On Sexual Violence

Sexual violence:  What is it, where does it come from and how do we get rid of it?

These are questions that came up for me in two sessions I attended at the recent UN Commission on the Status of Women conference.

One form of sexual violence is named prostitution and was defined by a former prostitute in a session sponsored by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) I attended as:  “paid rape,” “sexual torture,” “the commercialization of sex,” and “an act of desperation because of the lack of alternatives.”

In a session sponsored by No Limits for Women sexual violence was described as a tool to keep women in subservience to men.  It is the message every girl gets that her body exists for the use of others.  It is the message that women must be cautious and wary of menace at all times.  It is the message purveyed by corporations that our bodies are not right as they are and need to be physically or cosmetically altered to make them more appealing.

Sexual violence can take many forms.  Among the women panelists in the No Limits session was a woman who told of being sexually brutalized during a civil war in her country by five soldiers and even her husband.  A woman from Cuba spoke of being taught to endure emotional abuse as she grew up and that made her vulnerable to harassment as an adult.  A woman from Sweden told of being sexually harassed in her workplace.

Where does sexual violence come from?  As human societies developed, it has become embedded in many of our social institutions.  The suppression of women by men was the first oppression, said a panelist in the CATW session, and men in general seemed to be identified as the source of the problem.  One woman in the audience even suggested that men who rape or buy sex are programmed that way genetically.

The moderator in the No Limits session described the current situation as an “epidemic of sexual violence,” and blamed slavery, colonization and genocide for its increase.  Historically, a small group of men took resources from one group of people and gave them to another.  The anger and resentment this caused has been passed down from generation to generation.   In this formulation, sexual violence becomes an addiction for some men in that sexual activity, like taking drugs, can “take the edge off” painful feelings of rage or guilt.


CATW Event

How do we get rid of sexual violence?  Here is where the presentations in the two sessions diverged greatly.  As their analysis identified men as the source of the problem, the panelists in the CATW session focused on legal means to restrain their demand for sexual services, advocating the so-called “Nordic Model” of law enforcement in place in Sweden and Norway.  In this model, women are not criminalized for prostitution but male buyers of sex are prosecuted.  A psychologist from Germany, where prostitution is legal, said that many women being prostituted suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Expert traumatalogists there, among others, should call for an end to legalization, she said.

Among the No Limits panel, men were not seen as the problem but as potential allies to women in seeking the end of sexual violence.  There were three men on the panel who spoke of the ways they had been emotionally damaged themselves by the violence in society.  One said that when they are growing up many boys are targets of violence within their families and outside of them.  They then act this out against others as adults.  Another man, who said he had been raped as a boy, told of witnessing the abuse of women and being punished when he tried to stop it.  The third spoke about learning to keep silent about abuse he saw in order to be accepted as one of the boys.

All the panelists in the No Limits session stressed the need for emotional healing in order to rid ourselves of the hurts we have received in a culture that promotes sexual violence.  No Limits is a project of Re-evaluation Counseling, a grassroots organization run by volunteers.  The three women and three men on the panel all spoke of value of being listened to as they worked through painful experiences and feelings in RC groups.  The audience in the CSW session had a chance to sample this kind of healing process through two short “mini-sessions” in which pairs of people took turns sharing their thoughts about what they were hearing from the panel.

~ Peggy Ray

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Sex (Trafficking and Sexism) – reflections on the CSW events this year.

CSW - 2015 - finalizing the resolutionsFor the second year members of our staff agreed to attend several of the many sessions taking place during the 59th year of the UN’s focus of meeting sponsored by CSW (Commission on the Status of Women).  Hundreds of UN and parallel sessions in the NY community focused on the achievement in gender equality and empowerment of women since the Beijing Conference in 1995 “Beijing+20.”

 Kathleen Kanet writes:

For several years our organization has been engaging education and conversations regarding sex trafficking. What part does gender equality and empowerment of women have to do with this issue?  I attended two sessions devoted to legislative reform toward ending prostitution and human trafficking and one on women and men in partnership to end sexism and male domination.  I also participated in a session of how the economy continues to leave millions of women in poverty and subject to exploitation

Two of the things I learned and accepted which surely suggest transformational thinking on our part:  

Prostitution is a violent act toward women.  The Good Shepherd Sisters (International), sponsoring one of the sessions state that the prostitution of women and girls is a chronic form of gender violence that has been structurally embedded in societies over the centuries.

Men as well as women are hurt by sexism (which is not over!) and need to work together to heal from this. This learning was the theme of the session by No Limits for Women, an organization dedicated to eliminating sexism throughout the world.”

Women's Rights to Dignity, Security and Justice

Women’s Rights to Dignity, Security and Justice

Virginia Dorgan says:

 “Reflecting on the session “Women and Men in Partnership to end Sexism and Male Domination”,  I was very moved by the number of men present and involved.  The session was examining incidences of male domination in the lives of men and women which permeate our society.  There was no blame on the men because patriarchy is in the fabric of all modern cultures.   The challenge is to halt it by reflecting on, acknowledging and freeing the hurts of both men and women from this injustice.   I was profoundly impressed by the basic assumption that everyone is brilliant and not to be blamed for unkind, unjust behaviors but to be freed from them.

