Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Violence Against Women In Alaska - CNN Special Report - UAF's Campus Newspaper

[I'm not sure how to write this post.  It's about outrageous postings about women and rape, how the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)'s student newspaper handled them, and how the University itself handled it all.  And the underlying lack of concern about violence against women in Alaska. I decided, last night, after looking around for more information, that I had too many questions to post this story yet.  

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  I have too many unpublished posts sitting, waiting to be 'good enough' to post.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 no sexual harassment [is protected]:
"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, without permission, publish a student's name connected to her sexual behavior written anonymously, but the report investigating it is confidential. [Note comment by Robyne below who says the student insisted that her name be put into the piece.  That would change my biggest objection here.  The person who does the insulting isn't able to reveal his name, but his intended victim has no problem standing up and identifying herself.  That changes the dynamics.]

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:

P01.02.010. Freedom of Speech.
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.
The university will not limit or abridge any individual's constitutional right to free speech.
What happens when it conflicts with the  University policies on Sexual Harassment?

University of Alaska Policy Regarding Sexual Harassment

P04.02.022. 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.
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. 

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 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'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'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.]


  1. What a great post Steve. Thank you! You're so right, it was important to speak out now.

    It's unbelievable to me that in today's culture, victimizing rapes, violence against women, sexual harassment & the attempts to completely control women's bodies & souls has become, seemingly, an acceptable fact of life - loudly and in public. Even many of those who disagree with the treatment stay silent, reluctant to face the venomous attacks by the people who either are those perpetrating the abuse or are so misogynistic they applaud the abuse. It's always "her fault," "she's lying," or "she asked for it."

    UAF is a disgrace, the student should never have been named. By revealing it, they joined in on the abuse, and rewarded it. Free speech? Not on your life. The freedom to victimize? You "betcha."

    Thank you for speaking out.

  2. KatzKids, thanks for your comment and support on this. I do want to be clear on something. You write "By revealing it, they joined in on the abuse, and rewarded it." I assume that you mean the abuse of using the student's name in the FB confessions page. There's no evidence that the student was sexually abused. Just want make sure that's understood by all. Also, the student newspaper is not operated by the university, though it is paid for in part, by student fees the university collects.

    1. Yes Steve, you're correct, I was referring to the abuse of using her name.

  3. This is a great piece, with several different points of discussion: high rates of violence towards women in Alaska, Causes of the violence, First Amendment Rights, and what IS lurking in our communities. After reading this, I a came across another reference today, about the high rate of assault against women in Alaska: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/02/04/gop-rabbi-schools-fox-news-on-duck-dynasty-bashing-gays-is-not-religion/ (on Fox News, of all places)

  4. Hello Steve,
    I'm wondering if you would correct something … you mention a student being named in the UAF independent student newspaper without her permission. In fact it was at her insistence that she was named in the article you reference.

    When contacted by the reporter, the student wrote: "Actually, I would appreciate if you would put my name in the article, put a face to a name!"

    I'm sorry if you've been led astray by not having all the facts. That doesn't for a bit devalue your concern with the 2010 report, or Alaska's desperately high rate of rape, especially for Native women. It was this, in fact, what motivated many of the stories in last spring's student newspaper covering sexual assault, the campus Women's Center, female faculty salaries, and an award-winning editorial about the role of social media in the Steubenville rape trial.

    Advisor, The Sun Star
    UAF Journalism Department

  5. Thanks, Robyne, for the correction. That certainly changes a key aspect of the story. I've made corrections in the post. And as you say, it doesn't diminish the larger issue.

  6. Steve,

    To clear up a few things. First, "Shouting fire in a crowded theater" is a vestige of a case that has long since been overturned, and was one of the regrets of Justice Holmes' tenure on the Supreme Court. It is often misused and abused, and its original application has no relevant to this topic. "Emotionally trampling" others has never been an exception to free speech.

    Second, it's not UAF's "Free Speech Policy" that one has to worry about conflicting with the Sexual Harassment Policy. It is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. When the sexual harassment policy conflicts with the US Constitution, the Constitution wins, always. The Supreme Court has weighed in on what constitutes sexual harassment on college campuses such that it loses its First Amendment protection. UAF's policy goes well beyond that standard. UAF can say sexual harassment is whatever it wants, but it can't extend it to, and punish, speech that is beyond the legal definition of sexual harassment. So yes, free speech does trump "sexual harassment" when that "sexual harassment" isn't actually sexual harassment.

    And your classroom analogy is completely incomparable. A newspaper article, or saying something on the quad, is a far different forum than in the context of a classroom and has a completely separate set of considerations.

