After Pittsburgh: Hate Crimes, Gun Violence, and Toxic Masculinity

Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding writing about the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I didn’t want to read any of the numerous articles that were shared, I didn’t want to engage with the flood of posts on social media, and I didn’t want to talk. Except it’s more than not wanting to do any of those things; I felt that I couldn’t. I couldn’t acknowledge what had happened because I was scared I would fall apart. I couldn’t read my friends’ posts because every time I saw them, I was hit with a pang of fear for their safety and for my own. I couldn’t afford to make this tragedy real, because doing so meant grappling with the hard questions.

What do we do now?

Why does this keep happening?

How do we stop it from happening again and again and again?

Who’s next?

In the back of my mind, I knew that I would eventually have to face these fears and questions. I chose the Women’s Center blog as the forum to struggle with them because I recognized the capacity of the people around me to support me as I do so. That said, I don’t intend for this to merely be a personal reflection. There are larger societal factors which continue to influence the culture of violence in this country, and those need to be addressed.

 

Baseline Information

First things first, let’s look at the numbers. There is no specified definition of the term “mass shooting” nor is there a government agency that keeps track of them. This makes data collection difficult, so many activists have had to rely on media outlets or nonprofits that have taken on the task. As a result, it is easier to identify trends. Here is a really useful video explaining several of them.

Despite this gap in the data, we do know that America has more guns than any other developed country–even when adjusted for population size–and, consequently, more gun deaths. It is important to note that a very small proportion of gun deaths occur from mass shootings, even though they happen so frequently. This is because the leading cause of gun deaths is suicide, followed by homicide (which is defined separately from mass shooting). The specifics are even harder to pin down when it comes to the shooter’s identity, but there are two key trends: the first is that a majority of the shooters are white, and the second is that all but three of these shooters in the last few decades have been men.

 

Masculinity and Violence

It’s no coincidence that nearly every mass shooter has been a man; it’s a symptom of how society teaches gender. From an early age, we’re taught that men are supposed to be strong, physically aggressive, and that roughhousing is just what boys do. For example, if a boy chases a girl around the playground and pulls her hair, we say that he likes her. This dismissal of boy’s actions teaches them that violence is natural and an acceptable outlet for negative emotions. Think about the playground scenario from a different perspective: what I see is not a little boy expressing positive feelings about a girl, but rather him acting on the negative feeling of frustration that he can’t have her. We don’t just teach boys violence; we teach them a desire to control everything except their emotions.

When we get older, and these actions become more serious (such as sexual violence), we as a society still focus on women as victims. We do not, however, focus on men as perpetrators of this violence. As one of my friends put it, “we teach women not to get raped instead of teaching boys not to rape.” At the Women’s Center, we recognize that sexual violence affects a multitude of people, and that there is no one way a survivor should look; however, this is still a heavily gendered issue, and much of that has to do with patriarchy. With this in mind, we need to consider how we as a society teach and reinforce masculinity. Arguments like “men can’t help themselves” and “boys will be boys” are endemic of both toxic masculinity and rape culture–which often reinforce one another.

Within this context, let’s return to the issue of mass violence. A key piece of the conversation that often gets left out in the media is the history of the perpetrator. For white shooters in particular, people are quick to search their past for mental illness or redeeming qualities, but they often gloss over a common thread, which is a history of commiting domestic violence, interpersonal violence (IPV), and/or sexual violence. For example, it came out that the man who killed over 50 people at a Las Vegas country music concert in October 2017 had abused his ex-girlfriend when they were together. Closer to home, the boy who shot and killed a classmate at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County had expressed anger that she had rejected his unwanted advances

Conceptually, this link makes sense. Much of these acts come not from a place of desire, but a place of needing to have power. We teach men that to be masculine means having control and authority over others, so many men view these violent acts as a means of maintaining control over their partners. It’s horrible, but when we don’t teach men a socially acceptable way of expressing negative emotions (and tell them that to be emasculated is to lose status in society) they often turn to violence. Furthermore, if a man views his partner as an object to be controlled, it’s unsurprising that he could view groups of people he’s prejudiced against or feels have wronged him the same way.

