Upcoming Event: “Addressing Sexual Assault on Campus: The Power of Narrative”

Please join Ci3 this Thursday, April 30, at 7pm for a screening of the timely new documentary, “The Hunting Ground“. This film exposes the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses and profiles the institutional and social injustices faced by victims and their families.

Following the screening, a panel will address three themes in ending sexual violence: the power of narrative and lived experience, transforming rape culture, and enhancing leadership on campus and in our communities.

Ci3 is proud to sponsor this event along with the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), and Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP).

For more information or to RSVP, click here.

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‘Bystander’: Game Designer Ashlyn Sparrow on the Power of Intervention

Patrick Jagoda and Ashlyn Sparrow

Ashlyn Sparrow (L) with GCC Co-Founder Dr. Patrick Jagoda. Photo by Nabiha Khan.

This is the first of a series of posts on Bystander, Ci3 and Game Changer Chicago Design Lab‘s digital game and intervention. Now in development, Bystander seeks to empower youth to help end sexual violence. In the following post, GCC Lab Director Ashlyn Sparrow shares why Bystander, and bystander intervention, is important to her.

2012, my senior year in college. It was late at night and I was in my dorm’s lobby. I had just finished talking with my dad. He worked overseas at the time so I relished any chance to talk with him, even if it was 3 am.  As I stood up from my chair, a guy came around the corner.  He smelled of alcohol.

He started to touch me. I tried to escape but his grip was too strong.  A few moments later, his friend found us in the lobby and quickly pulled him away from me.  He asked if I was okay and the only thing I could say was “yeah…”

What’s stopped me from talking about this incident was my own definition of sexual assault.  If it’s not rape, there’s nothing to talk about, and it’s not harassment if it doesn’t continue over an extended period of time.  So where did that put me? Who do I talk to? What could I do? What was I supposed to do?

I went back to my room and I cried myself to sleep, careful not to disturb my roommate.  I didn’t cry because of what happened, but what could have happened.

Three years later, I’m now working on a game about sexual assault called Bystander. This is an interactive narrative that targets high school youth, helping to increase awareness, skills and attitudes needed to help end sexual violence just like my own bystander helped me. You might be thinking a bystander is a person who does not take part in certain situations. Technically, that is true. However, we want to empower youth to become “active bystanders,” those who speak up and act.

In Bystander, the player takes the role of Casey, a high school junior on his way to school. While Casey sends text messages to his friends, Kaleb and Amy, a weekend event triggers his memories of a school presentation on bystander intervention. As the presenter speaks, Casey vividly imagines four scenarios as interactive moments through which the player learns skills to be a successful bystander.

In the first scenario, players navigate a high school identifying instances of sexual harassment. As the player clicks through the game, they will interact with different moments that might be sexual harassment. A couple kissing is vastly different from grabbing a stranger’s butt. However, many youth do not realize that unwanted catcalling is also a form of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is simply defined as conduct that is sexual in nature, unwanted, and creates a hostile environment. Every school is required to follow reporting guidelines laid out by Title IX, a law requiring educational institutions to have policies and procedures against sexual harassment. With this knowledge at hand, players must work through each scenes and correctly ways to intervene, finally reporting all forms of sexual harassment to their guidance counselor.

The next scenario deals with partner sexual assault, as the player has a conversation with a young woman assaulted by her boyfriend. The player must deny rape myths as she tells her story by choosing the proper dialogue options. In this scenario we represent culturally accepted rape myths such as “she asked for it,” “she lied,” or “he didn’t mean to.” Here, we begin to model dialogue that affirms but does not place blame on the victim. It doesn’t matter what a one wears, or how one acts, sex without consent is wrong.

Our third scenario focuses on alcohol and sexual assault in a party. The player is at a party and witnesses an impending assault by a male friend. Alternating between two points of view, the player must interact with each scene finding ways to they could potentially intervene, however not every prop is a potential solution.

Finally, scenario four has players search for resources to help a male friend who has been sexually assaulted.  The friend asks a series of questions that will be displayed on screen (e.g. “Who could I report this to?”).  The player must type an answer into an empty text field. If the answer isn’t known they can use their phone, which allows players to explore in-game websites on sexual violence and assault. Here, the player can look for answers and find more information to the friend’s questions.

The game design process has not been terribly difficult. But it does help that we’ve solidified our educational game design process that includes:

  • Extensive literature review
  • Set learning objectives
  • Find a basic game mechanic
  • Prototype and test

Bystander is the first Game Changer project to go through this pipeline from start to finish.  Researchers and game designers are slowly becoming more accustomed to working with each other—emphasis on slowly. It’s hard to work across disciplines but ultimately allows us to create new and innovative ways to engage youth in sexual reproductive health.

We are putting the final touches on the narrative script, and securing actors to portray the main characters. By late January, Bystander will be ready to play test with youth.  Hopefully, we’ll see some attitudes change but our research phase will not begin until April.

Working on this game has opened my eyes and releasing this to high schools is giving back the only way I know how. I never really thought of myself as an activist, just a humble game designer. However, like a bystander, there are multiple ways to intervene.

Game Changer Chicago Seeks Youth Ages 14-18 for “Bystander” Characters

Now in development, “Bystander” is a digital game that also serves as an intervention to increase the skills, attitudes, and awareness to empower youth to help end sexual violence.

Information below. Interested youth can send name, age, school and photo to Ci3 Research Specialist Erin Jaworski at ejaworski@uchicago.edu.

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Game Changer Chicago Announces “Bystander” and “Smoke Stacks”

Smoke Stacks playtest

Members of our GCC team playtest Smoke Stacks. Photo by Lauren Whalen

Ci3’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab is proud to announce two work-in-progress games for youth.

Bystander is an interactive, computer-based narrative that seeks to empower youth to end sexual violence. The second game, Smoke Stacks is a board game designed to educate youth on the dangers of smoking and the role of tobacco companies in promoting use and addiction.

Learn more about past and present GCC projects here.

Emergency Contraception Controversy & Gender-Based Violence

Access to emergency contraception (EC) has a storied history in the USA and directly impacts victims of sexual violence. Ci3 and the Section of Family Planning & Contraception Research, along with the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality hosted a challenging and informative presentation that explored this intersection. Dr. Susan F. Wood, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Director of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health at The George Washington University spoke about her role and observations surrounding over-the-counter EC access.

As Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health at the FDA, Dr. Wood directed the FDA Office of Women’s Health from 2000 to 2005, at which point she resigned on principle over the continued delay of approval of EC over-the-counter.

Dr. Susan F. Wood

Dr. Susan F. Wood

Dr. Wood’s talk, Controversy over Contraception: From Emergency Contraception to Contraceptive Coverage to the Affordable Care Act, began with the historical context of women’s health and federal funding and ended with the implications of the ACA specifically regarding contraceptive coverage and access.Her talk focused primarily on the ongoing struggle to make EC available to all women over the counter.

In her role at the FDA, Dr. Wood witnessed the agency’s attempts to regulate the practice of medicine and pharmacy when it came to emergency contraception, an unprecedented course of action not only in its role as a government agency but also because of the impact on women’s access to family planning services.

The FDA approved Plan B as EC in 1999 as a prescription product for all women of childbearing potential. The manufacturer sought over-the-counter (OTC) approval in 2003.

At this early stage, it was already known that:

  • EC is safe and suitable for all women.
  • EC does not cause an abortion (“The only relation between EC and abortion is that EC prevents the need for an abortion,” says Dr. Wood.)
  • EC needs to be taken soon after (within hours of) intercourse to be the most effective.
  • EC provides victims of rape the option to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Despite these facts and extensive studies on the safety for women of all ages, politics and myths about EC — that it would increase adolescent sexual activity, encourage pedophilia, or cause an abortion — delayed FDA approval.

Not until August 2006 did the FDA approve Plan B over-the-counter (OTC) at pharmacies and health clinics, and this approval was limited to women 18 years and older; younger women would still require a prescription. Between 2003-2006, recommendation for approval had been overruled several times, Dr. Wood resigned, and activists across the country lobbied the FDA to make decisions that reflect good medicine and public interest.

In March 2009, a US district court ruled that the FDA decision to restrict access to women under 18 was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the FDA to lift restrictions on 17-year-olds within 30 days. Also in 2009, the FDA approved One Step (a one-dose version of Plan B) and Next Choice (a two-dose generic version), but the age restriction remained at 17. In 2010, with the age restriction still in place, The Center for Reproductive Rights filed for contempt of court citing the delays.

In 2011, Teva (One Step) released new data and filed an application to lift the age restriction. With the age restriction ready to be lifted, the FDA was overruled by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who cited the lack of evidence on 11- to 12-year-olds’ ability to use the product. Although this argument was unprecedented and unfounded, President Obama agreed with Kathleen’s lack of evidence argument and the age restriction remained.

It took until June 2013 for the FDA to approve Plan B One Step OTC for all women without age restriction. That is, it took 10 years for women to have OTC access to a safe medicine approved by the FDA for women of all ages.

Plan B as seen over-the-counter. Image from Dr Wood's presentation 11/19/13.