    1. "[T]he Constitution wins, always." I'm no legal scholar, but it seems to me that the reason that the Constitution protects sexually harassing speech is because we could not pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Ninety-one years after the ERA was first proposed, sex discrimination is still legal under the Constitution.

    2. That's not really accurate. The Supreme Court has held that sexual harassment is not protected. But the definition the court has given sexual harassment obviously differs from yours.

  7. Anon - Thanks for you comments. I did mention there were problems with the fire example and the link says the same things you do about it. Yes, the first amendment will take precedence over a university policy. Maybe the free speech policy should just be the first amendment language on speech. And yes, the class example is not comparable to the newspaper situation. Is there a line here where you would say that the University could limit the newspaper's speech? If something were simply offensive, incitefully so, and not related to a story at all? Say, "Fags Die!" as the paper's motto? Or a column which discussed the imagined or actual sexual practices of a different faculty member each week?

    In the example, if the student hadn't given permission to use her name and sued the university to take it off the archived edition online? Or if there was racist or sexist rhetoric regularly and students were being attacked and committing suicide on campus? I recognize that 'emotionally trampling' has never been recognized by a court, but then until recently, courts haven't recognized discrimination against same sex couples as unconstitutional either.
    The court did recognize the terror caused by cross-burnings. What does it take in terms of terrorizing women or others to trigger an exception to the First Amendment? I don't think the distance from cross burning to the explicit language in this situation is great. What redeems this article is that the student did give permission to use her name.

    When we have important values in competition it is always tricky and tempers flair.

    It does seem to me that when people are put in danger or physical or serious psychological harm by speech, the question of limiting that speech should be a possibility under specific guidelines. Cyber bullying is raising these issues and my hope is that any limits on free speech are reasoned and careful to protect people from serious harm, and not overly broad based on emotionally reaction to a terrible tragedy.

    Is there a reason you responded anonymously on this?

  8. [1 of 2]

    I have replied anonymously not out of any disrespect or “embarrassment” regarding my position, but simply because my employment is such that I prefer to keep my position on these matters private, in a world where so much information about people is available with a simple internet search. I could have used a fake name, but that seemed a little more disingenuous than simple anonymity. I think my comment shows that I’m more interested in intelligent debate than anonymous trolling, so I hope that you don’t hold my anonymity against me.

    First, something I neglected to point out in my earlier comment. I take issue with your editing that changes your language regarding the report from “finds no sexual harassment” to “finds sexual harassment is protected.” This is inaccurate. The report indeed found that there was no sexual harassment. It would be foolhardy for the university to claim that actual sexual harassment is constitutionally protected. Of course it is not. But what occurred here is not, by definition, sexual harassment.

    Now, to answer your questions:

    There’s of course a line somewhere that the university could draw, but it would have to be extreme – far more so than this article. Provocative and deliberately insulting speech is protected by the constitution; that much has been made clear for many years. So no, I don’t think that an offensive statement, even if seemingly irrelevant, would allow the school to take any action. As to your hypothetical scenario regarding a column that discussed the sexual practices of a different faculty member each week, those could well constitute libel, in which case of course the university could step in.

    While it kills the claim of harassment easily, I don’t think it is necessary that the student have given her permission for her name to be used. The newspaper was reporting on a website where that information was available for the public to see. To my knowledge, there is no law against news reporting on publicly accessible information.

    The problem with “emotional trampling” being a proposed exception to the First Amendment is that (aside from the fact that it goes against pretty much the entire history of free speech in the US) there is no place to draw the line. Should it be illegal to insult someone? Should one not be able to argue against political issues like same-sex marriage? I daresay that homosexuals likely feel emotionally trampled when they hear some of the things used to advocate against it. Matters that are important for the community to know and talk about should not be silenced just because some feel affronted or “emotionally trampled.” Just as there is no exception for “emotional trampling,” there is no right to live in our society free from feeling offended. I also don’t find the argument that the courts haven’t found discrimination against same-sex couples unconstitutional until recently. Not only is discrimination conduct rather than speech, but that’s a situation where the issue at hand is the government’s ability to discriminate when handing out a benefit- a completely separate set of circumstances.

    The comparison to cross burning fails as well. Cross burning may be outlawed (on public property) only because of its “pernicious history as a signal of impending violence,” and only when done for the intent of intimidating. There is nothing here with that same pernicious history (and it is doubtful that anything else will ever rise to that level). Additionally, there was clearly no intent to intimidate. Again, the newspaper was reporting on something that was going on in the community. The leap from that to intimidation is like a human trying to jump over the Grand Canyon unassisted. We don’t restrict speech because it hurts feelings or makes someone feel like they have been psychologically harmed. To do so would decimate public discourse, as anyone could cause opinions that they didn’t like to be censored by alleging some psychological harm. There is simply no way to do so.