Moreover, we continue to normalize and stoke this misogynistic anger in online communities and forums where many men who feel entitled to have a sexual partner, and cheated that they do not, blame women for their problems and often celebrate men who hurt women. In fact, several of these men have used guns against women they do not know, and explicitly stated this misogynistic reasoning. It’s important to be mindful of the way we interpret the numbers here. Because mass shootings make up such a small portion of the gun violence in America, there are very few abusers that actually go on to commit those atrocities. On the flip side, many mass shooters have a history of violence, and it is necessary to understand that correlation. Their possession of assault weapons only makes their acts of violence all the more deadly.

 

Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes

Hate crimes have been on the rise over the last few years, across lots of different marginalized groups. An FBI report indicates that overall hate crimes have increased by 17% and that anti-Semitic hate crimes have increased by 37%. Based on data collected by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Semitic hate crimes comprise about 11% of hate crimes overall, and 58% of hate crimes against religious groups. For comparison, Jewish people make up about 2% of the United States population, and 0.2% of the world’s population. So why are we so targeted?

It would take an entirely separate post to delineate the long history of violence and persecution against the Jewish people, but it is practically as old as the religion itself. Even in modern history, there are countless examples of anti-Semitic violence, many of which have been forgotten (this article lists just a few over the last hundred years). Many people who commit these acts are fueled by hateful rhetoric they see online.

Most of this anti-Semitic rhetoric stems from ancient stereotypes that still persist today. From Shakespearean villains to old movies to today’s political campaigns, anti-Semitic tropes have a long and ugly history. Samantha Bee did an amazing job of explaining that history and how it’s connected to today’s politics in a segment on her show. Essentially, the use of dog-whistle politics is not explicitly anti-Semitic, but its implications and allusions to deep-rooted stereotypes are like a language that sends a clear signal to those who already speak it.

 

Where do we go from here?

I really wish that I could conclude this piece on a positive note. I wish I could point to some positive trends that indicate understanding and acceptance are on the rise, while fear and violence are fading away. I wish I could, but I have nothing to point to. Instead, as I finish writing this blog, I get an email notification from the UMBC Police Department alerting the community of yet another display of anti-Semitism on this campus.

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I’m tired of this. I’m tired of anti-Semitism being dismissed in progressive movements that advocate for diversity and acceptance. I’m tired of Nazis being referred to as “very fine people” and of free speech being used to defend them. I’m tired of centrists trying to hear “both sides of the story,” as though hate should be treated as a valid political ideology. I’m tired of social media executives bending over backwards to promote community guidelines, but doing nothing about literal neo-Nazis using their platforms. I’m tired and I’m angry. I’ve heard too many Holocaust jokes, had too many stereotypes hurled in my face, and seen too many concerns about anti-Semitism get brushed aside.

I don’t want to see any more swastikas drawn on bathroom walls. I don’t want to be scared for my safety when I go to see one of my favorite shows, and I don’t want to see people–especially people on this campus–use anti-Semitism as the punchline of a joke. Jewish people cannot and should not be the only ones fighting this bigotry. We need people who aren’t Jewish to step up and show some support. Find organizations that combat anti-Semitism, educate yourself on Jewish history and culture, and confront this hatred when you see it. You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room, but we can’t take any more of your silence.

 

Sources/Further Reading

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/stephen-paddock-las-vegas-domestic-violence-fantasy-boston-bomber-orlando-shooting-a7993186.html

https://www.npr.org/2017/10/07/556405489/the-relationship-between-domestic-violence-and-mass-shootings

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/searching-for-motives-in-mass-shootings

https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/oct/06/newsweek/are-white-males-responsible-more-mass-shootings-an/

http://www.phillytrib.com/news/majority-of-mass-shootings-carried-out-by-white-men/article_8b8b0145-c512-525a-8a7d-256bfb3a959f.html

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a23088401/domestic-violence-coercive-control/

Bodily boundaries or how the world told me I hated affection

Sydney PhillipsA blog written by student staff member Sydney about her journey with understanding bodily boundaries, consent, and the perpetuation of rape culture in society. Including tips about consent in daily life and resources to stay informed and about how to talk to kids and other adults about the issue.