The Panel at Spirituality and Women

The Panel at Spirituality and Women

Fiona Murray, our staff member’s experience was as follows:

 “What grabbed me about both of the CSW events I attended, the No Limits for Women and when we hosted Ingrid from Le Menach Foundation, who presented to us her project called The Mary Initiative, here in the office were the cultural implications of being a women and how sexism affects different parts of the world differently. This is due in part to the perceptions and images of women in cultures. Even though each culture is different, we all experience similar oppression and socialization as women and as men, something discussed in the small group sessions at the No Limits for Women event.

Something that got re-affirmed for me at the No Limits for Women session was once again the perception of equality in America that many outside and even in America perceive. When talking to a young Syrian women, instead of answering the question in the ways we were supposed to, she aggressively asked me why we think women and men are not equal in America. I managed to convince her that in fact we are not treated equally, in part by pointing out the unequal pay, that women of color are disproportionately the poorest in the country, and by asking her if she had had the experience of being catcalled in NYC. At the same time though, this conversation humbled me as she began to explain the intense and much more visible sexism women in Syria face.

When we hosted Ingrid, I had mixed feelings about the perceptions of the Mary figure in different cultures. She is perceived as pure and virtuous, and what all women should strive for. Others interpreted her as a way to connect to women, specifically in the experience of childbirth. What Ingrid is attempting to accomplish is to promote dialogue between different cultures, particularly between Christians and Muslims. Though I believe Mary is a great forum to bring these two cultures together, I think those who were in dialogue need to be careful to make sure they are not perpetuating harmful images and perceptions of women.

Something I have taken away and reflected on greatly is just how prevalent sexism is in all cultures, and how our images and conceptions of women influence and encourage sexism.”

Learning about the Mary Initiative in Our Office

Learning about the Mary Initiative in Our Office

 Maisha Maliha, another staff member, recollects her attendance at an event:

“The event I attended was “Young Women Ending Sexism with Young Men as Allies” March 9th. 

We were asked to group up with another person to have “listening” sessions. This was done twice. The first time I was with an older woman and we discussed the question of “What is the earliest memory of you realizing that you are female?” I told her about my recollection of having my menses for the first time. The woman told me about her observation of her body finally developing as the moment she identified herself as female. 

The second session was with a girl about my age, and we were to discuss “What is an action that you have taken against sexism in your life?” I talked about my coming to America and being to make a living for and by myself as definitely something that was liberating as a woman, since there are many girls in Bangladesh who never get that kind of freedom. Later on I also talked about how taking self-defense classes made me feel stronger mentally and physically. The girl on the other hand said how her relationship with her boyfriend made her more appreciative of her own femininity. Since she met her partner, she has cultivated more love for her own gender. 

While it was a short and hurried session in my opinion, the best part of these session were being able to connect with individuals very intimately. These one-on-one candid conversations are rare to have for me nowadays.”

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Blog kk

In our work to stop sex trafficking of youth, we must be comprehensive and not just focused on changing one aspect of this depressive violation of rights. Changing the law to protect the vulnerable and to punish the violator is positive. But it is not enough! It may even be distracting of what else must be done. I agree with the comments of Rachel Lloyd “we need to focus on prevention and vulnerability, increasing and strengthening services for runaway and homeless youth and significantly reform our child welfare systems. We need to ensure that young people over the age of 18 have access to affordable housing options, living wage employment, career opportunities, continuing education, affordable child care, and long term supports for their stability, leadership and growth. We need to support community-based, grassroots, survivor-led and survivor-informed programs that work with victims and survivors that actually work. And most of all, we need to recognize that adding more money to systems that already fail our youth isn’t the answer. We need real revolutionary radical change that takes into account the realities of our young people’s lives”.
Systemic transformation is the goal. Our work to ensure that our youth have access to what they need to live a good life will be key to ending this evil.
Kathleen Kanet

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We Might Extinct Ourselves- A Living Room Dialogue Reflection


Continuing our new program Our Common Ground we held our first Living Room Dialogue. The group present shared personal stories based on the question “How has your relationship with the earth changed or developed?”. Fiona Murray, a junior in college and youngest member of the group shared the following story.

“I felt a deep connection with the earth from childhood. I was raised by environmentally conscious parents and grew up eating organic food and food from farmer’s markets, and playing outside all of the time. When I went to college, I started learning more about and becoming more interested in doing self-research in the issues of the environment.

One of the things I noticed from my increased awareness was the dichotomy of my experience living in New York City. People mainly move to New York for their own self-gain, usually in terms of a career (just as I did in moving for college), however by moving to New York people are possibly much more environmentally friendly then they were before, since they probably take public transportation and live in smaller spaces. There is a strange disconnect between not being surrounded or physically close to nature, but generally being more environmentally friendly then those who live surrounded by nature.

