Tuesday, September 15, 2020
News outlets reported today that an unusual number of hysterectomies have been performed on migrant women, particularly at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Tubal ligations are routinely performed there, as well. The whistle blower, a nurse who previously worked at the GA detention center, reported that the outside gynecologist removed the uterus of nearly every women he saw, and for those he did not he frequently performed a tubal ligation.
The court complaint filed on behalf of several detainees alleges a years-long record of "human rights abuses including lack of medical and mental health care, due process violations [and] unsanitary living conditions."
Women are vulnerable, immigrant and detained women more so. The first line of attack on women is often assault on their bodies. Arbitrarily removing women's sexual parts is not just an act of misogyny. Within the context of a detainee camp environment the actions are close to medical experimentation and appropriation.
We have had similar alerts of government sanctioned atrocities against vulnerable populations, reminders of what occurred in pre-war Germany. Yet our reactions are muted. At this point there is sufficient liberty remaining that massive protests might bring change. We cannot presume that this liberty will remain post-election.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Hurricane Laura did serious damage to several states, primarily west Texas and Louisiana. While the devastation was severe the damage was not as extensive as predicted, future hurricanes may prove to be more deadly. Weather services predict that the number of hurricanes this season may not vary from prior years. The difference will be in their intensity and the level of devastation.
Women suffer more during disasters. Whatever the disaster, war, flood, tornado, or earthquake women are at higher risk for sexual assault within and without of their homes. Lessons from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina revealed horror stories of women being sexually assaulted while in temporary shelters. Women were assaulted consistently and without any police protection, even when police or other security was available. At the same time, proved through several studies, women experience increased domestic violence at home.
With the warning of the likelihood of a devastating hurricane season, this is the time for planning to protect those who will be at risk of sexual assault and other gender violence. Research confirmed this information at least two decades ago. But still we do no disaster planning to protect women during disaster. While we cannot change past victimization of women during disaster, we can plan for protection of women, particularly women of color and transgender women, from the horrors of sexual violence and the resulting trauma for those already traumatized by disaster.
Monday, August 10, 2020
The Violence Against Women's Act was pursued by well-intentioned advocates. Much good has come from the funding that accompanied the act's passage. Funded domestic violence shelters and other services for those experiencing intimate partner abuse has provided options to survivors and their children. From the beginning, however, there were serious flaws in the act. But those were not significant enough for advocates to abandon their advocacy.
Women of color were mostly excluded from the VAWA drafting process. If they had been, they would have raised objections to the stream of funding being primarily to and through the police. Advocates quickly assessed the error of the overwhelming role that law enforcement was assigned under VAWA. The act presumes that the criminal system - law enforcement and prosecutors - is entitled to lead anti intimate partner abuse efforts. How wrong that presumption is.
Had women of color, particularly Native and African American women, been guiding VAWA's development, they would have cautioned about the risks of criminal law involvement. Certainly there are times when victims are safe only when the abusive partner is confined. But many downsides can result from survivors' participation in the criminal system. Survivors complain of not having control over the criminal process. When survivors do not wish to pursue charges, they can be subpoenaed or held in contempt. In one case, the survivor was arrested for contempt for failing to appear at a scheduled hearing. Ultimately the prosecution decided that even with the survivor's testimony they did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute. The survivor ended up with an arrest record for a case the prosecution never pursued.
Further detrimental consequences from the criminal system abound. Cooperation with police can be dangerous to survivors who fear and suffer worse abuse because of their cooperation. Survivors suffering from PTSD or other mental health disorders may not have capacity to testify without suffering further health consequences. Mothers, particularly women of color, may lose custody of their children to the state or to the abuser for "failing to protect" them from an abuser over whom the mother has no control. The arrested abusive partner may not be able to find work, even after an acquittal. With a conviction, employment may be even more difficult to obtain, leaving the the survivor and children financially desperate.
Drastically reducing funding to the criminal system and shifting those funds to civil services can provide what victims decide they need. This could include permanent, safe housing and financial support until survivors can be self-sufficient; mental health resources for survivors and their children. With a shift in funding, survivors could design their own restorative plans for them, their children and even their abusers if they desire.
For critical thinking on the criminal legal system and it's sideways direction in domestic violence cases, I suggest reading Leigh Goodmark's book "decriminalizing Domestic Violence".
