Wednesday, October 17, 2018
It was not until Lenahan v. United States that many U.S. domestic violence advocates incorporated the human rights framework in a conscious and organized way. Part I of this essay addresses the role of determining truth as part of human rights remedies. Truth is essential so that all involved may provide appropriate remedies to those harmed, as well as to open a gateway to whatever level of healing and change is possible under the circumstances. Part II discusses the procedural history of Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales and explores the comparative findings and goals of the U.S. legal system within the human rights framework. The U.S. and IACHR Gonzales-Lenahan cases are used as comparative exemplars. The application of truth seeking principles to the Lenahan case is then discussed. Part III addresses needed change within the U.S. civil law systems if the country is to affectively adopt a human rights perspective in matters of domestic violence and other human rights abuses.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
The College of New Jersey is among a small but growing number of institutions that now offer alternatives to trial-like investigations that critics say can be traumatic for everyone involved. The U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has indicated, through Title IX guidance issued in 2017 and then in draft regulations obtained and reported last month by The New York Times, that the Trump administration welcomes alternative ways of handling sexual-misconduct disputes.
Approaches that start with the offender admitting responsibility and agreeing to repair the harm appeal to some students who aren’t interested in seeing someone suspended or expelled. Proponents see alternative resolution agreements as a way to cut down on Title IX investigations, save colleges money, and potentially be fairer to the accused.
But skeptics worry students will feel pressured to bypass a formal investigation and will regret it later on if offenders get off too easily. And asking a student to sit down with an assailant and work out an agreement is not only unrealistic, they argue, but possibly retraumatizing.
The agreement reached by the two students at the New Jersey college didn’t require face-to-face conversations, but they did have to agree on certain stipulations. He would attend a workshop on consent and alcohol-education classes. She wanted him to know how different people’s bodies react to alcohol and how it affects their ability to consent to sex. He would view an online seminar on the neurobiology of sexual assault. The seminar, by Rebecca Campbell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, had helped her make sense of her confusing emotional reaction to what she later considered an assault.
Both students had a few days to view and suggest changes in the two-page agreement.
"We don’t want this to be seen as a get-out-of-jail-free card," said Jordan L. Draper, dean of students and Title IX coordinator. "It’s an educational opportunity."
Draper is a proponent of what’s known as restorative justice, an umbrella term that covers a variety of interventions aimed at healing rather than assessing blame and punishing.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Martha Chamallas, Will Tort Law Have its #MeToo Moment?, Journal of Tort Law (forthcoming)
Using tort law’s treatment of claims for domestic violence and sexual assault as examples, this essay identifies prominent features of a feminist historical approach to law to demonstrate how gender inequality is reproduced over time, despite changes in legal doctrine. When informed by feminist theory, history can function as a critique of past and present regimes of inequality, highlighting the various techniques of exclusion and marginalization that emerge to prevent law from redressing serious, recurring injuries suffered disproportionately by women. The essay explores two such techniques: sexual exceptionalism that treats gender-related torts differently than other harms and the adoption of ostensibly neutral rules that have a disparate impact on women and marginalized groups. The essay speculates as to whether the #MeToo movement can provide the momentum to produce a break from the past, particularly with respect to third-party claims holding employers and other institutional defendants responsible for sexualized harms.
Title IX processes that address campus sexual assault are undergoing dramatic changes in structure as well as in policy review. After receipt of the Department of Education’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, colleges and universities were impelled to review how their institutions were implementing Title IX. From website information through investigation and decision-making on alleged violations, the ways in which higher education addresses federally guided changes is a matter of national conversation. This article addresses change considering campus sexual assault allegations, and does not explicitly address other forms of Title IX complaints, such as athletic funding and opportunities. This essay limits discussion to sexual harassment and sexual discrimination Title IX claims only, particularly, sexual assault.
