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Originally posted in Everyday Feminism

(Content warning: sexual assault, rape, victim-blaming)

In February of 2014, actor Shia LaBeouf was whipped, stripped, and raped. By a woman.

Although he remained silent about the assault for a time, the young actor eventually told the world that he was raped by a female stranger during his Los Angeles art installation, #IAMSORRY. The installation ran during Valentine’s Day weekend and allowed art show attendees to sit silently in a private room with LaBeouf, who wore a paper bag over his head.

In an October 2014 interview with Dazed Digital magazine, LaBeouf told reporter Aimee Cliffthat a woman whipped his legs for ten minutes, removed his clothes, and proceeded to rape him. After she fled from the scene, LaBeouf sat silently in shock, unsure of what to do or where to turn.

LaBeouf’s art show collaborators, British artist Luke Turner and Finnish artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, claimed to have intervened to stop the assault, but the woman (whose identity remains unknown) has not been charged with any crime.

Sadly – but not unexpectedly – LaBeouf received disturbing backlash for speaking out.

Critics asked why he didn’t “fight her off” (thus attempting to discredit the deep loss of control that LaBeouf experienced when he was raped) and made jokes that he must have enjoyed it because “what man wouldn’t enjoy no-strings-attached sex?”

Others accused him of fabricating the rape for publicity or laughed off the feasibility of a man being raped by a woman entirely.

These taunts, accusations, and denials are exactly the type of victim-blaming that the feminist movement has been fighting against for decades in terms of the rape of marginalized people.

They deny the power and control that LaBeouf’s female assailant exerted over him because he is a man and therefore should have “fought back.”

Many people simply won’t admit to the real societal damage caused by women who sexually assault men.

The patriarchy has cemented society’s idea that “real” men are always craving sex and constantly, infallibly “ready to go.” Under these prescribed circumstances – where women hold the key to sex, which men are relentlessly seeking – men are expected to be grateful for any sexual advances thrown their way, wanted and unwanted alike.

Worse yet, popular culture has made male rape into a culturally accepted joke.

Let me be very clear about one thing: Rape is never a joke.

The concept that sexual assault of a man by a woman is impossible, ridiculous, or funny stems directly from assumptions about patriarchal gender roles – precisely the same assumptions that are used to blame and silence other rape survivors.

There is no question that in our world, the number of cisgender men raped by women is much lower than the number of cis and trans women, trans men, and non-binary people who are raped by men. But this doesn’t mean that male survivors should be cast aside or laughed at.

In order to be true allies of rape survivors, we absolutely must support all survivors – not just those who we identify with.

This article seeks to investigate the experience of one type of rape survivor specifically – that wherein the survivors are cisgender men, which means that their experience of their own gender matches that which they were assigned at birth.

And hopefully, by understanding more about the rape of men by women and recognizing ways that society undermines male rape survivors, we can create a more inclusive community where all survivors feel safe and supported.

In order to do so, let’s take a look at some significant reasons why the rape or sexual assault of men by women should never be downplayed or joked about.

1. An Erection Does Not Equal Consent

Let’s start here: Not all men have penises, and not all people with penises are men (because not all people are cisgender!). However, the social myth that it’s impossible for men to be raped by women comes from the (oppressive) assumptions that 1) all men have penises and 2) erect penises are always signs of sexual arousal and consent.

But despite what people will tell you, it is physically possible for someone with a penis to be raped by someone with a vagina.

The scientific truth is that men can have a physiological response to sexual coercion even if consent has not been given or desire does not exist.

Research shows that deep fear and traumatic stress, coupled with the physical stimulation of an assault, can result in involuntary erections or ejaculations.

As another example, according to research psychoanalyst Paul Joannides, most men experience REM sleep erections in the morning when they first awaken – and these erections are often not accompanied by feelings of sexual desire at all.

Simply put, just because a man has an erection does not mean he wants (or has consented to) sex – because the body is capable of having erections without any sense of sexual desire.

This is not unlike the phenomenon in which people with vaginas who are raped sometimes experience self-lubrication of the vagina or even orgasm during their assault.

These survivors often have a hard time admitting that they experienced physical arousal or pleasure while being raped, and feel that their body has “let them down.”

