The book, the SI headline and Ms. Representation

When you pen the headline “Louisville Created and Continues to Nurture Dangerous Culture for Women” (as Sports Illustrated did this past Friday), it might be a good idea to gird your loins for the reaction of women who live here, work here and love here and who will look you straight in the eye, smile, offer you a tea or a bourbon, call you “Sugar” and rip your heart out while blessing it. One may also consider limiting the headline to the University of Louisville, if that is the target of the story, rather than sweeping the entire city into the allegations written therein. I know it is hard to fathom, but the city is more than a space that holds a sports team.

Louisville may be a lot of things: small, provincial, 20 years behind modern infrastructure. What we are ahead of the curve on, though, are our policies surrounding the rights and treatment of women and girls. Indeed, we are one of the most progressive places for women to live, and we have worked collaboratively to mold this city so women and girls can soar. I know, because I am one of the builders.

Last year, our Metro Council passed a Resolution for Women and Girls with language mimicking the major tenets of the Coalition to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a UN Treaty the U.S. has yet to ratify. The Resolution calls for zero tolerance of violence against women and girls, for the city to study affordable access to childcare and to investigate pay equity and gender representation in city jobs and academic and economic opportunities. Several groups lobbied Metro Council to persuade the body to pass the Resolution, chief among them Louisville Girls Leadership (a nonprofit leadership and advocacy skills program for sophomore girls at public and private high schools) and the Louisville Coalition for CEDAW, whose goal it is to enact a local CEDAW ordinance to pave the way for national ratification.

To be sure, the Resolution for Women and Girls does not create new law. It reiterates the general framework of the domestic violence legislation in the Commonwealth, much of it informed by retired Family Court Judge Jerry Bowles and it echoes the intent of the human trafficking legislation the General Assembly passed in 2013, championed by Representative Sannie Overly.

Kentucky’s anti-human trafficking legislation has more protections for children than its federal counterpart and even creates a bypass method for the cases of trafficked children to begin in Family Court via the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, versus jail, where a national study (prepared recently in part by Human Rights 4 Girls) revealed a trafficking-to-prison pipeline for teen girls, predominantly African Americans. Unlike the federal counterpart, Kentucky’s legislation has no statute of limitations for child trafficking and it prohibits charging minors with prostitution or status offenses.

In addition to local and state legislation, Louisville is replete with incredible women lawyers ready to file to remedy discrimination claims based on sex in a single bound and prosecutors who avenge sex crimes every day at none other than The Hall of Justice. The University of Louisville has a very active Women’s Center, an active American Association of University Women chapter and various student advocacy groups that teach students about Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally-funded education program or activity. Federal funding may be pulled from any school that violates Title IX’s provisions surrounding women’s sports, for example, and additional sanctions can be taken if a school fails to act appropriately in the face of sexual assault charges on campus.

Is Louisville dangerous for women? Despite all of our best efforts, the answer must be a resounding “yes” if we continue to allow our citizens to blame and shame and vilify only one party in a sex-for-money transaction. At a university, in a brothel, in your hotel room — regardless of the outcome of the allegations contained in the book “Breaking Cardinal Rules” — is it not time to hold those who buy sex as culpable as the people from whom they buy it? Progress in sexual politics and in humanity overall will be had when people decry “John!” with as much ferocity as they scream “whore!” in a sports scandal or on the street. Until then, check your headline, Sugar.