Tag Archives: law

New Year, New House: Understanding the 116th Congress’s Adopted Rules and What they Mean for the Freshman Class

By Rhian Lowndes

A new year and a new Congress. With 102 women sitting in the House of Representatives and 25 in the Senate, the United States is seeing unprecedented female power in our national government. Nancy Pelosi calls new members a “transformative Freshman Class” with over a third of House Democrats identifying as people of color and a (marginal but auspicious) growth in religious diversity as well.

With new faces comes change; the House of Representatives has adapted to its new found pluralism by adopting some rules and modifying others to ensure safety and opportunity to all members–maybe I’m giving away my naivety by saying I was surprised that a few of these regulations hadn’t already been established. Still, the following directives are a good sign for the 116th Congress.

  • Banning Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. While discrimination by any Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House is already disallowed, the House has specifically extended the ban to consider prejudice based on sexual orientation or gender identity, creating a safe space for a new generation of representatives.
  • Banning Sexual Relationships Between Members and Committee Staff. Sexual relationships between members and their employees are not tolerated by House rules, but this now includes a prohibition of relationships between members and staffers who are not their direct employees, hopefully eliminating at least some ethical ambiguity surrounding power dynamics in these affairs.
  • Service of Indicted Members in Leadership and on Committees. To avoid leaving corrupt people in positions of power, the House has stated that indicted members, and those charged with criminal conduct for a felony offense punishable by at least two years in prison, should abdicate caucus or conference leadership roles and step down from any committee positions.
  • Requiring Members to Pay for Discrimination Settlements. Members have to pay the Treasury back for any settlement related a violation of sections 201(a)[1], 206(a)[2], or 207[3] of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. This makes members more accountable for their own actions within their government positions.
  • Mandatory Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies for House Offices. Each office within the House has to adopt an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy by April 1st.
  • Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The House has created an Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The Speaker and Minority Leader will select a Director (with recommendations from the Committee on House Administration) and within 150 days the Office must submit a diversity plan for approval. The diversity plan has to include:
    • “(1) policies to direct and guide House offices to recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote and retain a diverse workforce; (2) the development of a survey to evaluate diversity in House offices; (3) a framework for the House of Representatives diversity report; and (4) a proposal for the composition of an Advisory Council to inform the work of the Office.”

A House of Representatives diversity report at the end of each session of Congress is also required.

  • Title II. Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The House is creating a Committee to investigate and develop recommendations on the modernization of Congress. By “modernization” they mean they intend to develop a more efficient Congress, taking into consideration scheduling, recruitment, and technology, but it also means the preservation and advancement of diversity.

There’s much more to peruse among the legislation set for consideration in the new year, but it’s good to see that the House is making way for change. Hosting a vastly different staff from previous Congresses means the House is in a position to make an America for women and minorities, as well as groups who have prospered more easily in the past. Hopefully, these regulations will make that task easier, and we’ll see the difference in months and years to come.

 

https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/slideshows/116th-congress-by-party-race-gender-and-religion?slide=5 https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181231/BILLS-116hresPIH-hres6.pdf

https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181231/116-HRes6-SxS-U1.pdf

 

[1] prohibiting discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,… age,…[or] disability”

[2] prohibiting the discrimination of veterans and/or denying them employment or benefits if they are eligible employees

[3] prohibiting the intimidation of employees who participate in hearings or proceedings

“The Hunting Ground”: A Horror Pseudo-Documentary on a Serious Issue

By Sabrina Schnurr

Summary

CNN’s The Hunting Ground focuses on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses in America and the way colleges neglect to address it. The documentary seeks to highlight the roles that money and reputation play in college administrations’ choices while chronicling the journey of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two former students at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who filed a Title IX complaint and sparked a movement against sexual assault on college campuses. The film criticizes schools’ actions while also examining the culture of fraternities and college athletes. The Hunting Ground includes testimony from many student victims of sexual assault, as well as interviews with psychologists, authors, professors, administrators, police officers, and parents. Lady Gaga recorded a Grammy-nominated original song, “Till It Happens to You,” for the film.

