Enough is Enough: Cultural Defense of Domestic Abuse

By Rabiyatou Valian

Gargi Padki and Rabiyatou Valian attend a New York Asian Women Center event

Gargi Padki and Rabiyatou Valian attend an event with the Korean American Family Service Center at Queensboro Hall.

My close friend is in an abusive marriage, but she refuses to speak out against her husband’s violence. I always wonder why she doesn’t do anything to end it.

When I voice my concerns, she tells me “I am African and we don’t do things like that. Europeans take their husbands to the police; a real born African woman will never do such thing.”

There you have it. “We are Africans” has repeatedly been used as an excuse not to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. It is a disturbing reality that culture takes precedence over basic human rights. The value of human life is priceless, and it should not be undermined by the pervasive rhetoric of culture, religion and tradition. Whether we are African, Asian, American or European, we deserve to be treated with honor and respect by our significant others.

For a long time, silence has been used as a weapon to perpetrate domestic and sexual violence in traditional communities. Batterers and families of domestic violence survivors use the cultural defense to perpetuate violence against women in their communities. They insist that in their native lands, beating women was commonplace and didn’t require law enforcement or any intervention outside of the home. Women in these communities expect that their daughters, sisters, sisters-in-law, and all other women will not speak up about the violence because it is common. Domestic violence is viewed as a part and parcel of marriage.

Himani Bannerji, a Bengali-Canadian writer and philosopher, explains the cultural defense of domestic abuse in her introduction of Returning the Gaze. She argues that the change has to start at the roots of a community and diffuse outward until society is totally reformed. Equality can’t simply be instated from an outside force.

“Our struggle is for a fundamental change in social relationships rather than for a per community quota of representations in the parliament of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicities’. We are engaged in politics, linking theories with practices, examining ideologies through our lives, and our lives through revolutionary ideas. We are not shopping in the market of cultural differences,” she writes.

In the case of my friend, she has been forced to believe that she has no voice because she is her husband’s property. In other words, he can do whatever he wants to her, including battering her.

I used to believe this too, until I started volunteering for Project Speak Up, Speak Out (SUSO). The program focuses on breaking the silence that allows domestic violence to continue within all communities. From the trainings, I learned that because I have been silent about my friend’s violent relationship, I too am complacent to the violence. I now believe that that we all have a moral responsibility to speak up on behalf of battered loved ones who feel trapped. They need to know that their voices can be heard.

Finding a voice can be difficult for immigrant women in the United States. For many battered immigrant African women, like my friend, their husbands physically, emotionally, and economically abuse them. These men often intimidate their wives by using citizenship and residency privilege to stop them from revealing their abuse to anyone. These women are often isolated by the language barrier, causing them to feel trapped in their abusive marriages. Women who are experiencing abuse and are concerned about their abusive partners threatening their immigration statuses should know about Visa options, such as the Battered Spouse Waiver, the U-Visa, and other protections covered in the Violence Against Women Act. These options have been put into place to protect undocumented women.

There are many non-profit organizations like SUSO that are actively involved in raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault against immigrant women. The Korean American Family Service Center and the Sauti Yetu Center for African Woman and Families are community-based organizations that work to create a violence-free society. These organizations believe in a world where people hold human life over social constructions like religion and tradition. They provide these services through counseling, education, and advocacy programs for both individuals and families.

At SUSO, we do not accept the cultural defense. We expect that women will advocate for their families and loved ones who are in violent relationships. All of us are common at our core, and no one deserves to live in fear of an abusive partner.

My friend may not know how to use her voice now, but I have found mine. I intend to use my voice to inspire my friend, and to make sure every survivor of domestic violence knows that she is not alone.

If you need immediate shelter support or other immigration services, check out the New York Asian Women Center here.


Bannerji, Himani. 1993. “Returning the Gaze: An Introduction,” in Returning the Gaze. Toronto: Sister Vision, p.xxix

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Women in the Workplace Part 1: Sex-Segmented Labor

By Isabel Jenkins

“On average, full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.”

