Sexual Harassment

It wasn’t until Ashley Judd heroically shared her story a few days ago that I felt ashamed.  If I had spoken up a decade ago, would I have saved countless women from the same experience I had or worse? While I still do feel guilty for not speaking up all those years ago, I’m glad for this moment of reckoning. To the countless other women who have experienced the gray areas: I believe you – Heather Graham

Sexual harassment has been around since biblical times.  Joseph, a handsome young Hebrew slave was sexually harassed and then accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife.   Yes, men as well as women are victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman and recently, comedian Louis C.K. have had charges of sexual misconduct leveled against them.  This comes on the heels of the allegations launched against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.  Stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and more have spoken out against the producer who has been described as “a predator”, “vindictive”.

Celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Matt Damon, Quentin Tarantino, George  Clooney and Ewan McGregor knew of Weinstein’s behavior but didn’t say anything.  Other celebrities are appalled such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Gosling.

Sexual harassment is not limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere.  It’s in workplaces, the military, colleges and other public places.  It’s a form of sex discrimination.  Weinstein’s victims were intimidated because of he had to power to make or break them.  Actress Asia Argento said that she stayed silent for years out of fear and feelings of responsibility and later had consensual sex with him multiple times because she felt he would ruin her career if she didn’t.   Actress Cara Delevingne said that she was hesitant about speaking out because she didn’t want to hurt his family.  “I felt guilty as if I did something wrong. I was also terrified that this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.” 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (ECCOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

How should sexual harassment be handled?  For Gwyneth Paltrow, it was coming forward so that other women to feel less alone and to send a clear message that “this is over.  This way of treating women ends now.”  Angelina Jolie chose not to work with Weinstein again and warned other women who were going to work with him.

Here are tips on how to handle sexual harassment:

  • Be clear and firm. If the person harassing you is told when it happens the first time that you don’t approve and don’t find it funny, they might back off. Be polite, but firm, and don’t giggle. This might be interpreted as a tacit type of consent.
  • Tell others. Don’t keep quiet; this will only make you more vulnerable. Harassers like isolating their victims – physically and socially. If you tell others what’s going on you might also find out that you’re not the only one experiencing such situations. If more than one person lays a complaint, it significantly strengthens the case against the harasser.
  • Don’t doubt yourself. Harassers often try and pass something off as a joke, however if it’s continuously at your expense, or attacks your sense of dignity, you’re being harassed. Don’t allow harassers to make you doubt your observation, how their actions make you feel or that you’re overreacting.
  • Safety in numbers. Make sure that you’re not alone with this person behind closed doors. Take a colleague with you if you feel threatened, and insist that doors be left open if you have to be in a meeting. Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times.
  • Report the matter. Follow procedures to lay a complaint – and keep records of all correspondence in this regard. If a complaint has been laid and your employers continue to ignore the situation and take no action, they could be liable for damage claims.
  • Keep records. If you want to lay charges, it’s much more convincing if you can give names, dates, places and the names of possible witnesses, than when your charges are unproven. Anyone who has witnessed any of these events can be called to testify if there’s a disciplinary hearing.

It’s a good thing that the victims of sexual harassment are coming forward as in the case of Bill Cosby.  It remains to be seen, though what will happen to the perpetrators.   It took courage for the victims to come forward.  Let’s hope that they will receive justice that they deserve.  It’s time for those who use their power and influence to intimidate and violate others to be penalized.

Victims should never feel responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.

sexual harassment

 

Sources:  National Post; People; ECCOC; Western Cape Government

Women and HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2012 was World AIDS Day.  Different organizations such as Project Have Hope, SOS Children’s Villages, One Billion Rising and UNICEF Canada were raising awareness of a disease which has no cure.  Children are orphaned because of AIDS.  According to SOS Children’s Village, 33.3 million people live with HIV/AIDS and 3.4 million of those affected are children.  Lost, ostracized by family members and friends, these children are often forced to live on the streets in some of the most appalling conditions imaginable.

I remember watching the movie GIA with Angelina Jolie as Supermodel Gia Carangi who died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of 26.  She was addicted to heroin and other drugs.  She contracted HIV through a shared needle.  What a tragic movie it was to see someone so young and with a successful career spiral downhill because drugs had taken over her life.  She was thought to be the first famous woman to die of AIDS.

