American Sexual Assault in a Global Context

Hello! My name is Jonathon McBride, and I’m spending the summer of 2015 traveling the world to research sexual assault at universities around the world. My project, “The American Sexual Assault Crisis in a Global Context: Policies, Resources, and Student Engagement,” is born out of my work with Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS) on Northwestern’s campus.

The End of My Journey

I’ve packed my bag for the last time, I can check my luggage without worrying if it gets lost and I’m writing this high above the Pacific Ocean while shooting towards San Francisco at an unbelievable 643 mph. My feelings are conflicted right now. On one hand, I am truly excited to return home and see my family, sleep in my own bed, and sing the national anthem daily (at least, that’s how I remember the States). On the other hand, this is the end of part of my life that may be hard to top. It’s odd being simultaneously excited and sad. I suppose this is what they mean when they call something “bittersweet.”

A view of Sydney from the last night of my trip.

A view of Sydney from the last night of my trip.

I feel that I’ve carried out my research project very successfully, and there are more research posts coming (if you’re reading this Dr. Civetta, don’t archive my blog yet!); however, this trip has been about more than the research project. I’ve been challenged daily by any number of hurdles: How do I get to my interview? What does this street sign say? Or what is this person trying to say to me? While figuring these out, I’ve missed my family and friends at home, made many new friends, and had hundreds of unforgettable experiences. I think I’ve accumulated enough stories to survive social encounters for the rest of my life. Truly, I could not be more thankful to the Circumnavigators and Northwestern for the opportunity.

Since I left Indianapolis nearly three months ago, I think I’ve changed in a few ways. I’ve become more confident in myself. If you put a stranger in front of me, I’m positive that, even with a language barrier, I can strike up some sort of friendly conversation with them. Drop me in the middle of an unfamiliar city without a phone and I’ll put my money on me being able to get back to my room. Give me a price in Euro, Liras, Rands, or Reals and I’ll shoot it back at you in good ol’ US dollars nearly instantly. Most importantly, I’ve learned how to “jump off the cliff” and take on a challenge. It wasn’t always easy, and it’s not supposed to be, but it’s been a summer where I’ve thrown myself into this project, and I mean it when I say, it’s been an incredible experience.

To those who have helped me along the way, thank you. To those I’ve met, I hope to see you again soon. And to those I missed, I’ll can’t wait to see you in a few hours.

Istanbul Data Collection

Authors Note: This is a bit of a long post. I’ve included a note when I think you should take an intermission. If you haven’t been keeping up, I suggest you use intermission to read about my journey from Istanbul to Cape Town! It’s been called my “blogging zenith.” 

Greetings everyone! It’s been awhile since I left Istanbul (in fact, I’ve already completed my Cape Town visit and am in the airport to head to Sydney), so it’s about time I updated you with a quick summary of the Istanbul data collection. Being situated in the most conservative culture I am visiting, I was unsure of what to expect in Istanbul.


A view of the Bosporus from the University– not so bad.

I arrived at the beautiful university located with incredible views of the Bosporus and spoke with a professor who works on the Committee to Prevent Sexual harassment. This was the first such committee at a university of higher education in Turkey.

I found that the university was one of the most organized and advanced in its engagement and policies surrounding sexual assault and gender violence. The committee’s first action was to draft a policy for the university, however it took quite a long time (and a change of leadership at the highest level of the university) to get the policy implemented. This ‘buy-in’ of institutional leadership was heavily discussed by interviewees in both Brazil and Spain as well.

Their policy has been drafted by looking at leading educational organizations in the United States and the European Union. They translated all of these policies into Turkish, and then tailored the policy to their needs. Interestingly, one of the primary reasons the university had adopted a policy in the first place was that they have a lot of Erasmus and foreign exchange students visit the university. Currently, they are attempting to update the policy to include sections that help protect students in consensual relationships, which has been a problem at the university.

In addition to the Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment, there is a group of students called the Women’s Research Group that has become a hub of feminist activism on campus. They have a representative on the Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment, played a role in a research project to collect student opinions on sexual assault and harassment, publish a journal that includes feminist points of views and features student research projects, and hold open discussions and educational events on campus.