Many Americans, especially feminists, are familiar with this statistic. But what most don’t understand is that the gender gap in the workplace isn’t just about unequal pay.

A focus on the numerical wage gap ignores the many other obstacles blocking women from equality in the workplace. The circumstances that influence a woman’s decision to enter a certain profession—and how she’s treated after she has the job—say much more about the state of the American workplace than a simple wage gap statistic does.

The gender wage gap has lowered by 17% in the 50 years since the passage of The Equal Pay Act, reports the National Equal Pay Task Force. Compared to women’s 59.8% of men’s pay in 1963, 77% today is doubtlessly an improvement. But a more important issue lies in the division of jobs available to men and women, not in the disparity between pay for equal jobs. The Huffington Post reports that women make up two-thirds of low-wage workers and only 14.6% of the top earning positions at Fortune 500 companies.

Women demonstrate interest in fields like early childhood education, social work, and visual and performing arts beginning in their college years, reports Christina Hoff Sommers in a well researched but poorly informed article published by The Daily Beast. She points to the fact that engineering majors in college tend to be from 72% (chemical engineering) to 97% (naval architecture and marine engineering) male dominated as proof that “the sexes, taken as a group, are somewhat different”.

Positions in early childhood education and social work yield on average $36,000 to $39,000 a year, whereas petroleum engineering positions boast $80,000 to $120,000 salaries, the article reports. The first implication here: America doesn’t value mental health and family stability the same way it values commercial development. The second implication: Women are entering professions that pay significantly less than jobs held by men. Sommers concludes, “Much of the wage gap can be explained away by simply taking account of college majors. In the pursuit of happiness, men and women appear to take different paths.”

She’s onto something… But this disparity of interest in professions is not as organic as she makes it sound. The sexes are different, but it’s unclear where this difference starts. Do preferences for the “caring professions” begin to form in girls while they’re still in utero? Or do they take root after birth, when girls are showered with baby dolls and child-sized plastic kitchens?

If boys and girls are socialized differently starting in early childhood, it’s highly possible that their career preferences later in life result from this socialization. This process creates sex-segmented labor, or professions that are dominated by one sex. Stereotypical ideas of nurses and doctors, or secretaries and CEOs, highlight how implicit the gender gap is in our understanding of the professional world. Because men traditionally tend towards certain types of jobs and women towards others, it can be difficult to accept exceptions to these social rules (the word “murse” used to describe a “male nurse”, for example). And because typically male dominated jobs, like engineering, are higher-paying than female dominated jobs, like teaching, the gender wage gap widens.

Women are just as capable of succeeding in male-dominated professions as men are. Contrary to Summor’s belief that men and women are inherently suited to different professions, a Cornell University study found that gender differences in math and science proficiency are negligible. The real determining factor is confidence, and studies show that boys are culturally taught to be more confident in math than girls are.

In the classroom, girls are more likely than boys to double- and triple-check their answers before speaking in front of a class, reports a study conducted by University of Georgia psychologist Martha Carr. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to compete—“being first” presides over “being right”. This confident speed, dubbed “math fluency”, helps boys to do well as math classes become harder. Girls fall behind simply because they don’t trust their abilities.

In 1983, there were 13 boys to every girl in America who scored in the top one in 10,000 in mathematics. By 2007, this ratio had shrunk to approximately 3 boys for every girl. “If the difference were just in the genome, there would not be that improvement,” Beth Azar wrote in her review of the study for the American Psychological Association. Scientists credit the increase in female math achievers to changing social norms that encourage girls to take higher-level math classes in high school. A confident push could be all it takes to encourage girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Today, women earn 48% of bachelors’ degrees in math, says Hyde. If women are just as capable as men are intellectually, why aren’t high-paying STEM professions more gender equal? Hyde blames the corporate culture of math-centered professions, specifically engineering, for catering to the documented male interest in “things” as opposed to “people”. In purposely presenting the image of STEM careers as purely technical, with no interpersonal element, corporate culture makes sure women think twice about applying.

