Analysis Violence

Pennsylvania Child Sexual Abuse Case Highlights Need for Statute of Limitations Reform (Updated)

Tara Murtha

The accidental overdose of a 26-year-old man who accused a former Philadelphia priest of raping him as a child underscores Pennsylvania's battle over the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse.

UPDATE, October 23, 4:10 p.m.: On Wednesday, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that his office cannot move forward with the prosecution against Father Brennan given the recent unexpected death of the 26-year-old man reported on below. According to the local NBC affiliate:

“The district attorney said he dropped rape and sexual assault charges levied against the 75-year-old priest because there was no longer enough evidence—direct or circumstantial—to continue a trial. ‘In many cases of sexual assault whether they be victims or adults or children, really the testimony of that victim is paramount to getting a conviction,’ he said.”

A 26-year-old man who, along with a number of other individuals, accused Father Robert L. Brennan of raping him as a child died of an accidental drug overdose last week. Now, the chance to finally put Father Brennan behind bars may have died along with him, despite a paper trail of abuse accusations stretching back 25 years.

The 26-year-old told authorities that the abuse lasted for three years, beginning when he was an 11-year-old altar boy and Brennan, then 60, was assistant pastor at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. All told, more than 20 boys from at least four Philadelphia parishes have filed complaints about Brennan, now 75, according to the second of three grand jury reports investigating the Philadelphia archdiocese. However, the 26-year-old’s allegations were the first to lead to legal charges, thanks to Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. (In Pennsylvania, victims have until age 50 to open a criminal prosecution and age 30 to file a civil suit.)

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In September, Brennan was arrested in his Maryland home and charged with rape, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and aggravated sexual assault.

But Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who publicly identifies as Catholic, said his office is reviewing whether the prosecution will continue. “The decades-long demons and scars the victim in this case endured ended this weekend,” Williams told the local CBS affiliate.

Research has long linked the trauma of childhood sexual abuse with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

A Brief History of Father Brennan

When the first grand jury was impaneled in Philadelphia to investigate rape in the Catholic Church in 2001, they expected to review “a small number of isolated incidents that occurred decades ago.” Instead, they uncovered evidence that “over the past 35 years more than 120 priests serving the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of” children, and that with “rare exceptions” the archdiocese didn’t contact authorities. According to the grand jury:

Child molesters purposefully select the most defenseless children. They should not be rewarded for their deliberate selection of vulnerable victims by a statute of limitations that, given the severity of the harm they inflict … makes it very unlikely their crimes will be timely reported.

The grand jury discovered so much evidence that they exceeded the two-year sitting limit, and had to fold their findings into a 2005 bombshell report, which singled out Father Brennan as one of several case studies of priests with long histories of suspect behavior.

Cardinal Bevilacqua (then archbishop of the Philadelphia archdiocese) assigned Brennan to St. Ignatius parish in suburban Philadelphia in 1988. According to records, the assistant pastor at St. Ignatius expressed concern over Brennan’s “actions with young boys and teenagers” since Brennan’s first day on the job.

The assistant pastor characterized Brennan’s interest in young boys, whom he reportedly often “forced” to sit on his lap, as “extreme”; he was even said to host sleepovers in the rectory.

When the mother of the first complainant, a 13-year-old boy, met with Brennan, he gave her an autographed photograph of himself, according to the report. When Brennan was sent to the archdiocese-owned hospital for a psychological evaluation, church officials lied to parishioners and told them their pastor was on retreat.

From the report:

Since that time, the Archdiocese has learned of inappropriate or suspicious behavior by Fr. Brennan with more than 20 boys from four different parishes. He was psychologically evaluated or “treated” four times. Depending on the level of scandal threatened by various incidents, Cardinal Bevilacqua either transferred Fr. Brennan to another parish with unsuspecting families or ignored the reports and left the priest in the parish with his current victims. The Cardinal’s managers advised Fr. Brennan to “keep a low profile,” but never restricted or supervised his access to the youth of his various parishes.

Cardinal Bevilacqua died last year, a day after a judge ruled him competent to testify in the trial of his one-time right-hand man, Monsignor William Lynn. Lynn was ultimately convicted of child endangerment, making him the first administrative church official found criminally liable for sexual abuse crimes committed by a priest.

The first grand jury was correct to worry that, combined with the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, the church’s strategy of rotating priests and lying to parishioners would hamstring justice. Although the 2005 grand jury said they documented evidence of child sexual abuse by at least 63 priests, and have “no doubt” there are “many more,” not one priest faced legal charges.