It’s plain and simple: Sex without consent is rape – erection or not, lubrication or not, and last but not least, orgasm or not.  And this is universally true, regardless of either person’s gender or sexual orientation and no matter what prior relationship existed between the two individuals.

All people deserve to have complete autonomous choice in their sexual activity.

This remains true even if no physical violence has been enacted against the survivor (see section three for more about this important distinction). Just like a woman is not “asking for it” by wearing a short dress, a man is not “asking for it” because he has an erection.

2. Sexual Assault of Men by Women Is More Common Than You Think

Society teaches men and women from an early age to strive for power and control – and that rape is one of the most devastating and powerful forms of control over another person. To believe that these societal messages affect only men is false. Women are susceptible as well, and women can be rapists – even if the number of female perpetrators is much, much lower than the number of male rapists.

For example, statutory rape of a male student by a female teacher is one way in which an older woman can exert authority and power over a younger man. And although she may be the most famous case, Mary Kay Letourneau is not the only predatory teacher ever to take advantage of a young male student.

Over the last few years, an increase in cases of female teachers committing statutory rape against their teenage male students has been reported.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the numbers of assaults are going up – it may simply suggest that more survivors are coming forward.

Still, there are undoubtedly many more cases that go unreported – due to manipulation and abuse of the minor, or due to the minor’s fear of society’s retribution against them.

Statutory rape of boys by adult women occurs outside of the classroom as well. Women who sexually assault their own children or children whom they have authority over (as the child’s counselor, coach, or mentor, for example) make up many of the cases.

But it’s not just boys under 18.

Adult men are also sexually harassed or assaulted by their female partners.

However, because of the lack of research done in this field and the fact that many men feel intense pressure not to report these crimes, statistics regarding the rape of adult men by women are unreliable.

When reviewing this topic, it’s also very important to recognize that the number of identified woman rapists is very low compared to that of men overall. Only 3-4% of single-perpetrator sexual assaults are attributed to women.

Taking into account that we don’t have reliable statistics about how many men are raped by women – and the undeniable fact that even if we had accurate numbers, they would be drastically lower than those of cis and trans women, trans men, and non-binary people who are raped by men – it’s crucial to recognize that we can still help male survivors of rape.

And of equal importance is the fact that we can be supportive of them in a way that doesn’t detract from the support offered to other survivors.

3. Not All Sexual Coercion Involves Physical Violence

Woman perpetrators often use very different tactics than men to push for sex, such as repeated unwanted touching, emotional manipulation, and intoxication.

Categories of sexual coercion include foresexual or presexual contact (kissing, touching, or groping against the survivor’s will or without their consent), coercive sex (described above), attempted rape, and completed rape.

Studies show that women are much more likely to instigate unwanted foresexual contact or coercive sex than the latter two categories.

New research estimates that roughly 19-31% of college men experience some degree ofunwanted sexual contact, and researchers believe that the bulk of the perpetrators in these cases are women.

A woman who coerces or forces a man to have sex with her, even without initiating any physical violence, is still a rapist. “People think men can’t be raped and they don’t understand that…no still means no,” says Curtis St. John, a representative for MaleSurvivor, a national support group for male survivors of sexual abuse.

It’s crucial to remember that all sexual harassment, manipulation, and assault is extremely problematic, for men as well as women – and downplaying any aspect of it hurts the movement to support survivors.

4. Survivors Who Are Men Are Even Less Likely to Report Being Assaulted

Survivors of sexual assault who are men are much less likely than women to report it to the police. There are many reasons for this, all grounded in society’s fucked up teachings about gender.

Sadly, some men may not even realize that a crime has been committed against them.

According to sexual assault researcher Garnets, “because most men have internalized the social belief that the sexual assault of men is beyond the realm of possibility…men have trouble accepting their rape experience as real, not only because it happened to them, but that it happened at all.”

This idea is bolstered in cases where no physical harm was done to the survivor.

Other men may feel that they have lost their manhood as a result of being assaulted and experience profound shame and embarrassment, causing them to stay silent.

Many straight men don’t speak out due to fear of being ridiculed as gay because they weren’t interested in sexual advances from a woman.

Because the patriarchy has taught them that being gay is “wrong” from birth, they may not even be willing to admit that they didn’t want to have sexual contact with their rapist, for fear of being labeled as gay.