~~ Intermission: Take a breather, go read my last blog post, or just count to ten. Now you’re ready to proceed. ~~

Culturally, the university has struggled with awareness about gender violence and sexual assault. In several cases, when a complaint has been brought forward, the accuser (in this case, nearly always a male) doesn’t understand what he has done wrong. To counter this. the Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment set out last year for a month long campaign to raise awareness about their policy and the issue of sexual assault. This campaign included the Turkish equivalent of ‘No means No” buttons (Shown at right), a march through campus, and an educational brochure. Responses to the campaign were varied, some people said there “was no problem on this campus” and others helped participate in an online education campaign that was similar to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” in that you asked three other people to participate once you had. I believe the video challenge was moderately less successful than the Ice Bucket Challenge.

A "No Means No" button that was used on the campus of the university in Istanbul.

A “No Means No” button that was used on the campus of the university in Istanbul.

Another interesting thing that came up was the different backgrounds of the students on campus and how this affects student response to sexual assault. Some students have spent their entire life in the liberal Istanbul, while others are coming from very conservative small towns in Turkey. Some students are comfortable talking about the issue of sexual violence, where others have no awareness of it. In some cases, female students have not filed a formal complaint about an incident because of fear of how their family would respond. Several students have feared that their families could be angry with the fact that something has happened and force the student to return home.

The most impressive thing about Turkey is that this institution is a part of a national coalition of universities that meet to discuss what universities should do about sexual assault and sexual harassment. They meet annually to discuss challenges and success. Some universities are formal members and others partake informally – which means a group of professors partakes without the blessing of their institutional leadership. I’ve reached out to some of the leaders of this organization and hope to interview them via Skype to find out more about this. At first glance, it seems beneficial to have universities collaborate in dealing with a challenging issue. In fact, that’s the idea that is driving my research project: “We can learn something from what others are doing.”  I’m really hopeful that I can find out more about this.

A Long Journey: Istanbul to Cape Town

Author’s Note: This post has been updated to include previously promised photos. 

I’ve had to spend the last few days in South Africa recovering from my trip from Istanbul to Cape Town.

Me in front of the Blue Mosque before leaving Istanbul! #ferdinand #magellan

Me in front of the Blue Mosque before leaving Istanbul! #ferdinand #magellan

It sure was a doozy. All in all, it took 28 hours from door to door, meaning I had an average speed of 186 miles per hour during the trip. Here’s a summary:

– I left my hostel in Istanbul and walked to the tram station. It was oppressively hot out and I was quickly drenched in sweat.

– As soon as I cooled off on the air conditioned tram, I had to walk three blocks from the tram line to the metro. So much for cooling off.

– Board the metro and ride its entire length. One hour and a half hours into my journey, and I’ve finally arrived at the airport.

– I find the Emirates check in area. Sadly, there’s no self-check-in kiosk. This is bad for several reasons. 1) It means they’ll inspect my luggage – which is way heavier than it is supposed to be 2) I’ll have to talk to an actual human being.

– As lines are more of a formality In Turkey, I have to jockey for position in line. The guy next to me and I exchange the lead as we round the corners at least four times. Though I am clearly in the pole position, he tries to sneak past me when they call for the next customer. A swift kick to his shins ensured that I got ahead.

– I walk up to the counter attendant and put on my biggest smile. First she assigns my seat, I get extra leg room in the emergency row. The smile is working. She’s great.

– “Do you have any baggage?” Yes, but I was going to carry everything on. “Can I inspect your cabin bag?” Oh, of course you can. Smiling my best smile so I can try to get out of checking my bag. I can feel our first fight coming on.

– I plop my backpack on the conveyor belt and try to leave my foot in a position where it is still bearing some of the bag’s weight. She notices and looks at me. I awkwardly withdraw my foot.

– “Sir your baggage is so heavy for a carry on. I have to check it.” Like have to have to? “Yes.” Like really have to? She stops smiling. “Yes.” Okay. I’m going to take a few things out.

– On the floor of the Istanbul airport, I have to open up my bag, dig through it looking for my day pack, take out my valuables, and pack everything back up. There’s a line (more like a mob) of impatient travelers behind me and the counter attendant is looking down on me judgingly. At one point, I think I hear her scoff at me as I hurriedly jam everything into my day pack.

