn’t the mob all of the colleagues and students who protect people like Kimmel despite decades of harassing people?) I am once again frustrated by the extremely low bar for what constitutes activism in sociology.
At the opening of the second of two ASA’s anti-harassment group’s workshops on sexual violence, their previous workshop was described as a success while my #MeTooPhD panel was described as “interesting.” Sure, that could be a genuine read, but it was was much more successful than their workshop, with about 20 people having to sit on the floor or stand because it was so well-attended, and the panel featured not just one perspective on sexual violence but seven. Humbly, I take issue with the mere, potentially passive aggressive description of “interesting.”
Throwing Survivors Under The Bus That ASA Allowed Kimmel To Drive
Perhaps the most insulting to survivors of sexual violence is the handling of the Michael S. Kimmel debacle. Again, I give ASA a pass to the extent that accusations against Kimmel that were finally taken seriously emerged just days before the conference started. (Although I have heard ASA knew much earlier, and there are 2-3 Title IX investigations against Kimmel at SUNY already.) However, what the organization did in light of those accusations was far worse than simply carrying on with the conference as planned.
Ten days before the conference, a Chronicle of Higher Education article was published about new allegations of sexual harassment against Kimmel. In that article, a public statement issued by Kimmel, in which he deferred receiving the Jessie Bernard award by six months, was quoted. The article also notes that ASA agreed to the six-month deadline that Kimmel set for his accusers to formally report the sexual violence he committed to ASA. Interestingly, as Dr. Wendy Simonds noted on Twitter, ASA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) sets an 18-month time limit for reporting sexual violence; Dr. Simonds also aptly points out a failure of the committee’s guidelines to consider the risks inherent in coming forward against one’s perpetrator (especially without the protection of anonymity) and the power dynamics that prevent victims from doing so.
So, news broke that Kimmel would not attend the conference. And, instead of receiving the Jessie Bernard career award, his public statement would be read during the ASA award ceremony. What occurred, however, was a huge slap in the face to survivors at the ASA meeting. First, as Dr. Simonds tweeted, the program for the formal awards ceremony still announced Kimmel as the award winner.
Sure, so, 10 days wasn’t a lot of time to right this wrong. But, I firmly believe that the labor and costs required to fix this were well worth the effort to not still symbolically give Kimmel the damn award. As with other program corrections, small slips correcting the honor could have been printed and included. Or, better yet, a black marker or stickers could have been used to cross out his name and image. (A non-binary individual can dream… just write “RAPIST” across his image.) I can’t imagine how triggering this could have been for his victims.
Oh — but, maybe someone verbally noted the allegations made against him, and that it remains up in the air whether he should be honored for his scholarly efforts to support women? Thanks again to Dr. Simonds for tweeting video of the announcement:
Michael Kimmel has been selected as this year’s recipient Jessie Bernard award. He is unable to join us today. He asked us to read the following statement on his behalf. ‘I thank the committee and I have decided to defer accepting the award’.
Wait… wait! “He was unable to join us today”? Did he call ASA and say, “sorry, can’t make it — turns out I’m a serial predator, bigot, and a fraud. Hit me up in February with the JB award”? There was zero reference to the allegations. As framed, it seemed he chose to defer receiving the award. Once again, he set the terms and ASA went along with them. There was zero acknowledgement of the survivors who have come forward. Do they get to say “sorry, can’t make it — sociology feels too unsafe, so I’m no longer attending ASA”? Nope. Kimmel’s celebrity remains intact. This was ASA’s biggest “Fuck You” to survivors of sexual violence.
To make up for this, an email was sent from ASA council the day after the conference ended:
Harassment, exploitation, and discrimination are violations of the ASA Code of Ethics and can be fundamentally damaging to the wellbeing of our community. The ASA Council is aware of allegations that have been raised about Professor Michael Kimmel and has voted unanimously to defer delivery of the Jessie Bernard Award until more is known about those allegations. In the coming months, members of Council will be working with the ASA Working Group on Harassment (formed in 2017) to conduct a thorough review of awards policies, nomination and appointment processes, and the process for reporting and responding to ethical violations.
What Would Caring Look Like?
