Why We Are Just Learning About Harvey Weinstein?

Photo Credit: People Magazine – Courtney Love and Harvey Weinstein Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Venturelli/WireImage

Why has it taken almost three decades for Harvey Weinstein’s absurdities and gross sexual misconduct to come to light? He was a champion of women’s rights, an avid supporter of the progressive movement and a sought-after democratic donor. How did the people not know? Was there some oath of silence friends, colleagues, and staff members took which protected this man for so long?

While some may plead the fifth, it is clear that sexual harassment and discrimination against women is commonplace in Hollywood and unfortunately throughout mainstream and greater society, but it still doesn’t answer the question of why it took so damn long for the public to learn about Weinstein’s behavior. Sure there were non-disclosure agreements and possible gag orders that were strategically attached to pitiful sums of money to hush Weinstein’s multiple victims, but even still the question remains, Why?

Some believe that the answer is simple, misogyny. The misogynistic views that have been embedded in the very fabric of this countries DNA and have been allowed to permeate throughout American culture since this nation’s founding is definitely a good starting point. This misogynistic culture has caused many to turn a blind eye when they see it happen or remain silent when they encounter it themselves. The real kicker is that holding misogynistic views isn’t just a male-only issue.

Women perpetuate these views too which is evidenced by how many women voted for Trump despite the Access Hollywood tapes. Not that it is right, but perhaps the culture of misogyny that has persisted over the years has made it okay for both men and women to perpetuate and accept less than ethical and violent behavior against women.

With a long history of disrespect, disregard, and marginalization of women in this country, it would be ludicrous to ignore the influence that this attitude towards women has had within families, communities, and society as a whole. Despite the historical context that helps explain the 20+ years of silence, the question of why still remains. There have been many strides towards inclusion and improved parity for women. Women have continued to evolve and remain outspoken in various efforts to advocate for themselves and close disparity gaps, so again, why was this allowed to continue for so long?

Outside of the obvious cover-up and threat to one’s reputation; undoubtedly there is certain intimidation that comes with “going public” about issues like this, especially when your livelihood, reputation, and in extreme cases, your life, are on the line. A victim is even more subdued when the perpetrator holds clout such as Weinstein, Cosby, and others who have been ousted for similar acts.

Arguably so, the tolerance for this type of behavior and misconduct is steadily dwindling and is a strong indicator as to why people are just now learning about Weinstein’s gross behavior. Still, look at how long it has taken to get here. The tolerance for this type of behavior has to be high, for goodness sake, Trump was recorded on tape bragging about grabbing women by their meows, yet he was still elected the leader of the free world. This seemingly renewed assault on women has resulted in a call to action for individuals to protect rights that were hard-fought for and losing them would be a detriment.

This new movement of resistance has definitely brought light to the multiple injustices experienced by women as well as exposed several high-powered individuals and corporations for their unscrupulous behavior. However, as with any major change, hitting people in their pockets have always garnered both attention and change when all other forms of advocacy and protesting have been exhausted.

The threat of bad publicity and potential boycotts has been the impetus for many public apologies, forced resignations/terminations, policy changes, and organizational change and perhaps is the reason why we are just learning about Weinstein’s actions. The Weinstein Company has since fired Mr. Weinstein in an effort to save face.

While the power of the purse has definitely seen many individuals stand on the side of “right” and condemn the actions of Weinstein in an effort to save face and maintain their bottom line, many of these same individuals such as Ben Affleck has been ousted for being perpetrators of illicit behavior against women themselves. So not only does the question of why still linger, but the question of what does it really take to resolve these kinds of issues arises as well? Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones. For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to ”

So not only does the question of why these allegations lingered for so long is burned into our minds, but the question of what will it really take to resolve and address these kinds of issues in today’s society remains. Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones.

For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to “make it” but were victimized, perhaps some made peace with their new-found success and opportunities and chose to put the Weinstein experience behind them. Either way, it’s good that the skeletons are no longer in the closet.

