Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sexual Assault, Harrassment, Discrimination and Finding your Voice-2008 style

Despite decades of Women's activism, sexual assault and harrassment and other workplace or educational disorders directed toward women still exist. In fact, in many ways they seem to have increased in acceptance and frequency. And, despite what amounts to monumental efforts to prevent rape and increase awareness, sexual assault continues to be a part of women's lives.

One disturbing indicator of this trend is the report that 25% percent of all recent female college graduates were sexually assaulted during their college years. While date rape and stranger sexual assault are included in these numbers, this been associated in the studies to a fairly large extent with binge and party drinking and all the risk taking behaviors associated with that activity. When you add up the facts which clearly indicate that women simply cannot consume alcohol in the same way as men with the same physiological consequences and the ongoing (increasing ?) willingness of some men on the party scene to exploit women, the statistics need little explanation.

Curiously, there seems to be a tendency to simply accept this as a part of the college experience by some adults and the young women themselves. Being the wasted girl on the couch having sex in a minimally aware state of mind with one or more guys is really not something most young women really feel good about a day, a week, or years after the party . . . and it in no way amounts to sexual liberation. When I hear the older adults make comments such as, " she didn't get pregnant, nobody got hurt and this is just what kids do today, " I don't wonder why I get some of the types of calls I get from young women.

I DO wonder what the cumulative societal effects of sending a whole generation of women (teachers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, etc.) out into the workplace with emotional baggage of sexual assault will be in ten to twenty years, who, as a group will presumably have the highest percentage of survivors of sexual assault in history given the already significant probability that a large percentage of women entering college have already experienced sexual assault before the college years. Add in the extremely high numbers of military women experiencing sexual assault and the numbers AND scope of the institutionalized prevalence of sexual assault in places it shouldn't exist is shocking.

The college sexual assault statistics highlight the fact that young women are more vulnerable than they've ever been due to the acceptance of otherwise intolerable sexual explotiation under the guise of a good time and some of this carries over to the workplace. Because of the unique problems faced by teen and young adult workers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently launched a website geared towards teen workers. Teens and young adults are among the most vulnerable workers when it comes to discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. While young men have been harassed, it is still a greater problem for young women. As young women become more accepting of the notion that being "objectified" or "harrassed" is actually acceptable and even beneficial in some circumstances, it makes the line for personal space and respect harder to define.

When the incursions into women's personal space reach the realm of critical mass of serious consequences, that's when I receive the call asking questions. This is true across the age spectrum even among women who thought by education, experience and training that they were well equipped to deal with these types of issues. In some cases I can help and in others I cannot. In all cases, it is clear that women, young and old, even in 2008, are still struggling to find their voice and their personal space and my most common advice is to speak up and insist on being heard . . . . young and old.

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