Friday, October 29, 2010

This Week: Forgive...and Forget?

Acquaintance rape, or date rape, is "sexual assault by an individual known to the victim." The National Center for Victims of Crime reports that 77% of completed rapes are committed by non-strangers. This dispells the myth that sexual assaults are only carried out by crazed lunatics in a dark alley on the wrong side of town.

Less than 2% of women who are victims of acquaintance rape report their attack, compared to 21% of those who are raped by strangers. The following letter was written by a woman who falls into that 2%. She never reported the incident to the police, but asked for an outlet for her pain- here it is:

I can’t believe you said, “I love you.” I know it’s your first time saying that to a girl and everything, and I know I’ve only been in love twice before. But let me assure you, young man, that this is NOT what love feels like. Love is a listening ear. When I said no, you should have heard me, and obeyed. You should have climbed your scrawny limbs off of me, and gone to sleep. As a matter of fact, you should have gotten out of the bed and slept on the floor. Obviously you didn’t have enough self-control to lie in bed next to me.

 Love is a friend. We’ve known each other for almost two years, and before any romantic relationship, we were friends first. You knew how to make me laugh, and you knew what to say when I started to cry. And somehow tonight, you were the reason my cheeks had rivers of salt-water gushing toward my chin.

Of all the times to tell me that ‘love’ is what you’re feeling, you think this moment is appropriate? Just a few minutes ago, I was pleading you to stop trying to make love to me, and my screams fell on deaf ears. ‘I’m sorry’, and ‘I love you’, and ‘I didn’t mean it’ don’t fix what just happened. What if I’m pregnant? When is the last time you were tested? In a week I’ll go get tested and lose sleep until my results come back. And what will you do? Apologize a few more times, and go back to living your life?
I forgive you. I’m more upset at myself for even coming here, and trusting you, and kissing you. I can’t help but feel like I provoked this, like I asked for this disrespect and mistreatment. The long-hand kept ticking and the short-hand got closer and closer to 2, then 3, then 4am before I realized that this watch was telling me it was time to go. But, no. I stayed because I enjoyed your company. It’s like things were the way they used to be. That was back when we were friends, and when I felt like I was falling in love with you. I don’t feel like that any more. I feel angry, betrayed, and scared. So if you're wondering, the answer is no. I don't love you back. I don't hate you either. I forgive you. And I know one day, I'll be able to forgive myself, too. I don't care that you may never read this, or that we may never speak again. They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. They forget to mention the recovery portion that hurts like hell until you're healed. That's where I am now- getting stronger and stronger everyday.

I forgive you. But, I'll never forget.

Talk about it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

This Week: Let's Talk About Sex....and Abortion

Since we were old enough to take sex education classes at school, or have “the talk” with our parents, we’ve discussed pregnancy, and abortion, too. We've experienced first-hand, or consoled a friend through the distress, confusion, shame and depression that accompany this decision. Aside from the political and religious pressures surrounding the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate, there are often familial and societal pressures that play into a woman's decision to abort her pregnancy. But, since it takes two to do the cliche tango, what role do men play in all of this? Some men feel that they have a right to have a significant role to play in the decision-making process. But others, like a college grad I recently spoke with on the issue, argue that “a man can voice his opinion, but it inevitably is the woman’s decision.”

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is sometimes only the beginning of the end. While women face symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, men are left with feelings of inadequacy and emasculation. Men and women both experience declines in sexual libido and communication, and a sense of partnership is often lost. In fact, post-abortion studies have shown that 40 to 75 percent of romantic relationships end after a woman has an abortion. Another young man I spoke with believes that people don't think about these possibilities until it's too late, and wishes more would realize that "if you're brave enough to take on the risks [of unprotected sex] then you're brave enough to handle the consequences." 


*Names have been changed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This Week: "Really Oprah? Six years have passed by, and you haven't learned jack-sh*t"

For the past 24 years, it’s been the O-way or no way. When Oprah Winfrey declares her favorite ice cream on an Oprah’s Favorite Things episode, it’s sold out and on backorder by week’s end. Oprah says stop texting while driving- we sign a pledge and put the phones down (at least until we reach a stop light). Now, during the finale season of the show that has brought to light so many “Aha!” moments in our lives, someone is calling Oprah’s bluff.

Dr. David Malebranche is an Internal Medicine physician, public health professional, and assistant professor at Emory University’s School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. On Saturday, October 9, Dr. Malebranche posted an open letter to Oprah in a Note on his Facebook account. It was in response to the recent episode on the transmission of HIV/AIDS to a woman by her husband who was sleeping with men “on the down low”.