Jessica Valenti and the Silencing of Women Online

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I should not have to fear for my kid’s safety because I write about feminism. – Jessica Valenti on her Twitter account on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

Recently, a prominent feminist writer and best-selling author Jessica Valenti quit Twitter after waking up to a death and rape threat directed at her 5 year-old daughter. In a series of tweets, she urged law enforcement services to act upon the online hate and harassment that women are directly victims of on the web. This occurs only a couple of days after Ghostbusters superstar Leslie Jones left the social media platform after being targeted online by harmful sexist and racist comments .

The sad part is that both Valenti and Jones aren’t isolated cases. In a piece written 2014 called Why Women Aren’t Welcomed on the Internet, Amanda Hess highlighted that this kind of harassment is not unusual for women who take a public stance for women’s rights and feminism. Although both men and women can receive unwanted comments, the deep nature of the messages received by women is rooted in misogyny and have greater chances to be sexualized. Women also outnumber men in these cases. According to the volunteer organization Working to Halt Online Abuse, out of the 3,787 people who reported harassing incidents from 2000 to 2012, they reported 72.5 percent were female.

Leslie Jones made this tweet when she was thinking about leaving Twitter. Then Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, reached out to her personally.

This cybersexism starts very early on. An Australian study suggested that women under 30 are particularly at risk of gender-based online harassment which has been qualified by researchers as an “established norm in our digital society” nowadays. Police services do not take these online threats seriously leaving victims feeling powerless over the hate received.

This not only impacts those who directly experience online abuse but also those who watch it occur. When we know that race, gender and class are intersecting realities, those who are impacted by various forms of oppression will be reduced to silence more than it is already the case.

The web doesn’t create a safe space for marginalized voices and communities to stand out and shine. If we want rich and diverse conversations to happen on the social issues that affect our world, we need to make this online hate speech stop now and especially for those at the very center of intersectionality.

Potential Positive Consequences of Appointing a New Supreme Court Justice

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On February 13, 2016, Chief Justice Antonin Scalia died leaving a vacant seat on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). His death will profoundly change the current dynamics of SCOTUS, as conservatives no longer have majority rule on Supreme Court rulings. Chief Scalia’s 29 years of service have been characterized by extreme conservatism, acerbic dissents, and an attempt to roll back previously achieved civil rights.

For example, Chief Scalia has consistently attempted to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), and the implications being that women will no longer be able to exert the right to make personal reproductive choices. Chief Scalia was also an avid opponent of LGBTQ civil rights and also advocated for maintaining the death penalty for juveniles. His interpretation of constitutional law was archaic at best and often included religious ideology, contrary to what is described in the first amendment of the constitution.

Additionally, the current SCOTUS has yet to rule on a number of nationally pertinent court cases that could profoundly alter the current status of immigration and civil rights for females and minority Americans. First there is the Supreme Court case, United States v. Texas, which would allow five million undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States if the majority rules in favor of the United States.

Secondly the Supreme Court is set to rule on Fisher v. The University of Texas, a case that could overturn affirmative action if Fisher wins. Thirdly, there is Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt that can restrict women’s right to choose as established by Roe v. Wade if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hellerstedt.

Lastly, there is Evenwel v. Abbot, a case that could privilege white voters through redistricting. The death of Chief Scalia has shifted the odds in favor of the people and their civil rights. If SCOTUS fails to obtain a majority rule then the lower appellate court ruling will be upheld and no federal precedent will be set on these important court cases. Based upon Chief Scalia’s previously shared opinions on these cases, we can assume that for the moment that civil rights rollbacks were prevented and societal progress is still possible.

However, racism and discrimination continues to undercut social progress in The United States.  I want to take us back to President Obama’s original campaign “Yes we can” and “Change is possible”.  Almost immediately, following the death of Chief Scalia, Republican senators reacted in outrage over the possibility that President Obama might determine who fills the vacant spot on SCOTUS, rather than expressing mourning over the loss of a Chief Justice.

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Conn Carrol, the communications representative for Senator Mike Lee stated on his Twitter page, “What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice”. Old racial prejudices in Congress have continuously undermined President Obama’s ability to do his job as the President of the United States throughout his two terms. Yet again, we see a Senate determined to halt American progress due to their discriminatory attitudes. Yes we can change, but not if our President is prevented from enacting the responsibilities allotted to him by his post.

