But then this morning a friend emailed me a link to a CNN report on Alaska's off-the-chart rates of violence toward women. It seemed I had to post something. I have too many unpublished posts sitting, waiting to be 'good enough' to post. This is too important to be ignored. I don't have any answers, but I have some of the questions. So, I'm basically just giving you an overview and throwing it out for others to think about. This is stuff happening in our state, in our cities and towns, every day while most of us look away. I have to post this, rather than look away.]
[UPDATE 2/7/14: A comment from Robyne [see below] who identifies herself as the student newspaper advisor says that the student wanted her name in the newspaper. If that's the case, it changes my key issue here, but not all the contextual issues. She also says that the article helped to raise the issues for discussion on campus.]
A Facebook post last night sent me to a blog by Fairbanks faculty member Sine Anahita lamenting the university's tolerance of 'slut-shaming' in the student newspaper. She cites a report that exonerates the newspaper and finds
"University of Alaska Fairbanks has determined that sexual harassment of women in the student newspaper and online is constitutionally protected. The university’s general counsel’s office, the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (D&EO), and an outside attorney hired by the university to review my Title IX complaint all agreed that the Sun-Star exercised its right to free speech when it published two articles that sexually harass women. Read details about this issue here: http://wp.me/p3HWTd-1w"In another post she focused on a story in the UAF Sun Star that used screenshots from a FB confession page that named a specific student. Here's an excerpt from an article from the following week's edition of the Sun Star about the original story. I've blocked out the student's name which was in the original Sun Star piece.
"On Tuesday Apr. 16, the UAF Confessions page administrator posted a “confession” that crossed the line for some of its audience. The post read, “Like if you’ve fucked xxxx xxxxx. Comment if it was a 3 some!” The post immediately received criticism from users surprised that the page administrator would allow the sexually explicit content targeted at UAF communications student and graduate teaching assistant XXXX XXXX."All the comments cited on the confessions page express disgust at the posting and shock that it's being left up with the name. Partly that's the purpose of the First Amendment - to get things out and get them debated. But leaving in the name seems to go too far. I can't articulate it more than that yet, which is why I wanted to wait on this. But imagine your sister or daughter or son, for that matter, being named that way in a newspaper which is still online almost a year later. Anyone who googles her name would find it on the student newspaper website. Something is just wrong there.
I must also add that the article in the paper quotes the student named in the piece.
“I hold no ill will to anyone that has created this page or message, but it did make me stop think [sic]: Here I am, a graduate student at UAF with so much to feel good about in my life, and an anonymous person calls me out on a UAF public forum for my sexuality,” XXXXX said in reflection. “Mostly, I think it is interesting that calling out a woman for her sexual activities is still the way that men (and women) put other women down.” [Again, I xxx'd out the name]Maybe she's a lot more sexually liberated than most of us. Or maybe she's putting up a good front. I have no way to evaluate at this point.
As I say, I wasn't going to post on this yet. But this morning someone sent me a link to a CNN special report. CNN sent John D. Sutter to Alaska to report on our off-the-charts rates of violence against women.
The extent of Alaska's problem with violence against women is both horrifying and clear: Alaska's per capita rate of reported rape is the highest in the country, according to 2012 FBI crime data. An estimated 80 rapes are reported in Alaska for every 100,000 people. That's nearly three times the national average of 27; and almost seven times the rate in New Jersey, the state where reported rape is least common. Those comparisons are imperfect, of course. But localized surveys in Alaska paint an even bleaker picture. A majority of women – 59% -- have experienced sexual or intimate partner violence, which includes physical violence and threats; and 37%, nearly four in 10, have been raped or sexually assaulted, according to a survey of 871 adult women in Alaska, published in 2010.I couldn't find the actual University report that finds the postings constitutionally protected, so I emailed blogger and professor Anahita about its availability. She wrote back:
"The report is not online, but it was sent to several news organizations. I can't share it with you because I think it would be unethical. There are many documents in the report that are clearly marked CONFIDENTIAL. But I'm happy to summarize the contents."It's a little ironic that the newspaper can,
I am a strong supporter of First Amendment rights, but there are exceptions to them, like shouting fire in crowded theater. The rationale there is that people might get trampled and hurt in the ensuing panic. I can't see how people, particularly women, aren't emotionally trampled by such posts, especially given the situation here in Alaska. But the "Fire" example isn't as clear cut as it seems. There are libel and slander laws that also limit free speech.
The University of Alaska Free Speech policy is pretty clear:
What happens when it conflicts with the University policies on Sexual Harassment?P01.02.010. Freedom of Speech.A.An environment of free and honest inquiry is essential to the functioning and the mission of the university. The board and the university therefore acknowledge, affirm, and espouse the right of freedom of speech as guaranteed in the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Alaska. The essential purpose of the university is to engage in the pursuit of truth, the advancement of learning and the dissemination of knowledge. To achieve this purpose, all members of the university must be assured of the constitutionally protected right to question, speculate, and comment, as well as the right to criticize the university and society at large.B.The university will not limit or abridge any individual's constitutional right to free speech.
Apparently free speech trumps harassment. I wonder what would happen if students started testing the limits of free speech in class. "Professor, did you fuck your wife last night? Is that why you haven't graded our papers yet?" I wonder whether the student's free speech rights would be upheld.
University of Alaska Policy Regarding Sexual HarassmentP04.02.022. Sexual Harassment.
