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9/15/2014 - Ohio State University Agrees to Strengthen Sexual Assault Policies, Ending Federal Investigation
The United States Department of Education announced last week that it has completed its investigation into The Ohio State University's compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX, and that Ohio State has agreed to take steps to strengthen its policies on sexual assault and harassment.
"This agreement and The Ohio State University's recent response to the culture within the marching band, set clear and vitally important expectations for a community-wide culture of prevention, support, and safety," said Catherine E. Lhamon, the Assistant Education Secretary for Civil Rights in a statement. "I applaud Ohio State for taking strong leadership now to eradicate a culture of silence related to sexual harassment."
Ohio State University (OSU) fired band director Jonathan Waters after finding that Waters had mishandled a 2013 allegation of sexual harassment in the band. The OSU internal investigation also found a "sexualized" culture within the band. A student in the marching band was recently expelled for sexually assaulting another band member.
The Title IX investigation, however, did not stem from a federal complaint, but was part of a proactive compliance review process.
To improve its compliance with Title IX, OSU will review its handling of past sexual harassment and violence reports, expand training for the campus community, and ensure students and staff are aware of their rights under Title IX. More specifically, it will develop online training modules for students to learn about bystander intervention, improve its documentation of sexual violence investigations, establish a Title IX website, and create a campus sexual violence focus group.
Seventy-nine other college and universities are currently under federal investigation for their handling of reports of sexual violence. In response, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was formed; its first report was filed in April of this year. The report states that one in five women is sexually assaulted during their time in college and calls for steps to be taken to prevent sexual assault: conducting surveys to assess the problem, engaging men in the fight against sexual violence, responding effectively when a student says they were assaulted, and making enforcement efforts more transparent.
9/12/2014 - Violence Against Women Act Turns 20
Saturday will be the 20th Anniversary of the groundbreaking federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Passed in 1994, VAWA was the first piece of federal legislation to specifically address domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and to provide federal funding to improve local response to violence against women, including training and resources for law enforcement and judges.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday issued a proclamation commemorating the VAWA anniversary. "At a time when many considered domestic abused to be a private family matter and victims were left to suffer in silence, this law enshrined a simple promise: every American should be able to pursue his or her own measure of happiness free from the fear of harm," the President's Proclamation reads.
"VAWA has established a national standard in the fight to reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who played a central role in the passage of VAWA in 1994 and in each subsequent fight for VAWA reauthorization, including the 2013 reauthorization which broadened protections for Native American women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and students. "VAWA has literally saved women's lives."
In the period between 1993 and 2010, the number of fatalities resulting from intimate partner violence decreased by 26 percent. In addition, the law has saved an estimated $12.6 billion in net averted social costs in the first six years.
"But our work is far from over," said Smeal. "The need for community policing, discrimination against women and people of color in police hiring, promotion, and retention, and the continuing problem of too many police officers themselves engaging in domestic violence discourages many women from ever reporting violence. What's more, too many women are being charged equally with their batterers for assault." She continued, "Most importantly, we need to increase funding for VAWA and survivor services like emergency housing, counseling, and legal assistance. "The work continues. But VAWA has laid the necessary groundwork for us to win."
VAWA was first introduced by Vice President Joe Biden while he was still a Delaware senator in 1990. The bill was signed into law on September 13, 1994, under the Clinton Administration. In a weekend editorial, Vice President Biden wrote about the prevailing attitudes surrounding the prosecution of domestic violence offenders in the early 1990s, and his work to unearth the reality of gender-based violence and relationship abuse. "I issued 'Violence Against Women: A Week in the Life of America,' a report detailing the human tragedy of the 21,000 crimes against women that were reported every week in America at the time - a small slice of the 1.1 million assaults, aggravated assaults, murders, and rapes against women committed in the home and reported to police that year," Biden wrote.
Vice President Biden continued to emphasize the criminal nature of violence against women in an interview with Tamron Hall about the indefinite suspension of NFL Ravens' running back Ray Rice. Biden, commenting that the NFL did the right thing, went on to address his frustration with the current conversation on intimate partner violence and sexual assault. "The one regret I have is we call it 'domestic violence,' as if it's a domesticated cat. It is the most vicious form of violence there is, because of not only the physical scars that are left, the psychological scars that are left," he said. "The next challenge is making sure we get college presidents and colleges to understand that they have a responsibility for the safety of women on their campus."
One in five women are sexually assaulted in college. In April, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, detailing the steps it will take to identify the scope of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, help prevent it, and support survivors. The White House also created a website to provide information and resources on campus sexual assault: www.NotAlone.gov.
An Indiana woman has been charged with feticide after she delivered prematurely and sought hospital treatment.
Purvi Patel, 33, sought help at an emergency room for vaginal bleeding where it was discovered that she had delivered prematurely at home. After investigation, police charged Patel with feticide, punishable with up to 20 years in prison, as well as neglect of a dependent. Her trial is set for Sept. 29.
Patel is not the first woman in Indiana to be charged with feticide: in 2012, Bei Bei Shuai was charged with feticide after Shuai, who was 33 weeks pregnant, attempted suicide.
"Once again prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes," Lynn Paltrow, Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told The Guardian. "In the US, as a matter of constitutional law and human decency, no woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy," Paltrow said.
Fetal homicide laws, which treat fetuses as "people" with rights separate from those of pregnant women, were promoted as ways to prevent violence against pregnant women. But they are often used to prosecute pregnant women themselves and have been criticized for deterring pregnant women, especially those suffering from drug dependence or mental illness, from seeking medical care or other social services.