In Dr. Malebranche’s eyes, the story- while tragic- was depicted as one-sided. In his letter, Malebranche argued that “the show remained stuck in a metaphorical time warp.” During my interview with him this past Thursday, Dr. Malebranche pointed out that there is an incessant depiction of women as “innocent victims”, and of gay black men as the villains. “It’s HIV innocent versus HIV guilty,” Malebranche said. He argues that because of this sentiment, the rift between black gay men and women is irreparable. I asked if there was any way that this chasm could be bridged. “Not when shows like this keep airing," he responded. "I felt bad for the woman that was there. But, it was approached with a ‘this really shouldn’t happen to me’ attitude. Do you think any of these people across the world wanted [HIV]?"

Another area that was left untouched in the Oprah episode was why men feel the need to hide the truth from their heterosexual partners. At the root of these down-low brothers’ behavior, is perhaps a troubled past, and the fear and shame that are associated with being an openly gay black man. “How many people are just genuinely dishonest?” Malebranche remarked, “…you have to scratch beneath the surface a little bit.” Dr. Malebranche’s intention in writing the letter was simply to “be clear in my truth.” He received over 300 new Friend requests on Facebook, and 100+ messages in his Facebook inbox by the Sunday evening after he posted the letter. People thanked Malebranche for his voice, and for clarity, since many people got caught up in the sensationalism of the episode.

And where does the public health come into play? Dr. Malebranche suggests that, more so than personalized interventions, social media and mass marketing are the best ways to spread important information. His letter is a prime example- he posted the note at the suggestion of a friend, when he realized he had to stop waiting on “someone” to say something. That someone was him, and the response was viral (no pun intended). Dr. Malebranche’s letter allowed the public to gain a different perspective on a rarely visited, always divisive issue. “I got tired of it. I sat down and watched the show and I was bothered but the one thing that really stuck out in my mind was, 'Really Oprah? Have you really not done any research? Six years have passed by and you haven’t learned jack sh*t.”

Have you?

Friday, October 8, 2010

This Week: An Ode to the Ounces

First things first: the "This Week" series is a new addition to our blog. Every week, you can look forward to some commentary on a health issue affecting our community. Public Health is a broad field, so expect to see a wide range of topics covered. We only ask two things: if you want a certain topic discussed, email us your suggestions! And secondly, remember that these opinions are put out there to spur discussion , so please leave us your two (or twenty) cents in the comments section. Here goes the first edition of This Week.

An Ode to the Ounces

We’ve been told since the release of AOL 2.0, by computer un-savvy old heads, that ‘the media’ was destroying our generation. Blame WWF, blame Eminem’s first three albums, or blame Facebook- as each year goes by, something else is made a scapegoat for low performance in the classroom, or even lower baggy jeans. A consistent theme has been to blame hip-hop music for encouraging these infatuations with the wrong ideas, especially in the minds of young Black men. For once, the grown-ups might be right. Although they may not be able to appreciate the musical genius of Kanye West or Wale, there is a recurring theme in hip-hop music that may be encouraging a harmful habit – marijuana use. 

Take, for example, the huge buzz spurred by up-and-coming rapper, Wiz Khalifa. His most recent mixtape, Kush and OJ, was the number one download on Google’s hot search trends, and after the April 14th release of the mixtape, #kushandorangejuice became the number one trending topic on Twitter, and remained on the list for three days. The mixtape opens with a track entitled Waken Baken, and throughout the mixtape, Wiz Khalifa continues to hail marijuana use- “why can’t everyone smoke like me?/give me a quiet place let me roll my weed” he croons in Still Blazin’. Sure, we aren’t as naive as we once were, way, way back in our impressionable years (also known as, the ‘90s). But, what about the kids who are just now growing up, listening to artists like Wiz Khalifa and trying to emulate those habits? The voice of popular artists is sometimes louder than a parent’s or teacher’s voice; likewise, the messages that are spread will be taken that much more seriously, whether positive or negative in context. 

Wiz Khailfa can’t take all the credit, though. Even before the rapper bragged about his expensive taste- “I might spend 10 grand on weed a month,” he said in a recent interview- plenty of hip-hop artists were declaring their love for Mary Jane.  “I still stay high and I still got my diploma,” Weezy claims on Cali Dro released in 2006. (The NIH notes that marijuana affects judgment, memory, and coordination- good luck passing finals when you can’t remember what class you’re in). Some artists even glamorize the act, like Jay-Z on the 2003 track, Excuse Me Miss- “You can’t even roll a blunt to this one- you gotta light a J.”Artists spoke, and American youth listened- in December 2009, the University of Michigan reported that over the previous 12 months, marijuana use was at 12% among the nation’s 8th graders, 27% of 10th grades, and a third of 12th graders. Further, since marijuana use itself is still arguably dangerous, the behaviors accompanied with it can certainly pose serious health risks. In 2008, Emory University public health researchers presented a study which found that “black girls who used marijuana had significantly higher rates of incident STDs than non-marijuana users. They also had “more sex partners, and… more recent episodes of [vaginal intercourse] while their partner was under the influence.” 