My partner challenged me to do one more thing: articulate suggestions for what could have been done better. He’s right and throwing a tantrum “but I don’t wannaaaaa!” would be irresponsible. So, let me at least try. But, please note I am no expert. For example, I still only have the vaguest idea of what restorative justice and transformative justice are. And, I still roll my eyes when I begrudgingly add “alleged” or “accused” before calling out perpetrators of sexual violence — you know, to avoid being sued and what not.
One thing that has been on my mind is for ASA to take stock of what damage sexual violence has done to the discipline. How many people begrudgingly attend ASA despite feeling unsafe — fearing seeing one’s perpetrator, being victimized (again), investing money, time, and emotional energy in to avoiding sexual violence? How many are extremely selective about when they will attend ASA conferences, and for how long? How many stopped attending ASA because it is simply too unsafe or triggering? And/or attend SWS, NWSA, or other conferences that are more hospitable to survivors? How many will not be attending the ASA 2019 annual meeting after this year’s shit-show? How many have left academia, or at least sociology? How many survivors have left tenure-track positions, contingent positions, or graduate programs? What have been the professional, interpersonal, and personal costs to survivors and their allies? How many sexual predators have gotten away with their crimes without being held accountable?
I’d like to see ASA take seriously survivors’ disclosure that they DO NOT feel safe at ASA meetings. I witnessed one survivor do so — they cannot feign ignorance. Meetings should be restructured accordingly. ASA could create a hospitality suite for survivors for upcoming meetings, hiring rape crisis counselors who are easily identifiable with a button or hat or badge ribbon during ASA annual meetings. ASA could provide a block of hotel rooms at a nearby hotel that won’t be home to conference events and/or a small fund for travel should survivors wish to stay even further away.
Perhaps those accused of sexual violence should be asked to skip the next meeting, especially if the accusers will attend. Or, at a minimum, bar them from staying at the conference hotel. Sure, innocent until proven guilty and all that jazz, but we have to recognize how few survivors are brave enough to come forward and how exceedingly rare it is for such reports to be false. It means those “convicted” should be barred from the meetings indefinitely or at least for some productive length of time, at which point they should be forced to undergo some sort of training for sexual predators. ASA should be sure that the institutions of those accused are aware, perhaps even partnering with them to go beyond addressing sexual violence that occurs during the four days of ASA’s annual conferences.
Frankly, bystander intervention training should be mandatory. Block out one session for all attendees at the 2019 meeting, the 2020 meeting, the 2021 meeting, and so on. Once is not enough for this to sink in. And, bystander intervention methods change and improve over time. Department chairs, administrators, and anyone who serves as a mentor and instructor should be required to attend such training.
Moving forward, I’d like to see ASA amplify the voice and power of survivors not perpetrators. What we saw this year is that the organization gave more space and recognition to Kimmel after a series of allegations were made against him. We saw a refusal for the organization to delete a tweet celebrating an Vox essay by Robert Reece, who called for attending to “gray areas” in obtaining consent for sexual activity and was later outed as a serial rapist and abuser. Meanwhile, ASA never engaged with his accusers on Twitter. And, I’ve yet to see any action or statements released from ASA about Matthew Hughey, John DeLameter, Martin S. Weinberg, or Stephen M. Cohen — either from/about them or from/about those who accused these men of sexual violence.
There are so many experts on sexual violence, gender and violence, sexualities, policy, and organizations within the discipline — ASA could tap more than six people to do this work. (Compare that to the number of people on the ASA Task Force on public sociology.) Maybe it’s worth creating an ASA staff position exclusively for addressing sexual violence. And, surely, it is ASA’s job to look to other models of organizational responses to sexual violence.
That’s it for now. I’m tired, y’all. But, I refuse to give up.
Events Related To Sexual Violence At The American Sociological Association 2018 Annual Meeting (Philly)
For my fellow sociologists planning to attend the 2018 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Philadelphia, I have compiled a list of meetings, workshops, paper sessions, and roundtable presentations related to sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, the #MeToo movement and other activism to end sexual violence. You may download a PDF version here or see the full list below. These events will also be listed in an upcoming issue of Footnotes.
WEAR WHITE ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 12TH TO SUPPORT SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE.
Sociologists Against Sexual Violence – a proposed new group
Sat, August 11, 8:00 to 10:00pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 104.