Now is a time for social workers and all American citizens to bond together in support of our President. I remember the day that President Obama won his first election so clearly. I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. The moment he was declared president, groups of us filled the streets surrounding the University of Pittsburgh in jubilation, “Change has finally come”.

“Yes we can” was sung resoundingly as we all felt elated over the possibility of social change. In order to ensure that change is possible and civil rights are not disbanded for American citizens, we must support our president. We must allow him to institute the progressive and positive change he so desires to accomplish as President.

We must vehemently stand behind our president and his decision-making. We must lobby, advocate, and place pressure on a republican Senate, make them bow down to the needs of American citizens. Yes we can change, by working together to ensure our President, President Obama, decides who fills the vacant seat in the Supreme Court. Yes we can change, but we the people must do so together.

We must prevent a prejudice Senate from determining the nature of civil rights for the minority and female citizens of America. Yes we can change, by allowing President Obama to accomplish what he originally set out to do, which was to make America better for its citizens.

Remove Obstacles to the Work of Women’s Rights Defenders

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Human rights defenders and civil society organisations working to protect the human rights of women and gender equality perform an essential role in Europe. They provide much needed assistance to victims of gender-based violence, combat discrimination against women, contribute to peace-building and hold authorities accountable for fulfilling their human rights obligations. Unfortunately, as I learned at a roundtable with a group of women’s rights defenders in Vilnius in July, they also face serious obstacles in their work.

Multiple challenges as human rights defenders and promoters of women’s rights

Along with other human rights activists, the situation and working environment of women’s rights defenders are affected by several negative trends in the Council of Europe area. Restrictive legislation and repressive practices against civil society in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Belarus have also had an impact on those who work to protect the human rights of women and promote gender equality. In Hungary, several women’s rights organisations were among the beneficiaries of the Norwegian NGO Fund and have been targeted by smear campaigns, audits and inspections.

In addition, women’s rights defenders face specific obstacles when they challenge patriarchal values, sexist stereotypes and the traditional perception of gender roles. They can be portrayed as destroyers of family values and national traditions or as agents of what has pejoratively been labeled “gender ideology”. I highlighted this issue in my latest report on Armenia,where women’s rights organisations and defenders were violently targeted in 2013 during the discussion and adoption of the Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities between Women and Men.

Women’s rights defenders also face intimidation, pressure, threats, attacks, defamation, cyber-attacks and disruption of victims’ hotlines. Those working on sexual and reproductive rights or advocating the rights of women victims of domestic violence have often been specifically targeted. For example, in Ireland, defenders working on abortion issues experienced a smear campaign and stigmatisation. In many countries, segments of ultraconservative movements and far-right or extremist religious groups have been the instigators of such attacks. A serious problem lies in impunity for such actions. All too often state authorities do not fulfill their duty to protect human rights defenders by ensuring effective investigations into these violations and adequate punishment for those responsible.

Most defenders of women’s rights are women. Women human rights defenders are at a high risk of experiencing gender-based violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, harassment and verbal abuse as well as attacks on their reputation on-line and off-line. A worrying phenomenon which has been identified recently is the increasing use of hate speech targeting women human rights defenders. In Serbia, for example, members of the NGO Women in Black have faced gender-motivated attacks because of their human rights work.

National authorities often fail to consult or listen to women’s rights defenders on relevant policies and laws. In some countries, independent activists feel overshadowed by NGOs which are close to the government – the so-called “GONGOs” (Government-Organised Non-Governmental Organisations). Another disturbing element is that women’s rights defenders are not considered as equals by some fellow human rights defenders, who mistakenly consider women’s rights and gender equality as a soft or secondary human rights issue.

The current period of austerity has made it particularly difficult for civil society organisations to find sustainable and long-term funding.  NGOs running shelters for women victims of violence, for example, have been weakened by cuts in public services at the local level.

Ways to improve the working environment of women’s rights defenders

The difficult situation of defenders of women’s rights highlights the fact that progress achieved towards gender equality has not yet been fully consolidated. As most defenders of gender equality are women themselves, the enduring discrimination of women can affect their work directly. Therefore even today it is essential to stress that equality between women and men is a fundamental right and a crucial element of the human rights agenda.