– I head to pass port control. I’m fuming about surrendering all my worldly possessions to the airline. It’ll be my luck that my baggage never arrives in Cape Town.

– Realize that I forgot both my book and my headphones in my luggage. I choked under pressure. I guess that new episode of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” will have to… well, wait.

– Make it to gate. Sit down. The man next to me tells me he is fleeing Libya to relocate to Kuala Lumpur. I hesitantly tell him I’m from the States.

– Interesting fact he tells me as everyone lines up to board: “In Libya. You always have to wait in lines. Want petrol? Line. Want food? Line. Need documents? Line.”

– He wants to work at his friend’s restaurant in Kuala Lumpur and never go back to Libya.

– “We have three governments in Libya: 1) ISIS …” Honestly, I was caught off guard by this and don’t remember the other two.

– I board.

– Captain comes on board – “We’re expecting a few bumps. I realize this journey will turn into a blog post.

– This plane is enormous. It’s a 787. 400 passengers. I could run a 100 meter dash down this. Contemplate doing so – there are worse ways to get thrown off an airplane.

Nifty invention by Emirates, you stick one of these stickers onto your chair so the attendants know if they can wake you up. I was woken up for food, for obvious reasons.

Nifty invention by Emirates, you stick one of these stickers onto your chair so the attendants know if they can wake you up. I was woken up for food, for obvious reasons.

– 4 hours and 14 minutes into journey, I take off.

– Fall asleep.

– Wake up to the woman next to me yelling across the plane to her friend. She gets a dirty look.

– Land in Dubai at 1 am. I would estimate this is about 8 hours into the journey, however, I forgot to take a time point)

– I have a seven hour layover, so it’s time to get comfortable.

– The passport queue is seemingly miles long. I may spend seven hours in this line.

– As I walk through the metal detector, all sorts of alarms go off. I believe it’s what they call a Def Con 1 alert. The security agent’s eyebrows raise in confusion as he sees that I have triggered the mother of all alarms. I’m sent to a security kiosk.

– I get a “personal inspection.” They even run one of the chemical swabs on my clothes.

– The man takes down my information and releases me. I hope I’m not on a list anywhere.

– Use my meal voucher at Burger King. I think it had an approximate value of 1USD, as it seemingly

A picture is worth a thousand words: my fries at the BK in the Dubai Airport.

A picture is worth a thousand words: my fries at the BK in the Dubai Airport.

had no effect on the price of my meal. Also my fries arrived in an absolutely savage state (shown at right).

– I try to sneak into the business lounge so I can sleep. As I walk past the desk. “Sir, Sir! Can I see your ticket?” Put on a big smile. They weren’t buying it.

– Find a chair where I can put your feet up. Fall asleep until 6 am.

– Search up and down the Dubai airport for a place to charge your phone. Side note: the Dubai airport had been really hyped up for me. I’d heard a lot of people say it’s really impressive. I was expecting a theme park inside. In reality. It was just a very large airport. And its Wi-Fi was awful.

Time point taken at some delirious point in the Dubai airport.

Time point taken at some delirious point in the Dubai airport.

– I estimate I walked at least a mile and a half before I found a “recharge station.”

– Board plane: 10 and a half hour flight ahead of me.

– I wish I had a Game Boy and the newest Pokemon game. Ten year old me is furious with current me for leaving the house without one.

– Watch The Woman in Gold, Insurgent, and the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Remember that I’ve been meaning to reread Tolkien.

– Have to fill out South Africa’s health Survey. Number six trips me up a bit. “What countries have you visited in last minute?” Give me a minute… I have to think about that.

– 25 hours and 59 minutes after leaving my hostel in Istanbul. I land in Cape Town.

– Got a cab to the hostel, found a restaurant nearby, and promptly fell asleep.

In other news, Cape Town is delightful.

Netherlands Data Collection

Fear not, diligent readers. I am still alive! Though I haven’t updated in a while, the research is going splendidly. Since my last post, I left the Netherlands and flew to Istanbul. It’s an absolutely delightful city. I’ve been here for 8 days and it really couldn’t have been a better 8 days. This may explain the relative drought of blog updates. I was very busy, and the newest interviews were fascinating. I’ll fill you in on the Istanbul activities (and lots of pictures of Turkish art) tomorrow. In the meantime, I know I promised a post about my data collection in the Netherlands.


