Two weeks ago, Stephen Trachtenberg, the former president of George Washington University, made headlines when he appeared on NPR's TheDiane Rehm Show to discuss sexual assault on college campuses and said that women had "to be trained not to drink in excess" so they could defend themselves against men who "misbehave." Critics accused him of placing the burden on victims and equating sexual assault with misbehavior, claims that Trachtenberg contended did not represent his views.
In the midst of this controversy, a woman who says she was raped when she was a George Washington student in the early 2000s and was "extremely traumatized" by how the university handled her case confronted Trachtenberg via email to share her experience and denounce his remarks. In an email response, Trachtenberg, now a professorat the school, said her story "surely entitles you to your anger" and implored her to "tell me exactly what I said that you think I need to be ashamed of." The exchange was obtained by Mother Jones.
Following the NPR show, the woman—who asked not to be named—emailed Trachtenberg about her case and said:
…Your recent remarks on the Diane Rehm show disgust me. Shame on you. Shame on the message that you have just sent to millions of women, millions of daughters, and millions of us survivors. I hope you can take the time to reflect on your statements and understand the impact of your words.
In interviews with Mother Jones, the woman recounted what happened to her. She said she was raped on campus by a fellow student, in the middle of the day, with no alcohol or drugs involved. She didn't immediately report the assault, but after she began to experience depression and symptoms of PTSD, she decided to take a leave of absence. According to documents she provided to Mother Jones, a counselor recorded the account of her rape and an associate dean examined her records in order to approve the leave. "No one ever talked to me about my options," she said. "No one suggested reporting to the police or going through the student judicial process." Maralee Csellar, a George Washington spokeswoman, said she can't comment on the case due to privacy laws.
After the woman returned to school, she filed a case against the alleged rapist with student judicial services. But she said she was not provided a victim's advocate or any other support, and was "blindsided" by the legal defense mounted by the alleged assailant. She had an emotional breakdown and was unable to finish the trial. After that "extremely" traumatizing experience, she said she was not interested in going to the police.
Replying to the woman, Trachtenberg wrote:
Yours is a dramatic story of a dreadful experience and it surely entitles you to your anger. I like to think that today the university would serve you better. Your frustration with what happened seems sound. That said there are limitations to what the university can do. We can regret that but it cannot be denied. I believe that cases like yours need to be dealt with by the state. They have police and prosecutors and courts that have an expertise which exceeds that of the university. Rape by a student is no less rape than that by any other citizen and all need to be treated like crimes and adjudicated as such. My remarks on the Diane Rehm show are what they are. They do not define all that I think about the matter but they stand for a portion of my view that educating women--men too--about the dangers of drinking would make them safer. Being sober make one less vulnerable. And helps with driving too. Similarly I think it empowers women to know something about self defense if attacked. So go back and think about what I said beyond the strong memories of your personal experience and tell me exactly what I said that you think I need to be ashamed of. Educated empowered women strike me as a good idea.
In an email to Mother Jones, Trachtenberg—who noted that he does not speak on behalf of the university—writes, "This is a tragic story that seems to go back about a decade. I tried to be as responsive as I could to this abused woman when she wrote but to some agendas there is no reply." He added, "My heart goes out to her."
"Because my effort to candidly address part of a problem fell short of perfection and neglected to deal with all aspects of the rape culture agenda I was abused," Trachtenberg wrote in an email to Mother Jones.
More than 75 schools are being investigated by the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to determine whether they botched sexual-assault investigations. George Washington is not one of those schools. Still, in January 2014, a victim complained to the student newspaper, the GW Hatchet, about the school's response to her accusation of sexual assault, noting, "It was this constant battle with GW." Csellar said that the university issued new sexual-violence policies last year and is "committed to fully supporting survivors of such acts and treating appropriately those who are found to have committed them."
Trachtenberg insists that his original comments have been misconstrued and that he's being unfairly maligned. "I thought I was speaking good and prudent truth on behalf of women when I was on the Diane Rehm Show," he writes. "I said don't blame the victims and I proposed two modest and hardly radical ideas."He later adds, "Because my effort to candidly address part of a problem fell short of perfection and neglected to deal with all aspects of the rape culture agenda I was abused."
"Look what happened to me, look at my case," the woman told Mother Jones. "I'm sure this is happening to other people. With the attitude of people like this, whom we put our trust in, no wonder."
A former university president came under fire this week for the advice he gave on how to combat sexual assault on college campuses. On Tuesday, George Washington University President Emeritus Stephen Trachtenberg appeared on NPR's Diane Rehm Show and said, "Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave." Critics pounced. Jezebel slammed his comments as "jaw-droppingly stupid," and the website noted, "If this is the attitude freely and blithely expressed by a former University President, it's no wonder that more than 75 schools are currently under investigation by the Department of Education for botching sexual assault investigations."
