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Justice

Time to End the War on Drugs

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War on Drugs640

More than 44 years have passed since President Richard Nixon declared his “war on drugs.” That battle cry was proclaimed in June 1971 following the tumultuous 1960s that saw the United States transformed in many ways.  During the decade, Americans witnessed statutory victories by the civil rights movement that outlawed state-sponsored segregation and expanded voting rights for African Americans.  Those triumphs came with a price—riots in major cities and protests that led to the March on Washington.

Conservatives who had spent two decades trying to repeal and roll back New Deal legislation saw the implementation of the Food Stamps program and watched with utter dismay as President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law amendments to the Social Security Act that created Medicare and Medicaid, two massive programs of socialized health care. There was unrest on many of the nation’s campuses.  Hippies and flower children flaunted their disdain for moral purity.  President Nixon decided it was time for law and order to rule again.

Declaring drugs “public enemy number one,” Nixon mobilized the federal government and states to legislate against the promiscuous use of drugs.  In 1973, the federal government created the Drug Enforcement Agency to coordinate the activities of federal agencies.  Also in 1973, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller pushed through the most draconian of all drug sentencing legislation—15 years-to-life in prison for possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Many states followed suit with mandatory minimum sentencing laws and the nation’s prison population exploded from 330,000 in 1973 to more than 2 million by 2002.  The toll on Americans—particularly African Americans—has been huge. The international aid organization Health Poverty Action released a report earlier this year on global casualties of the war on drugs.

As the world seems to be unravelling in the Middle East, Americans are confronted by a domestic demon that is killing more Americans than ISIS.  That demon is heroin.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 8,257 Americans died from a heroin overdose in 2013, up from 1779 in 2001—a 321 percent increase.  Although male deaths (6,525) outnumbered female deaths (1732), deaths among women (466%) grew significantly faster than men (294%).  Many more Americans died from prescription painkillers.  In 2013, 22,757 Americans died from overdoses of prescription painkillers.  Heroin has become a cheap substitute for prescription drug users.

The recent surge in the use of heroin is occurring more among white suburban women and has elicited a more reasoned response from law enforcement and lawmakers. Policymakers see the epidemic as more of a public health problem than one that needs tougher criminal penalties. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wants $600 million added as a supplemental appropriation to the recent budget agreement.  The bottom line is it is long overdue for addiction to be treated as apublic health issue. Thousands of individuals have had their lives ruined because their addiction was treated as a crime.

A number of bills addressing addiction have been introduced in Congress.  One to watch is H.R. 953—the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 introduced in February by Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI-5).  The bill has bipartisan support with 43 Democrats and 19 Republicans as cosponsors. It has been referred to the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

If enacted it would direct HHS to convene a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force to develop and disseminate information about best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication.  It would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit the Department of Education from including any question about the conviction of an applicant for the possession or sale of illegal drugs on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form.  It would create a bipartisan Task Force on Recovery and Collateral Consequences that would review conviction records of individuals in recovery.

It is incredulous that the war on drugs has continued for so long. The unintended consequences of this ill-advised campaign have irrevocably scarred the lives of too many. Countless children and their futures can be counted among the collateral damage.  It is time to bring the war on drugs to a close.

Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. is President the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. He has served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and was the staff coordinator for the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

          
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Business

Work Together to Prepare for the Next Big Storm

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Year by year, hurricanes are growing stronger and more frequent. We are witness to these changes as we watch two catastrophic storms devastate the southeastern United States in as many weeks.

This month, Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida Panhandle, southern Virginia, and the Carolinas. The massive storm killed at least 16 people, flooded cities, highways, and rivers, and reduced much of the region to rubble.

Barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Florence killed at least 36 people in three states, forced thousands to evacuate their homes, dumped record floodwaters on North Carolina, created power outages for hundreds of thousands, and killed millions of farm animals. The most recent damage estimates put the economic toll at a staggering $100 billion, once accounting for property damage, medical costs, and lost wages.

Natural forces emboldened by climate change continue to overwhelm our outdated stormwater management practices and inadequate urban planning, putting us in a precarious position. Short-term economics have often driven development where considering long-term environmental impact was needed instead. When it comes to handling the effects of more storms, we’re not as prepared as we think.

As we assess the damage done by Michael, Florence, and other storms, the shrewdest move is to prepare for the next big storm — and the one after that. Municipalities, businesses, and individuals can brace for the next storms by focusing on the following areas:

Additional Pollution Prevention

Florence and Michael disrupted two of North Carolina’s biggest industries: coal power and hog farming. This created environmental trouble and the potential for health problems. Duke Energy officials in North Carolina said slope and landfill erosion caused stormwater with coal ash — containing heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury — to spill into Sutton Lake. Watchdog groups have expressed concern about the effect on water quality.

