Thursday Reads: Did Nepotism at The Washington Post Contribute to Irresponsible Reporting on the UVA Rape Story?

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Good Morning!!

Have you ever wondered how extremely young men are able to get jobs at elite newspapers like The Washington Post right out of college?

Take for example T. Rees Shapiro, who has led the charge to not only discredit the Rolling Stone story on the problem of rape on the University of Virginia campus but also efforts to dismiss and humiliate Jackie, one of the women interviewed by Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdley .

However flawed the Rolling Stone article may have been, it was about much more than Jackie’s story. It illustrated a culture of minimization of rape that had existed had UVA for at least 30 years, in which women who reported being sexually assaulted were discouraged from going to the police, their complaints were not treated seriously, and accused perpetrators were not seriously investigated or punished.

Shapiro’s career has been greatly enhanced by his dismantling of Jackie’s story about a violent rape that allegedly took place in 2012. As a consequence of his efforts to dismantle Jackie’s story, T. Rees Shapiro has appeared on numerous television programs and received praise from many quarters. Most likely his youth enabled Shapiro to con Jackie into trusting him enough to talk to him “several times.”

Last night, I decided to take a quick look at young Mr. Shapiro and his career development path. How did he get such an elite journalism job at the young age of 27?

T. Rees Shapiro

In 2009, Shapiro graduated from Virginia Tech, where he wrote for the student newspaper. In 2010, he was hired by the Washington Post as a copy boy. He soon graduated to writing obituaries, and in 2010 became an education reporter for the Post.

Clearly T. Rees (Nicknamed “Trees,” get it?) is a real go-getter, but he also has connections. His father Leonard Shapiro was a sportswriter for The Washington Post for 38 years, and his mother Vicky Moon is a writer and photographer who is apparently a fixture in Virginia society. Would Shapiro have gotten the Washington Post job without those connections? Maybe, but I doubt it.

When he wrote about Jackie, Shapiro emphasized several times that she was using her “real nickname,” thus enabling trolls like Chuck C. Johnson to find her and try to publicly out her. Shapiro was also able to locate Jackie’s so-called “friends” and get their after-the-fact critiques of Jackie’s story. Shapiro doesn’t say whether Jackie told him she still considers these people to be her friends.

In his critiques of the Rolling Stone article and specifically of Jackie’s story, Shapiro chose not to write about the other women who were interviewed by author Sabrina Rubin Erdley or to get input from experts on rape and traumatic memory. Would a more mature reporter have done so, rather than simply picking apart Jackie’s story? Would a female education reporter have thought to do that?

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Despite the Post’s attacks on Jackie, the University of Virginia does in fact have a rape problem. UVA is one of 86 schools being investigated by the Department of Education for mishandling rape complaints. Four Virginia schools are on the DEA list.

From Huffington Post in July: For Years, Students Have Accused Virginia Universities Of Botching Sexual Assault Cases.

Four universities in Virginia are currently being  investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible Title IX violations specifically related to sexual violence — JMU, the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond. Two other schools in the state, the Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University, faced Title IX reviews that concluded this spring….

Each of the investigations at the Virginia schools, like that at JMU, was sparked by federal complaints.

UVA’s investigation is unusual in that it started in 2011, but remains open. The Education Department declined to say why the investigation was so long-running, and noted “that some cases take longer than others due to the nature and complexity of the issues involved.”

(Emphasis added).

In fact, UVA is one of only 12 schools that that the Department of Education has “flagged for a total compliance review.”

Another Washington Post reporter, Nick Anderson, writes that the inconsistencies in Jackie’s story will not end the federal investigation of UVA.

The University of Virginia was under the microscope for its handling of sexual assault cases long before Rolling Stone magazine weighed in with the account of a student who said she was gang-raped at a fraternity house.

The emergence of fresh questions about that account — including the fraternity issuing a rebuttal, doubts voiced by some who know the woman, and a statement from Rolling Stone’s managing editor on Friday acknowledging “discrepancies” in her version of events — will not suddenly cancel that scrutiny.

A federal investigation of U-Va.’s response to sexual violence, begun in June 2011, continues. It is one of the longest-running active probes of its kind in the nation. U-Va. remains one of the most prominent of about 90 colleges and universities facing such investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Student and faculty activists for sexual assault prevention, given a national platform in recent days, are unlikely to let the issue fade away. Skeptics will still wonder why the university has not expelled anyone for sexual misconduct in the past decade. Parents of prospective applicants, also mindful of the slaying of sophomore Hannah Graham after she disappeared in September, still want assurances that the Charlottesville campus is safe.

Perhaps most important, University President Teresa A. Sullivan laid out a detailed road map this week for a comprehensive review of the campus culture, touching on sexual assault, alcohol, Greek life and university oversight.

Francesca Bessey

Francesca Bessey

Since rape on campus is such a huge issue, shouldn’t education reporters like T. Rees Shapiro be more knowledgeable about sexual assault and its traumatic effects? One journalist, Francesca Bessey thinks so.

From Huffington Post: Thought the Rolling Stone Article Was Bad? Try Other Rape Journalism. Here’s her assessment of the Washington Post coverage:

The actual discrepancies introduced by the Washington Post are few: one, the individual whom Jackie claimed brought her to the fraternity was apparently a member of a different fraternity; and, two, a student who allegedly came to Jackie’s aid claimed she initially gave a different account of what happened that night. The fraternity also released a statement denying knowledge of the assault, or that there was a social function the night Jackie believes she was assaulted.

For someone who knows little to nothing about rape, fraternities, or the contemporary college party scene — which unfortunately seems to characterize a lot of the coverage thus far — these discrepancies might initially seem like gaping holes in Jackie’s story.

However, as any medical professional or victim advocate will tell you, trauma-related memory inconsistencies are extraordinarily common in cases of sexual assault, often manifesting in the survivor describing the incident to first responders as less severe than it actually was. Such plasticity of memory is not unique to rape cases; the FBI, for example, notes that “there can be a wide range of after effects to a trauma,” which can impact on a victim of a violent crime or the victim’s family members. A list of these effects includes confusion, disorientation, memory loss and slowed thinking. Psychological research has long demonstrated that humans reconstruct, rather than recall, memory, which is why eyewitness testimony is considered one of the most dubious forms of evidence in a court of law.

Why have journalists covering this story given more credence to statements by the fraternity and friends who were portrayed very negatively in the Rolling Stone article than to Jackie’s version of events?

…it is important to note that the so-called “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s story don’t necessarily invalidate her version of events. The fraternity’s statement is in no way more credible than Jackie’s own word — in fact, I would argue less so, given the sheer prevalence of fraternity rape. It would be foolish to assume that a fraternity’s formal denial of “knowledge of these alleged acts” means that they did not occur (with or without current leadership’s knowledge), as it would be foolish to rule out that the “date function” Jackie thought she was invited to wasn’t pure pretense in the first place. It is also within the realm of possibility that Jackie was brought to the party by a man who didn’t necessarily belong to the fraternity, even that he misled her about his membership in the frat. It is also possible that the student who gave a different version of how he found Jackie that night, lacks credibility or is himself having trouble recalling events.