The following day, Trachtenberg told the school newspaper, The GW Hatchet, that his remarks had been taken "out of context," but he reiterated his main point: "What I'm saying is you want to have somebody you care about like your daughter, granddaughter or girlfriend to understand her limits because she will be less likely to be unable to fight off somebody who is attacking her."
On Thursday, Mother Jones asked Trachtenberg to comment on the ongoing controversy, and he replied with a written statement. Regarding Jezebel, he said:
Jezebel has a world view that informs their prose. They are an advocate for an important cause and they take every opportunity to make their case. Sometimes in their enthusiasm they may get a little overheated. It's hard to resist an apparent opportunity when you believe you are on the side of the angels.
In response to other questions—including why he chose to use the word "misbehave" to describe sexual assault—Trachtenberg said:
I chose that word because I was thinking and speaking quickly under time constraints on a radio show. Under different circumstances I might have used another perhaps stronger word. I am an educator. I believe in the power of education. I think that education about drinking and its effects on an individual can help protect that person from vulnerability. Knowledge makes one stronger. I also believe that having skills gives one power. If you know how to defend yourself you have strength that can be helpful in the event things turn physical. These two ideas are not meant to solve all problems. They are not blame shifters. They are what they are. Better to know things then not. No silver bullets here. We need to educate men too. Date rape is largely the responsibility of young men and alcohol and opportunity. We can address these issues as a community. Men and women and institutions together. Victims should do their best but they are victims and not to blame. My recommendation is to change the culture of the campus so that men and women protect and nurture each other as a family would. It will take work but it can be done.
On Sunday, the Washington Post published an exposé revealing that private companies are peddling surveillance systems to foreign governments that track the location of cellphone users in the United States and abroad. The report raised a basic question: How can this be happening when cellphone companies generally promise not to disclose their customers' location information without their consent? The main problem is that location information is available on a global network that can be accessed by thousands of companies. And in the wake of the Post story, US cellphone companies are refusing to discuss how this squares with their privacy policies, or say what they are doing to keep their customers' whereabouts confidential.
Here's what's going on: Carriers collect location information from cellphone towers and share it with each other through a global network called SS7. This allows a US carrier to find a customer even if she hops a plane to India. But according to the Post, surveillance systems makers have gained access to SS7 and are using it to grab location data, allowing these firms to pinpoint people within a few city blocks.
President Obama announces he's prepared to authorize airstrikes if ISIS advances on Irbil.
On Thursday, as Islamic militants closed in on the Kurdish capital of Irbil, President Obama authorized targeted air strikes in Iraq if necessary to prevent the capture of the city, which is a base for US officials and foreign workers. "When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action," Obama said. He also pledged to provide humanitarian aid and to take steps to protect about 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect, who have fled their homes and have been trapped on nearby mountains.
The announcements came after fighters associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of at least one town within 20 miles of the city and reportedly seized a massive dam, which if breached could flood Mosul, a city of 1.5 million residents.
Throughout the decade following the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Kurdish north has avoided much of the violence and chaos common in the south. As recently as June, the State Department noted that the region has been "more stable relative to the rest of Iraq in recent years." That relative tranquility has not only drawn diplomats, oil workers, and US military personnel to Irbil: Just last year, the New York Times called the city a "tourist boom town." Should ISIS take Irbil, any foreigners left there would be at considerable risk.
US companies began pulling employees from Iraq before ISIS's recent advances. According to the leader of Iraq's state-run South Oil Company, Exxon Mobil staged a "major evacuation" in mid-June and BP reportedly withdrew 20 percent of its staff. But over the last few days, companies have ramped up extractions from Kurdistan: On Thursday, Reuters reported that Exxon Mobil is pulling its staff, and a Chevron spokeswomen told the Wall Street Journal the company had reduced its number of foreign workers in the region.
Even as ISIS made dramatic gains across Iraq in June and July, Irbil remained a safe haven. Refugees from elsewhere in northern Iraq streamed in, as did foreigners. Employees of Siemens Energy were evacuated to Irbil in mid-June amid a bloody battle for control of Baiji's oil infrastructure. Earlier that month, the State Department relocated staffers from the embassy in Baghdad to consulates outside the capital, including the one in Irbil. But now, the situation has reversed. According to the New York Times, civilians are swamping Irbil's airport, hoping to snag seats on flights to Baghdad. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has canceled all flights to Irbil.