The primary topic of ongoing concern is how Title IX investigations and hearing processes are conducted. Review, and in some cases revision, of campus policies was prompted by two interconnected influences. The first was the referenced letter from the Department of Education, and the second was due process and other criticisms raised by those who advocate within the criminal justice framework. This essay explores the impact that criminal law and criminal lawyers have had on Title IX processes. Part of this exploration will include the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s recommendations on how Title IX sexual harassment complaints should be handled. Unknown at the time of this writing is whether the administration will be influenced by these recommendations, although to date it has not. As of this publication, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, met with representative survivors and their advocates, as well as those who claim to have been wrongfully accused. The Secretary also accepted comments on deregulation, which included a review of Title IX regulations. The proposed regulation review was part of the administration’s “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” We can anticipate change, although when and what change is undetermined now. To date, the primary action taken by Secretary DeVos was the rescission of the Obama Era “Dear Colleague” letter discussed early in this article. Incorporated throughout this discussion are the changes, as well as the complications, that develop when the Title IX process is viewed through a criminal justice lens. Particularly explored, is how stereotypes regarding women’s credibility forms the foundation of challenges faced by survivors of sexual assault who seek relief. The last section of this essay addresses proposed recommendations to address the needs of those accused as well as protecting the harmed student.
More changes from the Secretary of Education are expected, which makes consideration of the concerns addressed in this article vital.
In cities across America, calling 911 can get you evicted. This week, a city less than 10 miles outside of St. Louis agreed to stop enforcing this inhumane policy as part of an extensive settlement.
Last year, we filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Rosetta Watson, a domestic violence survivor who was kicked out of her home and city because she called the police. Under a local ordinance in Maplewood, Missouri, anyone making more than two calls to the police for domestic violence was designated a “nuisance,” with no exception for victims. Ms. Watson called the police four times, when her ex-boyfriend kicked in her front door, punched her, and strangled her. Based on those calls, Maplewood revoked her occupancy permit, and she was banished from living in Maplewood for six months. For years afterwards, she struggled with fear of her abuser, distrust of law enforcement, and the inability to keep a stable home. * * *
The case against Maplewood is just the latest in our fight against nuisance ordinances. The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing & Opportunity Council found 69 similar ordinances in the St. Louis region, and we estimate there are thousands across the country. For example, the ACLU published a report with the New York Civil Liberties Union last month, showing how different cities in New York often enforced these kinds of ordinances in communities of color and where poor people live, imposed harsh penalties for low-level offenses, and harmed domestic violence survivors and those in need of emergency aid.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Domestic Violence as a Form of Torture: A Feminist Expansion of the Theory of the Prohibition of Torture
Natalie Davidson, The Feminist Expansion of the Prohibition of Torture: Towards a Post-liberal International Human Rights Law, Cornell Int'l L. J. (forthcoming)
International human rights law (IHRL), discourse and activism have been the subject of well-known critiques. Two categories of critique are closely linked to the liberal ideology underlying the human rights project, and point to the project's limited ability to further profound change. The "critique of justification" exposes the field's formalist argumentative practices, which struggle to justify proposed normative solutions. The "critique of representation" highlights the narrow ways in which injustice and violence are portrayed, denounced and addressed in international human rights discourse. These weaknesses are all the more troubling in the contemporary populist authoritarian era. Yet contrary to many critical scholars who advocate abandoning the human rights discourse, this article argues that it is possible to transform the discursive practices of IHRL so as to be more convincing and better address structural inequalities. It does so by analyzing the discursive practices of the feminist campaign to frame domestic violence as a form of torture, an explicit attempt to release the prohibition of torture, a central norm of IHRL, from the constraints of liberalism. While the discourse of domestic violence as torture reproduces some of the problematic features of better-known feminist engagements with international law, it also suggests IHRL's potential for profound reform, both at the level of justification and representation.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
New Zealand will grant victims of domestic violence paid leave from work, in a move that activists say will give people the time to move out and seek shelter for themselves and their children without losing their jobs.
Members of Parliament approved a bill allowing the change by a vote of 63 to 57 on Wednesday night, giving domestic abuse survivors, as well as those caring for young victims, 10 days off from work in addition to their regular paid vacations.
The measure, known as the domestic violence victims’ protection bill, will take effect next April, making New Zealand the second country in the world to pass such legislation, after the Philippines. * * *
New Zealand gave all women the right to vote in 1893, the first self-governing country in the world to do so, and its prime minister, Jacinda Ardern — currently on parental leave — is the third woman to hold the job. But its domestic and sexual violence rates are among the highest in the world.