Organizations nationwide are fighting to reverse this trend by showing girls and women that STEM careers are not only just available to them, but that they are also exciting and satisfying professions. The Institution of Education Sciences has a downloadable guide available to teachers that aims to interest girls in math and science in the classroom. Goldiblox encourages young girls to play with “construction toys” as an alternative to traditionally “girly” toys, hoping to engage girls in math and science before they can be socialized to dislike it. Their first commercial was a hit because of its unconventional message about what it means to be a girl.

In encouraging girls from an early age to feel confident in their abilities in math, science, and beyond, we as a society can make the dream of higher-paying professions a reality for women. Although this only addresses a fraction of the gender gap in the workplace, it’s a wonderful place to start.

Sex-segmented labor, sexual harassment, discrimination against mothers—these factors critically influence where women work and how much they make. “Sex-Segmented Labor” is the first post of a trilogy that will unpack the myth of the gender wage gap to reveal the real inequalities for working women.

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The Power of Natural Birth: Midwives in the US

By Gargi Padki

“Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers?” -Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

There are many factors at play in the United States today that prevent women from experiencing the power of natural birth. One in three women in the US gave birth by cesarean delivery in 2011, a 60% increase since 1996, reports The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Caesarians have become overused in the United States without evidence that it benefits the mother or the infant. Midwives, who are often discredited in the US, hope to combat this and other troubling birthing practices that have developed in our country.

Midwives have historically been instrumental in helping women give birth. For centuries, they’ve coached women through the emotional process of labor and delivery. However, there has been a slow and steady push in America since the 1850s to remove midwives from the medical profession. Western medicine treats pregnant women as they would any other sick person. It scares them into taking drugs to numb the pain that would otherwise serve as a barometer for labor.

Witches, Midwives, & Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English outlines the expulsion of midwives from Western medicine, which began as early as the 14th century in the form of witch-hunts.

The hunting of midwives as witches began because midwives used empirical evidence to heal instead of Church doctrine. Additionally, midwives would “surrender to their sense”, or gain knowledge through experience, which was a betrayal to religious doctrine. Midwives were also the pinnacle of sexual liberation for women. They helped women have sex without getting pregnant and provided them with safe abortions. The Church supported rumors that midwives had sex with the devil during their “initiation” into witchcraft, hoping to add further negative stigma to their sexual health advice.

Witch-hunters believed that “no one [did] more harm to the Catholic Church than midwives”. When a woman was accused of being a witch, she was hunted by a trifecta of power comprised of the Church, the State, and the medical profession in an attempt to prevent her from independently healing peasant populations. “The witch hunts were well organized campaigns, initiated, financed, and executed by the Church and the State,” write Ehrenreich and English. Women were burned at the stake, a public display of violence that made an example of them to discourage others from entering into midwifery.

The witch-hunts in Europe were  “a calculated ruling class campaign of terrorization” in order to assert power and control over women’s bodies. Persecution as a result of fear of midwives did not succeed in killing all midwives, but it did categorize midwives as superstitious and malevolent.

In the United States in the 1850s, women were kept out of the medical field because women’s health movements were strongly associated with feminist movements. Medical schools also banned women from entry, and modern nursing was invented to give women a “suitable” place in hospitals. As the medical field became more masculine, so did obstetrics and gynecology. Starting in the early 1900s, childbirth in hospitals became the norm. Today, more American babies are born in hospitals than in any other developed country.

In “The Business of Being Born”, 2008 documentary about childbirth in the United States, a midwife explains the process of medical interventions that occur in hospitals to accelerate the labor and delivery process (and it often ends in Caesarian section). The process begins with an injection of Pitocin, or oxytocin, a hormone that dilates the cervix. When Pitocin is administered, the number and intensity of contractions increases, causing the mother pain and shocking the baby. When the mother can no longer bear the pain of the Pitocin-induced labor contractions, she is prescribed an epidural to slow down contractions. As these labor pains subside, the process of delivery is delayed, and the dosage of Pitocin is increased again. As doctors continue to prescribe her Pitocin and increase her pain medicine, the fetus goes into distress. The mother is then told that a Caesarian section is her only option for a safe birth.

