Category Archives: United States

First Ladies in Vogue! First Ladies with power!

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It began in the late 1920s when Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of President Herbert Hoover, sat for a portrait taken by photographer Edward Steichen. The stately image appeared in the May 11, 1929 issue of Vogue—just a few months before the stock-market crash that precipitated the Great Depression—and started a now long-standing tradition of the nation’s First Ladies appearing in the pages of the magazine. Here are some images of the smart, powerful women who stood beside the U.S. Presidents —from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jacqueline Kennedy to Nancy Reagan to Michelle Obama.

Vogue1Vogue2Vogue3Vogue4Vogue5Vogue6Vogue7Vogue8Vogue9

Now that you have seen lots of these photos, I want you to notice something: all the first ladies look regal, beautiful, powerful.  But they also all look passive.  I love Michelle Obama’s photo most of all because it shows her as active as a participant in life, in work, in politics.  A partner, not a decoration.

Am I reading too much into this?  Maybe.

Did other first ladies work and make a difference in politics?  Certainly.

But, I love the photo of Michelle doing something because it helps to convey power and too often women who are active and powerful hide that in the name of beauty.  So, enjoy:

Vogue

No Name Calling Week

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I first heard about No Name Calling Week over at Lesbian Family. I thought the idea was great.

I have been thinking about bullying and what I want to say about it. This is a hard topic for me. I was bullied. But I was lucky– I have the personality and a strong support system that allowed me to walk away only slightly damaged. I certainly see how it affected and affects some others deeply. I worry about how my daughter will be treated and seen. So, this week, I am going to try and talk about bullying. Wish me luck!

About No Name-Calling Week

Coordinated by GLSEN in collaboration with over 60 national education organizational partners, No Name-Calling Week is an annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds and providing schools with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities.

***This is part of a series on bullying.  Check out the other posts: Friends vs. Bullies, Physical Violence, They reached their peak, and researching LGBT teen suicide..

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

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Being that I work overseas, you might expect that I would use today to talk about Trafficking in Persons in the country I live in currently (Albania). Or, the country I just came from (Kazakhstan). Or, the country where I did research on human trafficking (Chile). Or, the country where I knew children who were trafficked (Moldova). But, today I won’t do that. I want to talk about human trafficking int he country I call home (USA).

The sad truth is that human trafficking continues to be a problem in the US.  Yes, in large cities: New York, LA, Boston.  But also in rural areas of the country, small towns, suburbia.

A few jobs ago, I worked with some victims of human trafficking.  Men who were lured to the US with promises of jobs and money to send home and instead ended up working in slave like conditions in Middle America with their passports confiscated and the door to the house they lived in padlocked from the outside.  After several months, someone put in a tip and they were freed.  They were freed, but they weren’t compensated for their losses.  They were free, but they still had to explain to wives and children what happened to them.  They have been free for years now, but I am sure their experience still haunts them.  Honestly, their stories still haunt me.

An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 American children at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. (U.S. Department of Justice Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons)

These numbers are staggering and the realities are bleak. However, in the US, there are places you can report suspected cases of trafficking.  Polaris Project suggests:

If you see any of these red flags, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888 to report the situation. Click here to learn more about reporting potential human trafficking situations. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative.

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)

Other

  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
To request assessment tools and for more information about reporting trafficking click here. For resource packs on human trafficking and how to recognize the signs click here.

It the little things

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I have been visiting the US for the last two weeks— a wonderful time to eat seafood and all kinds of treats that I either can’t get in Almaty or that are too expansive or poor quality to want to buy in Almaty.  In total– during the three weeks here– I am staying in 5 different hotels! Yikes!  Perhaps moving around isn’t the best idea, but it worked out so that on the weekends I could be out in VA near family and friends and during the weeks, I could be in the city near work and other friends.

Most of the hotels I have stayed in have been Kimpton hotels.  We originally stayed in one last summer when we were moving and had the dog and they are the most pet friendly hotels I have ever seen.  I have to say, I have fallen in love with this hotel chain.  Admittedly, this is a statement I never thought I would make, much less sell.  But, great service, free stuff from the mini-bar, wine at night (which I can’t drink), and coffee and tea in the morning.

