Does it end?

By now, the majority of us are well aware of the flood of sexual harassment accusations against dozens of well-known men in the entertainment industry. The New York Times reported in October that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had reached settlements with at least eight women in the past, regarding accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment. 83 women have now come forward to say that Weinstein acted inappropriately toward them.

But the reports haven’t stopped at Weinstein. With the re-introduction of the #MeToo hashtag – started by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago, and gaining attention when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the tag following publication of the Times article – it became clear that this is a much bigger problem than anyone had anticipated.

Björk, an Icelandic singer, songwriter, producer and actress known globally for her avant-garde style, was just one industry member who disclosed via social media that she, too, had been victimized.

in the spirit of #metoo i would like to lend women around the world a hand with a more detailed description of my…

Posted by Björk on Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The list of survivors in Hollywood, female and male, goes on and on: Reese Witherspoon, America Ferrera, Lady Gaga, Gabrielle Union, and Molly Ringwald, to name a few. Terry Crews has also openly discussed the negative impact that harassment has had on him.

The list of incriminated men is incredibly long, too. Danny Masterson, Hollywood actor. Matt Lauer, television news reporter for NBC News. Charlie Rose, television host and reporter for CBS, PBS and Bloomberg LP. Russell Simmons, cofounder of the Def Jam record label. Louis C.K., comedian. Michael Oreskes, NPR news chief.

These are only a handful of those affected by allegations, whether making or facing them. Some individuals have admitted to acting inappropriately (apologies were later issued by Louis C.K. and Charlie Rose, for example), but the stories keep coming, and are not limited to Hollywood. Former Chief Justice and Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Roy Moore has also recently been accused by multiple women of harassment.

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Following the thousands who have used the #MeToo hashtag to talk about their experiences with abuse and harassment are several women in powerful government positions, including four United States Senators: Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

Those who are able are continuing to talk about those experiences, which often happen at work and which they must often brush off. But here’s the thing: the harassment is not limited to awkward hugs or inappropriate shoulder rubs from a boss. And although women most often face these sorts of abuse, they are not the only ones suffering.

 

Lest anyone think these reports are a fluke, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2011, nearly 20 percent of U.S. women had been raped at some point, and roughly 43 percent had survived some other type of sexual violence. That translates to numbers into the millions (mouse over chart for more exact figures).

In much the same way that these affronts are not isolated to one kind of assault, they are not isolated to one country. A survey from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that in 2011, nearly half of French, Finnish and German women have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence. A quarter or more of women in nearly every other member country of the European Union reported the same (mouse over map for exact figures by country).

Might these incidents be driven less by actual sexual desire, and more by the desire to exert power? That would likely explain why so many assaults occur while in the process of a job interview or a meeting with a professional superior, and why those accused are often in higher-level positions of authority.

Plenty have been told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become independently successful. That independence is the path to the American Dream. However, becoming self-reliant, and thus powerful, takes time and work. What price do these survivors pay to get there? Must they endure the Weinsteins, the Roses, the Mastersons and all the others to get ahead?

For many, the answer is “yes.” Socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals in particular – mostly women, but some men as well – such as single mothers or women of color, might be left with no other choice than to accept harassment for the sake of supporting their families and themselves. Not everyone has the ability to go to college, or to seek out a job at which they can be free from unwanted sexual advances.

Ideally, those experiencing or at risk of harassment or abuse could “save themselves” via independence, or by removing themselves from the situation. Unfortunately, to suggest such a solution in the real world is to let predators off the hook, and to oversimplify an immensely complicated problem.

It has been established that gender roles and power dynamics enforced through societal norms encourage sexual aggression. It has been shown over and over again that many men feel entitled to forcing sex with a woman if he thinks that she has “led him on.”

Why has society established these norms in the first place? Why has it taken so long for these issues to get noticed, and why must it fall to survivors to call for change via the #MeToo movement?

Most importantly – what do we do about it?

Panel educates students on new Title IX procedures

If a University of Tennessee student finds themselves a victim of sexual violence, where do they go?