I met with representatives from two different universities in Amsterdam to learn more about their gender violence policies. Both of universities stated that the university has not identified gender violence as an issue that needs to be worked on at their campus. Each university had a policy in place if there was a case that was brought to their attention, and said they had followed it before with success. At first look, it seems a bit dull. There are no underground feminists fighting the university, no cases in the media, and no attention from the university on sexual assault or gender violence.

That being said, during both interviews I tried to find out why gender violence and sexual assault was not an issue at these universities. Was it being ignored by the administration? Was it being pushed under the rug? Well, the answer given to me both times was, “We have very few cases, and the cases we do are nearly always non-violent.” I, of course, intend to fact check this, but am still waiting to get my hands on the data.

If true, this will be a very interesting finding. Why, then, is the Netherlands so different from Brazil, Spain, and the United States? Why are there so few reported cases in the Netherlands and so little focus when it seems everywhere else is having large problems and working to update their policy and increase their resources?

In the interviews, the subjects posited two possible explanations. First, there is a very low violent crime rate in the Netherlands. Second, Dutch women are historically quite empowered. The society is egalitarian and there is no “machismo” culture as seen in Spain. Clearly, I will not be able to “prove” either of these things but it is an interesting question to explore. I hope to find out a bit more about this when I get the data.

Tomorrow, I leave Istanbul, fly to Dubai, sit in the Dubai airport for 9 hours, and then fly to Cape Town. What a journey. Anyway, I should have a lot of time to write blog posts.

A Closer Look at Brazil and Spain

Today, dear reader(s?), we take a break from my usually whimsical (and entertaining?) blog posts so I can put on my academic hat and do some preliminary analysis.

I have been thinking a lot about my data from Brazil and Spain. The most striking similarity between the two is the “grassroots” or “underground” feminism groups at universities in each country. I believe I’ve mentioned this in a different post, but in both countries, there were instances where feminists responded to decisions by the university in rather unconventional ways. In Brazil, a “colectivo feminista” posted the names of suspected aggressors in women’s restrooms and even forced one male out of the university. In Spain, a group of feminists had posted the picture of an accused aggressor with a description explaining that he was still receiving pay and benefits from the university despite having been found “guilty” by the investigation commission.

At right is one of the examples of the grassroots movements from a university in São Paulo. This poster was put up in response to comments made by a male student in lecture stating his opinion that women are not discriminated against and are not considered inferior to men in society. The group of feminists decided to respond by putting up posters explaining what feminism is in order to raise awareness and educate. In this diagram, they outline visible violence (visível) and invisible (invisível) violence. The

"Gender Violence" poster put up by a colectivo feminista in Brazil. This poster attempts to educate other students about the types of gender violence. Here, the students have broken down the types of violence into visible violence (physical abuse), and invisible violence (discrimination).

“Gender Violence” poster put up by a colectivo feminista in Brazil. This poster attempts to educate other students about the types of gender violence. Here, the students have broken down the types of violence into visible violence (physical abuse), and invisible violence (discrimination).

forms of violence are also divided into explicit forms and subtle forms. The diagram itself is supposed to resemble an iceberg, with visible forms being the “tip of the iceberg” and invisible violence being the iceberg underneath the water. Following the classic metaphor “just the tip of the iceberg,” the invisible violence is much larger than the visible.

It seems that the presence of grassroots feminist actions suggests several things. First, it shows that there are committed students working to promote a discussion about gender violence and sexual assault. This is, perhaps, an obvious conclusion, but it is an important one. If no one is working on the issue or working to promote it, then there will be no discussion or change. Thus, the presence of these groups is very important.

Second, the fact that they are underground is intriguing. It suggests that there is no institutional buy in or support for the cause. This could be the institution actively ignoring the groups or it could be that the institution has voiced their support for change, but are not committing resources to it. In Brazil, it seemed that the feminists groups were acting entirely without the support of the university, and often worked against the university. They had no recognition, met informally, and had no one professional staff on campus devoted to the issue. In Spain, gender violence was an identified issue by the university, but there were not resources committed. This is in contrast to Northwestern’s campus, where there are multiple groups sanctioned by the university that work on gender violence and sexual assault, and even receive funding from the university.