While in the US, I have also been busy watching HGTV– I think my favorite channel.  My favorite show is House Hunters International.  I have absolutely fallen back into wishing I had lots of money to make my dream home.  Of course, that then leads to having to figure out what my dream home would be like. And where!

One thing that I have clear, when I get my own place, I want a curved shower rod.  They have them in the hotel. They have them on HGTV.  I am a total convert!

The power of propaganda… life without Winnie the Pooh

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In this photo: Elena, Clare and Ana.

The cold war ended when I was still in school.  I was mostly oblivious.  I watched the wall crumble, but at that moment, I didn’t understand the importance.

Over a decade later, I moved to Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer.  I was partnered with people, generally woman, who has been much older than I at the time the wall came down.  People who grew to be my friends.  This story is mostly about Ana (see picture of us above).

Ana was my teaching partner.  She was a chemistry teacher and I was to help her learn to teach health education.  We battled. We worked together. We cursed each other. We became close.  We talked.  We talked about how she was apprehensive when I came… what would this American be like. I was her first American friend.

One conversation we loved to discuss was propaganda.  I may not have been old enough to analyze the changes going on in the world when the wall fell, but I was old enough to absorb propaganda.  I remember being told that the soviet machine churned out propaganda. I had the feeling that in “the world of the free” we didn’t do propaganda.  HA!

We would compare stories and for the most part the propaganda was the same on both sides… only focused in the other direction.  Peace Corps helped me question what I had learned.  It helped Ana question what she had learned. As friends, we unlearned together.

What makes me think of this now?

Recently, I started watching Winnie the Pooh.  As a child, I loved the cartoon and the book.  My own copy of the book is tattered and probably a hand-me-down from my sister.  I was thinking, that to a young me, I probably thought that the other side of the cold war didn’t have Winnie the Pooh. I am sure I thought it was sad. Or, at least, I would have, if I had thought about it at all.

Again, I was wrong.  Recently, I started watching Winnie the Pooh– only this time, in Russian. Here are both versions for you to compare. Both different, but equally charming and enchanting.

 

 

The downside of growing up in the Lysol-age

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If you get a group of Peace Corps volunteers together, I guarantee that you can get a wide variety of stories the involve outhouses– the good, the bad, the funny, and the unbelievably disgusting.  I will assume that the readers here, don’t want to hear about that. For better or for worse, my stomach grew up in a fairly sterile (on world standards) environment.  My parents never had to worry that the water I was drinking would have ecoli or a variety of other bacteria and gunk.  The one time that the water in Milwaukee did, it made national headlines.

Mothers and fathers around the world do have to think about it… or they don’t think about it because they have little option and children with strong immune systems grow up and those that don’t do not grow up.

In an unfortunate start to my two-week visit to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, I got food poisoning or some sort of bacteria.  Even sadder, as soon as I got the distinct sick feeling that goes along with this intestinal disease, I was reminded of my years in Moldova. Years where I had the same thing so many times, I can’t count.  Years when I got Giardia from the well at the school I worked at. For the American readers who don’t know what Giardia is– the next time you are taking your cat or dog to the vet, ask for a brochure.  In the US– only at the vet will you hear about this. In Moldova, it was in the well at my school.

I don’t think I have Giardia here– although clean drinking water is a real problem. Only 53 per cent of Tajikistan’s own population has access to safe water, and 23 per cent has adequate sanitation facilities. Water-related diseases are among the most common causes of child mortality.  Here is what UNICEF has to say about water and children:

Lack of safe water and sanitation is the world’s single largest cause of illness. In 2002, 42 per cent of households had no toilets, and one in six people had no access to safe water.

The toll on children is especially high. About 4,500 children die each day from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation facilities. Countless others suffer from poor health, diminished productivity and missed opportunities for education.

The young and the old are particularly vulnerable. Over 90 per cent of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases due to unsafe water and sanitation in the developing world occur in children below 5 years old.