Thursday, August 6, 2020
In the U.S. we are familiar with the decades of abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar of young female gymnast, other countries are reporting similar abuses of their girls. Professor Dunlap followed Nassar in earlier posts.
Now other countries are recognizing abuses against their young athletes.
"Complaints by at least 20 former Australian gymnasts about physical and mental abuse during their careers has prompted Gymnastics Australia to ask a human rights group to investigate. The gymnasts, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medalists, have recently spoken of a toxic culture within the sport. They also used social media platforms to detail fat-shaming and other forms of abuse." While the identity of the gymnasts was not disclosed, public fat shaming of male athletes has not been observed by this writer. The Australian Human Rights Commission will investigate.
Meanwhile Dutch authorities are investigating similar abuses and in the meantime has suspended the women's training program. British Gymnastics is conducting an investigation into the abuse of their female gymnasts. And Flemish Gymnastics Federation is conducting its own investigation.
The brave women who accused Larry Nassar empowered women and girls around the world to report abuse. Another thank you to those brave women who came forward in Michigan.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
By Prof. Justine Dunlap
It was the worst of timing.
The Trump Administration’s Title IX regulations governing sexual misconduct were issued in draft form in November 2018. A year later, word came that they would be released in final form in December 2019, along with leaked drafts of what the final regs would contain. This allowed a sneak peek into which of the more than 120,000 comments proffered during the notice and comment period were considered and incorporated, and which failed to budge the regulators. So those of us who follow these things were waiting for the regs to drop. Some waited with anticipation, some with dread, others perhaps with mere curiosity.
Then the coronavirus hit and the resulting COVID-19 illness required schools across all learning levels and ages to become vehicles of remote learning. Schools, including IHE, are continuing this mode of remote learning through the summer and are now considering what the Fall term will look like on campus—or whether it can even be on campus. Further, institutions of higher learning are undergoing significant financial challenges due to coronavirus closures. Layoffs and furloughs are inevitable.
Amidst this, on Wednesday, May 6th, the Title IX final regulations were released, with an implementation date of August 14, 2020 attached. So merits aside for a moment, the timing is abysmal. These regulations constitute a major shift in Title IX law in numerous ways. They require significant changes in how schools conduct hearings on alleged sexual misconduct. It will be extremely hard for IHEs to plan for the regs’ implementation from—quite literally—afar. Moreover, the staff needed to implement these new regs may be unavailable, perhaps because they have been redirected to deal with student COVID-19 related crises. The American Council on Education, eighteen state attorneys general, and at least three senators had asked the DOE to delay the already delayed final regulations until the COVID pandemic abated. Somehow, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s response that “civil rights really can’t wait” is supremely unsatisfying.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
The Department of Justice began investigating the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in 2018. The Justice Department report was released this week. The primary finding was of rampant sexual abuse of incarcerated women by correctional officers and other staff. Since the investigation began DOJ reports:
In May 2018, an Edna Mahan correction officer was found guilty of five counts of sexually abusing prisoners. According to the sentencing judge, the “pervasive culture” at Edna Mahan allowed this correction officer to abuse his “position of authority to indulge in [his] own sexual stimulation.”
In July 2018, another Edna Mahan correction officer pled guilty to three counts of official misconduct after he admitted sexually abusing three separate prisoners.
In January 2019, another correction officer pled guilty to official misconduct charges after admitting that he repeatedly sexually abused two Edna Mahan prisoners over a period of several years. In sentencing him, the New Jersey court concluded that the officer had “sexually assaulted a vulnerable population.”
Others have been indicted.
As reported by the NY Times, “Sexual abuse should not be a part of any prisoner’s punishment,” Eric S. Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement accompanying the report, the result of an investigation by the division and the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey. “Women prisoners at Edna Mahan are at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff because systemic deficiencies discourage prisoners from reporting sexual abuse and allow sexual abuse to occur undetected and undeterred.”
Incarcerated women have complained for decades of the sexual and other abuse they are subjected to while confined. Edna Mahan's women were no different. The women endured years of abuse, which included being forced to have sex with other women while staff observed. The report went on to say that “Our society requires prisoners to give up their liberty, but that surrender does not encompass the basic right to be free from severe unwanted sexual contact.” The question has to be asked - why did it take years of reporting for any significant investigation to be done? Other incarcerated women report similar abuses at a wide number of facilities but life is often more difficult for them if they report the abuse. The women of Edna Mahan were courageous in their reporting but not after years of being threatened into silence.