I urge Council of Europe member states to reaffirm and implement the national and international obligations they have undertaken to end discrimination and human rights violations based on sex and gender. In particular, I call upon all member states to ratify and implement the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention).

States must also meet their obligations to protect human rights defenders and ensure an enabling environment for their work free from intimidation and pressure. These obligations are recalled in the 1998 UN Declaration on human rights defenders and the 2008 Declaration of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities. States should notably refrain from putting in place policies, legislation and practices which run contrary to freedom of association, assembly and expression.

In 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a specific resolution on the protection of women human rights defenders, expressing concern about the discrimination and violence faced by them and urging states to protect them and support their work. In July 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called on States parties to ensure that women human rights defenders are able to access justice and receive protection from harassment, threats, retaliation and violence.

At the national level, I urge member states to adopt and implement laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender as well as legal provisions specifically aiming to combat gender-based hate crimes and hate speech. I also encourage member states to develop national guidelines and other measures to support and protect human rights defenders and to integrate a gender perspective in this work. It is time to put an end to impunity for violations that human rights defenders face because of their work. Expressions of support from the government and state institutions for the work of women’s rights defenders are of great importance and should also extend to the effective inclusion of women’s rights defenders in official consultations on relevant issues.

Solidarity and cooperation among human rights defenders are necessary for the protection of defenders and promotion of their work. International, regional and national networks of human rights defenders are instrumental in assisting those defenders who face difficulties in their work and threats to their personal security. It is therefore essential for the wider community of human rights defenders to support women’s rights defenders and fully cooperate with them.

Human rights defenders work closely with national human rights structures (NHRSs) on many issues of mutual interest. However, in many cases ombudspersons, human rights commissions and equality bodies have not yet acquired sufficient trust among defenders of women’s rights so that they would turn to these institutions for help when they are under threat. We need more intense co-operation and joint action between NHRSs and human rights defenders to advance human rights agendas and to assist those who are at risk. I encourage NHRSs to fully take on board issues related to the human rights of women and gender equality, and to work together with women’s rights defenders in this field.

In several instances, women’s rights defenders have successfully partnered with the media in countering attacks, including smear campaigns, and in raising public awareness of their work and the importance of protecting the human rights of women and of promoting gender equality. I find it extremely useful to build on such experiences and to foster a culture of human rights and strengthen the defender’s interaction with the public.

It is time that women’s rights defenders receive the acknowledgment, support and protection they deserve for their committed work for human rights.

Female Poverty is on the Rise: Protecting Women’s Rights

Women and men entered the economic crisis on an unequal footing. The crisis and resulting austerity measures have hit women disproportionately and endangered the progress already made in the enjoyment of human rights by women. A gender-sensitive response is necessary to halt and reverse this trend of poverty.

Female poverty on the rise

In most of the countries affected by the economic crisis, an increasing feminisation of poverty has been observed. A study conducted in 2013 on access to food banks in France revealed that the primary beneficiaries were women women_in_poverty_2between 26 and 50 with at least one child.

This is emblematic not just of the vulnerability of lone parent families, but also of the gender implications of the crisis. In Europe there are on average 7 times more lone mothers than lone fathers. Moreover, as indicated by Eurostat, “single women over 65 are at substantially higher risk of poverty than single men of the same age”.

In Spain, as recently highlighted by Human Rights Watch, women have been disproportionately affected by housing foreclosures related to excessive mortgages following the housing crisis. In fact, women, and especially younger women, have become more visible among the homeless of Europe as reported by FEANTSA.

These concerns have been further reflected by both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, which have also stressed that women in poverty or at risk of poverty are more likely to work in low-paid, precarious and informal jobs, including in the field of domestic work, and face the risk of exploitation and trafficking in human beings.

Negative impact of austerity measures

Regrettably, these warnings have largely remained unheard. Many European governments have in fact implemented austerity measures which have exacerbated the negative effect of the economic crisis on women. For instance in the United Kingdom and Greece, a significant number of jobs have been cut and salaries reduced in the public sector, where female workers form the majority.