General Hospital’s Robin Scorpio came to mainstream attention during a 1990s story arc where her boyfriend Stone Cates dies from AIDS and Robin is diagnosed as HIV-positive.  Robin has since married Dr. Patrick Drake and the couple has a daughter, Emma, who, after a brief scare, is shown not to be infected by Robin’s HIV.

Even though there is way more information about the disease now than back in the ’80s, there are still some questions people have about HIV/AIDS.  Some of the frequently asked questions  are:

1. Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?

No. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. A person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases with which it would normally cope.

2. How is HIV passed on?

HIV is passed on through infected bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk and rectal secretions. The most common ways HIV is transmitted are through sex without a condom and through sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment. You cannot get HIV through casual or day-to-day contact, or kissing, spitting or sharing a cup or plate.

3. Can you get HIV from oral sex?

The risk of HIV transmission from performing oral sex is low but it can still happen. It is best to avoid giving oral sex if you have cuts or sores in your mouth or bleeding gums, as this increases the risk of HIV entering your body.

4. How can I protect myself and others from HIV infection?

Always use a condom when having vaginal or anal sex. You may also want to use a condom or dental dam during oral sex although the risk of transmission of HIV is much lower. You can get free condoms from a sexual health clinic, which you can locate via the FPA website. Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.

5. What do I do if I don’t like using condoms?

Condoms have come a long way in recent years and you can now get condoms in different sizes, flavours, and with added features to increase pleasure and heighten sensation. Condoms are still the best way to protect yourself and others from HIV infection, and other STIs, so if you think you don’t like using condoms, it’s worth trying out some different varieties.

If you find using condoms or negotiating condom use difficult, it is worth speaking to your local sexual health clinic or GP.

Other questions are:

Will HIV definitely be passed on during sex between an HIV positive and an HIV negative person?

During sex, it is not an automatic consequence that HIV will transmitted. Compared with some other infectious diseases, risk of HIV infection from a single act of sex is usually low. But of course repeated acts of sex increase probability of transmission which is why it is important to have safer sex. Condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV from being passed on so condoms should always be used during sex to avoid HIV and other STIs.

There are other factors which can increase and reduce the risk of having sex with someone with HIV, but a condom is the safest and easiest way to prevent transmission and stay safe.

Is anal sex more risky than vaginal sex when it comes to HIV transmission?

HIV can be transmitted through both anal and vaginal sex, but in some circumstances there is greater risk involved in anal sex. This is because anal sex carries a greater risk of trauma (such as tearing of the skin and bleeding) which makes it easier for the HIV infection to get through.

What are the symptoms of early HIV infection?

The most common symptoms of early HIV infection, usually occurring around ten days after infection, are fever, rash and severe sore throat all occurring together. This combination of symptoms is unusual in healthy people and indicates the need for an HIV test.  70-90% of people experience symptoms of early HIV infection but some do not experience any. After two-three weeks these symptoms disappear, and someone with HIV may then live for many years without any further symptoms or indicators that they are HIV positive.

What should I do if I experience symptoms of early HIV infection?

If you experience the symptoms of early HIV infection — fever, rash and severe sore throat occurring at the same time — then you should get an HIV test as soon as possible. It could be just a bad case of flu, but there is also a risk it could it be the early signs of HIV infection so it always best to know for sure by getting tested.

Here are some facts that every woman should be aware of:

Women have a higher risk of getting HIV from vaginal sex

Women are more likely to get HIV during vaginal sex than men are for several reasons.

  • The vagina has a larger area (compared to the penis), that can be exposed to HIV-infected semen.
  • Semen can stay in the vagina for days after sex, while men are only exposed to HIV-infected fluids during sex. Semen left in the vagina means a longer exposure to the virus for women.
  • Having untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) makes it more likely for a person to get HIV. This is especially true for women. Small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into a woman’s body.

Women can pass HIV to their partners

Many HIV-positive women with HIV-negative partners worry about passing HIV. Research shows in the United States, men pass HIV more easily than women do. But women can still pass HIV to uninfected partners — both male and female — through all kinds of sex. This is because HIV is in blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, and in cells in the vaginal and anal walls.

