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Hi friends ~

Did you forget you were signed up for this email list? Ha! Or did I forget I had a newsletter in the first place? No, not exactly. Let’s just file it under Things I Meant To Do But Didn’t. You have one of these too? I'm convinced it's the same vortex that eats odd socks and tupperware lids for breakfast. Though I do have a complicated story and I’ve been thinking about how to share it for too way long.

In early April, I received an official White House summons to attend a Data Jam on protecting students from sexual assault. What’s a Data Jam? An cheerful name for a brainstorming session. Organized by Vivian Graubard and Erie Meyer, I was invited because I saw their posting on the Tech Lady Mafia email list, randomly at about 2am, and I instantly applied without a second thought. (Take that who ever said emailing from bed is never a good idea.) 

And lo, I showed up at the steps of White House Complex on the most gorgeous spring day, cherry blossoms in full bloom, with my background check complete and my name on a cleared-for-entry list. I had been expecting TSA level security measures and a long line to enter right at 9am, but other than scanning my visitor badge and passing through metal detectors, it took just a few moments. No need to remove shoes, laptop, liquids, or jacket. 

And on the other side? I was having a how is this my life moments. Is this what it’s like to be Olivia Pope? Even a little bit? As I made my way to the assigned room of the Executive Office Building (it’s much prettier IRL than it is on that show Veep) I had to stop myself from snapping photos of every piece of storied American history at every turn. I did sneak a couple pictures, but we were told not to share any photos with people in them without their explicit written permission. 



After only a little bit of rubber-necking it was time for the real work to begin. Vivian put together a massively diverse team of about 50 tech folks, policy makers, designers, writers, advocates, survivors, and university officials and split us into small groups tasked with improving our country’s dreadful assault rates. Lynn Rosenthal, the Office of the Vice President’s Senior Advisor on Violence Against Women gave the opening keynote followed by a moving speech by Sukey Novogratz from the Joyful Heart Foundation, another organization working to prevent violence against women. Sukey shared a story, a horrific night of repeated assault by two supposed “friends” at a university who then abandoned their victim outside, followed by the school officials downplaying and derailing the attempts to press charges. I kept thinking while she talked how that could’ve just as easily have been me, or anyone, up there telling that story. And that it’s a privilege to be able to help, it seems like very the least we can do. 

Almost 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 7 men will experience a form of sexual assault in their lives.* In the military, rates of assault are close to 50%, with more women experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder from rape than combat. However, students between the ages of 16-24 are by far the largest demographic at risk of sexual assault*, which is why the White House’s Office of Science & Technology decided to focus on sexual crimes that occur during school years as the first step to attacking this issue. The White House is cracking down on educational systems country wide to force them to finally start addressing what’s happening outside their classrooms.

We also discussed the various additional stress points that victims are forced to undergo if they do decide to report their experience. Things like not knowing how to report, what that process is or how long it takes, fears of their information leaking or being outed, universities intentionally delaying proceedings so the student will graduate before they resolve, unreliable access to counseling, and experiencing constant questioning on the validity of their claim. It’s no wonder many victims never report at all. 

Participants in the event were given access to databases that track victim’s issues in a variety of ways, and then we were lead through a series of moderated brainstorm sessions to come up with ideas to use this data in a way that will get people involved, and enable us to help each other better. Here’s a few of the ideas we came up with. PocketAdvocate: a tool that pools together localized support resources for victims. Stories like Mine: a network of survivors. Campus Count: a location-based tool that displays assault report data on a map. Brovention, a tool focused on redirection and intervention strategies for guys to use with their buds. School scorecard: publicly displaying a school’s various assault statistics in the Princeton Review, and other school ranking systems. 

All of these tools still have teams donating their time to their build out. Eventually there will be a part II session where these tools will be announced to press and larger organizations, with the hope of receiving funding and launch. It’s really exciting to see such a fantastic grass-roots mobilization that I will continue to contribute to in whatever way I’m able.

Since my White House adventure (I also go to see Joe Biden for a second!!), I’ve also been channeling my efforts into a print piece for a related art show here in Chicago called These Are Not My Problems. Hosted by the 8th Day Center for Justice, Honeymaid (you remember their recent viral video made with the INDO Projects), Lacuna Artist Lofts, and curated by Jeremy Van Cleef, it explores the issues that make society uncomfortable. 



My piece, The Certificate of Safe Space, was created around the assigned topic of sexual harassment. It’s for display in any environment as a general announcement that the people in the space are actively working to prevent unwanted experiences—racially, sexually or otherwise. It’s also a commitment that organizations who hang this will create a simple, supportive, and unbiased claim reporting process, and make it known to all who enter. 

The content for the certificate is partially from Senator Barack Obama’s Presidential Announcement Speech (delivered in Illinois on February 10th, 2007) mixed with some of my own words. The poster is intentionally genderless because everyone is at risk for this. 54% of people experience some form of unwanted sexual attention in the workplace; 90% are transgender**, 79% are women and 21% are men and 66% were not aware of any existing workplace policies to file their claim.*** 

The show opens tomorrow, 12-7pm, and if you’re around I hope you consider attending. If you want to purchase one of these posters for your space, reply to this email with your address. $50 unframed/$150 framed + shipping. 

Otherwise, it’s good to be home and back to the grind, even though I loved DC and the new friends I made there. It won't be another 5 months before I send more updates, I know that much. Next installment: more links for you, as well as workshop and conference plans.

Until then! Big thanks for letting me be a small part of your day. 

Smiles for miles,
Margot

///

Sources:

*White House Data Jam briefing documents, 2014

** Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

***The Association of Women for Action and Research, 2008

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