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rape gender violence trafficking

mage from Everyday Feminism, used with permission by creator Alli Kirkham.

There are many different scenarios where consent is necessary.



In 2013, Zerlina Maxwell ignited a firestorm of controversy when she strongly recommended we stop telling women how to not get raped.

Here are her words, from the transcript of her appearance on Sean Hannity's show:

"I don't think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention."

So essentially — instead of teaching women how to avoid rape, let's raise boys specifically not to rape.


There was a lot of ire raised from that idea. Maxwell was on the receiving end of a deluge of online harassment and scary threats because of her ideas, which is sadly common for outspoken women on the Internet.

People assumed it meant she was labeling all boys as potential rapists or that every man has a rape-monster he carries inside him unless we quell it from the beginning.

But the truth is most of the rapes women experience are perpetrated by people they know and trust. So fully educating boys during their formative years about what constitutes consent and why it's important to practice explicitly asking for consent could potentially eradicate a large swath of acquaintance rape. It's not a condemnation on their character or gender, but an extra set of tools to help young men approach sex without damaging themselves or anyone else.

news, campaigns, young men, cultural norms

Zerlina Maxwell is interviewed on "Hannity."

Image from “Hannity."

But what does teaching boys about consent really look like in action?

Well, there's the viral letter I wrote to my teen titled "Son, It's Okay If You Don't Get Laid Tonight" explaining his responsibility in the matter. I wanted to show by example that Maxwell's words weren't about shaming or blaming boys who'd done nothing wrong yet, but about giving them a road map to navigate their sexual encounters ahead.

There are also rape prevention campaigns on many college campuses, aiming to reach young men right at the heart of where acquaintance rape is so prevalent. Many men are welcoming these efforts.

And then there are creative endeavors to find the right metaphors and combination of words to get people to shake off their acceptance of cultural norms and see rape culture clearly.


This is brilliant:

consent, rape prevention, community, consent culture

A comic about different types of consent.

Image from Everyday Feminism, used with permission by creator Alli Kirkham.

There you have it. Seven comparisons that anyone can use to show how simple and logical the idea of consent really is. Consent culture is on its way because more and more people are sharing these ideas and getting people to think critically. How can we not share an idea whose time has come?

This article originally appeared on 06.27.15

In 1994, a civil war had been raging for four years in the country of Rwanda.

Then, over the course of 100 days, 800,000 people were killed in a mass genocide that drew worldwide attention.

As sometimes happens when things like this go on, rape as a weapon was used extensively to create terror among the population — so much so, that an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women were raped.


An estimated 20,000 children were born from this indescribable tragedy and the after effects of the war.

Images via Foundation Rwanda and their video on YouTube.

What do the mothers want for these children? An education.

Enter Foundation Rwanda.

Formed in 2007, it has worked with these women ever since. I spoke with Jules Shell, director of Foundation Rwanda, who talked about her experience forming this program.

"When I co-founded FR, we interviewed 30 mothers, all genocide survivors with children born of rape," says Shell. "We asked the same question at the end of each interview: 'If you had the means, what would be your wish in life?' Every mother replied with the same answer: education for their children."

The shocking problem with getting them an education? Even though there are programs for government-sponsored education, these children are not considered "survivors" because they were born after the genocide.

"We created Foundation Rwanda and partnered with local NGOs to respond to their wishes," Shell says. "These children may represent a dark period of history, but they also represent life and the hope for a brighter future."


It will make a difference in their lives that is not even fathomable by our standards.

She continued:

"In Rwanda, you go to school when it is possible, when you can afford the school fees and the cost of transport, shoes, books and uniform, and finishing high school can take twice as long or more for these students in particular than it would in America or Europe.Every child should have the equal right to education no matter the circumstances of their birth."

So far, Foundation Rwanda has raised $1.8 million in donations for education for their children and trauma counseling for the mothers. This has enabled over 850 students to attend secondary school.

In addition this year, each mother has contributed $41 per school term themselves to make up for shortfalls in funding that Foundation Rwanda cannot bear.

Many of these women live on an average of $1.25 a day or less.

Now, Foundation Rwanda must raise another $150,000 by the end of year to pay for an education for each one of these precious children — this will allow every student to graduate and will complete FR's mission.