A. The university will not tolerate inappropriate sexual or sexually harassing behavior and seeks to prevent such conduct toward its students, employees and applicants for employment. Violation of this policy may lead to discipline of the offending party.
B. Since some members of the university community hold positions of authority that may involve the legitimate exercise of power over others, it is their responsibility to be sensitive to that power. Faculty and supervisors in particular, in their relationships with students and subordinates, need to be aware of potential conflicts of interest and the possible compromise of their evaluative capacity. Because there is an inherent power difference in these relationships, the potential exists for the less powerful person to perceive a coercive element in suggestions regarding activities outside those inherent in the professional relationship.
C. It is the responsibility of faculty and staff to behave in such a manner that their words or actions cannot reasonably be perceived as sexually coercive, abusive, or exploitative. Sexual harassment also can occur in relationships among equals as when repeated unwelcome advances, demeaning verbal behavior, or offensive physical contact interfere with an individual's ability to work or study productively. Consensual sexual conduct that unreasonably interferes with other employees’ work or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive working or learning environment constitutes sexual harassment for purposes of this policy.
D. The university is committed to providing an environment of study and work free from sexual harassment and to ensuring the accessibility of appropriate procedures for addressing all complaints regarding sexual harassment. Nothing contained in this sexual harassment policy will be construed or applied to limit or abridge any person’s constitutional right to freedom of expression or to infringe upon the legitimate academic freedom or right of due process of any member of the university community.
In another post, Anahita shares some of the hate mail aimed at her. I was confused about whether this came to her website or not and asked her that by email. She responded:
"The comments that I posted in "Misogynist Hate" on my blog were from blogs on other sites. I have not been able to trace the origins of most of them. I found them by searching for my name and Title IX. Some of them have been deleted or I get a "page not found" error. There was a period in November when there were dozens of them, but now there are fewer hits."I don't claim to know what motivates someone to write and post this sort of stuff. But unless we try to understand it, things aren't going to change. These are troubled people. I post some of the comments for same reason Anahita does "As an antidote to the online hate, and as a way to contribute to the data about online misogyny."
“She’s so ugly I wouldn’t rape her with a dead man’s penis.”
“She would never, even if she was the only woman on an island with thousands of men, have to worry about being raped.”
“if THAT is a picture of her, i think she “doth protest to much” as a reaction to her inner desire to partake in the sex she doesn’t stand a chance of ever getting.”
“What that femiNazi needs to do is go in search of a sense of humor. That is not sexual harassment; true sexual harassment is something she need never worry about, judging from her mouth and her photo.”
“Dear Feminists, Please get a Life . Perhaps get laid, get over yourselves we are tired of hearing from your twisted little selves”
Sutter, in the CNN piece, writes:
I've sometimes thought of interviewing prisoners about how they got there. Without understanding what sort of life history leads to the mean, hateful comments and to actual violence, we can't take action to meaningfully reduce the incidence of violence against women.I asked [UAA Justice Center director] Rosay what researchers had done to try to make sense of [the high violence rates against women.] Had there been efforts to interview rapists? To understand what life experiences may have led them to rape? Or to try to figure out what might stop perpetrators from raping again?No, he said. Not to his knowledge.But, he offered: Maybe that would help.That conversation and others like it led me to the small community where I met Sheldon – and to the decision to focus on offenders rather than victims. A common refrain from women's rights activists is that "rape won't stop until men stop raping."I couldn't agree more. Victims aren't to blame; rapists are. [emphasis added]
I'm leery of abridging Free Speech. It's how people express their ideas and feelings. It's how we keep a free society. And letting people express their vile feelings and thoughts is a way to find out what lurks in our communities. Isn't it better to know these thoughts are there? But once we know these things, our institutions - like the legislature and the university - have responsibilities to act to alleviate the conditions that give rise to the kinds of hatefulness that is expressed. And to give protection and comfort to those targeted. I understand some of this may simply be adolescent bravado said thoughtlessly, and with no real intent at harm. But when things are posted on the internet, they take on a life far beyond anything in the past. And some is serious and does intend harm. I still don't think the student's name should have been published. Part of being a responsible journalist is knowing that just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
Does such speech fuel violence against women or is it merely a symptom of the things that cause violence against women? How does such speech affect women? Not just the named student, but other women who could be named by other people? How does such speech affect other men who hear it? Does it make it more acceptable? What possible benefit comes from publishing the student's name in the student paper? How can we as individuals, as residents of Alaska, and as parents, as elected officials, and as professionals in schools and hospitals and the media change what's happening?
In a democracy, we're all responsible for what we let happen. If we don't vote, if we don't support good candidates, if we don't voice our opinions regularly, we're part of the problem. The legislators we elect do or don't pass good laws, do or don't appropriate funds to help eliminate the conditions that lead such hatred. I understand that some of this is simply human behavior and eliminating it altogether is not going to happen. But it happens much more in Alaska, if the numbers are to be believed, and so we are responsible for getting those numbers down. "Numbers down." How cold and abstract. We're responsible for protecting women from abusive men, from their abusive words, from their unwanted touch, from their violations.
[Feb 7: Follow up post here: We don't call vets with PTSD who freak out at the sound of a loud noise 'thin-skinned']
[UPDATE June 18, 2014: The University of Alaska system was added to a list of colleges and universities being investigated for Title IX violations, including sexual assault.]