Thursday, December 31, 2009


Graffiti Art: An Essay Concerning The Recognition of Some Forms of Graffiti As Art
George C. Stowers
Prof. Goldman
Phil 651 Aesthetics
Fall 1997

Graffiti art is an art form. The reasons, including aesthetic criteria, as to why it is an art form far outweigh the criticism of illegality, incoherence, and nonstandard presentation. The objective of this paper is to explain how graffiti art overcomes these concerns and thereby can be considered as an art form.

Suppose that Leonardo, Monet, Picasso, or any of the recognized artisans of Western European culture were alive in the present day. Then, suppose that one of these famous artists decided to paint a masterpiece on the side of your house or on your front door or on a wall in your neighborhood. Would Picasso or Monet's markings be graffiti or art or vandalism or graffiti art? The answer may vary across people, but I would claim that those markings are art in the form of graffiti. Their markings would qualify as vandalism only if they appeared on private or public property without permission. The same answer holds for the present day, genre of graffiti known as graffiti art.

Graffiti art originated in the late 1960's, and it has been developing ever since. However, it is not readily accepted as being art like those works that are found in a gallery or a museum. It is not strictly denied the status of genuine art because of a lack of form or other base aesthetic elements. Most of the opposition to graffiti art is due to its location and bold, unexpected, and unconventional presentation, but its presentation and often illegal location does not necessarily disqualify it as art. In this paper, I elucidate how some forms of graffiti can be accepted as art. This type of graffiti is known as graffiti art, subway art, or spraycan art. The arguments of vandalism and unconventional presentation as negating the ability of some graffiti to be art is usurped by an explanation of those properties apparent in some forms of graffiti that do qualify it, aesthetically, as art. To show this, I provide a historical context of graffiti, and then I provide persuasive evidence that graffiti art is art.

The origins of graffiti go back to the beginnings of human, societal living. Graffiti has been found on uncovered, ancient, Egyptian monuments, and graffiti even was preserved on walls in Pompeii. Graffiti is the plural form of the Italian word grafficar. In plural, grafficar signifies drawings, markings, patterns, scribbles, or messages that are painted, written, or carved on a wall or surface. Grafficar also signifies "to scratch" in reference to different wall writings ranging from "cave paintings", bathroom scribbles, or any message that is scratched on walls. In reference to present day graffiti, the definition is qualified by adding that graffiti is also any unsolicited marking on a private or public property that is usually considered to be vandalism.

There are various forms of graffiti. One of the simplest forms is that of individual markings such as slogans, slurs, or political statements. Examples of this type of graffiti commonly are found in bathrooms or on exterior surfaces, and this graffiti is usually handwritten. Another simple form is that of the tag which is a fancy, scribble-like writing of one's name or nick-name. That is, tag signifies one's name or nick-name.

Both the tag or individual mark have little or no aesthetic appeal. While they might suggest a flair or style of writing, these forms fail to qualify as example of superb graffiti art because of a lack of aesthetic qualities and inability to produce a maximal aesthetic feeling in the viewer. In fact, the tag or individual mark is not produced for artistic purposes. It is basically a means to indicate the writer's presence, i.e., the age old statement of "I was here." Gang markings of territory also fit the definition of graffiti, and they mainly consists of tags and messages that provide "news" of happenings in the neighborhood. Murals for community enhancement and beautification are also a form of graffiti even though they are not usually thought of this way because most murals are commissioned. These are more colorful and complex. They take considerable amount of skill to complete, and murals can be done in a graffiti art style or a traditional pictorial scene. The last form of graffiti is graffiti art which is the creative use of spraypaint to produce an artwork that is graffiti or done in a graffiti-like style, and this the is the concern of this discussion.

Modern graffiti art originated in New York City, and it was known first as "New York Style" graffiti. This art form began in the late 1960's when teens used permanent markers to tag or write their names, followed by the number of the street on which they lived, in subway cars. This trend originated with the appearance of "Taki 183" which was the tag of a Greek American boy named Demitrius. Tagging soon became a way to get one's name known throughout the city. However, it should be noted that tagging appeared in Philadelphia before New York. The monikers, "Cornbread" and "Top Cat" were well known in Philadelphia, and when Top Cat's style appeared in New York, it was dubbed as "Broadway Style" for its long skinny lettering.

The advent of the spraypaint allowed for the tag to develop in size and color. For it was not enough just to have one's name scrawled over any available and visible surface because everyone was doing this. The spraycan separated the taggers from the artists in that color, form, and style could be emphasized creatively with this new tool to produce s tag as a part of an overall artistic production. The tag which is monochromatic and a writing style that just about anyone can do, gave way to the throw-up, which is a two color tag usually in outline or bubble-like lettering. Again this style is not too difficult, but soon more complicated styles evolved. The stamp is a little harder and involves the use straight letters to produce a 3-D effect. The piece, which is short for masterpiece, appeared next, and it is a large multicolor work. A production is a piece that is usually on the scale of a mural, and it involves original or familiar cartoon characters in addition to the writer or graffiti artist's name. It should be noted that every graffiti form listed involves the artist's name, whether as the central feature or as an ornament within the piece because writers want to be known. Hence, finding new and creative ways to display one's tag in a highly visible place, as opposed to just scribbling it everywhere, was the fundamental force spurring the development of modern graffiti art.

In the middle to late 1970's, writers started painting subway trains; thus the name, subway art. Train painting was instrumental to the development of graffiti art because the trains became the stage for the style wars which was a time when everyone who wanted to be recognized as the best artist or the "King" or "Queen" of a subway line got- up, i.e., painted trains as often as possible. If one's name was on a train in a colorful and unique style, it was guaranteed to be seen by many people; most importantly by the other writers, because the subway trains in New York City travel in circuits throughout different boroughs. To be a "King" or "Queen" one could not just get-up or simply paint his or her name in a thousand different places. On the contrary, style and artistic talent were and continue to be extremely important. The goal was and is to create burners which are pieces that stand out because of creativity, color, vibrancy, crisp outlines, i.e. no drips, and overall artistic appeal. It is the recognizable artistic talent of the graffiti artist that established his or her reign on the subway line and not just the appearance of s name in a thousand different places. The styles that emerged with the previously mentioned forms during this time were round popcorn or bubble letters, wildstyle which is an intricate, interlocking type of calligraphy that is difficult and almost impossible to read, computer and gothic lettering, 3-D lettering, fading which blends colors, and the use of cartoon characters. The ability to produce complicated pieces is what separates the tagger from the graffiti artist; graffitist for short. Taggers scribble and graffitists do art.

The high visibility of the train and the potential audience encouraged more artists to participate in this new form of art. Despite New York City's vigorous anti-graffiti efforts the style flourished and soon influenced artists in cities all over the world. The biggest promotional vehicle for graffiti art worldwide has been the Hip-Hop phenomenon which is the culture associated with rap music.

Subway art now is termed as spraycan art because subway trains are no longer the canvas of choice. Besides, every graffitist could not possibly do all of his or her work on subway cars because of laws, police, and the dangerous environment of the subway yards and lay-up stations. Ironically, the latest innovation in spraycan art has been that of "freight art" in which graffitists paint railroad, freight cars with the expectation that their artwork will travel across the United States and throughout the continent.

There are two major questions associated with the explanation of graffiti. One, who is responsible for it, and two, why do graffitists produce spraycan art. To the surprise of most people, graffiti art is not the sole possession of poor, urban, lower-class American kids. Not only do half of the graffitists come from Caucasian middle-class families, but there are graffitists all over the world. When asked, "What sorts of kids write graffiti?", police officer Kevin Hickey of the New York Transit Police Department's graffiti squad replied, "The type of kids that live in New York City." They range from the ultra-rich to the ultra-poor. There is no general classification of the kids Graffitist range in age from 12-30 years old, and there are male and female artists. In the past, graffiti artists usually worked alone, but the size and complexity of pieces as well as safety concerns motivated artists to work together in crews, which are groups of graffitists that vary in membership from 3 to 10 or more persons. A member of a crew can be down with, i.e., affiliated, with more than one crew. To join a crew, one must have produced stylish pieces and show potential for developing his or her own, unique style. A crew is headed by a king or queen who is usually that person recognized as having the best artistic ability among the members of the crew.