Ultimately, these are all details significant to a police or journalistic investigation, upon which the responsibility is on law enforcement and journalists to figure out. For Jackie, however, it doesn’t change much. It doesn’t change her experience of violent assault, or those of countless students like her, many of whose stories are also featured in the article in question. It does not change the majority of the material in the original article: not the debasing lyrics of the UVA fight song; not the person who hurled a bottle at Jackie’s face the first time she tried to speak out; not the 38 students who appeared in Dean Nicole Eramo’s office in just one academic year to discuss incidents of sexual assault, despite the fact that not one student has ever been expelled from UVA for a sexual offense.

In light of these facts, in light of my own rape and the rapes of too many of my friends at the hands of their peers, I do wonder: Whose credibility is really to be doubted here? Jackie’s or the public peanut gallery that has diluted sexual assault down to a number and a date?

Again, I don’t want to personally denigrate T. Rees Shapiro. He writes well, and he has done a fine job of locating sources at the University of Virginia–both in this case and in his previous reporting on  in writing on the Hannah Graham murder case–probably because his youth helps him connect with college students only a few years younger than he is. But his analysis of a survivor’s story has suffered from his lack of knowledge and experience about campus sexual assault and rape in general.

I want to share two more articles that offer a more sophisticated take on these subjects–written by women with long journalistic experience.

Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn

From CNN, Rape culture? It’s too real, by Sally Kohn.

We don’t yet know all the facts behind the now-infamous, poorly fact-checked story in Rolling Stone about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. What we do know: Rolling Stone at first blamed the alleged victim, “Jackie” — rather than its own journalistic sloppiness — for so-called “discrepancies” (before changing its callous statement).

And new reporting by the Washington Post does reveal that Jackie’s friends, cited in the story, say they are skeptical about some of the details. Still, they all believe that Jackie experienced something “horrific” that night, in the words of one, and we do know that Jackie stands by her story. Most of the doubts about it were apparently raised by those she’s accusing, including the fraternity and main alleged assailant — whom, I guess, we’re supposed to believe instead. But one other thing we do know is that gang rapes just like what Jackie is alleging do happen — too often, and all over America.

While Rolling Stone’s reporting was clearly shoddy, some writers who initially poked holes in Jackie’s story did so for ideological motives. For instance, even before the reporting lapses were revealed, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg called Jackie’s story unbelievable. “It is not credible,” Goldberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t believe it.”

Instead, Goldberg insisted, Jackie’s account was “a convenient conversation for an exposé of rape culture,” something, incidentally, Goldberg also doubts to be real. “‘Rape culture’ suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America,” Goldberg later wrote in National Review. It’s all hogwash, says Goldberg, alleging that the very idea of “rape culture” is just “an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists.”

In other words, whatever the reality of what happened to Jackie, Goldberg and others were skeptical because they simply don’t believe rapes like that happen with the participation of groups of assailants, let alone the complicity of bystanders. This is where they’re mistaken.

Kohn then lists several extreme examples of gang rapes that resemble Jackie’s description–most of which we have covered here.

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Also from CNN, In 2014, rape rage drove feminism’s ‘third wave’, by Nina Burleigh.

Historians could look back on this year as the beginning of feminism’s third wave.

The year was momentous for feminism. For the first time, rape victims and their supporters emerged from the shadows in significant numbers and started naming names — to significant effect. Women, their voices amplified by social media and with the support of a small but growing cohort of men, have been exposing and shaming venerable American institutions such as the NFL, Ivy League and non-Ivy League colleges, and the entertainment icon Bill Cosby.

First wave feminists won the right to vote. The second wave got us the right to work. But even with those advances, women have remained fundamentally restricted by the threat and terrible secret of sexual assault.

This year, emboldened and connected by social media, college women formed a powerful grassroots movement that led to universities such as Harvard being publicly named and shamed for not addressing women’s rape reports. They brought the issue of campus sexual assault into the White House, where Barack Obama became the first President to use the words “sexual violence.” The Department of Education released a list of universities under investigation for mishandling sexual violence cases, often letting even repeat predators off with barely a slap on the wrist.

These young women had been silent until social media enabled them to come together, even though thousands of miles apart, share debilitating secrets and then act with the confidence that safety in numbers provided.

I hope you’ll read the rest at the link.

I only hope that irresponsible journalism perpetrated by Rolling Stone and the even more irresponsible reaction to it have not set back the cause of protecting young women on college campuses from sexual violence.

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Lazy Saturday Reads: #IStandWithJackie

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Good Morning!!

I’m feeling very overwhelmed this morning, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Between the police killings of civilians and the UVA rape story, I don’t know where to turn for relief.

Last night I escaped for awhile by watching the season finale of “Z Nation,” which is a very violent show about a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse that almost seems like a metaphor for our sick society.

Why are people so fascinated by zombies at this time in history? Is it because so many of us are dead inside, with no empathy for our fellow humans? Hatred of anyone who is not a white, wealthy, straight “christian” male born in the USA has taken over so many of us and transformed our culture in so many ugly ways.

It’s as if a virus was loosed on the population–in the Reagan years?–and those of us who still care for other people and dream of equal rights and protection for all people are left fighting just to stay conscious–like the survivors in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Where will it all end?

I was planning to write about the backlash against the Rolling Stone story on rape at the University of Virginia in today’s post, but I don’t think I have my thoughts together enough to do a thorough job of it yet. When I first started thinking about it, the main backlash was about author Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s choice not to locate the accused perpetrators and get their side of the story.

WTF?! As Columbia journalism Prof. Helen Benedict told the NYT, a reporter doing a story on a university refusing to deal with a robbery or mugging on campus wouldn’t be required to hunt down the perpetrators and get their point of view on what actually happened.

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Ceri Richards

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Ceri Richards

But rape is different. Any woman who reports being raped in the good old USA must be scrutinized in detail, because she probably was asking for it or is lying. She must tell what she was wearing, whether she was drinking, whether she knew the perpetrator, whether she is just claiming rape because she regrets having sex while drunk, and on and on and on.

Then yesterday afternoon Will Dana, managing editor of Rolling Stone basically threw Erdely’s source “Jackie” under the bus, suggesting that she had fabricated her story. Dana apparently took the word of members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity that “Jackie’s” story was untrue.

As someone who was traumatized as a child and who has had to deal with posttraumatic stress disorder for much of my life, I took it personally. At first I could not stand to read the accusatory articles, so I went to Twitter first. There I learned that many men and women were pushing back against the media victim-blaming. They had started posting tweets with the hashtag #IStandWithJackie. Reading many of those tweets gave me the strength to read some of yesterday’s backlash articles.

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Because I’m really not ready to write a coherent post right now, I’m just going to link to some articles that you may want to check out.