“The biggest crime of all is this: it worked,” they wrote.

Shuffling abusive priests strategically exploits the way victims process trauma and frequently delay reporting, especially when the abuser is a trusted authority figure. In the largely working-class Catholic neighborhoods of Northeast Philadelphia in the 1980s, there was no bigger authority figure than a priest. The grand jury even noted a case wherein a boy who told his father about his younger brother’s abuse was beaten to the point of unconsciousness for telling “lies.”

Meanwhile, as the Philadelphia district attorney’s office has been investigating child sexual abuse and its subsequent cover-up by the archdiocese, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been lobbying state legislatures against reforming the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse.

The Fight Over Statute of Limitations Reform

Criminal and civil statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse vary state by state, but have generally been expanding, or liberalizing, since the explosion of the 2002 Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Boston.

Advocates of statute reform generally want to expand or abolish the time-frame wherein victims can file both criminal and civil complaints. In Pennsylvania, in the wake of child sexual abuse problems exposed in the church, at Pennsylvania State University, and in Boy Scout troops in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, advocates are focused on pushing for a bill that would establish what a “window”—a temporary period of time, usually one or two years, wherein victims can file civil complaints based on incidents that otherwise already timed out of the statute.

California passed a window bill in 2002. The resulting flood of lawsuits identified 300 perpetrators, which resulted in the church paying $1.2 billion in settlements. (Gov. Jerry Brown just vetoed a bill that would have implemented a second window, a decision applauded by the California Catholic Conference.)

Delaware, Minnesota, and Hawaii have implemented pieces of window legislation.

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitation has been viciously fought over for years, but the Penn State and Philadelphia church sexual abuse scandals forced the issue into the forefront last year. State Rep. Louise Bishop (D-Philadelphia) helped bring even more attention to the issue by coming forward as a sponsor of a statute of limitations reform bill and, for the first time in her life, a survivor of child sexual abuse. Bishop, a minister and accomplished radio DJ, had been silent about her abuse for 66 years.

Still, after an elaborate and messy game of brinksmanship, the bills were once again left to die of neglect.

One of the main arguments the Catholic Conference has made against the window legislation is that over time, evidence is lost or can’t be found. But evidence has been found, again and again, and it’s the statute of limitation that prevents that evidence from seeing the light of day in the courthouse.

Optimistic About Reform

Advocates for survivors of child sexual assault in Pennsylvania have a fierce new ally in their corner: state Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), who recently spoke out about his own abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest at a press conference in Harrisburg.

Rozzi says he didn’t start speaking out about his own abuse until four years ago, so he knows first-hand that often, by the time victims are ready to speak out, they have already timed out of civil litigation. In Rozzi’s case, he came forward after a friend who was allegedly abused by the same priest committed suicide.

“We just want to be given a chance to have our voices heard in a court of law and to expose the perpetrator,” Rozzi said in a September press conference. “I think the community has a right to know that these men and women are still out there.”

Rozzi announced that yet another Pennsylvania bill would be introduced to try and reform the state’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. The legislation would raise the age wherein a victim can file a civil suit to 50 years old, establish a window for civil suits (window legislation is not possible for criminal complaints), and eliminate sovereign immunity, which means the law would apply to both public and private organizations.

For years, the problem has been that legislators against reform—namely state Reps. Ron Marsico (R-Lower Paxton) and Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks)—stonewall such bills by refusing to allow them to get to the floor for a vote.

Last year, lawmakers supporting statute of limitations reform had to resort to a rare parliamentary procedure to force the bills to the floor for a vote. But the fight ultimately led nowhere. Chad Schlanger, chief of staff for Rep. Rozzi, says reform-supporting lawmakers are prepared to use the same procedure—a discharge resolution—again if necessary. He also says the bill will pass if it makes it to the floor. “If Marsico, Caltagirone, and [Republican House Majority Leader Mike] Turzai would get this to the floor, this would pass,” Schlanger told Rewire. “I have lists of every single member.”

As the legislative fight continues to brew in Harrisburg, Marci Hamilton, co-counsel for the recently deceased 26-year-old, is hopeful that a survivor who falls within the current statute of limitations can continue the work started by her client. “I am confident there are survivors out there who will be able to carry on the legacy started by this brave young man,” said Hamilton, a constitutional law scholar and professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law who has represented other alleged church sexual abuse victims and is one of the most outspoken advocates for abolishing the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse.