What about taking a step away from adolescents, and looking at marijuana use among college-aged students and adults? A June 2008 report on a study of alcohol and marijuana use by HBCU students showed that violence-related problems appeared to be most frequent among students who used alcohol and marijuana, as opposed to alcohol alone. Another study, published in 2008 in the North American Journal of Psychology, showed that risky sexual behaviors often accompanied marijuana and alcohol use. Accordingly, rates of newly reported HIV infections in the state of study were “higher in black men of all age groups than white men overall.” 

Here are some more facts:
  • Marijuana can cause panic, anxiety, and paranoia; in large doses, it can cause temporary toxic psychosis
  • From 1993-2000, the number of emergency room marijuana mentions more than tripled
  • Someone who smokes five joints a week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes a day.
  • A Columbia University study showed that people who smoked one marijuana joint every other day for a year had a white blood cell count that was 39% lower than normal
This last fact may be the most relevant against arguments for the medicinal use of marijuana. Currently, there are 14 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have legalized a possession of certain amounts of marijuana. Oftentimes, marijuana is prescribed for patients who are dealing with AIDS (to increase appetite) and cancer (as a pain reliever). However, these patients are already immunocompromised, so smoking marijuana is in fact making them more susceptible to potentially life-ending disease. 

It wouldn’t be fair to blame hip-hop as an entire genre for the increased use of marijuana among our generation. However, it is important to shed light on the fact that these artists who kids (and even some adults) revere are not setting the best examples. Marijuana can be an expensive and harmful hobby. It alters our health, detracts from education, increases incidence of crime, and overall, leads to poor decision-making. The rockstar drug-filled lifestyle might not make it when the lights dim, and the rest of us are too high to notice.

What say you?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

One Saturday Morning

On Saturday, October 2nd, we could have been in the library. What with the looming threat of midterm exams, we SHOULD have been in the library, or at least had a book in front of us. Instead, the George Washington University BPHSN chapter decided to take some time away from our studies to address some major issues affecting our people, and our nation.

First up was the 24th annual AIDS Walk Washington. This 5K walk/timed run is a fundraiser hosted by and benefiting the Whitman-Walker Clinic. BPHSN President, Chinenye Anyanwu (or as we like to call her, ChiChi) walked for her second time this past Saturday. Despite the early wake-up call and long walk from the metro to Freedom Plaza where the walk began, ChiChi thoroughly enjoyed the event. Most notable to her was the solidarity among everyone who came to participate. "We saw past GW students...entire families came out, some people were wearing t-shirts in memory of loved ones...everyone came together to walk for a good cause," ChiChi commented. And, although the walk was long, there was plenty of laughter to keep people energized. When she reached the quilt at the end of the walk, ChiChi took a moment to inspect some of the patches. "Some were really detailed, others just had encouraging messages..." Although HIV/AIDS affects our community most detrimentally, to her, participating in the walk did not make for a depressing day. "It was fun," she said, and like the impact of HIV/AIDS in families across the world "there were happy moments and sad moments."

First-time AIDS Walk Washington participant, and BPHSN Logistics chair, Tinika McIntosh, had a personal attachment to the cause. In addition to supporting BPHSN, Tinika said, "I was walking for people who can't walk today." She has lost a number of family and friends to causes related to AIDS. Tinika was delighted to see that everyone had so much enthusiasm for the day's causes.  "What stood out to me was how much people supported both events," she said. "Everyone was really spirited, and people went straight from the walk to the One Nation Rally."

The One Nation Rally was attended by over 175,000 people. Liberals- gay rights groups, labor unions, and faith-based organizations came out in droves- showed up in response to the rising poll numbers for conservatives in the mid-term elections. According to an article in, the purpose of the rally was to "re-energize [Democrats'] political base." There was a controversial issue being addressed, and as ChiChi pointed out, "some people definitely didn't like what we had to say." BPHSN members stood just outside of the rally, holding up their picket signs. They addressed causes such as 'End racist unemployment NOW' and 'BPHSN says Job Loss = Bad Health'.

Overall, both Tinika and ChiChi were glad to spend their Saturday with "people who were like-minded" and attached to similar causes. Legs tired and spirits high, it's back to the library we go.

Tinika McIntosh posing with her One Nation rally sign

 Check out more pictures from the rally and AIDS Walk on our FB page
“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda