Groups aid girls who’ve faced sex abuse
BY MARYCLAIRE DALE and JOCELYN NOVECK
Monday, March 18
NEW YORK (AP) — The girls, a dozen of them 15 to 18 years old, file into a conference room in a downtown Brooklyn office building, taking seats in chairs carefully arranged in a circle. On the floor in front of them is a makeshift altar of comforting objects: A string of Christmas lights, plastic toys and dolls, oils and crystals, a glitter-filled wand.
They arrive at the end of a school day in their usual hoodies and jeans, their smiles and easy banter masking the painful experiences that bring them together: This group is called “Sisters in Strength,” and its members are survivors of sexual violence, or their allies and supporters.
There’s a high school senior who describes being raped at 14, by a family friend she considered a big brother. She endured years of anger and isolation before seeking help. Writing poems is part of her healing process. Soon after the assault, she scrawled in a notebook: “Did you not hear my screams? The screams I vocalized at the top of my lungs, burying my voice ten feet under.”
Another young woman, now 18, seeks peace through daily meditation. She too was assaulted by someone she knew, she says, just days after her 18th birthday, but never reported it because she feared she wouldn’t be believed. “Most people will say, ‘What were you wearing or what were you doing? Why were you out so late?’ And all those things,” says this survivor. She found refuge in two trusted teachers, who sent her to “Sisters in Strength,” run by the advocacy group Girls for Gender Equity.
“I’m still in my way of healing,” she says, “and I think it’s better for me to focus on myself and move on.”
The arrest of R&B singer R. Kelly on charges of sexually abusing girls as young as 13 has focused the lens of the #MeToo movement on underage victims like these, especially girls of color. The charges, which Kelly denies, follow a string of sexual misconduct accusations against Hollywood power brokers, media titans and Donald Trump during his run for president. But in those instances, as with the Harvey Weinstein scandal that launched the #MeToo era in October 2017, the accusers have been older, mostly white women.
“What happened with the media explosion of ‘MeToo’ is that it left out (a) population of people,” says Michelle Grier, director of social work at Girls for Gender Equity, where Tarana Burke, who originated the phrase “me too” with her own work more than a decade ago, is a senior director. Part of the group’s work, says Grier, is to empower girls to recognize: “Oh, this movement is about ME, too.”
Various studies have found that 7 in 10 girls endure some form of sexual harassment by age 18, and 1 in 4 will be sexually abused. Experts believe the rates are higher for girls of color. One government survey found that some 43 percent of rapes and attempted rapes against women happened before they’d turned 18. That means that for millions of women in the U.S., their first sexual victimization occurs when they are 17 or younger, sometimes even younger than 10.
Groups like Girls for Gender Equity and Girls Inc., a nonprofit with 81 chapters in 30 states, are working to help young women discuss sexual harassment, dating violence and other types of abuse. Girls Inc. last year launched a #GirlsToo campaign to ensure that the voices of young survivors become part of the narrative on sexual misconduct.
“With young people it’s extra challenging, either because of who may be abusing them or the power differential,” says Lara Kaufmann, public policy director of Girls Inc. Often, they fear being punished by their parents if the abuse involves a boyfriend, ostracized if it is perpetrated by a relative, or stigmatized by peers if it occurs at school. Even more than older women, experts say, girls tend to fear they won’t be believed.
In Memphis, Tennessee, 16-year-old Maya Morris says an alleged sexual assault outside her school last month has sparked intense debate among her classmates. The parties involved were students at White Station High School, and some say the alleged victim broke a rule to leave school grounds at dismissal.
“People are saying that because she was at school after-hours … it was her own fault,” says Morris, a member of Girls Inc.’s national teen advisory council. School officials declined to say if the case was referred to police, and Memphis police did not return messages.
Such victim-blaming is not uncommon and adds to children’s innate belief that they are at fault when things go wrong, Kaufmann says.
“Unfortunately, some schools are punishing girls who come forward, particularly girls of color,” she says. “They report a sexual assault at school, and rather than figure out who’s responsible, they will be punished for engaging in sexual activity on school grounds.”
Burke, the #MeToo founder, says black girls are especially susceptible to being blamed because society “hypersexualizes” them, and thus they’re seen as more mature than they actually are and more responsible for what happens to them. “So the blame gets shifted,” she says, “like … ‘This happened to you because you haven’t figured out how to take care of yourself. And so this was your fault.’”
