Event Recap- Zero Tolerance: Making Society Accountable for Women’s Safety

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Last week I attended the UN Women event Zero Tolerance: Making Society Accountable for Women’s Safety which included an amazing panel including Abigail Disney, Michael Guarnieri, Dorchen Leidholdt, Patricia Latona, and Steven Rotolo. Though the conversation spread among many topics, a major issue that kept coming out was the Super Bowl being a magnet for human trafficking. It was interesting to hear the perspective of not only women, but also the two male contributors. Both men worked as police officers for major transit hubs: Michael for Port Authority in Manhattan and Steven for Newark Airport in New Jersey.

This Super Bowl season isn’t the first time Michael had run into trafficking within New York City’s Port Authority. His unit often stops youthful people who are alone to question them. It is then that he may find out that they are indeed there to meet someone. An example he had seen too many times was a girl with little education from a poor area who believed a man who bought her a ticket to a better life, only to be raped and then sold into trafficking, gun/drug running, or forced labor. He mentioned Port Authority’s Y Issue Unit, which is one of the most successful models in the country to find and help runaway youth which is impressive for a bus terminal that sees 220,000 people each day. They watch for signs and if they take someone in, they are interviewed with a social worker. One thing I did wonder, though, was how the police treated young women and girls who were prostitutes, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. I have been to other events and panels who highlighted this mistreatment in particular.  The NYPD has vocalized their plan to hold sex buyers accountable, but it still is often the case that the girls are the ones who get in legal trouble rather than the pimps or johns.

At Newark Airport, Steven and the police there have been planning for the Super Bowl for a year and a half (before NY/NJ even knew for sure they would host it). They learned a hard lesson from New Orleans where the authorities were unprepared and appalled by the level of trafficking they ended up encountering. In Newark they developed a taskforce and are extending beyond transit to hotels, cabs, and more. They must also keep a close eye on backpage ads and social media outlets. Steven stressed the importance of authorities needing constant education as issues like human trafficking evolve.

Images from UN Women's powerful campaign this year

Images from UN Women’s powerful campaign this year

Abigail suggested that we are having more trouble defining sexual violence today. The media tends to make it casual and funny. She also mentioned that this upcoming generation is the first to grow up with access to porn on the internet, which by the way accounts for 60% of internet traffic. So how to we speak out against bad media and reward media? Sure, the NFL often shows support for women related causes such as wearing pink for breast cancer. However, in the next breath are ads featuring a sexy woman by a car. Abigail believes that mixed signals like these make a bigger impact than we think. This leads to a failure of empathy between men and women and Abigail suggested that men do not cringe when they see violence against women as much as when they see another man being hit between the legs. However, I didn’t particularly care for this generalization because I have men in my life who are very empathetic and deeply disturbed by these cases. I think it’s important to not point fingers as much and offend or blame those men who are advocating for the safety of women and girls. However, it is popular for masculinity to be defined by power and domination. Society will always have a minority number of psychopaths, but when the average individual is influenced by things like the media they become the tolerator, bringing about more individuals to commit these violent acts against women then the small number we might otherwise see. “Rape should be as embarrassing as child molesting,” Abigail said. Unfortunately this typically isn’t the attitude that surrounds it.

Dorchen asked, “How do men and boys get socialized to behave in this way?” Just as Abigail had, Dorchen mentioned porn and media and how it contributes to sex trafficking. “Why are these things sexy and OK?” she asked, referring to the fact that these platforms often show women as objects that exist for another person’s pleasure. Sure laws have passed to legislate that this is not the case, but the media too often puts the negativity in the spotlight rather than showing and reinforcing these laws. She brought up an accountability model that is working in Scandinavia where the country asked themselves, “what is driving sex trafficking?” They found that the demand seemed to be for women considered young and exotic since the men could easily separate them from their moms, sisters, and wives visually. Of course it is the men’s demand that is driving this industry .The country began holding the buyers accountable and using media in various campaigns including simply stating “it’s a crime to buy sex.” I actually recently saw an outdoor advertising campaign in New York City trying to do something similar. My question to Dorchen though would be, how do certain countries get law enforcement to hold these buyers and sellers accountable? In many places police are easily bribed and can sometimes be just as violent to the girls as their pimps and are often even clients in brothels.

Patricia made a point that for gender based violence we have a cause being discrimination and the result of that being oppression. She allowed us to face disturbing facts including that 70% of women across the world live in poverty and 800 women die in child birth each day. Of course each country in the world is difference and it’s essential to look into culture as well to determine what is influencing the violence. Patricia asked us to consider what lens boys from different cultures are looking at girls through.

The discussion in general brought up important points and allowed the audience to ask difficult questions while considering these violent acts against women from different angles. I am glad UN Women included a mixture of men and women since these issues face everyone in society.

It Doesn’t All Have to be Black or White

Gun control? Mental illness? Less gun control? Religion? Media? In the wake of a tragedy, there seems to me arguing than coming together and appreciating anyone. It is infuriating. No matter what the opinion is, we’re all really trying to get to the same solution-less violent and tragic deaths. That seems like a pretty good thing to want, right? So why are we all fighting with everyone else who really just wants the same thing? 