The reasons and values for why one might engage in graffiti art are as varied as the artists who produce it. A chief reason is the prospect of fame and recognition of one's artistic talent. Graffiti is also a form of self expression. The art as "writing" is a creative method of communicating with other writers and the general public. What it communicates is the artist's identity, expression, and ideas. Judgments are based solely on one's artistic ability. This type of communication is of value because it links people regardless of cultural, lingual, or racial differences in way that nothing else can. In addition, producing graffiti art with a crew builds team work in that the crew works together for the accomplishment of a common goal. The feeling of this achievement in league with others is of value to the artist. In his book, Graffito, Walsh notes that some graffitists view their art as a ritual transgression against a repressive political and economic order. For some artists see themselves as revolutionaries reacting against the established art market or gallery system in that art is not only that which appears in the gallery as determined by the curator. Some artists also view their creations on public and private spaces as a statement against Western ideas of capitalism and private property. Of course, the majority of graffitists enjoy what they do and find it to be fun, rewarding, and exciting. Although these reasons are valid, they do not conclusively settle the matter as to why graffiti art is art or why it is a valid art form despite its illegal origins.

Graffiti as seen and experienced on the New York City subway trains and that which developed into the modern-day form of spraycan art is art. The production of graffiti art includes established techniques and styles, and the art form also is characterized by a standard medium; spraypaint.

For example, novices are taught how to use spraypaint according to various styles and how to adjust nozzles as well as how to fit and use other types of aerosol caps onto spraycans for different artistic effects. The forms of graffiti art have developed through the years from the mere gestures of tagging to established conventional practices of the graffiti art world such as creating the tag according to a method, like wildstyle, that makes it an integral, flowing element of the overall piece.

In addition, graffiti art is not a spontaneous activity like tagging in the form of fancy scribble. The completion of a piece or a production involves a great deal of imagination, planning, and effort.

The graffitist first does a sketch. Then he or she plans out characters and selects colors. Next, the artist selects his or her "canvas" or surface and does a preliminary outline, followed by a filling in of colors and ornamentation, and then the final outline is completed.

Graffiti can also be analyzed according to the elements of lines, color, and structures that are present in the work in order to produce a narrative about it. Another significant reason why graffiti art can be viewed as art is by considering the producer's intention. Graffitists intend their work to be apprehended as art that can communicate feelings and ideas to the audience. This is in line with Tolstoy's mandate that art must allow people to express ideas and share in each other's feelings via the artwork.

Plus, graffiti art has a function of not only communicating to others, but it also beautifies the community by appearing on areas that normally would be eyesores, such as a wall in a vacant lot or an abandoned building. Furthermore, all of the aesthetic properties and criteria from the base element of color to the complex issue of artist intention which are ascribed to other works in order to characterize them as art can all be found in examples of spraycan art. The only difference between those works in a gallery or museum and graffiti art in terms of how and why the latter is not readily accepted as art is due to its location and presentation.

Indeed the issues of location and presentation are the most significant obstacles to a wholehearted acceptance of spraycan art as art. Graffiti art cannot be disregarded simply because it is not presented in the conventional location and manner, i.e., framed and placed in a museum or gallery. The location of it on a wall or subway without permission only makes it unsolicited art. As such, it can be called vandalism, but again, this does not disqualify it as art.

Rather the categorization of graffiti art as unsolicited art that is vandalism only justifies a removal of it from the surface. On the other hand, the vandalism aspect of graffiti art can be considered as a uniqueness and not a detracting feature of the art form because as vandalism, graffiti art is very temporary. A piece which might be sixty feet long, twelve feet high, and take twenty to thirty cans of paint and at least eight hours to produce might be gone in a matter of minutes.

Another challenge to graffiti art is that it is forced upon the public because people have no say in its production despite the fact that public funds are used to remove it. Graffitists counter with the argument that buildings, billboards, campaign ads, and flyers are also forced on the public in a similar manner.

Spraycan art suffers other criticisms because of the generic characterization of all graffiti as being gang related and simply a matter of tagging. However, only 20% of graffiti is gang related [ed. note: according to Walsh, who mentions this number in _Graffito_. Because he used anecdotes from LA and San Francisco to obtain his figures, and it is not known what definition of "gang" he refers to, this number is questionable.], and it should be noted that not all instances of graffiti art are good examples of the art form; just like not all framed artistic creations are good examples of painting or even worthy of being called art.

Graffiti is also criticized for being too hard to understand, but certainly this cannot keep graffiti art from being art anymore than the obscurity of abstract art or Picasso's cubism prevents either one of those hard to understand art forms from being considered as art. Goldman's aesthetic theory is of use to clarify the problem of location and presentation in relation to graffiti art.

Goldman claims that art takes us to other worlds in a manner that is quite fulfilling sensually and aesthetically. This removal from the real world is enhanced by the mood of the gallery or the dark setting of the opera house. Most of the time when we encounter art and are transported by it to other worlds, we are in a location in which we expect this to happen. However, this is not the case with graffiti art. For it appears suddenly and in unexpected places. Thus, when we apprehend it, we are transported to these other worlds at a time and in a place that we are not accustomed to doing so.

We are not used to art approaching us outside of conventional settings such as a museum. Instead of the audience going to view the art form, spraycan art reaches out to the viewer; sometimes in a startling manner. One can only imagine how shocking and surprising it might have been to see a colorful train moving swiftly through the dingy stations and drab boroughs of New York City. Spraycan art is an art form that is completely open to the public because it is not hemmed in by the confines or "laws" of the gallery system or the museum. Perhaps, this is its only crime.

The institutional theory, in brief, mandates that art is that which is displayed by the art world to be accepted as art as determined by the members of the art world. Since graffiti art is not permanently established in any galleries or museums, often it is argued that it is not art, but even this criticism falls short because there are instances where the art world has recognized graffiti art as art. In the 1970's, galleries in New York and Europe brought graffiti to the attention of the art world.

Lee Quinones, a prominent writer in New York and one of the few graffitists to bomb, i.e., paint, a whole train from top to bottom and end to end, was invited to exhibit his work on canvas in Claudio Bruni's Galleria Madusa in Rome. Likewise, Yaki Kornblit of Denmark, an art dealer, helped to launch the careers of several graffitists during the years of 1984 and 1985 at Museum Boyanano von Beuningen in Rotterdam. Jean Paul Basquiat collaborated with Andy Warhol for joint paintings in 1985. And recently, in 1996, Barry McGee, also known by his tag, "Twist", was commissioned to do a graffiti art mural for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

As graffiti was introduced to the art world, two trends happened. One, the art world of collectors, dealers, curators, artists, and the like helped graffitists evolve in style, presumably by sharing their artistic knowledge with the newcomers. Two, the exposure helped to expand graffiti to all parts of the world.

Furthermore, cities such as LA and Chicago have recognized the talent of graffitists by providing a means for them to do legal graffiti art which has helped to foster the art form and lessened the amount of graffiti art that appears in the city as vandalism.

Likewise, organizations of graffiti artists such as the Phun Factory or the United Graffiti Artists in New York solicit places to do legal graffiti such as abandoned buildings, businesses, or community walls in parks. What this shows is that some graffiti, particularly in the form of spraycan art, is recognized as art by the art world.

This recognition of graffiti art by the art world is important for two reasons. One because of the social, political, and economic influence of the art world, its recognition of graffiti art as art helps to increase the awareness and overall understanding of the art form. Two, this recognition prevents the sweeping generalization that all graffiti is vandalism and therefore something that always should be eradicated. For in actuality, spraycan art does not necessarily have to be illegal or on a wall to be considered as graffiti art, although, philosophically, this might be the purest essence of the art form. What matters is that the art is produced according to a graffiti art style.

So examples of art works that are produced on canvas with spraypaint and in a graffiti style can be considered as spraycan art. And the exhortation that graffiti should be on a visible private or public space in order to be in its optimal context is not so much to glorify any illegalities but rather, to highlight the idea that graffiti is meant to be completely accessible to the public for immediate appreciation.

Also, the increasing acceptance of graffiti art is not due so much to its adoption of traditional techniques. On the contrary, books, magazines, movies, and the artists themselves have helped people to understand how and where graffiti harmonizes with and goes a step beyond traditional methods.

For example, wildstyle changes with each artist's interpretation of the alphabet, but it also relies on the use of primary colors, fading, foreground and background, and the like to create these letters. Thus, it is important and valuable to characterize some forms of graffiti as art because this challenges people, who are conditioned to accept art works as art only if they are created in a traditional manner and appear in institutional setting, to appreciate art works that originate and develop outside of these constraints. In doing so, people come to realize graffiti is not an art form that is done just for the sake of rebellious destruction. Quite the opposite, it is an innovative and truly original art form that is meant to bring an aesthetic pleasure to the audience like any other recognized art form.