The story that triggered yesterday’s backlash was by T. Rees Shapiro and published at The Washington Post: Key elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. gang rape allegations in doubt. Shapiro, like Rolling Stone’s Will Dana, accepts the word of the accused fraternity that there was no party on the date given by “Jackie” and the word of a man she accused that he never met “Jackie.” Jackie’s compelling story is apparently eclipsed for the Post by these unproven assertions by unnamed men who have every reason to lie to protect themselves and their fraternity.

Here are some “key elements” of the WaPo story for me:

Jackie, who spoke to The Washington Post several times during the past week, stood by her account, offering a similar version and details.

“I never asked for this” attention, she said in an interview. “What bothers me is that so many people act like it didn’t happen. It’s my life. I have had to live with the fact that it happened — every day for the last two years.” ….

Jackie describes her interactions with Erdely and Rolling Stone:

Overwhelmed by sitting through interviews with the writer, Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused, and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless.

Jackie said she finally relented and agreed to participate on the condition that she be able to fact-check her parts in the story, which she said Erdely agreed to.

“I didn’t want the world to read about the worst three hours of my life, the thing I have nightmares about every night,” Jackie said.

About the article itself:

Jackie told The Post that she felt validated that the article encouraged other female students to come forward saying that they, too, had been sexually assaulted in fraternity houses.

“Haven’t enough people come forward at this point?” she said. “How many people do you need to come forward saying they’ve been raped at a fraternity to make it real to you? They need to acknowledge it’s a problem. They need to address it instead of pointing fingers to take the blame off themselves.”

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Trauma has powerful effects on the brain, and it’s not at all surprising that survivors’ memories can be confused and inconsistent. In fact, even normal human memory is not designed to recall every detail of events with precision, and expecting that from a rape victim is ridiculous and unfair. But that’s the way it is.

“Jackie” did not even report her rape to the police, because she felt she couldn’t handle the backlash. Now a magazine that didn’t stand by its own story has made her vulnerable to attacks from all over the world.

Where is author Sabrina Rubin Erdely? Why isn’t she defending her story?

Last night on Twitter, Jamison Foser called attention to the fact that the WaPo story originally claimed as fact that Jackie was lying. Then they changed the line in the story without noting they had made a correction. That’s a pretty big “mistake” for a newspaper that has been busily trying to debunk “Jackie’s” story for the past couple of weeks.

Wonkblog (at the WaPo) posted a story on the Twitter response last night: #IStandWithJackie: People on Twitter are criticizing Rolling Stone and supporting UVa student.

Now some important articles that push back against the backlash, yesterday’s WaPo story, and Rolling Stone’s betrayal of “Jackie.” Some of these were published before the RS reversal, but I still think they are relevant.

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Mother Jones: Don’t Let the Rolling Stone Controversy Distract You From the Campus Rape Epidemic.

Think Progress: Gang Rapes Happen On College Campuses.

Thank Progress: Actually, The Link Between Sexual Assault And Alcohol Isn’t As Clear As You Think.

Melissa McEwen at Shakesville: Today in Rape Culture.

About Reporting: The backlash to Rolling Stone’s story about rape culture at UVa

Alexandra Brodsky at MSNBC: Rolling Stone scapegoats rape victim, makes matters worse.

Ali Safron at Buzzfeed: Victims’ Memories Are Imperfect, But Still Perfectly Believable.

Libby Nelson at Vox: Rolling Stone didn’t just fail readers — it failed Jackie, too.

Amanda Taub at Vox: The lesson of Rolling Stone and UVA: protecting victims means checking their stories.

Media Matters: Rolling Stone And The Debate Over Sexual Assault Reporting Standards.

Rolling Stone before the sudden reversal: Rape at UVA: Readers Say Jackie Wasn’t Alone.

Katie McDonough at Salon: “It makes me really depressed”: From UVA to Cosby, the rape denial playbook that won’t go away.

 

That’s about all I can handle writing this morning. I have some links on other stories that I’ll post in the comment thread. I hope you join me there and share your own recommended links.


Thursday Reads: An Important Story about Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Francoise in a round-backed chair reading, Mary Cassatt

Francoise in a round-backed chair reading, Mary Cassatt

 

Good Morning!!

I stayed up late last night reading the stunning Rolling Stone article on the culture of sexual assault and official cover-up at the University of Virginia. After I finished it, I had quite a bit of difficulty getting to sleep. The story was reported and written by investigative journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The headline is A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA. Before I begin, I want to warn everyone that the article includes explicit descriptions of sexual assault and a shocking culture of indifference to victims. I’m not going to excerpt explicit descriptions of rapes, but I do want to quote some of the reactions to them by students and administrators.

The article opens with a graphic description of a violent gang rape of 18-year-old incoming freshman “Jackie” that took place at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house during a party. Hours later, beaten and bloody, Jackie called “friends” for help, but instead of taking her to a hospital they talked her out of reporting the assault because it would ruin her “reputation,” and they as her friends would be ostracized and would no longer be invited to frat parties.

So Jackie hid in her room and sank into a deep depression. She received no support from her “friends” and acquaintances. The man who had taken her to the party and set up her rape by 7 men behaved as if nothing abnormal had happened, and asked her why she was ignoring him. Erdely on the friends’ reactions:

She was having an especially difficult time figuring out how to process that awful night, because her small social circle seemed so underwhelmed. For the first month of school, Jackie had latched onto a crew of lighthearted social strivers, and her pals were now impatient for Jackie to rejoin the merriment. “You’re still upset about that?” Andy asked one Friday night when Jackie was crying. Cindy, a self-declared hookup queen, said she didn’t see why Jackie was so bent out of shape. “Why didn’t you have fun with it?” Cindy asked. “A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?” One of Jackie’s friends told her, unconcerned, “Andy said you had a bad experience at a frat, and you’ve been a baby ever since.”

That type of response to sexual assaults is apparently common at UVA.

That reaction of dismissal, downgrading and doubt is a common theme UVA rape survivors hear, including from women. “Some of my hallmates were skeptical,” recalls recent grad Emily Renda, who says that weeks into her first year she was raped after a party. “They were silent and avoided me afterwards. It made me doubt myself.” Other students encounter more overt hostility, as when a first-year student confided her assault to a friend. “She said she thought I was just looking for attention,” says the undergrad. Shrugging off a rape or pointing fingers at the victim can be a self-protective maneuver for women, a form of wishful thinking to reassure themselves they could never be so vulnerable to violence. For men, skepticism is a form of self-protection too. For much of their lives, they’ve looked forward to the hedonistic fun of college, bearing every expectation of booze and no-strings sex. A rape heralds the uncomfortable idea that all that harmless mayhem may not be so harmless after all. Easier, then, to assume the girl is lying, even though studies indicate that false rape reports account for, at most, eight percent of reports.

