December 15, 2013
California officials voted Thursday to overturn a discriminatory rule that prevented sex workers who are physically or sexually assaulted from receiving money from a special victim compensation fund intended to help the victims of violent crimes. The change in policy means that sex workers will now be eligible for state assistance to pay for medical and related expenses they incur as a result of the assault.
Members of the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board said they were compelled to change the “repugnant” rule after hearing the testimony of sex workers who have been assaulted and left without recourse or support following the crime, simply because of their job. Prior to the change, sex workers who were raped while working were not eligible for compensation because sex work is illegal in California, but the new policy recognizes that “rape is rape, period,” according to board chairwoman Marybel Batjer.
“Victims of this violent crime deserve compensation, regardless of circumstance,” she added.
As the Press Democrat reports, Carol Leigh, a representative of the Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network, was among the women who testified before the board. Leigh said she was raped by two men who entered the massage parlor where she worked. “[The men] took a knife to my throat and demanded sex and money,” she testified. “I realized that, as a sex worker, I was a sitting duck, that the system, basically, was set up so that I felt that I couldn’t go to the police. … The rapists know, and they see us as targets.”
“I think we sent a big message today from this board for the state of California, that we are now going to mirror some of our other states that feel the same way. It’s a national issue,” Michael Ramos, district attorney in San Bernardino County, said following the vote.
“It really opens the way for women who have suffered a very violent and traumatic act to get recognition from the state that something terrible happened and that you can get compensated for it,” Rachel West, of the U.S. PROStitutes Collective, said of the change.
But the fight for sex workers’ rights in California and elsewhere continues, said Maxine Doogan, an organizer for the Erotic Service Providers Union. “We would like the state of California to adopt the Obama administration policy on prostitution, which is that prostitution should not be discriminated against in seeking public services.”
April 16, 2013
Two teenage girls have killed themselves in recent months after pictures of them being raped or sexually assaulted circulated among their classmates and online. In Canada, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons was taken off life support this week after trying to hang herself. Police never pressed charges in her alleged gang rape, which occurred when she was 15.
"Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun," her mother wrote. "All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame. Lastly, the justice system failed her. Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl."
Canadian authorities are reopening the investigation, which is pretty much the definition of too little, too late. Meanwhile, in San Jose, California, three 16-year-old boys have been arrested in the September 2012 sexual assault of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, who committed suicide eight days later. The boys face felony and misdemeanor charges.
"The family has been trying to understand why their loving daughter would have taken her life at such a young age and to make sure that those responsible would be held accountable," said family attorney Robert Allard.
"After an extensive investigation that we have conducted on behalf of the family, there is no doubt in our minds that the victim, then only 15 years old, was savagely assaulted by her fellow high school students while she lay on a bed completely unconscious," said Allen.
Recently, of course, two teenage boys were convicted of a similar rape with photos in Steubenville, Ohio.
There’s nothing particularly new about the rapes themselves. What’s new is that there are pictures and videos, which are immediately circulated. Those mean evidence—though that doesn’t always mean arrests, as in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons—but they also mean that victims face increased bullying, that they don’t have to worry only about running into their rapists in the hallways at school, but about every one of their classmates who has seen the pictures and decided that the way to respond is not by speaking out against rape or quietly supporting the victim but by joining a pack of bullies in attempting to shame and humiliate her. And there’s no redemptive ending—justice in Steubenville is good, but it doesn’t undo what that girl went through; Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott are dead. What we have is a long, grueling fight to make this less common. We probably can’t eliminate rape. We probably can’t make teenagers not be assholes. But we can fight to change the culture so that everyone knows rape is something for the rapist, not the victim, to be ashamed of. We can push the justice system to act swiftly so that potential rapists don’t figure they’ll get away with it. It’s not easy and it’s not enough, but it would be something. And then maybe the next Rehtaeh or Audrie wouldn’t feel quite so isolated and hopeless.
March 1, 2013
A California police officer has been fired and arrested following allegations that he raped at least six women while in uniform and on duty, some of them in his patrol car.
Sergio Alvarez, a five-year veteran of the West Sacramento Police Department, stands accused of raping at least six women since October 2011. He faces kidnapping and sexual assault charges in connection with the alleged attacks. According to ABC News 10, bail has been set at $26.3 million.
The 37-year-old Alvarez allegedly attacked the women while driving in his patrol car. His alleged victims, who ranged in age from 20 to 47, were stopped while walking, according to West Sacramento Police Chief Dan Drummond. The chief added that some of the alleged rapes occurred in the patrol car.
Suspicions about Alvarez arose last September after a 37-year-old woman came forward with allegations that she was attacked by the officer. He was placed on administrative leave following the report.
“I am just appalled and sickened that someone that was put in the position of trust would violate that trust in such an egregious manner,” Drummond told WPTV. “The whole department is appalled.”
As a result of the alleged rapes, the department is reviewing its practices and may no longer allow officers to patrol by themselves at night.
“We are looking at our procedures and the way we are accountable to each other,” Drummond told WPTV. “We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure this does not happen again.”
It has happened before, but not in West Sacramento. In recent weeks, the following are among the alleged incidents that have made headlines around the nation:
- In Massachusetts, Lawrence police officer Carlos Gonzalez, 48, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with committing a sexual crime against an underage girl while on vacation in Haines City, Florida last summer.
- Last month, Ashokie, North Carolina police Lieutenant Andres Snape, Jr. was arrested and charged with rape and other sex crimes in connection with an alleged attack on a teenage girl aged between 13 and 15.
- Also last month, veteran Boston, Massachusetts officer Henderson Parker, 45, was arrested and charged with raping and indecently assaulting a woman in a residence.
February 26, 2013
A sophomore at the University of North Carolina (UNC) is facing potential expulsion and other consequences from her school for what the college calls “intimidating” behavior. But the “intimidating” behavior may be that the student spoke out to the press about the man who raped her.
As the blog Jezebel highlights, Melinda Manning, the former assistant dean of students at UNC, and other students “filed a complaint [last month] with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on behalf of themselves and 64 other unnamed sexual assault survivors, alleging that university officials pressured Manning into underreporting cases.” The complaint also alleges violations of laws under the “Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, the Clery Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and equal opportunity mandates” from federal civil rights law.
Now one of the students who was a party to the complaint, named Landen Gambill, is being investigated by the school’s “Honor Court,” which is tasked with reviewing allegations of misconduct on campus. The student alleges the charge results from her talking to the media.
Gambill had spoken out to the press about her awful experience reporting sexual assault at the school she attends. Gambill says she was verbally and physically abused by her long-term boyfriend. After the relationship ended, she had to deal with stalking, threats and harassment from the ex-boyfriend. When she pressed charges at the Honor Court, she says she had to answer humiliating questions.
“The woman student said to me, ‘Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?’” Gambill explained to The Daily Tar Heel, a student newspaper at UNC, in December 2012. The court also “implied that I was emotionally unstable and couldn’t be telling the truth because I had attempted suicide.”
Gambill added: “It’s incredibly clear that those people had no idea what sexual assault is, what consent is. They were not only offensive and inappropriate, but they were so victim-blaming. They made it seem like my assault was completely my fault.”
10 days after news of the federal complaint Gambill and Manning filed broke, “Landen received an email from Elizabeth Ireland, the Graduate & Professional Schools Student Attorney General, who wrote that she ‘received a report of a possible violation of the Honor Code on which you are listed as the reporting party,’” Jezebel notes. But Gambill says she did nothing wrong—she hasn’t even named her rapist, who lives across the street from her.
And then last Friday, Gambill received another e-mail from Ireland that said that sufficient evidence existed to refer the case to the Honor Court, though Ireland also said that being charged does mean she is guilty. The charges include “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes” with a student that “adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for University employment, participation in University-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”
If the Honor Court finds Gambill guilty of “intimidating” her rapist, she could face a slew of consequences, including: loss of privileges on campus; a grade penalty; a written assignment; probation or suspension; and expulsion.
A preliminary Honor Court meeting with Gambill has taken place. Jezebel reports that the student “asked whether she could have violated the Honor Code simply by saying she was raped; the answer was yes.”
“This type of gross injustice is the reason why UNC students are speaking out and demanding answers,” Gambill told Jezebel. “The reason why i’m so vocal about this isn’t because I just want justice for my case. I want to make sure no one else has to go through this if they want to report an assault to the university.
February 13, 2013
TW: Rape, violence: In some of the most disturbing and sickening news of the day, New York state police have decided that a 15-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by three boys was in fact not sexually assaulted because both she and the boys are mentally handicapped.
In May of last year, three boys attacked a 15-year-old mentally challenged student at Martin De Porres Academy, a school for students with special needs in Long Island. According to the police report, one of the boys repeatedly banged her head against the table while the other two forced her to give them oral sex and then tried to have forcible anal sex with her. In interviews with the police, the girl explained how she repeatedly said “no” and “stop” but that the boys continued to assault her. When she came home from school that day, her mother noticed that she had blood on her underwear.
But the Nassau County Police Department recently decided to drop the case after learning that the boys also had learning disabilities and mental handicaps, which apparently made the situation far too complicated for the police department.
The department’s spokesperson told the New York Daily News , “It was more of a consensual situation with their mental capabilities.”
Of course, head-banging, blood and repeated pleas to “stop” are never consensual situations—regardless of the IQ level of the attackers. But, in this case, the police department is even further off target. As the family’s lawyer explained, the girl has an IQ of about 50 points, which puts her below the cognitive functioning level to consent to sex at all.
The school meanwhile, has played its own part in attempting to cover up the case. Only weeks after the assault occurred, the school sent a letter to the police department, that read:
“The school administration request (sic) no further police action and will handle additional behavioral and social issues with traning (sic) and additional counseling.”
The school did fire the teacher who was present in the classroom during the attack.
Women and girls with mental disabilities are frequently the targets for sexual assaults—and few of their aggressors are ever prosecuted.
According to one study, a staggering 80 percent of women with these disabilities are the targets of rape or sexual assault in their lifetimes.
People with disabilities are rarely brought into conversations about social justice struggles, like sexual violence, but that 80 percent statistic is outrageous & disgusting. If we are going to talk about rape culture, we need to include those most vulnerable to violence, including those with disabilities.