This year, they can walk into the brand-new Title IX Office on Melrose Avenue and their report will be the first step in a process UT’s Title IX staff spent the summer trying to perfect.

The Title IX Office teamed up with the Chancellor’s Honors Program to familiarize students with the 2017 Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence, Stalking and Retaliation by hosting a panel discussion on Tuesday night.

Title IX is the federal policy established in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on the sex or gender of students and employees at educational institutions that receive federal funding. This includes prohibition of sexual harassment or violence.

The 2017 fall semester is the first time in school there has been a stand-alone Title IX Office. It’s run by Ashley Blamey, the former director of the Center for Health, Education, and Wellness.

During the panel, Blamey explained that if a student experiences harassment or violence, the Title IX Office is where they should go.

How it Works

Blamey told the audience to start by thinking of UT as a town that contains up to 40,000 people on any given day.

“Given the size of our community,” Blamey said, “there are going to be people who are outside of our community values.”

When something happens to a student that falls outside of UT’s community values and is relevant to Title IX, the student can walk into the office and make a report.

From there, the student has three options. They can request limited action, report to the Office of Student Conduct or report to law enforcement.

Limited action measures include connections to medical care, counseling, communication with faculty and any arrangements that need to be made with housing, work or transportation. The Title IX Office can also issue a no-contact directive, which Blamey describes as “a line in the sand” that UT can issue to stop interaction between two University-affiliated parties.

“These [limited action] pieces are designed so that someone can continue to live their life,” Blamey said.

If a student chooses limited action, they have the right to request that their contact with the Title IX Office never be released, as well as the right to refuse to name the respondent.

If a student chooses to report to the Office of Student Conduct, the person they accuse will be investigated by the Office of Student Conduct.

Betsy Smith, director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, who sat on the panel, explained that a school investigation looks different than criminal proceedings.

“We’re not looking to take away the life or liberty of an individual,” Smith said.

While a criminal court has to prove something took place “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the university has to prove something is “more likely than not.”

If the Office of Student Conduct meets that burden of proof, the accused person is subject to University discipline.

If a student chooses to report to law enforcement, a police investigation will take place with the goal of criminal prosecution in mind.

Blamey explained this process with a series of flowcharts and she reminded the audience “none of this is as simple as it looks on paper,” but the goal of the panel was to help students understand why the Title IX Office is here.

The Prevention Goals of Title IX

The main goal of the Title IX Office, as well as the Center for Health, Education, and Wellness (CHEW) is to prevent these incidents before they happen.

The process of prevention starts before new Vols even make it to campus. They take an online module the summer before their first semester and sit through a session on safety and consent at orientation.

“In Tennessee, some of our students have never had that conversation before,” Blamey said. “Some people say ‘you can’t educate to change this issue’ and I say ‘if that’s the case, we should all go home’.”

Once students are on campus, they can receive bystander training through CHEW’s Volunteers Speak Up program.

Blamey described Title IX issues as public health issues that all members of the campus community can work to prevent.

“Every single person in this room can help change this,” Blamey said. “If you are here, then you are part of the change.”

Title IX in 2017

Multiple students at the panel addressed concern over recent comments about Title IX investigations on campus made by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

While Blamey acknowledged that UT will have to take into account any future guidance that comes from the federal government, she reassured the students present that the procedures put in place at UT are here to stay.

“There is no concern, or shouldn’t be, that Title IX is going away,” Blamey said.

So far this semester, Blamey said things have been running more smoothly than before.

The Title IX Office has seen an increase in reports. Since getting its own building, more students have been walking in.

The new policies were made with the experiences of students who are victimized and students who are accused in mind, and the panel was an early-semester push to make students aware of what those policies are and what the Title IX Office does.

“We’re worked really hard…to be more clear, to make the language more accessible,” Blamey said.

“As far as our interactions with students, it feels much more thoughtful.”

 

Featured Image by Nima Kasraie, courtesy of Creative Commons

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo