…#UsToo: The Power of Sharing Stories

“Please keep our students safe.”

“I am 85. This is for women NOW and of the FUTURE. We must help this basic humanity.”

“We fought long and hard for these protections. We needed them…and still do.”

“I am in Naples, FL, dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, but my sensibilities have not been demolished. Students need protection, without political gamesmanship. I add my support for this petition.”

“What's the alternative? Letting sleeping dogs lie is not an option. There's no analogy to dogs here, and lying never was the best policy.”

These are only some excerpts from the comments many people added to their signatures as they voiced their concerns about recent changes to Title IX guidance under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos.

On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, WRJ sent a letter highlighting its continued support for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Dear Colleague Letter of 2011 that clarified the obligation of academic institutions to effectively and promptly respond to reports of sexual harassment and violence. Attached to this letter were more than 650 signatures, along with many additional comments, from women worldwide who chose to join WRJ in expressing concern about the potential erosion or revocation of the existing guidance.

Representing 41 of the 50 U.S. states, multiple provinces of Canada, and the State of Israel, these women came from every walk of life within the Reform world:

-Women still in college dealing with these potential changes in higher education firsthand;

-Women who have children who may be discriminated against because they were sexually assaulted and now may not be granted the same rights as their assaulters;

-Guidance counselors who work with students every day trying to get justice within our system and are unable to do so because of the lack of transparency;

-Grandmothers worried about what the future will look like for their families;

-Sexual assault survivors not wanting anyone else to have to suffer the way that they do;

-Human rights supporters - because this is a human rights issue.

One woman wrote that her signature on this letter today was a “beeline result” of being born before Title IX was enacted in 1972. She wrote how she was aware of inequities at a young age when her female friends and she were punished at school in 1965 for bringing a ball to play with at recess because it was deemed “unladylike.” This discriminatory treatment continued throughout her life - from being forced to take a home economics class instead of auto mechanics or carpentry, to becoming a survivor of sexual assault herself while in college - and remained unspoken because she said she knew from other victims that women were not believed and she could not afford to jeopardize her academic standing with “diversions” as she worked her way through school.

This woman’s story goes on to describe how, after she became a teacher, she saw her students experience very similar situations as well. In so many ways, this same cycle continues to play out for many young women today. Since 1972 attitudes have only slowly changed and taking away the current protections now will stop even this progress.

The week after WRJ sent the package containing the letter, the signatures, and the comments to the Department of Education, actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to encourage women who’d been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words #MeToo, a campaign originally started 10 years prior by Tarana Burke. The goal of the tweet was to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. 24 hours following this posting, Twitter reported the hashtag was tweeted nearly 500,000 times.

Just like these tweets, our women shared their words through this letter. Now that we have expressed our outrage, however, it is time for us to act.

  • Educate: The Department of Justice reports that 20 percent of female undergraduates and one in 16 male undergraduates are victims of completed or attempted acts of sexual violence while in college. Providing educational resources to local academic institutions of best practices when it comes to gender inequality and sexual assault can hopefully end this appalling trend.

 

  • Start the Conversation: Just like in the #MeToo campaign, don’t be afraid to share your own stories. Bringing awareness to the problem is always a beneficial step in the right direction. However, if you are not comfortable sharing your story publicly, don’t feel any guilt- no survivor owes anyone their story.

 

  • Run Programming: WRJ has resources for anyone to use in their local sisterhood or congregation. Gender equality and sexual violence are both topics that can be implemented into a service or an educational program. WRJ in partnership with NFTY created a Havdalah service and has an advocacy guide on sexual violence in schools highlighting past board statements and action steps.

 

  • Work for Change: Contact your representatives and senators about supporting comprehensive legislation that helps protect survivors of sexual assault. The Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act (H. R. 3207) and the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (S. 1520) would close many loopholes that allow convicted abusers and stalkers to buy and own guns. Expressing your views to the Department of Education is also encouraged, especially during this time of evaluation of the Title IX guidance.

WRJ thanks those who added their names and supplied their comments to the October 11th letter. This can be a large step towards change. The safety of all students is one of WRJ’s highest concerns and hopefully it will one day become the same for the rest of the world.

 

If you have a story you would like to share with WRJ, please contact Alyson Malinger, WRJ Advocacy and Communications Associate. Your voice matters. 

Alyson Malinger is a member of the WRJ professional staff and is an active member of Women of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, NJ. 

Published: 10/19/2017

Categories: Local Stories, Our Social Justice, Women's Rights, Civil Rights