Most incarcerated women lost their liberty for non-violent crimes. Most incarcerated women were abused during their pre-incarceration years. These women do need prison. They need services. Whether the needed help is for substance abuse, mental health, education or reunification with children, prisons to not provided supportive environments that will assist women to have healthy lives. The abolition of prisons for women and girls is a national movement, led by the National Council of Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Those interested in joining the abolitionist movement will readily find local organizations leading the efforts locally. Prisons for women have a sordid history of physical and sexual abuse of women and failure to provide services even at the level male provided to incarcerated men. Time indeed is up on the incarcerated of women and girls.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Many articles have surfaced reporting the increase in domestic violence since the beginning of self-quarantine imposed by many countries during the pandemic. Survivors of gender violence have enforced psychological, if not physical, boundaries, dependent upon the whims of the abusive partner. Targets of intimate partner abuse are accustomed to being tracked by their abusers. Constant texting, following, and other surveillance are part of an abused partner's daily routine.
Now many survivors are trapped with their abusers. Because of lockdowns, self-quarantines and other measures designed to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, many families experiencing abuse are now forced to be with the abuser 24 hours a day. Other additional stressors are unemployment, being with children 24 hours a day, and increased substance abuse. Calls to domestic violence hotlines have increased significantly.
The United Nations asked that countries make the safety of domestic violence survivors a priority and and few have made special accommodations part their response to the pandemic. But how? No country has made anti-domestic violence a priority beyond basic and inadequate resources and certainly have not made significant inroads into changing the cultural acceptance of abuse. Some countries have converted women's shelters into health facilities. Some shelters have introduced measures barring new victims for fear of further spreading the virus. Few replacement shelters have become available during the interim.
Chickens are coming home to roost. Governments have not been aggressive in addressing the root causes of abuse or in providing adequate remedies for those who have experienced intimate partner violence. Advocates are often only able to provide temporary relief to the abused. Legal systems may provide limited relief but are not the answer to a long term solution. The tools needed to provide independence such as sufficient financial support, housing, and education are and always have been in short supply for survivors.
Few tools are available to help under these circumstances. Police can conduct wellness checks. Neighbors can report disturbances. But those measures are stopgap, as well, unless backed up by long term remedies addressed in part above. After years of education and advocacy addressing intimate partner abuse, the current reality is evidence that we have come no closer to eradicating violence from our culture than when we started. How will this inform advocates' next steps?
Sunday, March 29, 2020
By Co-Editor Prof. Justine Dunlap
No doubt many of you are practicing social distancing but cuddling up to Netflix. Here’s a recommendation for you: avoid those pandemic movies and watch Unbelievable. This eight-episode series chronicles the case of a young girl, called Marie, living in foster care, who reports being raped by an intruder. The series is based on a true story reported by ProPublica and The Marshall Project and published in December 2015. It is compelling.
Back to the story but here’s your spoiler alert: a few details follow. Marie’s story has holes, inconsistencies. Police officers and others make her repeat what happened repeatedly. Latching onto the inconsistencies, they push and she begins to doubt herself and recants. She is later prosecuted for filing a false report. While this happens, her rapist moves on and continues raping elsewhere. Two detectives who catch the cases in other cities believe their victims. They are dogged as well as compassionate. That’s all I’ll say about the series so I don’t reveal all.
We’ve all heard it: tell the truth, it’s easier to keep your story straight. Turns out, that’s not necessarily true. Trauma affects one’s ability to recall exactly what happened. Sometimes it is also said: details give a story the ring of truth. But trauma interferes with one’s ability to recall details. The truth may be being told even in an inconsistent story.
So what’s a truth-seeker to do? To paraphrase a former president, believe but verify. Don’t disbelieve a crime victim just because the crime is sexual assault and the victim is confused. Become educated about the effects of trauma. Do due diligence but don’t gaslight. Oh, and be sure to watch Unbelievable on Netflix. Don’t take my word for it, it was Salma Hayek’s Women’s Day pick.
