Woman video conferencing on her computer

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Policy Actions Needed to Support Survivors during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of how we live, work, and play. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which means it’s a good time to consider the impact of COVID-19 on the efforts of rape crisis centers to meet the needs of survivors.

Frontline leaders are communicating a grave need for emergency funding on the federal, state, and local level to ensure advocates can serve survivors effectively. For many survivors who are left alone, the uncertain circumstances can be devasting and the trauma can be difficult to understand and process. The lack of telehealth capabilities and funding to build a digital infrastructure makes it extremely difficult to respond to survivors’ medical needs. Rape crisis centers need immediate financial assistance to help ease the burden. Funding is needed for the following:

Remote work and communication: Tablets, cell phones, telehealth, internet connection, and other equipment and the use of online platforms are critical in reaching survivors.  
Survivor emergency essentials: Many survivors have nowhere to go, sometimes becoming homeless. They need food, shelter, money for rent, pre-paid cell phones, and basic needs for their safety and their children. There is an extreme need for immigrants and other vulnerable populations.
Transportation for rape crisis centers: Transportation is needed to deliver emergency items to survivors and help them get to a safe place. Vans needed to be rented to do so.  

Here’s how you can help.

The next federal stimulus package in response to COVID-19 can provide the financial support for programs and services for survivors. We encourage you to review the RALIANCE District Advocacy Toolkit (linked here) for details on how to advocate for survivors in your community. We are requesting the following from Congress. You can support the mission by calling your representative to say that you stand with survivors and want them to vote for the following:

– $100 million of emergency funding to the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) to allow rape crisis centers and coalitions to transition to remote operations, allowing them to support survivors of sexual violence.
– Waive the matching fund requirements for the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to ease the strain on organizations that provide direct services to survivors.  
– Ensure immigrant survivors can seek support and emergency assistance.

We are in this together! By advocating for emergency funding for survivors, we provide relief for survivors and other vulnerable populations who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Many SAAM in-person events have been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19, but this does not stop the movement. Join us on Thursday, April 9, at 03:30 PM ET (tomorrow) as we commemorate the month and explore the needs of local programs during the pandemic by tuning into our virtual briefing, “Rape Crisis Centers: Meeting the Needs of Survivors During COVID-19.” To register or learn more, please click here.  

Woman wearing a hijab and glasses having a video chat conversation

Tips to Talk to Policy Makers about Survivors During the COVID-19 Crisis

As we all navigate the COVID-19 together, it’s important now more than ever to communicate with policy makers about survivors. The RALIANCE District Advocacy Toolkit is a helpful guide on how to advocate for survivors in your communities.

In light of COVID-19, instead of setting up in-person meetings with senators, representatives, and/or their district staff, we encourage you to set up remote teleconference or video meetings. Members of Congress are comfortable using remote technology for work. After all, communications between the district office and D.C. office happen all the time!

We’d also recommend focusing on how this global health emergency is directly impacting survivors and local programs. Below are some key points that we have been raising in our conversations with policymakers:

– While the CARES Act passed by Congress last week has important provisions for struggling people and non-profits, we want Congress to go the next step in their fourth stimulus package to address the needs of survivors and rape crisis centers specifically.
– We’re advocating for $100 million in emergency funding for the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) to allow rape crisis centers and coalitions to transition to remote services.
– We also know it’s very difficult for programs to find matching funds for the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding so vital to keeping direct services going so we’re advocating for the match requirement to be waived.

As we discuss in our recent advocacy webinar, sharing your story and what you see in your community are always the most important things to share with policy makers. In addition to advocating for SASP funds and the VOCA match waiver, we’d encourage you to talk about how COVID-19 is impacting survivors in your community when you meet with members and/or their staff by phone or video.

Advocacy 101

Advocacy 101: Mobilizing Change in Your Community

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the legislative process. Many people don’t know who their representatives are or how to engage in direct advocacy — but as a constituent and voter, your voice is powerful at all levels of government.

Engaging with members of Congress allows you to influence the development and implementation of policy. As someone working in the field, you have the expertise and knowledge necessary to mobilize changes that meet your community’s specific needs.

But where should you begin?