Hamilton speculates that her client’s fate may have been brighter had he not been forced to bear the burden of being the only person to press charges against Brennan. “Perhaps if many [individuals] had been able to come forward together, he might have felt the support of other survivors through the process,” Hamilton said. “I hope the many still in [the statute of limitations] will now come forward to bring Brennan to justice and complete what our survivor started so heroically.”

Brennan’s next preliminary hearing is scheduled for November 14.

News Economic Justice

Wage Theft Could Cost $32 Million Weekly for Pennsylvania’s Low-Wage Workers

Michelle D. Anderson

Advocates say that government oversight is weak, and laws only provide a slap on the wrist when they are enforced. Pennsylvania—much like the federal government—lacks enough regulators.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent refusal to consider a case involving several thousand Walmart employees brought attention to what employment advocates in Pennsylvania call a hidden crisis: wage theft.

Legal aid agencies and advocacy organizations such as the Pennsylvania-based Women’s Law Project use the term to describe employers’ refusal to pay wages due their workers.

“Shortchanged: How Wage Theft Harms Pennsylvania’s Workers And Economy,” a study released by the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, revealed that cooks, dishwashers, and food preparers, along with stock/office clerks and retail salespeople, were among the largest low-wage worker groups experiencing weekly minimum wage violations.

Employers commit wage theft by paying a daily rate that does not meet Pennsylvania’s $7.25 hourly minimum wage requirements, misclassifying people who work as independent contractors, paying in cash, failing to keep adequate records, and taking money out of paychecks to account for uniforms, supplies, and other products necessary to perform the job.

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Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney at the Women’s Law Project, a public interest legal center, told Rewire that the practice compromises women’s economic security in Pennsylvania, where women make up about two-thirds of people who work for minimum wage, and where the minimum wage is the lowest allowed by federal law.

“Factor in losing 15 percent of a would-be paycheck to wage theft, and a family led by a primary or sole breadwinning mother sinks further into poverty,” Fromson said.

In the Walmart case, first decided by a Philadelphia jury in October 2006, 186,000 current and former employees from the retailer’s Pennsylvania stores were awarded $187 million in a class action suit for unpaid wages that were withheld between March 1998 and April 2006.

The workers’ counsel, Donovan Litigation Group, said the employees had been owed $140 million of the $187 million and will now split $224 million due to interest, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Walmart had appealed the decision in 2006, taking the case to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, who affirmed the jury verdict in 2014. U.S. Supreme Court justices on April 4 decided to not take up the case and to support the state’s high court decision.

In the years since Walmart employees first took action, workers and legal aid agencies across the United States, including in Pennsylvania, have brought many more wage theft cases.

Last year, for example, more than three dozen people who work for low wages at the Denver-area Carniceria y Verduleria Guadalajara grocery store won $305,000 in back wages and penalties in a U.S. District Court ruling using federal and state “wage theft” laws.

Papa John’s franchisees in New York were found guilty of wage theft last year and ordered to pay back more than $500,000 to settle claims that they swindled employees out of earned income.

There remains, however, little information as to how prevalent wage theft has become across the country, advocates for low-wage workers told Rewire. The Sheller Center last year sought to fill the void in wage theft data in Pennsylvania.

The study, which used the state’s right-to-know law to obtain data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) and relied upon extrapolations rather than original data, found that the state’s people who work for low wages, on average, lose about 15 percent of the their earnings to wage theft.

The study suggested that nearly 400,000 people who work in Pennsylvania experience a minimum wage violation and more than 300,000 experience an overtime violation every workweek. The weekly loss amounts to an estimated $19-32 million in wages, according to the “Shortchanged” authors.

The study revealed that the DLI, the state agency responsible for handling wage theft matters, was unable to collect wages in more than half of the complaints filed by people who work.

In fact, despite closing 5,000 cases annually, the DLI collects wages in about 2,000 of those incidents, according to the Temple University study.

The U.S. Department of Labor in a study released last year acknowledged the prevalence of wage theft among wage and salary workers in California and New York.

The report concluded that more than 300,000 people who work in those states were victims of wage theft. Many of those affected, the federal study revealed, work in service-based positions in the restaurant and hotel industries and were more likely to be women, people of color, and undocumented people.

Undocumented residents in New York, for example, were 3.1 times more likely to experience wage theft.

A local report released by Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha in Minneapolis found that nearly half of low-wage workers in the Twin Cities have experienced wage theft.

Nadia Hewka, senior attorney at Community Legal Services, a Philadelphia-based legal aid outlet, said many businesses exploit undocumented workers’ vulnerabilities.

