Analysis Violence

At Swarthmore and Other Colleges, Students Say Sexual Assault Is a Persistent—and Often Mishandled—Problem

Annamarya Scaccia

Swarthmore is among a number of colleges and universities that are being investigated by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights for violating Title IX by creating a “hostile environment” and discouraging students from reporting or pursuing disciplinary action against sexual misconduct.

“I obviously went through it, but to put [it] into words is harder.”

The voice on the other end of the line is unsteady.

Joshua, a 21-year-old Swarthmore College student, is calling from his home in California—three time zones and 2,800 miles away from the prestigious campus 30 minutes outside Philadelphia. He’s back on the West Coast for the summer, tackling unfinished coursework after leaving school a few weeks early.

But, on this late July evening, he’s recalling the night last fall when he was raped, and the details of how Swarthmore mishandled his case. (Joshua is a pseudonym; he spoke to Rewire on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by Swarthmore’s administration.)

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Joshua’s story is one of 13 testimonies accompanying the May 22 federal complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) alleging Swarthmore violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972—which prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex, a mandate extended to sexual harassment and sexual violence—by creating a “hostile environment” and discouraging students from reporting or pursuing disciplinary action against sexual misconduct. The same day, students from the University of Southern California, the University of California, Berkeley, and Dartmouth College lodged similar complaints.

In September 2012, after a big fraternity party on campus, Joshua was brutally and violently raped in the bedroom of an apartment rented by a friend of his assailant—a member of one of Swarthmore’s fraternities who, sometime just before the attack, went on a rant about which male students were “’faggots’ or ‘faggoty’ and if they were ‘so faggy,’ they needed to get slapped,” Joshua recounted.

He was then harassed by his offender through an online forum called (Like) Like a Little, which was created to gossip with and about Swarthmore students. Joshua considers the harassment an intimidation tactic intended to silence him. Under multiple pseudonyms, his rapist called him a “faggot,” “the admission’s mistake,” and “a pathological liar,” but his true identity was discovered after Swarthmore’s Department of Public Safety launched an investigation following a report filed by Joshua. Although the office found evidence of sexual harassment, Joshua said the rapist was at the time not penalized. “That’s … what caused me to really crack, because I watched him get away with something again,” he told Rewire.

After learning he was not this rapist’s only victim, Joshua reported the September assault to Department of Public Safety Director Michael Hill and Associate Director Joanna Gallagher, who was also Title IX deputy coordinator at the time.

“I felt angry to hear that somebody else also experienced the same thing and even more graphic, and repeated,” Joshua told Rewire. “It was just a crazy amount of power that [he] exhibited over people on campus, and he has the ability to keep people quiet, so I just decided to break the silence finally.”

The Department of Public Safety, which oversees campus security and handles campus emergencies, launched an investigation. It also opened a case with the College Judiciary Committee (CJC), the judicial body that tries “major infractions of College regulations.” The CJC has the authority to impose punitive sanctions, including fines, community service, suspension, and expulsion.

The handling of his case, Joshua said, was “sub-par,” with red flags at every turn. For instance, he said the case was delayed so the defendant could submit more witnesses, but Joshua was told he wasn’t allowed to do the same. (Joshua also finds it suspicious that the defendant was allowed to use a school administrator as his trial support person; that is permitted under CJC procedure.)

Joshua then had to relive what happened “over and over again” during the four-and-a-half-hour trial. Swarthmore’s dean of students, Liz Braun, who served as convener, repeatedly questioned his state of intoxication the night of the assault, per alleged observations from a defendant’s witness, and the panel worked to determine how sexuality played a role in a male student’s rape—“how a gay person can rape another gay person.”

According to Joshua, the person who assaulted him argued he was aware of “inch measurements” and how deep the penetration went—the implication being that there was consensual sex. “Then I was asked by Dean Braun whether or not I could corroborate the inch measurements,” he said. “[The assailant] was acting like there was a ruler on site at the rape.” In an email, Joshua noted that the assailant “later proceeded to mold his account of events into a situation in which I was forcing him to have sex with me (forcing himself to insert).”

The rapist was found guilty of sexual assault and expelled in May—the first student to face expulsion at Swarthmore in ten years, claim Joshua and Hope Brinn (class of 2015), one of the main complainants behind the OCR charge.