The poor are especially hard hit. A child born in Europe or the United States is 520 times less likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than an infant in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 36 per cent of the population can access hygienic sanitation.

Urban-rural disparities are striking. In 2002, only 37 per cent of rural inhabitants had access to basic toilets, against 81 per cent of urban dwellers. The disparities were greatest in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a difference of 40 percentage points between rural and urban populations.

Women and girls are the “water haulers” of the world. On average, women and girls in developing countries walk 6 kilometers a day, carrying 20 litres of water, greatly reducing the time they have for other productive work or for girls to attend school.

Waterborne illnesses keep children out of school. A study of Jamaican students aged 9-12 found that children suffering from trichuriasis (a water-borne disease) were in classes only half as much as their uninfected peers. And when schools lack toilets, girls will often not attend.

Improving household drinking water can reduce diarrhea episodes by as much as 39 per cent; on average, improvements to household sanitation facilities can reduce sickness from diarrhea by almost a third. Almost half of the nearly 2 million deaths from diarrhea each year could be prevented through an understanding of basic hygiene.

The world is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal on water but not sanitation. With the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, all regions should meet their water targets. Under current rates of progress, the world will miss the sanitation target by more than half a billion people.

The MDGS are affordable and cost-effective. Meeting the MDG targets on water and sanitation would cost approximately an additional US$11.3 billion each year. A cost-benefit analysis undertaken by the World Health Organization found that every $1 invested in achieving the Millennium Development targets on water and sanitation would yield returns between $3-$34 depending on the region.

And… on a lighter note… I am certainly enjoying– if that word can be used with what I am feeling– being in a hotel with a nice bathroom as opposed to the old, blue and white, tiled outhouse in the snow in Moldova.

A referral to the fraud department

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I travel for my job.  I live in lots of different countries.  I have banked in many of them– all in fact, except Chile who would not give me a bank account! But, I still bank in the US.  My salary is generally deposited here. My savings (if I had them) would be kept here.  My loans are collected here.  You get my point.

I have several credit cards– doesn’t every American? But I have one in particular that I use when overseas. It is the only card I have which doesn’t charge me a transaction fee for doing things in foreign currency.  These fees can be huge and even when they are not– they add up.

So, I called that credit card to tell them I was moving overseas.  The conversation was frustrating to say the least.  Here is what went wrong:

  1. The nice young woman told me that she could only put a travel announcement on for 2 months.  After 6o days I would need to call in and make another one.
  2. She informed me that it would be no problem for me to call in every 2 months for 2 years because I could do so collect. (Is my time not worth anything?)
  3. She told me that I needed to talk to her boss because there was a problem.
  4. Talked to young man (her boss) and went through steps 1 through 3 again.  Only, at 3, I was told I needed to talk to the fraud department because I had had too many overseas moves. – Did I mention I work in International Development.  The “international” part explains the moving.
  5. I spoke to a young man, from Turkey, in the fraud department.  He was the first person who knew where Kazakhstan was.  He asked how my parent’s felt about it (They are used to the idea by now and excited, I think). He promises I won’t have to call in every 60 days.

Over two hours later, I have one credit card down. Yikes! I know how my time will be spent the week after the Russian test (calling all th other cards).

US Trafficking Legislation

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I haven’t posted on human trafficking for a while; so, when I got an email today with an update on 2010 trafficking legislationg, I thought I should share. Here is what it said:

I wanted to share some exciting news with you. So far this year a total of 25 human trafficking-related state bills have passed! There are several significant milestones. Here are just a few of them:

  • Alabama enacted its first-ever law criminalizing human trafficking. There are now 44 states with an anti-trafficking crime on the books!
  • Washington and Connecticut enacted laws that largely eliminate criminal responsibility for prostitution on the part of child victims of sex trafficking. A similar bill passed the Illinois legislature yesterday!
  • The Vermont Governor signed the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force and Research Commission Bill!
  • Three states, including Maryland, Washington, and Oregon enacted laws requiring posting information about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.