Because of some of my insights into the environmental issue, I have made changes in my life to benefit the environment. For example, I no longer eat shrimp for both environmental and human trafficking reasons.

In terms of our relationship with the earth we are harming ourselves and the earth will continue long after us.
‘We might just extinguish ourselves’.”

By Fiona Murray

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Let Me Try to Enlighten You

“Slavery: Here and Now,” a panel discussion on human trafficking, hosted in St. Aloysius Church, was a heart-wrenching and enlightening turning point of my life.  It was held on October 23rd, and attracted a good number of males, females and people from numerous backgrounds. State Senator Perkins opened the panel, where he quoted a renowned trafficking defendant, Kate Mogulescu on how we should not use the word “slavery,” when it comes to the issues of human trafficking. But how else do we correctly term such a demeaning experience; a practice that subjugates beings perceived to be not as worthy as everyone else?

I found it to be heart-wrenching because of the cases raised about human beings who were and still are, being treated this way. I felt anger towards the traffickers who got away with it.  I tried to think about the restrictions and abuse a person goes through when put in such circumstances. And then something inside me clicked.

I realized how back home in Bangladesh, labor trafficking is so common we tend to completely ignore it. I am not talking about the garments industry, which of course can also be discussed at great and heated length.

Many middle-income to upper-class Bangladeshis employ household help. In many cases they are children and women, though we should not forget the men in the picture too. The children are paid very low, overworked, and verbally and physically abused. I thought about these instances during the discussion in St. Aloysius Church and asked the panelists if this was “human trafficking” too. A smart answer to this was that the signs of a trafficked person should not be confused with some sort of check list to prove whether he/she meets such a category. This was my moment of enlightenment.

I was quite oblivious to this in Bangladesh. It was on October 23rd that I realized what was happening there is just completely wrong. The traffickers of these so-called “helpers” do not dominate others for any monetary gratification, but rather abuse and humiliate others because, well it is normal in our society. What I took from that day is my critique of a collectivist society: you need others’ approval of what is ethical.

And now I need to enlighten others.

~Maisha Maliha

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Tainted Beauty

We love our clothes. We love to look good, learn about trends; what colors complement our skin tones and seasons. There is nothing wrong with vanity and wanting to look beautiful. As long as we have a sense of vision, we will be intrigued by all things eye-catching. We will spend money on beautiful people, clothes, homes, even food.

I am free to indulge on what I find attractive. This saying is devoid of moral layers. However, if we strive for prettiness, we cannot close our eyes to who is responsible for it. The Greek busts we see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were carved by sculptors whose backgrounds, lives and appearances are sometimes unknown. We are unable to dig that old in time.

When visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, I remember the tour guide telling me how the pyramids’ colossal building blocks of stone were transported from miles away by “slaves.” Their lives were bound to these so-called Egyptian VIPs. I was mesmerized by how beautiful these structures looked against the scorching, sandy background, but sad at the sacrifices that had been made.

Luckily, we have the resources and the Internet to obtain such information today. And we should use this for our benefit. I believe that our worlds’ collective ethical consciousness has become better (for most parts) when compared to times before the abolition of slavery. Slavery still lurks today though, and if something is made and obtained by the hands of a human, it may be tainted.

Free2work.org provides graded evaluations for industries according to the visibility of their supply chains. The more an industry discloses how and where their products are made, the higher their grades are. The industries are not limited to just apparel, but electronics and coffee are also reported on in the site.

Abercrombie and Fitch, Express, Forever21, Lacoste, and Sketchers received grades below a D, while Adidas, Eileen Fisher, Gap and H&M are rated above a B. These are all places we shop from, completely unaware of how slavery is used to produce the things we shop for. More information is provided in the site itself and I found it extremely resourceful for myself since afterwards I stopped shopping at the low graded shops. I did this for my personal peace of mind, and want to share it to my fellow humans who care.

~ Maisha Maliha


Posted in Community/Environment, Dialogue, Human Trafficking, Immigration, Peace, Sex Industry, Women's Rights/Human Rights | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Looking for Good News

How happy I am to witness “good news”.  Too often my heart laments the painful conditions, conflicts and violence that are happening in so many places in the world.  Yet, what many believe as the most grievous concern is the question of the sustainability of the resources which support everyone in the world. No one is safe from drastic change in climate.  A phenomenal transformation needs to occur for the earth to continue to nourish humanity.  What a sign of hope to see actions taken to move us toward this transformation.  


It gave me great hope that such a decision was recently decided by the board of the University of Dayton when they announced to begin divesting coal and fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool. It is believed to be the first Catholic university in the nation to take this step. This is a great symbolic act that hopefully other universities can follow.

My brother is a professor at the University of Dayton.  He loves the spirit there, the essence of community and his colleagues.  It is a Catholic University faithful to Catholic social teaching.

In their statement President Daniel J Curran said: Continue reading

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