International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women: November 25, 2018

This Sunday, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The 2018 theme is Orange the World: #HearMeToo and like previous editions, the date marks the launch of 16 days of activism that will conclude on 10 December 2018, International Human Rights Day.

I asked to write about this subject partly because I had written about Brett Kavanaugh before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward publicly to accuse Kavanaugh of attempted rape while they were in high school, and before the hearing where they testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, activating post-traumatic symptoms for me and most of the women I know. Not only did Ford’s testimony ring true for me and thousands of other women; the attacks that followed from Kavanaugh himself and the all-male Republicans on the committee felt like personal assaults. During and immediately after the hearing, women around the country told personal stories of assaults, often stories they had never shared before, years or decades after their assaults.

The trauma of sexual assault victims is deepened by their further victimization by law enforcement, the legal system, and other institutions they report the abuse to. In yet another instance of the continuation of abuse, Ford is still, all these weeks later, receiving death threats, and is unable to return to her home or workplace. Continue reading

An Inhuman Industry: Responding to Sex Trafficking in Arizona

Every year, from late January to mid-February, the city of Tucson hosts upward of 50,000 visitors, as the annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase — more commonly known as the Tucson Gem Show — draws exhibitors, traders, and tourists from around the globe. It is the biggest show of its kind, and the economic impact is considerable. This year’s show, which officially wrapped last week, was projected to bring $120 million in spending to local businesses.


Effective sex education arms young people with information about consent, negotiating proper boundaries, and forming healthy relationships.


In recent years, media coverage has also put the Gem Show in the spotlight for its alleged impact on an underground economy. The annual event has become a news hook for activists, victim advocates, and social workers who believe it serves as a boon to the nation’s $3 billion sex-trafficking industry.

Although the Arizona Republic rated the claim as “mostly false” when Martha McSally made it in 2015 — noting that evidence was mostly anecdotal — the idea that large events like the Gem Show lead to a spike in sex trafficking has remained a popular talking point. For example, at an awareness event last year, held shortly before the Gem Show’s kick-off, Tucson city council member Steve Kozachik commented, “Every time you have an outside event coming to any community, whether it be a sporting event or the gem show, the numbers of trafficking incidents spike.” He added, “That means the young in this community are vulnerable.”

Federal law defines sex trafficking as recruiting, harboring, transporting, or otherwise inducing a person to perform a commercial sex act against their will — or before they are legally old enough to consent. Last year, KGUN9 suggested that, during the show, as many as 100 women are “sold for sex” every night. The report, however, did not specify if it was referring to commercial sex as a whole or to trafficked sex exclusively — and whatever role the Gem Show plays in the trade is also a murky subject. Continue reading

Consent and Sexual Entitlement: A Case for Truly Comprehensive Sexuality Education

The following guest post comes to us from Catherine Sharp, a Tucson volunteer who worked for 10 years in finance and operations for an online media company. Catherine volunteers for Planned Parenthood as a Rapid Response administrator, a fundraiser committee member, and a speakers bureau trainee.

Let’s be clear, most men don’t leave for a night out with the intent of rape. They leave with hopes of a good time and maybe getting lucky. Some men focus more on the getting lucky part since it is considered a trait of masculine success.

During the summer of 1985 one such young man, I’ll call him Steve*, headed out to a party to have fun and maybe score. I happened to be in his path. I was 14 when I lost my virginity to Steve, a handsome 20-year-old introduced to me by my aunt. I thought Steve was cute and was flattered that he believed my aunt when she told him I was 16. As the night wore on and I drank the too-strong drinks my aunt gave me, I ended up asleep in her bed. I woke in the night to Steve in bed with me. He was naked, had undressed me, and had his hands all over me. I was groggy, shocked, scared, and confused. Before I knew it, he was on top of me attempting intercourse. I pushed against his chest, clenched my legs together as tight as I could, and repeatedly said no.


I did not possess the language to communicate what I was experiencing.


Apparently, this was not enough to send the message that I was not a willing participant. Somehow, he managed to force himself inside me, all while I was resisting. When he finished he said to me, “You would be pretty good if you relaxed a little.” Even in my state of shock I was incredulous. I couldn’t help but think, “What do you mean?! Relax a little?! I was using all my strength to stop this!”

Confused and outraged by his words, I did not know what to do. I was scared and ashamed that I “let this happen.” Of course, my 95-pound, 14-year-old self was no match for Steve, but I still felt responsible. Years of being told to ignore or brush off sexist comments, butt slaps, bra snaps, arm punches, and hair pulling led me to believe that my discomfort with Steve’s actions was my problem. Continue reading

For the Safety of Students: Five Questions for Mary Koss

Mary P. Koss, Ph.D.

With close to 300 peer-reviewed publications and a number of academic awards to her name, it’s hard to believe that University of Arizona Regents’ Professor Mary P. Koss once had to fight her way into the doctoral program in psychology at the University of Minnesota. Her test scores put her head and shoulders above other applicants, but it took a tense meeting with the department head — in which she let a bit of profanity slip out — to finally get accepted into their graduate school. Clinical psychology was a very male-dominated field in the early 1980s, when she was starting her career, and that was all too clear when a colleague shared his idea for a study that would explore male undergraduates’ attitudes toward rape — by having models pose in varying sizes of padded bras and be rated for their desirability and culpability if raped.


The term date rape was first used in the news media 35 years ago this month.