Project Unbreakable has chronicled some of the horrible things that male survivors have been told by their rapists and their supposed “support systems.” One survivor’s ex-fiancé told him to “man up” when he panicked after seeing his rapist for the first time in the eight years since the rape occurred. Another young man was told by his rapist, “You’re a guy. You can’t say no to a girl like me.”

When messages like these are the prevalent experience of male survivors, it’s no surprise that many are hesitant to speak up.

In order for this to change, it’s crucial that we as a society stand up for male survivors along with other survivors. All survivors deserve equal recognition and equal justice.

5. Male Victims Experience Traumatic Fallout After Rape, But Are Still Made into Jokes

Many men who are sexually coerced or raped by women experience long-term negative consequences, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

This is especially likely to happen when older women rape young men or when alcohol is involved in the rape.

As previously mentioned, a man who has been raped by a woman and achieved erection or ejaculation during the assault may feel deep disappointment in his own body. He may feel that he doesn’t have the “right” to call the event rape because he had an orgasm.

Even if his body had a different reaction to the assault, he may still feel deeply conflicted about calling the rape out on what it is. After all, society has told this very man – consistently since he was very young – that having sex should be one of his top priorities in life and that he will be admired and venerated for his sexual conquests.

Research shows that most rape survivors, regardless of gender, are deeply traumatized by the unfathomable loss of control over their own bodies that they experience when raped.

However, men are much less likely to be honest about how much they are suffering in the aftermath of an assault, due to gendered expectations of masculinity and the public response to male rape.

It’s no secret that the rape of men is downplayed by the media and often made the punchline of jokes. Whether it’s a news commentator doubting the legitimacy of a survivor’s experience, or a crude joke on Tosh.O, the rape of men by women simply isn’t taken seriously in the public eye.

But here’s the thing. Rape is never funny. Certainly not to survivors. And it should never be delegitimized or downplayed.

Check out this article for just a few reasons why rape jokes are never acceptable (and ways to cope with hearing them).

Resources for Male Survivors

Men who have been sexually assaulted or raped by women are not alone.

Organizations like MaleSurvivor and 1 in 6 offer helpful resources for men dealing with the aftermath of rape, including hotlines, support groups, access to therapists, daily affirmations of hope, and recovery retreats. They also provide a large body of research for people who want to learn more.

And if you are the partner of a rape survivor, read up on ways that you can support and help your partner.

All Rape Is Real

There’s still a long way to go in acknowledging and respectfully representing men assaulted by women.

After LaBeouf’s experience at #IAMSORRY, popular commentator Piers Morgan made an all too familiar victim-blaming statement, proclaiming that “LaBeouf is one of the toughest actors in Hollywood…[but] he just let it all happen.” Morgan also called LaBeouf’s allegations of rape “truly pathetic and demean[ing to] real rape victims.”

As if Morgan – or anyone else, for that matter – has the authority to define what “real” rape is.

Rape comes in many forms and sizes, but it is devastating to the survivor no matter what.

And as feminist critic Van Badham eloquently states, “After Shia LaBeouf’s art gallery trauma, we should affirm that all rapes are ‘real,’ and all are breaches of trust.”

***

To become a better ally of rape survivors, we must support all of them. And wonderfully, supporting male survivors of rape actually helps all survivors.

By working together – and never delegitimizing any case of sexual abuse – we can create a more inclusive survivor community.

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Originally posted in Everyday Feminism

How would you describe that low-cut, tight dress you just bought for your best friend’s party? Would you call it sexy? daring? fun? Or would you use a more negative term like “slutty?”

And that fun one-night stand your neighbor had last weekend – would you describe her actions as adventurous or “skanky?”

The word slut is a common slur in our modern day vernacular. No doubt, it still carries weight if said with malicious intent.

But in recent years, the word has become deeply ingrained into our culture to the point where people say it too easily and too casually.

As innocuous as using pejorative terms may seem when used in reference to clothing or the activities of others, they undoubtedly still imply negativity surrounding female sexuality.

And using them just validates the societal standard of a perfect, virginal-until-marriage, demure woman as an ideal.

I’ve often asked myself “What can we do about this nasty, negative word choice that is so standard in our culture?” Maybe learning more about the word itself – and more empowering words we can use instead – is a good start.