But the acceleration of the birthing process is dangerous. “These interventions and restrictions make labor and birth more difficult for women by increasing stress, disrupting the hormonal orchestration of labor, and interfering with the natural, physiologic process of labor and birth,” writes Dr. Judith A. Lothian in her article “Safe, Healthy Birth: What Everyone Woman Needs to Know”. These interventions have led to the alarming cesarean rate in the United States. In a study conducted by Childbirth Connection, statistics showed that the Cesarean rate in the United States leveled off at 32.8% in 2010 and 2011 after increasing for over a decade. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization suggests that 5-10% is the optimal rate for women and babies.

In the United States, birth has become another addition to our culture of spectacles. Women are socialized to be fearful of midwives and weary of naturally delivering their children. As women, we should acknowledge the power of our bodies to have natural deliveries instead of fearing them. Blind acceptance of the norm of a hospital birth facilitated by drugs is unnecessary when natural births facilitated by midwives are a viable option. This choice, when possible, hands the control over childbirth back to women who have been specializing in labor and delivery for generations.


For further reading on midwifery, check out Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women  Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English (1973: Feminist Press).


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Dictating Our Happiness: A Process of Trauma, Vulnerability and Healing

By Esraa Saleh

Experiences of sexual and physical violence can leave markers of trauma on the survivor of the violence. Traumatic reactions are established during times when resistance, escape or self-defense is not possible. Trauma results from being in situations where one has zero power and no control. Trauma terrorizes you by overwhelming the ordinary neurological systems that give you a sense of control, meaning, and personal security.

But an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder or sustained trauma in his or her past is still capable of attaining happiness. Embracing one’s vulnerability, employing self-acceptance and detaching self-blame are important steps towards living a manageable life.

All trauma survivors share a common denominator: they feel a sense of intense fear, loss of control and threat of annihilation. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been deconstructed into three overarching cardinal symptoms, referred to as hyperarousal, intrusion and constriction.

Hyperarousal is the chronic arousal of the autonomic nervous system. It causes the individual to be startled easily, to be irritable to any provocation and to develop abnormal sleeping habits. A person in a state of hyperarousal attempts to be on constant guard to not ever have to feel powerless again.

Apart from constantly walking on eggshells, traumatized people suffer intrusion. They re-live the event as if it were currently reproducing itself. They have difficulty resuming their daily lives because their trauma repeatedly interrupts. The traumatic experience becomes encoded in their memory, which translates into consciousness – both as flashbacks during waking states and as nightmares during sleeping states. Traumatic memories lack verbal narrative but are rather expressed in forms of vivid sensation and imagery which may have the emotional force of the original traumatic experience.

Traumatized people not only reproduce their moments of terror in their thoughts, but also in their actions, either in literal or disguised form. Some people may desire to reenact the traumatic event with a fantasy of changing the outcome and make conscious decisions to do so. A rape survivor, Sohaila Abdulali describes her determination to return to the scene of her trauma:

“I’ve always hated feeling like something’s got the better of me. When this thing happened, I was at such a vulnerable age – I was seventeen – I had to prove they weren’t going to get me down. The guy who raped me told me ‘If we ever find you out here alone again we’re going to get you’. And I believed them. So its always a bit of a terror walking up that lane, because I’m always afraid I’ll see them…Yet a part of me feels that if I don’t walk there, then they’ll have gotten me. And so, even more than other people, I will walk up that lane.”

Some may unconsciously reproduce an aspect of their terror in a disguised form. An incest survivor Sharon Simone shares her experiences in relating her actions with her history of abuse:

“…I was involved in an auto accident. A male driver was trying to cut me off, and I said to myself in the crudest of language, there is no f-ing way you’re going to push your penis into my lane. Like right out of the blue! Boom! Like that! It was really strange.”

The third cardinal symptom of PTSD, constriction, is a numbing or constricted state of consciousness. It is the result of the survivor’s feelings of powerlessness as she subdues herself to a state of surrender. Sometimes traumatic experiences cause anger and resentment, but also paradoxically a state of detachment and calmness. These changes include feelings of indifference, emotional detachment and profound passivity – essentially disassociation from any struggle. These changes in consciousness resemble hypnotic trace states. Dissociations may be adaptive at the moment, because they allow for traumatic experience to be walled off, therefore preventing proper healing.