 

If you would have asked me a month ago how I felt about touch and affection, I would have told you I straight up hate it. For years I’ve thought I was someone who just doesn’t want to be touched at all (I’m talking cuddling, PDA, hugging family…let alone kissing family, sitting a bit too close to someone, or OMG SHARING BEDS)… and in some ways this is still true. For example I will never want to be cuddled while I sleep. This is ME time, don’t touch me!

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BUT after some self-reflection and some therapy, I’m realizing that the issue is not that I don’t like to be touched or that I’m never okay with physical affection. It’s that I like certain forms of physical affection and I don’t have a problem telling other people what I want.

Unfortunately, other people find my self-awareness and assertiveness weird or wrong. Our society socializes women to think that we SHOULD want to be touched and that men should WANT to touch us (I’m using heteronormative terms here for a few reasons. 1. Because that’s the message I received growing up, and because society still looks at heterosexual couples as the norm, I think a lot of times this is the message many of us get and 2. Because I’m interested in the gendered understanding of this phenomena and how it creates tensions within consent discourse). If we deviate from that norm we feel like something is wrong. For example, here are some responses I’ve gotten when explaining not wanting to be touched to people: “but he’s your boyfriend” , “you’re such a dude”, “you’re cold/ cold- hearted”… the list goes on.

I’m okay with not liking certain forms of touch or affection; however other people have constantly been confused by it which led to me internalizing some of it subconsciously. People either seem to not understand my bodily boundaries, let along respect them, or think I’m weird for having any in the first place. Why is this an issue? Because it teaches us that knowing our boundaries and desires is abnormal and it ultimately reinforces rape culture. Yep, I went there.

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NOT LIKING TOUCH AT CERTAIN TIMES, IN CERTAIN WAYS, OR BY CERTAIN PEOPLE DOES NOT MAKE ME COLD HEARTED, IF ANYTHING IT MEANS I AM IN TOUCH WITH MY BODY AND KNOW WHAT I LIKE AND DO NOT LIKE WHICH IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD BE TEACHING EVERYONE, FROM THE BEGINNING.

This blog came about from a mixture of therapy where I’m learning to be emotionally vulnerable (that’s a whole different blog…more like a book, though) as well as a trip to New Orleans where I had reached my limit in terms of explaining myself. While discussing the fact that I “don’t like to be touched,” someone I was with asked me:

“What happened to you as a child?”
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Here’s the short answer to that: Nothing.

Now here’s the long response.

    1. Don’t ask people this, especially people you may not know well because guess what… ? It’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
    2. This insinuates that something sexually traumatic (or at the very least physically traumatic) had to happen to me as a child, which is not only completely ignorant in the terms of this conversation but also could be retraumatizing for someone who has experienced sexual or physical harm.
    3. YOU DON’T NEED A REASON  TO PLACE BOUNDARIES ON YOUR BODY.

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This belief that someone has had to go through something traumatic in order for them to place limits on their own body and know what they like and do not like is downright harmful. It seeps into how we raise our children, how we parent our teenagers, and how we perpetuate rape culture in our lives. It is the reason why people struggle with saying or accepting “no”. No before sex, no during sex, and no in terms of things that aren’t related to sex. It is also why some people don’t understand that the lack of a no IS NOT A YES.

I mean look at the images and messages we give to kids and adults about sex and consent. We acknowledge that “no seems to mean yes” in Disney’s Hercules ( a children’s cartoon) we then reinforce this by “playfully” saying no but really meaning yes in Pitch Perfect, a movie targeted at young women and then music touches on this “I know what you really want” (go away “Blurred Lines”) narrative all the time. The Notebook, a “love story for the ages” has the man threatening to jump from a Ferris wheel if the girl doesn’t agree to a date.  And then we reach adulthood, alcohol companies market to people by hinting at roofies and being so drunk you “won’t say no”. But yet we expect people to navigate this media and know what is right and what is wrong? How?