"If you do your job as a woman and give perfect birth to a perfect baby, you're safe," said Sally Kohn, writing about the Patel case for the Daily Beast. "But God forbid anything go wrong, that you have any complications either due to your own actions or actions that could be attributed to you, that you as a woman fail in your duty as a vessel for the fetus the rights of which the State of Indiana is clearly more invested in than your own. What then?"
Fetal homicide laws are akin to proposed "personhood amendments," that have been defeated in several states, and will be on the North Dakota ballot this November, as well as in Colorado, where voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to define "person" and "child" in the state criminal code and Wrongful Death Act to include "unborn human beings." If Colorado voters pass Amendment 67, "All pregnant women's bodies would become potential crime scenes," writes Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy & Research for the Feminist Majority Foundation, in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. Magazine.
Personhood measures, which grant rights to fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs, threaten abortion rights, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the woman, birth control, fertility treatments and some medical treatments for critically ill pregnant women. They also, like fetal homicide statutes, open up the possibility of criminal investigations into miscarriages. At least 38 states have enacted some type of fetal homicide law, and 23 of those laws apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy.
Missouri legislators voted late last night to triple the state's current 24-hour waiting period to 72 hours, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Governor Jay Nixon previously vetoed the bill in July, calling it "extreme and disrespectful." Missouri's House voted 117-44 to override the veto, and then the Senate used a procedural move to stop a Democratic filibuster of the bill and vote 23-7 to complete the veto override Wednesday.
"The only purpose of a 72-hour waiting period is to attempt to punish, shame, and demean women who have arrived at a personal decision that politicians happen to disagree with," said the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement. "Every pregnant woman faces her own unique circumstances, challenges, and potential complications, and the right to decide whether to continue or end a pregnancy is guaranteed by the Constitution to her, not politicians who presume to know better.
Twenty-six states currently have waiting periods, typically 24 hours. When the bill goes into effect 30 days after the veto-override vote, Missouri will join South Dakota and Utah as having the longest waiting periods.
Waiting periods significantly increase the burdens women face when seeking abortions. Taking time off work, paying for child care, renting a hotel room near the clinic, or making multiple trips can be costly and time-consuming - especially in a state like Missouri with only one clinic that provides reproductive health services in the whole state.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) led an oversight hearing Tuesday in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee highlighting growing concerns about the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies. The hearing coincided with the one-month anniversary of 18-year-old Michael Brown's shooting death by Ferguson, Missouri Police officer Darren Wilson.
The most glaring findings from Tuesday's hearing stemmed from the mismanagement of equipment inventory by the Department of Defense (DOD), which has led some local law enforcement agencies to be more outfitted than their state National Guard. More than 450 weapons were lost by state and local law enforcement agencies, and more than one-third of all equipment issued by the DOD was gently or never used.
The hearing featured testimony from expert witnesses - none of whom had met before the events in Ferguson - who administer funds tied to the Department of Defense (DOD) 1033 Program, which allows local police departments to acquire military equipment. The second panel of the hearing featured witnesses familiar with the effect of militarization on local policing.
According to testimony from Sen. Carper, the 1033 Program has shuttled an estimated $5 billion in DOD surplus supplies and equipment to law enforcement since 1997. Since 2011, more than $1.3 billion in equipment was dispersed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. In the same time period, some local law enforcement agencies - including a few college campus-affiliated police departments - received three times as many rifles from the DOD as there are officers on staff. Carper noted that the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security also administer grant programs that can be used to fund military-grade equipment like armored vests and vehicles.
"I heard reports from my constituents about aggressive police actions being used against protesters, well before any violence occurred," McCaskill, who traveled to Ferguson in the days following the shooting to meet with community leaders and residents in her jurisdiction, said. "Like many of you, I saw armored vehicles with a sniper pointing a rifle at unarmed protesters in the middle of the day. I was shocked to see the way the police were deploying this military equipment against residents of Missouri who were exercising their First Amendment rights."
"[I]t is a sad commentary on race in America that this is not a new phenomenon to most Americans of color," NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton wrote in his testimony, calling attention to the long-standing history of police militarization and its disproportionate impact on communities of color. "Given that for nearly a quarter of a decade, since 1989, military equipment has been used by law enforcement agencies to fight 'the war on drugs,' it should be no surprise, then, that racial and ethnic minorities, especially African Americans, unfortunately, have grown accustomed to seeing weapons of war in our communities, on our streets, and even entering our homes."
Shelton cited data from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 2014 report titled "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. Noting the rise and subsequent deployment of SWAT teams in the "war on drugs", the ACLU found that more than 42 percent of people impacted by the use of a SWAT team to execute a search warrant were African American. Another 12 percent were Latino. The ACLU concluded, "The use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of color."
Sen. McCaskill discussed mandating police use of body-cameras and implementing guidelines for how local police departments should use military-grade equipment. McCaskill also discussed ways federal officials could work to increase transparency in reporting how such equipment is used.
The Senate is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act today, marking the second time this year that the Senate will take up the legislation.
The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), was blocked by Senate Republicans who filibustered the bill in April - just one day after "Equal Pay Day." The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by prohibiting retaliation against employees who share information about their pay, requiring employers to demonstrate that any pay differences between men and women are legitimate, providing plaintiffs better legal tools to protect their rights, and requiring employers to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with pay data by sex, race and national origin of employees.