Victims of traumatic events often fear vulnerability. Brene Brown’s “Power of Vulnerability” speech breaks down the “culture of scarcity” – the culture of never having enough. This entails that think we are not good enough and are always seeking to revert the blame, particularly to ourselves. When we learn to embrace our vulnerability and put down the armor we use to protect ourselves, we will finally realize we are worthy of love, belonging, and intimacy. Although we think that vulnerability makes us weak, it is actually the opposite. We can only accept the great things about ourselves and the world around us if we are willing to be vulnerable.

It is often difficult for trauma survivors to remain happy given the shame and self-blame woven into their post-trauma state of mind. But the first step to healing is understanding that you are worth the time and effort it takes to heal.

As power comes in vulnerability, it also comes in understanding that you may never get the justice you deserve. In Stacey May Fowles’ “The Truth is Embarrassing: Olivia Benson and the Timeline of Trauma”, she says:

“In rape recovery you quickly learn that no one will ever provide you with justice. Even if you decide to pursue it legally, there is no result that will act as a salve on the violation you’ve felt, that will repair how the incident has upended your life. Proving someone’s guilt will not give you back the years of your life destroyed by that endless fear and mistrust, how you were forced to reconstruct your life in order to survive what others do with ease.”

And this is perhaps the most difficult hump to overcome in healing: letting go.

Understanding trauma and post-traumatic characteristics is complex, but understanding healing is ever more complicated. Healing processes are not easy. Being vulnerable and accepting your fate are the first steps towards a happier, more fulfilling life. The power lost in traumatic experiences can be regained in knowing that each individual decides his or her capacity to be happy.

It’s possible to be a happy person. I promise. You deserve it.


To learn more about trauma and recovery, check out Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman.

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Domestic Violence: A Global Epidemic

By Isabel Jenkins

Communities across the world are combatting the normalization of domestic violence through public health campaigns and advertisements. They take various approaches in order to be seen and heard in their respective regions, emphasizing that violence is viewed differently by different cultures and therefore requires distinct courses of action.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the “That’s Abuse” campaign in New York City this past fall in an effort to combat domestic violence. The ads, featured in public transport stops around the city, depict a woman crying with adjectives like “threatened” and “humiliated” around her face. It explains that these negative feelings, when felt in an intimate relationship, are signs of abuse. Finally, it provides a number to call to be connected to city services such as counseling and shelters.

Studies show that emotional abuse tends to escalate into physical abuse. Thus the “That’s Abuse” campaign seeks to encourage women in abusive relationships to get help before their partners become physically violent. In America, women are legally equal to men, and the “That’s Abuse” campaign reflects the theoretical agency thus given to women.

In August of 2013, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia criminalized domestic abuse after a nation-wide ad campaign brought the topic out into the open. Women in Saudi Arabia are treated as minors under the guardianship system. This system requires that they receive permission from their husbands, fathers, or brothers if they wish to work, study, and travel. Saudi Arabian women are forbidden from driving alone, and they are often tracked through SMS so that their whereabouts can be reported to their husbands. Until recently, tribal traditions prevented women from speaking out against violent partners. In Saudi Arabia, domestic violence is permitted and seen as something a woman has to endure to remain protected and provided for by the men in her life.

The King Khalid Foundation’s anti-domestic violence campaign, called “No More Abuse”, sheds light on the taboo subject of domestic violence for the first time in Saudi Arabia last April. Similar to “That’s Abuse”, the “No More Abuse” ad features a close-up of a woman’s face. But this woman’s features are covered by a niqab—her defining characteristic is her bloodied left eye. The words under her eyes read “Some things can’t be covered – Fighting women’s abuse together”. This tactic attempts to work within the confines of a society that offers women very little personal agency. Instead of addressing women exclusively, the ad emphasizes the community as a whole. Saudi Arabian women aren’t able to tackle the problem by themselves—they aren’t viewed as real adults—so the ad is calling for everyone to take responsibility for the abusive culture and use his or her power to change it.

