more Q&A

i am trying to post more questions from students as i get them, because there see, to be a never ending avalanche of them, and it is often a challenge for me to try to answer in a way that feels appropriate and thoughtful, accurate and helpful…

so there:

  1. Why are guys into sex at a young age (13)? Why are men more sexually attracted to porn than women?

These two questions are similar and both ask about men and boy’s feelings about sex.

Not all guys are into sex. There is a lot of pressure on guys to act or speak as if they were really interested in sex. We talked about gender and different messages we get from society on the first day we were there, and saw that for a guy it is expected to like girls, and to care a lot about sex. A guy might not really care or know much about sex and still feel like he has to talk/act as if he does, to get attention or to feel accepted by his peers. Similarly, it is more accepted for men in our society to use porn. Every person’s sexual desire is different and personal, and should be respected.

  1. Has anyone received threats while staying at the middle way?

Shelter was created as a safe place for women and children to live away from violence. The middle way staff and volunteers put in their best efforts to make it a welcoming and comfortable environment for the residents. We keep information about residents confidential, and respect their privacy. We also have specific plans to respond to threats or to abusers looking survivors at shelter.

  1. Why do people rape? Why do men rape more that women?

That’s a really good question! We talked a bit about that already. People assault mostly because they want to feel in control of another person, and have power over them. Many times people that rape/assault feel entitled to force someone to have sex with them, many times because they feel that they are better than the other person because of sexism, classism, or racism. Unfortunately we live in a society where rape and sexual assault are sometimes seen as acceptable and not a big deal. It’s up to all of us to change that, and to push for a society where people engage in healthy behaviors, and see each other’s as equals.

There can be many different answers to the question of why men assault more than women, and some research has been done to try to find out why rapists decide to assault. The most accurate answer I can give goes back to the ideas of gender we talked about on the first day, when we did the girl and boy box activity. Many boys and men still grow up in an environment that teaches them to be aggressive, insensitive and to see women as less then them. Interviews and studies done on rapists show that the vast majority of rapists hold very traditional beliefs about gender, and feel that having sex is their right, no matter what the person that they raped wanted .

    As Lisa Vetten , the Gender Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa explains: “men rape because they believe they have the right to control and to punish women who do not obey their rules of behavior. Rape is an expression of unequal power relations between men and women. Such unequal power relations are not the result of nature or evolution but societies which, through legislation and social custom, have made women second-class citizens”
    I want to make it clear that even though men account for over 95% or rapes (Kats, 2006), most men don’t rape. Since most rapists are men though, men are in a unique position to help in the movement against sexual violence. I am attaching a few resources from men’s organizations committed to ending gender violence.


  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a teacher, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz.
Reprint freely with credit.

  1. How many calls do you get about rape?

It really depends; some weeks are busier than others, especially around the start of the school year and little 500. We have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital.

  1. What should you do if someone is trying to rape you?

Every person has a different reaction to being assaulted. There is not one “right” way to react. Some people freeze, and become really still during the assault because of fear, some cry, some try to push the perpetrator away. It’s important to listen to your instincts. Many people that are raped say that they felt uncomfortable with the person and unsafe even before the assault happened. If you feel unsafe/uncomfortable with someone leave the situation if you can, call a friend or trusted adult. And whatever happens know that it is not your fault, the person that decided to hurt you is responsible for it!

Here are some more general tips from the University of California rape Prevention Center.

  • Know the real picture. Most rapes (85%) are committed by non-strangers and in familiar, social situations.
  • Men who rape usually try to gain trust to test your boundaries.
  • Trust your very first feeling of uneasiness.
  • Don’t dismiss that feeling.
  • Act on it by firmly saying “no”, “leave me alone” or leave if necessary.
  • Don’t worry about hurting feelings or appearing rude.
  • Use a strong, serious voice. Don’t plead or play cute.
  • Don’t apologize.
  • Look for others to assist if you need to.
  • If the aggressor is an intimate partner, tell them in a serious tone that you are not comfortable and want them to stop. Now.
  • Believe in your right to your own body.