The underground/grassroots nature of these groups also means that they are unregulated. In both places, groups had publicly accused male students of being aggressors. There was no due process, and any accusation they made could have been false. This would, in short, never be allowed of a student group in the United States. I can already see the letters to the editors, the emails sent to the entire university condemning the actions, and the public debate that would follow on any university campus. The ability to act unregulated is a dangerous power that these groups possess. Because of the lack of oversight, they can act in basically any fashion that they feel is appropriate. In some cases this may be wonderful and help them promote their cause and awareness. But, left uncontrolled they could make a mistake and hurt their cause, another student, or cross a line that brings action from the university.

In other news, I’ve concluded data collection in the Netherlands and I’ll soon provide my thoughts on the data. I also hope to get out a post about grocery shopping in foreign countries and a wonderful misadventure on a “Rainy Day in Holland.”

Cast of Characters: Part 2/?

Time for Part 2 of “Cast of Characters!”

Henrique and Clara (Brazil)

On the day of the half marathon, I returned to the hostel and began eating copious amounts of the free bread, ham and cheese they provided as breakfast. I was generally only focused on replenishing my nutrients after a long run; however, I looked up and was surprised to see two other sweaty, ravenous people that had clearly also run the half marathon.

I stood up, approached and attempted to start a conversation using my limited Portuguese. I was able to say “Hello, how was the run? I ran too.” The two were a brother and sister from the Brazilian country side, Henrique and Clara. Fortunately, Henrique understood (and spoke a bit of Spanish) and Clara was great at Spanish, so we switched languages. Clara had run the half marathon in a pair- her and her partner each running 10.5 k. I found our Henrique had run a quick 1:21 this morning, was training for the Rio Marathon where he wanted to qualify for Boston. We discussed footwear choices, and training goals. We agreed that running a sub three marathon “Es el sueño.” It’s the dream.

Me an Nathan at the Escadaria Selaron.

Me an Nathan at the Escadaria Selaron.

We connected on Facebook, and Henrique liked several of my profile pictures within the hour. It’s been fun to stay connected with him, and I actually received one of the most heartfelt and unexpected birthday messages from on Facebook. “Wishing you all the best for your future . Happy Birthday and may all your wishes come true !!!!  PS – keep running forward …. Henrique.” I hope to see him in Boston.

Nathan (United States)

Nathan and I got connected through a friend, as we were both traveling alone in Brazil this summer. In a fortunate set of circumstances, we were both in Rio de Janiero the same weekend. We planned to meet up and hike to see Christ the Redeemer together. I got to the park, realized we hadn’t set a precise place to meet, looked everywhere for him, and then realized we wouldn’t be able to contact each other or find each other. So I hiked up alone. He did as well. Fear not, though. Nathan and I finally meet up later that day. He had met another traveler named Daniel, and we all met up on the famous Escadaria Selaron. The three of us stopped at a café for some coffee.

Daniel (United States)

The Samba Experience.

The Samba Experience.

Daniel and Nathan met on a bus in Rio and had spent the day together. (Sounds crazy, but that’s how traveling works.)  Daniel is a law student doing an international internship at a law firm in Sao Paulo. Nathan had to go back to his hostel to change so Daniel and I walked around a neighborhood in Rio and then went to a churrascaria.

For those who do not know what a churrascaria is, I fondly refer to them as “Brazilian meat parades.” They’re very common in Brazil and are essentially Brazilian steakhouses, but instead of ordering a steak, it is an all you can eat plate and waiters walk around with their selection and cut it right onto your plate. You have a sign you put up, green for more meat, red if you need a break. If you’ve been to Fogo de Chao in the US, it is like this.

This was hands down the best meal I had in Brazil.

Daniel and I reunited with Nathan and went to a neighborhood called Lapa. We went to a Samba club called Carioca da Gema (A Carioca is a person from Rio, similar to Paulistas in São Paulo. The music was incredible, our dance moves got laughed at, and eventually a local took pity on us and taught us a few things.