“The College Judiciary Committee process is in the most dire need of reform,” Brinn told Rewire. Brinn reported experiencing sexual harassment and sexual assault on two separate occasions within the last two years, and said she was met with “deliberate administrative indifference” by the school. “Students found responsible for committing sexual assault were able to appeal their decision and then before the appeal was final, transfer to another school without anything on their record or on the college’s.”

While campus judicial procedures do not explicitly state it’s possible for students to leave school without anything on their record during the appeals process, they do note that a CJC hearing will not move forward if a student accused of sexual misconduct withdraws from Swarthmore before the case is tried. The only way a trial will continue, though, is if the student applies for readmission; the case would have to be heard prior to re-entry. This means an accused student could conceivably withdraw from the college and attend a different one, with none the wiser to the accusations brought against him.

Under OCR’s Microscrope

On July 12, the OCR announced it’s opening an investigation into the Title IX complaint against Swarthmore. According to a letter obtained by Rewire that was sent from the Philadelphia OCR office to the main complainants, Brinn and fellow student Mia Ferguson (class of 2015), the pair allege that Swarthmore contributed to a sexually hostile environment in part by retaliating against Brinn when a senior resident advisor told other students about Brinn’s experience with sexual assault.

The two students also claim Swarthmore “refuses” to provide survivors with living and academic accommodations, and drags out investigations beyond the general 60-day time frame set by the OCR in a 19-page federal guide released in April 2011 on how institutions should respond to campus sexual assaults. Many of the testimonies in the Title IX grievance include unresolved cases that have been open for more than 60 days, Ferguson said.

Just a week after the OCR opened its investigation into Swarthmore, Dartmouth and the University of Southern California became the latest institutions to go under the OCR’s microscope.

“There is a myth that Swarthmore has somehow been operating differently than every other elite institution just because it is ‘liberal,’” Brinn told Rewire. “That is false. It is an old boys’ network just like any other elite school. An institution with as much money as Swarthmore is bound to have corruption like this regardless of how ‘progressive’ it is.”

In the late fall of 2012, 19-year-old Brinn, a native of Wilmington, Delaware, found herself among the 27 percent of college women who’ve experienced unwanted sexual conduct, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). She was stalked and harassed by a fellow student, who not only broke into her room while she was undressed, refusing to leave, but would send her “furious, irrational rants via email and text with threats.” He also called her in the middle of the night screaming.

When Brinn reported the sexual harassment to the administration, her complaints were met with disbelief. She says Gallagher, then the Title IX deputy coordinator, questioned what Brinn did to “cause him to act like this,” while then-Title IX Coordinator Sharmaine LaMar, also Swarthmore’s director of equal opportunity, “immediately burst into laughter.” It was “certainly not sexual harassment” because sexual harassment “has to be repeated,” LaMar said, according to Brinn.

(While the Swarthmore student handbook defines sexual harassment as either quid pro quo or “usually repeated or persistent” unwanted sexual or sex/gender-discriminate action, the OCR simply defines it as any unwelcome action “sexual in nature” that creates an adverse environment for the student. The federal department also specifically states the conduct “does not necessarily have to be repetitive.”)

Although the offender admitted his actions to Gallagher, he was not punished, Brinn said. At the end of her case, the school reported it as “harassment by communications.”

“I want Swarthmore to be compliant with the law,” Brinn told Rewire. Since filing the federal complaint, Brinn has also reported experiencing a “much more gruesome assault” during her freshman year, which is currently being investigated. “I want my emails to stop getting ignored. I want to stop being told that I’m lying about what administrators have told me. I want my assault to be called by its proper name. I want the process to be more transparent. I want these things not just for me but for all survivors on campus.”

The Title IX complaint also alleges Swarthmore staff enforcing Title IX are improperly trained, and that the school retaliated against Brinn a second time when it allowed the college’s student council president to erase her chalkings—a “typical form of political expression at Swarthmore,” she said—about her experience with sexual assault on campus, on the directive to remove anything offensive. The OCR will not investigate these two claims, noted the letter, because Title IX doesn’t regard specific training and it couldn’t determine the erasure to be adverse.

“The thing about Title IX is that it’s a lot of common sense,” Ferguson told Rewire. The 19-year-old Massachusetts native reported being raped by a close friend in her residence hall the week of her birthday in November 2011. Her case is still pending, and there has been no movement. “You support a student. You help that student figure out what to do. You listen to that student, even if you think that maybe their story is confused and muddled. … You give access to other resources, and that wasn’t happening. That’s what’s bothersome. There’s so much basic stuff that seems to be missing.”