Alternatively, a video released in 2013 by The United Nations Women organization depicts the violence and discrimination Egyptian women face on a daily basis. The video aims to put men in the position of women as they go about their day, literally depicting events through a woman’s eyes. In each scene, the woman is harassed in various public places and the people around her offer no help.  The end of the video features the slogan “Put yourself in her shoes, instead of finding ways to blame her”, highlighting how often women are blamed for their abuse in a society where sexual harassment is normalized.

According to The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 91.5% of Egyptian women said that unwanted touching was the most common form of sexual harassment they experienced in 2013. The UN video is a response to this upsetting statistic, as it asks Egyptian men and boys to think critically about the cultural violence shown towards their wives, sisters, and mothers.

Bell Bajao, a program launched in India in 2008 by global human rights organization Breakthrough, aims to empower men to take action against domestic violence. The program uses public service announcements and educational workshops to “to highlight the role that men and boys can play in reducing violence”. Bell Bajao encourages neighbors, especially men, who overhear domestic violence to ring the doorbell (“bell bajao” in Hindi) of the apartment in order to interrupt the abuse. The goal is to remind abusers that others are listening.

Breakthrough reports that “60 million girls, seen as less worthy than boys, are ‘missing’ [in developing countries] due to sex-selective elimination or poor care.” In countries where women and girls are treated as second-class citizens, it is vital for men to take a stand against cultures that perpetuate domestic violence. Bell Bajao encourages men and boys to join the conversation, emphasizing that they can be valuable allies in the fight against domestic violence.

Internationally, communities are beginning to treat domestic violence like the epidemic it is. Different approaches are needed in order to address the obstacles and objectives of specific cultures, but the overall goal is the same: to make the planet a safer place for girls and women.

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Holla back! Combatting Street Harassment

By: Ledia Duro

Whistling…shouting…honking…blowing kisses. No, that’s not the sound of a parade—it’s street harassment. From attempts at flattery to assurances of security, the “hey sexy” and “get home safe ma,” street harassment has become “one of the most commonly experienced forms of gender and sexuality based discrimination and objectification that young people face,” as noted by the non-profit organization and movement, Hollaback!. Street harassment doesn’t just impact teenage girls in New York City. It affects men and women of all ages around the world.

Street harassment refers to verbal or physical gestures used as a mode of intimidation and control in the public sphere. Contrary to what some may believe, it is neither enjoyable nor complimentary. It is a method people use to erect their egos and coerce others into conversations and interactions. As a result, street harassment makes women feel uncomfortable, frightened, and inferior. By degrading women, harassers build themselves up to be indestructible, which leads to public acceptance and tolerance of street harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

Some may argue that street harassment and domestic violence are completely unrelated. What does making innocuous comments in public have to do with hitting your spouse behind closed doors? Both intolerable acts stem from the same root—the need for power and control. The need to control a woman’s dress, behavior, emotions, and mental state is the desire inherent in both forms of violence. When a man asks a woman for a sexual favor on the street, he views her as an object he can have. Similarly, in cases of domestic violence, abusers objectify their partners in order to assert their dominance.

In public, women may carry pepper spray and rape whistles in their bags, walk faster at night, and ask male companions to accompany them to and from work, while having constant anxiety about being harassed or attacked. At home, women may monitor what the say or how they act—constantly fearing they might trigger their partner’s abusive behavior. Both harassers and abusers isolate women and make them fearful. Harassers instill a fear in women in going outside, while abusers cause them to fear staying home. Combined, they embed vulnerability in women by eliminating security in both private and public settings, as noted by Stop Street Harassment, a non-profit organization.

Because street harassment can have a domino affect, Hollaback! labels it as a gateway crime that can quickly “escalate into other forms of sexual assault and violence.” Hollaback! is an internationally renowned organization that aims to prevent the harassment many women and LGBTQ people experience on a daily basis. Through their Smartphone app and website, the organization encourages women to post stories (and even pictures) of their experiences with street harassment. The stories are then posted to a map so that all viewers can see where “street harassment hotspots” are located in their cities. By empowering women not to put up with harassment in the streets, Hollaback! hopes to “[transform] an experience that is lonely and isolating into one that is sharable”, thereby changing the way we look at all forms of domestic violence.