•••

The film opens like a blockbuster thriller: a montage of high schoolers and their families happily opening college acceptances immediately sets the scene for the emotional rollercoaster to come. Even the title itself establishes fears in viewers. Dramatic images of a doorknob and bathroom tile resemble that of a crime scene remake on a television drama, and voice-overs telling terrifying stories contrast with their corresponding montages of beautiful campus scenery. All in all, the film is hard to watch. Images of fraternity signs reading “sexual assault expected” and “thank you for your daughters” land a giant knot in viewers’ stomachs, and specifically, one father’s account of his daughter’s suicide is heart-wrenching and almost impossible to listen to. In this regard, the film does what it was made to do: draw an emotional reaction from audiences.

However, this emotional reaction is then irresponsibly paired with a quick hero-ending and a weak focus on the facts. Almost instantaneously, two students at UNC transition from broken victims to national heroes taking on Title IX to solve college rape; the ending segment presents a suddenly uplifting montage of women standing up. A quick cut between the national map of reported campus sexual assaults and the nearly identical homemade map hanging in the students’ apartment serves as comforting, but irresponsible closure. While these young women may have started a movement, this ending segment credits them — and solely them — with “solving” college sexual assault.

After this quick transition, women are suddenly shown strongly standing up and taking action, and administrators (formerly pessimistic about the future of the issue) suddenly see an optimistic solution. Footage of President Obama giving an address on the issue and a montage of new federal investigations into colleges make it seem as though these national achievements were a direct result of only these two students’ mission. Visually, this creates a false cause-and-effect relationship, in which the middle step is never shown. Where is the mention of Emma Sulkowicz, the student who started a movement in 2014 after carrying her mattress around campus after being assaulted? What about all the administrators, politicians, families, reporters, and students that played a role in this movement (a movement which started long before these young women even started college)?

The journey of the two students at UNC did not happen in a vacuum, but they are portrayed as if they did. Gillian Greensite, director of rape prevention education at UC Santa Cruz, notes that the first peak of activism in the rape-crisis movement occurred after the Civil War. Considering how these incidents are analyzed in isolation, the film lacks a rational evaluation of the then-current state of discussion about sexual assault and consequently, does these victims a giant disservice. Its happy ending also does not leave room for future discussion of this issue. Sexual assault is a dynamic problem in the United States; recently Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the administration was formally withdrawing Obama-era campus sexual assault direction.

In addition, it has been argued that many of the statistics used in the film are outdated or merely inaccurate. Slate’s Emily Yoffe, who also writes for the Atlantic, spoke to Alyssa Keehan, director of research at United Educators — a higher education insurance group that recently released a study of 305 sexual assault claims they received from 104 schools over three years. Keehan noted that the “most common narrative you hear” — institutions not caring about sexual assault — might not be true. Their data found that when a formal complaint is brought against a student, he is found guilty 45 percent of the time, and when that happens, the attacker is given the “most severe penalty available” (expulsion or suspension) over 80 percent of the time. Nonetheless, while the choice of statistics used in the film can be arguably biased or inaccurate, it can hardly be debated that some are outdated. Specifically, in a portion of the film discussing student athletes as the prime attackers who get away with assault, two statistics are held onscreen; these statistics date back to 1993, over twenty years before the film was released. In using this data, the filmmakers ignore how college culture has changed tremendously in the past twenty years and continue to deny the viewer of a fully-informed, unbiased discussion on college sexual assault.

Any documentary has a responsibility to be fact-based, and in conveniently excluding major pieces of the investigations noted, the film loses its legitimacy and sabotages its powerful message. For example, a large piece of the film focuses on the rape allegation against Jameis Winston, a former Florida State University quarterback who was found not responsible after a criminal investigation. His accuser, Erica Kinsman, went public saying that after drinking a shot at an off-campus bar she started feeling strange and was “fairly certain there was something in that drink.” However, the filmmakers fail to note that two toxicology reports found that she had no drugs in her system nor do they reveal that at the December hearing, Kinsman did not insist that she was drugged or unconscious. Granted, these young women are beyond brave for speaking out about their experiences; sexual assault on college campuses is a real problem that needs to be addressed. Yet while testimony from real victims has raw, emotional power, it isn’t enough. If the students are looking to inform the public about this very serious issue, an ethical stance of fairness does not leave room for picking and choosing what critical pieces get included.