Organizers: Eric Anthony Grollman (University of Richmond) and Shantel Gabrieal Buggs (Florida State University)
Given their critical investigation of power, gender, sexuality, and organizations, sociologists are in excellent position to raise public understanding of sexual violence and to inform laws and policies to support survivors and punish perpetrators. Yet, since news broke of then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump’s taped admission of perpetrating sexual violence against multiple women, sociologists were noticeably absent from national discourse on sexual violence. This silence is even more suspect now as a national movement has taken shape (#MeToo), and initiatives focusing on the issue specifically within academia have been launched (#MeTooPhD). In fact, even in the discipline as multiple perpetrators have been identified and victims have voiced their experiences, most sociologists have done little beyond discussion of this epidemic. While public statements are an important first step, sustained action is needed to dismantle the systems that facilitate sexual violence. This meeting is open to sociologists who are interested in brainstorming short- and long-term strategies to address sexual violence both in and through sociology.
#MeTooPhD: Addressing Sexual Violence in and through Sociology
Sat, August 11, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Street Level, 104A
Organizer and Presider: Eric Anthony Grollman (University of Richmond)
- Irene Shankar (Mount Royal University)
- Shawn McGuffey (Boston College)
- Karen Kelsky (TheProfessorIsIn.com)
- Bethany Coston (Virginia Commonwealth University)
- Leslie Jones (University of Pennsylvania)
- Hephzibah Strmic-Pawl (Manhattanville College)
- Nicole Bedera (University of Michigan)
Ways to effectively prevent sexual violence and support survivors of such violence in multiple contexts in sociology, including classrooms, departments, conferences, research abroad, and online. And, ways that we might use sociology to support broader movements to end sexual violence around the nation.
Bystander Intervention for Combating Sexual Misconduct in Sociology: Everyone Can Be Part of the Solution (Organized by the ASA Working Group on Harassment; Cosponsored by Sociologists for Women in Society)
Sun, August 12, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 9
Organizer: Kathrin Zippel (Northeastern University)
Leader: Sharyn J. Potter (University of New Hampshire)
How to intervene as engaged bystanders before, during and after instances of sexual and relationship violence, stalking and harassment.
Sexual Harassment in Professional Associations
(Organized by the ASA Working Group on Harassment)
Sun, August 12, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin 13
Organizers: Kathrin Zippel (Northeastern University) and Erika Marín-Spiotta (University of Wisconsin – Madison)
- Alexandra Kalev (Tel Aviv University)
- Frank Dobbin (Harvard University)
- Justine E. Tinkler (University of Georgia)
- Erika Marín-Spiotta (University of Wisconsin – Madison)
Drawing on research on and experiences with harassment prevention in workplace organizations, we will discuss what steps professional associations can do to promote a professional, learning and working environment free of harassment.
- Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence: Explanatory Factors Across Multiple Contexts; Mon, August 13, 8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin 13
- Gender, Social Movements, and (In)Justice; Mon, August 13, 4:30 to 6:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 6; Jaime Hartless – “#MeToo and the Silence Breakers: Managing Allyship and Incorporating Intersectionality Without Derailing Activism”
- Gendered Violence, Sexual Harassment, and Title IX; Tue, August 14, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Street Level, 111B
- Informal Discussion Roundtable Session; Sun, August 12, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon G; Table 9; Judith A. Richman – “The ‘ME Too’ Movement challenging male abuses of power: Addressing the psychotherapy arena”
- Section on Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology Refereed Roundtable Session; Sun, August 12, 10:30 to 11:30am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Street Level, 103B; Table 05. Identity and Influence in the Digital Landscape; Leslie Jones – “#MeToo and the Digital Black Feminist Critique of Colorblind Feminist Politics”
- Section on Social Psychology Refereed Roundtable Session; Mon, August 13, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon D; Table 1; Kaitlin M. Boyle, Jennifer Turner, and Tara Elizabeth Sutton – “Feeling Sexual Harassment and Microaggressions in Graduate School: The Role of Negative Emotion in Disordered Drinking”
- Section on Sociology of Sex and Gender Refereed Roundtable Session; Tue, August 14, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon H – tables 13 (Intimate Partner Violence) and 17 (Sexual Assault, Trafficking, and Street Harassment)
Most of you reading this blog post know someone who has been raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, stalked, and/or physically harmed by an intimate partner — unfortunately, it might even be yourself. But, I would venture to guess that most of you who know a survivor of sexual violence do not actually know the survivor status of these partners, relatives, friends, coworkers, students, neighbors, etc.