In summary, some forms of graffiti become art according to four criteria. First, graffiti art is separated from everyday graffiti markings by the artist's intention to produce a work of art. Second, graffiti art has an established history of development in style and technique. Third, graffiti art even has been recognized by the art world. A fourth criterion is that the public response to graffiti art indicates that it is art. Whether or not all of the public agrees that graffiti art is good, bad, or extremely valuable is a different discussion about evaluation and not whether or not graffiti art is art. The evaluative concerns actually play more into where, when, and how graffiti art should be displayed.

The above criteria are defensible in so much as they have been used to legitimize other artistic forms. However, what appears to be the most significant answer to describing how and why graffiti art is art is the notion of understanding where the artist and the audience synchronize in agreement about a particular work being an example of art. It is a matter of comprehending what makes a creation art for the artist and what makes this same creation art for the audience. When and according to what criteria that these two viewpoints coincide is what thoroughly determines graffiti art as art. And like other art forms, graffiti art is definitively art when both the artist and the audience agree on the works ability to provide maximal aesthetic satisfaction. While it is almost impossible to formulate a theory of necessary conditions or rules specifying when graffiti art is art, I think it is sufficient to draw on already established aesthetic theories and criteria to point out that some forms of graffiti do qualify as art.

Therefore, graffiti in the form of spraycan art is art. It has form, color, and other base properties as well as an arrangement of these elements into structures that qualify it aesthetically as being art. Just doing something with spraypaint might make it graffiti, but it does not necessarily qualify it as art or graffiti art. In addition, when the spraycan art is analyzed according to the artist's intention and value to audience, there is even more evidence to suggest that it is genuine art. The only obstacle that has hindered the general acceptance of graffiti art is its location and presentation. However, the instances of acceptance of graffiti art by the art world shows that conventional methods of presentation are not all that matters in determining if something is art. And graffiti art is not to be disqualified as art simply because it might appear unsolicited. In short, graffiti in the form of spray can art is art like any other work that might be found in a gallery or a museum.

Castleman, Craig. Getting Up. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1982.

Castllen, Rolando (Curator). Aesthetics of Graffiti April 28- July 2, 1978. San Francisco:

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1978.

Chalfant, H. and Prigoff, J. Spraycan Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987.

Cooper, M. and Chalfant, H. Subway Art. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984.

Dickie, G., Scalfani, R., and Roblin, R. Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Goldman, A. Aesthetic Value. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995.

Spitz, Ellen H. Image and Insight. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Walsh, Michael. Graffito. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1996.

Whitford, M.J. Getting Rid of Graffiti. London: E & FN Spon, 1992.

Whitford, M.J. Getting Rid of Graffiti. London: E &FN Spon, 1992, pg. 2.

Whitford, pg. 1.

Chalfant, H. and Prigoff, J. Spraycan Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987, pg. 42.

Walsh, Michael. Graffito. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1996, pg. 12.

Whitford, pg. xii.

Walsh, pg. 11.

Castleman, Craig. Getting Up. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1982, pg.67.

Castleman, pg. 11.

Chalfant, H. and Prigoff, J., pg. 91.

Castleman, pg. 51.

Walsh, pg. 3.

Walsh, pg. 3.

Cooper, M. and Chalfant, H. Subway Art. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984, pg. 32.

Dickie, G., Scalfani, R., and Roblin, R. Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989, pgs. 57-8.

Chalfant, H. and Prigoff, J., pg. 10.

Goldman, A. Aesthetic Value. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995, pgs. 8-9.

Chalfant, H. and Prigoff, J., pg. 7.

Chalfant, H. and Prigoff, J., pg. 7.

Whitford, pg. 2.

Quotes are from: Cooper, M. and Chalfant, H. Subway Art. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984 & Walsh, Michael. Graffito. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1996.
George C. Stowers


Half of over-55 jobless still looking for work after six months.

Hire Yourself!
By Elizabeth Pope

Nearly a quarter of age 55-plus workers who were laid off last year say they're considering starting their own business.

Age Bias? Prove It.
From Inside E Street

A recent Supreme Court case created a tougher burden of proof for plaintiffs in age bias cases. That decision may cause a ripple effect in other types of discrimination disputes.

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Straight Answers About Unemployment Compensation
By Bob Skladany

Learn how receiving unemployment benefits affects Social Security retirement payments.

Should I Sign Up for Pre-Tax Benefits?
By Bob Skladany

Around this time of the year, we get reminders to sign up for benefits at the office. Some benefits are paid with pre-tax dollars instead of after-tax dollars. What does that mean, and what are the consequences of pre-tax deductions and contributions?

Real Relief
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If your former employer goes bankrupt, it could affect two important benefits that you might have: defined benefit pension plan benefits and retiree health benefits.


Facts About Age Discrimination
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. The ADEA permits employers to favor older workers based on age even when doing so adversely affects a younger worker who is 40 or older.
It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.
The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and labor organizations, as well as to the federal government. ADEA protections include:
Apprenticeship Programs
It is generally unlawful for apprenticeship programs, including joint labor-management apprenticeship programs, to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s age. Age limitations in apprenticeship programs are valid only if they fall within certain specific exceptions under the ADEA or if the EEOC grants a specific exemption.
Job Notices and Advertisements
The ADEA generally makes it unlawful to include age preferences, limitations, or specifications in job notices or advertisements. A job notice or advertisement may specify an age limit only in the rare circumstances where age is shown to be a “bona fide occupational qualification” (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business.
Pre-Employment Inquiries
The ADEA does not specifically prohibit an employer from asking an applicant’s age or date of birth. However, because such inquiries may deter older workers from applying for employment or may otherwise indicate possible intent to discriminate based on age, requests for age information will be closely scrutinized to make sure that the inquiry was made for a lawful purpose, rather than for a purpose prohibited by the ADEA.
The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) amended the ADEA to specifically prohibit employers from denying benefits to older employees. Congress recognized that the cost of providing certain benefits to older workers is greater than the cost of providing those same benefits to younger workers, and that those greater costs would create a disincentive to hire older workers. Therefore, in limited circumstances, an employer may be permitted to reduce benefits based on age, as long as the cost of providing the reduced benefits to older workers is the same as the cost of providing benefits to younger workers. Employers are permitted to coordinate retiree health benefit plans with eligibility for Medicare or a comparable state-sponsored health benefit.
Waivers of ADEA Rights
An employer may ask an employee to waive his/her rights or claims under the ADEA either in the settlement of an ADEA administrative or court claim or in connection with an exit incentive program or other employment termination program. However, the ADEA, as amended by OWBPA, sets out specific minimum standards that must be met in order for a waiver to be considered knowing and voluntary and, therefore, valid. Among other requirements, a valid ADEA waiver must:
be in writing and be understandable;
specifically refer to ADEA rights or claims;
not waive rights or claims that may arise in the future;
be in exchange for valuable consideration;
advise the individual in writing to consult an attorney before signing the waiver; and
provide the individual at least 21 days to consider the agreement and at least seven days to revoke the agreement after signing it.
If an employer requests an ADEA waiver in connection with an exit incentive program or other employment termination program, the minimum requirements for a valid waiver are more extensive.


Ten Myths About Affirmative Action

This article is an updated version of a 1996 essay first published in the Journal of Social Issues (volume 52, pages 25-31). The complete citation for the updated version is: Plous, S. (2003). Ten myths about affirmative action. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 206-212). New York: McGraw-Hill.


years, affirmative action has been debated more intensely than at any other time in its 35-year history. Many supporters view affirmative action as a milestone, many opponents see it as a millstone, and many others regard it as both or neither -- as a necessary, but imperfect, remedy for an intractable social disease. My own view is that the case against affirmative action is weak, resting, as it does so heavily, on myth and misunderstanding. Here are some of the most popular myths about affirmative action, along with a brief commentary on each one.

Myth 1: The only way to create a color-blind society is to adopt color-blind policies.
Although this statement sounds intuitively plausible, the reality is that color-blind policies often put racial minorities at a disadvantage. For instance, all else being equal, color-blind seniority systems tend to protect White workers against job layoffs, because senior employees are usually White (Ezorsky, 1991). Likewise, color-blind college admissions favor White students because of their earlier educational advantages. Unless preexisting inequities are corrected or otherwise taken into account, color-blind policies do not correct racial injustice -- they reinforce it.