And so at UVA, where social status is paramount, outing oneself as a rape victim can be a form of social suicide. “I don’t know many people who are engrossed in the party scene and have spoken out about their sexual assaults,” says third-year student Sara Surface. After all, no one climbs the social ladder only to cast themselves back down. Emily Renda, for one, quickly figured out that few classmates were sympathetic to her plight, and instead channeled her despair into hard partying. “My drinking didn’t stand out,” says Renda, who often ended her nights passed out on a bathroom floor. “It does make you wonder how many others are doing what I did: drinking to self-medicate.”

Investigative journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone

Investigative journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone

Erdely talked to a number of survivors, and she found a history of gang rapes at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity stretching back at least 30 years. She describes a culture in which male upperclassmen target freshmen girls and deliberately take advantage of their lack of sophistication about the danger of sexual violence on college campuses.

A year later, Jackie did report the rape to a UVA administrator. She was sent to Dean Nicole Eramo, who heads the “Sexual Misconduct Board.” Eramo subtly discouraged Jackie from reporting the rape.

When Jackie finished talking, Eramo comforted her, then calmly laid out her options. If Jackie wished, she could file a criminal complaint with police. Or, if Jackie preferred to keep the matter within the university, she had two choices. She could file a complaint with the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board, to be decided in a “formal resolution” with a jury of students and faculty, and a dean as judge. Or Jackie could choose an “informal resolution,” in which Jackie could simply face her attackers in Eramo’s presence and tell them how she felt; Eramo could then issue a directive to the men, such as suggesting counseling. Eramo presented each option to Jackie neutrally, giving each equal weight. She assured Jackie there was no pressure – whatever happened next was entirely her choice.

Like many schools, UVA has taken to emphasizing that in matters of sexual assault, it caters to victim choice. “If students feel that we are forcing them into a criminal or disciplinary process that they don’t want to be part of, frankly, we’d be concerned that we would get fewer reports,” says associate VP for student affairs Susan Davis. Which in theory makes sense: Being forced into an unwanted choice is a sensitive point for the victims. But in practice, that utter lack of guidance can be counterproductive to a 19-year-old so traumatized as Jackie was that she was contemplating suicide. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing.

“This is an alarming trend that I’m seeing on campuses,” says Laura Dunn of the advocacy group SurvJustice. “Schools are assigning people to victims who are pretending, or even thinking, they’re on the victim’s side, when they’re actually discouraging and silencing them.

The culture of cover-up at UVA is shocking to me, but it is probably typical of many colleges and universities, according to Erdely. However UVA is among a select group of 86 schools that is under investigation by the federal Office of Civil Rights because of their failure to deal with the problem. In September UVA held a two-hour trustees meeting to discuss sexual assault on campus.

Those two hours, however, were devoted entirely to upbeat explanations of UVA’s new prevention and response strategies, and to self-congratulations to UVA for being a “model” among schools in this arena. Only once did the room darken with concern, when a trustee in UVA colors – blue sport coat, orange bow tie – interrupted to ask, “Are we under any federal investigation with regard to sexual assault?”

Dean of students Allen Groves, in a blue suit and orange necktie of his own, swooped in with a smooth answer. He affirmed that while like many of its peers UVA was under investigation, it was merely a “standard compliance review.” He mentioned that a student’s complaint from the 2010-11 academic year had been folded into that “routine compliance review.” Having downplayed the significance of a Title IX compliance review – which is neither routine nor standard – he then elaborated upon the lengths to which UVA has cooperated with the Office of Civil Rights’ investigation, his tone and manner so reassuring that the room relaxed.

Told of the meeting, Office of Civil Rights’ Catherine Lhamon calls Groves’ mischaracterization “deliberate and irresponsible.” “Nothing annoys me more than a school not taking seriously their review from the federal government about their civil rights obligations,” she says.

Jackie eventually became involved with a UVA rape survivors group, but even among these women who were trying to deal with their traumatic experiences and reaching out to recent victims, the culture was one of not reporting their rapes to police.

UVA Dean of Students Nicole Eramo

UVA Dean of Students Nicole Eramo

You’ll recall that it was at UVA that 18-year-old Hannah Graham was abducted and murdered, allegedly by 32-year-old Jesse Matthew, who had been previously accused of rape at two different Virginia colleges in 2002 and 2003. He was not charged in either case, and he apparently went on to become a smoothly professional sexual predator. The news reports say that the victims did not want to press charges, but the truth is that colleges and universities regularly discourage young women from reporting rapes in order to protect their institutional reputations. Erdely addresses this issue at length in her article on UVA.

Matthew’s DNA was found under the fingernails of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared after she was locked out of a Metallica concert on the UVA campus in 2009. Harrington’s body was later found a few miles from where Hannah Graham’s body was recovered. Matthew’s DNA has also been connected to a violent rape and attempted murder that took place in Fairfax in 2005.

In her article, Erdely discusses the research done by psychologist David Lisak on campus rapists. He discovered that a small percentage of college men commit rapes, and they tend to be repeat offenders (PDF). That last link is to a peer-reviewed journal article by Lisak, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending by Undetected Rapists.” Erdely writes:

Lisak’s 2002 groundbreaking study of more than 1,800 college men found that roughly nine out of 10 rapes are committed by serial offenders, who are responsible for an astonishing average of six rapes each. None of the offenders in Lisak’s study had ever been reported. Lisak’s findings upended general presumptions about campus sexual assault: It implied that most incidents are not bumbling, he-said-she-said miscommunications, but rather deliberate crimes by serial sex offenders.

In his study, Lisak’s subjects described the ways in which they used the camouflage of college as fruitful rape-hunting grounds. They told Lisak they target freshmen for being the most naïve and the least-experienced drinkers. One offender described how his party-hearty friends would help incapacitate his victims: “We always had some kind of punch. . . . We’d make it with a real sweet juice. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn’t know what hit them.” Presumably, the friends mixing the drinks did so without realizing the offender’s plot, just as when they probably high-fived him the next morning, they didn’t realize the behavior they’d just endorsed. That’s because the serial rapist’s behavior can look ordinary at college. “They’re not acting in a vacuum,” observes Lisak of predators. “They’re echoing that message and that culture that’s around them: the objectification and degradation of women.”

I won’t quote any more from the article, but I do recommend reading it if  you can handle it.

After the Rolling Stone article came out, UVA’s president suddenly decided maybe she should something about Jackie’s rape. From The Daily Progress, UVa calls for investigation into rape allegation in Rolling Stone article.

UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan released a statement Wednesday night, stating the university’s commitment to preventing sexual assault.

“The University takes seriously the issue of sexual misconduct, a significant problem that colleges and universities are grappling with across the nation,” Sullivan said in the statement. “Our goal is to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire University community.”

Erdely said UVa reinforced one of her major arguments in her article — that UVa administration focuses on prestige and appearance over student safety — with Sullivan’s statement….

“I am writing in response to a Rolling Stone magazine article that negatively depicts the University of Virginia and its handling of sexual misconduct cases,” Sullivan said at the beginning of the statement.