Next time on “Cast of Characters,” we will meet Paul, Michael, and “New York Kid” and maybe more. However, before Part 3, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming and have a research update. Stay tuned!

Cast of Characters: Part 1/?

I’ve met a lot of people on this trip, so I wanted to do another human interest story to provide a cast of characters. I’ll introduce everyone chronologically.

-Bruce (New Zealand)

I first met Bruce when I returned to the hostel in Sao Paulo. We exchanged “Ola”s, and noticing that he was blonde and pale I asked him if he spoke English, “Fala ingles?” He looked a bit confused and then said, “English yeah, English.” This was great news, the first native English speaker I’d met on the trip.

Bruce is a thirty year old backpacker who has been traveling through South America for about 3 months. He used to work in New Zealand and Australia as a miner. Bruce and I went on the walking tour together and then Bruce’s friend, Xavier came to Sao Paulo. Fun fact: I ran into Bruce at my hostel in Rio- quite the coincidence.

-Xavier (France)

Xavier and Bruce had met while they were both in Florianopolis (A place in Brazil I would love to visit) and had become friends. Xavier is an incredibly charismatic Frenchman, mid-thirties, taking a sabbatical from his investing career to “think about something different.” He’s been traveling though South America for about three months, and has two or three more left. As Sao Paulo isn’t a traveler’s destination, Xavier had only come to Sao Paulo because he felt obligated while he was in South America as it is the largest city on the continent, and because he had to pick up a credit card that had been shipped to him.

Luz Station, home of the Museum of the Portuguese Language. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Luz Station, home of the Museum of the Portuguese Language. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Though Bruce left Sao Paulo early, Xavier and I spent a lot of time together. We met some Brazilians and went out to dinner, he came with me as I looked around the University, and we hit the museums in Sao Paulo together. Xavier taught me a lot. As an experienced traveler, he helped me know the type of things I need to do while traveling and really helped me feel comfortable at the beginning of my trip.  He also shared his mindset behind traveling. It’s an opportunity to see other things, learn new things, and meet people. “You learn something from everyone you meet,” he said.

Xavier was a delight to talk to. He would wax poetic about life, work (“I used to make a lot of money, but I hated it. You need to be your own boss.”), politics (“In France, the money controls everything- it is the same in the States!”), and women (“What do I have to lose? I will talk to her, she is beautiful.”). Those of you who know me well might know that I, too, can preach about some of these topics. The two of us could go one forever.

-Jeremi (France)

Jeremi is a young IT professional who is from France, lived four years in Canada, and is now trying to move to Brazil as he loves Brazilian culture and the language. He is giving himself six months to find a place to live and a job, and if it doesn’t work out he will go back to France.

Jeremi had been in the hostel for about three weeks, and was ready to move out. He and I would often eat breakfast together and I would get the updates on his job and apartment searches. He also speaks Spanish and we would often converse in Spanish to give me some practice.

I’ve realized that this cast of characters list could be very long. So let’s call this part one.

Next week on “Cast of Characters,” we will meet Henrique, Nathan, Daniel, and maybe more. Stay tuned!

Second Data Collection: Spain

Sometimes, you communicate with someone only in English via email, prepare questions in English, and arrive to your interview to find out that – surprise! – it is going to be in Spanish.

Other than a few grammar irregularities in our correspondence, I had no reason to believe one of my interview subjects spoke next to no English. This was, without a doubt, the biggest curveball thrown my way so far. Luckily, another professor was also at the interview who spoke a bit of English and could help. Between my Spanish, a few English translations from one professor, and a whole lot of fluent Castellano from the other, the interview happened and everyone was mostly on the same page.

Other fun things about this interview was that it happened on a day that was nearly 38 degrees (nearly 100 degrees for y’all that are in the states), I wore my interview outfit (I only have one, because of space) which is gray chinos and a non-wrinkle button down. With the hot commute, the outfit, and the added stress of conducting research in Spanish, I was certainly in the hot seat.

Me at the University in my interview outfit!

Me at the university in my interview outfit.