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In order for bodily boundaries and autonomy to be realized by all people we need to consciously and actively teach consent. Consent in sex education, consent in relationships (all of them), and consent for children. In order for adults to look at people taking a stand over their body, wants, and needs, we need to teach our children that they can say no to touch at any time from any one and that they can tell us when they feel uncomfortable (I’m talking kisses, hugs, sitting on laps, and, yes, even high fives). We need to teach adults that this is okay and that affection or gratitude can be shown in other ways, and that that is normal. We need to teach children what age appropriate consensual touching looks like, yes this means SEX ED.

So what are some ways we can incorporate consent into our daily lives, parenting, and relationships? Aside from the things above about teaching consent early, here are a few tips that are helpful for me when I’m feeling frustrated…

  • Ask people before you hug someone. This may seem simple or silly but some people do not like to hug and THAT’S OKAY. Asking allows them to say no to a situation that may make them uncomfortable. They may want a high five instead. Personally, some days I want to hug and other days I don’t, especially with people I may not know very well. You can also ask for touches when you need them as well, but people still reserve the right to say no.
    • Shoutout to Reese for having this exact respectful conversation the other day. She listened, questioned, and then accepted what I had to say. And even though she may be an affectionate person, she always asks others “would you like a hug or high five” when saying hello and goodbye. sometimes people respond with neither, or how about a fist bump, and they go from there. Phrases like Would you like a hug? Is it okay to hug you? Are important and may start off awkward but get easy when we practice them regularly.

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  • Don’t be afraid to express your boundaries. I’m very open about my limits from the get go, no matter the situation. When sharing a hotel room bed (with a romantic partner, friend, classmate, etc.) for the first time, I make sure to tell them I’m not a cuddler, I explain that I may not always want to be touched to people, I explain that I don’t like to be “smothered”. I also continuously reinforce these boundaries.
    • Example: Someone touches me when I don’t want to be?  I say: “Please stop that” They don’t stop? “I’m being serious I don’t like that” Still touching? “If you touch me again I will kick you…. Guess what comes next. If I’m touched again, you got it, I kick em.

→ I realize this doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation but if you have healthy relationships and friendships I would hope you’d be able to discuss your boundaries and have them respected.

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  • Remember that consent is not just about sex, it’s not even just about affection. This is a super complex issue and there are a lot of people that we steal bodily autonomy from regularly based on their varying identities. Think about when someone touches a Black woman’s hair (don’t do that. Just don’t, even if you ask) and how that invades her right to her body and her space. Consent also isn’t always about touching, think here about Trans individuals who are constantly asked if they “got the surgery” (also don’t do this). It’s none of your business, it’s personal, it’s intimate, and a person’s gender identity/expression does not give you the green light to ask such a question.

These conversations aren’t easy because society doesn’t give us space to discuss bodies and sex, but they’re necessary and important. They may be awkward and people may not understand but that’s why we need to start teaching children at younger ages, so that there may come a time when we don’t have to continuously have these talks as adults.

Feeling overwhelmed? Confused? Or just want some more information? Check down below for a list of resources regarding consent at all ages, sexual education, and rape culture/toxic masculinity and the effect it has on both women and men

Resources:

  • Children
    • I Said No! was written by a boy named Zack and his mother to help him cope with a real-life experience and includes discussion on how to deal with bribes and threats.
    • My Body Belongs to Me, is about a child who gets touched inappropriately, so prepare to have a thoughtful conversation after reading together.
    • No Means No! stars an empowered young girl and includes a “Note to the Reader” and “Discussion Questions” to aid crucial dialogue.
  • Teens and Up
    • The Hunting Ground is a companion book to the documentary of the same name that delves into the rape culture prevalent on college campuses.
    • Sexual assault survivors from every kind of college and university and multiple backgrounds share their stories in We Believe You, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “one of the most important books of the year.”
    • Asking for It by Kate Harding explores the idea that our culture supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims.
    • Michael J. Domitrz takes a friendly, collaborative approach to the topic of express consent in Can I Kiss You?
    • Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape
  • On Teaching Consent: Ask. Listen. Respect. In the classroom. By Age, How to instill boundaries, Physical and Emotional Boundaries
  • On What Consent Means: here, here, and here
  • Sex Ed Resources: Sex Ed Rescue (Includes puberty, consent, sex, and ebooks), Lesson Plans and Legislation, For Parents, Planned Parenthood, Ability Based Sex Ed
  • On Fighting Rape Culture: What rape culture is, Steps to take, What rape culture sounds like
  • Other
    • The yes no maybe so checklist is AMAZING. It goes over all different forms of touch and asks you to rate them on if you like it, don’t like it, or could maybe be into it. You can even rank things as hard or soft limits and discuss how they may vary depending on the situation.
    • The Hunting Ground: Documentary on Netflix. This exposé tackles the disturbing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and school officials’ efforts to cover up the crimes.
    • The Mask You Live In Documentary on Netflix. The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence.
    • The Women’s Center’s Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence Workshop (Check MyUMBC for events next semester)