“It goes to show what their priorities are here — the fact that she would go out of her way to say I negatively depicted the university — this is the first thing on their minds,” Erdely said. “They need to be putting student safety first.”

UVA President Teresa Sullivan

UVA President Teresa Sullivan

Here’s the full statement:

Date: Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 6:17 PM
Subject: An Important Message from President Sullivan

To the University community:

I am writing in response to a Rolling Stone magazine article that negatively depicts the University of Virginia and its handling of sexual misconduct cases. Because of federal and state privacy laws, and out of respect for sexual assault survivors, we are very limited in what we can say about any of the cases mentioned in this article.

The article describes an alleged sexual assault of a female student at a fraternity house in September 2012, including many details that were previously not disclosed to University officials. I have asked the Charlottesville Police Department to formally investigate this incident, and the University will cooperate fully with the investigation.

The University takes seriously the issue of sexual misconduct, a significant problem that colleges and universities are grappling with across the nation. Our goal is to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire University community.

We have recently adopted several new initiatives and policies aimed at fostering a culture of reporting and raising awareness of the issues.

We want our students to feel comfortable coming forward with information when there are problems in the community and cooperating with local law enforcement and the student disciplinary process. We also want them to feel empowered to take action and to lead efforts to make our Grounds and our community a better place to live and learn.

We have been taking a leadership role on issues regarding sexual misconduct and violence. U.Va. hosted a national conference on this topic in February 2014. “Dialogue at U.Va.: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students” brought together national experts and professionals from approximately 60 colleges and universities to discuss best practices and strategies for prevention and response.

The HoosGotYourBack initiative, part of the Not On Our Grounds awareness campaign, was developed and launched in collaboration with students and with local Corner Merchants to increase active bystander behavior.

A number of other initiatives are also planned for the spring. Among them are the implementation of a new student sexual misconduct policy and a related training program, a campus climate survey, and an in-depth bystander intervention program that will include students, faculty, and staff.

More information about sexual violence education and resources is available on the University’s website at http://www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence/

Finally, I want to underscore our commitment to marshaling all available resources to assist our students who confront issues related to sexual misconduct. Our dedicated Student Affairs staff devote countless hours to educating and counseling our students on issues regarding their health and safety, and they stand ready to assist whenever students need help.

Teresa A. Sullivan
President

President Sullivan approved distribution of this message.

I’ll let you judge the sincerity of Sullivan’s statement.

I know there is plenty of other news going on, but this was all I could think about this morning. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and feel free to discuss this post or not. I realize this is a very difficult subject, but it is also a vitally important one.


Tuesday Reads: Hacker Twitter Storm and Post-Prom Nightmares

twitter-storm-alison-12001

 

Good Morning!!

 

In the comments on yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there has been quite a bit of tension building up between Glenn Greenwald and some of the more extreme members of the (for lack of a better name) cypherpunks crowd–Wikileaks, Cryptome.com, and the hacker community (including Jacob Applebaum, who is closely involved both with Wikileaks and Laura Poitras, Greenwald’s partner in crime. I guess I should have stayed up later last night, because this morning I woke up to the aftermath of a major storm in the Twitterverse, where most of these types of people choose to communicate with each other.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

The fight stemmed from an article posted at The Intercept yesterday, in which the authors chose to redact the name of one of the five countries targeted by NSA data collection. However, it really goes back much further than that.

There has been a long running disagreement between Greenwald and the other groups I mentioned on how much of Edward Snowden’s trove of stolen NSA data to publish. The hacker/Wikileaks crowd thinks Greenwald should simply release everything and let the chips fall where they may, and Greenwald claims he is carefully vetting the material with Snowden’s help in order not to reveal anything that would harm anyone.

Greenwald has actually revealed only a small portion of the material so far, presumably holding back information that he wanted to include in his book. But now the book has been released, and it apparently contains much information that has already been published. For those who have been obsessively following the NSA leaks story, there doesn’t seem to be a need to buy the book. Why is Greenwald being so stingy?

Here’s some background from Michael Kelley at Business Insider: WikiLeaks Threatens To Reveal Information That Glenn Greenwald Says Could Lead To ‘Deaths’.

Jacob Applebaum

Jacob Applebaum

America’s National Security Agency (NSA) can “vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation” in the Bahamas and an unnamed country, the new publication The Intercept reported Monday, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Intercept Editor Glenn Greenwald — who wrote about documents leaked by Snowden when he was a columnist for The Guardian — said the publication didn’t reveal the country because it was “very convinced” that doing so would lead to “deaths.”

After a heated discussion between WikiLeaks, Greenwald, Intercept Editor-In-Chief John Cook, and American WikiLeaks hacker-turned-Der Spiegal contributor Jacob Appelbaum, WikiLeaks tweeted that it will reveal the name of the second country being spied on by the NSA.

As Kelley points out, the implications is that Wikileaks knows the name of the country either by unmasking the redaction with software or because Wikileaks has access to the Snowden files.

The most plausible way for WikiLeaks to have access to a Snowden cache is if Appelbaum, who led the reporting on several Der Spiegel articles based on NSA documents (which may or may not be from Snowden), shared information with his friend and WikiLeaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange. Applebaum tweeted that The Intercept’s redaction was “a mistake.”

Appelbaum, a close friend of Laura Poitras, the other journalist whom Snowden gave a large set of documents, also gave a presentation detailing a classified document listing technology available to the NSA’s hacking unit, known as TAO. It is not known how he acquired those documents.

Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras

So which is it? The careless ways in which the Snowden documents have been passed around between The Guardian and The New York Times and other news organizations; with Greenwald’s husband David Miranda carrying them through London to Berlin and back; as well as the fact that Snowden is in Russia, suggest that the entire cache will eventually be released, and presumably all hell will break loose. It’s only a matter of time. 

Charles Johnson posted the entire Wikileaks-Greenwald argument at Little Green Footballs: Slap Fight of the Day: Wikileaks vs Pernicious G

Today on Twitter this happened: Julian Assange, who most people believe is the one behind the @Wikileaks account, threw a huge tantrum because Glenn Greenwald redacted the name of a country from his latest disingenuous article. Greenwald says he was convinced publishing the country’s name would lead to deaths. Assange doesn’t give a shit about that, of course.

There are some inadvertently hilarious moments here; Wikileaks’s Jacob Appelbaum says redacting the country “makes Wikileaks look extreme.” I almost fell out on that one. And then there’s the tweet in which Assange basically calls everyone in Greenwald’s crew “a bunch of racists.” And it all ends with Assange issuing a super-villain threat to release the country’s name “in 72 hours.”

Scroll through the collection below to see what it looks like when extreme libertarians have a purity war.

