Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service(GSS) presented a daylong program aimed at raising awareness about violence against girls and women.
The March 9 program, “Eliminating All Forms of Violence Against Girls and Women of All Ages,” took place in conjunction with International Women’s Day and drew more than 125 attendees. Various keynote speakers and panelists at the event, sponsored by GSS’ Institute for Women and Girls, said sexual violence and harassment is a global, not national, problem.
Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Ph.D., senior vice president of academic affairs at Lehman College, said that approximately 25 percent of college-aged women reported experiences that met the legal definitions of rape or attempted rape.
“And one in three of the victims are freshmen,” said Morrobel-Sosa.
Morrobel-Sosa shed light on acts and amendments that protect students enrolled at higher-education institutions from sexual violence and harassment—in particular Title IX, initiated in 1972, banning sexual discrimination in schools. In addition to the Title IX amendment, the Clery Act, which was codified in the Higher Education Act of 1965, mandates all universities that receive federal financial assistance to publish and disclose an annual security report on campus crime.
Morrobel-Sosa emphasized that counseling and training are critical in prevention, and said that “universities are charged in the development of materials and implementation of policies” that would aid its students.
As part of a panel presentation, Monique John, a Fordham College at Lincoln Center senior, spoke about her impetus to edit Voices, an online publication aimed at providing victims of sexual exploitation a community and media outlet. Having worked at Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization designed to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, John said she realized how important it was to give voice to these victims because “a lot of the media coverage on the commercial sex industry limits the conversation.”
“In America, it’s painted as prostitution, as opposed to exploitation,” said John.
Voices helps give survivors a form of therapy and creates a community for them to express themselves, she said.
“I wanted others to see their work and celebrate them for the talented and eloquent people that they were,” said John.
Injecting a global perspective, Arun Lobo, a social worker from India and director of the Dayalbagh Rural Development Projects, said that women in India are struggling to become more independent members of a patriarchal society.
According to the ancient code of Manu, “in childhood a female must be subject to her father, and in youth to her husband, and then to her sons—that is to say she has no freedom at all for herself.”
Lobo’s development project works with women on the lowest rung of the caste system in India—the Dalit, or the “untouchables.” Due to the caste’s widespread illiteracy, superstition, and poverty, sexual violence against the Dalit women is further worsened.
“Our movement allows these women who have come together as a union to assert their basic rights,” said Lobo.
Fellow panelist Swarnalaksmi Ravi, a 13-year-old member of the Tamilnadu Pondicherry State Parliament of Children, said that joining the children’s parliament opened new horizons for her. She is able to work on various state and national level child-led advocacy delegations for child rights in India.
“We do not sit back and watch as problems arise. We come together and talk about how we can best solve these problems,” said Ravi. “If we cannot solve them ourselves, we take them to the higher-ups.”
The parliament has solved many issues regarding child rights. One incident in particular concerned a 15-year-old girl forced into marriage against her wishes. Ravi’s advocacy group helped stop the marriage by taking it to a higher municipal level.
“It gives us confidence and hope to solve bigger problems,” Ravi said of the outcome.
Whether on a national or global level, eliminating violence against women starts at the grassroots level, panelists and speakers said.
“Know your rights, know your boundaries and limits, and communicate them when you can,” said Morrobel-Sosa. “Assess your environment, trust your instincts. Above all, be safe and be well.”