What Are We Really Saying?

Many of us have been called a slut at some point in our lives — or have thrown the epithet at someone else. But what does it really mean?

The word “slut” originates in Old English, meaning a “messy, dirty, or untidy” woman or girl. Because of this, it was frequently used as a term for kitchen maids and servant girls. By the 15th century, the word took on the meaning of a “promiscuous woman” as well.

Think about it: Have you ever called someone a slut, whether in jest or seriously? What did it mean to you? And what do you think it meant to the person it was directed toward?

Slut-Shaming: Are You Guilty, Too?

To slut-shame means to “degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity.”

Most of us, whether we realize it or not, have judged or degraded someone (usually a woman) for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage.

It happens all the time. That young celebrity who wears something more daring than her usual attire is automatically described in terms of “her slutty side.” We see a beautiful woman who is wearing heavy makeup and comment on how she is lovely, but she looks like a stripper. We condemn our sexual thoughts as slutty instead of explorative.

As a culture, we are quick to use words that paint female sexuality as disgraceful – even if we don’t realize that we are doing it.

Think: Have you ever called yourself (or someone else) a slut when your true feelings weren’t ones of disgust or disapproval?

Did you even consider using an alternative word? Or was slut the first thing – almost the natural thing – that came to mind?

And more importantly, what consequences do your words really have?

Slut-Shaming Can Have Serious Repercussions

For some young women, the stigma of “slut” is so hurtful that it leaves their lives in ruins.

Take Rehtaeh Parsons of Canada, who was allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online. She was afterwards bullied and slut-shamed mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC, “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her, asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped. People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’ Girls texting, saying, ‘You’re such a slut.’”

This story is a modern tragedy, fueled by cyber-bullying and slut-shaming. The girls and boys who taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly probably had no idea how deep their words cut until it was too late.

Why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did other girls – some of whom conceivably had endured similar experiences (because hell, they live in this messed-up society, too) – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

While the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists, it is possible that if Rehtaeh hadn’t been labeled a “slut” and endured the cruel bullying that she did, she might be alive today.

Tragically, this type of cyber-slut-shaming is not uncommon among the younger generations.

Imagine how it would feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls. To have hurtful names like “slut,” “whore,” and “skank” assigned to you by people who barely know you. To be judged harshly and without caution for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do.

These young women were intensely slut-shamed, and had their very traumatic experiences invalidated by judgment from their peers. Their very worth was brought into question because people chose to side with the rapists instead of the victims.

Slut-shaming is rape culture, plain and simple. And for some people, it is utterly life-destroying.

Slut-Shaming Doesn’t End Just Because We Grow Up

Whether in the dating world, the professional arena, education, or in friendships, adult females are not immune to slut-shaming either.

Women are not only the favored targets of slut-shaming, but very often the perpetrators as well. Due to generations of internalized sexism, women often reject their sexually promiscuous peers as worthy companions or friends – even as adults.

A Cornell University study puts this theory to the test, revealing that college-aged women are much less likely to form deep friendships with promiscuous women.

When most of us have spent our childhoods being taught that gaining male validation is the route to power, and even happiness, it is not surprising that many women will view their sexually explorative peers as threats. This may cause women to lash out against other women in an attempt to rise above the competition.

And this isn’t the case only in heterosexual dating either. Many bisexual women are considered “greedy” or “slutty” for the mere fact of their bisexuality.

Is any of this fair? No.

Is it valid? Hell no.

Does it hurt women of all races, ages, and sexual orientations? Yes.

Internalized sexism is a disease, and by carelessly throwing around sexist, hurtful epithets like “slut” and “skank,” we all act as the carriers.

Sluts Versus Studs

The double standard remains: Why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut, but a boy who has sex is a stud/player?

In movies, on television, in magazines, and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” willy-nilly when talking about women. But men are held to a very different standard.

As a society, what are we teaching our children? that a girl or woman is a dirty, unclean, and unworthy because she has sexual desire? that because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? that women should ignore or otherwise not act upon sexual desires even though men should and do?

Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

It’s simple: The word slut is a decidedly female insult, and using it enhances gender discrimination.

Dumping the Word Itself

We may not be able to change the way that others talk to each other right away, but we can start by presenting an example with our own behavior.

