At Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), we have much love for each and every member of our active and informed community who contributes to the blog, engages with us on social media and rolls up their sleeves to lend a hand. Whether you’re an active contributor or a quiet supporter, we think you’re the bee’s knees.
As CASS prepares to launch RightRidesDC (modeled after New York’s award-winning RightRides program that has been operating successfully since 2004), we want to know about your transportation experiences, including public transit, private taxis, car services, and walking or biking late at night around DC! This information will be invaluable to our efforts to meet the safe, affordable transportation needs of our community.
The survey closes Tuesday, May 21st. Please, tweet, post on FB, send to your listervs and forward to friends, colleagues, strangers who live or play in DC! As a small gift for helping us out, at the end of the survey, you’ll be able to submit your email address to be included in a drawing for a $25 gift certificate.
RightRides provides free, safe rides home to women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and gender non-conforming (LGBTQGNC) individuals on Friday and Saturday nights, from 11:59 P.M. to 3:00 A.M. Rides are provided by friendly volunteer driving teams made up of a driver and a navigator (one of which identifies as female) to see riders home safely and help advocate for their increased personal safety. All driving teams are pre-screened to meet high safety standards.
Since 2004, RightRides in New York City has driven more than 6,000 Riders safely home. Last year saw a 51 percent increase in reported sexual assaults in DC, as well as over 40 reported hate crimes based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, we want to bring RightRides to DC. The RightRides motto puts it aptly: “Because getting home safely shouldn’t be a luxury.”
On Thursday, January 24, CASS staff attended a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to mark the release of Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s report, “Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia.” (See video below.) According to HRW, which is an international nonprofit that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, initiated research into Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) handling of sexual assault cases after observing the unusually low numbers of sexual assaults that the MPD reported to the FBI. HRW’s resulting report, which is based upon 150 interviews and over 250 internal investigative files for sex abuse cases between 2008-2011, contains heart-wrenching narratives of survivors who allege that MPD detectives discouraged them from reporting, posed victim-blaming or inappropriate questions, questioned their credibility, or told them that they were wasting the detective’s time. Since its release Thursday, the report has garnered considerable attention, and it has increased the momentum for demand for improvements in how MPD responds to cases of sexual assault.
HRW Report: DC Police Mishandle Sexual Assault Cases
An investigation of the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that sexual assault cases are too often not properly documented or investigated and victims may face callous, traumatizing treatment.
At Thursday’s press conference, Sara Darehshori, senior counsel with the US Program at Human Rights Watch, reviewed findings from HRW’s two-year investigation. The investigation found that MPD failed to document a great number of sexual assault complaints, as there exist no incident reports for a substantial number of cases recorded by Washington Hospital Center. HRW also found that MPD regularly failed to write reports for cases when detectives did not believe victims, and often disregarded cases involving alcohol or drugs. MPD also often misclassified serious cases of sex abuse as a non-sex offense or a misdemeanor, minimizing the victim’s experience and also potentially denying the victim access to support services. What’s more, even in those cases in which MPD detectives did document sexual assault complaints, detectives often failed to conduct investigations.
Roger Canaff, former Special Victims Prosecutor and board member for End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), said that HRW’s investigation reveals a “disturbing pattern of substandard response.” The consequences of a “substandard” response, or a response that is of a quality lower than that prescribed by law, are many, and impact not only the survivor, but also the community at large. Many survivors can be retraumatized by insensitive police interviewing, and their healing processes are hindered when they receive negative or non-empathetic responses. From a legal standpoint, a substandard response from law enforcement also poisons cases, as survivors who do not feel safe or relaxed during a police interview may not be able to recall important details. Lastly, inadequate police responses to sexual assault result in a continued danger to the community because not only are perpetrators not brought to justice, but a loss of community trust in law enforcement can have a devastating effect on crime reporting.
CASS echoes HRW’s recommendation that MPD move toward a more survivor-centered approach to sexual assault cases. However, we also feel strongly that MPD’s mishandling of sexual assault cases should be viewed as just one piece of the many problems with our community’s response to sexual assault. Beyond fostering more transparency and accountability in the DC police department, we need to increase collaboration amongst all the various institutions and individuals who respond to sexual assault survivors. We also need to work to eradicate a culture of tolerance and normalization of sexual assault, and work to create a community in which survivors feel safe and validated when they come forward and report – and thus are not afraid or hesitant to do so.