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
At the beginning of a year, many states see new laws going into effect. One that deserves special mention is SB 212 in Texas. Passed last summer and becoming effective on January 1, 2020, this law mandates that if any non-student employee of a postsecondary educational institution becomes aware of any incident of dating violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment or stalking, that employee must report the incident to their institutions’ Title IX coordinator. If an employee fails to comply with this requirement, he or she can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor. Further, the failure to comply will result in the employee being fired.
The law has received both praise and pushback. The organization “Help Save our Sons” calls it a terrible law. Survivor groups oppose it as well. A Forbes magazine opinion piece calls it “the worst of both worlds.” The law likely had its origins in a Baylor University Title IX investigation that was beyond inadequate. Although perhaps well-intentioned, this law heaps further trauma on a victim, as it requires reporting sexual assault (and allegations of a similar nature) even if the victim/accuser does not want that to happen. Making an official report further removes control and violates the autonomy of a person who has already been subjected to a violation of autonomy and loss of control. There are good ways to help survivors and demonstrate that a university is committed to combatting sexual assault. Sadly, this law is not one of those good ways. It is a bad law that should not be copied by other states.
Monday, December 16, 2019
by Justine Dunlap, who continues her exploration of the challenges facing survivors of gender violence and their advocates.
In the next several weeks, the Department of Education is set to finalize Title IX regulations it proposed in November 2018. During the notice and comment period, the proposed regulations received over 100,000 comments. According to some reports, DOE made modest modifications as a result. However, it appears that the final regs will largely track the proposed ones. The changes from the way Title IX complaints/investigations were handled under Obama-era guidance include: 1) allowing schools to use a higher level of proof—a clear and convincing rather than a preponderance of the evidence standard, 2) mandating some type of cross-examination, which had been previously discouraged, and 3) imposing a narrower definition of acts that would violate Title IX.
On December 10, 2019, four congresswomen—including Elissa Slotkin, the representative from the district encompassing Michigan State University, the situs of Larry Nassar’s crimes and an ineffectual Title IX investigation—introduced a bill that would prohibit DOE Secretary Betsy DeVos from implementing the regulations. What will happen next is unclear except for this: the battle will rage on. And at least partially obscured in the battle will be some of the problems that pre-existed the proposed regs. Prior guidance could be fuzzy and/or overinterpreted to err on the side of extreme policies that benefitted few but the cottage industry of Title IX trainers that has emerged over the past several years. New regs would be most helpful if they created a clearer process and implemented ways that actually supported victims who choose to report, without simultaneously creating the impression that the outcome was foreordained.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
This past week I had the privilege of attending a performance of What The Constitution Means To Me in New York City. This particular performance was special because domestic violence advocates from around the country were in the audience. As was Jessica Lenahan whose US Supreme Court Case is a topic addressed by actor Heidi Schreck in the play. Schreck tells the story of traveling as a 15-year-old to various veteran's organizations giving her speech on the Constitution. That is how she earned money to attend college. The walls are lined with framed headshots of white male veterans wearing their slim double-pointed hats.
The play movingly addresses the Supreme Court's refusal to protect women from violence, and the rollback of women's rights, particularly reproductive rights. These topics are timely for discussion and are eloquently addressed.
The stage set silently reinforces the power that white men have over women. And that was the greatest irritant for me.
I appreciate those who served in the military. Those who were disabled from their military experiences deserve ongoing restorative support without the resistance that many veterans encounter from our government.
But what we do not need is another veteran memorial, another military park or statue. A public memorial honoring the women of all genders who have suffered violence at the hands of intimate partners would be welcome. Memorials to individuals of all genders who experienced sex-based violence, including veterans, are urgently needed. Public recognition of the indignities suffered by women of color and indigenous women would do much to bring awareness to the intersection of race, ethnicity, and sex on the spectrum of discrimination and violence against women. A memorial to all of the women who suffered and the many who died because of war would bring a face to the human suffering war creates. Perhaps we could refocus suffering as well as heroism.
Since only the work performed primarily by males is honored in this country -- police, fire, military for some examples -- that is the culture we honor. The next time that your town wants to erect another statue to male culture, think about protesting. I would argue that public statues and memorials are unnecessary. But I realize in an age where civics are no longer taught, and women are largely ignored in history, education happens around public monuments and this is one place where the re-education of America can begin.