Floodwaters also breached multiple hog lagoons, designed to keep solid waste from polluting sources of drinking water, in at least two North Carolina counties, causing varying degrees of damage. The North Carolina Pork Council says the state’s other 3,000 hog lagoons are holding up, but the state’s Department of Environmental Quality will have to perform inspections.

The landfills, dams, and lagoons containing pollutants need to be stabilized and reinforced. Cities can reduce landfill washout by using gravel stabilizers, terracing, drainage diversions, and other measures to safeguard their slopes against erosion. To avert overflow of detention ponds like hog lagoons, companies can add pond depth, secure the perimeters, and place impervious barriers around the site.

Adjusted Damage Estimates

Because of climate change, we can count on heavier rain and shorter intervals between storms increasing flooding risk. Data is still being gathered for Michael, but we know that for Florence, greenhouse gas emissions and warmer weather made for more intense rainfall. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, the city matched its annual rainfall (typically 50 inches) in a matter of days.

Cities, businesses, and infrastructure planners need to set new damage expectations, as 500-year storms” arise with increasing regularity. Adequate planning and preparation may seem expensive overall, but it’s more expensive to deal with damage in the aftermath of flooding. It’s important to remember there’s no immediate fix or silver bullet. Instead, we need long-term solutions first acknowledging the problem and then planning for it.

Broader Public Education

Weathering the next storm requires a public education process that touches all sectors on the solutions available to help protect communities against floodwater. In my hometown of Houston, the community has come together with a discussion on the web, in public forums, and in community meetings.

The Houston Green Building Resource Center provides a public resource at the permitting building, providing engineers, architects, contractors, and homeowners with techniques on how to reduce flooding on the macro and micro levels, including information on building codes, permeable and sustainable materials, and engineering technologies to incorporate. Examples include elevated construction, or raising buildings above the rising floodplain, and permeable paving techniques that can reduce the extreme weather’s impact on the earth’s surface. Both are cost-effective improvements worthy of broader public education.

The intensity of storms like Michael and Florence raise the bar for planning and preparation. Governments, businesses, and communities must plan ahead and work together during the quiet times before the storm returns.

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Justice

Brett Kavanaugh’s Hall Pass for Police Misconduct

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Brett Kavanaugh

On July 9, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Since Kavanaugh’s nomination, opponents are extremely concerned his addition to the court will skew the court to a conservative majority resulting in the rollback of rights and protections for women and minorities

Although Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade has been widely discussed, the latest allegation of sexual assault levied by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has added yet another layer of angst among Democrats and women advocacy groups opposing his confirmation.

Observers can’t help but notice the historical parallels between the Kavanaugh hearings and the installation of Justice Clarence Thomas despite the testimony of Anita Hill in 1991. Thomas is currently the longest serving conservative justice on the current court. Most importantly, it is likely his impact will be felt for decades to come which is why its imperative the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

As the spotlight shifts from Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe to allegations of sexual assault, little attention has been paid to Kavanaugh’s position on the exclusionary rule which may drastically change how law enforcement wield its governmental power. The exclusionary rule is “a law that prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal trial” presented by police to prosecutors.

Last year, Kavanaugh gave a speech where he commended the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s view that the exclusionary rule “was beyond the four corners of the Fourth Amendment’s text and imposed tremendous costs on society,” and that it was not “required by the constitution.” Kavanaugh was referring to Rehnquist’s originalist approach to the constitution and his belief that the court should not go beyond its text.

The exclusionary rule was created to deter law enforcement from performing unreasonable searches and seizures as defined by the 4th amendment of the United States Constitution. This limit on law enforcement power is so intrinsic and engrained in our culture that it is almost taken for granted.

The rule simply says that evidence unlawfully obtained by police cannot be used against a suspect at trial. The rule also provides an important check on a criminal justice system that is already skewed against poor people and people of color.

A recent study found that the majority of innocent people who are wrongfully convicted and later exonerated are African American. In regards to murder convictions, African Americans are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than white people. The disparity is even more pronounced with regards to drug offenses; African Americans are twelve times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than whites.

The stock argument in opposition to the exclusionary rule is that it inevitably allows guilty persons to go free. According to Judge Benjamin Cardozo, “The criminal is to go free because the constable blundered.” However, those in favor of the exclusionary rule remaining intact believe without it, the protections guaranteed by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are nothing more than empty promises.