The National Women’s Law Center represents three girls who have sued their school districts over their handling of complaints they were sexually harassed at school or sexually assaulted by fellow students. The group says too many victims are being forced to transfer while the offenders remain at school.
“Girls … fear that reporting will make things worse instead of better,” says Emily Martin, the organization’s policy director. “And there are really rational reasons to think that might be the case. Schools don’t have the best track record at responding appropriately.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed new Title IX rules that would limit when schools can intervene, especially if the abuse happens off-campus or online. The public has filed more than 100,000 comments in response. Critics include the School Superintendents Association, which says the changes would undermine the ability of its 13,000 superintendents “to ensure each and every child in our school has a safe and healthy learning environment.”
Girls Inc. helps young people push school officials to do more to teach sex education and address sexual harassment and abuse. The group also has online resources about how to report abuse or help friends who come forward.
In Memphis, Morris recently participated in a Girls Inc. workshop, the first in a series across the U.S., where girls gathered to discuss healthy relationships and dating violence. Confronting a friend one-on-one about abuse might bring an end to the friendship, she says, “because they’re convinced that this is what love looks like.”
“Talking about it in a teen talk situation is a lot different,” says Morris, who does see a domino effect of #MeToo and hopes girls will speak more freely with their parents and at school.
White Station Vice Principal Carrye Holland sees a need for more honest talk about the situations teens face, be it the pressure to have sex, mistaken assumptions about which kids at school “want” sex, or fears of being ostracized if they report wrongdoing.
“They’re concerned about living in a world where they have to explain why they may not want to be intimate, to apologize for maybe not wanting to do things they’re expected to do,” Holland says. “How do you change that climate?”
Her district, like many around the country, teaches basic sex ed but lacks a forum for free-ranging discussion about consent, dating violence and other topics. Still, she thinks adults can do more to help girls — and boys — “see themselves in a respectful light … teaching things that you think maybe shouldn’t have to be taught.”
Unlike colleges and universities, U.S. elementary and secondary schools are not subject to national requirements for tracking student sexual assaults. But a 2017 Associated Press investigation uncovered about 17,000 official reports of student sex assault over the period from fall 2011 to spring 2015.
Federal data that is available shows that most sex assaults involving teens occur at someone’s home. About a quarter of the time, girls are abused by family members. Nearly 30 percent of the time, the abuser is a current or former dating partner. Ten percent of the time, the perpetrator is a stranger, and in other instances, an acquaintance. Nearly 5 percent are authority figures.
Boys also face such violence; studies have found that 1 in 6 are sexually abused before they reach 18, although experts believe the figure could be far higher. Boys often stay silent about abuse given the cultural bravado about men and sex and fears that being identified as a victim will make them appear weak. Two men who now say they were sexually abused throughout their childhoods by Michael Jackson denied it until their 30s. The late superstar was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005 and always maintained his innocence.
Psychologist Julia Curcio Alexander, who works with victims and offenders in Philadelphia, says it can be “extraordinarily distressing” for young victims to come forward — and that hasn’t changed in this era of #MeToo. Abusers often have tremendous power over their victims, be it financial or emotional. If the offender is a parent, the other parent often supports a spouse over a child, she says, and if it’s a relative, the child has to worry about the family coming apart over the disclosure.
“Perhaps there’s more support for adults who are disclosing now,” Curcio Alexander says. “Will the child going to school … be in a (better) position to disclose? That remains to be seen.”
For the two young women in Brooklyn, disclosing — even to family — was a fraught process. For one of them, it was much easier to tell her friends than her parents. The other was able to confide in her parents but shut down around friends.
Both young women struggled with the temptation to blame themselves.
“The hardest thing for me to believe was that I didn’t do this to myself,” says the 18-year-old who meditates to help heal. “But I didn’t plan or go out of my way to make this happen to me. There’s bad people in the world, and you can’t really protect yourself, especially if they’re close to you.”
She declines to describe the details of her assault.
For the young poet, her assault at the hands of a trusted family friend came as a total shock. Along with a girlfriend, she had brought the man a birthday gift. When the girlfriend left, she says, the assault happened. After telling her parents, she retreated into a period of anger and depression.