Sunday, June 2, 2019
A study by the Thompson Reuter Foundation looked at what countries were the most dangerous ones for women. One western country was included: the United States.
The Foundation queried 500 experts to ask in" which countries they believed women were most at risk. Countries were ranked in six key areas: health care, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural practices, discrimination and human trafficking." Sexual and non-sexual violence against women was the factor that placed the United States in the top ten. The experts recognized that the #MeToo movement exposed serious problems of sexual violence experienced by US women. The US ranked third with Syria when assessing on " sexual violence, including rape, sexual harassment, coercion into sex and the lack of access to justice in rape cases." The US overall ranking is 10.
The factors considered in determining the ranking were: health care, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural practices, discrimination, and human trafficking.
The overall rankings considering all factors are:
5. Saudi Arabia
7. Democratic Republic of Congo
10. The United States
Thursday, May 2, 2019
Whatever Joe Biden is, he is not a feminist. Despite his original co-sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act and his ongoing 20+ years support of the act, Mr. Biden does not understand what the #MeToo movement is about.
During the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, Mr. Biden left Anita Hill isolated and vilified by men analyzing her credibility. At the time, then-Senator Biden had control of whether to abandon the witness or permit other women to testify to the sexual harassment they endured from now Justice Thomas. Mr. Biden chose to stand with the boys. Now he refuses to apologize to Anita Hill. Politically there are advantages to his apologizing. Women of all colors would appreciate the acknowledgment of his role in further entrenching and institutionalizing the stereotype of women as liars. Professor Hill suffered. She was a target of controversy for years. Eventually, she left the University of Oklahoma after being shunned by the University President. The same President was previously a US senator and had voted for Thomas' confirmation. There was also a movement to defund Hill's endowed chair and to revoke her tenure. Biden's actions further entrenched the stereotype that women lie, and that what black women say can be further discounted.
Mr. Biden may believe that supporting the Violence Against Women's Act, originally passed three years following the Thomas hearings, was sufficient penance and that women would forgive him any perceived misogyny. Well, that might have been the case if Biden hadn't refused to apologize to Professor Hill. Not a feminist, and not self-reflective, Biden is refusing to take responsibility for his significant role in postponing for decades the restoration of women's credibility.
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
This startling sentence comes at the end of the movie Wind River, a graphic 2017 murder mystery/thriller that has at its core the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). Since the release of that movie, a database that more thoroughly documents MMIW has been created. This database, which is housed at the Sovereign Bodies Institute website, was created by Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student, and cartographer. Lucchesi used the Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information from many law enforcement entities.
Here is a description of the database from the Sovereign Bodies Institute website:
The MMIW Database logs cases of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people, from 1900 to the present. There are many lists and sources of information online, but no central database that is routinely updated, spans beyond colonial borders, and thoroughly logs important aspects of the data, and overall, there is a chronic lack of data on this violence. The Database works to address that need, by maintaining a comprehensive resource to support community members, advocates, activists, and researchers in their work towards justice for our stolen sisters.
Other efforts to reliably document murdered and missing indigenous women include proposed federal legislation. Savanna’s Act was introduced in the 115th Congress and unanimously passed in the Senate. Thereafter, it stalled in the House. A revised version of the bill was recently re-introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski. It had 11 co-sponsors.
The congressional findings in the bill are as shocking as the Wind River coda. They include:
(1) On some reservations, Indian women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average.
(2) American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.5 times as likely to experience violent crimes—and at least 2 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes—compared to all other races according to the National Congress of American Indians.
(3) More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women, or 84.3 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime according to the National Institute of Justice.
(4) More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native men, or 81.6 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime according to the National Institute of Justice.
(5) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women between 10 and 24 years of age and the fifth leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native women between 25 and 34 years of age.
(6) Investigation into cases of missing and murdered Indian women is made difficult for Tribal law enforcement agencies due to a lack of resources, … a lack of interagency cooperation, … and a lack of appropriate laws in place.
With efforts like the MMIW database and, one can hope, bipartisan federal legislation, perhaps the shameful failure to document missing and murdered native women and girls can begin to be rectified.
Thursday, January 31, 2019
By JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Director, Human Rights in the US Project & Lecturer-In-Law, Columbia Law School.
