Student activist


Use of media urged to fight violence against women

When she opened her Twitter account recently, the first photo Katelyn Brewer saw was of a woman in her underwear, accompanied by the message, “Doesn’t my girlfriend look sexy?”

Speaking on Civic Engagement Day at Bluffton University April 10, the Bluffton senior cited her experience as an example of how technology and media can promote violence toward women.

But at the same time they’re part of the problem, technology and media are also part of the solution, said Brewer, who spent her spring break in New York City at a meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

This year’s commission topic was the elimination of violence against women and girls, and that kind of violence can go hand in hand with technology, she said. Violence can be hidden behind the scenes in Internet pornography, she explained, and provocative photos on social media networks contribute to a “rape culture.”

And while media generally need to improve their portrayal and images of women and girls, “one of the biggest tools against violence against women is also media,” she added. “We have to flip it.”

That can be done in part through online posting of awareness-raising information, videos and stories, said Brewer, a social work major from Sandusky, Ohio. She advocated becoming an activist—something she’s even more of, she said, since her experience in New York, where she was also part of a Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom practicum. The league is a non-governmental organization that participates in the U.N. women’s commission.

Activists can start campaigns as well, she said, offering “Ring the Bell” as an example. Originating in India, it aims to get men more involved in preventing domestic violence by training them to ring the doorbell at a home to interrupt violence they hear occurring.

In the United States, about 40 percent of sexual assaults take place in the victim’s home, and one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners, according to statistics supplied by Brewer. And in India, in 2007, 22 women were killed each day on average in dowry-related murders.

Among the online sites of educational information are The Communications X-Change (, a library of materials contributed by organizations and individuals working to end violence against women and children; and PCI-Media Impact (, which blends entertainment with education in serial television and radio productions meant to increase knowledge about social issues, including violence against women.

Brewer also noted the Circle of 6 app for mobile phones. The free app allows users who are in potentially dangerous situations to send messages to six friends for help. “If you feel you’re in trouble, just press a button,” she summarized.

A Bluffton representative at last fall’s Mennonite Central Committee U.N. Student Seminar, Brewer was subsequently notified about the women’s commission meeting in March. She was interested because of both its potential value on her resume and her social work background, with its emphasis on advocacy.

But the week in New York, funded with help from the university, exceeded her expectations. “I met the most amazing women,” whose common cause overcame language barriers and inspired her to help others in the effort against violence toward women, she said. “I had a lot of my views challenged” as well, she continued, noting that one peer questioned her about becoming a social worker, saying “they’re just white saviors.”    

Considering the connections she made, it was, Brewer added, “one of the most influential experiences I’ve had.” 

Her presentation was among roughly 30 by Bluffton students, faculty and staff throughout the morning and afternoon on April 10. The day’s sessions wrapped up and reflected academic year-long exploration of the university’s 2012-13 civic engagement theme, “Virtual Living: Technology’s Impact on Culture and Learning.”