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Speakers to address gender issues on campus

Claire Reising | Monday, November 5, 2007

A U.S. State Department report says that approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders and forced into lives of slavery or prostitution every year. One in six American women are victims of sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Although these statistics may seem far removed from the lives of Notre Dame students, three campus presentations this week will aim to raise conversation about the issues.

The Center for Social concerns and the Notre Dame Law School are hosting a panel today on human trafficking. Tomorrow, United Nations adviser Gillian Sorensen will speak on the state of women internationally, and author and activist Jackson Katz will lecture on the male response to violence against women.

Today’s symposium, “Bought and Sold: Human Trafficking and Bonded Labor in the U.S.,” will feature “Katya,” a human trafficking survivor who was asked to testify in front of a House Judiciary Committee on International Legislation, according to Rachel Tomas Morgan of the Center for Social Concerns. Two people who worked on Katya’s case, Notre Dame law professor Bridgette Carr and Angus Lowe, Senior Special Agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs, will also speak, as well as junior Katherine Dunn, who learned about human trafficking through service-learning internships.

“Human trafficking is one of the most pressing issues we have today, and it seems our campus hasn’t done much [about it] before,” Morgan said. “Trafficking is an urgent thing that we need to educate ourselves about.”

She said the symposium is timely because Congress is deciding whether to reauthorize the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, which allows heavier prosecution for offenders and provides aid to victims.

Although human trafficking is a global issue, Morgan said, ordinary U.S. citizens should learn how to recognize victims in their communities. She said that in the book “Not For Sale: The Return of Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It,” David Batstone reports that people uncovered human trafficking cases in their communities by noticing strange occurrences in their neighbors’ homes.

“I hope [the symposium] motivates students to take this issue seriously and see it as a problem that happens not only around the world or nation, but is something that could be happening in their own neighborhoods,” Morgan said.

The presentation will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Law School Courtroom.

On Tuesday, Jackson Katz, an anti-sexism activist, will address another issue that, according to Heather Rakoczy, Director of the Gender Relations Center, too few people acknowledge: violence against women. His presentation, “More than a Few Good Men: A Lecture on American Manhood and Violence Against Women,” will begin at 8 p.m. in the Hesburgh Library Auditorium.

According to Rakoczy, Katz is “the leading male activist in the men’s movement to stop violence against women.” He provides the unique perspective of being a women’s studies major and a college football player. The Mentors in Violence Program, which Katz co-founded, has worked with the U.S. Marine Corps, professional football and baseball teams and other college campuses.

Rakoczy hopes Katz’s athletic background will make him relevant for Notre Dame students.

“We thought that since Notre Dame is a high-profile athletic culture, he would [appeal] not only to the athletes, but to a culture that prizes athletics,” she said.

Both Rakoczy and Men Against Violence president Michael Redding agree that students usually do not recognize that sexual assault is a problem at Notre Dame, since most students come from upper-middle class backgrounds. However, Redding said he has spoken to students who experienced sexual assault or harassment.

“Almost everyone had a story about being assaulted or harassed,” Redding said. “[We] see that it’s happening, but we just don’t acknowledge it. Many people think that women’s movements have sailed and men and women are equal or pretty close [to it], but that’s not the case.

After students hear Katz’s lecture, Rakoczy hopes they will have a dialogue about male/female relations, and that, eventually, a training program similar to Katz’s will begin on campus.

“I hope that [Katz] gets our women and men talking to each other about what’s going on in campus in a practical way,” she said.

Another presentation, “The State of Women Internationally: Where Are We and Where Are We Going?” will take place tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the Hesburgh Center auditorium. Gillian Sorensen is the senior adviser to the United Nations Foundation, has a background in public policy, and has worked with nongovernmental organizations, said Elizabeth Rankin of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Although some students blame tension between males and females on parietals and single-sex dorms, Redding and Rakoczy do not agree. Rakoczy attributes strained gender relations to students’ unbalanced life styles. She says students create a “dual identity” by studying hard throughout the week and using the weekend for socializing and sexual release.

“Notre Dame is a place where high-achieving people come in and are focused on competition and perfectionism. They try to fit too much into one day, and relationships get compartmentalized,” she said.

Redding said students of the opposite sex should be able to establish normal relationships, despite single-sex dorms.

“You can manage to live in a room without a girl and develop an acceptable relationship with women,” he said.