While 2018 has been dubbed the year of the woman, it is abundantly clear that misogyny is alive and well. And, in order to address the underlying structures and beliefs that allow gender inequality to persist requires transformation. It requires a cultural shift. Treating acts of discrimination, harassment, and assault on an individual basis is simply insufficient. It is not enough that four women have announced they are running for President. It is not enough that more than 100 women were elected to Congress.
As advocates fighting for passage of the ERA and US adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have long recognized, the laws and institutions we have in place are insufficient to guarantee women’s equality.
Tarana Burke founded #MeToo to challenge the underlying beliefs that allow assault and harassment to occur. It is about reshaping relationships of power and privilege. As she has so clearly stated, “we need to dramatically shift a culture that propagates the idea that vulnerability is synonymous with permission and that bodily autonomy is not a basic human right.”
It is not surprising that Tarana Burke has defined eradicating gender-based violence as a human rights issue. Human rights are about systems change. They are about centering the experience of those most vulnerable to violations. And, they are about a new, affirmative approach to addressing discrimination and inequality. That includes changing how each of us views our individual and collective responsibilities to address gender discrimination and inequality. It requires reshaping gender and racial stereotypes that have led to current dynamics of power and privilege. We must reform institutions to eradicate implicit and explicit bias. We must also change the laws in place to prevent and respond to acts of discrimination, assault, and harassment in order to foster more collective accountability.
In the United States, the predominant paradigm for dealing with sexual harassment, gender-based violence, and discrimination has historically been largely individual. Yet, focusing on individual perpetrators and isolated incidents falls short of the transformative change that is required. As Dahlia Lithwack wrote in September, it is a myth “that patriarchal systems, based in entrenched power, and supported by others in power, could be brought down by individual, brave women.” Systemic change is essential, because the system in which we operate has failed women.
#MeToo has also made clear that the challenges we face are societal and institutional.
And, in response to the movement, global human rights actors have spoken out. UN experts have recognized the need for more concerted action to address the oppression that exclude women from positions of power in order to eradicate all forms of gender discrimination, and there is increasing guidance on core elements of a rights-based approach to gender-based violence and harassment though law and policy grounded in human rights principles, building off existing standards found in principles of CEDAW. There are also calls for more specific international protections for women in the workplace. And examples of how U.S. workplaces can be transformed through human rights-based worker driven solutions, such as the Fair Food Program.
As already reported on this blog, across the U.S. local advocates, law school clinics, and local governments are also looking to human rights to foster broader based approaches to advancing gender equity, focusing on eradicating negative stereotypes, and identifying and addressing barriers to equality for women and girls by adopting CEDAW principles.
CEDAW offers a framework to foster gender equality and eliminate discrimination against women. It defines what constitutes discrimination against women broadly to encompass laws and policies that negatively affect women’s human rights, and identifies pathways to more equitable opportunities and outcomes in a wide range of areas. According to CEDAW, governments must:
In order to ensure equal enjoyment of rights for all women, CEDAW calls for policies that reflect the ways that individual’s multiple identities, including her race, nationality, disability, age, as well as economic and social status, impact her enjoyment of rights, and calls for targeted and culturally-appropriate solutions.
Recognizing the power of these principles, the umbrella organization of state and local civil and human rights agencies – many of whom are charged with resolving complaints of individual discrimination – passed a resolution in support of CEDAW in 2017 – calling on its members to support municipal, county, and state-wide policy efforts to affirm the rights of women, eliminate all forms of discrimination, advance gender equity, and promote and affirm the principles of CEDAW. This is an important foundation for a more affirmative, proactive approach to advancing women’s rights and achieving the transformative change that is needed.
To cultivate action, and support state and local government human rights implementation, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute recently published a Gender Equity Toolkit. Developed in partnership with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and UNA-USA, the toolkit highlights specific ways that state and local agencies and officials can utilize CEDAW to promote and protect women’s rights, including: fostering human rights education and awareness; assessing the status of women through a gender analysis; and incorporating CEDAW principles into local law and policy.
The Toolkit offers a menu of activities that can strengthen protection for women’s rights, and serve as a springboard for local, city, and state efforts to break down the barriers that continue to impede full equality for women, and redefine relationships of power and privilege.