This is why I encourage everyone to eliminate the word slut from their vocabulary.

I have spent the last few years working on this: if I catch myself about to describe myself, one if my choices, or even my outfit, as slutty or skanky, I make a concerted effort to replace that language with something more empowering.

For example: The other night, my friends and I were talking about one of our favorite TV shows and discussing how the characters have changed over the seasons.

One of my friends mentioned a female character who started out as a virgin, and has embraced her sexual side throughout the show by having various partners and experiences. Unsurprisingly, my friend simply said: “She’s gotten really slutty.”

I refuse to accept that ideology, even in casual conversation. There are so many sex-positive alternatives that we can use.

  • She was exploring her newfound sexual desire.
  • She was experimenting with what she likes and doesn’t like.
  • She was taking a defined step into adulthood.
  • She was opening herself up to new possibilities.
  • She was – simply – trying something new.

I stand by my next statement: No harm can come from being more sex-positive and less chauvinistic in our speech patterns. I dare each and every one of you to give it a try.

***

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard by using positive descriptive language.

Try to remember that everyone has a personal choice. While you may not lead a similar life to someone else, it is unfair and unjust to ascribe your values to their character.

And moreover, it sets a terrible example for future generations.

Some women wear sexy dresses and choose to have multiple partners. Others wait until marriage and dress demurely. And some are in the middle.

That doesn’t mean that Group A are sluts, Group B are prudes, and Group C have hit the perfect moral high ground. All choices are both fabulous and individual.

Let’s take the word slut out of our vocabulary – not as a solution to a social epidemic, but as one small step towards eradicating patriarchal double standards.

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Article originally posted in Everyday Feminism, where I have recently become a contributing writer!Photo via Guetty Images

Before we can think about whether or not we’ve ever experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, we need to become familiar with different definitions of sexual harassment and the fact that it comes in different forms.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination that is in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But what does that mean exactly?

Sexual harassment is intimidation of a sexual nature. It is any type of unwelcome sexual advance, from a crude joke to aggressive sexual bullying (physical, verbal, or both).

The Many Faces of Sexual Harassment

The two most commonly recognized types of sexual harassment are what we call quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment is, essentially, when someone at your job tells you that they will fire you or inflict other negative consequences on you (such as holding back salary increases, promotions, shift, or work assignments) if you will not have sex with them or perform a sexual favor for them. The Latin, of course, translates to: This for that.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment, on the other hand, is the creation of an antagonistic environment, expressed in sexual terms. This might include statements of a sexual nature expressed by coworkers and/or supervisors, comments made about your appearance, staring in a suggestive manner, inappropriate touching, or even the presentation of pornography in the workplace. It’s any form of sexually inappropriate behavior that makes being at work feel uncomfortable.

Studies suggest that anywhere between 40-70% of women and 10-20% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and reports of sexual harassment are on the rise.

Unsurprisingly, LGBTQ folk also experience very high levels of sexual harassment at their jobs.

How Sexual Harassment Disproportionately Affects Women

While this type of discrimination affects all genders, it is overwhelmingly inflicted upon females and is extremely effective at keeping women out of lucrative jobs.

One prime example is the hospitality industry.

Low-paid, high-stress maid service jobs are often done by females – whereas higher-paid, much less physically-taxing valet service jobs are dominated by men.

Although a woman may wish to transition from a cleaning job to a valet position in hopes of better pay and less back-breaking work, the creation of a hostile environment in which she is harassed and not welcomed will often keep her away.

This is not uncommon: research shows that female hotel workers experience more sexual harassment on average than women employed in other sectors – and that most of the harassment is performed by their own co-workers.

Understandably, most people are not comfortable working where they are not wanted.

Sexual harassment is most common in low-wage jobs, workplaces staffed primarily by young employees (such as restaurants), and vocations where the vast majority of the workforce (or management) is made up of men.

However, sexual harassment and discrimination on Wall Street and in other high-power industries is rampant as well.

In the 1990s, the famous Wall Street retail stock brokerage Smith Barney was sued for egregious sexual harassment and forced to pay a multi-million dollar settlement to a group of female employees.

Branch managers at the brokerage firm were found guilty of demanding that women take off their shirts in exchange for money while at work. One Smith Barney branch even had a “Boom-Boom Room” – a locked room in which brokers partied and played lewd jokes on female employees.