Effectively advocating for your community’s needs 

Effective advocacy requires planning, preparation, and strategy. That’s why RALIANCE created our District Advocacy Toolkit, which is packed with resources to help you prepare for successful Congressional meetings, including:

– Tips on requesting meetings with legislators
– How to prepare for your meeting
– Dos and don’ts for conducting a Congressional meeting
– Sample talking points
– Template materials
– An infographic on the state of federal funding for rape crisis centers
– And more!

Check out our recorded webinar for a brief walkthrough of the contents and tips on how to use the toolkit. Then, schedule your Congressional meetings while legislators are in their home districts during April!

The Power of Sport in Pakistan

By David S. Lee, Director of Prevention

From table tennis to cycling to soccer, I recently saw for myself the true power of sport. This month, as part of the United States-Pakistan Exchange on addressing gender-based violence through sport, I joined nine other U.S. violence prevention and sport leaders in meeting with Pakistani programs. The exchange was organized by Women Win, an international organization dedicated to girls’ and women’s empowerment through sport, and Right to Play Pakistan, with support from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. Throughout this exchange, we shared challenges, approaches, and best practices around using sport as a tool to address gender-based violence and create more gender-equitable communities.

In Pakistan, programs are working to empower women and girls by increasing opportunities for them to participate in education and sports. During the exchange, I saw powerful examples of women being empowered through sport with visits to the Diya Women’s Football Club, Pak-Shaheen Boxing Club, Asbar Welfare Foundation (which teaches table tennis to girls and young women), Early Bird Riders Sheroes Cycling Club, and Misbah’s Volleyball Academy.

I was impressed with Right to Play Pakistan’s programs that utilize sport and play to promote rights toward ending gender-based violence. The Goal Program (Girls Rights and Financial Literacy Through Sport) places young leaders in government schools to engage children and youth in regular play-based activities designed to integrate life skills such as cooperation, communication, teamwork, and critical thinking. At a Play Day in Islamabad, we joined over 100 young boys and girls from local charity schools where they sprinted, high-fived, and played “tug of peace” together under the theme of saying no to violence!

Ending gender-based violence also involves engaging men and young boys to become advocates for gender equity and promoting women’s rights. At Rozan, we met with a group of young men who have participated in Humqadam — a program that teaches men how to take action against gender-based violence.

We concluded the visit with a two-day convening on using sport to address gender-based violence, where I shared the report from RALIANCE’s Sport + Prevention Center on how sport can be part of the solution to ending sexual violence in the United States.

Across the U.S. and internationally, sport is an influential system. It can be a powerful part of the solution to ending sexual violence, and it’s encouraging to see how various programs are using the lessons from sport to create a safer, more equitable world.

top five moments of 2019

RALIANCE’s Top 5 Moments of 2019

Throughout 2019, news of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse continued to drive our national conversation. While many missteps and missed opportunities made headlines, we also think it’s important to reflect on the positive and empowering milestones from this year. From survivors boldly contributing their voices to drive change, men striving to do their part in the #MeToo movement, and increased corporate accountability, below is a compilation of our top 5 defining moments of 2019. These examples serve as a guide for the many steps ahead in our journey to end sexual violence.  

1. Survivor Stories Inspire a New Look at Accountability

The news media, the public, and the police had all heard reports that R&B singer R. Kelly and pop superstar Michael Jackson had sexually abused minors. Long before Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland, many of us had a hard time facing just how serious the abuse was. These documentaries challenged us to look at the actions of cultural icons and reminded us that people we love and admire are also capable of committing sexual violence.

The Netflix series Unbelievable, inspired by intensive reporting from the Marshall Project and ProPublica, also detailed egregious missteps of a police department and their callous treatment of a rape survivor.

The publication of The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, also empowered survivors, unveiling a new allegation and calls for his impeachment by 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Filmmaker and activist Aishah Simmons published The Love WITH Accountability Anthology, sharing stories of child sexual assault to compel a world which ends this abuse. Chanel Miller – formerly known as Emily Doe, famous for her viral victim impact statement in Brock Turner’s 2016 rape trial – continued to inspire survivors with her bold voice through the publication of her memoir, Know My Name.

These articles, books, and films highlight the important responsibility that law enforcement, organizations, and companies have in holding abusers accountable. They also drum home the importance of investing the right resources – human and otherwise – from the beginning of an investigation.