Thursday, January 24, 2019
For over a week last January, 156 women provided victim statements during a sentencing hearing for sexual assailant Larry Nassar. On this January 16th, John Engler resigned under pressure as the interim President of Michigan State University. Engler’s offense was a recent interview in which he suggested that some of the survivors were enjoying the spotlight. These comments were not the first to stoke controversy, but they were what finally led university trustees to demand his resignation. Engler, an MSU alumnus and former governor, was appointed last February after President Lou Anna Simon was forced out because of her failures in the Nassar case. (She has since been charged criminally with lying to investigators; her preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin January 31). Nassar will spend the rest of his life in jail. However, it took nearly two decades of allegations to get there and, as the Engler resignation suggests, even now the survivors are scapegoated or, to use the phrase coined by Professor Jennifer Freyd, subject to institutional DARVO, an acronym for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.
This past week also saw movement in another case involving longstanding allegations of sexual assault. RCA dropped its recording relationship with musician R. Kelly. Kelly is the subject of a recent documentary about these assaults and, one by one, artists with whom he had collaborated are removing those recordings from streaming sites. As with the Nassar victims, it is alleged that Kelly’s victims were often underage. And as with Nassar, prior investigations—in Kelly’s case, a prior prosecution—did not yield results.
In light of these two recent events involving assaults on women and how long it takes reports of those assaults to matter, the recent Gillette razor commercial and the reaction to it deserve special note. For those not paying attention, Gillette released an ad urging men not to behave like bullies or jerks especially, but not exclusively, regarding treatment of women. Boy (so to speak), did that ad hit a nerve and then some. It is as if suggesting that if men and boys choose not to fight or not to leer or not to out-testosterone the Y chromosome human standing nearby, they are emasculated. Really? Have we come to that? Has the “locker room talk” and “boys will boys” defenses led to enshrining boorish behavior? Perhaps it demonstrates naivete to be surprised but still. I hereby tip my hat to Gillette and pledge to buy their razors.
So, it has been an interesting week or two at the start of the new year. Progress has been made. But, as usual, that progress is not linear.
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Sexual abuse of those detained in ICE centers is no secret. Statistics show that there were 1448 complaints of sexual assault in just over five years with 237 assaults in 2017 alone. Some of the assaults were on children. Several employees have been arrested. This with only 40% of sexual assaults in detention centers being reported by administrators.
Yet in a civil suit filed on behalf of assault victims, ICE has raised the centuries old defense that the detainee, who was assaulted when detained with her three year old son, consented to the assault. In this context, however, consent (even if it did exist) is irrelevant because in the detention setting, any sexual contact between an employee ad a detainee is a criminal offense.
In E.D. v. Sharkey a detainee filed suit because she was assaulted while detained with her three year old son. Among the defendants are those employees who stood by while the assault occurred and failed to protect E.D. The institutional defendant claims that it should not be liable to the Plaintiff because they are a detention center and not a prison or jail and therefore should not be accountable under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
The ACLU has filed an Amicus brief in support of E. D.
Saturday, October 6, 2018
After spending a depressing Saturday mourning our political process and anticipating the anti-female and anti-LGBTQ opinions that the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh likely will bring, I am just beginning to recover. Having been a fully engaged, practicing lawyer during the Hill-Thomas hearing, I felt sucker punched. I realized that this time around I actually had some hope that the voices of women would be heard. That little part of me that thought this time around would be different was angry. Nothing had changed.
We have witnessed an absolute disregard for what is happening in the country. After all, the next presidential Supreme Court Nominee will be a conservative justice. What does the Senate think it had to lose by passing on Justice Kavanaugh. The objections to Kavanaugh center not only on the sexual assault allegations, but on his behavior at the Senate hearings when he disrespected women senators. The Senate's failure to acknowledge the concerns of millions of men and women resulted from the immovable belief by men in power that they are beyond questioning or examination. They don't care. At the Hill-Thomas hearing the women were silenced as in Kavanaugh, but the raw hatred of women was kept at bay.
But something else changed since Hill-Thomas.
While Senator Grassley may believe that the protests were helpful to the Republican Senators, he is wrong. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has inspired younger women to vote and carry on. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh is a catalyst for women. I am particularly heartened by the young women who demonstrated. Watching women being arrested for protesting following the confirmation hearings is so hopeful. Many of the women and men who are demonstrating are in their twenties. Their energy and persistence is inspiring. And they vote.