  • Be aware that men who rape often use alcohol to exploit your vulnerability. They tend to try to make you drink more than you intended.
  • Keep in control of your drinking.
  • Don’t leave a drink unattended, or accept a drink that someone else has given you. Most times this is harmless, but you are trying to avoid the one time it isn’t.
  • Think ahead. Have a safe way to get home already planned.
  • If in a group, plan ahead to watch out for one another.
  • If a friend looks as though she or he is losing control, step in and take care of them.
  • If a friend is harassing women, make it your concern.
  • Remember you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys by appearance or good looks.
  • Watch out for someone who is pressuring you; who keeps giving you drinks; who wants to get you alone; who guilt trips you if you are reluctant.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for help if someone is making you feel threatened.
  1. How do boys rape boys (like physically how)? How do girls rape girls?

Remember that when we talked about rape we clarified that rape is any non-consensual intercourse. It can happen if someone pressures, threatens or tricks another person, and not just with physical force.  The law says that rape is any unwanted intercourse, meaning any unwanted vaginal or anal penetration.

  1. If someone is over the age of 18 and has sex with a 16 yr old, can the parents do anything about it since the 16 year old is under the age of consent, but still a minor?
    The legal age for consent in Indiana is 16 years old. Legally speaking a person that is 16 can consent to sexual activity. However, we discussed how there is more to consent than just the legal factors of being 16, sober, and awake. Consent is giving permission, meaning that a person has the information and the time to think in order to make a decision they are happy with. In a relationship where one partner is much older than the other, it can be difficult to maintain an equal relationship, and it may be easier for the younger person to feel pressured, or to be manipulated. Your parents or guardians are legally responsible for you until you turn 18, so they have the legal right to stop you from seeing someone that they don’t approve of. However they could not press charges against the person that is over 18 if the sex was consensual and you are over 16.
  1. Does the middle way help people in romantic relationships who are having problems but no evidence?
    Absolutely! In the majority of cases there is little evidence, in the traditional sense of DNA or witnesses, for sexual assault and rape. We support and advocate for anyone that needs it, and we believe what people say. Our role is not to prove crimes or question people, but to empower, support, and advocate for you.
  1. How many sexual assault cases happen and go to Bloomington hospital in a year? How many are female and how many are male?
    It is really difficult to figure out how many cases of sexual assault happen every year, because sexual assault is a widely underreported crime. In terms of the Middle way, we have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week for sexual assault and rape, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital fro sexual assault.
    The majority of people that call for sexual assault are female, but we get calls from males also sometimes.
  1. What is the best was to fight or stop a situation that is going the wrong way?
    It’s hard to answer this question because it’s a bit vague. We discussed the difference between fighting and arguing. Healthy disagreements and discussion can happen between people and are characterized by open communication, listening, and feeling safe around the person you are arguing with. If someone is using intimidation, put downs, cuss words, and violence than it’s unhealthy and scary. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their relationships.
    In terms of stopping a situation that is going the wrong way, if someone is being violent towards you it’s their choice to do that, and they are responsible for stopping themselves.
    If the violence is happening to you, you have every right to be safe and to be in a healthy relationship. There can be many options to get out of a violent situation: You can decide to call for the police or if you are at school, you can call a teacher that you trust. If you see someone getting inappropriate attention you can also engage them directly and ask them if they are ok, if they need help or resources. You can also simply tell the assaulter to stop, many times people that assault rely on everyone around them being silent about what is going on, and calling attention to it can be a powerful deterrent. And remember the crisis line and the middle way resources are there for you.
  1. Does your “cherry” pop the first time for every girl?
    From the Sinclair Intimacy and Health Institute (Copyright 2002)
    The hymen, colloquially referred to as “the cherry”, has historically been a marker of a woman’s virginity. The belief that since the hymen blocked the vaginal opening, it should remain intact as long as a woman did not have sexual intercourse was widely propagated, especially in cultures where a woman’s virginity was highly valued.
    But it is scientific fact that the hymen can be separated for reasons quite unconnected to sexual intercourse. It can separate when the body is stretched strenuously, as in athletics; it can be separated by inserting a tampon during menstruation or through masturbation; and sometimes it is separated for no apparent reason.