2. Valuing Women and Girls in Sports

From USA Gymnastics to U.S. Figure Skating, 2019 was packed with examples of how our Olympic sport programs protected those who abused and silenced survivors. While change has long been overdue, we’re starting to see organizations, athletes, coaches, and fans rally around the importance of valuing and respecting women and girls and making sport safer. For example, Women’s Health and Runner’s World, with partners Garmin and athletic shoe company HOKA ONE ONE, launched Runners Alliance, an initiative dedicated to women’s safety and addressing harassment while running. In collegiate sports, Cody McDavis, a third-year law school student and former Division 1 athlete, called on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to ban student-athletes with a history of violence through his Change.org petition.

3. Men and #MeToo

Earlier this year, shaving supply company Gillette stirred public controversy after running an advertisement that challenged men to think differently by re-imagining their slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get” into “The Best Men Can Be.” This call-to-action asked men to change behaviors that reinforced harmful assumptions about masculinity. The ad made clear how “boys will be boys” behaviors create hostility, reinforce inequality, and threaten women and girls’ sense of safety.

Even men who make concerted efforts to do the right thing can – unintentionally or not – cross the line by disrespecting women and their boundaries. For example, former vice president and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, who championed the Violence Against Women Act and other policies to end sexual and domestic violence, struggled with respecting personal boundaries. Comedian Aziz Ansari took some time away from the spotlight to reflect on his fall from grace following an exposé about pressuring and coercing a date into sexual situations. His 2019 stand-up comedy special, “Aziz Ansari: Right Now,” addressed the sexual misconduct. These examples show how we as a society must deepen our understanding of consent and what it means to respect boundaries.

4. Businesses and Corporations Taking Responsibility and Driving Innovation

Online dating app Bumble used their popularity and leadership to push for important safety changes like banning users for sending unsolicited lewd images and even making it against the law in Texas. With the help of RALIANCE, Uber set a new industry standard by releasing its safety report, sharing information on the number of sexual assaults and other safety concerns. Travel platform Trip Advisor updated their safety features so users can identify safety-related reviews. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) celebrated the one-year anniversary of the hotel industry’s commitment to advance safety and security for hotel employees and guests. We’re also encouraged by a new resource launched by the nonprofit I’m With Them. The Misconduct Reporting Directory is a helpful and easy-to-use guide for how employees can anonymously report sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse.

With the help of RALIANCE, Uber set a new industry standard by releasing its safety report, sharing information on the number of sexual assaults and other safety concerns.

Organizations and companies have the power to influence entire industries as well as set new standards for safety, respect, equity, and inclusion. We’re encouraged by these companies’ bold moves and call on others to follow suit. 

5. Title IX Comments: Advocacy Makes a Difference

In February 2019, during the 60-day period when the U.S. Federal Register formally published the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, advocates, survivors, and others submitted more than 100,000 comments – an estimated 20 times what is typically received for a major regulatory proposal. Advocates and survivors cited concerns that these new regulations would make it harder for survivors to report and would increase the emotional trauma for those who do report. Activism is important. Our elected officials need to hear from survivors and advocates when their decisions will have damaging consequences for victims.

These are just a few examples of the important, hard and courageous work happening behind the global movement to address the inequalities and power imbalances that enable acts of sexual violence. RALIANCE commends all those stepping up to transform our society into a stronger, safer, and altogether better place. Together, we can stop sexual violence in one generation.  

Three Lessons Businesses Can Learn from Uber’s Collecting and Reporting Sexual Assault Data

A repost of a blog from our partners at the Urban Institute, Dr. Janine Zweig and Emily Tiry. Originally posted here on the Urban Institute’s website.

Uber’s ride-sharing platform has massive reach across the US and the world, connecting more than 1 billion rides in 2017 and even more in 2018. At the same time, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault are ubiquitous social problems in the United States (PDF).

Given the scope of Uber’s reach and the way the platform connects people, it is a matter of reality that incidents of sexual misconduct and violence will occur for users, to some extent. Uber—and similar far-reaching companies—must understand that these issues affect their business, learn about the types and frequency of incidents, and work to address them.

