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Human Rights

Sex and Football

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There is a strange and disturbing association between sex and football in our country. Perhaps, it’s because football is an American sport of which we are uniquely proud, but we also must examine whether it provides unique protections to its players. Also happening in a few other industries, rampant cases of sexual assault are often ignored or excused. However, at both the professional and collegiate level, star athletes often receive a pass despite allegations of perpetrating heinous sexual crimes against women.

In 2011, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott put the Superbowl on the map as the largest single prosecuted incident of human trafficking in the US. However, the jury is still out on the accuracy of this statement. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has used the occasion to push for the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which imposes harsher penalties for those found guilty of selling or purchasing humans. New York and New Jersey have taken special precautions to reduce the amount of humans trafficked in relation to this weekend’s Superbowl game. Whether or not the incidences of trafficking are higher at the Superbowl, it is important for this issue to receive increased attention.

Recently, former kicker for the University of Michigan, Brendan Gibbons, was expelled, and he was arrested for the an alleged assault dating back to 2009. Yet, the University lauded him as a game-changing super star. Taylor Lewan, one of Michigan’s All-American athletes was alleged to have threatened to rape the victim again if she pressed charges. Gibson’s was not expelled until 2014, after his eligibility to play football had expired. Read the full story.

Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and two-time Superbowl champion, was accused of multiple sexual assaults in different states by different women at different times. He had to sit the bench for six games. He is still widely celebrated for his successes on the field.

No matter the sanctions and no matter the accusations, fans and franchises alike defend their players at nauseam claiming there is not enough proof to jeopardize a man’s precious football career. There is no way to know for sure, her word against his. Our general public thinks that 50% of all rape accusations are false. The actual number? Somewhere between two and eight percent. This means that more than 90% of all alleged rapes actually happened and are not desperate attempts at fame or fortune. And with those odds you don’t need to be good at math to crunch the numbers on Roethlisberger.

These incidents are becoming frequent in occurrence among football players. Michael Crabtree, 49ers wide receiver, was questioned in a sexual assault investigation two weeks ago just as the team’s season ended in a playoff loss to the Seahawks. What does this say about our values as a nation?

Maria Shriver’s latest report on the status of American women features a piece by Sister Joan Chittister who says,

“”In our own country, rapes in the military and rapes on college campuses go unpunished because “boys will be boys,” and winning wars and football games are more important than protecting the integrity of the women who are the victims of rape.” Read full article.

What is this allegiance we pledge to football over the freedoms and safety of American citizens? How can we not only ignore these crimes but celebrate and highly reward those who commit them? And what is that teaching our daughters about their value in our society?

So, this Superbowl Sunday as you watch the game think twice about whats happening off the field. Enjoy the commercials with a grain of salt remembering the harsh and lasting impact the objectification of those models and actresses have on young boys and girls. When the blimp gives you a bird’s eye view of the stadium, try to spot the women being forced to sell their bodies in the parking lot. While you watch the Seahawks, think of Jarriel King, former Seahawk who was dismissed from the team in 2012 after a sexual assault who now plays for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football league. When you watch the Broncos, think of Perrish Cox, former Bronco who actually impregnated the woman who accused him of raping her, though he was like so many others, acquitted of the charges.

There’s no way to put ourselves in the skin of someone who has been raped, to walk a mile in their shoes, or to know their pain. But, we could start by taking their word for it and by holding perpetrators accountable regardless of their athleticism. Then, maybe our daughters and future daughters won’t have to know that pain either.

Brittany Sandefur received her BA and MSW at the University of Michigan and currently works at a domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy agency in North Carolina. Particularly interested in non-profit resource development, Sandefur works to support underserved and especially indigenous communities in their efforts toward crisis intervention, health and wellness, community empowerment, and social justice.

4 Comments
Dea Manges Dea Manges says:

There should be more billboards like this. I am in Ohio and as a student I do A LOT of research on this issue. Ohio is a hub and it is literally in my backyard.

Recent stats I read put Florida in third position behind California and Texas

Jillian Gray Jillian Gray says:

It’s not just football players. I think that is irrelevant to make this correlation specifically linked to football players.

Human Rights

A Practical Guide on How to Confront Hate

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Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights Photo Credit: UAB

In the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tina Kempin Reuter, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Institute for Human Rights offers some practical tips on how to confront hate.

Know your human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the key document guiding human rights advocacy. It is based on the universality, inalienability, and indivisibility of human rights and is founded on the core values of equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.

“Knowing one’s human rights is an important step that often gets forgotten,” Reuter said. “Learning the content and extent of basic human rights will give people the tools and language needed to address certain issues. Discrimination, suppression, racism, marginalization, and violence against individuals or groups are human rights violations that must be confronted.”