In large part, this potential ignorance is the result of rape culture: the silencing of survivors; the blaming of victims for the violence perpetuated against them; the downplaying of predators’ actions; the willful ignorance regarding the pervasiveness of sexual violence and how society actually facilitates and celebrates it. When victims are not believed, are blamed, are shamed, and never see justice when they report the violence that they have experienced, it is perhaps a matter of protecting oneself from further harm and violence to choose silence.
But, your potential ignorance regarding who around you has survived sexual violence may also be your own doing. Your political leanings say a lot about you, no matter how central they are to your life. Those who are presumed to or actually believe that women do not have a choice over whether to terminate an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, that women should remain chaste until marriage, that a woman’s place is in the home, that a rapist with no political experience beat a seasoned woman in an election for the most important political office in the nation — these are people least likely to be sought out to disclose that one has been sexually assaulted. People who make rape jokes, excuse rapists’ behaviors, blame rape victims, or narrowly view rape as a private matter between a victim and a perpetrator are perhaps least likely to be entrusted with a friend’s story of being raped when she was a college freshman.
From my experience over the past few years, I would surmise that survivors of sexual violence disclose their experiences of violence with those who have earned their trust. But, I do not just mean that you can keep a secret or will not pass judgment. I mean that you have proven yourself to be a trustworthy ally to or — better yet — an advocate for survivors.
The more that I have committed to advocating for survivors, to stopping sexual violence, and to eliminating rape culture, the more relatives, friends, colleagues, students, and even strangers who are survivors have shared their stories with me. The more I speak out about sexual violence in the classroom, in my public writing, at conferences, and in private conversations, the more I have received the gift of survivors’ trust. For example, more than a dozen colleagues (most who were previously strangers to me) disclosed that they had been assaulted or harassed at past sociology conferences after I wrote a blog post about sexual violence at last year’s American Sociological Association meeting. It feels as though I created some sort of safe space around me by even naming sexual violence, and a handful of survivors have taken me up on my offer to listen to them, to believe them, to fight with them.
I would like to share a few tips for supporting survivors of sexual violence, namely earning their trust as a genuine advocate (or ally, if you prefer). These come from my experience, at best described as trial-and-error — by no means an expert opinion.
Cherish disclosure as a rare gift. Recognize how hard it is for a survivor of sexual violence to share their experiences with another person. Recognize the high risk of them not being believed, being blamed, being dismissed — of being revictimized just by telling their story. Survivors have every reason to keep you in the dark, so you should appreciate and affirm their willingness to allow you into this aspect of their lives.
…but, do not only think of them as a victim. If a survivor has asked you to do something specific to support them, do it if you can. Otherwise, I would discourage you from altering your behavior toward them or in their presence. You do not need to constantly ask them about being assaulted or harassed. You also should not avoid the topic unless they have asked you to. Survivors are so much more than victims of past sexual violence. If anything, they need you to treat them as normal human beings, as this would help counter the slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and hostility they experience from others.
Do not share their stories with others without permission. You should assume, unless otherwise stated, that you — and you alone — were given this gift of disclosure. You should not reveal their stories to other people, even in the abstract or with identifying details left out (just to be safe). Of course, if you are legally obligated to report disclosed sexual violence — for example, because of Title IX policies in higher education — you should immediately inform a survivor that you will have to report the incidence. Let them know as soon as you suspect that they are about to disclose to you; do not wait until after they have done so. Yet, do so in a way that is still inviting, rather than posed as a warning, as this may prevent them from disclosing to you (or anyone else who may be required to report sexual violence).
Emphasize that you believe them, and ask how you can support them. I have learned from experience that survivors do not disclose to others for any reason other than sharing their stories, having their voices heard, and being believed — perhaps to request others’ support or assistance, though not necessarily. Counter to the myths that they are seeking attention (perhaps even to the extent of fabricating their stories), it is perhaps helpful to share the burden of violence with others. And, maybe it is just to let you know, as it may be relevant to the conversation at hand or an important aspect of their lives. If and when a survivor opens up to you, let them know that you believe them, thank them for opening up to you, and ask what, if anything, you can do to support them.