After a second assault a year later, she says, she kept quiet, consumed with guilt at finding herself in a home where she went willingly.
“I just shoved it to the back of my mind,” she says of those memories. “And so when I finally took it out, it felt like I was just telling another story, because I felt like I buried it so deep that I wasn’t feeling the emotions a survivor would usually feel. It felt like I was just telling another story.”
The twice-weekly sessions at Sisters in Strength have helped. She’s focused on excelling at her studies and plans to attend college.
Each group meeting begins with a check-in: One by one, the girls report how they’re doing, what they’re thinking about, what they need to keep healing. This might involve discussing the trauma they endured, but often not. The seven-month curriculum includes education on everything from issues of gender bias and racism to how to have a healthy relationship and methods of recovering, both emotionally and physically.
One big takeaway: These girls want to be called survivors, not victims.
“At first you feel like a victim,” says one of the young women, “because you’re in the mentality of this HAPPENED to me. But then you transition and you’re healing … and then you become a survivor, because you don’t let the thoughts you had control you or consume you.”
It’s a very conscious word choice in the group sessions, because the word “victim,” says Grier, “doesn’t express the fact that you’re still in the world, and there’s so much more to experience.”
“This is one part of the narrative, but this is not the end,” she says. “They are powerful, because they have survived something. They are powerful because they exist, and because they matter to us.”
Dale reported from Philadelphia, and Noveck from New York. Both write about gender issues and #MeToo for The Associated Press. Follow them at https://twitter.com/Maryclairedale and https://twitter.com/JocelynNoveckAP
Why social movements like #MeToo seem to come out of nowhere
March 21, 2019
Tarana Burke created #MeToo in 2006 but it didn’t emerge as a mass social movement until 2017.
Author: Cass Sunstein, University Professor, Harvard University
Disclosure statement: MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Many of history’s revolutions and social movements have emerged with little or no warning. Even those leading the charge are often taken aback, even stunned, when they succeed.
Alexis de Tocqueville reported that no one foresaw the French Revolution in 1789. Vladimir Lenin was amazed by the success and speed of the Russian Revolution over a century later. And few predicted that a Tunisian man’s self-immolation would spark revolutions across the Arab world in 2010.
Why do social movements and revolutions happen? Why are they so hard to anticipate? Why does social change seem to come out of nowhere?
For the last two decades, I have spent a lot of time on those questions, which I try to address in my new book, “How Change Happens.” My aim here is to offer some glimpses of what I have learned – and, in the process, to help explain #MeToo.
Solving the puzzle
Three factors with admittedly awkward names seem to play a big role: preference falsification, diverse thresholds and interdependencies. When the three are taken together, the difficulty of anticipating social movements becomes less puzzling.
Preference falsification exists when people conceal, or do not reveal, what they actually think and prefer. They might say they like the current situation when they despise it. They might silence themselves. Their friends and neighbors might have no idea what they actually think. To that extent, people live amidst what is called “pluralistic ignorance,” in which they do not know about the preferences of others.
Diverse thresholds mean that different people require different levels of social support before they will rebel or say what they actually think.
Some people might require no support at all; they are rebels by nature. They might be courageous, committed, angry or foolhardy. Call them the “zeroes.” They might well turn out to be isolated; no one may join them, in which case they might look radical, self-destructive or even crazy.
Other people might require a little support. They will not speak out or take action unless someone else does, but if someone does, they are prepared to rebel as well. Call them the “ones.”
Others might require more than a little; they are the “twos.” The twos will do nothing unless they see the zeroes and the ones rebelling. But if they do, they will rebel as well. The twos are followed by the threes, the fours, the tens, the hundreds and the thousands, all the way up to the infinites – defined as people who will not rebel or oppose the status quo or the regime, no matter what.
Interdependencies point to the fact that the behavior of the ones, the twos, the threes and so forth will depend crucially on who, if anyone, is seen to have done what.
Suppose that the zeroes go first, then the ones, then the twos, then the threes and so on. Or perhaps vice-versa. Or maybe it is all random. Under imaginable assumptions, a rebellion will occur, but only given the right distribution of thresholds and the right kind of visibility. If the ones see the zeroes, they will rebel, and if the twos see the ones, they, too, will rebel, and if the threes see the twos, they will join them. If the conditions are just right, almost everyone will rebel.