Head over to Green Footballs if you want the details. Read more exchanges between Wikileaks, Jacob Applebaum, and John Cook, editor of The Intercept at Chirpstory. Read more at Buzzfeed, where Miriam Berger and Miriam Elder provide a timeline of the tweets along with their interpretation: Julian Assange Is Angry At Glenn Greenwald And He’s Not Going To Take It Anymore.

cook-gawker-e1310306853377

Finally, Bob Cesca’s take on the whole affair: The Wikileaks vs Greenwald Twitter Fight: Julian Assange Threatens To Reveal Deadly NSA Info.

It all began Monday morning when The Intercept posted a new Snowden revelation with cutesy headline: “Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas.” Get it? Pirates! The article exhaustively describes an operation called MYSTIC and another called SOMALGET in which NSA gathers audio and metadata of cellphone calls in the Bahamas in order to spy on human traffickers and drug cartels. The Bahamas is notorious for both.

Naturally, the article featured all of the deceptive Greenwaldian bait-and-switch we’ve come to expect from his Snowden articles. For example, in paragraph seven, Greenwald and his co-authors Ryan Devereaux and Laura Poitras noted that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey routinely vacation in the Bahamas:

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

NSA is spying on Oprah! Stop the presses! But no, if you read all the way down to the 54th paragraph (!!) Greenwald tosses in a token mention of NSA’s rules about preventing data collection against U.S. Persons, whether or not they happen to be inside the U.S. There are very strict “minimization” procedures to eliminate the data that might’ve been inadvertently collected. Why? Because it’s illegal to spy on Americans without an individual warrant. And, by the way, Greenwald & Company noted that the SOMALGET program is, yes, legal.

It sure seems like there are enough hints in the story for anyone to guess the redacted country. Pirates? SOMALGET? Plus the fact the Assange accused Greenwald of “racism.” Read much more interpretation and more tweets at The Daily Banter.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this story from now on and I’ll pass on any new information.

In other news . . .

On Sunday JJ wrote about an alleged gang rape that reportedly took place after the Calhoun High School senior prom in North Georgia on May 10. The reason I’m writing about it is that Sky Dancing has been getting a huge number of clicks from people looking for more information on this story. It seems people want to know what is happening, but the local papers have not published anything on the crime or the investigation since Sunday. Doesn’t that seem odd and troubling? Is a cover-up in the works. As JJ pointed out it brings back memories of Steubenville, Ohio. After the gang rape there, local officials tried to sweep it under the rug, but a blogger and an “Anonymous” group kept the story alive. Maybe someone with inside information from Calhoun needs to get something like that started? As in Steubenville, there are hints that coddled football players may be involved.

 

Jacqueline Gomez

Jacqueline Gomez

Meanwhile, in another prom-related tragedy, a girl was found dead after a prom at MacArthur High School in Houston. According to her mother, the mother of Jacqueline Gomez’ boyfriend was supposed to bring her home that night, but instead the boy’s mother allowed the couple to stay in a hotel room against the Gomez’ mother’s wishes. To me the whole thing sounds really suspicious. From KHOU.com, Mother: Daughter was not supposed to stay at hotel after MacArthur HS prom.

There are new startling details from the mother of a teenagerfound dead on prom night. Her mother feels like she was mislead by her daughter’s prom date and his mother….

Gomez was off to her senior prom at the Hyatt North Houston Hotel. Her mother was too distraught to show her face on camera, but said she expected to see her daughter back at home later that night….

Barron said Gomez’s date’s mother picked the couple up from her home. She also picked them up from the hotel later that night. That’s when she last spoke to her daughter on the phone.

“I just spoke to them after prom, a couple words, told me she was going to get something to eat,” said Barron.

That’s when the boy’s mother got on the phone and asked if Gomez could spend the night at their house.

“I said no, bring her back home,” said Barron. “I gave them a couple hours, and I never heard back.”

The next call she got was from a homicide detective with the Houston Police Department. She said detectives told her the room was booked by the boyfriend’s mother.

What happened? Who gave Jacqueline the drugs and did the boy’s mother know about it? More information from The Houston Chronicle: Texts Hint Girl May Have Overdosed After Prom.

A series of text messages offered new details into the death of Jacqueline Gomez, the 17-year-old Aldine ISD senior found dead Saturday in a Houston motel room the morning after her prom. The texts, sent from an account identified as Gomez’s date, also indicate investigators believe the girl probably overdosed….

Yet nobody can be certain how the MacArthur High School student died until autopsy results are complete – which could take several weeks, the Harris County medical examiner said. And that has the date and Gomez’s family and friends anxiously waiting for the mystery to be solved.

Meanwhile, her friends and family refute any suggestion that Gomez was ever a “party girl,” saying she spent most of her time working at a Kroger grocery and preparing to graduate in June.

Was Jacqueline given a date-rape drug? We may never find out, because those drugs wash out of the system very quickly. Check this out:

“He was posting pictures of himself crying on Instagram. So I a sent him a text that day to ask what had happened to my girl,” said Justice Gonzalez, a close friend of Gomez who saw the couple leave the prom together Friday night to go to that room. Authorities report Gomez was found dead in her bed about 9:20 the next morning.

“They said she overdosed,” part of the text reads, likely referring to law enforcement officials.

He went on.

“I woke up. I tried waking her but she wouldn’t,” the date texted back, adding four frowning faces. “I was screaming and crying telling her to wake up. But she didn’t. She didn’t,” He ended his text with two frowning faces with tears.

He stated she had appeared “perfectly fine and happy” when they left the “Miami Night” prom. She also seemed “happy” when they both went to sleep, he said.

He had told authorities that they had some alcohol, but said in a text to the friend that Gomez had also taken the painkiller hydrocodone.

Why the f&ck didn’t didn’t he take her home, and WTF was his mother thinking?! Furthermore, why can’t something be done to prevent these kinds of after-prom horrors?

Now I’m really mad, and I’m running out of space and time. I’ll post links to other news in the comment thread, and I hope you’ll do the same.

 


Independence Day Reads

4th of July and NSA

Good Morning!!

So Egyptians staged a whole lot of protests and with the help of the army, overthrew the president they elected about a year ago. From the Boston Globe: Egypt’s army ousts Morsi, who calls it a ‘coup’

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s first democratically elected president was overthrown by the military Wednesday, ousted after just one year in office by the same kind of Arab Spring uprising that brought the Islamist leader to power.

The armed forces announced they would install a temporary civilian government to replace Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who denounced the action as a ‘‘full coup’’ by the generals. They also suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and called for new elections.

Millions of anti-Morsi protesters around the country erupted in celebrations after the televised announcement by the army chief. Fireworks burst over crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where men and women danced, shouting, ‘‘God is great’’ and ‘‘Long live Egypt.’’

That sure sounds like coup. The army overthrows an elected leader and appoints a new one, while suspending the constitution. What else would you call it? And then there’s this:

The army took control of state media and blacked out TV stations operated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The head of the Brotherhood’s political wing was arrested.

It’s like Groundhog Day. A year from now will the whole thing happen all over again?