Our new leaders have arrived.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
When I heard that an additional day of congressional hearings was scheduled for Monday, I cringed. I vividly remember the Anita Hill hearings. We owe a debt to Prof. Hill. She was one of the first women to publicly take on the topic of sexual harassment against a powerful man who had the support of powerful men. Prof. Hill was not protected. She was promised anonymity by the FBI only to be brought to testify at the Thomas confirmation hearing. She experienced professional and personal criticism and retaliation. Witnesses who could have supported her claims were prevented from testifying.
Is Prof. Ford facing the same fate? She attempted anonymity but quickly was "outed". Will supporting witnesses be permitted to testify? Or will Prof. Ford be forced to testify to details of a traumatic event only to find Judge Kavanaugh confirmed? My only hope comes from the #MeToo movement. 600 graduates of Ms. Ford's high school have signed a letter of support, stating that her description of events comports with their experiences. A much smaller number of women who knew Judge Kavanaugh when he was in high school have signed a letter attesting to his good character.
Anita Hill commented on Prof. Ford's predicament. In today's New York Times, Prof. Hill reflects on how Congress can "do better". Prof. Hill said the committee must follow “some basic ground rules.”
Thursday, May 31, 2018
Prof. Justine Dunlap has been following the Larry Nassar case. She reports on the settlement between MSU and Nassar's victims.
Michigan State University recently entered into a $500 million settlement with Larry Nassar’s victim/survivors. Of that amount, $425 million goes to the plaintiffs and $75 million is reserved for future claimants. The $425 million will be placed in a fund from which costs and lawyers’ fees will be extracted. Then a determination will be made as to how much each of the 332 survivors will receive; the range of payments is said to be between $250,000 and $2.5 million.
The settlement sum has drawn much attention. Naturally, it has been contrasted with the $100+ million paid out by Penn State University for the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes. In that case, however, there were only a small fraction of the number of victims—approximately 10% of number that are present in the Nassar case.
Further, the anticipated settlement was central to Moody’s downgrade of MSU’s long-term bond rating in early May. Moody’s rationale was that the agreement—the mediation of which was then ongoing—could result in significant “financial ramification” to the university. Moody’s noted that the increased financial risk from Nassar-related pending lawsuits would involve “ongoing legal costs and university investment into enhanced risk management and governance issues increasing costs.”
MSU’s legal costs have not been cheap. More than a year ago, the university paid Skadden Arps attorney Patrick Fitzgerald $990 per hour for his investigation of how the university handled the matter. In the present settlement mediation, MSU was represented by Robert Young, Jr., a former Michigan Supreme Court justice, for the hourly rate $640. A veritable bargain by comparison.
How MSU will finance the settlement remains unclear. MSU interim president John Engler indicted in a statement released the day after the settlement that the university’s insurers were involved in the process and he anticipated that they would honor their contractual obligations. But even if they do, that amount won’t cover the costs. And what about state money? The $500 million price tag is almost double what the school receives from the state annually (that sum is $281). Engler, a former Michigan governor, said that he would not seek additional funds from the state to satisfy the settlement. Legislators have also made clear that they would not support such a request.
The settlement is about more than the money that the survivors (and lawyers) will receive. It is, one hopes, a further step in resolution, coming less than four months after Nassar was sentenced to 40-125 years in prison. A resolution to a case that was 20 years in the making, as Nassar’s crimes were first reported in the late 1990s. It remains to be seen whether it is also a real step in either institutional or legal reform.
On those counts, whether real change is happening at the university remains a matter of opinion. The university touts, as surely it must, all that it has done and is continuing to do. Much of the information on the President’s page of the school’s website has to do with its post-Nassar initiatives. On the other hand, other groups, such as Reclaim MSU, assert the University’s recent steps are a continuation of the problem that failed to stop Nassar 20 years ago.
As to legislative reform, the state legislature is considering legal changes, including alterations in the applicable statutes of limitations and the stripping of immunity from state actors who knew but did not act. Of course, time will tell what legislative changes are wrought. More significantly, time will tell whether any legislative changes made were ones that actually matter.