A 2011 United Nations report said that 30 percent of women in New Zealand had suffered domestic abuse in the previous decade, with 14 percent experiencing sexual violence. A 2017 report in The New Zealand Herald said that the country had “the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world,” estimating that 525,000 New Zealanders were harmed every year.
New Zealand has passed legislation granting victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave to allow them to leave their partners, find new homes and protect themselves and their children.
MPs clapped and cheered as bill passed on Wednesday night with 63 votes to 57. It is the result of seven years of work by Green MP Jan Logie, who worked in a women’s refuge before she became a politician.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Nermeen Arastu, Janet Calvo, and Julie Goldscheid, What Jeff Sessions' Efforts to Deny Asylum to Domestic Violence Victims Look Like, Slate
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released a policy memorandum providing guidance on how United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officers should implement Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision last month to do away with asylum for most domestic violence survivors. Sessions’ decision in Matter of A–B–, a case involving a domestic violence survivor’s application for asylum, overturned a prior ruling that explicitly recognized that those fleeing domestic violence may qualify for asylum. With the A–B– decision and accompanying guidance, the administration aims to reject decades of reform by flatly stating that these claims “in general” will not be grounds for asylum relief. These steps confirm the administration’s efforts to thwart our country’s prior commitments to end gender violence and support survivors, and to place the United States outside the global consensus, flouting international law.
Caroline Bettinger-López and Rachel Vogelstein, Sessions' Draconian Asylum Decision, Foreign Affairs Mag.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a radical decision that will undoubtedly result in death or significant harm to some of the world’s most vulnerable women: victims of domestic violence who live in countries that do not, or cannot, protect them from their abusive partners. Over the past two decades, the United States has provided a safe haven to many of these women through its asylum laws. In a heartless move that flouts established U.S. law and international human rights standards, Sessions found that a domestic violence victim from El Salvador—perhaps the most dangerous country on earth in which to be a woman—would not qualify for asylum, even though her own country had utterly failed to protect her.
In previous years, whether the United States was under a Republican or Democratic president, such a decision would have been unthinkable. The State Department’s human rights reports routinely criticize other countries for their lack of protections for domestic violence survivors, and U.S. asylum laws have evolved over the years to account for the multiple forms of persecution that victims may suffer—including persecution at the hands of a private actor—when their governments fail to provide protection.
Asylum protections for victims of gender-based violence have been well established for decades—not only in the United States but also under the international human rights system. The United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention established the right to claim asylum on the basis of gender-based persecution and crimes. Historically, nations treated domestic violence as a private matter to be resolved between partners and families. But in modern times, violence against women has come to be understood as a human rights violation—a form of gender-based discrimination that subordinates and oppresses women.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Deborah Epstein has spent her professional life fighting for victims of domestic violence. But protecting such victims is also what Epstein says led her to step down from a commission meant to tackle the issue of domestic violence in the National Football League.
The NFL's Players Association Commission on Violence Prevention was formed after several NFL players were accused of violence against their domestic partners, including Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, who knocked his fiancée unconscious in an elevator.
In 2014, Epstein, director of the Georgetown University Law Center's Domestic Violence Clinic, was asked to serve on the commission. She and research psychologist Lisa Goodman were authorized to conduct a national study of players' wives, collecting the women's suggestions for handling domestic violence and supporting its victims.
As she tells NPR, her decision to resign came after troubling "pattern emerged" in her communications with the NFLPA.
"I brought a number of ideas to the commission about ways in which they could deal with the domestic violence problem in the NFL," she says. The report compiled short-term and long-term recommendations.
The NFLPA heard her out, she says, but since filing the report in June 2016, "it has sat on the shelf."
"The Player's Association contacts that I have would welcome those ideas, tell me they were eminently doable, but that they had to get kicked down the road because 'It was the Super Bowl, it was the draft, it was the season,' " she says. "And I would come back and reiterate my suggestions, and eventually I found that communication would just die on the vine."
"I realized very little, if anything, was going to happen."***
Esptein, who signed a confidentiality agreement with the NFLPA, says she can't divulge what recommendations she provided in the report. Ostensibly, the confidentiality protects the anonymity of spouses and partners of NFL players from retribution, allowing them to speak freely.
In a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month, Epstein says, "I simply cannot continue to be part of a body that exists in name only," and what, she believes is "a fig leaf."
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday made it all but impossible for asylum seekers to gain entry into the United States by citing fears of domestic abuse or gang violence, in a ruling that could have a broad effect on the flow of migrants from Central America.
Mr. Sessions’s decision in a closely watched domestic violence case is the latest turn in a long-running debate over what constitutes a need for asylum. He reversed an immigration appeals court ruling that granted it to a Salvadoran woman who said she had been sexually, emotionally and physically abused by her husband.
Relatively few asylum seekers are granted permanent entry into the United States. In 2016, for every applicant who succeeded, more than 10 others also sought asylum, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security. But the process can take months or years, and tens of thousands of people live freely in the United States while their cases wend through the courts.
Mr. Sessions’s decision overturns a precedent set during the Obama administration that allowed more women to claim credible fears of domestic abuse and will make it harder for such arguments to prevail in immigration courts. He said the Obama administration created “powerful incentives” for people to “come here illegally and claim a fear of return.”
Asylum claims have expanded too broadly to include victims of “private violence,” like domestic violence or gangs, Mr. Sessions wrote in his ruling, which narrowed the type of asylum requests allowed. The number of people who told homeland security officials that they had a credible fear of persecution jumped to 94,000 in 2016 from 5,000 in 2009, he said in a speech earlier in the day in which he signaled he would restore “sound principles of asylum and longstanding principles of immigration law.”
“The prototypical refugee flees her home country because the government has persecuted her,” Mr. Sessions wrote in his ruling. Because immigration courts are housed under the Justice Department, not the judicial branch of government, he has the authority to overturn their decisions.
“An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family or other personal circumstances,” he added. “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”
His ruling drew immediate condemnation from immigrants’ rights groups. Some viewed it as a return to a time when domestic violence was considered a private matter, not the responsibility of the government to intervene, said Karen Musalo, a defense lawyer on the case who directs the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.
“What this decision does is yank us all back to the Dark Ages of human rights and women’s human rights and the conceptualization of it,” she said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently issued a ruling denying asylum to female victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. His decision, which ruled against a Salvadoran woman who had been severely abused by her husband, concludes that such victims "generally" don't qualify for asylum under a federal law that grants asylum to any refugees who is "unable or unwilling to return to [her home country], and is unable or unwilling to avail . . . herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." The decision overrules two prior Justice Department Board of Immigration Appeals decisions, which granted asylum to female victims of domestic abuse in Guatemala and El Salvador. Sessions' ruling is legally problematic. But, perhaps even more importantly, it highlights the arbitrary injustice of a policy that denies asylum to victims of horrible persecution as bad as that which falls within the scope of the rules.
The key legal question in the case is whether Salvadoran victims of domestic violence qualify as people with "a well-founded fear of persecution" based on their "membership in a particular social group." The phrase "particular social group" is far from precise. But, as Sessions recognizes, courts have generally defined it as a group "composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, (2) defined with particularity, and (3) socially distinct within the society in question." It should be obvious that women qualify as a group that shares "a common immutable characteristic," and that they are also a group that is "socially distinct" and "can be defined with particularity." It is true that gender is not completely immutable in an age of sex change operations. But it is surely sufficiently so to qualify under the rules. And you don't have to be a radical feminist to recognize that, in highly sexist societies like El Salvador and Guatemala, which have a "culture of machismo and family violence" (as one of the BIA decisions overruled by Sessions puts it), domestic violence against women flourishes in large part because of gender bias. And such bias helps account for the failure of the authorities to effectively curtail such abuse. Recognizing that does not require us to assume that all Guatemalan and Salvadoran men are sexist or violent, or that all law enforcement officials in those countries are misogynists, merely that such attitudes are sufficiently widespread in those countries that they account for much of the danger faced by female victims of domestic violence.
Friday, May 11, 2018
Vicki Schultz, Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment, Again
Twenty years ago, I published an article in the Yale Law Journal entitled “Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment.” Five years later, I published a follow-up article in YLJ. These two pieces anchored a body of writing that proposed a new theory of sexual harassment.
Recent events reveal the work still depressingly relevant. Still relevant, because sexual harassment remains far too widespread, despite forty years of activism and legal reform. And still relevant, because the need for an adequate theoretical framework to guide action remains as pressing as ever, twenty years later.
Now is the time to reinvigorate theory. With the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the #MeToo movement, we are witnessing an extraordinary cultural moment of resistance against sexual harassment — one that could enable real change. I am heartened by the courage, tenacity, and smarts of the women and men who have come forward to challenge harassment in an effort to change the status quo. I include here not only the survivors who have risked so much to share their stories, but also the reporters who have worked to expose long-held secrets in the entertainment, technology, media, and other important industries. Most reports have focused on workplace or career-related harassment, a focus that is unsurprising given the centrality of work and workplace inequality to women’s lives. For that reason, this essay will focus on workplace harassment (though much of the analysis would apply also to sexual harassment on campus, a sphere that is important in its own right and as a training ground for professional life).
Jamie Abrams, The #MeToo Movement: An Invitation for Feminist Critique of Rape Crisis Framing, 52 Richmond L. Rev. (forthcoming)
This article invites feminists to leverage the #MeToo Movement as a critical analytical tool to explore the longevity of the enduring rape crisis framing of victim services. For nearly half a century, victims have visited rape crisis centers, called rape crisis hotlines, and mobilized rape crisis response teams to provide services and support. This enduring political and social framing around rape as a crisis is opaque, has prompted a political backlash, and risks distorting hard-fought feminist legal, social, and political battles. It has yielded underreporting, underutilization, and recurring risks of budgetary cuts. This model and terminology have gone virtually unchanged for nearly half a century. Crisis language denotes urgency, decisiveness, judgment, action, and mobilization, all leading to closure. These descriptions can be problematic when mapped onto the lived experiences of certain communities.
The #MeToo Movement presents modern feminists with a powerful, productive, and timely opportunity to critique the existing crisis model of service provision and support. This article invites feminists to begin this dialogue. It presents three critiques of the current framing. First, the crisis framing risks resurrecting troublesome legal relics relating to statutes of limitations and evidentiary hurdles. Second, it risks being perceived as exclusionary and limited, thus cabining its impact. Particularly, campus sexual assault victims and marginalized communities generally may not universally connect to an opaque crisis framing. Third, crisis framing risks distorting the scope of sexual assault. It limits the expansive range of harms that are associated with rape and sexual assault and the systemic longevity of the problem of rape and sexual assault in society. While the language of crisis seems to invoke an urgent call to action, which is to be applauded, this language risks blurring the long history of sexual assault and erasing a legacy of inaction in countless institutional and political and social settings. It also suggests a beginning and an end to a victim’s recovery journey. It suggests that closure is attainable when in reality, ongoing monitoring, responsiveness, and engagement are critically necessary.
Developing Enhanced Due Process Protections for Title IX Sexual Assault Cases at Public Institutions
Jim Newberry & William E. Thro, After the Dear Colleague Letter: Developing the Enhanced Due Process Protections for Title IX Sexual Assault Cases at Public Institutions, Journal of College & University Law (forthcoming).
Since the formation of the American Republic, Americans have maintained a fundamental mistrust of government power. In the Title IX realm, the Obama Administration exacerbated those concerns. In its efforts to enforce Title IX and to reduce sexual misconduct on campuses, the Obama Administration issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” in April 2011 and a follow up Question and Answer document in April 2014, both of which set out OCR’s view of the obligations of institutions receiving federal financial assistance under Title IX and its implementing regulations. This 2011 Dear Colleague Letter “explains the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual-harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence.”
As Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones observed, this 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, “was not adopted according to notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures; its extremely broad definition of ’sexual harassment’ has no counterpart in federal civil rights case law; and the procedures prescribed for adjudication of sexual misconduct are heavily weighted in favor of finding guilt.” Specifically, the Dear Colleague Letter and the 2014 OCR Q & A document: (1) suggest institutions handle sexual assault cases with a single person serving as detective, prosecutor, judge, and jury; (2) maintain hearings are not required; (3) imply “the school should not start the proceedings with a presumption of innocence, or even a stance of neutrality . . . [but with an assumption] any complaint is valid and the accused is guilty as charged;” (4) forbid the consideration of the complainant’s sexual history with anyone other than the accused student; (5) discourage cross-examination; (6) allow an appeal of not guilty verdicts; and (7) mandate a preponderance of the evidence—rather than clear and convincing evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt—as the standard for determining guilt. Although the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the 2014 Q & A result in an increased focus on the problems of sexual assault on campus, some scholars have suggested these documents undermine due process.
On September 22, 2017, the Secretary of Education released new guidance that revoked both the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the 2014 Q & A document. Instead, OCR established Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance as the guiding light for future assessments of institutional compliance. Further, the Secretary announced her plans to initiate a “rulemaking process that responds to public comment.” The proposed rulemaking process will undoubtedly address multiple stakeholder concerns with the approach to sexual misconduct, but one anticipates that due process concerns for public institutions will be near the top of the list of concerns addressed in rulemaking effort.
The purpose of this Essay is to set out a vision for what due process in the Title IX sexual assault context should look like. In accomplishing this purpose, the authors—drawing on existing case law, policy arguments, and their own experiences as higher education lawyers—propose a set of due process protections which will equitably balance the interests of (a) Complaining Witness seeking redress for multiple forms of sexual misconduct, (b) Respondents seeking protection against lifelong stigmas arising from unfair campus proceedings, and (c) institutions of higher education seeking to eliminate all forms of educational program discrimination based on sex.
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Melissa Berger, Reforming by Re-Norming: How the Legal System has the Potential to Change a Toxic Culture of Domestic Violence, 44 Notre Dame J. of Legislation 171 (2018)
Regressive societal norms and gender-based biases, both explicit and implicit, have compounded over time to form a cultural realm of tolerance toward domestic violence. This Article examines how the law has contributed to the development of this culture, and more importantly, how the law can be utilized to transform a toxic culture of intimate partner violence. The law can be a positive agent of change, and its powers should be marshaled to effectuate change in attitudes and norms towards domestic violence. By importing the social norms theory of psychology and theories of re-norming and implicit biases, we may work to detoxify society’s treatment and tolerance of intimate partner violence.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Alexandra Brodsky, Against Taking Rape Seriously: The Case Against Mandatory Referral Laws for Campus Gender Violence, 53 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties J. 131 (2018)
In response to growing national concern about gender violence on college campuses, legislators have proposed a rash of state and federal bills that would require schools to refer all sexual assault reports to the police, regardless of the student victims’ wishes. These so-called “mandatory referral” laws appeal to a popular intuition that the best way to address rape is to involve law enforcement. Yet surveys, victims’ criticism, and the history of other efforts to force survivors into the criminal legal system show that such bills would discourage survivors who wish to avoid criminal intervention from reporting to their schools and, as a result, directly undermine the wellbeing of victims and reduce opportunities for accountability. Despite clear shortcomings, opponents of campus rape reform have been able to champion these counter-productive bills under the guise of supporting survivors by co-opting a historically salient feminist strategy: demanding that policymakers take gender violence “seriously,” which the public imagination equates with criminal prosecution. This Article maps the political landscape that gives rise to mandatory referral bills, explains the proposals’ failures as a matter of policy, and calls for a new rhetoric of taking victims’ needs seriously.
Monday, April 16, 2018
Film: I Am Evidence
I AM EVIDENCE exposes the alarming number of untested rape kits in the United States through a character–driven narrative, bringing much needed attention to the disturbing pattern of how the criminal justice system has historically treated sexual assault survivors.
Why is there a rape kit backlog? What can we do to fix the problem? This film explores these questions through survivors’ experiences as they trace the fates of their kits and re-engage in the criminal justice process. I AM EVIDENCE illuminates how the system has impeded justice while also highlighting those who are leading the charge to work through the backlog and pursue long-awaited justice in these cases.