The OCR charge was filed a little over a month after Ferguson and Brinn lodged a federal complaint with the Department of Education, on April 18, complete with 22 testimonies, alleging the school has violated the Clery Act. Enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008, the Clery Act requires colleges to report and make public sexual assault and harassment incidents. The Department of Public Safety’s most recent Clery Act crime statistics show only 12 reported forcible sex offenses on campus and six in residential facilities between 2009 and 2011. (Ferguson said she knows the statistics have yet to be updated with her case.) There were zero reported non-forcible sexual offenses, which include incest and statutory rape.

According to the NSVRC, 15 percent of college men and 20 to 25 percent of college women experience rape during their college years. A study from 2002 also found that, at one college, 63.3 percent of men who “self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes.”

This isn’t the first time Swarthmore has faced legal action regarding sexual assault. As pointed out in Swarthmore’s The Daily Gazette, the liberal arts institution was hit with a federal lawsuit lodged by student Alexis Clinansmith in August 1994, alleging Swarthmore failed to protect her from sexual harassment by a fellow enrollee. The lawsuit was amended later that year to include claims Swarthmore violated federal law by exhibiting “a pattern and practice of discriminatory conduct toward its female students.” And, much like Brinn and Ferguson’s perspectives on Swarthmore’s processes, Swarthmore students who attended the school 20 years ago criticized the college’s handling of Clinansmith’s original case.

“The problem for me was it didn’t seem any leadership has historically tried to change structural policy at all,” Ferguson told Rewire. “There are a lot of big question marks just around the basic common sense that seems to be lacking, and it all came together in all these violations that were being entirely overlooked, if not dismissed by the leadership.”

Specifically, Ferguson said the school’s leadership has dismissed egregious violations by specific staff members. Brinn, Ferguson, and Joshua all point to Tom Elverson—a former Swarthmore drug and alcohol counselor and vice president of alumni relations who also served as a liaison to the fraternities—as an administrator who’s flagrantly violated federal law. According to all three parties, the dean was known for saying, “I am first and foremost a DU [Delta Upsilon International Fraternity] brother, second an alum, third a drug and alcohol counselor, and fourth an administrator.” He allegedly claimed to be a confidential resource for students. Though Elverson, who was cited in the Title IX complaint, was required to report incidents of assault and misconduct, the complainants all say he actively and repeatedly refused to do so. He has since been let go after his dual position of drug and alcohol counselor and fraternity liaison was eliminated.

When asked why, despite student claims of impropriety, Elverson was allowed to stay in his role for at least eight years before termination, and why Braun has been allowed to continue in hers, Secretary of the College Nancy Nicely responded that the “characterization of individual staff members is completely incorrect” and the “entire staff is dedicated to addressing this issue proactively, fairly, firmly and with the highest possible commitment.”

“Let me emphasize that nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of every member of this community,” Nicely wrote to Rewire in an email, adding that Swarthmore plans to cooperate “fully” with the Department of Education. “We will not allow sexual discrimination, harassment, abuse, assault, or misconduct to exist unaddressed on this campus.”

“We are committed to devoting significant resources to making sure that we not only meet the letter and spirit of the fast-evolving laws on the issue, including Title IX and the Clery Act, but that we continue to evolve with and embody best practice in addressing these issue”s proactively,” she added.

A “Sea Change” Caused by a National Movement

At the time of the chalking incident, Brinn said she didn’t know what to do, but she knew she needed to do something. So she contacted Andrea Pino and Annie Clarktwo sexual assault survivors who filed a Title IX federal complaint against their school, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, earlier this year. (UNC is currently under investigation twice over, for allegations that it mishandled sexual assault and for retaliating against a student and complainant named Landen Gambill.) Brinn then connected with Pino—who assured her everything she experienced by the school was, in fact, illegal and guided her through the steps to file a federal complaint—and was invited to join the IX Network, a private Facebook group that’s brought together survivors and activists to “talk strategy and get support.” (The group is also behind the federal complaint filed against Occidental College.) The group, of which Ferguson is also a core member, is focused on helping students file complaints, discuss best policies and procedures for colleges and universities, and educate students about their rights. The expanded group, IX Connection, now has over 600 members from 50 different institutions.

On August 6, the IX Network, with other survivors, activists, and allies, launched Know Your IX (KY9), a campaign to disseminate information and educate students about their Title IX and Clery Act rights. The movement also serves as a means to empower members of academia to stop and prevent sexual violence by providing guidance on grassroots activism and advocacy on and off campus.