Aki Peritz, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, says that when US citizens are under threat, the State Department works quickly. And when it comes to the safety of diplomatic staff, "if they felt like the US consulate could fall, they would have evacuated," he says. "They have an itchy finger, especially after Benghazi—they're not going to let Americans get chopped up and put on the internet."
While Obama said on Thursday night that protecting US military personnel, diplomats, and civilians living in Irbil is a priority, it's unclear just how many Americans and other foreigners are present in the city, and what plans may be in place to evacuate them. A senior administration official told reporters late on Thursday that there was an "ongoing conversation" in the administration about evacuating its diplomats, but "given that we will make sure [ISIS] cannot approach Irbil, we're very confident our consulate is safe."
A Defense Department spokesman, Commander Bill Speaks, says that there is a Joint Operations Center in Irbil, with about 40 military personnel. He would not discuss contingency planning for any potential evacuation of US or non-US foreign citizens. Katherine Pfaff, a spokesperson for the US State Department, declined to provide the number of staff based in the Irbil consulate. "We have nothing to announce on possible evacuations," she says.
According to Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who was in Irbil in June, there's not a huge American presence in the city, but it is home to some foreign diplomats and oil workers, with a couple of expat hotspots. He says that Kurdish officials "knew the fight was coming; they just didn't know it was coming so quickly."
David Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, is on his way to Irbil on Sunday for a preplanned research trip. He told Mother Jones from his hotel in Turkey that he has meetings scheduled with government officials and "as far as I know, everything is on track."
"It's a fast-moving, volatile situation," he adds. "Unless something really unexpected happens, I think the Islamic State is going to be on the run." He says he promised his daughters that he wouldn't "do anything foolish."
After Ukrainian rebels used Russian missiles to shoot down a passenger airliner last month, the United States and the European Union escalated sanctions against Russia, cutting off Russian firms' and individuals' access to Western markets and western financing. Now Russian President Vladimir Putin is striking back—by taking aim at his people's ability to buy Western-produced food.
On Wednesday, Putin issued a new decree warning that he plans to ban or limit imports of food products and agricultural goods from the US and the EU. Putin didn't specify the exact products he wants to target; instead, he asked Russian government agencies to draft lists of products that should be limited or banned. (The Russian government has already reassured citizens that imports on wine and baby food are safe.)
Nevertheless, Russians and western ex-pats living in Russia are already venting their frustrations, The New Republic reports. "American whiskey, Dutch cheeses, German beer, Australian beef, Greek olives. Say bye-bye to all that," an independent Russian TV channel tweeted. Russia imports a wide range of American food and agricultural products—$1.3 billion worth in 2013 alone. Here's a list of some of the food and agricultural products that could be threatened by Putin's move:
Kale: According to the United Nation's commodity trade database, the United States exported to Russia in 2013 about 338,266 pounds of cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and kale, both fresh and chilled, worth about $93,894.
Whiskey: Russia bought $85 million worth of various whiskeys from the US in 2013, per the UN's commodity trade database. "It is well known that Russians like to drink alcohol," the US Department of Agriculture noted in a report released last year. Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are increasingly popular in Russia, according to the report. Russia's consumer protection agency recently announced that it was investigating Kentucky Gentleman bourbon due to fears that it contains chemicals that could produce infertility and cause cancer, and was already proceeding with plans to ban that specific brand in the country. (A spokesperson for the Sazerac Company said they had not been contacted by Russia's Rospotrebnadzor, and had no comment at this time.)
Fruit: Russia imports more apples and pears than any other country, according to USDA. Shipments from the US only constitute a small share of those imports—less than 1 percent of the total apple market in Russia—but that still amounted to $7.7 million worth of apples in 2012. "U.S. apples have a niche market in Russia as many consumers prefer the large and richly colored apples, which are characteristics that U.S. suppliers can normally provide," a USDA report said.
Almonds: In 2012, the United States supplied about 92 percent of the Russian almond market, USDA reported. In 2013, the US exported about $132 million worth of shelled almonds to Russia, according to the United Nations.
Cows: In 2012, Russia imported 74,734 bovine animals from the United States. "Russia was the second largest market for the U.S. breeding cattle exports (30 percent of total U.S. live cattle exports) after Canada during the first 8 months of 2013," the USDA reported.
Cake mix: In 2013, the United States exported about 2.2 million pounds of bread, pastry, biscuit mixes and dough worth $1,191,464 to Russia, according to the United Nations.
Soybeans: In 2013, US exported $157 million worth of soybeans to Russia.
Caviar: In 2013, the US exported $1,014,848 worth of preserved fish, fish eggs, and caviar to Russia.