Plan B as seen over-the-counter. Image from Dr. Wood’s presentation 11/19/13.

How does this history of EC approval, restrictions, stigma, and accessibility relate to gender-based violence and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign?

  1. EC is an essential contraceptive option for women who experience sexual violence. According to the FDA: “Seven out of every eight women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant after taking Plan B, Plan B One-Step, or Next Choice.” Dr. Wood adds, “There isn’t any difference in efficacy for the use of EC for victims of sexual violence.”
  2. EC potentially prevents the extra burden of an unwanted pregnancy for rape victims.
  3. The cost of EC may be prohibitive; EC costs about $50 OTC in most pharmacies. Under the Affordable Care Act, the cost should still be covered through prescription. According to Dr. Wood, in the cases of rape, specifically for populations who cannot afford the $50, access to EC through family planning clinics may reduce the cost.
  4. If a victim of sexual violence seeks care at an emergency room, EC should be provided as part of her treatment.
  5. Even though EC is available OTC, doctors should continue prescribing and counseling EC, especially for victims of sexual violence. According to Dr. Wood, “Time is of the essence, so provision of information, and advance provision of EC can be helpful for all women. In addition, awareness by providers of other EC methods, such as insertion of copper IUD or use of Ella (a prescription only emergency contraception that is effective for up to 5 days) is important.”

V-Day and The Vagina Monologues: My Experience

Founded by playwright Eve Ensler, V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. On Day 2 of the 16 Days of Activism, Ci3 Communications Manager Lauren Whalen reflects on her experience with the V-Day movement. 

When I walked into the green room of my college’s mainstage theater, I had no idea I’d walk out a changed person.

It was late 1999, and I was a theater major at Loyola University Chicago. The department was doing an open call for actresses for their February 2000 production of The Vagina Monologues. The year before, Loyola had been one of the first schools to perform the piece, an original play by Eve Ensler that raised awareness and funds to end violence against women.

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I just wanted to be in a show. Though I’d identified as a feminist since eighth grade, I was alarmed by all the anger I’d witnessed around me since I’d started undergrad. I wasn’t an angry person, and I had a boyfriend, therefore I thought I wasn’t a “real” feminist. But opportunity won out, and besides, I was curious about a show that used that word so openly.

After I was cast, I bought a copy of the play at Borders and read it cover to cover. My eyebrows almost disappeared into my hairline. Surely these stories were exaggerated. I knew what rape and abuse were, of course, but until then, they were abstract concepts. I didn’t realize how wildly fortunate and privileged I was, never to have experienced them firsthand. I was shocked by these monologues, the stories of women who’d been victimized by anonymous soldiers, by strangers, by adults they should have been able to trust.

And then, I got angry. Why should this be happening? Why was society so conditioned to accept it, or in my case, why was it so easy to ignore? Why was it still considered tradition, in other countries, to sever a woman’s clitoris? Why were so many women, of every size, shape and color, survivors of violence?

A few months later, I performed my small role with gusto. I felt the collective power of my castmates – a week before the production, posters advertising The Vagina Monologues had been ripped down all over campus, causing us to proudly sport homemade T-shirts with “V” on them, while taping up new posters. And over the next seven years, I would appear in the show six more times (both at Loyola and at Northern Illinois University, where I attended law school). I would spend a day with Eve Ensler herself. I would add an undergrad minor in Women’s Studies, and eventually pay my law school tuition as a Women’s Studies teaching assistant. In 2006, I would direct and act in a university-wide production, and (due to a venue double booking) perform the final monologue in a parking lot in DeKalb, Illinois.

I’ve still never experienced sexual violence or abuse, but I have done my best to advocate for survivors through my work. Sadly, women are often perceived as second-class citizens. And that won’t change unless we make our voices heard, and help others do the same.

Life would have been very different had I not walked into the green room that day.

To learn more about V-Day and The Vagina Monologues, visit http://www.vday.org

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence – Nov. 25-Dec. 10

Today marks the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign will run through December 10.

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From the official website:

The international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute, coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose November 25 (the International Day Against Violence Against Women) and December 10 (International Human Rights Day) in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights, and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights.

This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.  The 16 Days Campaign has been used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by:

  • raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels
  • strengthening local work around violence against women
  • establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women
  • providing a forum in which organizers can develop and share new and effective strategies
  • demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women
  • creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women
Since 1991, over 5,167 organizations in approximately 187 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaign. This year, The University of Chicago Section of Family Planning and Ci3 (the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproduction Health) will join as participants. We will be posting original content and relevant links for each of the 16 days, ranging from personal experiences to film reviews to research.
To join the conversation:

Thank you for your participation, and for your support.