Know Your IX follows the network’s other campaigning effort, a Change.org petition, which now with over 170,000 signatures, pressuring the Department of Education to hold educational institutions fully accountable for not complying with federal law. The petition has the backing of Alexandra Brodsky, a KY9 member who, along with 15 classmates, filed Clery Act and Title IX complaints against Yale University in 2011 for creating a “sexually hostile environment.” The school was found to have “serious and numerous” Clery Act violations and was fined $165,000 in May of this year.

(Rewire Online Community Manager Wagatwe Wanjuki is also involved in the above campaigns.)

“The reason people come forward, the reason we’re all part of this network, is because we want our peers to be protected and supported moving forward,” Ferguson said. “It’s not about seeking retribution even against the schools that have traumatized us. It’s about making sure our peers are safe in the future.”

As for Swarthmore’s future, the college plans to implement a series of changes to its sexual assault policies and procedures over the next year, such as hiring a new Title IX coordinator (LaMar was moved out of her role and replaced by Patricia Fischette, former trauma therapist at Swarthmore, in the interim) and reviewing “the role of alcohol and other drugs in creating an environment that can contribute to sexual conduct.” These proposed changes were informed by an interim report by Margolis Healy and Associates, a Vermont-based campus safety assessment consulting group, that was commissioned in mid-April to review the school’s policies and procedures. “We undertake this important work in the midst of a sea change occurring related to the federal laws and regulations governing how colleges and universities respond to sexual misconduct,” Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp wrote in a July statement to the Swarthmore community.

In an April statement, Chopp wrote, “I want to state very plainly something that Dean Braun and I have consistently said for the last three years—we have zero tolerance for sexual assault, abuse, and violence on our campus.”

Kristen Houser, vice president of communications and development at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, says zeroing in on the role alcohol and drugs play in sexual misconduct is counterproductive unless colleges first recognize that sexual offenders choose who, when, how, and where to commit sexual assault, and start focusing on offender behaviors rather than victims’ responses.

“Alcohol doesn’t make you a bank robber. It doesn’t make you commit grand-theft auto. Rape is not a miscommunication to penetrate the anus, vagina, or mouth of another person with your own genitals or with a foreign object,” Houser told RH Reality Check. “It’s easy to ignore how ugly and invasive and violent, and what a personal violation, it is. Every time an assailant chooses to commit a rape, it’s absolutely a choice.”

Come the 2014-15 school year, universities and colleges across the country will have to comply with the recently passed Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (or Campus SaVE), approved in February as part of the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Under Campus SaVE, which was first introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), postsecondary institutions receiving federal student aid are required to adopt and disclose sexual assault and other intimate partner violence policies in their annual security reports; follow baseline tenets strengthening survivor protections and guaranteeing counseling, legal aid, and medical care; and expand program requirements to include prevention awareness and bystander intervention.

Similarly, on July 2, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted an education statute mandating sexual violence awareness education at higher education institutions and private schools. Per the law, programs must include a discussion of sexual violence and consent, “including an explanation that the victim is not at fault,” medical and legal assistance, and possible reproductive and sexual health outcomes. It also requires schools to use discretion and protect survivor confidentiality, as well as educators from campus security and local police, campus health centers, women’s and rape crisis centers, and campus psychological and student affairs services.

Ferguson says that while the recommendations “look great,” they neglect issues and solutions the IX Network has access to. According to Ferguson, the administration has not fully engaged the network or Swarthmore’s students; if they had, the administrators would have a better understanding not only of Swarthmore’s downfalls, but the problems arising at colleges nationwide, and would have the opportunity to exceed where other institutions, like Amherst College and Williams College—two liberal arts institutions typically ranked above Swarthmore on “best of” lists—fail. (Nicely insisted students are a “critical part” of Swarthmore’s “current and future planning and response.”)

“I feel like this could be the only way to get Swarthmore to change,” Joshua said. If Swarthmore is found in violation of federal law, the Department of Education could impose a hefty fine on the college. “They’re bringing up little anecdotal things they’re doing [to change], but probably the best way to get Swarthmore to understand is to have a financial burden for every burden they’ve caused on the psychological [well-being] of the student body and people who’ve graduated.”

