First the why. Jane Doe has a history of speaking out when we believe an advertisement for a product or service is offensive, hurtful or exploitive to victims and survivors of violence or is an unfair representation of the dynamics of sexual and domestic violence. For instance, this past summer, we called upon Building #19 to remove its description of tank-tops as wife beaters. Several years ago we mobilized a campaign to get the Boston Phoenix to stop running promotions for their personal ads that minimized the seriousness of domestic violence and restraining orders. The misleading content of the Healey ad required a similar response.
Our concern with these ads is four-fold:
1) We acknowledge the very real problem and fear of stranger rape, but at the same time we cannot deny, dismiss or minimize that sexual assault and rape is approximately 8 times more likely to be committed by someone who knows the victim. What we take exception to in Healeys ad is her decision to use a fear-mongering approach rather than focusing on real solutions. By choosing these images, Healey plays on our worst fears as women, as men, as parents, friends, colleagues by promoting this terrible myth that women are in most danger walking alone at night when in reality they are most in danger in their own home, on a date or with someone who professes to love them. Anyone who claims to be a victim advocate or a champion for victims rights or even has the most remote understanding of victims issues wouldnt do this.
2) While we know that not every victim will experience these ads in the same way, we have heard from numerous advocates, counselors and survivors themselves that the messages in Kerry Healeys ad terrifies victims and discourages them from reporting the crime, seeking support or participating in the criminal justice system. For years we’ve understood from survivors that menacing images (e.g. clenched fists, black eyes, bruises) in awareness or other materials often evoke flashbacks and interfere with healing, with current relationships and with job performance. Sexual violence is the least reported and least indicted crime. Less than 16% of all rapes are reported to police. We do not need to create additional barriers for victims to overcome when deciding how to heal and to seek help from systems that should hold the offender accountable.
3) The baiting question in Healeys second ad on this subject asks: “Have you ever heard a woman compliment a rapist?” The true answer is Yes and anyone with any experience in this field or with an understanding of the dynamics of sexual and domestic violence knows why. Rapists and batterers are skilled manipulators; many rapists are otherwise loved community members; domestic violence batterers are often upstanding members of the community; they are members of our families, our co-workers, our neighbors and our fellow congregants. Survivors often struggle with having positive indeed loving feelings for the person who abused them and betrayed their trust. Portrayals of rapists and batterers as strangers perpetuate myths that close down dialogue and keep victims further isolated. A comment like this only serves to continue to blame victims for the insidious nature of sexual assault.
4) The questions we should be asking are: Why does rape happen? What societal and cultural norms foster tolerance about rape? What can men and others do to challenge these norms? Not surprisingly when raising these questions, Jane Doe Inc. has been called a crazy bunch of man haters on local talk radio shows. These claims must be exposed for what they are: an attempt to undermine our credibility with slander and a challenge to the masculinity of any man who speaks up for victims and aligns themselves with victim advocates.
As advocates for victims rights, we call upon candidates for all levels of government from governor and district attorney to the legislature and school board to stop the fear-mongering and focus on real solutions. We urge every voter to consider these issues when going to the polls:
1) Does the candidate have a full understanding of the impact of a violent society?
2) Does the candidate articulate solutions that are rooted in communities and neighborhoods the places where social norms are anchored and reinforced?
3) Does the candidate support increased funding to support a robust network of rape crisis, domestic violence and stalking services for all victims, families and communities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, the elderly and others?
4) Does the candidate have a record of setting a tone where victims are listened to and respected?
5) Does the candidate support legislation that will create a broader array of legal options for victims of sexual assault and stalking who are currently denied the fullest protection under the law?
6) Does the candidate support Patricks Law which would allow a child to sever legal ties with a parent who is convicted of murdering the childs other parent?
7) Does the candidate have the skills, experience and vision to align best practices for police, prosecutor and judicial training to ensure that the effectiveness of the justice system in supporting victims and holding offenders accountable?
8) Does the candidate support or oppose proposals from Fathers Rights groups to replace the current standard for best interest of the child in cases of child custody and visitation which would further endanger victims and children?
9) Does the candidate support or oppose Governor Romneys proposal to grant state law enforcement officials with the power to enforce immigration laws that will deter even more victims of crime from seeking help from police and the judicial system?
Domestic and sexual violence tears apart so many families, and our elected officials have the capacity to affect change that will have a tremendous impact on Massachusetts. The social and policy issues that sustain violence and what we can do to stop it deserve to be front and center as election topics and dinner conversations. We stand with victims and survivors because we know that blaming or baiting victims and victims families or salacious headlines will get us nowhere.
Comments and questions can be directed to:
Toni K. Troop
Director of Development and Public Relations
Jane Doe Inc.
14 Beacon Street, Suite 507
Boston, MA 02108