“Employers cut corners—some of them will choose to hire immigrant workers because they think they won’t complain,” Hewka told Rewire.

At Community Legal Services, Hewka said many people who work don’t know they are entitled to overtime and often seek to recover wages after they haven’t been paid for extended periods of time.

“That often happens with immigrant workers who are not familiar with laws in the U.S.,” said Hewka, co-founder of the Pennsylvania Immigrant Workers Rights Coalition.

The “Shortchanged” authors noted that undocumented workers fear their supervisors will call immigration authorities, while immigrants with employment visas are often afraid they may lose visa privileges if they speak up.

Identifying Wage Theft

The Temple University study, which excluded low-wage employees in more rural settings, like farm, forestry, and fishing workers, outlined the many ways employers get away with wage theft.

The report relied upon a landmark investigation released in 2009 called “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” which surveyed low-wage workers in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles.

The “Broken Laws” study estimated about 90 percent of home health-care workers were victims of off-the-clock violations.

Philadelphia resident Natasha, whose last name was withheld by the “Shortchanged” authors, was a victim of wage theft while working as a home health-care worker.

Her employer, who often avoided workers and created barriers to keep employees from engaging each other about their paychecks, failed to compensate Natasha for travel time between client homes and even missed paycheck due dates.

The mother of four, who made $9.50 per hour and witnessed her boss call the police on coworkers who complained about wage theft, was ultimately fired after becoming ill despite her stellar attendance and documented excuse for missing work.

“I was so frustrated and I wanted to break down and cry because I couldn’t spend another week not being able to feed my children, having to choose between bread, eggs or milk,” she said, according to the study. “It was the worst experience of my life.”

Advocates for people who work low-wage jobs contend that wage theft also hurts the state’s economy, because money that would otherwise be spent in the economy is stolen from people who work, while businesses evade taxes that could be used to fund schools and road projects.

Law-abiding businesses may struggle to compete with enterprises that steal wages, advocates said.

The U.S. Department of Labor study noted that the burden of wage theft ultimately shifts from the private sector to the government because people who work for low wages will seek public assistance if their pay is insufficient.

People who work for low wages and their allies have looked to key policy changes to address wage theft, though it’s proven difficult because of resistance in Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature, Hewka said.

Some measures proposed during the 2015-2016 legislative session, like HB 250, which sought to raise the penalty for wage theft and for retaliating against an employee for reporting said theft, get stuck in committees and die there, she said.

A resolution to discharge the house’s labor and industry committee from further consideration of HB 250 was presented in October 2015.

Legislators in other states have proposed measures aimed at addressing wage theft. Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin last year proposed legislation that would allow the state’s Department of Workforce Development to charge interest on unpaid wages and levy fines up to $1,000 per violation against employers who break state wage theft laws.

Hewka added that government oversight, overall, is weak and laws only provide a slap on the wrist when they are enforced, she said. Pennsylvania—much like the federal government—lacks enough regulators, she said.

In Pennsylvania, the Minimum Wage Act and the Wage Payment and Collection Law are the protections low-wage workers can rely on to reclaim stolen wages.

The Wage Payment and Collection Law limits penalties to the higher of $500 or 25 percent of wages owed, and includes criminal fines limited to $300.

The state’s minimum wage law, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any damages to people who work low-wage jobs, unlike federal law.

“Shortchanged” authors have recommended harsher penalties for employers, including business license revocation and allowing people who work to place a hold on employer’s property until they receive unpaid wages.

Other solutions encourage state policymakers to collaborate with community groups to target investigations and to create a process for workers to submit anonymous or confidential complaints.

The state has enjoyed some successes in battling systemic wage theft against people who work.

Philadelphia City Councilman William “Bill” Greenlee sponsored a bill that will create a wage-theft watchdog in the city’s Managing Director’s Office.

The bill, which was unanimously approved by the council in November, requires a wage-theft coordinator to respond to worker complaints and find victims who may lack education about their rights.

The coordinator will be responsible for looking at thefts of anywhere between $100 and $10,000, and can revoke business licenses and impose a city fine of $2,000 per incident.

Hewka, who worked with Greenlee on the measure, said the city should be prepared to handle complaints in July.

The measure, she said, will offer relief to low-income citizens who cannot afford a private lawyer and legal aid groups who can only provided a limited amount of free services.

Culture & Conversation Media

The #MoreThanMean Video Highlights the Abuse Women in Sports Media Have Faced for Decades

Shireen Ahmed

Much of the discussion has been around how shocked the men in the video seem to be at the violently misogynistic tweets, and how shocked its male viewers have been.