The exclusionary rule has been chipped away at with various exceptions since the Rehnquist Court. Currently, the Supreme Court has four conservative justices; Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. With the addition of Kavanaugh our protections under the exclusionary rule, and Roe for that matter, will be in jeopardy.

The public has already witnessed Officer Michael Slager on video attempting to plant evidence on Walter Scott after fatally shooting in him the back while he was running away from a traffic stop for a broken taillight violation in Charleston, South Carolina. Communities of Color already fear and mistrust the police, and unchecked police power will further widen the divide.

If police are allowed to illegally enter into a home or seize property without securing a warrant and are able to present this evidence in court despite being obtained illegally, many fear this move will reward illegal behavior by the police.

The hypocrisy of government benefiting from its own unlawful conduct leads to a lack of trust in it and further diminishes the idea of equal protection under the law. Most importantly, when a court permits the use of illegally obtained evidence, the court not only sanctions the misconduct but also encourages it.

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Environmental Justice

Plastic Might Be Convenient, But Is It Worth It?

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By

Kristin

Plastic is everywhere in our lives these days. Water bottles, microbead skin products, disposable razors, shopping bags, and red solo cups.  It’s amazing how much of this ends up in the water systems, my dear Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

When this debris ends up in the oceanic system, they all get pulled around by the currents–typically ending up in the same place, if not in an animal’s throat or around their neck first.  According to National Geographic, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch “is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.

This “patch” is more than twice the size of Texas. It’s not surprising considering a study released in 2015 estimates that 8.8 million tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean in the year 2010. I keep having this nightmare that the garbage patch is going to grow until the whole Earth is one large garbage patch!

Before we get to that point, too many animals will die from plastic. In 2013 in Spain, scientists found a dead whale, whose cause of death was intestinal blockage. The digestive system contained 59 pieces of plastic waste totaling 37 pounds in weight. Sea turtles are now ingesting twice the plastic they were 25 years ago. In total, it is estimated that plastic ingestion kills 1 MILLION marine birds and 1 HUNDRED THOUSAND marine animals every single year!

Other than ingestion, plastic can also ruin an animal’s life by tangling them up; this can make movement and growth difficult or impossible. Some species happen to inhabit areas where plastic pollution is more of a problem, causing them to be more susceptible to entanglements and ingestion caused by plastic. This fact proves true for species like the Hawaiian monk seal, which swim and feed in areas close to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Not only can plastic hurt them in its full state, but also in later states. Although plastic does not biodegrade, it does break down and the chemicals that break down impact animals as well. The toxic chemicals really mess with the hormones of marine animals. In the long term, this can affect humans as well because many people are consuming the animals affecting by these pollutants.

So what can you do?

Of course, recycling can be a big help and not littering, but the only way to completely prevent these problems is by decreasing your plastic consumption. The best thing you can do is to completely eliminate plastic from your life! Convenience is not worth possibly living on a garbage planet.

In my single-handed fight I have collected 180,000 items – 50 pieces of litter a day for 10 years. If only the world didn’t find this weird – Andrew Mayer

Learn more about Andrew and his efforts to help pick up trash before it makes its way to the ocean in the article he wrote for the Guardian entitled I pick up plastic waste to save it from landfill. It’s lonely but worth it.

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News

Colin Kaepernick’s Eternal Vigilance

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Aldous Huxley said, “The price of liberty, and even common humanity, is eternal vigilance.” Huxley was letting us know that democracy isn’t easy. Democracy doesn’t just happen. Rather, it’s a constant struggle to maintain a society in which all citizens, regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, have equal rights under the law.

From time to time we are fortunate enough to have an individual who reminds us of this, even though we may not want to hear it. Colin Kaepernick has assumed this role in American society and Nike has given him a stage to act it out.

Nike’s new commercial ends with Kaepernick saying, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It was criticized almost instantly. “Sacrificing everything,” they say, should mean sacrificing one’s life, whether it be during war or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The underlying argument is Kaepernick and Nike are insulting those who died for our country.

There is no doubt the War on Terror has taken the lives of too many US soldiers. Since 2001, roughly 2,300 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt that losing one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice.

It doesn’t make the war in Afghanistan any less tragic, but in 2016 and 2017 Chicago saw almost 1,500 murders. Around 76% of the murder victims were black. When you add in all the murders that occurred since 2001 the number is well over 5,000. This is just one of the types of tragedies Kaepernick wanted to draw attention to.

It’s almost a cliché at this point to make the comparison, but Muhammad Ali was met with similar criticism when he refused to fight in Vietnam. Ali was called everything from a nigger to a traitor. He lost three years of his prime as a fighter, and he had to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court to get his conviction overturned.