If you are HIV-positive, you can pass the virus at any time, even if you are getting treatment. But you may be more likely to pass the virus if:

  • You have a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
  • You have recently been treated for a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
  • You were recently infected with HIV
  • Your partner has an infection or inflammation

The surest way to avoid passing any STI, including HIV, is to not have sex. If you do have sex, it’s important to alwaysuse a male condom correctly and every time you have sex.

Click here to find out when you should get tested for HIV and the types of tests available.

According to the latest (2008) WHO and UNAIDS global estimates, women comprise 50% of people living with HIV.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60% of people living with HIV. In other regions, men having sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDU), sex workers and their clients are among those most-at-risk for HIV, but the proportion of women living with HIV has been increasing in the last 10 years.

This includes married or regular partners of clients of commercial sex, IDU and MSM, as well as female sex workers and injecting drug users.

Gender inequalities are a key driver of the epidemic in several ways:

Gender norms related to masculinity can encourage men to have more sexual partners and older men to have sexual relations with much younger women.

Violence against women (physical, sexual and emotional), which is experienced by 10 to 60% of women (ages 15-49 years) worldwide, increases their vulnerability to HIV.   Forced sex can contribute to HIV transmission due to tears and lacerations resulting from the use of force.

Gender-related barriers in access to services prevent women and men from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care.  Women may face barriers due to their lack of access to and control over resources, child-care responsibilities, restricted mobility and limited decision-making power.

Women assume the major share of care-giving in the family, including for those living with and affected by HIV. This is often unpaid and is based on the assumption that women “naturally” fill this role.

Lack of education and economic security affects millions of women and girls, whose literacy levels are generally lower than men and boys’.

Many national HIV/AIDS programmes fail to address underlying gender inequalities. In 2008, only 52% of countries who reported to the UN General Assembly included specific, budgeted support for women-focused HIV/AIDS programmes.

Virgin cleansing is the mistaken belief or myth that if a man infected with HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases has sex with a virgin girl, he will be cured of his disease.  Anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala has recognized the myth as a potential factor in infant rape in South Africa.  Anthropologists Nora E. Groce and Reshma Trasi identified a variation of the practice of the virgin cleansing myth whereby individuals who are “blind, deaf, physically impaired, intellectually disabled, or who have mental-health disabilities” are raped under the erroneous presumption that individuals with disabilities are sexually inactive and therefore virgins.  It is most prevalent in Zimbabwe where the myth is perpetuated by traditional healers advising HIV-positive men to cure their disease by having sex with virgin girls.  Because of the virgin cleansing myth, as many as ten girls are raped every day. As many as 3,600 girls in Zimbabwe each year may be contracting HIV and AIDS after being raped.  UNICEF has attributed the rape of hundreds of girls to the virgin cleansing myth.   Cases have been reported in which a one-day-old infant was raped.  This is a practice that needs to be banned–abolished.  And gender inequality needs to be addressed so that women living with HIV/AIDS will get the treatment they need and not have to live with the stigma and shame.  Education and prevention are key to the fight against this epidemic and the organization amfAR founded in 1985, is doing this through innovative research.  Read here for the sobering statistics of women and HIV/AIDS in the United States and around the world.

This a disease that doesn’t discriminate.  I have read stories of women who contracted HIV from their husbands.  I read stories of women who contracted HIV from birth or from childhood.  HIV/AIDS affect single women, engaged women, married women, women of all races, ages, cultures, backgrounds, etc.  Many of those who found out that their partners, boyfriends, fiances and husbands were positive were devastated and afraid to get tested again for fear of the results.  Many of them contemplate suicide because they can’t face life with this disease.  Mothers worry about leaving their children and pregnant women worry about passing it on to their unborn children.  We all know that abstinence is the safest way to go but what do you say to a woman who at the age of 40 is still a virgin because she wants to preserve herself for her husband, finally meets the man of her dreams, they marry and then later down the road she finds out that he is HIV positive?  Her life is turned upside down.

I read that even though more men than women have HIV, infections among women is on the rise.  the greatest rates of infection occur among women of color (especially African American women). Younger women are more likely than older women to get HIV.   AIDS is second only to cancer and heart disease for women.

What can women do?