In addition, as women rely more than men on social benefits, budget cuts in the welfare system have further endangered the enjoyment of social and economic rights by women. An independent audit by the UK Women’s Budget Group has concluded that the total cuts in government spending “represent an immense reduction in the standard of living and financial independence of millions of women, and a reversal in progress made towards gender equality”. This risk of retrogression of women’s rights, and especially social rights, has also come to the fore in other countries, for example in Greece regarding women’s access to health care and in Ireland regarding childcare benefits.

The stagnation of pension rates under austerity puts older women at a higher risk of poverty as women live longer and more often alone than men, as I observed in my report on Estonia.

Women’s rights are also jeopardised by financial cuts made to programmes and infrastructures promoting gender equality, as was the case for instance in Spain where the Ministry of Equality was eliminated in 2010.

Lastly, action against gender-based violence is yet another field negatively impacted by the combination of the crisis and ensuing austerity measures. While demand for assistance among women victims of violence has been on the rise in a number of European states, some women’s shelters have had to close due to budgetary cuts.

Protect women’s rights and empower women

It is time that states put an end to this disturbing “gender-blindness of public cuts”, as described in a 2013 report published by the European Commission.

In responding to the crisis, European governments should guarantee women’s equal access to human rights, including the rights to decent living conditions, work, healthcare and education. They should ensure that all women can enjoy social protection floors guaranteeing the minimum core levels of economic and social rights at all times.

There are internationally agreed standards that can contribute to the protection of women’s rights: for example, alongside the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Council of Europe Conventions on violence against women and combating human trafficking, as well as the 2011 ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers are all relevant texts to help ensure better protection of human rights, including women’s rights. Council of Europe countries which have not ratified these instruments should do so and implement them without further delay.

Moreover, European states should combat discrimination on the grounds of sex in all fields of life, in line with Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Revised European Social Charter. In particular, they should ensure that none of the austerity measures that they adopt has a discriminatory impact on women, including migrant women, young or elderly women, women with disabilities or those belonging to ethnic and religious minorities.

There is a clear need for systematic assessments of the impact of the economic crisis and the recovery measures on gender equality in all fields of life, including through the collection of gender disaggregated data. Gender-sensitive policies should be devised, including by taking into account the gender perspective during the budgetary process (gender-budgeting), as stressed in the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)17 on gender equality standards and mechanisms.

The agenda for empowering women and achieving gender equality in all aspects of life should not be lost to the crisis. States must take into account the impact of austerity measures on women and ensure their active participation in recovery policies.

A Call for Radical Aging

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In the 60’s, we raised our voices to put an end to racism, sexism, and to end a war.  Now, we are in our 60’s and we need to dig down deep to raise those voices again to put an end to ageism.

If there is any certainty in this world, it is that we are all journeying in the same direction.  We are all going to age, we are all going to, hopefully, get old, and we are all going to die.  How we age and how we prepare for the last part of our life’s journey will be shaped in great part by the society we live in.

Do we want to take that journey in an ageist society?  As women, do we want to remain invisible, spending time and money trying to erase the signs of old age and wisdom from our faces and bodies while hoping someone will see us and/or hear us?  As men, do we want to cling to myths of virility and strength, trying to deny the inevitable? Or, do we want to be respected, even revered, for lives lived and the knowledge and experience that comes with actively living through the many challenges we’ve faced?

As boomers and seniors, we have an obligation, a duty, to make our voices heard, speaking up for and molding the kind of society that will not see us as the “other”.  Many of us raised our voices in the 60’s to help create the civil rights movement, the anti-(Viet Nam) war movement, and the women’s rights movement.  Now, we are in our 60’s, and we need to dig deep down to re-energize those voices today to create a Radical Aging movement.

Longevity is here.  It’s everywhere.  It permeates the media, in professional journals, memoirs, movies and theatre, you name it.  More of us are going to live to be older than ever before in history, and our children and grandchildren even older. The effects of longevity are tenfold, affecting our health care choices, our work environments, and our relationships within families.  You may have already bumped into the challenges of longevity as caregivers of your aging parents who are in their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. If you haven’t been there yet, it will, I can assure you, be one of the truly life-impacting eye openers that you experience on your life’s journey.  It is a front row seat view into a future that needs a movement to change it.