Has it occurred to people, that perhaps there is more than one solution? And that fighting over which is better, we can actually discuss how to compromise and combine to make an even better end result than any one could ever have? In my personal opinion, I believe our country desperately needs stricter gun laws, better mental health education, and the media has got to get ahold of themselves. Here is why:

  • Gun control-There is absolutely no need for people to just have semi-automatic weapons. I mean really, why? These are weapons that are only used in war for the most part, why would you ever need one in your house? You don’t. Most of the mass shootings across the country have happened by people who have  obtained guns legally. It’s terrifying.
  • Mental Health Education-Our society doesn’t seem still to handle people who have health issues that aren’t worn on their sleeve. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If you grow up with a mental illness, your environment can truly affect how you react to it. You might be bullied, taunted, ignored, etc. The more people understand about mental illness, hopefully the better society can react, and the lives of those who must live with this can be better overall. As someone who has anxieties of my own, it can be truly inhibiting and also embarrassing to talk about. But why? It’s not embarrassing if you broke your leg, or have cancer. This is also something out of your control. We need better programs for those who have the illness, and education for those who don’t as well.
  • Media-What is wrong with the picture of forcing a microphone down the throat of a 5 year old in the most traumatic moments of their life? Is it really worth it to get the story? Is that what’s most important? And, do people really believe it’s a coincidence that once these tragedies occur more and more stories like them come out of the woodwork. Already they had threats in Oklahoma, Indiana, and even a church in Newtown, CT. If you make the suspects famous, it puts ideas into the heads of others. If they are already delusional, here’s a way they can go out with everyone knowing who they are. I spoke with a friend in Canada who said that their media refuses to report the name of the person who commits these crimes. Therefore, less people will try to copy the action with the idea of seeing their name become famous in all the headlines. All the media seems to care about is being the most successful in reporting. How about showing a human side and maybe even making a difference?

I do not believe less gun control is the answer, nor do i think religion is. Here’s why.

  • Less gun control-I have seen tweets saying that the solution would be to have 5 year olds carrying weapons. What? I personally would never want a gun, and as someone living in NYC, I would be terrified every single day knowing the millions around me have them. One argument for this solution is that if good people had guns, they could stop the bad people. The flaw? Not everyone wants to carry guns. For this theory to even have a chance of working, it’s almost like you would have to make a law obligating everyone to have to carry guns. Second, a gunman has never been stopped during a mass murder by someone with a gun to date…so why would it start now? Third, people panic.  I think that more people would be shot by racially profiling, missing the target, or jumping the gun (no pun intended) in a year than the amount of people who actually die in these tragedies to begin with. I also don’t think I would even trust my child’s teachers to have guns in the classroom. Accidents happen, kids get a hold of things, and teachers are people, some people make bad decisions.
  • Religion-I keep seeing posts saying that the reason this is happening is because we have taken God out of our classrooms and out of our laws, therefore letting evil in. These things have always happened. And if there is a God, I would surely hope that he would not cause harm to innocent people and children just to prove a point. That would make me very angry with him. 

Those are my personal thoughts. I think there are many things we can do to make a difference. Instead of arguing “gun control must change” “no mental health must be addressed”, why not both? Not everything is black and white, but our country has become so partisan that even during a crisis when we all really want what’s best for people, we are still viciously attacking each other. Can anyone have a rational conversation? And how do we look at Congress and get angry with them, when our country is doing the exact same thing: irrationally arguing and fighting wasting all our energy on negativity, and in the end coming up with nothing good so that we keep dealing with the same problems over and over.

I’ve seen it on my page. I am so sensitive to other people and all I want is to create a better world, a more fair world, for everyone. Yet on the way friends and family viciously attack what I post you would think that I was trying to actually make the world turn for the worse. I accept different opinions, and I even take time to think and consider them. But I do not accept rude attacks, especially at a time when we are all feeling sad and have the best intentions.  How can we expect to make a more peaceful world and country, when we are all so vicious with our words toward each other, especially when people just want to make things better, that will only discourage everyone. And what kind of example is that?

I even saw one post saying that “Liberals have no right to be sad about these deaths because they are fine with death through abortion.” How can we label people like that? We are all people. And maybe someone, like me, who is Liberal, only feels comfortable with abortion as a well-thought solution. You never know what is going on with people and why they decide what they do. Isn’t judgment supposed to be the worst sin? So why are people using religion as a means to judge everyone, including people like me who may have beliefs different from theirs, but still wants what’s best for everyone and even take their words into consideration. That is incredibly hateful and hurtful, how is that getting us anywhere?

Politics have become black and white, but they shouldn’t be. Not everyone who identifies with a party is exactly the same as everyone in that party. It has gotten ridiculous, and I think these past few days have really brought this to light. Learn to educate yourself, learn to listen, learn to discuss instead of argue, and please, respect people no matter what their opinion. We are all hurting during these difficult times. Being cruel to each other will not help anything.