Last week, the team at the “podcast and web community” Just Not Sports shared a new video project. The video, titled “#MoreThanMean: Women in Sports ‘Face’ Harassment,” featured two notable sportswriters, Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain, who sat across from men who read “mean tweets” to them.

The tweets began in an almost comical yet rude manner—”I’d like to start a petition for a ban on all links to Julie DiCaro’s Twitter feed”; “Sarah Spain sounds like a nagging wife on TV today”—but they escalated quickly into violent misogyny, including messages of sexual assault. These messages had been sent directly to the women, and they had seen them. The tweet-readers had not. The video shows the men shifting uncomfortably in their seats as they are expected to vocalize these horrific remarks. Meanwhile, DiCaro and Spain remain very dignified and calm.

Within one day, the video had reached upwards of one million views; it now it stands at over three million. The #MoreThanMean project filled social media timelines and headlines, including international outlets. It has ignited discussions on the radio, news shows, and feminist websites. Fellow women sportswriters wrote about their own experiences and how we were affected by this video. I did. Spain wrote about what the experience meant to her, as did DiCaro.

Much of the response, however, has also been around how shocked the men in the video seem to be, and how shocked its male viewers have been. Men have said they were horrified to read and hear these tweets, effectively centering their own reactions in the conversation. This, too, is problematic: This video may have highlighted the abuse DiCaro and Spain receive through the internet, but women in sports media have faced this kind of harassment for decades. Disbelief and horror are not enough; it will take real, systemic change from the industry, social media companies, and these “shocked” fans to work against this kind of incessant abuse.

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In 1990, Lisa Olson, a former journalist at the Boston Herald, endured what she called “premeditated mind rape” when she attempted to interview the New England Patriots football team after a game. She settled with the team owner and the players were fined. More than 25 years later, prominent sports journalist Erin Andrews was awarded $55 million in a lawsuit against a hotel that failed to protect her privacy from a man who videotaped her while she was naked in her room. He leaked the video to the internet. Both journalists were unmistakably targeted because they are women.

In the case of online trolls, however, the problem is more complicated: Comments, emails, or tweets can be issued by people who do not use their real names and might not be identified. The waters become murky. One of the only ways to fight them is to block them, mute them, or as often suggested, disengage, phrased as “not feeding the trolls.”

Some women, DiCaro among them, argue against not engaging because they feel it is tantamount to being silenced. Each woman might have different ways of processing and handling the situation; it’s unfair to expect that all women should simply not reply or defend their work. People who attack women constantly are trying to derail our work and conversations—and the voices of women are important for adding nuance and perspective in a field that is already predominantly male.

For that matter, it may not work. As DiCaro explained for Chicago Magazine, “There are these guys who feel you’re a fake, a phony, a fraud, and you’re in a position you don’t deserve to be in, and you’re receiving attention you don’t deserve. Their mission is to take you down. Those are the trolls you can’t ignore. They don’t go away.”

And logging off—leaving Twitter and other forms of social media—is not a plausible course of action. As a sportswriter, I feel it is essential to be on Twitter. Social media is a tool to collect information quickly, and connect with readers and fans about events in the world of sports. In other words, being on social media is an essential part of our jobs.

This is where it becomes crucial for social media companies to step up and enact policies that can prevent this type of abuse from happening. DiCaro thinks social media—Twitter specifically—should wield greater responsibility in order to create a safer space for women online. “I blocked guys, but they would just create new accounts or find other ways to get around being blocked,” she said to me over email. “And Twitter didn’t really do anything about reported tweets unless they were rape or death threats. Anything else seemed to be tolerable to them, and that was really shocking to me.”

Twitter updated its Abuse Policy in December 2015 to crack down on “hateful conduct.” But DiCaro was so frustrated about constant harassment that she created a new handle at the end of March, @ZeroSafety, where she shares screencaps of harassment in order to urge Twitter to take these tweets seriously and further amend their policies to suspend abusive accounts. At one point, ironically, the account itself was suspended for using an avatar that was considered branded.

Female sportswriters will tell you that their work and their social media profiles are real life. It is not always possible to divorce one’s personal life from what they put out on their Twitter feed. A constant deluge of horrific comments can’t be ignored or simply waded through—particularly when the comments might wish for death or sexualized violence on the sportswriter. It is unfair to expect that women will have the mental or emotional bandwidth to fight trolls all the time.