Difficulties aside, here’s how the interview went:

I was immediately presented with a printed policy, facts about the university, and a document identifying gender violence as an important institutional issue. I still have to translate the policy in more detail, but what I learned from these professors is that there have been problems in the university that they are working to address. However, the nature of the problem is much different as few students live on campus, but instead commute to school. While there have been problems between students, what is more common is problems between a student and a professor or between two professors. There are difficulties with power dynamics in these relationships, and often a violation is not reported until this power dynamic has changed – which can be years after the fact.

Within the university when a case is brought forward, there is a commission that investigates the facts about the case, and then decides what action needs to be taken (similar to what happens in most United States schools). According to interview subjects, this action is often just transferring the person who reported a violation to a different department or faculty. In several cases, groups of feminists on campus have thought that the university’s response has not been strong enough and they have posted photos of the accused aggressor and explaining what they had been accused of. Interestingly this is very similar to some of the stories from the colectivas feministas in Brazil, who also post names or pictures of accused aggressors when the university does not respond to their liking.

Interestingly, though identified as an issue, the two professors I spoke with could not stress enough that their biggest problem was a lack of resources. All of their work on the issue was altruistic and there is no one in an official capacity at the university that deals with the issue of gender violence. Currently, they are trying to change the policy and increase resources so that there are resources (legal, psychologic, and medical) for victims of a sexual crime.

The most interesting aspect from the interview was the fact that the issue is not often discussed in culture or the media. The professors referred to is as “la violencia invisible” because it is often not seen publicly or addressed. This invisible violence also linked to the male dominated “Cultura machista” where it is normal for men to be in power, expect certain thinks of women, and historically hold higher position in society. As an example. Recently there was a PSA in Spain about sexual assault and gender violence that showed a young woman getting very drunk and passing out in a man’s bed. The take home message was “Don’t put yourself in this situation.” Unfortunately, it was not “don’t commit a crime.”

As I go through the interview (and translate it) I will have more updates.

A Day in the Life: We’re Not in Indianapolis Anymore

Since I last updated, I hopped on a bus to see Rio de Janiero, returned to Sao Paulo, had a three day lay over in Lisboa, and arrived at my next research site – Barcelona. I’ve been on the move a lot, and I wanted to paint a picture of what so much travel is like.

Living out of one bag (the Osprey Porter 46) in hostel dorms in different cities with different languages is much different than the life I normally lead. Go figure. I have much less privacy, everything takes more effort than it usually does, and I am constantly exhausted. The hostels I’ve stayed in have all been fine (the online reviews I have provided range from 8497 percent). For those who are unfamiliar with hostels, they are basically hotels but instead of providing a room, they provide a bed in a dormitory that has anywhere from 4-12 beds, a shared bathroom, and a locker for your things. They usually cater to younger people (groups of backpackers, gap year students, and young couples) and often arrange tours and other activities for travelers. Here are a few entertaining tidbits from my travels so you can get a glimpse of what life traveling alone is like.

Here I am on Pão de Açúcar, with Christ the Redeemer in the background.

Here I am on Pão de Açúcar, with Christ the Redeemer in the background.

– One morning I was awoken to a 300 pound construction worker climbing onto my bed because he didn’t think it was important to use the ladder that was six inches away from his feet.

– Aforementioned construction work was part of a group of six 300 pound construction workers who drank heavily and snored even more heavily. Ear plugs are a must every night in a hostel.

– Getting around cities can be hard (especially Sao Paulo) so I spend at least 27% of my time working on transportation. This includes finding WiFi to use Google Maps, buying tickets for the metro, asking for directions, checking maps, and locating street names. Of this 27%, I would say 60% of that I have next to no idea where I am. It’s an adventure.

– I’ve become very good at asking for directions in Spanish and Portuguese. Unfortunately, I am much less skilled at understanding the response. For instance, I’m in a coffee shop right this very moment that may or may not have been recommended to me by the woman at the front desk of the hostel. She said it was to the left and on a corner (A la izquierda y está en la esquina). So I am nearly certain I’m at the right place. Regardless, good coffee.

– Even now that I’m in a Spanish speaking culture, I still haven’t broken the habit of saying “Thank you” in Portuguese. I have confused a lot of people here when a clearly American traveler speaking a moderate level of Spanish replies to something in Portuguese.