Be an advocate at all times. Even if survivors in your life have not disclosed to you, you should consistently be an advocate for all survivors of sexual violence. I have learned that even in absence of personal experience or expertise on the subject, you have power in your ability to ask questions. It could be as simple as “what about the issue of sexual violence?” or “how are we supporting rape survivors?” In doing so, you are putting the issue on the table and making space for survivors to speak up. Survivors may never open up to you no matter your advocacy, but that is okay as the goal is to support them, not to rack up stories shared with you. In general, look into bystander intervention advocacy to learn about ways that you can challenge sexual violence and rape culture and support victims at all times.
I am learning as I go, so I do not present these as the best ways to support survivors, or even an exhaustive list. So, I invite you to share other tips in the comments section below. I would especially like to hear from survivors (who are willing to open up) about which behaviors of potential allies and advocates has been most effective in supporting them.
I want to start this essay by thanking CC Carreras for taking the time to share her story with Huffington Post and the world. CC graduated from my university — University of Richmond (UR) — in May with a degree in Criminal Justice. She was in my Sociological Research Methods course a couple of years ago. I was initially shocked when I realized that she was the author of the HuffPo piece, that she would be so public about such horrific events and her critique of the university. And, then, I was heartbroken. CC isn’t a stranger; she is a student I saw twice a week for 15 weeks. I can put a face to a story. And, it makes me feel as though I somehow failed her as a professor.
I also want to express a deep sense of respect and admiration for CC’s bravery for speaking up. We live in a society — UR not exempt — that does not believe women in general, especially about their experiences of sexual violence; that would rather blame survivors for their own victimization than the perpetrators or the society and institutions that enable them; that would rather protect rapists than rape victims; that would rather discredit, undermine, and attack survivors who speak up than to support them. CC’s bravery has fueled others to speak up, either publicly or privately revealing their own experiences or fears of sexual violence at UR. CC is a role model in my eyes; she has spoken up about injustice at an institution she called home, only after failing to see justice by going through the “proper” channels. I hope that every UR alum feels called to speak up against sexual violence at UR and beyond.
Unfortunately, I also want to apologize to CC — as a faculty member, fellow spider, and concerned human being — for such an ugly end to her time at UR, topped only by being further failed by the university. CC, I am sorry that UR chose to imply that you lied about the mishandling of your reported case. I am sorry that the university chose not to support you as you bravely spoke up, or to apologize to you for failing you. I am sorry that it chose to distance itself from you rather than from the predator-student-athlete who raped you. I’m sorry that the university has not lived up to its desire to be a model institution, instead being one of over 200 that repeatedly fail rape victims.
Already, my words feel hallow. But, it took working up the nerve to sit down to write this. For, professors who take to anti-sexual violence activism do not fair well in the academy; some are censured, some are fired, some are merely tolerated. I already have three strikes against me as a Black queer non-binary person on faculty. And, I am pre-tenure, though basking in a much needed year-long leave from teaching to focus on my research. I have already developed a reputation for being outspoken on campus about racism, heterosexism, and transphobia. And, here I go again.
The fear I feel in speaking up as a faculty member is just another manifestation of a larger problem at UR: rape-culture. Despite having a feminist, sociological understanding of sexual violence, and sexuality and power more generally, despite having worked with a rape crisis shelter in the past, and despite a desire to work with students to improve our society, there is some chance that I will pay the price for speaking up. Rape-culture silences victims and their supporters, and it censures those who dare to work against sexual violence. Yes, rape-culture can exist even in where a campus office has been created for Title IX compliance, where “compliance” sounds an obligatory adherence to the bare minimum standard to ban harassment and discrimination.
Unfortunately, we have further proof: the University of Richmond sent emails to students, staff, faculty, and alumni that effectively implies that CC lied about the mishandling of her case:
While we cannot address specifically the contentions in the recent Huffington Post commentary, given our commitment to student privacy, and we respect the right of all students to express their opinion and discuss their perspective, we think it is important for us to share that many of the assertions of fact are inaccurate and do not reflect the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated and adjudicated at the University.
