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Top 10 worst sexuality stories of 2011

paternoJoe110811_optBY SUSIE WILSON
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
SEX MATTERS

When I compiled my list of the worst sexuality stories last year, I wrote that I often "despair when I read about sexuality in our society." I should have added, "and worldwide, too.” So often, humans exploit and abuse this aspect of our common humanity, and, sadly, I usually find more sexuality stories for the “worst” list than the “best.” This year is no different. Perhaps this list will encourage you to take action to support policies and organizations that mitigate some of the most horrific abuses.

10. Young boys are charged with sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a serious issue, but it became trivialized when school officials in one North Carolina district suspended a 9-year-old male student for telling another student that a teacher was “cute.”

“It’s not like he went up to the woman and tried to grab her or touch her in a sexual way,” said his mother, according to WSCTV. In another case, a Boston first grader faced a sexual harassment investigation after he “allegedly struck another boy in the groin.”

These cases cry out for sex education in the early grades to help young people learn respect for other students and adults. (Although “cute” in my vocabulary is a harmless word for children to use.) They also call for sex education training for school administrators and teachers, so they understand the true nature and seriousness of sexual harassment.

9. Sexting defeats a congressman

After revealing that he had tweeted lewd photos of his genitalia covered only by his underwear to a female follower, longtime New York City Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned from the House of Representatives. (President Obama, among others, suggested that he resign.) Weiner is only one of many politicians who lost their jobs, or were tarnished by their sexual behavior, some of it exposed by social media. The list of the dishonored includes Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards and Herman Cain.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project says that sending sexually suggestive text messages or photos is more common among people aged 18 to 29 than among teens. And another surprising report from The New York Times showed that “women are more likely to send nude photographs or sexually explicit text messages than men.”

8. Sexual behavior brings down the rich and powerful, but only temporarily

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was president of the International Monetary Fund when a poor, black woman from Guinea, a chambermaid at the expensive Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan, accused him of sexual assault. The New York City Police Department quickly arrested him. It looked like an airtight case, until Strauss-Kahn began to quibble about the definition of “rape,” saying that the incident only involved oral sex and was consensual. When a background check on the maid revealed a less-than-perfect picture of her behavior, the district attorney declined to prosecute, reported Reuters. Although Strauss-Kahn resigned from his important post, he left the U.S. a free man, leaving many people like me wondering about the DA’s lack of courage and the ability of powerful people in our society to often bend the arch of justice in their own behalf.

7. Peace Corps female volunteers are victims of sexual assault and rape at home and abroad

Many female Peace Corps volunteers are raped and sexually assaulted by men in the communities in which they serve. Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., concealed the high number of sexual assaults and rapes that routinely happen to its female volunteers, reported The New York Times.

From 2000 to 2009, more than 1,000 Peace Corps female volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes — a number that is doubtless too low, according to the report. Many female volunteers began speaking out and testifying before Congressional committees about “the inconsistent … callous treatment that they receive abroad and here in the U.S. upon their return.” According to the New York Times, The Peace Corps, stung by the criticism from its volunteers and Congressional committee members, promised reforms.


6. Politics defeats science in Plan B decision

In a decision that shocked many, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius overturned the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s recommendation to lift restrictions on over-the-counter access to emergency contraception (EC) for girls age 17 and under. Her reason for the reversal? Sebelius said that the research on 11- and 12-year old girls was “inconclusive” and EC potentially harmful to them, because they have “different cognitive and behavioral skills than older girls.”

So, girls 17 and under will still need a doctor’s prescription to obtain EC to prevent pregnancy. Sebelius was roundly criticized for her decision, as she was

possibly setting a precedent for the future recommendations on critical issues based more on politics than science.

5. Uganda and 80 other countries continue to criminalize homosexuality, often punishable by death

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in at least 80 countries cannot access even basic health services due to homophobic social stigmas, laws criminalizing homosexuality, and discrimination by service providers. Frank Mugisha, an advocate for the rights of sexual minorities in his country, Uganda, is calling attention to this sad state of affairs.

This year, Mugisha was awarded the coveted Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for his courage in calling the world’s attention to the dreadful situation for LGBTI people in these countries. He was expelled from his homeland because of his advocacy, but chose to return and fight—knowing that at any moment he could lose his life in the process. This year, despite his monumental efforts, the Ugandan government “failed once again to take the rights of its LGBTI citizens seriously,” using as an excuse that these groups “are recruiting young children into homosexuality," reported the Huffington Post. 