Ironically, President Trump has repeatedly criticized Kaepernick, while earlier this year he sought to pardon Ali. And even more ironically, President Trump did everything he could to avoid going to Vietnam.

In 1963, when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting racial inequality, he penned a lengthy response to an article written a group of moderate white church leaders, criticizing the way Rev. King went about protesting. Rhetorically, Rev. King asked the clergymen, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, and marches and so forth?” His answer, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Kaepernick is criticized for confronting America about its racial inequality at the wrong time.  The clergymen also questioned Rev. King’s timing. He responded, “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.”

It’s true that Kaepernick hasn’t had to deal with police armed with fire hoses and attack dogs. His house wasn’t bombed, and obviously he hasn’t lost his life like those courageous members of the armed forces who selflessly went to war to protect the United States.

Kaepernick also didn’t lose his life like Rev. King fighting inequality. Does that make his point any less relevant? If Rev. King was to say, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” would you tell him, “You can’t say that because you didn’t die in war”? Probably not.

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Human Rights

Indigenous Women Trapped in Human Trafficking in North America

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The subject of human and sex trafficking has been popular in the media recently. From the recent exposure of celebrities involved in trafficking and sex rings to the implementation of SESTA/FOSTA by the Republican party. Headlines focusing on celebrity figures and politicians silences the voice of vulnerable populations who are predominately impacted by human trafficking such as Native and Indigenous women on Reservations across North America.

Human traffickers prey on individuals who are socially oppressed, marginalized within their family and community, and vulnerable due to poverty. These circumstances create the perfect recipe for human traffickers when oil drilling corporations are interested in geographic regions near Reservations.

Corporate America has created the ultimate vehicle and tool for human traffickers to generate a business based on the exploitation of Indigenous girls and women. The scariest aspect of all is that the Johns/potential buyers within the encampment are not utilizing websites like backpage.com or craigslist.com.

Human traffickers are exploiting unsuspecting girls and women by transporting them directly to the oil drilling encampments. In other words, the implementation of SESTA/FOSTA by the Republican party fails to protect Indigenous women, men, and children trapped in human trafficking.

The Indigenous population of North America is 2.5 times more likely to experience violence in comparison to other neighboring populations. The statistics on violence and trauma becomes increasingly alarming because a majority of children on Reservations are exposed to violence before the age of 5. The high rates of violence on Reservations is a result of widespread poverty, Western colonization, and low job employment or opportunities. The impact of poverty and colonization has had devastating consequences on the Indigenous population residing on Reservations in South Dakota.

According to the 2010 census, the Pine Ridge River Reservation only consisted of 3,308 individuals. By 2014, almost 50% of Indigenous women and men reported experiencing violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence. These statistics indicate that 4 out of 5 Indigenous folks have experienced some form of violence at least once in their lifetime. In fact, statistics and rates of sexual violence may be higher due to under-reporting. These instances of violence increase based on non-native intervention, poverty, substance abuse, and childhood exposure to violence.

The high rates of violence, poverty, and substance abuse play an active role in the widespread occurrence of human and sex trafficking on Reservations. For Indigenous folks in North and South Dakota, instances of human trafficking have become increasingly problematic with oil drilling. The corporate interest in oil drilling has a negative impact on the Indigenous community by intentionally placing large groups of non-natives in close proximity to Reservations.

The promise of gaining monetary compensation for drilling has rebranded North and South Dakota as the new Western Frontier. Human traffickers and pimps benefit from the large oil drilling encampments because they are utilized as a one-stop-shop for marginalized Indigenous girls and women. This indicates that interests in corporate oil drilling have caused the onset of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women across America.

Over spring break, I had the opportunity to visit the Pine Ridge River Reservation and Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota with an Immersion Program offered by the University of Southern California. However, an encounter during our last night in Rapid City made extremely aware easy someone can become a victim of human sex trafficking.

After dinner, we were approached by a young girl who proposed that her male friends wanted to meet and sit with us. We immediately declined the invitation, but that did not stop her male friends from approaching us. We recognized the red-flags of the situation and safely removed ourselves from the establishment.

We were only able to recognize the signs of human trafficking because we are privileged. As USC students, we are privileged with money, power through name recognition, and education. We have been trained to spot dangerous situations and problem-solve solutions on the spot. We have the money to afford the education and have been trained to recognize these red-flags. In addition, we might not be as vulnerable to human trafficking due to our socioeconomic status in America.