Rape-culture, to me, is writing a two-page-long email to the student body and never once even mentioning the name of the alum — CC Carreras. It is speaking of her in the abstract — an “opinion” to be tolerated — only to say that she is making it all up (because who can trust rape victims, right?). Rape-culture is never saying a word about the rapist who may or may not still be walking around campus. It is using the cloak of confidentiality to protect certain details (the rapist’s name, whether he is still a student at UR, etc.) but not others (publicly stating that CC is lying about how her case was handled); it is using the law as a tool to revictimize a survivor and protect a rapist.
I am relieved that CC refused to let the university have the last word. She took the time to write an extensive response, in which she shares many official correspondences regarding the case and the many times the rapist violated a (rather flimsy) no-contact order. If you take the time to read the entire thing, your head may begin to hurt as mine did. The legalese used to protect a rape victim from further contact from the rapist is quite off-putting and cold; it reads more like divorce papers for a couple that is splitting up property than an effort to protect someone from violence. I have to wonder — why has the university asked CC to stay away from the rapist, just as it asks the rapist to stay away from her?
More importantly, I am inclined to agree with CC’s sentiment that the rapist received a slap on the wrist from the university, even as he repeatedly violated the no-contact order and admitted to raping her. He admitted to committing a violent crime and, as far as I can tell, was never arrested nor spent any time in prison. He was instructed to avoid certain parts of campus, but his time on the field and gym was not to be interrupted; that proved to be more important than CC’s safety and well-being. Further, the university has effectively allowed the rapist to attack other people. Indeed, there is research that is now 15 years old that highlights the reality that rapists tend to be repeat offenders.
As I dug through the many documents in CC’s second HuffPo piece, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, I was reminded of the ways in which the university is perhaps complicit in facilitating sexual violence. There is sociological research that highlights the ways in which institutions and organizations either fail to genuinely prevent sexual violence and punish perpetrators or actually enable rapists to attack people. The Hunting Ground, a recently released documentary, highlights the ways in which the promotion and protection of Greek Life and athletics provide free reign for college men to make a sport of sexually assaulting college women. It is naive to assume that campus rape is the “good guy” who slips up or goes to far or got a little too drunk, or that an obligatory three-hour-long workshop on drinking is enough to prevent rape, or that the university is a neutral party in this crisis.
As a professor at UR, I am quite troubled by the position the university has put me in. I vehemently disagree with the official statement that the university sent out to dismiss CC’s story as lies, and, instead, pat itself on the back for how well it handles sexual assault cases (despite being under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases). This is blog post serves as my statement — I speak for myself. Believing CC was never a question; my only question was how do I support her and ensure that students are able to do their work on campus free of harassment and violence.
The university’s email to faculty and staff, unlike its letter to students, gave no indication of responsibility or how I might get involved to prevent sexual violence and support survivors. It seemed as though the sole purpose of the communication was to let me know I could sleep easily at night because CC made it all up. It gave no reminder of my obligation to report to the Title IX office any instance in which a student has disclosed that they have been sexually assaulted. It made no mention of how I might navigate contact with the rapist, or even who he is. (Just last year, a student and advisee of mine mysteriously withdrew from the university — something about “for Title IX” reasons I learned. Was he a rapist? Since there is little punishment for perpetrators, how many of my students have been rapists? These questions are unsettling.)
Rather than keeping faculty in the dark, instead relying on staff tasked with “Title IX compliance,” the university has right at its finger tips a wealth of expertise about sexual violence, sexualities, gender, oppression, law, the criminal justice system, and so on. Rather than relying exclusively on peer-to-peer sexual violence education, the university could be employing professors to give talks, host workshops, teach courses, consult Title IX affairs, etc. Even outside of those of us with research-based expertise, it should be giving faculty more opportunities to work on sexual violence prevention. I know from private conversations that many of us are concerned, and now outraged in light of the university’s statements about CC’s original post; we are ripe with passion, concern, and conviction to see that UR reverses its reputation as being one of the must unsafe campuses for women. Can you imagine a university that has a reputation for a near-perfect record of punishing perpetrators, for supporting and affirming survivors, and for truly practicing a bystander intervention approach to sexual violence prevention? That could be us, UR!
We have to do better.
Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman (they/them/theirs) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Affiliate Faculty of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA. They teach courses on gender and sexuality, sociology of health and illness, social inequality, and sociological research methods. Their research examines the impact of prejudice and discrimination on the health, well-being, and worldviews of oppressed communities. They are also an intellectual activist and maintain the blog Conditionally Accepted — a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized faculty.