– Walking around cities, I have frequently been offered illicit substances for my consumption. A quick step and a firm “no” usually takes care of this. But it is impressive how bold these business people are.

– I take a lot of selfies.

– This morning, a loud Australian man walked into the dorm fifteen minutes before noon. His friends all exclaimed “Oh you made it back! We were a bit worried about you.” He’d been out all night. Upon his return, he suggested they go to the casino tonight.

– Finding food often takes the most effort. If I’m going out to eat, I don’t want to end up a tourist trap or get a bad meal, so research (often in a foreign language) is required. If I ask for a recommendation, it is always possible that I ended up somewhere else accidentally if there was a breakdown in communication. (Definitely happened in Portuguese, but I’m much more competent in Spanish.) If I want to make food, I have to find the grocery store (Onde fica o supermercado mais preto de aqui?) There’s limited storage space in hostels, so I only buy for one or two meals, and there’s also high demand for kitchen space.

One of the wow moments - a view of Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janiero during my morning run.

One of the wow moments – a view of Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janiero during my morning run.

I may have illuminated some of the struggles of traveling above – and there are struggles – but the trip has been amazing thus far. I’ve learned countless things being in these cities and getting to converse with people from different cultures. I could (and will!) provide a post with a long list of the highlights and the wow moments, but I thought some of the mishaps may be more humorous and more insightful.

I’ve just scheduled my next interview in Barcelona for this week, where I’ll be meeting with a group of professors who are working on gender issues on their campus.

First Data Set!

I spent the last four days doing my first set of interviews. I interviewed a professor who researches hazing, a professor who researches gender violence and is organizing efforts and resources to help victims, several student feminists and a professor in charge of a project to revise the current policy at their University. Here’s a quick overview of my first impressions:

In each of the interviews, what everyone said was remarkably similar. There’s a feeling that the conversation about sexual violence is just beginning in Brasil.  This conversation has been fueled (and possibly even started) by the sexual assault cases that were in the media.The link is in Portuguese, but Google does a pretty good job with it.

Second, I heard many times that this problem is part of the culture. In Brasilian culture, women have been raised to say yes and it’s historically been a very “male dominated” society. Several women mentioned how common and accepted it is to be groped and harassed on the metro when it is crowded. In every interview, it came up that when something happens to a woman it is very common to hear questions like “well what was she wearing?” “Has she been drinking?”  or “Dressed like that, she was asking for it.” This even occurs at the police stations that are specifically designed to help women (and are staffed primarily by men).

Here I am in the student center!

Here I am in the student center!

The other interesting thing was the response of the administration to these problems. According to those interviewed, there is a feeling that there is no real motivation from the leadership to make any progress on the issue. There is a lot of bureaucracy in education in Brasil, and this male dominated culture is prevalent in the Retoria (the leadership of the colleges, similar to a Dean or Provost). This feeling has caused activism to be pushed “underground,” so to speak. Each “Faculty” (equivalent of a major in the US) has a colectivo feminista – a group of student activities trying to advocate for women’s rights and new policies. In one case, a colectivo feminista responded to comments made by a fellow student about how women are not discriminated against by flyering the walls of their classrooms with educational posters about feminism.

All that being said, there has been recent change surrounding sexual assault and sexual violence. There has been pressure on universities to do more about the issue. In one university, a professor is beginning to evaluate the problem of sexual violence on their campus and consider new policies. In another, the university has just created a new Women’s Office that will serve as a resource for women experiencing an issue.

All in all, a very interesting set of interviews. And I had a great sampling of Brasilian food during the, interviews (pão de queijo, pastel, batatas fritas, e uma caipirinha).

More fun facts about Brasil:

  • – There is graffiti everywhere, even (especially) on the university campus
  • – The students went on strike for three months because bus prices were too high. School was shut -down. There were riots that involved rubber bullets and tear gas.
  • – Medicine is an undergraduate course of study.
  • – Universidade de Sao Paulo has nearly 100,000 students.
  • – Valentine’s Day is June 12th in Brasil.
  • – I went to Rio, because everyone told me I should.

Next Stop: Lisbon.