Culture & Conversation Violence

Breaking Through the Fear: How One Woman Investigated the Life of Her Rapist

Ilana Masad

Ignorance is caused by fear, reporter Joanna Connors writes, and it is with this attitude that, 21 years after she was raped, she begins the process of trying to understand the man who raped her, the man she thought “would be the last human being [she] would see on this earth.”

She was fine. That’s what she told everyone, including herself. After filing a report with the Cleveland police and getting her rapist locked up, she was fine. Fine, fine, fine. Except she wasn’t.

In I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her, reporter Joanna Connors realizes that she is most assuredly not fine during a college campus visit with her daughter.

Ignorance is caused by fear, Connors writes. And it is with this attitude that, 21 years after she was raped—she immediately reported her rape to the police, and her rapist was caught the next day—she begins the process of breaking through the fear to understand the man who raped her, the man she thought “would be the last human being [she] would see on this earth.” She had thought she was over it, but it wasn’t until breaking down during that college tour that she realized she was still afraid of her rapist and still terrified he would find her.

When Connors was 30, she went to a Case Western Reserve University theater where a rehearsal of a play that she was covering for her newspaper, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, was taking place.

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A man inside the empty theater—the actors had left by the time Connors arrived—beckoned her inside, saying that he was working on the lights. Then, brandishing a sharpened pair of scissors, he threatened to kill her if she didn’t do what he said and spent more than an hour raping her.

The chapter detailing her rape is chilling, as she describes the various acts performed, the way she went along with what her rapist told her to do, coaxing him on, hoping to make the ordeal end more quickly. By describing specifics of her rape, Connors is confronting and stripping away the shame she experienced by showing the reader the cold, hard facts of what a rape can be like.

Her words demonstrate how a person who was raped becomes a survivor. Even in her dissociative state, she didn’t want to die there at the hands of a man she didn’t know. She managed to convince him to stop and leave, and he kissed her goodbye outside, as if what had just happened was completely, utterly normal. Maybe, for him, a man whom she says was smoking menthols and who had a tattoo on his arm with his own name on it—”DAVE”—it was.

Connors found an eerie irony in that she was raped on a college campus before such rapes were more widely discussed. In recent years, there has been a rise in awareness regarding the frequency of rapes at institutions of higher learning. There are now websites dedicated to explaining the statistics as well as documentaries like The Hunting Ground, which explores the sexual violence that happens on U.S. college campuses and how students are pushing back against institutional cover-ups and injustices. Since Connors’ experience, society has begun to more broadly understand the terms “rape” and “sexual assault,” and there has been more discussion about the rapes and sexual assaults that happen within existing relationships; eight out of ten rapes occur between people who know one another.

It’s perhaps less common these days to find discussions of the other kind of rape: the kind that we’re warned about when we’re young and told not to take candy from strangers, the kind that makes us automatically cross the street when a group of men we find threatening happens to be walking toward us, the kind that happens when a complete stranger attacks us. This was Connors’ experience.

I Will Find You takes the reader through two distinct processes. The first is Connors’ discovery that her rapist may have been a sexual-violence survivor in his own right. The second, which carries the narrative, is how Connors came to terms with how being raped by David Francis, the “DAVE”-tattooed man, separated her life into a “before” and an “after.”

Before the rape, she was a reporter who lived largely without fear. Connors explains that she went into the theater, where her rapist, a young Black man, was beckoning her, for one reason: “I could not allow myself to be the white woman who fears black men.”

But after, she writes, “this new fear of black men shamed me more than the rape.” Connors explains she didn’t want to be the stereotypical white woman of privilege, who clutches her purse and crosses the street when she sees a Black man walking her way. As a woman aware of her socioeconomic and racial privilege, she didn’t want to participate in oppression.

But it wasn’t just Black men that she feared—it was everything:

I turned my life into performance art. I acted normal, or as normal as I could manage, all the while living on my secret island of fear. As time went on, the list of my fears continued to grow. I was afraid of flying. Afraid of driving. Afraid of riding in a car while someone else drove. Afraid of driving over bridges. Afraid of elevators. Afraid of enclosed spaces. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of going into crowds. Afraid of being alone. Afraid, most of all, to let my children out of my sight.

From the outside, my performance worked. I looked and acted like most other mothers. Only I knew that my entire body vibrated with dread, poised to flee when necessary.

Years after her rape, Connors tells her children about it—both were born after the living nightmare in the theater and are college-aged by then—and begins to confront the fact that she has never “gotten over” it, even though she’s told countless therapists that she has. It is then, despite her husband’s protests and her own fears, that she decides that she must also confront her ignorance regarding her rapist and find him, just as he once threatened that he would find her.