Myth 2: Affirmative action has not succeeded in increasing female and minority representation.
Several studies have documented important gains in racial and gender equality as a direct result of affirmative action (Bowen & Bok, 1998; Murrell & Jones, 1996). For example, according to a report from the U.S. Labor Department, affirmative action has helped 5 million minority members and 6 million White and minority women move up in the workforce ("Reverse Discrimination," 1995). Likewise, a study sponsored by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs showed that between 1974 and 1980 federal contractors (who were required to adopt affirmative action goals) added Black and female officials and managers at twice the rate of noncontractors (Citizens' Commission, 1984). There have also been a number of well-publicized cases in which large companies (e.g., AT&T, IBM, Sears Roebuck) increased minority employment as a result of adopting affirmative action policies.

Myth 3: Affirmative action may have been necessary 30 years ago, but the playing field is fairly level today.
Despite the progress that has been made, the playing field is far from level. Women continue to earn 76 cents for every male dollar (Bowler, 1999). Black people continue to have twice the unemployment rate of White people, twice the rate of infant mortality, and just over half the proportion of people who attend four years or more of college (see Figure 1). In fact, without affirmative action the percentage of Black students at many selective schools would drop to only 2% of the student body (Bowen & Bok, 1998). This would effectively choke off Black access to top universities and severely restrict progress toward racial equality.

Myth 4: The public doesn't support affirmative action anymore.
Public opinion polls suggest that the majority of Americans support affirmative action, especially when the polls avoid an all-or-none choice between affirmative action as it currently exists and no affirmative action whatsoever (see Table 1). For example, a Time/CNN poll found that 80% of the public felt "affirmative action programs for minorities and women should be continued at some level" (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995a). What the public opposes are quotas, set-asides, and "reverse discrimination." For instance, when the same poll asked people whether they favored programs "requiring businesses to hire a specific number or quota of minorities and women," 63% opposed such a plan (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995b). As these results indicate, most members of the public oppose racial preferences that violate notions of procedural justice -- they do not oppose affirmative action.

Survey Results Suggesting Majority Support for Affirmative Action
Item Sourcea Responses in %
Do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs for minorities and women for job hiring in the workplace? Gallupb
Date: 8/01
Size: 1,523
Favor: 58
Oppose: 36
Don't know/Refused: 5

Do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs for minorities and women for admission to colleges and universities? Gallupc
Date: 8/01
Size: 1,523
Favor: 56
Oppose: 39
Don't know/Refused: 6

In general, do you think we need to increase, keep the same, or decrease affirmative action programs in this country? Gallupd
Date: 7/01
Size: 2,004
Increase: 27
Keep the same: 34
Decrease: 30
Don't know/Refused: 9

Do you generally favor or oppose affirmative action programs for women and minorities? CNN/USA Todaye
Date: 1/00
Size: 1,027
Favor: 58
Oppose: 33
Not sure: 9

What's the best thing to do with affirmative action programs giving preference to some minorities -- leave the programs as they are, change the programs, or do away with the programs entirely? CBS/NY Timesf
Date: 12/97
Size: 1,258
Leave as are: 24
Keep but change: 43
Do away with: 25
Not sure: 8

What about affirmative action programs that set quotas ... Do you favor affirmative action programs with quotas, or do you favor affirmative action programs only without quotas, or do you oppose all affirmative action programs? Associated Pressg
Favor with quotas: 16
Favor without quotas: 47
Oppose all: 28
Don't know: 9

aAll polls are from the Roper Center for Public Opinion [RCPO]. bRCPO (2001a). cRCPO (2001b). dRCPO (2001c). eRCPO (2000). fRCPO (1997). gRCPO (1995c).

Myth 5: A large percentage of White workers will lose out if affirmative action is continued.
Government statistics do not support this myth. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, there are 1.3 million unemployed Black civilians and 112 million employed White civilians (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Thus, even if every unemployed Black worker in the United States were to displace a White worker, only 1% of Whites would be affected. Furthermore, affirmative action pertains only to job-qualified applicants, so the actual percentage of affected Whites would be a fraction of 1%. The main sources of job loss among White workers have to do with factory relocations and labor contracting outside the United States, computerization and automation, and corporate downsizing (Ivins, 1995).

Myth 6: If Jewish people and Asian Americans can rapidly advance economically, African Americans should be able to do the same.
This comparison ignores the unique history of discrimination against Black people in America. As historian Roger Wilkins has pointed out, Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else (Wilkins, 1995). Jews and Asians, on the other hand, are populations that immigrated to North America and included doctors, lawyers, professors, and entrepreneurs among their ranks. Moreover, European Jews are able to function as part of the White majority. To expect Blacks to show the same upward mobility as Jews and Asians is to deny the historical and social reality that Black people face.

Myth 7: You can't cure discrimination with discrimination.
The problem with this myth is that it uses the same word -- discrimination -- to describe two very different things. Job discrimination is grounded in prejudice and exclusion, whereas affirmative action is an effort to overcome prejudicial treatment through inclusion. The most effective way to cure society of exclusionary practices is to make special efforts at inclusion, which is exactly what affirmative action does. The logic of affirmative action is no different than the logic of treating a nutritional deficiency with vitamin supplements. For a healthy person, high doses of vitamin supplements may be unnecessary or even harmful, but for a person whose system is out of balance, supplements are an efficient way to restore the body's balance.

Myth 8: Affirmative action tends to undermine the self-esteem of women and racial minorities.
Although affirmative action may have this effect in some cases (Heilman, Simon, & Repper, 1987; Steele, 1990), interview studies and public opinion surveys suggest that such reactions are rare (Taylor, 1994). For instance, a 1995 Gallup poll asked employed Blacks and employed White women whether they had ever felt others questioned their abilities because of affirmative action (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995d). Nearly 90% of respondents said no (which is understandable -- after all, White men, who have traditionally benefited from preferential hiring, do not feel hampered by self-doubt or a loss in self-esteem). Indeed, in many cases affirmative action may actually raise the self-esteem of women and minorities by providing them with employment and opportunities for advancement. There is also evidence that affirmative action policies increase job satisfaction and organizational commitment among beneficiaries (Graves & Powell, 1994).

Myth 9: Affirmative action is nothing more than an attempt at social engineering by liberal Democrats.
In truth, affirmative action programs have spanned nine different presidential administrations -- six Republican and three Democratic. Although the originating document of affirmative action was President Lyndon Johnson's Executive Order 11246, the policy was significantly expanded in 1969 by President Richard Nixon and then Secretary of Labor George Schultz. President George Bush also enthusiastically signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which formally endorsed the principle of affirmative action. Thus, affirmative action has traditionally enjoyed the support of Republicans as well as Democrats.

Myth 10: Support for affirmative action means support for preferential selection procedures that favor unqualified candidates over qualified candidates.
Actually, most supporters of affirmative action oppose this type of preferential selection. Preferential selection procedures can be ordered along the following continuum:

Selection among equally qualified candidates. The mildest form of affirmative action selection occurs when a female or minority candidate is chosen from a pool of equally qualified applicants (e.g., students with identical college entrance scores). Survey research suggests that three-quarters of the public does not see this type of affirmative action as discriminatory (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995e).

Selection among comparable candidates. A somewhat stronger form occurs when female or minority candidates are roughly comparable to other candidates (e.g., their college entrance scores are lower, but not by a significant amount). The logic here is similar to the logic of selecting among equally qualified candidates; all that is needed is an understanding that, for example, predictions based on an SAT score of 620 are virtually indistinguishable from predictions based on an SAT score of 630.

Selection among unequal candidates. A still stronger form of affirmative action occurs when qualified female or minority candidates are chosen over candidates whose records are better by a substantial amount.

Selection among qualified and unqualified candidates. The strongest form of preferential selection occurs when unqualified female or minority members are chosen over other candidates who are qualified. Although affirmative action is sometimes mistakenly equated with this form of preferential treatment, federal regulations explicitly prohibit affirmative action programs in which unqualified or unneeded employees are hired (Bureau of National Affairs, 1979).
Even though these selection procedures occasionally blend into one another (due in part to the difficulty of comparing incommensurable records), a few general observations can be made. First, of the four different procedures, the selection of women and minority members among equal or roughly comparable candidates has the greatest public support, adheres most closely to popular conceptions of fairness, and reduces the chances that affirmative action beneficiaries will be perceived as unqualified or undeserving (Kravitz & Platania, 1993; Nacoste, 1985; Turner & Pratkanis, 1994). Second, the selection of women and minority members among unequal candidates -- used routinely in college admissions -- has deeply divided the nation (with the strongest opposition coming from White males and conservative voters.) And finally, the selection of unqualified candidates is not permitted under federal affirmative action guidelines and should not be equated with legal forms of affirmative action. By distinguishing among these four different selection procedures, it becomes clear that opposition to stronger selection procedures need not imply opposition to milder ones.

Some writers have criticized affirmative action as a superficial solution that does not address deeper societal problems by redistributing wealth and developing true educational equality. Yet affirmative action was never proposed as a cure-all solution to inequality. Rather, it was intended only to redress discrimination in hiring and academic admissions. In assessing the value of affirmative action, the central question is merely this: In the absence of sweeping societal reforms -- unlikely to take place any time soon -- does affirmative action help counteract the continuing injustice caused by discrimination? The research record suggests, unequivocally, that it does.


Bowen, W. G., & Bok, D. (1998). The shape of the river: Long-term consequences of considering race in college and university admissions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bowler, M. (1999, December). Women's earnings: An overview. Monthly Labor Review, pp. 13-21.
Bureau of National Affairs. (1979). Uniform guidelines on employee selection procedures. Washington, DC: Author.
Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights. (1984, June). Affirmative action to open the doors of job opportunity. Washington, DC: Author.
Ezorsky, G. (1991). Racism and justice: The case for affirmative action. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Graves, L. M., & Powell, G. N. (1994). Effects of sex-based preferential selection and discrimination on job attitudes. Human Relations, 47, 133-157.
Heilman, M. E., Simon, M. C., & Repper, D. P. (1987). Intentionally favored, unintentionally harmed? Impact of sex-based preferential selection on self-perceptions and self-evaluations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 62-68.
Ivins, M. (1995, February 23). Affirmative action is more than black-and-white issue. Philadelphia Daily News, p. 28.
Kravitz, D. A., & Platania, J. (1993). Attitudes and beliefs about affirmative action: Effects of target and of respondent sex and ethnicity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 928-938.
Murell, A. J., & Jones, R. (1996). Assessing affirmative action: Past, present, and future. Journal of Social Issues, 52, 77-92.
Nacoste, R. W. (1985). Selection procedure and responses to affirmative action: The case of favorable treatment. Law and Human Behavior, 9, 225-242.
Newport, F., Ludwig, J., & Kearney, S. (2001, July 10). Black-White relations in the United States. Princeton, NJ: The Gallup Organization.
Reverse discrimination of whites is rare, labor study reports. (1995, March 31). New York Times, p. A23.
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995a). Question ID: USYANKP.95007, Q21 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995b). Question ID: USYANKP.95007, Q18A [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995c). Question ID: USAP.927K, Q4 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995d). Question ID: USGALLUP.950317, R31 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995e). Question ID: USGALLUP.950317, R32 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1997). Question ID: USCBSNYT.121397, R47 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (2000). Question ID: USGALLUP.00JA13, R16 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (2001a). Question ID: USGALLUP.200127, Q35 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (2001b). Question ID: USGALLUP.200127, Q34 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Roper Center for Public Opinion. (2001c). Question ID: USGALLUP.01RACE, R08 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe Web site,
Steele, S. (1990). The content of our character: A new vision of race in America. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Taylor. M. C. (1994). Impact of affirmative action on beneficiary groups: Evidence from the 1990 General Social Survey. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 15, 143-178.
Turner, M. E., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Affirmative action as help: A review of recipient reactions to preferential selection and affirmative action. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 15, 43-69.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1984). Statistical abstract of the United States: 1984 (104th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1994). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2000 (114th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2000). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2000 (120th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Wilkins, R. (1995, May). Racism has its privileges: The case for affirmative action. The Nation, pp. 409-410, 412, 414-416.


Adult Children of Divorce
Children Who Are Over 18 When Parents Separate Are Equally Affected
Apr 28, 2007 Victoria Anisman-Reiner
Adult kids of divorce (known as AKODs or ACODs) may be equally or more harmed by the loss of family stability and by parents' poor boundaries than are younger children.
It is commonly accepted that divorce has a developmental impact, and often a serious one, on teenagers and young children. The effect of their parents’ divorce on children who are already considered adults, though, is often dismissed. Adult children of divorce, or ACODs (AKODs, another common acronym, stands for “adult kids of divorce”), are often expected to be an “adult” and support their parents through the pain of separation and divorce. They may also be drawn into their parents’ arguments in ways that younger children might not be.
Statistics and Facts on Divorce
In the U.S.…
approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce
an estimated 40% of adults aged 18-40 come from broken homes (1)
Studies indicate that the most damaging effect of divorce on children arises early in their adult life. Many children of divorce have trouble finding a mate and creating lasting relationships and marriages themselves. While some of these conclusions are contested, they tend to be taken for granted in the popular lexicon. What has not been studied is the long-term impact of divorce on children who were already over 18 years of age at the time their parents separated.
The following arguments are mostly anecdotal. They depend upon the testimonials of men and women whose parents were divorced when they were in their early to late twenties.
“You’re an adult. This doesn’t affect you.”
On the contrary, the separation of parents affects a child even if that “child” is an adult with a home and family of their own.

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Many adult children of divorce report that, even though they never intended to use it, the fact of their parents’ stable “home” was a touchstone they knew they could always return to if they needed.
Becoming the child of a split household requires a rapid change in a person’s world view and the way they perceive themselves. It can shatter a person's self-image as one of the “lucky ones” with an intact family and parents who were and are happy together, and forces a reevaluation of an adult’s perception of their childhood.
In many cases, the separation of parents is accompanied or closely followed by the introduction of new stepparents and stepsiblings. This can be just as unwelcome to adult children as it would be to teenagers and infants – and not living together can make it harder to get to know the new “family.”
How Divorce is Complicated for ACODs
More even than learning to see their parents (and themselves) in a new light, adult children of divorce can be stressed by the demands placed on them by parents. In the trauma of divorce, parents can overstep the healthy boundaries of their children by treating them as supportive friends.
Leaning on an adult child as a confidant, badmouthing the other parent, using the child to carry messages between their parents, or telling the child, “You’re just like your mother/father!” are ultimately all abuses of the parent-child relationship (2), and can be detrimental to the adult child’s own healing and development. Most parents would never consider treating young children in this manner.
Parents who, after a divorce, begin to date may also confide in their children or depend on them for social advice and help. Many ACODs reporting how dismaying and frustrating this kind of conversation with their parents can be.
Help for Adult Children of Divorce
Counseling and psychotherapy can be helpful for adult children during their parents' divorce. There are also online support/discussion groups and websites created by adult kids of divorce, which can give a voice to the feelings and experiences of AKODs.
Related article: Book Review: A Grief Out of Season for the original research on adult kids of divorce.
(1) Jen Abbas,, accessed April 27, 2007
(2) Gillian Rothchild,, accessed April 28, 2007


Adult Children of Alcoholics
World Service Organization, Inc.

The Problem

Many of us found that we had several characteristics in common as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional households.

We had come to feel isolated, and uneasy with other people, especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process. All the same we would mistake any personal criticism as a threat.

We either became alcoholics ourselves, married them, or both. Failing that, we found other compulsive personalities, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need for abandonment.

We lived life from the standpoint of victims. Having an over developed sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We got guilt feelings when we trusted ourselves, giving in to others. We became reactors rather than actors, letting others take the initiative.

We were dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. We keep choosing insecure relationships because they matched our childhood relationship with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.

These symptoms of the family disease of alcoholism or other dysfunction made us 'co-victims', those who take on the characteristics of the disease without necessarily ever taking a drink. We learned to keep our feelings down as children and keep them buried as adults. As a result of this conditioning, we often confused love with pity, tending to love those we could rescue.

Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable solutions.

This is a description, not an indictment.


adoption: an overview

Adoption refers to the act by which an adult formally becomes the guardian of a child and incurs the rights and responsibilities of a parent. At the conclusion of the formal process, a legal relationship between child and guardian will have formed. The legal relationship results in the adoptee becoming the legal heir of the adopter and terminates any legal rights then in existence with the natural parents.

While certain jurisdictions only permit one of the two types of adoptions, other jurisdictions recognize two types of adoptions – open and closed adoptions. An open adoption permits the birth mother to select her child’s adoptive parents. A closed adoption, meanwhile, results in the birth mother relinquishing all rights over the child and allows a state administrative agency to conduct the selection process. Some jurisdictions also permit the parents in an open adoption to maintain their visitation and contact rights.

Most cases in which parental rights are terminated occur because of a consensual forfeiture of those rights by parents. Generally, a parent cannot revoke a consensual forfeiture. The natural parent’s right to have custody of their children has been deemed a fundamental right by the U.S. Supreme Court. See Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982).