While Senate Republicans were blocking a vote on equal pay legislation, President Obama in April signed two executive actions intended to help close the wage gap. One, an executive order, prohibited pay secrecy by preventing federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share pay information, and another directed the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring contractors to report summary data on compensation paid to employees by race and sex.
Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children under 18, but they still earn only 77 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. Women of color are especially disadvantaged by the wage gap: Black women make just 64 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, and Latinas earn only 54 cents. Over the course of their career, the pay gap costs women about $434,000.
Take Action! Urge your Senator to support the Paycheck Fairness Act TODAY. (You can also call your Senator at 202-224-3121.)
9/10/2014 - Paycheck Fairness Act Advances in the Senate
After Republicans filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) earlier in this session, the Senate has now voted 73-25 to allow the bill to move forward to a debate.
The public overwhelmingly supports equal pay for equal work, but for far too long Senate Republicans have refused to allow a floor vote on a modest bill that will enable women workers to discuss their pay with co-workers, provide stronger tools to fight sex discrimination in wages, and grant the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) power to collect pay data from employers by sex and race.
The Paycheck Fairness Act is long overdue. Women - now some 50 percent of the workforce - deserve better.
Today's vote allowed the PFA to clear one hurdle. Now, the Senate must act to move the bill to an up or down vote. The House must also pass the PFA in this session, and President Obama - a strong supporter of equal pay - must sign it, for the Paycheck Fairness Act to become law.
The House Republican leadership still has not scheduled the PFA for a vote in this session.
President Barack Obama last week named Megan Smith, former Google Vice President and out lesbian, to the highest ranking tech job in the White House.
Smith will serve as the new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Assistant to the President. Smith first joined Google more than a decade ago, serving as vice president of business development, then head of the Google[x] "moonshot" programs, but her accomplishments and experience in Silicon Valley extend beyond her Google tenure. Smith is a mechanical engineer, a Master's graduate from MIT, and entrepreneur. For years, she led the Google team responsible for new business developments, acquisitions, and responsive tech like Google Earth, Google Maps, and the Google Crisis Response Project.
"Megan has spent her career leading talented teams and taking cutting-edge technology and innovation initiatives from concept to design to deployment," President Obama said Thursday. "I am confident that in her new role as America's Chief Technology Officer, she will put her long record of leadership and exceptional skills to work on behalf of the American people."
The White House praised Smith for her commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout her career, noting her involvement in the creation of Google's "SolveForX" innovation community project and "WomenTechmakers." Both initiatives create a safe-space for under-tapped talent in tech innovation. Smith is also the former CEO of LGBT website PlanetOUT.
Smith's appointment is a step forward for women and LGBT folks in technology and government; she will make history as the first woman (and lesbian) to fill the fledgling role. President Obama created the CTO post on his first full day in office. Smith's predecessor, Todd Park, spent much of his tenure managing the Administration's HealthCare.gov initiative. The White House said Smith will guide the Administration's information-technology policy and initiatives.
President Obama also named Alexander Macgillivray as Deputy US CTO. Macgillivray will focus on Internet policy, intellectual property policy, and "the intersection of big data, technology, and privacy." Macgillivray was formerly an attorney at Google and most recently served as General Counsel and Head of Public Policy for Twitter.
The United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has agreed to rehear a case that could protect much-needed subsidies for up to 5 million consumers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The DC Circuit issued an order today granting a US Department of Justice request for the Court to reconsider en banc the 3-judge panel decision in Halbig v. Burwell that nixed subsidies for insurance seekers enrolling under the federal health care exchange.
The subsidies were created under the ACA to help consumers afford to purchase private insurance plans, but the Halbig decision held that the subsidies were legal only in states operating their own online exchange. There are 36 states without a state-run system, leaving millions of seekers with only limited access to care.
The DC Circuit decision voids its original 3-judge panel ruling in Halbig, temporarily derailing this attempt to defund the ACA. The full court will now hear the case on December 17.
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, were found guilty by a federal jury Thursday on a combined 14 counts of conspiracy, fraud, influence-peddling, bribery, and extortion. Both had pleaded not guilty to all of their charges. Governor McDonnell was convicted on 11 counts and Maureen was convicted on nine. Both face time in prison, and former Governor McDonnell - once a speculated presidential or vice-presidential candidate - has lost his political standing.
The case revolved around the relationship between Governor McDonnell, First Lady Maureen, and Jonnie R. Williams, Sr. Williams, the former Chief Executive Officer of Star Scientific, a publicly traded company that produced and marketed two anatabine-based dietary supplements, utilized a relationship with the McDonnells dating back to December 2009 to his entrepreneurial advantage while showering them with expensive gifts. Although accepting gifts is not forbidden for elected officials under Virginia law, prosecutors successfully argued that the gifts were part of a corrupt bargain between Williams and the McDonnells.
"While it's always dangerous to call anything in politics 'the largest and most rapid collapse in modern memory,'" Washington Post writer Chris Cilliza wrote of the case, "the fall from political grace for McDonnell is absolutely stunning - and ensures his spot in the ignominious annals of disgraced politicians."
Throughout McDonnell's tenure as Governor, Williams presented the couple with opportunities to vacation on his properties, utilize his membership at a golf club and charge purchases there to his personal tab, and travel in his private airplanes and luxury vehicles. He also purchased high-end gifts for both the Governor and his wife, including Oscar de la Renta clothing, Louis Vuitton accessories, sporting goods, artwork, iPhones, and Rebecca Minkoff shoes, and gifted them with cash and checks valued at a sum of more than $140,000 to cover their burgeoning debt as well as familial affairs like their daughter's wedding. Upon conviction, the pair was oredered to forfeit any property they obtained through these interactions.
In exchange for his financial support and generous gifts, the couple helped Williams push the development of Anatabloc, an anti-inflammatory supplement manufactured by Williams' Star Scientific. (The supplement has since been withdrawn from the market due to a Food and Drug Administration warning.) In a 43-page indictment, it is detailed that the Governor and his wife spoke at promotional events for the supplement and even went as far as to push state officials to support research on anatabine, involving government employees and state colleges and universities. They gave Star Scientific permission to use the Governor's imagery in social media marketing, granted Williams access to the Virginia Secretary of Health and leading healthcare practitioners in the state, pushed the state's Tobacco Commission to fund research projects at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, personally endorsed the product in their independent social interactions, and hosted a launch party for the supplement in the Governor's mansion. The couple also invested in the company's stock, although they failed to report the shares annually and tried time and again to transfer them to blind trusts in order to avoid association.
Throughout their interactions with Williams, both Bob and Maureen McDonnell verbally acknowledged that they would help Star Scientific. "The governor says it's okay for me to help you," Williams testified Maureen telling him in 2011, "but I need you to help me with this financial situation." Williams also assisted them in devising plans to hide their financial involvement in Star Scientific from the general public.
In March of 2013, a former chef in the Governor's mansion told authorities that Williams had paid $15,000 in wedding catering for one of the McDonnell's daughters. That information led to an initial probe that revealed two years of ethical missteps by the Governor and his wife. The jury heard from 67 witnesses in the case, some of whom were former aides to the Governor and his wife who had warned them that their relationship with Williams was inappropriate and testified that they had attempted to stop the pair from accepting his support and gifts.
"This is a difficult, disappointing day for the Commonwealth," US Attorney Dana J. Boente said in response to yesterday's verdict. Those sentiments were echoed by Assistant US Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, who said the former Governor and his wife "turned public service into a money-making enterprise." She added, "Today's conviction should send a message that any corruption, at any level of government, will not be tolerated."
Lawyers for Bob and Maureen McDonnell claimed that the couple were estranged and could not have therefore conspired together, but documents showed that they communicated regularly and vacationed together when these interactions with Williams took place. Thus, their trials were not separated, despite their best attempts. The former Governor confessed that their marriage was "on hold" during the trial, and also admitted that he was living with Reverend Wayne Ball - a man who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge after being arrested in a local park used for "lewdness, assignation, or prostitution" in 2002 when he was discovered parked there with another man. The Governor, as a Virginia legislator, had, in 2005, recommended criminalizing "sodomy that occurs in a public place."
Both lawyers for Governor McDonnell and his wife have indicated plans to appeal the ruling. Sentencing is set for January 6, 2015.
While in office, McDonnell and then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wreaked havoc on VirginiaÂ women. Governor McDonnell supported a bill that would have required women seeking abortion to undergo an unnecessary and invasive transvaginal ultrasound. When that attempt failed, McDonnell signed into law, in March 2012, a widely opposed bill mandating that women undergo an external ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion. In September of the same year,Â CuccinelliÂ approved regulations by the Virginia Board of Health that forced existing abortion clinics to meet the same building codes as new hospitals, threatening clinics with closure across the state and making Virginia's regulations on abortion providers some of the strictest in the nation. McDonnellÂ appointed anti-choice obstetrician Dr. John W. Seed to the Virginia Board of Health that July; in October, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Remley resigned from her post in protest of the state's new TRAP laws.
Scores of people were arrested just hours into the nationwide strike for raising the minimum wage known as the "Fight for $15."
The total number of arrests has yet to be confirmed, but according to reports in Detroit, responding officers ran out of handcuffs for demonstrators blocking traffic. Dozens of workers also shut down traffic just outside of a McDonald's on the South Side of Chicago. The Chicago Chapter of Jobs with Justice tweeted a photo of their first arrestee release this morning. Meanwhile, arrests have been reported in Indianapolis, New York City, and Las Vegas, with heavy police presence tracking the gatherings in every participating city.
"I'm ready to do it again," said Brian Stepney, a McDonald's worker from Chicago who was arrested this morning.
Today's action is the first to engage civil disobedience since the wage-based strikes began in 2012. This is also the first time fast food workers and home care laborers are leading the massive demonstrations together.
StrikeFastFood.com posted photos of an empty McDonald's restaurant lobby in California where workers walked off the job. Similar scenes have been posted throughout the country on social media, with some locations citing "maintenance" as the reason for the closure. In Oakland, California, organizers reiterated the core demands of today's demonstrations which call for a living wage and the right to unionize.
More than half of fast food workers are enrolled in public assistance programs, according to a 2013 report by researchers at University of California-Berkeley. Researchers determined that the taxpayer burden amounts to almost $7 billion annually, despite fast food industry profits of $200 billion a year. The study found that 68 percent of workers in the industry are the primary wage earners in their families; 73 percent are women; and 43 percent are black or Latino. On average, a typical worker has no benefits or set schedule, and earns $18,130.
A federal judge ruled yesterday that Louisiana has the right to ban same-sex marriage in the state and to refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Judge Martin L.C. Feldman upheld the state's ban on marriage equality, writing, "The court is persuaded that a meaning of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational on the constitutional grid."
In determining the constitutionality of the Louisiana ban, Judge Feldman, who was nominated to the bench by Ronald Reagan in 1983, applied a lower standard of review. Judge Feldman refused to apply heightened scrutiny, not because he rejected the idea that marriage is a fundamental right, but because, relying on tradition, he found no fundamental right to same-sex marriage.
This is the first federal ruling to go against marriage equality since the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Since the Supreme Court's decision, there have been 21 federal court rulings in a row in favor of marriage equality.
Feldman also suggested in his opinion that allowing same-sex couples to legally marry would be the beginning of a slippery slope to legalizing incest: "For example, must the states permit or recognize a marriage between an aunt and niece? Aunt and nephew? Brother/brother? Father and child?"
In the same ruling, Feldman suggests being gay is a choice: "This national same-sex marriage struggle animates a clash between convictions regarding the value of state decisions reached by way of the democratic process as contrasted with personal, genuine, and sincere lifestyle choices recognition."
Following the ruling, Sarah Warbelow, legal director at Human Rights Campaign, said, "Today a federal district court put up a roadblock on a path constructed by 21 federal court rulings over the last year - a path that inevitably leads to nationwide marriage equality. Ultimately the nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States will be asked to decide whether committed and loving gay and lesbian couples should be denied an institution that they, themselves, have deemed a constitutional right more than a dozen times. We firmly believe that justice will ultimately be done.
The case will most likely be appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is already slated to hear an appeal of a federal court decision striking down the Texas marriage equality ban.
Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Fast food and home care workers will walk off the job in more than 100 cities on Thursday, with at least a dozen cities staging sit-ins for higher wages.
Unlike actions in months past, the September 4th action is the first to involve home care aides, a workforce made up of more than 2 million people. This is also the first time the labor union-led movement will engage in mass arrests and sit-ins.
The strikes are part of a larger effort to pressure big businesses to raise wages to $15 an hour. Since 2012, workers have been fighting for fair pay, the right to unionize, and other labor protections against tactics like wage theft. At a convention of fast food workers in July, more than 1300 participants voted to participate in acts of civil disobedience to emphasize their call for a living wage.
Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the food service industry is the worst-paying sector in the US according to The New Republic. Female laborers and people of color fare the worst. Seventy-three percent of all front-line workers are female, and 43 percent are black or Latino. At least 52 percent of fast food workers depend on public assistance because of the poverty wages they earn.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama issued an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10. The President has supported Congressional action to raise the federal minimum wage across the board, but Senate Republicans voted to block the Minimum Wage Fairness Act from coming to a vote in April. The measure would have raised the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but the bill is expected to come up again.
Take Action! Find a demonstration in your city or sign the petition at strikefastfood.org.
California legislators passed a bill last week that would require state colleges and universities to adopt a standard of unambiguous, affirmative consent for students who engage in sexual activity.
SB 967 is the first of its kind. It defines affirmative consent as: "Affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." Affirmative consent does not include silence, lack of resistance, or "consent" given while intoxicated, and the consent has to be continually given throughout the sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. All people involved in the sexual activity must ensure that they have the affirmative consent of others.
The bill will radically change the current standard of proving sexual assault, which requires victims of sexual assault to demonstrate that they did not consent.
"Rape culture dictates that along with proving that they were raped, survivors must also prove that they fought 'hard enough' to stop it," Autostraddle reports. "Not saying 'no' or not physically fighting someone off is understood to mean 'yes'... By not accepting silence as consent, California's affirmative consent bill nudges colleges away from rape culture and provides protection for marginalized groups."
The bill, authored by Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), will also require schools to implement a comprehensive prevention program and will help victims of sexual assault access medical care, legal assistance, counseling and other services. It now goes to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.
The Department of Education reported in May that 55 schools across the United States are currently under investigation for their handling of sexual assault claims. Many legislators and the White House have been looking for ways to reduce campus sexual assault and hold college and universities more accountable. Just this past July, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA-49) introduced the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (S.O.S. Campus Act), which would require colleges and universities to designate an independent advocate to support survivors of sexual assault. Senator Boxer is now pushing California colleges and universities to voluntarily implement her proposed federal legislation.
The Labor Day weekend marked two major victories in the battle for reproductive justice in Texas and Louisiana.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel blocked two provisions of Texas's omnibus anti-abortion law HB 2. In a scathing 21-page opinion, Judge Yeakel wrote that the law's requirement that abortion clinics meet the same building requirements as ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) created an "unconstitutional undue burden on women throughout Texas" and could not stand. Judge Yeakel also found that the law's admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional as applied to two clinics in McAllen, located in the Rio Grande Valley, and El Paso.
This is the second time that Judge Yeakel has ruled against the admitting privileges requirement. The first case challenged the admitting privileges requirement as it applied to all clinics in the state - not just to the Rio Grande and El Paso clinics. Judge Yeakel struck down the requirement last year, but a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld the law. The plaintiffs in that case have asked the full appeals court to rehear the case.
HB 2 has already led to the closure of about half of Texas's 20 abortion clinics. Had the ASC requirement gone into effect, as planned, on September 1, most of the state's remaining clinics would have been forced to close leaving no more than eight facilities.
"That the State suggests that these seven or eight providers could meet the demand of the entire state stretches credulity," Judge Yeakel wrote. "The ambulatory surgical requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. The obstacles created for these women are more significant than the 'incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion."