 

What are Pop Culture Pop Ups?! The Golden Globes: Black Out and Oprah

Sydney Phillips

A blog post written by student staff member, Sydney.

 

It’s official! The Women’s Center has a new ongoing event starting this spring semester. What is it you ask?

Pop Culture Pop Ups!

You’re probably wondering, “What the heck is a Pop Culture Pop Up?” Well, that’s what I’m here to explain.

If you frequent the Women’s Center you know that it is often a space for spontaneous discussion with others regarding shared interests (about life, events,  and school to include the awesome, the good, the bad, and the frustrating – and more!). The energy and critical dialogue that comes from these conversations are what make the Women’s Center the Women’s Center and we wanted to nourish more of these moments by carving out time for more intentional dialogue surrounding both fun and serious topics that come up in our daily lives. Hence, the pop up of these Pop Culture Pop Ups.

We envision these pop ups will create a space for anyone who is on campus and wants to discuss an event, movement, hashtag (and more!) that has gotten huge attention or gone viral to come to the Women’s Center and have a brave space to discuss their feelings, reactions, and ideas linked to the topic. Of course, we’ll make sure to talk about how these pop culture moments intersect with gender and women’s issues, feminism, and social justice. Yet, unlike many of the other events that we hold in the Women’s Center, there won’t be a planned agenda, prepared questions, or a panel of experts and practitioners to guide the conversation.

Essentially, our plan is to take the conversations we notice people are often having on social media and make them into IRL conversations! We may do a bit of background research or read an article that shows up on our Facebook, but this is really a space for raw, immediate reactions to what it happening in a fun and thoughtful way with other people on want to engage in a conversation around the same topic.  That’s why our Pop Ups won’t come with a “save the date.” While they will be held on Wednesdays at free hour, they will be spur of the moment decisions (get it, Pop Ups?) in reaction to an event. This means we we could decide to have one the Sunday before or Tuesday night so check our social media for updates!

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Some of you may still be confused about what it is we’d talk about or what is considered pop culture, and the ambiguity is kind of the beauty of it (it can really be anything), but it may help to have an example.

A Pop Up we would have loved to have, but unfortunately weren’t able to because of winter break was all things Golden Globes. From the second I heard about #TimesUp and the #whywewearblack Black Out/ Protest, I was hooked and invested. This is something I wanted to discuss and dissect with others. Who was involved in the decision? Did everyone wear black? What is the point? These would all be questions that would definitely come up in a Pop Up.

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Hollywood showed up in black this year at the Golden Globes.       Photo Credits: Getty/WireImage

If you watched the show, or saw any of the coverage after the fact, you’d know that almost everyone did indeed wear black, but you also would have seen the backlash about why this form of protest just wasn’t good enough. Wearing black isn’t that hard-especially for men, said some while others said that a better idea would be to protest the event all together. Not only did the dress-code come under fire, but so did the men (and some women) who showed up wearing black and the Times Up pin. What about the actors and actresses that are wearing black but work with Woody Allen or other stars that are being held accountable? What does wearing black do when you’re still silent about sexual violence and believing survivors in your daily life as well as career? I know these questions flew around my head and basically everyone’s on the internet. I wish we could have had a Pop-Up to really reflect on how we were feeling post black-out. I still don’t know how I feel about the whole thing. I love the men and women who came out to support, I love that a lot of them made donations and brought activists as their dates, and I love that we’re finally TALKING ABOUT IT…. but I also ask, is it enough? This is why Pop Ups are important. They’ll come together fast, bring us together about current issues, and let us digest these potentially confusing emotions and reactions.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

While the Blackout is something that could take up a whole Pop Up on its own there was another highlight of the night that we would have LOVED to talk about. You guessed it folks — OPRAH!