Click here for a full report of the summary of state laws and legislative activity from January through May 21 of this year.  Some legislatures are still in session so stay tuned!  For a full list of legislative successes please click here.

Hypersexualation of America’s Youth

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There is so much that I could say about the hypersexualization of our youth that I am not even sure where to start.  When did kids stop getting to be just kids?  When did they start doing this?

Yes, I know a lot of you are all thinking that this is harmless fun.  And, a lot of times, it is.

I admit, after going to the ballet as a child with my parents, I used to pirouette around the kitchen when no one was looking.  I imagined growing up to be one of those skinny, long-haired, graceful women on the stage.  As a child,  I was seduced by the glamor and the beauty of it all.  And, even at a young age, I was acutely aware that my body type did not fit the role of ballerina.

So… these little girls.  What are they 7? And beyond dancing, what are they doing?  What are they learning? Are they learning that they are objects of sexual desire?  Even if they don’t know that sex is, are the learning that being ogled at is desirable?  Are they learning that gyrating their bodies and wearing scantily clad clothing gets them attention?

In a country where sexual abuse of children is  a real problem, I do worry about societal acceptance of hypersexuality of children: both because of the impact on the children and because of what is says about what we are willing to accept. In the United States 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused. 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused. Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. (info from Department of Justice Statistics, found here)

Sexual abuse, even at very young ages, has life long consequences (from above).

Effects of Rape

Victims of sexual assault are:7

3 times more likely to suffer from depression.

6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.

26 times more likely to abuse drugs.

4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Here is some additional (although some old) information from Prevent-Abuse-Now.com:

Impact of Child Sexual Abuse
It is estimated that there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today.
Source: Forward, 1993. Approximately 31% of women in prison state that they had been abused as children.
Source: United States Department of Justice, 1991.

It is estimated that children with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers.
Source: National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse, 1992.

Long term effects of child abuse include fear, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor self esteem, tendency toward substance abuse and difficulty with close relationships.
Source: Browne & Finkelhor, 1986.

Guilt is universally experienced by almost all victims. Courtois and Watts described the “sexual guilt” as “guilt derived from sexual pleasure”
Source: Tsai and Wagner, l978.

Sexuality is regarded not simply as a part of the self limited to genitals, discrete behaviors, or biological aspects of reproduction, but is more properly understood as one component of the total personality that affects one’s concept of personal identity and self-esteem.
Source: Whitlock & Gillman, 1989.

Sexual victimization may profoundly interfere with and alter the development of attitudes toward self, sexuality, and trusting relationships during the critical early years of development.
Source: Tsai & Wagner, 1984.

If the child victim does not resolve the trauma, sexuality may become an area of adult conflict.
Source: Courtois & Watts, 1982; Tsai & Wagner, 1984.

There is the clinical assumption that children who feel compelled to keep sexual abuse a secret suffer greater psychic distress than victims who disclose the secret and receive assistance and support.
Source: Finkelhor & Browne, 1986.

Early identification of sexual abuse victims appears to be crucial to the reduction of suffering of abused youth and to the establishment of support systems for assistance in pursuing appropriate psychological development and healthier adult functioning . As long as disclosure continues to be a problem for young victims, then fear, suffering, and psychological distress will, like the secret, remain with the victim.
Sources: Bagley, 1992; Bagley, 1991; Finkelhor et al. 1990; Whitlock & Gillman, 1989.

Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse are significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection, according to Dr. Larry K. Brown and associates, from Rhode Island Hospital, in Providence.
See Medscape

Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse are significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection, according to Dr. Larry K. Brown and associates, from Rhode Island Hospital, in Providence. Inconsistent condom use was three times more likely among youths who had been sexually abused than among the 55 who had not. A history of sexual abuse was also significantly associated with less impulse control and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases. According to Dr. Brown, “These results suggest two things. Abused kids need adequate counseling around abuse issues. A lot of these kids keep re-experiencing the anxiety and trauma for years.” The second issue, he said, is that “most therapy does not address current sexual behavior” and the anxieties that sexually abused adolescents experience.
Source: Larry K. Brown, M.D., et al, American Journal of Psychiatry 2000;157:1413-1415.