Although adoptions have historically fallen within the sphere of state authority, Congress has used its spending power to garner some influence over state adoption programs. Under this program, Congress grants money to the states to carry out their programs if they abide by certain Congressional mandates.

Methods of Adoption
Parents looking to adopt can choose one of two methods– an agency or through independent contact with the biological parents. Both public agencies and private agencies exist for the purpose of facilitating adoptions. States run the public agencies, as a state interest exists in placing parentless children with couples looking to adopt. By the time a public agency becomes involved, the natural parents have already relinquished their rights and therefore lack all control over the process. Public agencies employ a stringent test to determine the suitability of parents looking to adopt. With adoptions through public agencies, adoptive parents do not have the child placed with them until the natural parents have relinquished their rights. Both public and private agencies abide by these practices.

With independent adoptions, the natural parents take on the responsibility for finding suitable adoptive parents. Often, the natural parents will place the child in the prospective adoptive parents’ house for a trial period without the natural parents having relinquished their rights.

Who May Adopt
The U.S. Constitution does not provide a fundamental right to adopt. See Lindley for Lindley v. Sullivan, 889 F.2d 124 (7th Cir. 1989). Unless statutory authority exists, one may not adopt a child by private agreement unless an enabling statute exists. However, under certain circumstances, a court may find a child to have been “equitably adopted,” and grant the child certain rights that an adopted child otherwise would have.

Statutes determine the requirements regarding who may adopt in a given state. Most states have modeled their adoption statutes upon the Uniform Adoption Act. The Uniform Adoption Act provides that any individual may adopt another individual in an effort to create the legal relationship of child and parent, subject to the adopting individual having reached adulthood.

States vary with regard to factors they consider as disqualifying one’s ability to adopt. Some statutes disqualify unmarried or single individuals. The Uniform Adoption Act does not prohibit the unmarried from adopting. Others disqualify those suffering from physical or mental disabilities. Some states have imposed “reputability requirements.” Under a reputability requirement, individuals with criminal histories or employment instability would not qualify as suitable for adoption.

To proceed, an individual cannot petition for adoption unless the court makes an official finding that the individual is “acceptable” as an adoptive parent. Before an adoption becomes official, the court must pass upon an investigatory report submitted by the state agency that the individual qualifies as “acceptably suitable” for becoming an adoptive parent. These investigatory reports are tremendously detailed, including the petitioners’ religious backgrounds, social history, financial status, moral fitness, mental and physical fitness, and criminal background. After weighing the factors, the agency makes a recommendation, which the court can accept or reject, with the court basing its decision on serving the best interests and welfare of the child.

Many states, including Florida, Nebraska, and Oklahoma have restricted gays and lesbians from adopting children. But because adoption does not constitute a fundamental right, court challenges to the constitutionality of these restrictions have not worked thus far. Legislatures have enacted these statutes upon the premise that child rearing by gays and lesbians would not be in the best interests of the child. Other jurisdictions may only consider sexual orientation as one factor when considering if a parent fits the acceptability requirement.

Procedure for Adoption
An individual wishing to adopt must petition the court to grant adoption, presenting evidence that they have satisfied the necessary statutory elements. After an investigation, the state adoption agency presents its report of the petitioners to the court and makes a recommendation.

When the statute requires their consent, due process accords the natural parents an opportunity to be heard by the court on the matter. If the court cannot find the natural parents, the court must take steps reasonably calculated to notify the parents about the termination proceeding. For situations in which the natural parent cannot or does not want to care for the child, the natural parent’s wishes for the child’s placement receive significant weight from the court.

The petitioner bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that adoption is in the child’s best interests. An adoptive parent looking to terminate the biological parents’ natural rights must show the action to be in the child’s best interest by “clear and convincing evidence.”

menu of sourcesFederal MaterialU.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes25 U.S.C., Chapter 21 - Indian Child Welfare Act42 U.S.C. § 620 - Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 198042 U.S.C., Chapter 67 - Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform ActCRS Annotated Constitution
Federal Agency RegulationsCode of Federal Regulations: 45 C.F.R., Part 1356
Federal Judicial DecisionsU.S. Supreme Court: Recent Decisions on Adoptionliibulletin Oral Argument PreviewsU.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals: Recent Decisions on Adoption
State Material
State StatutesUniform Laws (See LII Locator for Uniform Matrimonial, Family, and Health Laws): Interstate Compact on the Adoption of Children (adopted in all states and the District of Columbia)Uniform Adoption Act (1969 version, adopted in Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, and Ohio, and 1994 version not yet adopted in any state) State Adoption Laws
State Judicial DecisionsN.Y. Court of Appeals:
Adoption CasesCommentary from liibulletin-nyAppellate Decisions from Other States
International Material
Conventions and TreatiesConvention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (29 May 93)
Other References
Key Internet SourcesFederal Agencies: Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesUS State Department (International adoption information and guide to regulations of various countries)Get Legal: AdoptionThe ABA Center on Children and the LawABA Section of Family LawAdoption Policy Resource CenterAdoption NetworkAdoption.comNolo Legal Encyclopedia
Useful Offnet (or Subscription - $) SourcesGood Starting Points in Print: Cahn & Hollinger, Families by Law: An Adoption Reader. New York: New York University Press (2004).
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Perspectives on Acquaintance Rape
David G. Curtis, Ph.D., B.C.E.T.S.
Clinical Associate, Long Island Psychological Associates, P.C.

I. What is Acquaintance Rape?

Acquaintance rape, which is also referred to as "date rape" and "hidden rape," has been increasingly recognized as a real and relatively common problem within society. Much of the attention that has been focused on this issue has emerged as part of the growing willingness to acknowledge and address issues associated with domestic violence and the rights of women in general in the past three decades. Although the early and mid 1970's saw the emergence of education and mobilization to combat rape, it was not until the early 1980's that acquaintance rape began to assume a more distinct form in the public consciousness. The scholarly research done by psychologist Mary Koss and her colleagues is widely recognized as the primary impetus for raising awareness to a new level.

The publication of Koss' findings in the popular Ms. magazine in 1985 informed millions of the scope and severity of the problem. By debunking the belief that unwanted sexual advances and intercourse were not rape if they occurred with an acquaintance or while on a date, Koss compelled women to reexamine their own experiences. Many women were thus able to reframe what had happened to them as acquaintance rape and became better able to legitimize their perceptions that they were indeed victims of a crime. The results of Koss' research were the basis of the book by Robin Warshaw, first published in 1988, entitled I Never Called it Rape.

For current purposes, the term acquaintance rape will be defined as being subjected to unwanted sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or other sexual contact through the use of force or threat of force. Unsuccessful attempts are also subsumed within the term "rape." Sexual coercion is defined as unwanted sexual intercourse, or any other sexual contact subsequent to the use of menacing verbal pressure or misuse of authority (Koss, 1988).

II. Legal Perspectives on Acquaintance Rape

The electronic media have developed an infatuation with trial coverage in recent years. Among the trials which have received the most coverage have been those involving acquaintance rape. The Mike Tyson/Desiree Washington and William Kennedy Smith/Patricia Bowman trials garnered wide scale television coverage and delivered the issue of acquaintance rape into living rooms across America. Another recent trial which received national attention involved a group of teenaged boys in New Jersey who sodomized and sexually assaulted a mildly retarded 17-year old female classmate. While the circumstances in this instance differed from the Tyson and Smith cases, the legal definition of consent was again the central issue of the trial. Although the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas were obviously not a rape trial, the focal point of sexual harassment during the hearings expanded national consciousness regarding the demarcations of sexual transgression. The sexual assault which took place at the Tailhook Association of Navy Pilots annual convention in 1991 was well documented. At the time of this writing, events involving sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and acquaintance rape of female Army recruits at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and other military training facilities are being investigated.

As these well publicized events indicate, an increased awareness of sexual coercion and acquaintance rape has been accompanied by important legal decisions and changes in legal definitions of rape. Until recently, clear physical resistance was a requirement for a rape conviction in California. A 1990 amendment now defines rape as sexual intercourse "where it is accomplished against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury." The important additions are "menace" and "duress," as they include consideration of verbal threats and implied threat of force (Harris, in Francis, 1996). The definition of "consent" has been expanded to mean "positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. A person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved." In addition, a prior or current relationship between the victim and the accused is not sufficient to imply consent. Most states also have provisions which prohibit the use of drugs and/or alcohol to incapacitate a victim, rendering the victim unable to deny consent.