Judge Yeakel detailed that the burden created by the law could not be reduced merely to increased travel distances to the state's remaining clinics. Instead, he viewed clinic closures in a broader context, writing that "increased travel distances combine with practical concerns unique to every woman." He continued, "These practical concerns include lack of availability of child care, unreliability of transportation, unavailability of appointments at abortion facilities, unavailability of time off from work, immigration status and inability to pass border checkpoints, poverty level, the time and expense involved in traveling long distances," as well as other challenges. He concluded that "the clinics' closure statewide would operate for a significant number of women in Texas just as drastically as a complete ban on abortion."
Judge Yeakel said that the evidence presented by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to substantiate the need for an ASC requirement in emergency situations were weak in the face of opposing evidence that such complications are exceedingly rare in Texas, nationwide, and specifically with respect to the Plaintiff abortion providers.
Following the ruling, Whole Woman's Health, one of the Plaintiffs in the case, issued a statement that its clinic in McAllen, which has been shutdown in March, had reopened as a result of Judge Yeakel's ruling. The statement also noted that Whole Woman's Health of Fort Worth and Whole Woman's Health of San Antonio would stay open now that the ASC requirement had been struck down.
This victory at the district court level still remains uncertain, however.Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already filed an emergency appeal of Judge Yeakel's decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Read the Feminist Majority Foundation's response to Friday's decision in Texas here.
On the heels of the Texas decision, Federal District Court Judge John W. deGravelles on Sunday granted abortion providers temporary relief from Louisiana state law HB 388, which requires doctors performing abortions to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. The Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging HB 388 on behalf of Louisiana's five clinics. Judge deGravelles's decision means that the law cannot be enforced pending the final outcome of the case.
The clinics argue that doctors have not had enough time to comply with the law, which took effect September 1. Signed earlier this year, HB 388, only allowed doctors 81 days to initiate a request for admitting privileges - a process that is highly subjective, and can extend for an indefinite amount of time. Had Judge deGravelles failed to block enforcement of the law, at least three of Louisiana's five clinics would have been forced to stop providing abortion services.
If the Louisiana decision is appealed, it will also be heard in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the same appeals court that upheld Texas's admitting privileges as applied to all clinics in the state. This summer, however, a panel of the Fifth Circuit refused to strike down a preliminary injunction against enforcement of HB 1390, the Mississippi law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at area hospitals. That decision allowed Mississippi's only remaining clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO), to remain open. Also this summer, a federal district court judge in Alabama ruled that that state's admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional. Alabama is not within the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit.
A recent case has opened the door for victims of domestic violence abroad to qualify for asylum in the United States.
The Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals ruled for the first time on Tuesday that a victim of domestic violence fit a specific criterion for asylum: persecution for membership in a particular social group. In this case, the group is married Guatemalan women who cannot leave their relationships. The woman who brought the case fled her abusive husband in Guatemala. She frequently sought help from police in Guatemala, but they told her they would not interfere with her marriage. She argued that her experiences with abuse and the negligent police response should make her eligible for asylum. Guatemala is ranked third in the world for the murder of women.
Those seeking asylum must demonstrate that they will be persecuted in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The decision to include the woman's experience as a criterion only affects Guatemalan women at the moment, but it opens the door for cases for people from other countries.
"The decision for this Guatemalan woman has clear implications for other Central American women, that's for sure," Benjamin Casper, the director of Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School, told the Associated Press. "This is the first binding decision . . . to recognize this social group of women."
The woman has not won asylum yet, but it is expected that she ultimately will. The Homeland Security Department did not contest the case, and an immigration judge must now give a final ruling.
8/29/2014 - Terry O'Neill Was One of Hundreds Arrested Calling for Immigration Reform at White House Rally
Thursday, nearly 300 people were arrested in front of the White House during a rally calling on President Barack Obama to halt mass deportations. Among them was Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
O'Neill was arrested during El Dia Decisivo, a civil disobedience action led by Casa de Maryland and the newly formed Casa de Virginia. She spoke to the Feminist Newswire just hours after being released from custody.
"NOW, for a very long time, has been engaged with allies in the fight for immigrant women's rights," O'Neill said. "NOW has long taken the position that unless you simultaneously end sexism, racism, homophobia and all the -isms that are out there, we can't achieve true equality," she said. As part of the We Belong Together Coalition: Women for Common Sense Immigration Reform , the group supported the Senate's action to reform US immigration laws last year, but O'Neill said there are still "huge problems."
"Most women who come [into the United States] come as family members of men who have visas," she said. O'Neill called attention to the particular nest of bureaucracy facing immigrant women. "She may be a brilliant scientist, but she can't even look for work," O'Neill said. The employment-based visa holder can claim certain family members as dependents, but depending on the terms of the employment or family-based visa, those family members cannot seek employment in the United States. The Immigration Policy Center says family visas can "facilitate" women's labor force participation, but they certainly do not guarantee such participation. "In the meantime, her (skills) are atrophying. She's losing her ability to use her skills and talents while she's waiting around for her paperwork to be processed," O'Neill said. "We need to divert those resources from deportation to providing services."
Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform have criticized the present Congress for its failure to prevent families from being torn apart by deportation, but O'Neill also called attention to the impact of laws that put single immigrant women at a disadvantage. "Look, not every married couple that comes into this country is going to stay married," she told the Newswire, adding that individuals who depend on their spouse's visa face the greatest vulnerability if and when the relationship changes. "Where's she going to get her economic security? If the relationship is or becomes violent, the woman is extremely vulnerable."
Advocates fought to expand the number of "U Visas" available to victims of crimes like trafficking or domestic violence, but O'Neill said there still aren't enough. The aggressive coordination of local law enforcement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers also discourages immigrant women from coming forward if they are subjected to violence.
"If (victims of a crime) live in a community that's largely undocumented, women will be hesitant to bring it to the authorities," O'Neill said. "Because of the way ICE behaves, because of their insistence on scooping up large numbers of people because their only crime is that their papers aren't in order - as long as ICE is behaving that way, that makes it harder for immigrant women to come forward." O'Neill said this is true with or without legal status.
According to Wednesday's Washington Post, the White House announced plans to take executive action on immigration in the coming weeks. "We want President Obama to go big," O'Neill said. "He said he's going to do something. We want him to do a lot. Stop all of the mass deportation. Stop separating those families."
WASHINGTON - The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel's decision Friday striking down parts of a Texas anti-abortion law.
The court deemed unconstitutional a provision of House Bill 2 that would have required Texas abortion clinics to meet the stringent building code requirements of ambulatory surgical centers - a provision that would have caused most of the state's remaining clinics to close.
"A woman's constitutionally-protected right to seek out a safe and legal abortion should not hinge on the width of a doorway," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "Access to abortion and birth control is under attack across the nation. No other outpatient service has been made to adhere to these medically unnecessarily and harmful requirements. We will not rest until women's access to constitutionally-protected reproductive services are available to all women. These TRAP laws, if allowed to go into effect, will surely cost some women their lives."
"We are pleased Judge Yeakel once again recognized this law for what it is - an unconstitutional burden on the rights of women and abortion providers in Texas," said duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Clinic Access Project.
"We commend abortion Texas providers like Amy Hagstrom Miller for continuing to fight against these relentless, unconscionable and unconstitutional attacks. Women's lives are on the political cutting board."
Today, Judge Yeakel rightly acknowledged the "undue burden" the requirements would have placed on the shoulders of women seeking safe and legal abortion services in Texas. In just over a year, HB 2 has effectively reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state from 41 to barely more than a dozen. Across the nation, TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws like HB 2 are undermining women's access to truly comprehensive reproductive health care.
The first stages of HB 2 went into effect in November 2013 and severely restricted women's access to abortion. The bill currently prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires doctors to obtain hospital-admitting privileges and, as of September 1, would have required abortion clinics to spend millions of dollars in unnecessary renovations to meet the surgical center requirements.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 29, 2014
J.T. Johnson: (office) 703-522-2214 | (cell) 202-681-7251 | email@example.com
Last Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a bill that would take military sexual assault cases out of military purview and instead assign them to civilian prosecutors in the state. The law also now requires the California Military Department to report annually to the state government on sexual assault incidences and prevention plans.
Prior to the passage of SB 1422, all investigation and prosecution of military sexual assault cases was done within the military chain of command and by military lawyers. Under the new legislation, only cases in which a civilian prosecutor refuses to see a case would involve military personnel.
Last year, the Pentagon released a report that revealed epidemic levels of sexual assault in the military, as well as a culture of silence in which victims rarely came forward to report the crimes. Although 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military in 2012 alone, the report found that just 3,374 cases were reported. This year, the Pentagon identified a 50 percent increase in reported cases, but only 10 percent went to trial. Advocates have urged military sexual assault cases be prosecuted outside ofthe chain-of-command to reduce retaliation against victims and increase reporting.
Since 2013, there has been a growing effort to curb sexual assault in the military, led largely by women in the Senate. In March, the Senate blocked the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would have removed all military sexual assault cases from the chain-of-command on a national level. Later that month, the Senate passed legislation eliminating the "good soldier defense" for accused perpetrators.
Sexual assault is a serious problem throughout our military," California State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said in a statement. "While Washington debates how to address this crisis, California can lead by example. Victims of sexual assault deserve our support and a respectful and effective justice system.
President Obama, who signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 to prevent military sexual assault and strengthen protections for survivors, called for a review of the military's progress to end the epidemic last December that should take place later this year.
The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services has announced plans to expand Medicaid funding for contraception, effective October 1.
The Illinois Family Planning Action Plan would increase the amount of money set aside for health care organizations providing reproductive health care. It would double Medicaid reimbursement rates for vasectomies and IUDs (intrauterine devices). The plan also includes an accommodation for religiously-affiliated providers who may object to providing contraceptives. Under the proposal, patients not covered by their employer and receiving Medicaid will be referred to providers that offer contraceptive care.
Julie Hamos, the director of the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision had a direct impact on the new proposal. Hamos said the Supreme Court ruling was of "extreme concern" to Governor Pat Quinn. Of the 3 million Illinois residents enrolled in Medicaid, a third are women of childbearing age. Unplanned pregnancies are a major expense for that population, which, Hamos said, is expected to grow under the Affordable Care Act.
"Providers need to make family planning accessible," Hamos told attendees at the Illinois Contraceptive Equity Summit last week. Nearly 100 doctors, nurses, social workers and members of the women's health community attended the summit.
The public is welcome to comments on the new proposal until September 15th.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) urged California universities to create independent sexual assault victim's advocates on their campuses in a letter sent out on Tuesday.
"As our students return to campus, they are counting on their universities to not only educate them, but also to protect them," Senator Boxer wrote in the letter to university presidents and leaders. "Yet, as you know too well, campus sexual assault has reached epidemic levels in our country, and I am writing to ask you to create an independent victim's advocate on your campuses."