In this film, we seek to send a clear message to survivors that they matter, that we as a nation will do everything possible to bring them a path to healing and justice, and that their perpetrators will be held accountable for their crimes.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
John attended a party, drank six beers, then proceeded to a bar and drank more beer and alcohol. He left the bar in the early morning, sufficiently intoxicated that he cannot remember what happened for the remainder of the night. Based on text messages he later found on his cellphone, John knows that he called Jane. The two had engaged in several prior physical encounters. Jane, who had also been drinking, joined John in his bed. According to Jane’s subsequent statement, the two engaged in some consensual sexual acts, but Jane stopped consenting and John continued to engage in non-consensual sexual acts. John was found responsible for violating Miami University’s sexual assault policy and was suspended for four months. John sued Jane, Miami University, and individual University employees. John and Jane reached a settlement. The court dismissed John’s remaining claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of John’s Title IX hostile-environment claim, Title IX deliberate-indifference claim, and 42 U.S.C. 1983 substantive-due-process claim. The court reversed, in part, finding that John sufficiently pleaded procedural-due-process and equal protection claims against one employee based on the claims that she was not an impartial adjudicator and did not fully disclose the evidence against him. The court also reversed a finding of qualified immunity as to that employee and held that John sufficiently pled his Title IX erroneous-outcome claim.
Doe v. Miami University (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2018) (opinion by Karen Nelson Moore)
We agree with the district court that John has pleaded sufficient facts to cast “some articulable doubt on the accuracy” on the outcome of his disciplinary hearing. He alleges that he was so intoxicated that he cannot recall the critical events in question. Thus, John’s only knowledge of what occurred is drawn from Jane’s description. In her written statement, Jane describes a series of sexual acts between herself and John, some of which were consensual and some of which were not.
She states that she initially agreed to digital penetration, but at some point told John to stop. Id. John did stop, but only after some period of time had passed. Then John asked Jane if he could engage in oral sex. According to Jane, she said no, but John proceeded anyway and Jane responded by pushing him away, rather than re-verbalizing her denial of consent. John then stopped. Jane also states, however, that “I never said no.”
[John was suspended by Miami for three terms].
Taken together, the statistical evidence that ostensibly shows a pattern of gender-based decision-making and the external pressure on Miami University supports at the motion-to dismiss stage a reasonable inference of gender discrimination. John alleges facts showing a potential pattern of gender-based decision-making that “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal” circumstantial evidence of gender discrimination. He asserts that every male student accused of sexual misconduct in the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters was found responsible for the alleged violation, and that nearly ninety percent of students found responsible for sexual misconduct between 2011 and 2014 have male first-names. Additionally, John incorporated an affidavit from an attorney who represents many students in Miami University’s disciplinary proceedings, which describes a pattern of the University pursuing investigations concerning male students, but not female students. Lastly, John points to his own situation, in which the University initiated an investigation into him but not Jane, as evidence that Miami University impermissibly makes decisions on the basis of a student’s gender. Discovery may reveal that the alleged patterns of gender-based decisionmaking do not, in fact, exist. That information, however, is currently controlled by the defendants, and John has sufficiently pleaded circumstantial evidence of gender discrimination.
John also alleges that the two other members of his Administrative Hearing Panel (Van Gundy-Yoder and Elliott) and the two individuals who decided his appeals (Ward and Brownell) were not neutral decision-makers. He argues that Van Gundy-Yoder and Ward were biased due to their research interests. But merely being a feminist or researching topics that affect women does not support a reasonable inference that a person is biased. John also alleges that all of these individual defendants faced institutional pressures to find him responsible due to external influence from the federal government and lawsuits brought by private parties.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Julie Goldscheid & Rene Kathawala, State Civil Rights Remedies for Gender Violence: A Tool for Accountability
This article focuses attention on state civil rights remedies that provide a civil cause of action against those who commit acts of gender-based violence and frame the harm as a violation of the survivor’s civil rights. Though many of these laws long have been on the books, they are not widely used. The #MeToo movement has rightly focused public attention on the ways gender violence persists, and on the gaps in legal remedies for survivors. At the same time that law and policy-makers work to enact new laws to fill gaps, existing laws should be invoked to promote accountability and provide redress for survivors. State civil rights remedies do just that.