Here, in their own words, are some of the women who want their kids to succeed.

I wish the world to know that in Rwanda life still goes on even after we lost our dear ones. The program is very valuable because it helped me to know that even my child born from a killer can be like other children. My greatest hope in life is to see my child growing and having a family and children. Without Foundation Rwanda, my child would not be in school. I have no job to pay for her school fees." — Mukanyemazi

Mukanyemazi, second from the left, and Uwumukiza, far right, with some of the other mothers.

I want the world to know our children born of rape are children like others and must be given equal opportunities in the world. My greatest wish is for my daughter to attend a good school and go to university." — Uwumukiza

Claudine, one of the children featured in the video below, has simple yet grand aspirations.

If you want to help, here are some ways:

1. Go directly to the fundraising page on Foundation Rwanda. If you're in a generous mood, you can directly sponsor one of the kids.

2. You can purchase the Foundation Rwanda coloring book. The images are by some of the children, and proceeds from the book go to funding their education.

Some of the mothers with the Foundation Rwanda coloring book, featured in the video below.

3. Change Heroes has a campaign where you can help crowdfund this project by getting friends to give a few bucks per day.

Here's a video on the families, the Foundation Rwanda coloring book, and what it means to them: hope.

Want to see the definition of courage? Take a look at these five women.

They've endured any parent's worst nightmare: Their children disappeared one day and haven't been found.


That's a reality that some families have to deal with in Mexico, where an estimated 25,000 people have gone missing since 2006, when the drug war began to escalate.

There's the violence and drug trafficking. But there's also an absence of rule of law. You can't go to the police or courts for answers when corruption is rampant. And the Mexican government isn't doing enough to restore trust in law enforcement.

Yet these mothers aren't losing hope. They're demanding justice and taking matters into their own hands.

Here are their powerful stories:

Photo by Vladimir Cortés, used with permission.

The odds seem impossible, but she won't give up.

Every Saturday, Silvia Ortiz carries a shovel and roves the desert looking for her daughter's remains.

It's been over a decade since Fanny — who was then 16 — disappeared after playing a basketball game in Torreón, a city in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. After the game, Fanny stopped by a friend's house to pick up her Discman and planned to go home. She vanished on her way back.

Silvia now leads VIDA, a group of 56 families that comb the Coahuila desert every weekend in temperatures as high as 104 degrees, waging a perpetual search for their loved ones.

Since last January, they have found dozens of small bones and charred human remains.

"The hardest thing is the time that passes. You go to the authorities to check your case and they have nothing. You have to check photos of [unidentified] corpses, and now search for human remains like we do. It's really hard, but it has to be done."

Photo by Vladimir Cortés, used with permission.

She'll risk her own life to find her daughter.

“I'll be home soon. Bye mom, I mega-love you."

Those were the last words that Araceli Jiménez heard from her 21-year-old daughter Fernanda on Sept. 7, 2012. A few minutes after that last call, Fernanda was dragged out of a bar by four men in Orizaba, a city in the violence-plagued coastal state of Veracruz.

According to state authorities, her disappearance was only related to one thing. With her long hair, hazel eyes, golden brown skin, and cute smile, she likely caught the eye of a narco looking for a girlfriend.

Araceli can't even search for her daughter without worrying about threats and intimidation.

She has received menacing calls and has been harassed and profiled. Now, she can't leave home without a security escort.

"To think that she is suffering gives me strength to continue fighting. The impotence of not knowing is frustrating and it's killing me little by little. My challenge is to keep myself alive and keep fighting against a corrupt government and a society that doesn't take these cases seriously. I'll keep going because the fight for a son or a daughter never ends and a mother never forgets."

Photo by Vladimir Cortés, used with permission.

Someone has to speak up — or nothing will change.

When María Elena Herrera met with then-President Felipe Calderón in 2011, she didn't hold back her emotions.

“We are not collateral damage," she said, referencing the president's war on drug traffickers, which had taken tens of thousands of lives since 2006. “We have names and a family." She burst into tears, and the president gave her a hug.

María Elena is still waiting for the return of her four sons.

Jesús and Raúl disappeared in Guerrero in 2008, and Gustavo and Luis Armando vanished two years later in Poza Rica, Veracruz, after they went to the city to search for work.