We are a generation that has lived through great societal changes, some good and some not-so-good.  Some of the positive changes still need refining, but there is no doubt that we made them happen.  Some I mentioned above; civil rights and women’s rights, and more recently, gay rights.  Our lives have been influenced and molded by constantly evolving technological innovations; we have new ways of communicating through social media.  We Skype or have facetime with our families who are more often separated by greater and greater distance.  We’ve moved from an insular world into a connected world.  Once only talked about, we can now see, often in real time, how what we do in our personal lives impacts other lives, not just in our own communities but on a world-wide level.  Medical research and the attending technology have contributed to the unprecedented length of life, and this is presenting challenges that are only first being addressed.  On every level and in every walk of society we are finding choices that were never available before.  We spend a lot of time trying to determine what is available to us and what we really want.

Yet, as we celebrate longevity, we stigmatize growing older.

It is time to change the accepted language of aging. All the descriptive aging stereotypes that pervade our culture and collective conscience need to become non-p.c.   We are so much more than boomers, seniors, senior citizens, aged, ancient, crones, oldsters, codgers, golden agers, geezers, old-timers, grannies…and here’s on I just came across…coffin dodgers.  Any of these sound like compliments?  We live in a culture of age and death deniers.  Putting old people “out to pasture” is no longer an acceptable metaphor.  Neither is putting them out to the golf course, shuffleboard, nor bingo.

As we age we become more and more diverse.  The longer we live, the more opportunity we have to be shaped by our life experiences which render us more dissimilar than alike.  One size does not fit all.  There is diversity in how we age biologically, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  We bring “value added” to society.  Yet, in a culture of ageism and denial, to be recognized for that “value added” is an uphill struggle, and it is time for us to take up the struggle.  We proved in the past that we can effect change, and we are just going to have to dust off those banners and slogans, put on our most comfortable walking shoes and get out there again.

I leave you with this anecdote from my own experience:  I’m 60 years old and sitting in a class on public policy for the aging.  Next to me is this very sweet 20-something young woman, arduously taking notes and following the instructor’s every word.  After hearing the statistics on senior health issues and senior poverty, she turns to me and says, “I’m never going to get old.”  My response is, “I really do hope that you will.

Why I Became A Social Worker: Story of a Sex Trafficking Victim

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It is a question that is often asked of me nearly every single day, and one that I am not sure how to answer. If I were to answer it truthfully, it would surely unnerve many of my clients. At the same time, I am not one to lie and make up a silly excuse. So right now, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and respond with a laughing “I do not know.”

But, that is a lie also. I do know why I became a social worker, and it has to do with one particular woman who made me realize so many things on what not to do as a social worker.

In May of 2004, I was working in a summer camp when I suddenly began having seizures. I was in Boston at the time and was taken immediately to a local emergency room. It was there that I met a social worker who informed me that the doctors and nurses had found suspicious bruises around my body and were concerned that I was being abused.

I remember bowing my head and telling her that no, they had it all wrong. In tears, I told her the true story of where the bruises and cuts had come from. After I was done and after I had cried for nearly thirty minutes, she remained silent before she stood up, looked at me, and told me I was lying. She walked out after that and did not return.

I never spoke of what happened again for another five years, and I did not speak of the horrific trauma for that long because of the consequences. I became depressed, scared, paranoid and finally got to the point where I was willing to take a risk and talk about “it” again.

I met Deborah in August of 2010 after being on a waitlist for nearly a year. She was a counselor at a nearby rape crisis clinic, and I remember the first time we met she asked me why I was so angry and so afraid. I couldn’t answer her, the truth was I didn’t know. I hated her at first, but forced myself to keep going back. Until finally one day, eight months in, I cried, and I told her what had happened to me six years before.

I told her how I had been abducted at gunpoint from my own home, and how three strangers had ambushed me as I tried to get into my home. The safest place I knew. I described how those awful people took me just three miles down the road and sold me into a human trafficking ring. My dignity and my self worth  was carelessly traded for my abductors to gain what they wanted. In exchange for me and my freedom, they each got one dime bag.