Morsi Dud by Jeff Darcy

From BBC News: Egypt swears in Mansour as interim leader after Morsi ousted

The top judge of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmud Mansour, has been sworn in as interim leader, a day after the army ousted President Mohammed Morsi and put him under house arrest.

Mr Mansour said fresh elections were “the only way” forward, but gave no indication of when they would be held.

Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, is under house arrest after what he says was a military coup.

The army said he had “failed to meet the demands of the people”.

So it’s as if the Pentagon overthrew President Obama and installed Chief Justice Roberts as temporary president, while at the same time suspending the Constitution and shutting down the media.

The Dark Side of Egyptian “Revolution”

There’s also another similarity to the previous Egyptian “revolution” an outbreak of sexual assaults and gang rapes targeting women in public. From Human Rights Watch:

Egyptian officials and political leaders across the spectrum should condemn and take immediate steps to address the horrific levels of sexual violence against women in Tahrir Square. Egyptian anti-sexual harassment groups confirmed that mobs sexually assaulted and in some cases raped at least 91 women in Tahrir Square, over four days of protests beginning on June 30, 2013, amid a climate of impunity.

“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development.”

The Egyptian group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, which runs a hotline for victims of sexual assault and seeks to intervene to stop attacks, has received scores of reports of attacks on women in Tahrir Square over the past three days. The group confirmed 46 attacks on June 30, 17 on July 1, and 23 on July 2. The group’s volunteers intervened to protect and evacuate women in 31 cases of sexual assault. Four of the women needed medical assistance, including two who were evacuated by ambulance. The women’s rights group Nazra for Feminist Studies had confirmed another five attacks on June 28.

One woman required surgery after being raped with a “sharp object,” volunteers with the group said. In other cases, women were beaten with metal chains, sticks, and chairs, and attacked with knives. In some cases they were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they were able to escape.

Please go read the rest at Human Rights Watch.

At CNN, writer Nina Burleigh puts the sexual violence in Egypt in the historical context of male efforts to control women’s access to the public sphere.

Last week, a 22-year-old Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square and had to undergo surgery for severe injuries. The assault reminds us yet again of an often overlooked aspect of the Egyptian revolution.

When Egyptians overthrew their dictator in 2011, one of the first celebratory acts in Tahrir Square included the gang beating and sexual assault of American journalist Lara Logan, who, like the Dutch journalist, landed in the hospital.

The Logan rape has always been portrayed as another unfortunate byproduct of mob violence. In fact, it was much more than that. It was a warning shot fired by men whose political beliefs are founded on a common pillar: Women must stay out of the public square.

One of the hallmarks of revolutionary victory in Tahrir Square has always been rape and sexual harassment. Mobs of men routinely set upon women, isolating, stripping and groping. No one is ever arrested or held accountable, and elected officials shrug their shoulders and blame the victims….

Egyptian women are the primary victims of sexual violence, and ultimately they are the intended recipients of the message: Stay home, your input in government and politics is not wanted.

Read the rest of Burleigh’s analysis at CNN.

In other news,

Bolivian officials laughing hysterically at the media for buying their tall tale

Bolivian officials laughing hysterically at the media for buying their tall tale

We learned yesterday afternoon that the claims that Bolivian president Evo Morales’ plane was refused permission to fly over France, Italy, and Spain were totally false and that no one forced his plane to land in Austria. See this article at The Atlantic for a complete debunking of the story.

But many so-called progressives are still pushing the false narrative that President Obama somehow was responsible. I was surprised to see Taylor Marsh hyping it this morning, and there has been no correction to Kevin Drum’s nasty claim that Obama behaved like “a Chicago thug.” That was originally in Drum’s headline until commenters told him he was pushing a Tea Party meme and he moved the accusation to the end of his post.

Marsh is also claiming we didn’t know about the extent of NSA spying a year ago. Really? If you agree with her, you might want to check out this detailed article on the NSA spying programs in the Wall Street Journal–dated March 10, 2008. And of course that wasn’t the first time the corporate media covered the story either. All the progs claiming utter shock and awe over Snowden’s revelations should be ashamed of themselves.

I don’t want to completely depress you, so let’s turn to some non-political news. I found a couple interesting science stories on Google this morning.

Here’s some exciting news out of Boston (NYT): After Marrow Transplants, 2 More Patients Appear H.I.V.-Free Without Drugs.

Two H.I.V.-infected patients in Boston who had bone-marrow transplants for blood cancers have apparently been virus-free for weeks since their antiretroviral drugs were stopped, researchers at an international AIDS conference announced Wednesday.

The patients’ success echoes that of Timothy Ray Brown, the famous “Berlin patient,” who has shown no signs of resurgent virus in the five years since he got a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with a rare mutation conferring resistance to H.I.V.

The Boston cases, like Mr. Brown’s, are of no practical use to the 34 million people in the world who have H.I.V. but neither blood cancer nor access to premier cancer-treatment hospitals.

But AIDS experts still find the Boston cases exciting because they are another step in the long and so-far-fruitless search for a cure. They offer encouragement to ambitious future projects to genetically re-engineer infected patients’ cells to be infection-resistant. At least two teams are already experimenting with variants on this idea, said Dr. Steven G. Deeks, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

It’s real progress, even though the treatment won’t be widely available for a long time.

From BBC News:  Active brain ‘keeps dementia at bay’

A lifetime of mental challenges leads to slower cognitive decline after factoring out dementia’s impact on the brain, US researchers say.

The study, published in Neurology, adds weight to the idea that dementia onset can be delayed by lifestyle factors….

In a US study, 294 people over the age of 55 were given tests that measured memory and thinking, every year for about six years until their deaths.

They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote letters and took part in other activities linked to mental stimulation during childhood, adolescence, middle age, and in later life.

After death, their brains were examined for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as brain lesions and plaques.

The study found that after factoring out the impact of those signs, those who had a record of keeping the brain busy had a rate of cognitive decline estimated at 15% slower than those who did not.

That’s some impressive empirical evidence for something many of us have long suspected. So maybe we are helping keep our brains young through our obsession with reading and arguing about politics on the internet!

I’ll end with a recommendation that you listen to this NPR story on the history of “The Star Spangled Banner” and how it became our national anthem. It’s only about 8 minutes long. Or you can just read the article. I thought it was really interesting.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? If you’re headed out for barbeques and family gatherings instead of surfing the net, have a wonderful time and drop in for a minute if you can.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY EVERYONE!!


California Teenager Who Committed Suicide After Rape and Bullying Marched at President Obama’s 2008 Inauguration

Audrie Pott

Audrie Pott

Another poignant detail has come out about Audrie Pott, the Saratoga, CA teenager who committed suicide after being gang raped by three boys at a house party while she was unconscious. The perpetrators took pictures of themselves sexually abusing Audrie and later posted them on-line and circulated them among her classmates.

A 15-year-old Saratoga girl who killed herself after photos circulated of her alleged sexual assault was “tormented” and “tortured” in the days before her death, her family’s attorney said Friday.