Boxer is urging the schools to voluntarily implement the provisions of the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act), which she introduced with Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) last month. If passed, the act will require federally-funded institutions of higher education to create an independent campus advocate who will work on prevention and response of campus sexual assault. Specifically, the advocate would conduct public information campaigns about sexual assault on campus as well as ensure survivors have access to medical care and forensic exams, crisis intervention and counseling, guidance on reporting assaults and information on their legal rights.
One in five women in the US will experience a rape or attempted rape at some point during her years in college, but many universities have mishandled sexual assault cases and are now facing federal investigations. In response, legislation has been introduced to hold universities accountable, and the White House convened a task force on campus sexual assault.
Take Action: Bring the Campaign to End Campus Sexual Violence to your campus!
A recent report concluded that the US military has the resources it needs to allow transgender personnel to serve openly. Unfortunately, military policies don't allow them to do so.
The study, conducted by Palm Center, found that 15,000 transgender personnel currently serve in US armed forces, although standards dictate that they don't do so openly. Researchers found that it is feasible for the US military to form and implement a more inclusive policy for transgender personnel, therefore joining 18 countries around the world that allow transgender individuals to openly serve. The report also recommended that transition-related surgery be "regarded no differently from any other surgery."
"The decision to allow transgender personnel to serve in the military reflects the core values and principles that all military personnel should serve with honor and integrity," the survey concluded, "and the military should not needlessly separate personnel who are willing and able to serve."
US military policy currently classifies identifying as transgender as a psychological disorder, and standards require that anyone who has had transition-related surgery be rejected for service. The language the military currently has in its Standards of Medical Fitness excluding trans-identified folks was possibly based on an old version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that said transgender people experience a "gender identity disorder." However, the most recent DSM classifies this as "gender dysphoria" and suggests that the condition is not be pathological.
"This is a little different than 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Aaron Belkin, founder and director of the Palm Center, said. "With 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' [a former US policy that banned openly LGBT personnel that also prohibited discrimination against closeted LGBT personnel], you could really just get rid of the ban, and it was fine. With transgender inclusion, you don't want to just get rid of the ban and do nothing. There are a few steps, but those steps aren't difficult.
A recent report by the Girl Scouts Research Institute shows that the Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic are the best regions of the United States to raise girls, while the South - specifically Mississippi, Arkansas, and Georgia - is the worst.
The findings were based on 23 indicators of education, extracurricular activities, emotional health, physical health, safety and economic well-being. States that offer preschool education and have low high school dropout rates are consistently ranked higher in terms of best places to raise young girls, with New Hampshire at the top. The Girl Scout Research Institute conducted the survey in response to changing demographics within the Girl Scouts of the USA.
"Our aim is to inspire a national dialogue about the challenges girls are facing in communities throughout America," said Anna Maria Chavez, the CEO of the Girl Scouts. "Only once we know where girls are succeeding and where our society needs to do more to support them can we help girls reach their maximum potential."
The higher rate of low-income children in the southern and western US play a large part in their lower ratings. A 2013 report by the Southern Education Foundation found that a majority of public school students throughout the Southern and Western United States are low-income. Mark Mather, lead researcher of the report and a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, told Al Jazeera America that the difference between region rankings can also largely be attributed to the intersections between poverty and education. "[The report] tells the story of the importance of education for girls," Maher said.
"Girls are thriving in some areas, but there are portions of our population really left behind," Kamla Modi, senior researcher with the Girl Scout Research Institute and a co-author of the report, told AlJazeera. It's the first we've really seen how different the data is geographically. There are real issues girls are facing in the South.
Tthe White House released new health insurance rules Friday for nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby earlier this summer.
According to Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog, the new rules seem to achieve two purposes: "to keep the mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within the new limits required by the Court's decision, and "to make sure that women who work for employers who object to the mandate for religious reasons would continue to have access to that coverage."
A fact sheet summarizing the new rules reiterated the health benefits of expanded preventive care, including contraceptive access. "The [Independent Institute of Medicine] recommended covering all FDA-approved contraceptive services for women with child-bearing capacity, as prescribed by a provider, because there are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception."
The Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby held that closely-held corporations, like Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., could claim a religious exemption from the ACA mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and skip paying the cost of some forms of birth control believed to be in violation of the company's religious beliefs. The decision meant such businesses were eligible for the accommodation put in place by the White House for religious institutions, but immediately following Hobby Lobby, the accommodation form itself was challenged by Wheaton College.
Under the new rules, non-profit organizations must indicate their exemption status in writing to the Department of Health and Human Services. The for-profit rules issued by the White House do not set a standard definition of a "closely-held corporation." Instead the document says "the Departments are considering and seek comment on how to define a qualifying closely held for-profit entity."
Both the California Senate and assembly unanimously passed a bill last week significantly restricting the sterilization of state prison inmates.
SB1135 bans the practice of sterilization with a few exceptions, including if the person's life is in danger or sterilization is medically necessary to treat a diagnosed condition. Jails and prisons will also be required to publish data about the procedures online, with the information broken down by race, age, and justification for the procedure.
The bill was introduced after an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) found around 150 women may have been illegally sterilized without state approval between 2006 and 2010. Many women had been intensely pressured by prison doctors, and some were sterilized without the proper approval and documentation from the state. California has a history of forced sterilizations, with tens of thousands of sterilizations taking place in the 20th century of people deemed "unfit" to have children, and legislators have made several attempts to restrict the practice. The current bill aims to fill some of the gaps left by previous legislation restricting it.
"It's clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons," Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), the author of the bill, said in a statement. "Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic rights."
The bill now awaits Governor Jerry Brown's signature. If he does not sign it within 12 days, it will go into effect by default.