A separated hymen is not an indication of having had intercourse, nor can it prove a loss of virginity. When the hymen is separated, whether during first intercourse or at some other time, there may be some slight bleeding and a little pain. Both the bleeding and the pain are quite normal and both usually stop after a short time. Some women experience no discomfort at all during this process that is commonly referred to as “losing your cherry”.

where is the line?
September 5, 2008, 8:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

the whole underlying idea behind advocating is that you are there to support, empower and validate someone, to respect their actions and choices and not stomp them with your preconceptions. only it’s not always easy. i came across one of these situation a couple of weeks ago, as i was playing with the children of a woman that came to talk to our legal advocates. we were drawing animals and people together, and i added speech bubbles and asked them what to write in them.

one of the kids eagerly responded “i love god!”, which i wrote. the girls then asked me if i go to church, and let me know that god is against tattoos. “the bible says you shouldn’t have tattoos, it makes god sad”. i looked at her for a bit, smiled, thanked her for the information, and let her told her i had no idea the bible said “no tattoos”.

once the mom heard what we were talking about she shared that she has asked for help repeatedly in her church community regarding the abuse in her relationship, and the ubiquitous answer she got was “you should pray more”. she didn’t say it bitterly or sarcastically. she said that she prayed and prayed but things were not changing. she said that she was gonna continue praying in hope god would help her change things for the better.

my mind went blank. i nodded and validated the fact that people have many ways to feel stronger, or to cope with violence and that every path is personal and can be helpful.

as a person that experienced in first person the carelessness of the religious community, masked as concern as a child, i had a hard time keeping it to myself. my mother asked for help from her church community all throughout my childhood, and the response she got was to pray, and to keep her family together, because that’s what god wanted. no matter how much violence, degradation and danger there was to her familial reality. to this day my parents are separated and not divorced, because of fear of being excommunicated from the church.

the woman and her children left shortly after she started talking about her experience with the church, and i was left asking myself: where is the line?

masculinity from the outside
August 13, 2008, 11:43 pm
Filed under: gender violence, rants and such | Tags: , ,

today i had one of the hardest hospital calls ever. usually as an advocate i go to the hospital and meet people in the ER, where they are because someone has sexually assaulted them, or injured them physically. the usual people present are ( besides the nurses and doctors) family members, friends, and sometimes cops looking for a deposition.

other times i go directly to a person’s house but only if the violent partner is not there. it’s dangerous for the person asking for help, and for the advocates also.

today, because of some oversight from the hospital, i found myself in a room with the woman that asked for assistance, and her boyfriend, whom she was calling about. i was not aware that he was her partner, i though he might have been a family member or friend. however, as i started explaining to her the services the middle way offers, he started yelling that “this country has gone to shit, and people are just reverse sexist and racist. no one give a fuck about men anymore, the only people that can get help are women and blacks”, he also yelled at the woman i was with, demanding to know why i was even there.

he proceeded to scream that the organization i was representing was sexist because it helped women, and not men. then he stormed out the door after slamming things around the room.

in moments like these there is no rational train of thoughts, i find myself usually oddly calm, and unfazed. i was worried that my presence might have triggered a worse situation than before i got there for the woman. we were able to talk a bit, and i gave her phone numbers and resources, and talked about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

after not so long he came back, and i approached him trying to explain the services the middle way has for men, and that we try to be as gender conscious as possible, and advocate for anyone that needs help.