Get educated!  Educate yourself about the different ways that you can acquire HIV and then all the ways to protect yourself. Learn your status so that you can protect yourself and your partners.  Teach those around you about how HIV can be transmitted and how you can protect yourself from infection.  Work in your community to improve awareness.  You and your partner should get tested for HIV and other STDs so that you are aware of each other’s status before you have sex.  If you are a pregnant woman, it is especially important that you get tested early to help ensure, that if you are HIV positive, you do not transmit the virus to your unborn child.  Talk about HIV and other STDs with each partner before you have sex.  Ask your partners if they have recently been tested for HIV; encourage those who have not been tested to do so. Use a latex condom and lubricant every time you have sex.  Get tested for HIV once a year.

The good news is that many women with HIV are living longer and stronger lives. With proper care and treatment, many women can continue to take care of themselves and others.

Let’s continue to do everything we can to make HIV/AIDS history.

73285816-hiv-aids

Sources:  http://www.hivaware.org.uk/be-aware/faqs.php; http://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-aids; http://www.who.int/gender/hiv_aids/en/; http://www.amfar.org/about_hiv_and_aids/facts_and_stats/statistics__women_and_hiv_aids/; http://hiv411.org/page.php?pID=30; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gia_Carangi; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_cleansing_myth

Star’s Baby-Weight Criticism

I first learned about this story about Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai who silenced and stunned her critics when she showed up at Cannes, flaunting her post pregnancy body on Yahoo.  I couldn’t believe that she was criticized for not losing weight fast enough like Victoria Beckham and Angelina Jolie.  It should not be a matter of how fast you lose the baby weight but how you lose it.  And why is having baby weight such a bad thing?  Only shallow people would have a problem with it.

Imagine commentators blasted her for letting her fans down because of her weight gain.  Many went as far as suggesting that the star has a ‘duty’ to her fans to regain her pre-pregnancy figure.  One website posted a video of the star called ‘Aishwarya Rai’s shocking weight gain.  The clip was  accompanied by elephant sound effects and has been seen more than 500,000 times.  The comments left after the video were unsympathetic and insensitive.

“She is a Bollywood actress and it is her duty to look good and fit,” the Daily Mail quoted one comment.

“She needs to learn from people like Victoria Beckham who are back to size zero weeks after their delivery,” another said.

This kind of attitude is explained by show business columnist Shobhaa De in the New York Daily News.  Aishwarya is like a goddess.  She is held up as the ideal of beauty and so there is an expectation on her to look perfect at all times.”  Shobhaa makes  a good point when she adds, “The role models being held up are Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham, but our body frames are different ?” we have wider hips and curves ?” so this whole business of looking desperately skinny two weeks after giving birth is a western import.”

Aishwarya saw no reason to go back to her pre-pregnancy state soon after the birth of her daughter.  She wanted to enjoy motherhood and that is her right.  No one should dictate to her how she should or should not look.  She’s a mother now.  She’s putting that role first.  As some supporters stated, the focus should be on the baby not her weight.  Aishwarya proves that she is not selfish, thinking only of herself and her looks.  And as one smart person pointed out, “She is a real women looking after a baby. We should be concern for her health and happiness especially if she is nursing the baby. Not the Western belief of expecting people in the spot light to lose all weight in month. If she dieted what will happen to the baby’s diet,” one said.

Notes to Women applaud Aishwarya Rai for showing such grace under fire and for standing up to the critics.  She is proud to be a mother and not ashamed of the weight gain.  Aishwarya, congratulations on being a Mom and we wish you and your family well.

‘Haters don’t matter’
I’ve always said that haters are a drop in the ocean. There’s that much more love. Any kind of negativity in any case just doesn’t stick, it drops off and it doesn’t matter. People have given me so much love throughout my career, my life in the public eye, at every phase.

I’ve never endorsed size zero’
This is who I am. I am a mother. This can happen and it has happened with me and it’s fine (weight gain). I’ve never been the one who endorse size zero anyway. You guys speculated I was pregnant way before I actually was. It goes to show that I have lived real life in the public eye. That continues.

‘Only reality matters’
There are lot of people out there who recognise that, see that, and share that energy with me. And that’s what matters – reality

Aishwarya Rai