With street harassment, there is generally more focus put on the victims and the crimes committed than the perpetrators. However, some programs target the source of the harassment: the men. Quentin Walcott is a member of CONNECT, a community center aimed at promoting justice and building safe communities. Through the center, Walcott created a program that attempts to hold “men accountable for the abuse they inflict upon their victims.” In the 2010 “CONNECT Testimony”, Walcott stated that “CONNECT has built a solid foundation of successful men’s programming designed to transform male attitudes towards women, children and other men.” Considering men commit “90% of the reported cases of the violence,” CONNECT is addressing the issue head on and targeting male voices. Through its prevention and intervention workshops with abusive men and informative workshops with young men, CONNECT is combatting street harassment.

While movements like Hollaback! empower women by allowing them to share their experience with street harassment, organizations like CONNECT prevent men from engaging in abusive behavior through education. Although it’s inexcusable that some men’s unsolicited, vulgar remarks cause women to fear going out in public, Hollaback! and CONNECT are slowly making the streets safer by combatting street harassment.


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A Comparison of Pimps and Batterers

By Isabel Jenkins

In America, damaging stereotypes of pimps and prostitutes make it difficult to understand the dynamics of their relationship and the violence that many women experience. Upon first look, a man who forces a woman to prostitute herself out on the street has nothing to do with a man who beats his wife behind closed doors. But drawing the comparison between these two types of men reveals that we can’t talk about prostitution without understanding the dynamics of domestic violence.

Mainstream media presents sex work as either sexy or deplorable—think Eliot Spitzer’s $5,000-an-hour escort, or any episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit where violence against women and girls is fetishized. Americans make the assumption that because of the negative social connotations of prostitution, women who choose sex work are also deserving of violence. The stereotypical prostitute may have other options, but she picks prostitution because it is her right to sell her body if she wishes to. She is shunned and demonized for making this decision, and is thus unable to get help if she finds herself in a dangerous situation.

Prostitution is rarely a fair exchange of services for money between consenting adults. The misunderstanding that many Americans have about sex work revolves around another stereotypical character: the pimp. Contrary to popular belief, pimps and prostitutes are not business partners. In her article “An Analysis of Individual, Institutional, and Cultural Pimping”, Evelina Giobbe discusses how their relationship is closer to that of a batterer and his intimate partner. Just as batterers exhibit certain behaviors to ensure that their intimate partners will remain submissive, pimps employ standard rules to trap women in the sex industry.

Giobbe points to several power and control tactics used by pimps and batterers alike to abuse women.

Both groups isolate women, controlling where they go and who they see, in order to ensure that they will not be held accountable for their actions. A pimp or a batterer will minimize and deny his abuse to manipulate his women into feeling helpless. A pimp will claim that all women are prostitutes, but that some give sex away for free while others make money off of it. In the same way, batterers want their partners to doubt the severity of, or even the existence of, their abuse so that they remain complacent to the violence exhibited by their abuser.

Prostitutes are required to give most, if not all, of their earnings to their pimps. They receive “non-negotiable goods” in return, such as clothing or jewelry, to ensure that they aren’t able to save money for a better future. Prostitutes are thus financially dependent on their pimps, just as spouses of batterers may be financially unable to escape their abuse.

Exertion of male privilege, displayed through statements like “I’m a man. Don’t question me…” controls women by depriving a woman of her agency. Pimps and batterers view women as property (Giobbe, 1993). A pimp can buy a prostitute from another pimp, and prostitutes without pimps are considered “outlaws” and are in danger of abuse from all other pimps. These women are therefore reliant on their pimps for “protection”—choosing an abuser seems less dangerous than being an outlaw.