In 1994, after four years of hearings, Congress enacted a civil rights remedy as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (“VAWA Civil Rights Remedy”), which provided a private right of action against an individual who committed an act of gender violence. The law was modeled after other federal civil rights legislation and authorized a survivor of gender-motivated violence to bring a civil cause of action against the individual who committed the harm. The Supreme Court, in United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000), struck down the federal law as an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause powers and of Congress’ enforcement powers under the Fourteenth Amendment. While the law provided redress for survivors during the six years it was in effect, both pre-existing and later-enacted state and local remedies also provide a private right of action for gender violence as a civil rights violation. This article reviews those state statutes and the associated case law interpreting them. It demonstrates that those state laws can more widely be used by those who seek to hold those who commit acts of gender violence accountable.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, when high-profile and high-net-worth individuals are being held to account, and when reports of sexual violence that occur outside traditional employment settings are capturing public attention, those laws may be of increased utility. Trends in employment in which fewer workers are employed in settings covered by traditional federal and state anti-discrimination laws expose the gaps in existing civil rights frameworks and render additional remedies all the more important. The state laws reviewed here have not been the focus of much advocacy, scholarship, or litigation. This article advances an additional and under-utilized theory of recovery for gender violence survivors that offers a useful tool for accountability, redress and equality.
Monday, March 26, 2018
Amidst a crowd of students and advocates rallying for stronger gun regulations, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed Monday the first piece of legislation addressing the issue since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.
The law expands the prohibition of gun ownership to people convicted of domestic violence against non-married intimate partners — closing the so-called "boyfriend loophole."
It also blocks people convicted of misdemeanor stalking from owning a gun.
"Closing the 'intimate partner' is an important step to keep Oregonians safer from gun violence," Brown said. "I'm hopeful that the tide is turning on our nation's gun debate."
The legislation was one of Brown's top priorities coming into the short legislative session, which ended Saturday.
Deborah Epstein & Lisa Goodman, Discounting Credibility: Doubting the Testimony and Dismissing the Experience of Domestic Violence Survivors and Other Women, 167 U. Penn. L. Rev. (forthcoming)
In recent months, we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of testimonials about the serious harms women all too frequently endure. The #MeToo moment, the #WhyIStayed campaign, and the Larry Nassar sentencing hearings have raised public awareness not only about workplace harassment, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, but also about how routinely women survivors face a Gaslight-style gauntlet of doubt, disbelief, and outright dismissal of their stories. This pattern is particularly disturbing in the justice system, where women face a legal twilight zone: laws meant to protect them and deter further abuse often fail to achieve their purpose, because women telling stories of abuse by their male partners are simply not believed. To fully grasp the nature of this new moment in gendered power relations—and to cement the significant gains won by these public campaigns—we need to take a full, considered look at when, how, and why the justice system and other key social institutions discount women’s credibility.
We use the lens of intimate partner violence to examine the ways in which women’s credibility is discounted in a range of legal and social service system settings. First, judges and others improperly discount as implausible women’s stories of abuse, based on a failure to understand both the symptoms arising from neurological and psychological trauma and the practical constraints on survivors’ lives. Second, gatekeepers unjustly discount women’s personal trustworthiness, based on both inaccurate interpretations of survivors’ courtroom demeanor and negative cultural stereotypes about women and their motivations for seeking assistance. Moreover, even when a woman manages to overcome all the initial modes of institutional skepticism that minimize her account of abuse, she often finds that the systems designed to furnish her with help and protection dismiss the importance of her experiences. Instead, all too often, the arbiters of justice and social welfare adopt and enforce legal and social policies and practices with little regard for how they perpetuate patterns of abuse.
Two distinct harms arise from this pervasive pattern of credibility discounting and experiential dismissal. First, the discrediting of survivors constitutes its own psychic injury--an institutional betrayal that echoes the psychological abuse women suffer at the hands of individual perpetrators. Second, the pronounced, nearly instinctive penchant for devaluing women’s testimony is so deeply embedded within survivors’ experience that it becomes a potent, independent obstacle to their efforts to obtain safety and justice.