Connors’ investigation is difficult, as she finds out almost at once that her rapist died in a prison hospital some years before. This, however, doesn’t stop her: She begins to investigate his family, trying to find anyone who may have known him and could explain, perhaps, why he did what he did.

Connors regards what she finds out about her rapist with empathy. Connors doesn’t forgive and forget—rather, she forgives, in a sense, by remembering, by finding others who remember, by dredging up a past that is as unpleasant for her interviewees as it is for her.

She eventually gets support from her newspaper to research and write her own story. At every one of the interviews, she expresses discomfort with what she’s doing and almost backs off. Pushed on by her photographer co-worker—and her own need to know—she continues on what has become a journalistic mission. Connors knows she is intruding into people’s lives and realizes she’s coming from a place of privilege, but ends up relating to so much of their stories that she finds her rage toward her rapist fizzling.

It’s with great care, too, that Connors treats the racial tensions that arise during her investigation. Connors talks to women of color who, in 2007 when she conducted her interviews, had never reported their rapes: “I know about rape,” one of Francis’ relatives says. “I was raped myself. Three times. But I asked for it because I was on drugs and I was prostituting.” Connors tells the woman that she didn’t ask for it or deserve it, but the woman tells her the story of how one of her rapes happened and concludes with: “And besides that […] he was a white guy.” This woman felt that nothing would be done about it, even if she did report it.

Connors also writes that in her case, she served as the “perfect witness”; she explains that her rape “isn’t [hers] at all. It’s the state’s, as in The State of Ohio v. David Francis.” The prosecutor tells her: “You’re the ideal witness,” because she is “a journalist, trained to observe details and remember them.” She adds:

I know what he really means. To him, I’m the perfect victim because I happen to fulfill just about all the requirements of a woman accusing a man of rape, going back before the Civil War. I am white, educated, and middle-class. I resisted, and I have a cut on my neck, bruises still healing on my spine, and a torn and blood-stained blouse to prove it. I immediately ran to report the rape.

Needless to say, David Francis is the perfect defendant: black, poor, and uneducated, with a criminal record.

In fact, as she finds out during her investigation, her assailant was both Black and Native American, and spent his youth in and out of juvenile detention, starting at age 12. Connors looks at the racial disparity in prisons, at the rate of poverty in the areas of Cleveland that she visits, at the way socioeconomic status and race are interwoven, how violence and drug abuse feed into those factors as well, and how sexual assault and abusive environments are so often passed down through generations. Connors discovered fellow survivors in her rapist’s family—his sister Laura, with whom Connors is still in touch, described her mother’s boyfriend raping her in a church. His entire family, she discovers, have been survivors of one kind or another.

Connors believes that her rapist was likely raped himself. During her assault, she had a clear feeling that Francis was re-enacting something done to him. And after learning that rape was common at the juvenile detention center where Francis did many stints, she assumes that he had been abused there and during his time spent locked up as an adult.

What is most striking about Connors’ book is not its bravery—though it is brave—or its shock value, which exists. The book is valuable because Connors recognizes and conveys to readers the cyclical nature of abuse, its pathological nature, and one of its sources: in David Francis’ case, perhaps learning by example.

Analysis Politics

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s Record on Women’s Health at Center of Heated Race

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Kelly Ayotte's defenders have made claims about her commitment to "strengthening women's health" through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

The tight race between incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) could help determine which party takes control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. In recent months, a key point of contention has emerged among Ayotte’s supporters and critics: the senator’s record on reproductive rights and women’s health.

Planned Parenthood Votes released an ad in April claiming Ayotte is “bad for New Hampshire women,” signaling the continuation of the heated narrative in the lead-up to the election. Ayotte’s defenders have responded to the accusations with claims of her commitment to “strengthening women’s health” through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

“For months, Senator Kelly Ayotte has followed party bosses, refusing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. And for years, Ayotte has waited for an opportunity to push for someone to end access to safe, legal abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade,” claims the Planned Parenthood Votes ad, before playing an August 2010 clip of Ayotte advocating for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. “For New Hampshire women, the consequences of letting Kelly Ayotte play politics with the Constitution could last a lifetime.”