On Tuesday, November 19th, Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) joined hundreds of community members at the International Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil, held at the Metropolitan Community Church of DC in NW. Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith — a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist — to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts. Nearly 15 years later, the day has burgeoned from a web-based project into an international day of action.
On International Transgender Day of Remembrance, Mayor Vincent Gray and Lisa Mallory accept awards for promoting economic justice for transgender residents of the District.
The standing-room only crowd heard from friends and family of murdered transgender people on the many things they loved and missed about their loved ones. Speakers also called upon attendees to celebrate survivors and take action to foster safety and understanding for transgender folks.
Mayor Gray, who received an award for his administration’s focus on improving the lives of transgender people in the District, emphasized that his mantra of “One City” meant that all were welcome in DC. This fall, he presided over the debut of a PSA series on Metro trains and bus shelters that aims “to increase understanding of transgender and gender non-conforming people, reduce incidents of discrimination and increase reporting [of such incidents].” Lisa Mallory, Director of the DC Department of Employment Services, also received an award for starting Project Empowerment, a job training program for DC trans residents. Programs such as Project Empower are a vital part of ensuring economic justice for trans folks, over 27 percent of whom reported annual incomes below $20,000 in a national survey.
Just days after Transgender Day of Remembrance, The New York Times devoted lengthy coverage to the rise in antigay crimes in the District. According to NYT, through October of this year, DC police recorded 51 hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender residents, just short of the record 53 for all of 2011. In November 2011, DC police began posting monthly statistics on hate crimes after advocates raised concerns that police weren’t doing enough to protect the trans community. It is encouraging to see so many members of the DC city administration and of the community at large come together to grieve the people who were lost, and promise to do better in the future. The fight to end street harassment is also a fight to ensure that public spaces are safe for everyone, including those who do not conform to binary gender norms.
The DC Office of Human Rights’ “Transgender & Gender Identity Respect” campaign launched fall 2012
THANK YOU to everyone who came out to our Let’s Make Change Happen! event on October 17th, co-hosted with Rainbow Response Coalition! We had a blast and hope you did, too. An extra-big thanks goes to our generous host, Amanda Kloer, Campaign Director at Change.org, who made this event possible. We loved hearing about all the different ways organizations in the DC metro community are working to create safe, violence-free spaces.
The CASS team with our generous host, Amanda Kloer from Change.org, with the iconic “Harass this at your peril” banner.
Chai, Zosia, and Julia shared CASS’s vision and ambitions of sharing the experiences with street harassment. We talked about harnessing that energy and attempting to create harassment-free public spaces.
Of course, we truly believe that we can achieve this vision through working collectively with our wonderful ally organizations. The power of sharing our experiences within a supportive community was demonstrated when a CASS blog contributor shared her story in person, which inspired tears, hugs, and many words of support (it even ended up on ABC News!).
Paul Ashton, of Rainbow Response Coalition, shared the Coalition’s work. Much like CASS, Rainbow Response is a volunteer-led organization, and depends on the contributions of its dedicated volunteers to help shine a light on intimate partner violence in the LGTBQ community. Find out more here.
Again, big thanks to Amanda, the folks at Change.Org, our co-sponsor Rainbow Response, and you all for making our little meet-up that much better. We all left feeling inspired and think that change can happen as a dot org.
Location: 17th and Columbia Time: Day Time (9:30am-3:30pm)
As I was walking out of the grocery store, a man walking past me leaned over and made a loud kissing noise in my ear, startling me. I turned around and gave him the middle finger. He was laughing at my obvious discomfort and anger, which made me wish there was a more offensive gesture than flipping him off.
Submitted on 9/29/12 by Anonymous
Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Submit your story to help raise awareness about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of street harassment. All submissions are posted anonymously unless otherwise specified.
If you experience or have experienced sexual harassment on the DC Metro system:
Please consider reporting to Metro Transit Police: www.wmata.com/harassment; 202-962-2121.