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Me listening to Oprah’s speech!

Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement (the first Black woman to do so) and delivered a speech that BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN. She discussed growing up and representation in the media, people who took a chance on her and how that led to success in her career, her value of the press and the pursuit of the truth, the sexual violence in the entertainment industry and beyond, and the women who are speaking up.

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It was moving, brought tears to my eyes, had me fist-pumping, and cheering her on (I encourage you to watch it here). I wish I would have had the chance to see how others felt in person rather than on Facebook and tumblr, especially with so many mixed feelings surrounding the activism at the Golden Globes. Not only could we have discussed this epic speech, but we could also unpack the public’s call for a presidential run and what that really means. Should Oprah run? Some say HELL YEAH, others think she’s just another billionaire and we should support other Black women who are already in politics, while others are saying no more to celebrity presidents. There’s a lot more to unpack here in terms of politics, who we support, and how the institution (both Hollywood and politics) may be changing.

Discussions about how we feel in the present as well as how we move forward in the future about this moments in time are important to have and that’s why the Women’s Center will be bringing you these Pop Culture Pop Up moments.

To stay informed about when Pop-Ups will happen make sure to follow us on myUMBC, Facebook and Twitter. Also follow us on Snapchat (@womencenterumbc) where we will be posting more about daily happenings in the Women’s Center.

If there’s something that comes up over the next semester you want to talk about, be sure to let the Women’s Center staff know (you can also use the hashtag #WCPopUp). It just may become the next Pop Culture Pop-Up! 

 

For more on the Blackout:

On why it’s about more than a dress

On what it means for designers

For more on Times Up:

On the Time’s Up Movement

On how #METOO and Time’s Up relate

For more on Oprah’s Speech:

On Black women being the “clean up” crew for America- and why that’s a problem

On the “missed point” of the speech

Dear Survivor

This guest post was written by a UMBC community member who has asked to remain anonymous to allow for privacy while sharing this important experience. 

***Content Note: This post contains detailed descriptions of physical threats and sexual violence, and mentions of suicidal ideation. Please practice self-care while reading.*** 

Dear Survivor,

I would like to tell you my story of survival. I think that maybe, just maybe, it could provide you with something that will be helpful. I hope that it will. As a survivor myself, I know that lots of people have reacted to me in ways that minimized my experience, or, in contrast, made my experience into the thing that defined me. Both felt like shit. Both made me feel trapped.

I don’t want to do that to you. Instead, I want to show you a path to a future in which your survival matters, but the specific things you have survived are just a distant footnote in your memory.

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Dear Survivor letters created at UMBC’s Take Back the Night offer messages of solidarity.

I want to tell you some details about my story. It happened 25 years ago.

Continue reading

“We still do that?”: Shackling Pregnant Prisoners in Maryland

When you talk to most college students about shackling incarcerated pregnant people before, after, and while they are labor, most are surprised.  Many look at me incredulously and ask, “We still do that?”

Yes, we still do that. We still shackle pregnant people for all of their medical appointments, as they give birth, and as they are leaving the hospital even though it has been deemed dangerous, dehumanizing, and unnecessary by national organizations like American Medical Association (AMA), American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and American Public Health Association (APHA). Federal courts have ruled that shackling those in labor is a violation of the Eighth Amendment (that one about “cruel and unusual punishment”). The United Nations has also prohibited the shackling of pregnant prisoners and considers the practice a form of torture (though the U.S. would not want to ruin their streak of neglecting to ratify most conventions on human rights that the UN creates).

Continue reading