This close encounter with the young woman and group of men resembles Allison Mack’s role as a recruiter for the NXIVM group. Allison Mack exercised her privilege as a trusting and recognizable celebrity figure to lure and entrap unsuspecting women into human trafficking. Mack’s role as a female recruiter for NXIVM is a common tactic utilized by human traffickers.

Indigenous women and children do not share the same experiences as non-natives. As a matter of fact, 7 in 10 Indigenous children are expected to graduate high school and only 17% pursue higher-education. The risk-factors and barriers to completing and pursuing higher-education increases based on poverty, the absence of parents in the home, exposure to trauma and abuse, and substance abuse. These risk-factors place Indigenous women and children in a vulnerable position to be lured and swayed by the promises made by human traffickers.

In 2017, the #MeToo movement gained immense popularity in mainstream America, although the movement was originally created by Tarana Burke in 2006. The colonization and erasure of WOC is a topic that isn’t foreign to Indigenous folks on the reservation. Indigenous girls and women continued to feel excluded by the blatant disregard for native voices in the #MeToo movement.

In order to raise awareness surrounding the missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women across America, Senator Heidi Heitkamp drafted Savannah’s Act in 2017 and created the alternative hashtag for the movement: #NotInvisible. Savannah’s Act aims to fill the service gaps found in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to provide safety and protection for Indigenous women and girls. Since Savannah’s Act has been introduced, the movement has not gained much traction based on America’s proficiency to erase and silence things that do not make us feel comfortable.

What exactly can we do about human trafficking on Reservations across North America? First, let’s beat down the virtual doors of our government officials by tweeting and sharing facts and statistics surrounding human trafficking on Reservations.

Continue to share it with your friends, family members, and colleagues. Heck, bring it up over Thanksgiving dinner this year! The most important factor is raising awareness and advocating on behalf of Indigenous folks across America and Canada. Indigenous folks have asked again and again for visibility through education, advocacy, and public awareness.

As non-natives, let’s create a platform where they can stand on our shoulders and share their experiences across America and Canada. Together, let’s continue to rally for marginalized individuals on Reservations across America.

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Justice

Sexual Violence Haunts Women With Vivid Memories Years Later

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Women who are sexually assaulted experience more vivid memories than women coping with the aftermath of other traumatic, life-altering events not associated with sexual violence, according to a new Rutgers University–New Brunswick study.

The research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that women who had suffered from sexual violence, even those who were not diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had more intense memories – even years after the violence occurred – that are difficult, if not impossible to forget.

“To some extent it is not surprising that these memories relate to more feelings of depression and anxiety because these women remember what happened and think about it a lot,” said Tracey Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience in the School of Arts and Sciences who coauthored the study.  “But these feelings and thoughts are usually associated with PTSD and most women in our study who experienced these vivid memories did not suffer from PTSD, which is generally associated with more intense mental and physical reactions.”

The study included 183 college-aged women between the ages of 18-39. Sixty-four women reported that they were victims of sexual violence while 119 did not have a history of sexual violence. Less than 10 percent were on anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication.

The women with a history of sexual violence reported stronger memories with specific details that included seeing the event clearly in their mind. They reported having a harder time forgetting the incident and believed it to be a significant part of their life story, according to the research.

“Each time you reflect on an old memory, you make a new one in your brain because it is retrieved in the present space and time,’’ said Shors. “What this study shows is that this process can make it even more difficult to forget what happened.”

Studies have shown that sexual aggression and violence is one of the most likely causes of PTSD in women, a condition that is associated with decreased brain functions related to learning and memory that can be both physically and mentally debilitating and difficult to overcome.

“Women in our study who ruminated more frequently also reported more trauma-related symptoms. One could imagine how rumination could exacerbate trauma symptoms and make recovery from the trauma more difficult,” said Emma Millon, a Rutgers graduate student and coauthor of the research.

According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of women worldwide experience some kind of physical or sexual assault in their lifetime with adolescent girls much more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape or assault. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five college students experience sexual violence during their university years.

Shors has developed a new treatment to lessen these vivid memories and help women recover that is different from the traditional Prolonged Exposure Therapy, which includes recollecting the traumatic memory during interviews, story writing and even revisiting the traumatic location.

Mental and Physical Training (MAP Training) developed by Shors combines 30 minutes of mental training with silent meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, twice a week for six weeks. In previous studies, MAP Training diminished trauma symptoms in women who experienced violence, with those participating reporting significantly fewer trauma-related thoughts and ruminations about the past.

“This problem will not go away soon and we must keep our attention focused on prevention and justice for survivors – and their recovery,” Shors said.

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