4. The world’s population reaches 7 billion and a large, unmet need for family planning remains

Our planet’s population is increasing dramatically, and we must pay close attention to the serious consequences. According to a spokesperson at the Population Connection, a nonprofit in Washington, DC that monitors population growth, “it took from the beginning of human history to the year 1800 for the population to reach 1 billion; now we’re adding another billion every 12 years, or 80 million every year.” The United Nations projects that even if all countries move only in the direction of replacement, the world population will still reach 10 billion by 2100. Think of the pressure on resources, such as land, food, water, natural resources, and other forms of life. Of equal importance is that there are 215 million women in the developing world who “have an unmet need for family planning.” They are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy, but they do not have access to modern methods of contraception. As a result, there are nearly 62 million unintended pregnancies every year.

3. Struggles to limit access to abortion, birth control, and family planning in the U.S.

First, anti-choicers focused on outlawing abortion. Not satisfied with their progress, they decided to take aim at contraception, and restrict women’s right to birth control coverage, which is offered under the Affordable Care Act. The new health care reform law, which will go into effect in 2014, covers “preventive services, including birth control, without co-pays, deductibles, or other added costs.”


For most women, access to contraception and birth control are the care they need most. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed and announced that “women will have access to all approved contraceptive methods without co-pays or added cost under the law," according to a New York Times editorial. 

However, because of protests from Roman Catholic bishops and other church leaders, the administration is “wavering” on the requirement and may exempt Catholic and other religious employees of hospitals, universities, and other entities that are associated with their organizations, but serve the public and receive public money, from having to provide no co-pay contraception.

Opponents say that if church doctrine overrides the need for providing free contraception, millions of women will be at risk of unplanned pregnancies.

2. 1 in 4 women attacked by partner

A recent CDC report produced a startling number: “1 in 4 women surveyed…say they were violently attacked by their husbands or boyfriends.” Domestic violence experts didn’t find the results all that surprising, because domestic violence is widespread in the U.S. They hailed the report for giving Americans “this kind of estimate” for the first time. Other report findings were startling: as many as 29 million women say they have suffered “severe and frightening physical violence, including being choked, beaten, stabbed, shot, punched, and slammed.” If slapping, pushing, and shoving are counted, the number rises to 36 million, and almost half of the women who reported rape or attempted rape said it happened when they were 17 or younger [link to: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/14/143735043/cdc-survey-finds-1-in-4-women-attacked-by-partner]. Obviously more specific research needs to be done, but looking under the stone at first blush is pretty frightening.

1. The Penn State child sexual abuse scandal

A tragic and disgraceful story unfolded at Penn State University when former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was seen by another member of the coaching staff raping a young boy in the shower of the athletic building. The incident reached all the way to the iconic football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired along with two University administrators. Now Sandusky, who is accused of “sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period,” attracting them primarily through his nonprofit, The Second Mile, is awaiting trial on multiple charges of child sexual abuse. He claims he is innocent. His trial is scheduled to take place in early 2012, reports NPR. The vision of the child in the shower is hard to delete from one’s mind, and the lack of courage on the part of the athletic department coaches and higher ups in the administration to forcefully speak to authorities about the incident leaves one angry and sad. We need sexual abuse prevention programs in every elementary school in America in order to encourage young victims to speak out.

Again my best wishes for 2012, and for fewer stories like the ones above.

Susie Wilson, former executive coordinator of the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers University's Center for Applied and Professional Psychology (now renamed Answer), is a national leader in the fight for effective sexuality and HIV/AIDS education and for prevention of adolescent pregnancy. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

RECENT COLUMNS BY SUSIE WILSON

Top 10 best sexuality stories of 2011

'Who Has What?' by Robie H. Harris: A book on sexuality for children

Moral courage and the Penn State child sexual abuse case

The HPV vaccine and children: A grandmother's perspective

Princeton professor's arguments about NYC sex education are obsolete

Protecting African women from sexual violence

Dr. Ruth visits N.J.: 83 and still a sex educator

Standardized testing sex education: Could N.J. follow in D.C’s footsteps?

Feminist hero Gloria Steinem to appear in Princeton, N.J.

What has Dominique Strauss-Kahn left in his wake?

Mayor Mike Bloomberg wins for Hurricane Irene and sex education mandate

Same-sex marriage and ‘Unnatural Acts’ across the river from N.J.

Gandarusa a male contraceptive from Indonesia could reach New Jersey

Sex and seniors get Erica Jong's attention

Gov. Christie may attack Planned Parenthood but the world needs it

Shriver and Sharapova: A tale of two winners named Maria

Michelle Bachmann’s presidential announcement and the sexualization of women

Driving for women in Saudi Arabia, and my father, the feminist

Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards and intimacy in America

 
Comments (1)
1 Saturday, 07 January 2012 11:34
npspider
I agree with the point you make in #1 about schools needing sexual abuse prevention programs. Kids need to know it's ok to tell an adult when someone has abused them. I also think that having ongoing age appropriate conversations in the home about sexuality will more easily facilitate the disclosure.

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