 Slowly, my counselor and I developed a stronger rapport. It took a long time, but again, I found myself being able to talk to her, even though I remained guarded about my experience. It was in December of 2010, when things got even worse for me.

I began recovering memories on a daily basis, horrific memories that left me unable to do anything but cry. Deborah saw the difficulty and began asking me to come in twice sometimes three times a week for counseling.

As our talks progressed, I revealed to Deborah one thing that I had not said yet, and it was the game changer. I told her how during those four days and nights, it was not just one or two men who raped me, it was close to a hundred.  Each time someone did, they would have to pay my handlers. I remember the exact phrase I used when Deborah connected the dots. I told her that money was exchanged for me. It was the beginning of the next session she held my hand and told me what she suspected.

I thought that I had been through the worst of it, and I had finally accepted that I had been kidnapped and raped. Now, she was telling me that my situation, while it encompasses sexual assault, it was something else altogether. She sat with me as she explained what human trafficking was and that everything I had mentioned to her aligns with that crime.

I felt as though I had been hit by a bus. While it was just a phrase to me, being a victim of sex trafficking was so much harder to accept than that of kidnapped and raped. I fell into an even darker depression, one where I honestly became scared of myself and my memories.

It was in November of that year, I was asked to meet with some federal agents regarding my case, and the wonderful people at my counseling center offered up their space so that I did not have to be at home. It took three hours to detail everything that happened, I told them at length about my abduction, about how I was sold and tortured in a shed, how I witnessed the death of another woman, and how I escaped.

That interview changed me, and it turned everything around for me. I learned right then and there that I am my own best advocate. During those three hours, when I was reliving the worst four days of my life, I felt myself growing stronger. I felt myself turn from a victim to a survivor.

Since that day, I have done a ton of interviews with law enforcement, both local and federal level. I have learned so many things and been able to educate so many people about the reality of human trafficking. There are few things that are an absolute need to know.

The first. I am an American citizen, I am a white woman living in a middle class neighborhood in the United States. In all of the media I have watched, there has never been a victim of human trafficking that resembles any part of me.The victims are always foreign, unable to speak English, or a child. All this is doing is creating stereotypes. This crime happens to everyone, regardless of color, nationality, age, sex, religion, etc. One of the main reasons I was unable to get help for so long is because nobody was able to see me as a victim of human trafficking. I did not match the picture that the media has given us as the typical victim.

Second. Like every other survivor, I deal with my trauma in my own way. I do get defensive, I do get scared, I do not share every second of that hell. What I do is make sure I am giving it my all. A good example of this is during one of my counseling sessions, Deborah asked me to draw a map of the locations I had been. I hated that map. I would only use black color and would only draw X’s. I hated it, it made this so real for me. One day, I got a hold of it and simply ripped it to shreds right there in her office and yelled at her. I told her to quit pushing me to do that, I hated it. It was the first time I felt emotion in years.  Listen to your survivors, they know what they can and cannot do. Pushing me into drawing a map made me despise going to therapy and I quit for a bit because of it. No means no.

Third. I describe atrocious acts that happened to me, and while it might not seem real to you, the sad fact is, it is my reality. I have the bullet scar on my arm where I was shot at, I have a burn on my backside where a man tortured me. I do not need to prove that these things happened. If I am telling you this, even if you do not believe me, know that I am telling you for a reason.

Fourth: It is hard. Overcoming is hard. And when you are the victim of human trafficking there are very little resources available. There is little support available and very little chance of justice.

Fifth: I think this one is the most important. As a counselor, therapist, doctor, nurse, etc, you never know the change you can make in a person’s life.  You never know how much you can help or hurt one person. Remember that the next time someone approaches you with what sounds like an unrealistic story. Deborah and her ability to listen to me saved my life. She saved others too, because without her I never would have gone to the FBI, my information may have helped solve a missing person’s case. But none of it would have ever happened if someone did not think outside the box and think that maybe, this client in front of you is telling the truth.

I became a social worker because the first social worker I ever met refused to help me. She did not believe me and because of her, I vowed that none of my clients would ever hear those words.