But it is important to see that the conditions have to be just right. Suppose that there are no zeroes, or that no one sees any zeroes. If so, no rebellion will occur. If there are few ones, no rebellion will occur and the status quo or the regime is likely to be safe. If most people are tens or hundreds or thousands, the same is true, even if there are some ones, twos, three, fours and so forth.
The case of #MeToo
Consider #MeToo in this light. All three conditions are met.
First, with respect to sexual assault and sexual harassment, preference falsification has run rampant. Victims have silenced themselves. In many cases, they have said that all is or was well when it is or was anything but.
In the case of #MeToo, however, it might be better to speak of experience falsification. That is, victims have also been silent about or falsifying their experiences to others, including employers. Falsifying one’s experiences can be especially searing.
Second, different women had and have different thresholds for disclosing their experiences and their judgments – that is, they need varying numbers of others to speak out first before they are willing to open up as well. Some women are ones, others are twos, others are tens and others are hundreds or thousands.
For one reason or another, some may be infinites. They might be frightened, have some kind of loyalty to the perpetrator, not want their lives to be disrupted or cherish their privacy.
Some might not have clarity on what their thresholds are. They – and we – learn about it after the fact. Consider the following words from Beverly Young Nelson, who in 2017 accused Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of having sexually assaulted her in 1977:
“I thought that I was Mr. Moore’s only victim. I would probably have taken what Mr. Moore did to me to my grave, had it not been for the courage of four other women that were willing to speak out about their experiences with Mr. Moore. Their courage has inspired me to overcome my fear.”
Lighting the flame
Finally, social interactions are, and continue to be, crucial to #MeToo.
Under certain conditions, the threes and the fours would silence themselves, because the ones and the twos were silent too. But #MeToo has benefited from the visibility of those who spoke out and the multiple interactions made possible by social media.
Shortly after the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal broke in October 2017, actor and activist Alyssa Milano sent a tweet to her followers asking them to share their stories of harassment or assault by replying “me too.” Within 24 hours, 45 percent of all U.S. Facebook users had friends in their networks who had posted “me too.”
Once people like Milano and Lena Dunham spoke out, others – we might think of them as the threes and the fours and the fives – felt safer or emboldened.
That’s what happened, and it is happening all over the world. And when social movements take off and succeed, that’s often why.
Paul Braterman, Hon. Research Fellow; Professor Emeritus, University of Glasgow: I find this convincing, and would expect it to apply to many causes of very different moral worth, Including racism, intolerance of expression, and violence.
This last makes me wonder about the wisdom of our publicising violence as thoroughly as we do.
The connection, for good or ill, with the sharing of news and views on an unprecedented scale through social media is obvious. So is the possibility of using such media to game the system.
Marijuana is a lot more than just THC – a pharmacologist looks at the untapped healing compounds
March 15, 2019
Author: James David Adams, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Southern California
Disclosure statement: James David Adams does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Southern California provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states as of November 2018. Yet the federal government still insists marijuana has no legal use and is easy to abuse. In the meantime, medical marijuana dispensaries have an increasing array of products available for pain, anxiety, sex and more.
The glass counters and their jars of products in the dispensary resemble an 18th century pharmacy. Many strains for sale have evocative and magical names like Blue Dream, Bubba Kush and Chocolope. But what does it all mean? Are there really differences in the medical qualities of the various strains? Or, are the different strains with the fanciful names all just advertising gimmicks?
I am a professor in the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. I have lived in California a long time and remember the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love. While in graduate school, I worked with professor Alexander Shulgin, the father of designer drugs, who taught me the chemistry of medicinal plants. Afterwards, while a professor at USC, I learned Chumash healing from a Native American Chumash healer for 14 years from 1998 until 2012. She taught me how to make medicines from Californian plants, but not marijuana, which is not native to the U.S. Currently, I am teaching a course in medical marijuana to pharmacy students.
If there is one thing about marijuana that is certain: In small doses it can boost libido in men and women, leading to more sex. But can marijuana really be used for medical conditions?
What are cannabinoids?
New research is revealing that marijuana is more than just a source of cannabinoids, chemicals that may bind to cannabinoid receptors in our brains, which are used to get high. The most well-known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana is a particularly rich source of medicinal compounds that we have only begun to explore. In order to harness the full potential of the compounds in this plant, society needs to overcome misconceptions about marijuana and look at what research clearly says about the medical value.