Acquaintance rape remains a controversial topic because of lack of agreement upon the definition of consent. In an attempt to clarify this definition, in 1994, Antioch College in Ohio adopted what has become an infamous policy delineating consensual sexual behavior. The primary reason this policy has stirred such an uproar is that the definition of consent is based on continuous verbal communication during intimacy. The person initiating the contact must take responsibility for obtaining the other participant's verbal consent as the level of sexual intimacy increases. This must occur with each new level. The rules also state that "If you have had a particular level of sexual intimacy before with someone, you must still ask each and every time." (The Antioch College Sexual Offense Policy, in Francis, 1996).

This attempt to remove ambiguity from the interpretation of consent was hailed by some as the closest thing yet to an ideal of "communicative sexuality." As is often the case with ground breaking social experimentation, it was ridiculed and lampooned by the majority of those who responded to it. Most criticism centered on reducing the spontaneity of sexual intimacy to what seemed like an artificial contractual agreement.

III. Social Perspectives on Acquaintance Rape

Feminists have traditionally devoted much attention to issues such as pornography, sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and acquaintance rape. The sociological dynamics which influence the politics of sexual equality tend to be complicated. There is no single position taken by feminists on any of the aforementioned issues; there are differing and often conflicting opinions. Views on pornography, for example, are divided between two opposing camps. Libertarian feminists, on one hand, distinguish between erotica (with themes of healthy consensual sexuality) and pornography (material that combines the "graphic sexually explicit" with depictions which are "actively subordinating, treating unequally, as less than human, on the basis of sex." (MacKinnon, in Stan, 1995). Socalled "protectionist" feminists tend not to make such a distinction and view virtually all sexually-oriented material as exploitative and pornographic.

Views on acquaintance rape also appear quite capable of creating opposing camps. Despite the violent nature of acquaintance rape, the belief that many victims are actually willing, consenting participants is held by both men and women alike. "Blaming the victim" seems to be an all too prevalent reaction to acquaintance rape. Prominent authors have espoused this idea in editorial pages, Sunday Magazine sections, and popular journal articles. Some of these authors are women (a few identify themselves as feminists) who appear to justify their ideas by drawing conclusions based on their own personal experiences and anecdotal evidence, not wide-scale, systematic research. They may announce that they too have probably been raped while on a date to illustrate their own inevitable entanglement in the manipulation and exploitation which are part of interpersonal relations. It has also been implied that a natural state of aggression between men and women is normal, and that any woman who would go back to a man's apartment after a date is "an idiot." While there may be a certain degree of cautionary wisdom in the latter part of this statement, such views have been criticized for being overly simplistic and for simply submitting to the problem.

There has been a recent flurry of these literary exchanges on acquaintance rape between women's rights advocates, who have been working to raise public awareness, and a relatively small group of revisionists who perceive that the feminist response to the problem has been alarmist. In 1993, The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus by Katie Roiphe was published. Roiphe alleged that acquaintance rape was largely a myth created by feminists and challenged the results of the Koss study. Those who had responded and mobilized to meet the problem of acquaintance rape were called "rape-crisis feminists." This book, including excerpted in many major women's magazines, argued that the magnitude of the acquaintance rape problem was actually very small. Myriad critics were quick to respond to Roiphe and the anecdotal evidence she gave to her claims.

IV. Research Findings

The research of Koss and her colleagues has served as the foundation of many of the investigations on the prevalence, circumstances, and aftermath of acquaintance rape within the past dozen or so years. The results of this research have served to create an identity and awareness of the problem. Equally as important has been the usefulness of this information in creating prevention models. Koss acknowledges that there are some limitations to the research. The most significant drawback is that her subjects were drawn exclusively from college campuses; thus, they were not representative of the population at large. The average age of the subjects was 21.4 years. By no means does this negate the usefulness of the findings, especially since the late teens and early twenties are the peak ages for the prevalence of acquaintance rape. The demographic profile of the 3,187 female and 2,972 male students in the study was similar to the makeup of the overall enrollment in higher education within the United States. Here are some of the most important statistics:


One in four women surveyed was victim of rape or attempted rape.
An additional one in four women surveyed was touched sexually against her will or was victim of sexual coercion.
84 percent of those raped knew their attacker.
57 percent of those rapes happened while on dates.
One in twelve male students surveyed had committed acts that met the legal definitions of rape or attempted rape.
84 percent of those men who committed rape said that what they did was definitely not rape.
Sixteen percent of the male students who committed rape and ten percent of those who attempted a rape took part in episodes involving more than one attacker.
Responses of the Victim

Only 27 percent of those women whose sexual assault met the legal definition of rape thought of themselves as rape victims.
42 percent of the rape victims did not tell anyone about their assaults.
Only five percent of the rape victims reported the crime to the police.
Only five percent of the rape victims sought help at rape-crisis centers.
Whether they had acknowledged their experience as a rape or not, thirty percent of the women identified as rape victims contemplated suicide after the incident.
82 percent of the victims said that the experience had permanently changed them.
V. Myths About Acquaintance Rape

There are a set of beliefs and misunderstandings about acquaintance rape that are held by a large portion of the population. These faulty beliefs serve to shape the way acquaintance rape is dealt with on both personal and societal levels. This set of assumptions often presents serious obstacles for victims as they attempt to cope with their experience and recovery.



A woman who gets raped usually deserves it, especially if she has agreed to go to a man's house or park with him. No one deserves to be raped. Being in a man's house or car does not mean that a woman has agreed to have sex with him.
If a woman agrees to allow a man to pay for dinner, drinks, etc., then it means she owes him sex. Sex is not an implied payback for dinner or other expense no matter how much money has been spent.
Acquaintance rape is committed by men who are easy to identify as rapists. Women are often raped by "normal" acquaintances who resemble "regular guys."
Women who don't fight back haven't been raped. Rape occurs when one is forced to have sex against their will, whether they have decided to fight back or not.
Intimate kissing or certain kinds of touching mean that intercourse is inevitable. Everyone's right to say "no" should be honored, regardless of the activity which preceded it.
Once a man reaches a certain point of arousal, sex is inevitable and they can't help forcing themselves upon a woman. Men are capable of exercising restraint in acting upon sexual urges.
Most women lie about acquaintance rape because they have regrets after consensual sex. Acquaintance rape really happens - to people you know, by people you know.
Women who say "No" really mean "Yes." This notion is based on rigid and outdated sexual stereotypes.
Certain behaviors such as drinking or dressing in a sexually appealing way make rape a woman's responsibility. Drinking or dressing in a sexually appealing way are not invitations for sex.

VI. Who are the Victims?

Although it is not possible to make accurate predictions about who will be subjected to acquaintance rape and who won't, there is some evidence that certain beliefs and behaviors may increase the risk of becoming a victim. Women who subscribe to "traditional" views of men occupying a position of dominance and authority relative to women (who are seen as passive and submissive) may be at increased risk. In a study where the justifiability of rape was rated based on fictional dating scenarios, women with traditional attitudes tended to view the rape as acceptable if the women had initiated the date (Muehlenhard, in Pirog-Good and Stets, 1989). Drinking alcohol or taking drugs appears to be associated with acquaintance rape. Koss (1988) found that at least 55 percent of the victims in her study had been drinking or taking drugs just before the attack. Women who are raped within dating relationships or by an acquaintance are seen as "safe" victims because they are unlikely to report the incident to authorities or even view it as rape. Not only did a mere five percent of the women who had been raped in the Koss study report the incident, but 42 percent of them had sex again with their assailants.

The company one keeps may be a factor in predisposing women to an increased risk of sexual assault. An investigation of dating aggression and the features of college peer groups (Gwartney-Gibbs & Stockard, in Pirog-Good and Stets, 1989) supports this idea. The results indicate that those women who characterized the men in their mixed-sex social group as occasionally displaying forceful behavior towards women were significantly more likely themselves to be victims of sexual aggression. Being in familiar surroundings does not provide security. Most acquaintance rapes take place in either the victim's or the assailant's home, apartment, or dormitory.

VII. Who Commits Acquaintance Rape?

Just as with the victim, it is not possible to clearly identify individual men who will be participants in acquaintance rape. As a body of research begins to accumulate, however, there are certain characteristics which increase the risk factors. Acquaintance rape is not typically committed by psychopaths who are deviant from mainstream society. It is often expressed that direct and indirect messages given to boys and young men by our culture about what it means to male (dominant, aggressive, uncompromising) contribute to creating a mindset which is accepting of sexually aggressive behavior. Such messages are constantly sent via television and film when sex is portrayed as a commodity whose attainment is the ultimate male challenge. Notice how such beliefs are found within the vernacular of sex: "I'm going to make it with her," "Tonight's the night I'm going to score," "She's never had anything like this before," "What a piece of meat," "She's afraid to give it up."