Both the Smith Barney case and the hotel maids’ plight illustrate how sexual harassment is often a way for men to gain power and control over their female coworkers.

By equating a woman’s worth with her looks, treating her as incapable of doing equal work as her male colleagues, or labeling her as a sex object, men show women that they are not welcome in traditionally male-dominated fields – be it valet parking or finance.

Taking Initial Action

Are women who complain about sexual harassment at risk of being shunned, demoted or fired from their jobs?

“Legally, companies are not allowed to take any adverse action against a person complaining of discrimination,” says Michelle Caiola, Senior Staff Attorney and Acting Litigation Director at the women’s legal defense and education fund Legal Momentum.

Adverse action might include transferring the person to a different department or switching them to a less desirable shift.

If employers are caught penalizing an employee who has complained of discrimination/harassment, they can be subject to a retaliation case (in which the employee who addressed the crime sues their employer for striking back).

According to Caiola, companies work hard to avoid retaliation cases because they are often easier for the victim to win in court.

Still, there are no legal boundaries in place preventing coworkers and/or superiors from ostracizing the victim who has placed a complaint.

The emotional toll of such shunning can easily create an unbearable work environment.

Retaliation from coworkers against the complainant can also be very frightening in hazardous jobs such as construction or firefighting – jobs in which the victim may be counting on her colleagues to protect or even save her life in a crisis.

Many people, especially low-income women working to support their families, are not able or willing to risk their safety or the practicality of keeping their jobs to address sexual harassment – so they continue to endure it.

Some Important Things to Know if You’ve Been Sexually Harassed at Work

1. What is My Company’s Sexual Harassment Policy?

Sexual harassment policies differ from company to company.

There are no legal guidelines in place for what they must include or what consequences must be enacted for breaking them.

Companies with better policies are transparent when it comes to how they investigate claims of harassment/discrimination; some even have zero tolerance policies.

Legally, there is another incentive for companies to create a sound harassment policy: an employer will be better able to fight a discrimination claim in court if they have adhered to their company’s own sexual harassment policy – although this is not a complete defense in all circumstances.

2. Make Sure You Document, Document, Document

Documentation is key in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.

In the age of modern technology, where most people have e-mail, smart phones, cameras and social media, documenting harassment is much easier than it was in the non-digital age.

Take a picture, save an email or instant message conversation, record a vocal exchange or even take video evidence.

And most importantly, make sure everything is documented immediately, including dates, locations, people involved and any other relevant details.

3. What If I’m Not a Citizen?

Many undocumented female workers come to the US as dependents of their husbands and work in the “informal economy” – in jobs that are paid under the table like house cleaning or nannying services.

Unfortunately, these women do not have legal status or the ability to safely contact the authorities about work violations or harassment from their employers.

These facts make it very easy for employers to take advantage of undocumented workers due to their fear of deportation should they complain about their employers’ practices/labor conditions.

Under the law, undocumented immigrants should be protected against deportation in cases of combatting workplace harassment – just like they should be protected under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in cases of reporting domestic abuse.

But there are many loopholes in the US immigration policy, and the fear of being deported and thus ripped from their families remains a strong deterrent for undocumented women struggling with workplace abuse and harassment.

4. What Are Some Next Steps I Can Take?

The key is taking action collectively.

Talk to your colleagues and see if they are experiencing the same problems at your workplace. Organize the ones that are into a group – multiple voices are louder than just one.

Go to your Human Resources department to lodge the complaint and make sure to get written documentation of your visit.

If your company is unionized and you are a member, get in touch with the union to make a complaint. In many cases, they will be able to help you take action.

If not, talk to local union leaders about unionizing and see if others at your job are interested in organizing a union at your company.

Also consider visiting your local National Organization for Women (NOW) Chapter to seek aid and resources from professionals working on these issues.

5. What If I’ve Tried Everything and Still Haven’t Gotten Results?

The next step is to take the case to court.

For low-income women, the options here are fewer because lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming. In cases where the victim has a family to support but no access to reliable childcare, pursuing a court case may not be a possibility.

Instead, low-income harassment victims often reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or their state’s equivalent agency (Fair Employment Practices Agencies, or FEPAs) to file a sexual harassment charge against their employer.