This was especially evident in #MoreThanMean, when the male participants had to use their own emotional strength to get through reading the tweets. The experience was harrowing: One of the tweets directed to DiCaro, who bravely wrote in 2013 of her rape, read, “I hope you get raped again.” On more than one occasion, DiCaro has described the abuse as “soul-sucking.”

As emotionally exhausting as it is, DiCaro and Spain have very courageously pushed this conversation forward. I can’t fathom sitting in a chair and hearing all those awful comments spoken to me in front of the whole world. DiCaro and Spain used this opportunity to educate and share lived experiences.

But I wondered: Why did this particular video affect so many people? Was it the way we were able to see Spain and DiCaro as people, not just as faceless personalities on social media? Or were the men so sincere in their discomfort that the public was mortified?

DiCaro thinks it is the latter. “Honestly, I think it’s because society in general believes men more than they believe women. Sarah and I could scream from the rafters about being harassed, but if it was just us in the video, I wonder if it would have had the same impact,” she said.

DiCaro believes #MoreThanMean is a great start toward addressing this pervasive reluctance to acknowledge women speaking about abuse. In addition to urging social media companies to take action, she also tasked those horrified individuals to make change themselves, by including women in conversations, helping to promote them in industries where women are outnumbered, and by recommending women for panels and conferences. “Don’t speak for us; scoot over and give us a place at the table where we can speak for ourselves,” she wrote.

To men, DiCaro emphasized, “And if you see a buddy or family member beating up on women online, SAY SOMETHING. It’s not okay for people to treat others this way, and it’s not okay to stand by silently, either.”

It is my experience as a visible woman of color that there are no limits to the abuses that can be showered upon a woman for speaking up about a game, a team, or advocating for a victim of sexual assault by a player. I write about misogyny and race in sports; I also write about Muslim women. So, the abuse I receive is not only sexist, but coupled with Islamophobic and racist opinions. Charming, I know. This occurs only because I am doing what I am supposed to. Essentially, women sportswriters are abused for doing their jobs. For thousands of women in this industry and others, we don’t accept it but are are forced to tolerate it.

This is probably another reason #MoreThanMean struck a chord with so many. DiCaro said she was approached by women who admitted they never felt like they could talk about it before they saw the video. She suspects a lot of women keep it quiet or constantly self-edit to make sure they say nothing anyone could possibly object to. Both approaches silence women and suggest complacency is a way to combat abuse.

One way to also move away from a toxic, and in my opinion dangerous, acceptance of abuse is to support women’s work in the industry. In a column about #MoreThanMean project, DiCaro wrote, “Support women’s sports. Read and share women sportswriters. Question why more women, and especially women of color, aren’t actively promoted by their employers. Call out panels at events that don’t include women. Teach your sons and daughters that women have a place in sports equal to men.”

I feel this is essential if we want to move forward at all.

As far as handling the abuse, DiCaro told me about her self-care routines and how she should make them more of a priority. “We’re all working so hard to get ahead in this industry, [self-care] tends to fall by the wayside. But lately I’ve been giving myself permission to not charge so hard after everything. To set longer deadlines for myself, to have nights where I do nothing but watch a River Monsters marathon. And I’m a huge proponent of having pets. No matter how bad your day is, they always make you smile,” she said.

Her comments resonate with me too. As much as I rely on Twitter to stay connected and be “in the know,” I also love my time away from social media. It might involve watching Bend It like Beckham and eating popcorn. Or it might mean working out and just enjoying my family.

But self-care also means that when I log back on, I know I need help from other individuals to get through the day. After a few years on Twitter, I also became part of an informal support group of women who write about sports and its intersections with misogyny, sexual assault, politics, and various important social issues. We encourage and help each other every day, offering advice about projects, sharing contacts, and venting about our mentions. In response, we send each other photos of baby sloths or elephants and positive notes. This type of safe space is critical, particularly when we are trying to work while simultaneously swatting away trolls and defending ourselves against unfathomable rudeness.

Women are moving forward in sports writing and presenting, as game correspondents and as match analysts. As this happens, it is important to highlight toxicity in sports media and make sure that male colleagues, readers, and fans are aware of the abuse that happens and how they can eradicate it. It will not go away on its own. Consistently promoting the voices of women, and not excluding them from discussions of violence, is crucial. Equally important is addressing the layers of misogyny, racism, and homophobia present in all facets of the industry, including online.

Women need to lead discussions on what are the best strategies to combat online harassment and abuse. But it cannot be done without support.