The $400,000 ad buy, slated to run on broadcast and cable in New Hampshire, has been Planned Parenthood Votes’ first on-air ad targeting a Senate race in the 2016 election cycle. The organization, a national independent expenditure political committee, is criticizing Ayotte for claiming to protect women but failing to protect reproductive rights, also drawing on her pledge to obstruct filling the vacant Supreme Court seat in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

“Kelly Ayotte may try to paint herself as pro-woman, but her record tells a very different story. Every chance she’s gotten she’s voted to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and cut women off from essential health care like birth control and breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, in a statement on the organization’s new ad. “She has been advocating for years to ban women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and it’s clear she now sees her chance in the Supreme Court process. Kelly Ayotte is refusing to do her job, and abdicating her constitutional duty, in order to push an extreme agenda that no one in New Hampshire wants.”

Ayotte’s campaign manager, Jon Kohan, meanwhile, defended the senator’s record on women’s health and rights in a press release. He wrote, “Kelly’s long record of standing up for New Hampshire women and families is clear, and she cares deeply about ensuring all women have access to health services.” The release included a bulleted list providing examples of Ayotte’s work “strengthening women’s health care,” “supporting working women,” and “protecting domestic or sexual assault victims.”

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The claims may be familiar to those following the New Hampshire race. After Hassan announced her candidacy in October, for example, One Nation, an issue-advocacy organization that does not need to disclose where their funding comes from and is affiliated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, pushed a 17-day, $1.4 million ad campaign touting Ayotte’s record on women’s health.

Hassan, on the other hand, has the support of organizations such as EMILY’s List, whose stated mission is to help elect pro-choice women into office. After endorsing the governor in the Senate race, the group added Ayotte to its “On Notice” list for “voting for anti-woman legislation and standing in the way of policies that give working families a fair shot.”

But with both sides of the race simultaneously claiming opposing positions on whether Ayotte has been good for women and reproductive rights, what is the truth?

Ayotte has made no secret of her desire to defund Planned Parenthood, and she “has shown support for defunding the organization or opposition to continued funding in at least six votes,” according to PolitiFact, though some of those votes were procedural. Though she famously chided Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for attempting to shut down the government over his crusade to strip the reproductive health provider of money in the wake of anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress’ deceptively edited videos, it was because she didn’t view his methods as a winning strategy for accomplishing that goal—not because she didn’t believe in the cause.

In a letter to Cruz, Ayotte told the Republican presidential candidate that she too is “deeply disturbed by” CMP’s videos and doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood should have federal funding.”This callous disregard for the dignity of human life is heinous, and I do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund a private organization that performs hundreds of thousands of abortions each year and harvests the body parts of unborn children,” wrote Ayotte. She went on to ask what Cruz’s “strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood” really was, given that their mutual efforts to redirect the organization’s funding to other clinics had failed.

Planned Parenthood does not use its federal funding to provide abortions; its fetal tissue donation program has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple state and federal investigations. And despite claims from conservatives, including Ayotte, that other facilities could provide Planned Parenthood’s patients with health care should the organization lose funding, the Guttmacher Institute found that “credible evidence suggests this is unlikely. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care.”

“Our analysis shows unequivocally that Planned Parenthood plays a major role in delivering publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies to women who are in need of such care nationwide,” the Guttmacher Institute concluded.

Ayotte has also supported numerous other anti-choice restrictions and legislation, including a 2015 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unfounded claim that fetuses feel pain at this point in pregnancy.

According to NPR, Ayotte has “been a hero to anti-abortion activists since 2005, when as New Hampshire attorney general she defended a parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The law required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking an abortion at least 48 hours prior to the procedure, and contained no exceptions for the health of the patient. The Court ultimately ruled against Ayotte, affirming that states may not enact abortion laws that don’t protect women’s health and safety.

National Right to Life found that the New Hampshire senator voted “with” the anti-choice organization in all 14 of the scored votes from 2012 to 2015 it examined.

In 2012, Ayotte co-sponsored the failed “Blunt Amendment,” which would have allowed exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit for any employers or insurers that had moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. And in a 2014 commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Ayotte and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) defended the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which grants some employers the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their staff based on the owner’s religious beliefs, falsely claiming that the ruling did “not take away women’s access to birth control.”

Ayotte’s campaign is quick to point to legislation sponsored by the senator that would have allowed over-the-counter contraception as proof that she cares about women’s health. Reproductive health advocates, however, called Ayotte’s Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act a “sham” when it was introduced in 2015. Though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) generally supports over-the-counter birth control, the organization’s president Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, said in a statement that Ayotte’s measure “would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.”