    1. Anon, for some reason 1 of 2 got caught in the spam filter. I just found the several copies you posted there. Since this was the first, I'm putting it up. I don't have time to respond now, but will get back to it later.

    2. Steve, no worries thanks for digging it out! I was wondering why it kept disappearing and figured I had messed something up. Sorry for inadvertently spamming you with a non-spam post.

    3. Anonymous is correct that the Final Investigative Report by Jennifer McConnel dismissed my claim of sexual harassment under Title IX. However, the investigation did find that the Sun-Star articles met two out of three criteria for illegal sexual harassment under Title IX: 1) sexual conduct; 2) that was unwelcome. The investigation demonstrated that both of these criteria were fully met. But McConnel claimed that because I produced no evidence that an actual student suffered direct harm, she denied my claim of sexual harassment. This, in my opinion, is an erroneous interpretation of Title IX. Title IX does not require proof of harm. Title IX DOES require that universities prohibit the creation of a hostile environment. The university, in its failure to act, allowed the Sun-Star to create a hostile environment.

      Additionally, EEOC laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace also come into play here. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964) prohibits "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature... when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment." Note also that "[t]he victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm

    4. In order to be sexual harassment, that "unwanted sexual conduct" has to be severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, such that it would interfere with a student's ability to continue their education.

      There's nothing severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive about these things. And even if there were, no reasonable person would find their educational experience interfered with by them. One was a satirical article. The other was an investigative report. Sorry, but this is a case of unreasonably thin skin.

  9. [2 of 2]

    To answer your question about what it takes, it takes what the Supreme Court has said it takes: speech that reasonably places one in fear of bodily harm or death, or incites imminent lawless action. Quite obviously, even without the student’s permission here, that standard is not met.
    And to conclude, if someone honestly feels threatened by news reporting about what someone else said on the internet, that person should ESPECIALLY never be able to influence what is censored in public, because that person has demonstrated skin thinner than cellophane.

    1. Anonymous, You said, "if someone honestly feels threatened by news reporting about what someone else said on the internet, that person should ESPECIALLY never be able to influence what is censored in public, because that person has demonstrated skin thinner than cellophane." ***Sadly, many of those who honestly feel threatened by news media about what someone else said on the internet are no longer with us to weigh in on what should be allowed or censored. One of these who is no longer with us is Rehtaeh Parsons http://feministing.com/2013/04/10/rehteah-parsons-is-dead/ ALEXANDRA's words in her "Rehteah Parsons is dead" post are a call to action and antidote to your judgmental and dismissive statement that those who "honestly feel threatened" should have no voice or influence. Thanks to those who are heading ALEXANDRA's call to organize against rape culture. . . "Reject slut-shaming and victim-blaming of all forms. Loudly." This is about saving lives and ending rape culture. You said "No reasonable person would find their educational experience interfered with" by satirical slams and slut-shaming. Reasonable people's educational experiences and their lives are being interfered with. How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?

  10. [1 of 2]

    1. I changed the language because I saw that I had misread the paragraph from Sine's blog which is right below where I made the correction in the post. Sine did not share her copy of the report because she said it was marked confidential.

    2. You write “The report indeed found that there was no sexual harassment.” Do you have a copy of the report? Are you a party to this dispute or did you find it online somewhere?

    3. I referred to the same sex marriage cases, not for precedence, but merely to make the point that just because something hasn’t been recognized in the past, doesn’t mean the court won’t change when it has a new understanding of the issue.

    4. In this case, the woman named gave permission. But I offered a hypothetical situation in which the person didn’t want her name there and you responded that this is still unreasonably thin-skinned of her. If you think a woman in such a situation is thin-skinned, I would have to conclude that responding anonymously on your part is even more thin-skinned. But that’s a minor quibble.

    5. I’m particularly disturbed that you (Anon) and FIRE seem so consumed with winning your First Amendment argument (a legitimate and important pursuit) that you forgot your humanity. You forgot, or never understood, that this case also has very real impacts on many women students at UAF. In the context of Alaska’s staggering sexual violence and rape statistics - that were noted in the original post - I’m distressed that you feel compelled to take an adversarial stance as though for you to acknowledge the seriousness of sexual violence in Alaska might compromise your case.