Yesterday, Uber released their first US Safety Report, which includes a focus on sexual assault occurring on their platform. In 2018, Uber’s leadership engaged with RALIANCE, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), and the Urban Institute to develop a research-informed categorization system to classify users’ reports of incidents of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault to better inform them of the nature and scope of these experiences on their platform and how to address them.

We published Helping Industries to Classify Reports of Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Sexual Assault in late 2018 which included a sexual misconduct and violence taxonomy, and Uber began implementing it to categorize all new incidents of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault reported by platform users. They then retrospectively applied the taxonomy to such incidents reported in 2017 and 2018 for their safety report.

This year, the Urban-NSVRC-RALIANCE team was again engaged to assess Uber’s integration of the sexual misconduct and violence taxonomy into its system of receiving and accurately categorizing complaints from platform users and to assess Uber’s approach to developing the US Safety Report.

Through our data collection and analysis, we find Uber has accurately implemented the taxonomy, and the sexual assault data in the taxonomy categories included in the US Safety Report are statistically reliable. In general, we found the processes to develop the US Safety Report focused on accuracy and used rigorously classified and reliable data.

The taxonomy was designed for purposes beyond just Uber’s system. Other businesses in the transportation and hospitality industries can adopt the taxonomy to understand sexual misconduct and assault among their users and can learn from Uber’s experiences implementing the taxonomy and the data resulting from it.

Three important takeaways from the Uber US Safety Report for other businesses to consider

1. The rates of the most serious types of sexual assault reported to Uber are low.

Though Uber did not disclose all categories of information across the taxonomy, the report includes incident rates across five of the most serious categories of the taxonomy:

  • Nonconsensual sexual penetration was reported having happened during about 1 in 5,000,000 US trips.
  • Attempted nonconsensual sexual penetration was reported having happened during about 1 in 4,000,000 US trips.
  • Nonconsensual kissing of a sexual body part (including the mouth) was reported having happened during 1 in every 3,000,000 US trips.
  • Nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part (including the mouth) was reported having happened during about 1 in every 800,000 US trips.
  • Nonconsensual kissing of a nonsexual body part was reported having happened during about 1 in every 2,000,000 US trips.

These rates likely do not fully reflect the total number of experiences of Uber’s users and reflect only those experiences reported by people who are willing to proactively reach out to Uber to file a complaint. We know from national surveys (PDF) that not all sexual assault victims reach out for help, as evidenced by reporting rates to police—in 2016, only 23 percent of rape and sexual assault victims reported their experiences to the police.

Thus, if Uber was to poll all users about such experiences, the rates would likely be higher. This dynamic would be similar for other businesses that begin to track complaints related to sexual assault.

2. Both riders and drivers experience sexual misconduct and assault.

To date, the media narrative on Uber’s challenges related to sexual assault have largely focused on the experiences of riders. But, as the US Safety Report shows, this is an issue for both riders and drivers. Across the five categories reported, riders were the accused party in 45 percent of the reported incidents. If we truly care about preventing sexual assault for users of businesses like Uber, then we must consider all those who use the platform.

We believe that providing rates of reported incidents by each reporting party is critically important and provides a major contribution to the sexual assault prevention and intervention field. With this information, stakeholders from the field and Uber can examine similarities and differences in the experiences of their riders compared with drivers and develop tailored prevention and intervention efforts based on those patterns.

Other businesses that adopt the taxonomy should similarly consider the experiences of all users of their platforms and services.

3. Reports of sexual assault on Uber’s platform may increase as the public learns that Uber is taking these incidents seriously.

Uber’s very public efforts to address sexual misconduct and assault on its platform and the release of their US safety report may lead more people to reach out to report their own experiences. This has been demonstrated in colleges and universities.

Reports of sexual assault on college campuses tend to align with the extent of local engagement with the issue and efforts to prevent and address it. We expect that over time, Uber may see an increase in reports of sexual assault on their platform and, therefore, more opportunity to implement efforts to prevent it.

As other businesses move to address sexual misconduct and sexual assault, they should similarly expect to see initial reports increase commensurate with their focus on the issue.

Uber’s publication of their first US Safety Report is one example of how a business can begin to identify and address sexual assault for users. Businesses across the transportation and hospitality industries can learn from this effort as they consider how to proactively address these unwanted experiences.