he broke down and started to cry, and told me about how abusive his father had been to him, and saying that he just wanted to feel loved, and being in a relationship was just too painful. i ended up talking to him for a very long time.

he expressed feeling helpless, and hopeless, and that nothing or no one had ever helped him when he needed it. feeling completely hopeless at 18 is one of the saddest things i can think of.

in the end we all came together again and talked about things that they think could help their relationship, and where to find support with them.

it was strange, and i don’t think i have even quite digested the intensity of it all. what jumps out at me is that he needed help as much as she did, and that thinking of violence as a clear cut issue won’t help anything.

it makes me crazy to think that in a way he is right. what help is there for a man wanting support in learning how to be in a healthy relationship? in bloomington at least the choices are meager. counseling works for some people, but not for everyone. where can he go to find a supporting network of people that can undo the violence he lived through? and as a woman, where do i hit my limit as an advocate and ally to men?

tonight i went to see one of my friends play music, and he talked about masculinity, and gender in a way that makes many people uncomfortable because he says it like it is. he talked about how many of his friends, including himself, grew up with shitty role models, and that gender dynamics are something people should always be conscious of within themselves. i am thankful to him for bringing it up.

as he was talking though, i couldn’t help thinking about the kid from this afternoon, and how he is on a lonely quest to find a less toxic way to be a man. i felt lucky for having friends that are thoughtful, and unafraid to pick at what is vulnerable, or unhealthy in themselves, and that they have support for that process.

in a way though, the fact that someone growing up with the worst possible role models, and in an extremely sexist environment, still recognizes the need for change gives me renewed strength.

it makes me certain that change is possible, that people have no desire to be assholes, or to be hurtful, and will transform themselves if given the tools to do it.

on scene advocate manual
August 6, 2008, 2:41 pm
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , , , , ,

i just finished putting together the new on scene advocate manual .

it may sound really cryptic, but it simply is an information book for people learning to become advocates for survivors of domestic violence ans sexual assault.

i am posting it because i think it’s really useful to  anyone wanting to learn more about gender violence, and for anyone wanting to be a better ally for their friends, family and  loved ones that have been through that experience.

i hope it’s useful. here is the link  OSA MANUAL

without a net
April 30, 2008, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

i have been reading the book “without a net- the female experience of growing up working class” for the jail book club. it is a collection of essays from different authors talking about the experience of growing up in poverty or in a working class environment.

it’s a really powerful read that hit home for me in many ways. it’s strange how the experience of poverty can be so ubiquitous and cross-cultural. in the books there is a story titled “filling”, and it’s about dental care and the difficulties associated with using public health-care.

i went to the dentist today and i couldn’t help sensing myself as just a character in that book. from the office ladies questioning my request for sliding fee scale, to them losing my chart so they had no idea about what they had to do. i went there 5 months ago and apparently i needed about 400$ of fillings. since they lost my chart, they took new x rays and according to the dentist that looked at them today, my mouth is completely fine.

so i went home very confused and hazy. it made me think about how i am used to advocating for other people within the hospital system, but it’s hard when it comes down to advocating for myself. the overwhelming feeling i get from cheap/public health care is that you have no rights, and that if you make trouble they are in power to just give you shittier health-care, so you might as well shut it and hope for the best.

when i advocate for people at the hospital that have been sexually assaulted or have experienced domestic violence, i can be assertive and unapologetic. it’s ok if they are annoyed with me as long as the person i am there for gets the best possible care.

the thing is, it’s really not the doctors or nurses that should get the flack. they are usually overworked, overwhelmed and underpaid. it always boils down to the fact that there is such an unbalanced amount of power between people, and humanity or dignity are relative to wealth and social mobility.

the icing on top of the cake is that when i got home i was eating a chocolate covered almond, and i felt one of my teeth break. so one of my bottom teeth has now a big piece missing, which hopefully was just a filling that decided it no longer wanted to stay attached. it just added a new little layer to the story, i guess.