Reuter urges reporting human rights violations to the authorities such as the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice or other entities such as the American Civil Liberties Union. If an incident occurs in the workplace, inform your human resources representative or a diversity officer. At UAB, students, faculty, and staff can contact the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. You can learn more about international human rights by visiting the United Nations Human Rights website and by reading the UAB Institute for Human Rights blog, where faculty and students write about international human rights issues.

Speak up in the face of injustice

Once you know what human rights and human rights violations are, Reuter encourages everyone to pay attention and speak up in the face of injustice. Pay attention to what happens in your everyday life. Document, record and monitor what is going on around you, and if you see injustice, say something.

“The goal is to make everyday suppression of a specific group based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability status just as unacceptable as the violence and hatred that has occurred in Charlottesville,” Reuter said. “It’s these normal, hidden human rights violations that are particularly dangerous to our society and that we have to confront together.”

Be aware of your own biases

One of the ways to overcome biases and stereotypes is to engage with those who are different. Research shows that interpersonal contact is one of the best ways to reduce prejudice. This theory is called contact hypothesis. The theory suggests that under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority groups.

“It is incredibly important to be aware of your own biases,” Reuter said. “We all have them. Realize if you cross the street when a person of a different race walks toward you. Notice if you assume that someone is less competent because she is a woman, a person of color or Muslim. Think about systemic racism and structural violence in your own environment, and find ways to confront them. Actively learn about how our society has grown to marginalize some to the benefit of others. I encourage people to reach out and make new friends outside of their race, religion and gender.”

Join a movement or a cause that fits your passions and interests

Join a movement, and talk with others who feel the same. Look for a rally in your community. Organize a vigil. Participate in a discussion. Engage with others. Get together formally or informally. Look for opportunities to talk. The UAB Institute for Human Rights is a part of the StandAsOne Coalition. If you are a UAB student, you can join the Students for Human Rights club.

“Not all of us are born to be activists or community organizers,” Reuter said. “We cannot all become Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Leymah Gboweee; but we all can contribute by supporting the movement. Think about what you are good at and how your skills and talent can be used to move a cause forward.”

Call your representatives

One of the most effective ways to achieve policy change is to call local and state representatives. Reuter says calling is much more impactful than writing an email, Facebook message or letter. She advises anyone contacting their local representative to be polite to the staff, which is who you will most likely get on the line. Their staff members do not have influence on the decision-making process, but they will record your call and do not mind taking opposing views as long as the conversation is civil.

Educate others

This step does not have to be formal. You can educate others by leading by example, or by bringing a friend along to a conversation you are having. It can happen person to person, on social media or on any other platform you use to connect with others. Creating art, poems and performances are incredible ways to get your point across to people who might find that formal ways of education do not resonate with them.

“It is such a privilege to be an educator,” Reuter said. “It is one of my favorite parts of my job to talk to students about issues that affect the world and to encourage them to learn more about these topics. It’s something that everyone can do. Teach your children and young relatives about kindness, human rights, and peace building. Teach them also about systemic suppression, racism and the way our society has oppressed minorities. Talk to them about what bothers you and what you would like to achieve. You don’t have to be a professor or teacher to educate others.”

Donate

One of the fastest and easiest opportunities to make an impact is to donate to an organization that fights for human rights or civil rights.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to ensuring the preservation of individual rights and liberties, one of which is the UAB Institute for Human Rights. You can learn more about the Institute here.

Take care of yourself

Confronting issues such as hatred, violence, and suppression can take a mental and physical toll on anyone. Reuter says it is important to know what you can and cannot do, what you are willing to do, and what your priorities are.

“Focus on the local level. Start in your own community,” Reuter said. “That world is changed person by person, but don’t forget to take care of your needs. When you start to feel overwhelmed, shut down Facebook, Twitter, cable news and other forms of media. Enjoy time with your friends and family. Be kind to yourself, and realize that real progress takes patience.”

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Employment

How to Help Human Trafficking Survivors

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sex trafficking

Human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, has become an area of interest both in the general public and also within social work. As a result, attention, money, and resources are being allocated for this cause. The array of services needed for human trafficking survivors is complex, but one area that is not receiving enough support is in employment and training for survivors.

As Evelyn Chumbow, a survivor of domestic servitude and anti-trafficking activist stated, “There are times when I feel like screaming on behalf of all human trafficking survivors, we need jobs, not pity!”. I have served in the roles of both case manager and therapist for trafficking survivors. Across both roles, I have heard trafficking survivors express their exasperation and fear of not finding employment outside of the sex industry. What are the barriers?

Many sex trafficking survivors entered the sex industry at a young age, which likely resulted in a disruption in education. Because of this many did not have the opportunity to complete their high school degree.