    You say in your Feb 12 12:52 pm comment

    "In order to be sexual harassment, that "unwanted sexual conduct" has to be severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, such that it would interfere with a student's ability to continue their education."

    You conclude:
    "There's nothing severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive about these things."

    I would argue that's like treating the cross burning in Virginia v. Black as an isolated incident forgetting the history of the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I understand that case required there to be the intent to intimidate and thus still may not apply. But they didn't consider people affected by the symbolism of the cross burning to be thin-skinned.

    Sexual violence and abuse is a condition of life for many Alaska women, particularly for Alaska Native women. There are many historical reasons for this situation which I won’t go into now. I dare say that many women students at UAF have been sexually abused in their lives and that abuse may be still ongoing. They are attempting to improve their lives by attending the university - already an intimidating setting for women coming from off-the-road-system villages. To see their own sexuality demeaned publicly in the student paper (not the actual case but one of the hypotheticals I offered) could well cause such a person to quit school and give up on improving her life. It’s just one more threat, for them, in a history of threats followed up with violence and rape.

    Let’s remember what was republished from a Facebook page:

    “Like if you’ve fucked xxxx xxxxx. Comment if it was a 3 some!” What if that was written about someone who was raped? Or read by someone who was raped?"

    Let’s also remember these numbers from the CNN report:

    "A majority of [Alaskan] 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."

    That's one out of three!

    I dare say, that’s probably puts them in the same league as Blacks who were intimidated by cross burnings.

    to be continued

  11. 2of 2
    I assume that you do not live in Alaska and you don't realize the extent of abuse in our state or how small the communities are. An anonymous poster naming and demeaning a woman in the newspaper could cause a reasonable woman to be fearful when she walks around a campus that’s dark most of the winter. She might think, "Who wrote that? Is it the man who is following me now?" It is NOT unreasonably thin-skinned.

    Many of the women have already been threatened and assaulted. This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s just one more of many, only this threat isn’t made by a drunk in an empty room. It’s dignified by being printed for all to see, in the University newspaper, on a campus where they thought they could escape the violence they’ve grown up with. It isn’t unreasonable to feel fearful or even to give up and quit school because of it.

    I call that damage. I don’t think that is thin-skinned. We don't call vets with PTSD who freak out at the sound of a loud noise 'thin-skinned.' We recognize that there is a physiological explanation for their reaction. The same is true for women who have suffered sexual abuse and we have lots of them in Alaska. They need understanding and caring, and I see no evidence of that in your response. Instead you exacerbate their trauma by calling them thin-skinned. We’re all thin-skinned on some issues - in your case it seems to be the First Amendment. And having your name on your post.

    I see both sides of this. I value the First Amendment, but I also acknowledge the trauma of sexual abuse that all too many Alaskan women suffer.

    Your view (and FIRE’s) shows only a fierce defense of the First Amendment that belittles those who might be harmed by the publication. Their injury might not trump the First Amendment, but it’s not trivial as you make it out.

    I accept that the First Amendment rules in this case. But Anon, you argue even without permission it would have been ok. In that case I think it’s possible to make a good case against the newspaper.

    My real concern is that we not make this about winning and losing. Let’s defend free speech, but let’s also defend the rights of women students to be free of a hostile environment.

    Instead, I read in FIRE's (for example) exultant, "Victory: Free Press Vindicated at University of Alaska Fairbanks" post on their website. A victory over whom? Women with a history of sexual abuse? There is no victory here. Yes, free speech should have been protected, but the women should also have been protected. I see no empathy in your comments, Anon, or FIRE’s blog post, for Alaska’s women suffering from sexual violence induced trauma. I can accept the paper publishing this particular piece, but I would also like to see the University - and even FIRE - acknowledging that this is a conflict between two important values and while we work to defend the First Amendment, we don't demonize those who are threatened by it. Saying these women have “skin thinner than cellophane“ may help win the legal case, but it’s ignorant of the situation and mean-spirited.

    Instead I’d like to see you strive to also understand the issues that Dr. Anahita raised. Defending the First Amendment doesn’t require dismissing the protesters’ concerns as trivial. Instead I want the University to rigorously defend the First Amendment and rigorously work to support any students or faculty or staff who are hurt by others’ exercise of free speech. Everyone should be made to feel comfortable on campus. Women who have been abused make up a large portion of our state’s population and they are a particularly vulnerable group. At the same time the University defends the newspaper, it should find ways to help women deal with their legitimate and serious issues, help them successfully and healthfully complete their studies, graduate, and find meaningful jobs that will give them a fulfilling life.


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