Now, Doña Mary — as others in this struggle fondly call her — has become one of the most outspoken leaders of the movement for justice.

Photo courtesy of Norma Ledezma, used with permission.

She knows her daughter wasn't the only one.

Norma Ledezma remembers the last time she saw her then-16-year-old daughter Paloma on March 2, 2002.

Paloma had left their house in the northern city of Chihuahua on a Saturday afternoon to go to a computer class.

Three weeks later, Paloma's body was found in the outskirts of the city.

Now, Norma battles against gender violence as director of Justice for Our Daughters, an organization formed by the families of murdered and disappeared girls and women in Chihuahua.

Paloma wasn't alone. Justice for Our Daughters found that 52 women were murdered in Chihuahua that year, part of a grim trend of femicides that also plagued the border city of Juárez.

Photo courtesy of Mirna Medina, used with permission.

She finds strength in the quest for justice.

Sinaloa is the home state of the world's most wanted drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo" Guzmán, a ruthless kingpin who recently escaped prison. It's also a place that bears the scars of the drug war.

For people like Mirna Medina, that means a missing child: her 21-year-old son Roberto.

On July 20, 2014, he was at a gas station selling discs and USB drives with pirated movies when a black van arrived. Roberto got in the van and never returned home.

Since then, Mirna has become one of “Las Rastreadoras," or “The Trackers." She joins dozens of other women who roam agricultural fields in northern Sinaloa searching for loose dirt, disturbed soil, rotten clothes, or any other sign indicating a person has been buried there. They have found 26 bodies so far.

"I thought I was so far away from this violence; I thought this was never going to happen to me. The group and what I've been doing have given me strength, but in the beginning the hardest was to accept that Roberto wasn't here. Then, finding the graves and the bodies, decomposed bodies. I couldn't believe I was going through this. It's really hard to see that Roberto is not here and see, that like me, many mothers — thousands of mothers — are going through this."

These women have faced immense pain. But they're standing strong for a better future.

Once a person disappears, they run the risk of being forgotten, especially in a country where the government isn't devoted to solving the cases. These mothers are not only making sure their children are remembered, they're raising awareness about others who could suffer the same fate.

Let's help them tell their stories and work toward a time when this stops happening.

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Kids try to tell us things all the time that they don't know how to describe.

They don't have the words to say it. Or they're embarrassed, or terrified, like the child in this video. (And while the stat at the end of the video is specifically about India, I've included a look at other countries and here at home below.)


I pledge to make myself more aware of the kids in my life, what they're trying to say to adults around them, and to at least attempt to be in tune with them when there is something bothering them.

I mean, any good parent tries to do that, right?

I'd gamble that the mother in this video thinks she's a good parent.

She probably isa good parent for that matter. But she missed something crucial.

Even the best of parents can miss terribly important bits of data and spoken or even unspoken words that can end up putting their child in danger.


So … on to some of the difficult stuff: statistics that made me clench my fists in rage.

Mind you, there are lots of these kinds of incidents that go unreported, so this is just some of the stuff we know about these countries. And it's by no means limited to the following, but I wanted to give an indication of the problem across the world by sampling a few countries and then focusing on our own backyard:

1. In 2007, 1 in 2 children in India, both boys and girls, were victims of sexual abuse.

2. Almost 35% of all children in Africa are sexually abused or raped.

3. A child is raped about every three minutesin South Africa.

4. In the United States, a child is raped about every two minutes.

5.Every eight minutesin the U.S., child protective services responds to a report of sexual abuse.

6.500,000 babies will be born this year in the U.S. who will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

7.In this country, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused or raped when they were a child. That's over 40 million survivors.

And please note: In countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, and Pakistan (among many others) where marriage to children 12 and 14 years old is "legal,"it's still child sexual abuse, even if the marriage is considered sanctioned by the government.

The effects of this abuse are devastating.

The well-documented results when children suffer abuse at the hands of adults include suicide, long-term alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and a lifetime of mental health problems as well as a dramatic increase in the likelihood of becoming a victim again later in life. For many, these factors can lead to time in prison. Some become abusers themselves, replicating the cycle.

It's time we stopped the cycle.