My name is Lauren Obermeier. I am an LMSW and the Director of Social Services at a psychiatric nursing home. My caseload, on average, is 190 people. I am a gymnastics coach, a daughter, an advocate. I am a survivor.

Voter ID laws Impact the Most Vulnerable: Time to fight back!

by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director of Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Voting is a right, not a privilege. Somehow, this basic American truth is being forgotten in our frenzy to battle “voter fraud,” a phenomenon that exists more in the minds of the paranoid than in the voting booths. Voter ID requirements are one of the newest forms of voter suppression spreading through the states. Women and people of color are widely acknowledged to be the communities most adversely impacted by Voter ID laws. These communities must be at the forefront of the battle against discriminatory voter ID laws that will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of North Carolina voters.  To support community inclusion and access to information, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice invites you to join a FREE webinar to discuss strategies to combat Voter ID and other forms of voter suppression in North Carolina and throughout the South.

Please join the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Blueprint NC, State Voices, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Lawand Southern Leaders for Voting Rights (SOLVE) for a free virtual voter ID strategy discussion at the outset of 2014 state legislative sessions. This webinar is free and open to the public. Information is designed for community organizers and concerned citizens looking to find concrete ways to make a difference in the fight for access to the ballot for all eligible voters.

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SCSJ Executive Director Anita Earls will explain the history and context of voter ID so that participants can understand the precise manner that voter ID laws are used to suppress the vote.

The webinar will also include first-hand accounts of how Voter ID laws are being fought on the ground in Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. We will discuss lessons learned, best practices, and how to effectively put together grassroots movements in our own communities.

Voter ID is just one of the tools in the arsenal of voter suppression tactics being deployed in North Carolina and beyond. Understanding voter ID is an excellent first step toward understanding and organizing against all forms of voter suppression. We hope you are able to join us on Tuesday, January 28 for this free 2-hour webinar. Click here to register!

Malala Yousafzai and Women’s Rights in Islamic Countries

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Women in Muslim countries often do not have the same rights and privileges as women in the West such as the right of education or the right to employment. Author, activist, and survivor Malala Yousafzai is a perfect example of the challenges and barriers Muslim women face in Islamic countries. In her native country of Pakistan, women and young girls were denied the right to education. Malala Yousafzai begins to speak on every media platform available to her on the importance of education.

An outspoken critic of the Taliban’s tactics in her native Swat Valley from a young age, Malala was the subject of an attempted assassination at the hands of a Taliban gunman because she was unafraid to speak out.

Then, at just 14 years old, a Talib fighter boarded her bus, pointed a pistol at her head, and pulled the trigger. But she survived, made a full recovery in England, and has become and transformative figure in human rights.

Now, she is poised to become the youngest Nobel Peace laureate ever.  Read More

Modern women in the West have the same rights and privileges as men such as the right to jobs, pay, and education. They have the right to vote in elections and engage in politics. Western women can wear whatever they want, and their freedom of expression is not a criminal act.

Women can drive, cut their hair and join in sports events, and cheating on your spouse is not cause for a death sentence. All these things when spoken aloud (or, in this case written) may seem ridiculous, but they are just a small part of the rights they may not accessible to Muslim women.

In Muslim countries, these rights are taken away from women and doubled to men. It is legal to beat your wife if she doesn’t listen to you or argues with you. A few years ago, another article appeared in the news about a Norwegian woman who was studying in Dubai. While at home, four guys around her age got into her room and raped her. Later, she went to make a report to the police. Unfortunately, she was not able to bring an accusation against them in the absence of having no male witnesses. What’s shocking about this case, she was charged and faced six months in prison for having unlawful sex.

Religion’s main function is to unite people for good and not to separate them from ‘lower’ or ‘higher’ class of human beings. We’re all the same, no matter our skin color, appearance, or sex. Maybe most of us do not understand Islam, but the truth is social evils in today’s society such as oppression, domestic violence, and the abuse of women are not confined to any one race, religion, or region of the world.

Malala Yousafzai made an appearance on Jon Stewart to talk about women’s rights, education, and her book “I am Malala”. Most importantly, she continues to advocate for equality for Muslim women. View the video below:

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