Furthermore, many have criminal records that reflect prostitution charges. Expungement can be extremely complex to navigate. Many have no prior work history or spotty work history. All of these factors can make employment difficult to secure.

Survivors may also not feel comfortable with, or have success with, explaining their circumstances to a prospective employer. Finally, transgender trafficking survivors may face increased discrimination in employment due to barriers already described, but also as a result of their gender identity.

Employment can be a gateway for trafficking survivors to build independence. Traditional employment programs may not be a good match unless the staff is trained are well-trained on the particular employment issues that trafficking survivors may face and are able to find employment, sex trafficking survivors end up homeless or returning to the sex industry out of desperation to support themselves.

For those interested in helping sex trafficking survivors, consider how to help them in building job skills and obtaining employment. Some programs that serve trafficking survivors incorporate a jobs skills and employment component. One program that does a great job in this area is Thistle Farms, which was featured in the documentary A Path Appears.

While trafficking survivors may not have a traditional work history, they do have skills. They were able to survive their situation and have internal strengths. Despite the unimaginable circumstances they may have experienced, they have hope and want to support themselves and contribute. Many I have worked with have expressed a desire to make meaning of their experience and help others who have been trafficked.

At a recent conference held by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, many survivors voiced their need for skills training and employment. As one trafficking survivor stated, “Once we escape, there is a whole new hell…You can rescue us all you want, but what we need is an opportunity. We want jobs, we want education, we want choices”.

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Human Rights

Why Feminism is Still Important For Social Workers

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PHOTO BY LORIE SHAULL

Feminism continues to be a fraught issue with fractures within the community of feminists, as well as women in general. Yet, feminism is more crucial than ever given the diversity of challenges women are now facing. Feminism has become a focal point again recently largely as a result of the Presidential election and the response from it. This is clearly important for social workers as well, from the perspective of human rights and social justice,as well as from a policy perspective.

The role of feminism came to the forefront during the Presidential election for various reasons, most obviously because for the first time a woman became the Presidential candidate for a major political party in the United States. The treatment and response by the media to a female candidate, in comparison to a male candidate, was highlighted by various commentators. This included incessant references to the candidate’s clothing and appearance, the sound of her voice, the dichotomy of seeming too harsh or cold vs. too weak.

Sadly, many female candidates are forced to endure humiliating treatment that their male counterparts would not experience. The list of demeaning comments made against Hillary Clinton goes on and on which also impacted the Republican female presidential candidate. President Donald Trump infamously commented on Carla Fiorina’s looks stating, “Look at that face!..Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” These demeaning, misogynistic attitudes and comments were pervasive this election season.

As a result, there has been a strong backlash to what many view as a war on women. This has culminated in the Women’s March, which was estimated to have had three times as many people in attendance than at the Presidential Inauguration. The momentum has continued with more women taking up the call to run for office. International Women’s Day, held on March 8th, also held more significance this year as the Women’s March organizers highlighted the day with calls for strikes from women, and for women to wear red in acknowledgement of the challenges women face.

Yet, there are many naysayers that feel that these efforts are women playing the victim. Some women are vocal that these efforts do not represent them. Political policy impacts all women, and the advantages we enjoy now came from blood, sweat and tears. This includes the continued fight for equal pay, women’s ability to advance in the workplace, paid maternity leave and better childcare options—these issues are universal. Aside from this, there is the continued victim blaming of those who have experienced rape on college colleges and lack of substantial follow-up on the part of the police. Many of those who are prosecuted are given a slap on the wrist, as was the case with Brock Turner.

Sexism and assault of women in the military continues, where most recently nude photos of a female Marine have been posted online. Intimate partner violence and murder of women by husbands or boyfriends is frighteningly pervasive. Seven trans women have already been murdered in 2017 and 27 were killed in 2016.

Furthermore, women and girls continued to be sexually exploited through human trafficking networks. This is due largely in part because our society condones selling women and the demand persists. Until recently children who were caught prostituting, some as young as 10, were prosecuted in court instead of viewing them as a victim in need of help. Even today not all states have yet adopted Safe Harbor laws, viewing “child prostitutes” as culpable in some way.

Worldwide women continue to experience gender-based violence. In Pakistan, Saba Qaiser was shot in the head and left for dead by her father as part of an honor killing. She miraculously survived, but saw no justice as she was pressured by the community to forgive those who shot her, letting them off the hook legally. India is experiencing a rape crisis, with 34,000 cases reported in 2015. 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced female genital mutilation. Rape continues to be used as a weapon of war, including in Syria and Iraq, by ISIS militants.

Now is not the time for inaction or denial. Clearly, we still have a long way to go to achieve social justice for women in the United States and worldwide, and these issues have a direct connection to social workers and those we serve. The silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor has ignited a new rallying cry, “never the less she persisted”— and so should we all in this fight for fairness, equality and justice.

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