Nearly everyone is exposed to this sexually biased current by various media, yet this does not account for individual differences in sexual beliefs and behaviors. Buying into stereotypical attitudes regarding sex roles tends to be associated with justification of intercourse under any circumstances. Other characteristics of the individual seem to facilitate sexual aggression. Research designed to determine traits of sexually aggressive males (Malamuth, in Pirog-Good and Stets, 1989) indicated that high scores on scales measuring dominance as a sexual motive, hostile attitudes towards women, condoning the use of force in sexual relationships, and the amount of prior sexual experience were all significantly related to self-reports of sexually aggressive behavior. Furthermore, the interaction of several of these variables increased the chance that an individual had reported sexually aggressive behavior. The inability to appraise social interactions, as well as prior parental neglect or sexual or physical abuse early in life may also be linked with acquaintance rape (Hall & Hirschman, in Wiehe and Richards, 1995). Finally, taking drugs or alcohol is commonly associated with sexual aggression. Of the men who were identified as having committed acquaintance rape, 75 percent had taken drugs or alcohol just prior to the rape (Koss, 1988).

VIII. The Effects of Acquaintance Rape

The consequences of acquaintance rape are often far-reaching. Once the actual rape has occurred and has been identified as rape by the survivor, she is faced with the decision of whether to disclose to anyone what has happened. In a study of acquaintance rape survivors (Wiehe & Richards, 1995), 97 percent informed at least one close confidant. The percentage of women who informed the police was drastically lower, at 28 percent. A still smaller number (twenty percent) decided to prosecute. Koss (1988) reports that only two percent of acquaintance rape survivors report their experiences to the police. This compared with the 21 percent who reported rape by a stranger to the police. The percentage of survivors reporting the rape is so low for several reasons. Self-blame is a recurring response which prevents disclosure. Even if the act has been conceived as rape by the survivor, there is often an accompanying guilt about not seeing the sexual assault coming before it was too late. This is often directly or indirectly reinforced by the reactions of family or friends in the form of questioning the survivor's decisions to drink during a date or to invite the assailant back to their apartment, provocative behavior, or previous sexual relations. People normally relied upon for support by the survivor are not immune to subtly blaming the victim. Another factor which inhibits reporting is the anticipated response of the authorities. Fear that the victim will again be blamed adds to apprehension about interrogation. The duress of reexperiencing the attack and testifying at a trial, and a low conviction rate for acquaintance rapists, are considerations as well.

The percentage of survivors who seek medical assistance after an attack is comparable to the percentage reporting to police (Wiehe & Richards, 1995). Serious physical consequences often emerge and are usually attended to before the emotional consequences. Seeking medical help can also be a traumatic experience, as many survivors feel like they are being violated all over again during the examination. More often than not, attentive and supportive medical staff can make a difference. Survivors may report being more at ease with a female physician. The presence of a rape-crisis counselor during the examination and the long periods of waiting that are often involved with it can be tremendously helpful. Internal and external injury, pregnancy, and abortion are some of the more common physical aftereffects of acquaintance rape.

Research has indicated that the survivors of acquaintance rape report similar levels of depression, anxiety, complications in subsequent relationships, and difficulty attaining pre-rape levels of sexual satisfaction to what survivors of stranger rape report (Koss & Dinero, 1988). What may make coping more difficult for victims of acquaintance rape is a failure of others to recognize that the emotional impact is just as serious. The degree to which individuals experience these and other emotional consequences varies based on factors such as the amount of emotional support available, prior experiences, and personal coping style. The way that a survivor's emotional harm may translate into overt behavior also depends on individual factors. Some may become very withdrawn and uncommunicative, others may act out sexually and become promiscuous. Those survivors who tend to deal the most effectively with their experiences take an active role in acknowledging the rape, disclosing the incident to appropriate others, finding the right help, and educating themselves about acquaintance rape and prevention strategies.

One of the most serious psychological disorders which can develop as the result of acquaintance rape is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rape is just one of many possible causes of PTSD, but it (along with other forms of sexual assault) is the most common cause of PTSD in American women (McFarlane & De Girolamo, in van der Kolk, McFarlane, & Weisaeth, 1996). PTSD as it relates to acquaintance rape is defined as in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition as "the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one's physical integrity" (DSM-IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994). A person's immediate response to the event includes intense fear and helplessness. Symptoms which are part of the criteria for PTSD include persistent reexperiencing of the event, persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, and persistent symptoms of increased arousal. This pattern of reexperiencing, avoidance, and arousal must be present for at least one month. There must also be an accompanying impairment in social, occupational, or other important realm of functioning (DSM-IV, APA, 1994).

If one takes note of the causes and symptoms of PTSD and compares them to thoughts and emotions which might be evoked by acquaintance rape, it is not difficult to see a direct connection. Intense fear and helplessness are likely to be the core reactions to any sexual assault. Perhaps no other consequence is more devastating and cruel than the fear, mistrust, and doubt triggered by the simple encounters and communication with men which are a part of everyday living. Prior to the assault, the rapist had been indistinguishable from non rapists. After the rape, all men may be seen as potential rapists. For many victims, hypervigilance towards most men becomes permanent. For others, a long and difficult recovery process must be endured before a sense of normalcy returns.

IX. Prevention

The following section has been adapted from I Never Called It Rape, by Robin Warshaw. Prevention is not just the responsibility of the potential victims, that is, of women. Men may try to use acquaintance rape myths and false stereotypes about "what women really want" to rationalize or excuse sexually aggressive behavior. The most widely used defense is to blame the victim. Education and awareness programs, however, can have a positive effect in encouraging men to take increased responsibility for their behavior. Despite this optimistic statement, there will always be some individuals who won't get the message. Although it may be difficult, if not impossible, to detect someone who will commit acquaintance rape, there are some characteristics which can signal trouble. Emotional intimidation in the form of belittling comments, ignoring, sulking, and dictating friends or style of dress may indicate high levels of hostility. Projecting an overt air of superiority or acting as if one knows another much better than the one actually does may also be associated with coercive tendencies. Body posturing such as blocking a doorway or deriving pleasure from physically startling or scaring are forms of physical intimidation. Harboring negative attitudes toward women in general can be detected in the need to speak derisively of previous girlfriends. Extreme jealousy and an inability to handle sexual or emotional frustration without anger may reflect potentially dangerous volatility. Taking offense at not consenting to activities which could limit resistance, such as drinking or going to a private or isolated place, should serve as a warning.

Many of these characteristics are similar to each other and contain themes of hostility and intimidation. Maintaining an awareness of such a profile may facilitate quicker, clearer, and more resolute decision-making in problematic situations. Practical guidelines which may be helpful in decreasing the risk of acquaintance rape are available. Expanded versions, as well as suggestions about what to do if rape occurs, may be found in Intimate Betrayal: Understanding and Responding to the Trauma of Acquaintance Rape (Wiehe & Richards, 1995) and I Never Called It Rape (Warshaw, 1994).


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McFarlane, A.C. & DeGirolamo, G. (1996). The nature of traumatic stressors and the epidemiology of posttraumatic reactions. In B.A. van der Kolk, A.C. McFarlane & L. Weisaeth (Eds.)., Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society (pp. 129-154). New York, NY: Guilford.

Muehlenhard, C.L. (1989). Misinterpreted dating behaviors and the risk of date rape. In M.A. Pirog-Good & J.E. Stets (Eds.)., Violence in dating relationships: Emerging social issues (pp. 241-256). New York, NY: Praeger.

Stan, A.M., Ed. (1995). Debating sexual correctness: Pornography, sexual harassment, date rape, and the politics of sexual equality. New York, NY: Delta.

Warshaw, R. (1994). I never called it rape. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

Wiehe, V.R. & Richards, A.L. (1995). Intimate betrayal: Understanding and responding to the trauma of acquaintance rape. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
David G. Curtis, Ph.D., B.C.E.T.S., is a Clinical and School Psychologist. As a consulting psychologist with Long Island Psychological Associates, P.C. in New York he is involved with the evaluation and treatment of survivors of traumatic events. Dr. Curtis is also a school psychologist in the Merrick School District. He is the author and coordinator of the District's Crisis Response Plan. He is a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and Diplomate of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, where he also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Curtis has held an Adjunct Professor position at Hofstra University. He has presented at various conferences on topics such as Attention Deficit Disorder and Psychological Inhibitors of Athletic Performance. He is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, the Nassau County Psychological Association, and the Suffolk County Psychological Association.