From that conversation, though, came the seed of an idea that would soon set Dr. Koss apart from her peers. At that time, Dr. Koss was at Kent State in Ohio, still years before she joined the University of Arizona. She made a name for herself studying campus sexual assault by developing a survey that revolutionized efforts to gauge respondents’ experiences of sexual aggression and victimization, revealing a higher prevalence than previously thought. Her initial study was publicized 35 years ago this month, in Ms. Magazine’s September 1982 issue, in an article that also marked the first time a national news publication used the term date rape. Both Dr. Koss’ research and the introduction of that term to the national conversation were game-changers in many ways.

At the time the article was published, most rape-prevention programs on college campuses were relatively new and narrowly focused on the danger posed by strangers — the assailants waiting in alleyways, rather than the familiar faces in classrooms or dorms. Dr. Koss’ research, as well as the stories writer Karen Barrett reported from Stanford University and the University of Connecticut for the Ms. article, revealed that many cases of rape, especially those committed by the victims’ peers and acquaintances, were often ignored, denied, or misunderstood as something other than rape. The concept of date rape helped many people recognize rape — their own or others’ — that had been perpetrated by people known to the victims.

Greater awareness and understanding of the problem of campus sexual assault soon followed, but the 35 years since then have seen both progress and setbacks. In fact, as the anniversary of that historic Ms. article approached, news began coming from the Department of Education that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos vowed to revisit Obama-era policies that addressed campus sexual assault. A series of information-gathering meetings included a group that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, seeks “to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Continue reading

January Is National Stalking Awareness Month: Amanda’s Story

man-stalking-womanIt was just after 7 o’clock in the evening during July in Arizona. Translation? The triple-digit heat had barely dipped into the 90s. So why did I feel a chill creeping along my arms? I rubbed them for warmth, but couldn’t shake the queasy prickling sensation. I debated whether fetching my mail at the end of my street was really worth it.

This had become my life. Even the simplest tasks were riddled with fear. Every time my phone alerted me of a text, my heart raced. Every time my dogs barked, I jumped.


I needed to make sure my family would not be a story in the news or a plotline for a Lifetime movie.


A few months prior, I had gotten texts from a random number; these escalated to lewd comments. I downloaded an app to block the number. Then the emails started. I blocked them and every subsequent account this faceless shadow created to reach out to me. Next thing I knew, I was getting anonymous gifts and small PayPal transfers. I ignored them. Twice, my back door was open. Had I just forgotten to close it? When I found a slain chicken strewn across my front lawn, I tried to justify that one must have escaped a nearby farm and been victim to a coyote or other common predator. Then, not even a week later, another one appeared. This shadow wanted me to know that his gift was not just a coincidence.

I had dutifully called the police when I suspected break-ins and had informed them of the obsessive behavior. It wasn’t the first time in my life I was told by authorities, “Well, we can’t do anything unless they hurt you.”

When I came home from an extended weekend away for my job, I was welcomed by a dismembered and headless Barbie doll … on my bed. While disturbing on its own, it was a clear reference to an episode of Dexter I had just watched two days prior. I had been alone and at someone else’s home and had only told my best friend back home in Missouri about the episode. Somehow, someone knew.

That was the moment I came to terms with a very grim fact. I had a stalker. Continue reading

The Trump Card

Image adapted from photo by Venkataramesh Kommoju

The Republican presidential candidate is in trouble.

It began when a hot mike tape from Access Hollywood surfaced in which Donald Trump told Billy Bush how he just starts kissing women if they meet his standard of beauty, that when you’re a star “they let you. Grab their pussy; you can do anything.” The end of the tape showed Bush asking for hugs from Arianne Zucker, the actress who inspired those remarks, for Trump and himself. In an opinion piece at The Guardian, Jessica Valenti says of this hug, “In that moment, Bush and Trump are in on a joke and Zucker is the punchline.”

Making a dirty joke out of a woman who is totally unaware of what has gone on before is the real obscenity, not the word pussy, yet I have not seen outrage over this hug anywhere near the outrage over the use of the word.


A lewd word drew more criticism than all the abuse of women that came before.


Billy Bush has lost his job because of that tape. NBC has agreed to pay out his contract in order to keep him off the air.

Some Republicans wanted to do the same thing with Trump, but their party rules say this can only be done by the candidate stepping down, which is one thing this candidate will never do. This candidate believes he is always right and those who don’t agree are enemies.

Since the release of the tape, Trump has repeatedly called his comments “locker room talk,” although many athletes have come forward to say it’s not the talk in their locker rooms. Valenti, however, points out that the men were not in a locker room; they were at work. And this is not simply locker room talk; it is boasting about assaulting women. Maybe Trump was thinking of the high school locker room in Steubenville after the drunken party rape of an unconscious girl by high school athletes, who also filmed it. Perhaps the modern equivalent of such boasting is filming sexual assaults and sharing the video on social media. Continue reading

April Is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

A Planned Parenthood Arizona supporter shared her story of sexual assault with us in observance of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

I had never had a boyfriend before and it was flattering to have someone dote on me and give me all of his attention. And he was a wonderful friend. We could talk to one another for hours, especially about music and art. Was I attracted to him? Not really, but did I need to be? He was someone to hang around with; a kindred spirit. College was my first priority. But, after a couple of months of friendship, he was insistent on more. I held him off for a few weeks, but he was not leaving the topic alone.

“I love you. Don’t you love me? If you love me, then sex is the next step. It is the ultimate connection.” Continue reading