Examining Uber’s Use of the Sexual Misconduct and Violence Taxonomy

Today Uber Technologies released a 2019 U.S. Safety Report that shares data about safety issues faced by users of their platform, including experience of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault. To help Uber and other companies collect better data about these sexually violent experiences, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) partnered with the Urban Institute to develop and publish a Sexual Misconduct and Violence Taxonomy in 2018, which Uber used to build the foundation of today’s report.

In 2019, staff from RALIANCE, NSVRC, and Urban Instituted evaluated the systems Uber has constructed to use the taxonomy and the quality of data about reported incidents of sexual misconduct and violence the taxonomy helped gather. A summary of our report appears in Uber’s Safety Report, and our full report is available on our websites.

Click here to read about our examination of Uber’s work.

Leaning into accountability: Lessons from McDonald’s and Alphabet

This past week, multiple headlines revealed that major organizations are actively investigating the inappropriate behavior and relationships of their top executives and leaders. There are several lessons we can take away from these stories, which demonstrate why corporations and industries must change how they do business to create safer and more respectful workplaces.

Employees learn organizational culture and company tolerance for inappropriate behavior by how reports, investigations, and implications are handled.

McDonald’s fired its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, due to a relationship with an employee. Many news outlets reported that the relationship was consensual, but it’s important to note that while an inappropriate relationship may not be necessarily abusive, it can still be an abuse of power. As the National Sexual Violence Resource Center notes in their Sexual Assault Awareness Month Resources, power exists in formal and informal ways, especially in workplaces, making consent more nuanced.

Easterbrook admits he violated company policy on personal conduct, but McDonald’s is holding Easterbrook accountable with a $42 million exit package – a golden parachute tantamount to a slap on the wrist.

Boards of Directors and companies can hold top executives who violate policy accountable in many important ways.

For instance, Alphabet’s Board announced this week they were investigating how Google executives handled misconduct and inappropriate relationship claims. They formed an independent subcommittee and hired a law firm as an added layer of transparency and accountability.

Further, in September 2018, after twelve individuals came forward about misconduct against CBS executive Les Moonves, the organization and Moonves agreed to donate his $20 million severance agreement to organizations supporting the MeToo Movement.

In our April 2018 Open Letter to CEOs and Board of Directors, RALIANCE and partners provided best practices and organizational survey questions designed to consider ways to foster a harassment-free workplace and to guard a company’s reputation from becoming the next headline. Read the whole Medium series for insights at all levels of an organization – from frontline staff, to HR, and beyond.

Teaming Up: Power of Sport and Public Health

By David S. Lee, Director of Prevention at RALIANCE

This week, RALIANCE attended the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia to share how sport is an important part of the solution to end sexual violence. In a session on Monday entitled “Sport as a platform to advance a culture of prevention,” RALIANCE’s Director of Prevention David Lee discussed the power of sport and athletics to promote well-being and advance a culture of prevention. He also highlighted the roadmap to create change from RALIANCE’s Sport + Prevention Center.

Other session panelists included Dr. Kathleen Basile of the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention, who spoke about how middle school sports involvement contributes to better understanding sexual violence in high school; Jessica Wagner of the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute, who spoke about the role of the NCAA in creating health promotion for college campuses; and Inside Outside Initiative’s Jody Redman, who shared her experience of reclaiming the educational purpose of high school sport for prevention.

The next day ushered in a standing-room only session entitled, “Sport as a platform to advance a culture of health.” The discussion focused on how to build a network that advances prevention and brings together public health best practices to sport. This session was facilitated by RALIANCE’s David Lee, NCAA’s Jessica Wagner, and Jeff Milroy of Institute to Promote Athlete Health & Wellness at the University of North Carolina Greenville. From researchers, athletic trainers, athletes, sports management, coaches, officials, and parents, it was clear from the discussion that there is tremendous interest in building a network dedicated to using the power of sport to foster healthy athletes and communities.

Despite the headlines these days exposing high-profiles cases of unchecked sexual abuse in different in sports, our productive sessions at the APHA annual meeting shine a light on how sport is a powerful and positive force in our society. It has the potential to instill important values in athletes, shape positive attitudes, and build strong communities.

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