On Thursday, authorities announced three 16-year-old boys had been arrested on suspicion of sexually battering Audrie Pott, a Saratoga Union High School sophomore, according to reports.

An attorney representing Pott’s family told The Times the alleged attack occurred at what the teenager thought would be a “small little gathering” at a friend’s house last fall. The friend’s parents were out of town, attorney Robert Allard said, and the girls started drinking some sort of alcohol mixed with Gatorade. Soon, Allard said, “word spread there was a party at this house.”

Pott had gone upstairs early to sleep, but when she woke up the next day, she “recognized immediately that something terrible had happened,” Allard said.

At least one picture depicting the sexual assault was circulated among her peers, Allard said. Pott later posted on Facebook that “the whole school knows” and “my life is like ruined now,” Allard said.

Pott killed herself in September, about a week after the alleged attack.

Yesterday, Michael Daly reported at The Daily Beast that at age 11, Audrie marched in President Obama’s first inauguration parade with her middle school band.

“The President’s young daughters waved and cheered loudest for [this] group as all the other performers were so much older,” says a Pott family online posting about the Redwood Middle School’s moment in history.

At fifteen, Audrie committed suicide, eight days after a group of boys she thought were her friends allegedly gang raped her while she was unconscious and distributed at least one photo from the attack online.

“My life is like ruined now,” Audrie announced to the internet prior to hanging herself.

That was last September, four months before a 15-year-old from Chicago named Hadiya Pendleton performed as a majorette with her high school at Obama’s second inauguration. She was killed a week later, when a teen fired wildly in the direction of her and a group of her friends, mistakenly believing they were associated with a rival gang.

With the deaths of these two 15-year-olds, each of whom had played a part in an inauguration, a challenge now marches past the Capitol and the White House and every place on past in this country where laws are made, along with every school and home. The challenge for us all is to find better ways to protect our kids, be it from gun violence or from sexual violence.

Police took their sweet time getting around to arresting the monsters who tormented this beautiful young girl, and now her family and supporters are worried that they may have destroyed evidence of their crimes over the months it took law enforcement to “investigate.”

Rehtaeh Parsons

Rehtaeh Parsons

You have to wonder why these arrests followed so closely on the shocking reports of a similar gang rape in Halifax, Nova Scotia followed by bullying and the suicide of victim Rehtaeh Parsons–as well as the Steubenville rape case. It certainly appears that police only acted after the media picked up the story and public outrage ensued.

Michael Daly is right. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama should lead the way in raising consciousness of rape culture along with their fight to prevent gun violence. These two young girls were driven to their deaths by the cruelty and inhumanity that surrounded them.

What is wrong with our society when young girls can be treated as objects to be used and thrown away and when the law enforcement and school authorities who are supposed to protect children choose to protect the perpetrators of these horrible crimes instead of the victims? Nothing will change until women are seen as full human beings with feelings and dreams and their own goals for the future–and the right to pursue happiness in their own way. The anti-abortion movement has a lot to do with perpetuating the notion that girls and women should not be able to make their own choice about their bodies and their lives.


Open Thread: Rape Culture USA

I was so shocked by the “high tech stalking” app that Dakinikat wrote about earlier today that I thought I’d follow up with some more examples of the rape culture American women have to survive in every day.

I missed this story when it first happened, so forgive me if you already heard about it. On March 23, Belvedere Vodka posted an ad on their Facebook page with a photo of a man apparently trying to sexually assault a startled, frightened woman. The ad copy read, “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly. Women quickly bombarded the page with outraged comments. From Jezebel:

Facebook comments ranged from “tell the cry-babies to shut up… this picture is AWESOME!!!” to “this kinda looks like rape.” Belvedere apparently decided to side with the “kinda” camp, because the photo disappeared from their Facebook page and Twitter account within an hour. An apology followed soon after: “We apologize to any of our fans who were offended by our recent tweet. We continue to be an advocate of safe and responsible drinking.”

The president of the vodka company, Charles Gibb, quickly apologized via Twitter; but really, this was simply inexcusable. Why anyone ever thought it was a good idea I never understand. But as some commenters noted on Dak’s post, some men just don’t get it no matter how many times it’s explained to them that rape isn’t funny or sexy and it’s not a good way to sell your product unless you’re looking to go out of business.

Now there’s more bad news for Belvedere. It turns out the woman who appeared in the ad–which has been plastered all over the internet even though it’s no longer on the company’s facebook page–is suing because she did not give permission for her image to be used in the ad.

Alicyn Packard is a vocal actress living in Los Angeles whose likeness was used in the Belvedere ad….

Packard never gave her permission for her likeness to be used.

In fact, the image of her was stolen from a comic on-line video by her production company, Strictly Viral Productions.

“The repercussions have been huge,” Packard told KTLA in a phone interview. “It’s been a really terrible experience. The whole thing.”

Unbelievable! But of course ads depicting rape are not new. Women are often shown in violent situations in high fashion ads. You may recall the famous Dolce and Gabbana ad depicting what looks like a gang rape in progress.

And you may have seen the series of Calvin Klein ads, which were banned in Australia. Here is one of the banned ads.

Why is sexual violence being used to sell products? The Belvedere ad appears to have been aimed at men, but the Dolce and Gabanna and Calvin Klein ads were designed to appear in women’s fashion magazines lke Vogue. Do women really respond to violent ads by running out and buying whatever product they are selling? I came across a 2010 article at Alternet that addressed this question.

To learn more about this issue, researchers, Barbara J. Phillips and Edward F. McQuarrie, interviewed regular readers of fashion magazines and discovered that most women don’t consider the implications of violent sexist ads, but rather, they gravitate to them for the tantalizing narrative.

They recently published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Research and explain that the women who liked such ads, “Would be transported into the story world set in motion by the ad’s pictures, asking themselves, ‘What is happening here?’ and ‘What will happen next? These women would immerse themselves in the images, examining its lighting, colors, lines, composition, and creativity.”

Unfortunately, the “researchers” only talked to 18 women, so this conclusion is really based on case studies and not particularly scientific. Experts in Australia argued that ads like this could encourage gang rape.

Clinical psychologist Alison Grundy, who works with sex abuse victims, said advertisers were reaching a dangerous new low by using sexual violence as a marketing tool.

“If we continue to subject future generations of young men to great barrages of aggressive, misogynist, over-sexualized and violent imagery in pornography, movies, computer games and advertising, we will continue to see the rates of sexual violence against women and children that continue unabated today. Or worse,” she said.

The thing is, we’re bombarded with these images all our lives. No matter how hard we try to protect ourselves from them, we’re going to be exposed to them at least occasionally. Frankly, the people who create these ads are also products of our rape culture. They have grown up seeing images of sexualized violence. No wonder so many women are raped and murdered! Young women especially are treated by our culture as objects for men to use and discard.

What do you think? Feel free to discuss this or any other topic in the comments.