The EEOC then decides whether or not to investigate the claim.

6. What Can I Do To Prevent Sexual Harassment at Work?

Attend and pay attention to your company’s sexual harassment trainings. Education about how to recognize sexual discrimination is a vital step in preventing it.

If you aren’t comfortable with someone’s behavior towards you but don’t think it’s a big enough deal to speak out – think again. Harassers often start out small by testing the water with an inappropriate joke – but without reprimand, things can quickly escalate.

Even if you aren’t the subject of the unwanted attention, call out your coworkers if you hear them say inappropriate things or see them harass a colleague. Sometimes it just takes one outside person to make the harasser aware that what they are doing isn’t going unnoticed – and that they need to stop.

As the workforce continues to change and grow over time, and society becomes increasingly supportive of differences in gender, race, sexuality and lifestyle choice, there is hope for reducing workplace sexual harassment.

But as things stand today, the best defense a person has is to educate themselves about their options – and to get a good cell phone camera!

Everyday Feminism and Danica extend a special thanks to Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), for her guidance and feedback in the development of this article. NOW is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States and works to eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace, schools, the justice system and all other sectors of society.

rehtaeh

When I heard about the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, I was devastated. We’ve lost another young girl, who – after being allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online – was bullied mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

A year-long investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was closed when it was decided that “there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.” Insufficient evidence– although many people saw the photos taken of the rape (which occurred when she was only 15), knew of the attack and witnessed Rehtaeh being bullied at school.

Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped.” Things got so difficult that the Parsons moved to another city, but the bullying had taken its toll. Rehtaeh’s parents watched their once lively and high-spirited teenage daughter become increasingly depressed and withdrawn. After the move, Rehtaeh made some new, more supportive friends and heard from some of her old friends, who relented and decided to stand by her. But it wasn’t enough to undo the damage. Last March, she checked herself into the hospital for suicidal thoughts. And then on April 4, she hung herself in her parents’ bathroom.

Since her death, the police have reopened the investigation based on new evidence and a witness who is willing to verify the identity of the suspects and cooperate with investigators. Cyber-activist hacker group Anonymous has also claimed to have evidence that one of the attackers has admitted to raping Rehtaeh although he knew she was too intoxicated to defend herself.

Everything about this story is tragic and misguided – from the crime itself to the police’s handling of the case. But what also stands out to me is the bullying – the girls and boys that taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly that she ended her life. “People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’” says Leah Parsons. “Girls texting, saying ‘You’re such a slut.’” Teenagers aren’t exactly known for their maturity and this level of harassment is (sadly) not surprising. But why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did so many other girls – some of whom may conceivably have endured similar experiences – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

Undoubtedly, the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists. But if Rehtaeh hadn’t endured the bullying that she did, she might be alive today. The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.  According to Yale University studies, bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. And technology such as cellphone cameras and social media have made bullying that much easier for teenagers. Snap a picture, and it can be distributed to the whole school with one click.

This type of cyber-bullying is not uncommon. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Steubenville case: the rape of a 16-year old girl; photos of the night gone viral on the internet; months of constant bullying from her peers; and the subsequent conviction of two star football players for the crime. Steubenville garnered a lot of attention. But what about Audrey Pott, a 15-year old Northern California girl who killed herself after allegedly being sexually abused by three young men who released explicit photos of the rape on the internet? She committed suicide just days after the photos went viral.

How does it feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls? To be called a slut/whore/skank by people who barely know you? To be judged for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do? For some girls, it is utterly life-destroying.

Most people, whether they realize it or not, have slut-shamed before – shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage. I’ve seen people do it countless times. Sadly, I’ve done it to others in the past, and even to myself. But I want to change that. The double standard remains: why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut but a boy who has sex is a stud/player? In movies, on television, in magazines and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” in reference to women willy-nilly. But how many of them think about what their words imply? That a girl or woman is a prostitute because she has sexual desire? That because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? That women should ignore/not act upon sexual desires even though men can/do? Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard. If we support one another – and remember that we are all human beings just living, learning and changing over time – we just might succeed in changing this societal mindfuck.

Sign this Change.org petition to get justice for Rehtaeh by launching an investigation into the RCMP’s handling of the case.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.