Young girls who are forced to have sex are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or abuse alcohol and drugs in adulthood, than girls who are not sexually abused. Sexual abuse was also more strongly linked with substance abuse than with psychiatric disorders. It was also suggested that sexual abuse may lead some girls to become sexually active at an earlier age and seek out older boyfriends who might, in turn, introduce them to drugs. Psychiatric disorders were from 2.6 to 3.3 times more common among women whose CSA included intercourse, and the risk of substance abuse was increased more than fourfold, according to the results. Family factors — parental education, parenting behavior, family financial status, church attendance — had little impact on the prevalence of psychiatric or substance abuse disorders among these women, the investigators observe. Similarly, parental psychopathology did not predict the association between CSA and later psychopathology.
Source: Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., et al, Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University, Archives of General Psychiatry 2000;57:953-959.
Also see review at Medscape

Among both adolescent girls and boys, a history of sexual or physical abuse appears to increase the risk of disordered eating behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives to avoid gaining weight. Among those at increased risk for disordered eating were respondents who had experienced sexual or physical abuse and those who gave low ratings to family communication, parental caring and parental expectations. In light of these findings, the researchers conclude that “strong familial relationships may decrease the risk for disordered eating among youth reporting abuse experiences.”
Source: Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, et al, University of Minneapolis, International Journal of Eating Disorders 2000;28:249-258.

Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders as adolescents. The findings also add to a growing body of research suggesting that trauma in childhood increases the risk of developing an eating disorder. Abused girls were more dissatisfied with their weight and more likely to diet and purge their food by vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics. Abused girls were also more likely to restrict their eating when they were bored or emotionally upset. Wonderlich suggests that abused girls might experience higher levels of emotional distress, possibly linked to their abuse, and have trouble coping. Food restriction and perhaps other eating disorder behaviors may (reflect) efforts to cope with such experiences. The report also indicates that while girls who were abused were less likely to exhibit perfectionist tendencies (such as making extreme efforts to avoid disappointing others and a need to be ‘the best’), they tended to want thinner bodies than girls who had not been abused.
Source: Stephen A. Wonderlich, M.D., et al, University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Fargo, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2000;391277-1283.

US Healthcare system missing most mentally ill children and adolescents. More than 7 out of 10 American adolescents with mental health problems are getting no care, according to data released today at the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health. See Medscape

Thanks to Huffington Post for pointing this out.

Fair and equal under the law (or not)

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When I am abroad and people ask what I love about the US, I often say it is the concept and belief that all people are created equal.  Sadly, this is the concept that is sometimes what makes me sad about America– the fact that we give it lip-service but do not live up to the ideal.  I was saddened to read this today:

Virginia: State Employees Lose Protections from Anti-LGBT Discrimination

February 16, 2010 1:52PM
Samir Luther

Gov. McDonnell has signed a new executive order that strips former protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation for employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia, while legislation to protect those employees has died in the state’s legislature.

On Monday, Feb. 8, the state Senate passed legislation to protect public employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The bill would have codified and expanded previous policy set by executive orders from former Governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner based on sexual orientation only, but the legislation died in a House subcommittee on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

state-employment-laws-policiesGov. McDonnell first opposed protecting employees based on sexual orientation when he was Attorney General, arguing that the state’s discrimination policy should be defined by the legislature. His new order, which includes all previously protected categories including race, sex, religion and age – but not the previously protected category of sexual orientation – was signed on Feb. 5, but was first reported on Wednesday, Feb. 10. Current attorney general Ken Cuccinelli supports Gov. McDonell’s legal reasoning. The Governor has released a policy he recently sent to staff members and Cabinet secretaries indicating that his office would not discriminate “for any reason,” but his message could hardly be clearer: discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not prohibited.

12 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all public and private employers, and an additional 6 states have an executive or administrative order prohibiting discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.