The FDA has already made some moves in this direction by approving prescription drugs that come from marijuana including dronabinol, nabilone, nabiximols and cannabidiol. Dronabinol and nabilone are cannabinoids that are used for nausea. Nabiximols – which contain THC, the compound most responsible for marijuana’s high and cannabidiol, which does not induce a high – are used to treat multiple sclerosis. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is also used to treat some types of epilepsy.
Marijuana, originally from the Altai Mountains in Central and East Asia, contains at least 85 cannabinoids and 27 terpenes, fragrant oils that are produced by many herbs and flowers that may be active, drug-like compounds. THC is the cannabinoid everyone wants in order to get high. It is produced from THC acid – which constitutes up to 25 percent of the plant’s dry weight – by smoking or baking any part of the marijuana plant.
THC mimics a naturally occurring neurotransmitter called anandamide that works as a signaling molecule in the brain. Anandamide attaches to proteins in the brain called cannabinoid receptors, which then send signals related to pleasure, memory, thinking, perception and coordination, to name a few. THC works by hijacking these natural cannabinoid receptors, triggering a profound high.
Tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid, another cannabinoid, can constitute up to 10 percent of the dry weight. It is converted to another compound that probably contributes to a high, tetrahydrocannabivarin, when smoked or ingested in baked goods. Potent varieties like Doug’s Varin and Tangie may contain even higher concentrations.
Medical properties of marijuana
But not all cannabinoids make you high. Cannabidiol, a cannabinoid similar to THC, and its acid are also present in marijuana, especially in certain varieties. But these do not cause euphoria. The cannabidiol molecule interacts with a variety of receptors – including cannabinoid and serotonin receptors and transient receptor potential cation channels (TRP) – to reduce seizures, combat anxiety and produce other effects.
Marijuana also contains several monoterpenoids – small, aromatic molecules – that have a wide range of activities including pain and anxiety relief and that work by inhibiting TRP channels.
Myrcene is the most abundant monoterpenoid, a type or terpene, in marijuana. It can relax muscles. Other terpenes such as pinene, linalool, limonene and the sesquiterpene, beta-caryophyllene are pain relievers, especially when applied directly to the skin as a liniment. Some of these terpenes may add to the high when marijuana is smoked.
What do all these varieties do?
Many different varieties of marijuana are on the market and are alleged to treat a range of diseases. The FDA has no oversight for these claims, since the FDA does not recognize marijuana as a legal product.
Strains of marijuana are grown that produce more THC than cannadidiol or vice versa. Other varieties have abundant monoterpenoids. How do you know that the strain you choose is legitimate with probable medical benefits? Each strain should have a certificate of analysis that shows you how much of each active compound is present in the product you buy. Many states have a bureau of cannabis control that verifies these certificates of analysis. However, many certificates of analysis do not show the monoterpenoids present in the marijuana. The analysis of monoterpenoids is difficult since they evaporate from the plant material. If you are looking for a strain high in myrcene or linalool, ask for proof.
Marijuana can improve several conditions, but it can also make others worse and can have nasty side effects.
As recreational use has become more widespread, marijuana hyperemesis syndrome is becoming more of a problem in our society. Some people vomit uncontrollably after smoking marijuana regularly. It can be treated by rubbing a cream made from capsaicin, from chili peppers, on the abdomen. Capsaicin cream is available in pharmacies.
Also, high THC varieties of marijuana, such as Royal Gorilla and Fat Banana, can cause anxiety and even psychosis in some people.
Researchers have also shown that anxiety can be effectively treated with strains that have more cannabidiol and linalool. It may be best to rub a cannabidiol balm or lotion on your cheeks to relieve anxiety.
Other conditions that studies have shown are improved by marijuana are: cancer induced nausea, Type 2 diabetes, two forms of epilepsy, HIV-induced weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, pain, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders and traumatic brain injury.
For some of these conditions, studies show that eating or topically applying marijuana products rather than smoking is recommended.
Clearly, more research is needed from the scientific community to help guide the appropriate, safe use of marijuana. However, the FDA does not recognize the use of medical marijuana. This makes funding for research on marijuana difficult to find. Perhaps the cannabis industry should consider funding scientific research on marijuana. But conflicts of interest may become a concern as we have seen with drug company-sponsored studies.