Paid leave is yet another issue in which Ayotte has put forth legislation in the name of helping women. Ayotte introduced the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act of 2015 in March of that year, claiming it would “allow greater flexibility for workers who are looking to better balance their work-life demands.” Analysis by ThinkProgress, however, found that the measure “could weaken already weak rules that require workers to be paid extra for working extra hours, thus ensuring that workweeks don’t grow out of control and employees are compensated fairly.”

Earlier in 2015, Ayotte signed on as a co-sponsor of the Working Families Flexibility Act. According to a statement from the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) condemning the legislation, the act claimed to “give hourly workers more flexibility and time with their loved ones by allowing them to choose paid time off, rather than time-and-a-half wages, as compensation for working more than 40 hours in one week.” However, the bill did “not promote family friendly or flexible workplaces,” explained the nonprofit organization in a fact sheet. “Instead, it would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time, and have predictability, stability, and true flexibility at work.”

Ayotte’s record on equal pay has been similarly debunked by advocates. One of the policies highlighted by Ayotte’s campaign in the wake of Planned Parenthood Votes’ ad was the senator’s introduction of the Gender Advancement In Pay (GAP) Act in September 2015, which she reintroduced ahead of Equal Pay Day this April. The measure was meant to make clear that “employers must pay men and women equal wages for equal work, without reducing the opportunity for employers to reward merit,” according to a press release from Ayotte’s office upon the initial release of the bill.

Critics argued that Ayotte’s bill was nothing other than an election-year stunt. New Hampshire state Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) told NH1 News that Ayotte’s move was an attempt to look “for some cover … in an effort to be more in line with” New Hampshire voters, after Ayotte voted against other fair pay measures. However, Soucy said, the legislation didn’t really address the issue of pay equity. “Sen. Ayotte’s bill attempts to create paycheck fairness but doesn’t in fact do so because employers could preclude their employees from discussing what they make with their fellow employees,” claimed Soucy.

Similar arguments were made when Ayotte co-sponsored another equal pay measure, the Workplace Advancement Act, with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in April 2015. Though the legislation would ban employers from retaliating against their staff, it failed to garner support from Democrats. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill would have done “more harm than good” as it “entirely [ignored] the many loopholes and inadequacies in current equal pay laws and simply [stated] that pay discrimination ‘violates existing law.'”

Their arguments are bolstered by Ayotte’s repeated votes against the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, though as Politifact again pointed out, some of these votes were procedural and not against the bill itself. Ayotte did cast one vote in favor of ending debate on the measure and advancing it; the fact-checking site noted, though, that Ayotte’s office reportedly did so in the ultimately denied hopes of changing the bill.

Had it passed, the legislation would have updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to include protections such as prohibiting retaliation against employees who share their salary and strengthening penalties for those who violate the law. Ayotte claims she voted against the measure because it “could reduce the ability of employers to award merit pay for good performance and limit the opportunity for women to have flexible work schedules,” according to a press release on the matter.

Speaking at a town hall event in 2013, Ayotte had previously justified her vote against equal pay legislation by asserting that it “created a lot of additional burdens that would … make it more difficult for job creators to create jobs.” The New Hampshire senator went on to add that there were already laws in place that could help address the issue.

There are, however, some examples of Ayotte supporting and introducing legislation that would help women. In June 2015, Ayotte co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect pregnant people from workplace discrimination. Though the legislation never came to a vote, it would have helped “end … discrimination and promote healthy pregnancies and the economic security of pregnant women and their families,” according to the NPWF. That same year, the New Hampshire senator co-sponsored the Protect Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act, bipartisan legislation that would have safeguarded access to free annual mammograms for women ages 40 to 74. Ayotte co-sponsored the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2014 and 2015, which, according to Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s website, would “protect students and boost accountability and transparency at colleges and universities” when it comes to sexual assault. Ayotte also co-sponsored the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 to address the issue in the military.

Overall, Ayotte has signed onto or supported numerous pieces of legislation that at face value seem to promote reproductive health and women’s rights. Further examination shows, however, that—with a few exceptions—they largely failed to hold up to scrutiny. While Ayotte’s campaign alleges that many of her measures would have helped women and families, analysis suggests that her conservative solutions to addressing these issues often would have made the problems worse. This, coupled with the senator’s fierce anti-choice advocacy, will no doubt keep this portion of Ayotte’s record under tight observation as November’s election approaches.