Pimps will abandon subtle tactics of power and control for blatant forms of physical and sexual violence because violence against prostitutes is permitted if not glorified in popular culture. Physical violence allows a pimp to instill fear in his women to make them obedient to his will. Pimps may force prostitutes into producing pornography (sometimes by photographing them against their will) and use this as blackmail or punishment by threatening to send it to the prostitute’s family.

Staying silent about the mistreatment of women in the sex industry is as lethal as refusing to speak up about violence happening at home. Domestic abuse is an epidemic that affects people regardless of how and why they are together in the first place. By dispelling the myths of abusers and survivors of abuse, we can work to prevent and put an end to violence in all parts of our community.

Giobbe, E. (1993). A comparison of pimps and batterers. Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, 1,

See how prostitution affects women worldwide.

For more information on sex trafficking in the United States please visit the Polaris Project, a non-profit organization that is combating modern day slavery.

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Bloomberg Tackles Domestic Violence

By Gargi Padki

On Sept 26th the Bloomberg administration released plans for a new ad campaign designed to help women realize if they are in an abusive relationship and asks themto seek help before the violence escalates to physical harm. The campaign launches this month as October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month and there will be many events held throughout the city this month to call attention to this issue.

The advertisement that will be featured in NYC mass transit depicts a single woman with a tear in her eye and the words beaten, threatened, put down are written in bold next to her. The image this campaign presents, of a single woman who is sad and downtrodden and more importantly alone, highlights in itself the ostracizing potential of domestic violence. The Bloomberg administration has been successful in reducing domestic violence related homicides by 22%, but does not realize the powerful, though unintentional, message that this campaign sends: that you are alone.

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We commend the campaign foaddressing domestic violence, but the ad is isolating and puts all the weight of the abuse on the woman. What we have to address as a society is the culture of permissive violence we have created. Also, the campaign does not address cultural aspect of domestic violence. Often, domestic violence occurs because permission— tacit approval that is granted with the silence of neighbors, family, and friends— is given to the abuser. Still, we do applaud the Bloomberg administration’s active commitment to reducing domestic violence across the five boroughs. So far, the administration has seen some success with a 22% decrease in homicides, which is in no small part due to the emotional support, sheltering and legal assistance the city provides victims before abuse gets out of hand. But the incidence of domestic violence has risen in the past year in NYC. So even though the Bloomberg administration has done a lot to help battered women, there is plenty to be done. We have to address domestic violence as a societal issue and we can do so by starting right on our campus. So we urge our student body to Speak Up and Speak Out. Domestic violence is an issue we can address as a college community, because we are capable of creating the peaceful community in which we want to live.

For further information on the Bloomberg Ad Campaign and to learn more about resources provided by NYC please visit http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/agency-combats-domestic-violence-warning-ads-article-1.1467893.

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Call for Volunteers

Project Speak Up Speak Out is recruiting volunteers to educate the City College and Harlem community on domestic violence. We are currently looking for City College students who have public speaking skills and have some prior experience in teaching or tutoring. Volunteers will be asked to attend a two night training on Tuesday February 4th and 11th at 6pm at the City College of New York. The trainings will be led by our community partner Sally MacNichol and after the initial trainings volunteers will work as teachers to spread awareness about domestic violence while continuing our own education. Students who have prior experience in social justice, violence against women or anti violence activism are highly encouraged to apply.

At Speak Up Speak Out, our mission is to empower individuals and break the silence that exists behind domestic violence and sexual assault. It is our firm belief that domestic violence that goes unseen and unheard also goes unresolved. We believe domestic violence is a public health issue and should be resolved through education and increased awareness. We are a peer education organization and we will hold workshops and training sessions to open an on-campus dialogue about violence prevention.

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Look Up, Look Out!

On December 2nd at 12:30pm the Project Speak Up Speak Out Photo Campaign will be released in the NAC Rotunda.

Project Speak Up Speak Out has created a banner to illustrate the power of community solidarity in working to end domestic violence. We want to empower students at City College to bring about the change we wish to see in our community. Domestic violence is a social issue; it is a health issue; and it is a public issue.

Please join us for the Speak Out against gender-based violence and for the unveiling of photos!

Studio Photo

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