Ultimately, The Hunting Ground does its viewers a disservice by focusing on passion over information. In a world where the media rules our daily lives, documentary-makers have an ethical responsibility to provide fact-based films. However, some could argue that the pushback from schools on the accuracy of things mentioned in the film perhaps proves the film’s point: colleges do not want to put their reputations on the line by addressing this very real issue. Yet, in terms of the film itself, it poses serious questions about bias and our consumption of media. Can a documentary still be a good documentary if it only presents one side of the story? Additionally, Emily Yoffe brought up an interesting point in an NPR interview: what does this mean for CNN? This news network is attempting to present the film as a “fair exploration of an important subject,” but it very easily might not be “fair” at all.

 

Featured image by Christopher Serra, courtesy of the LA Times.

How Gun Reform Will Help Women

By Kelsie Merrick

After every mass shooting, there is a heightened concern over gun laws and an increasing push for gun reform. But why does this conversation need to happen after a mass shooting? Yes, mass shootings are horrific; however, mass shootings do not even makeup half of the deaths by guns per year in the United States. One of our major issues in the gun industry is our lack of ability to guarantee background checks at every possible gun dealership, which creates a major risk for women against domestic violent threats. Compared to women in other high-income countries, women in the United States are eleven times more likely to be murdered with guns. What makes it worse is in 2011 an alarming 53 percent of women were killed by an intimate partner or family member.

A survey was conducted on women living in California’s domestic violence shelters. The results found that almost “two-thirds of the women who lived in households with guns reported that their partner had used the gun against them.” The most common ways were threatening to shoot or kill the woman. This study found that the addition of a gun in a domestic violence situation “increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.”

If a domestic abuser has been convicted of a felony, federal law prohibits them from buying or possessing guns. However, if a state does not include a similar ban, “state or local prosecutors cannot bring state gun charges against the abuser.” Federal law also prohibits domestic abusers from buying or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” or if they are “subject to certain domestic violence restraining orders.” In accordance with federal law, nineteen states and the District of Columbia have state laws in place preventing non-felony domestic violence offenders from having guns.

These laws may seem ridiculous to those who have never been affected by domestic violence, but, in my opinion, they are necessary. The FBI must agree since almost 16 percent of the total firearm transfer denials are based on domestic violence. On top of that, “convictions for domestic violence misdemeanors are the third leading basis for dealers to deny gun sales after running a NICS check.” I’m not saying that women should be the sole reason for ensuring better gun control, but when women alone make up “13 percent of victims of gun homicide nationwide” and between 2009 and 2014 they were “51 percent of victims of mass shootings” I think their safety should be a major concern to our government.

Sexual Assault Around the World

By Kelsie Merrick

On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, hundreds of women reported being sexually assaulted. I, along with many other people, heard about this and was quite disgusted. It was uncertain as to what would happen to these women and if, when the perpetrators were identified, what would the punishment be. Unfortunately, for them, no one will be held accountable for these actions. When I found this out, I was completely shocked because I know in the United States, for the most part, people are reprimanded for their sexual assault actions. I chose to look more into this topic and here is what I found.

Chantal Louis, an editor at Emma, one of Germany’s oldest feminist magazines, says, “the German law accepts that a man generally has the right to touch a woman, to have sexual intercourse with a woman. It’s his right unless the woman shows her resistance very, very strongly.” In the logic of German law, if touching of a woman’s breasts or vagina happens quickly, the law will not punish the perpetrator because the victim did not have enough time to resist the action. As far as the law is concerned, the issue is not verbal consent. The law requires that there be a “threat of imminent danger to life and limb.” That is, if a woman, or any person for that matter, cannot prove with their body (with bruises or other injuries) that they fought back, then the assault is not a crime. In Die Zeit, a German newspaper, a male German defense lawyer reported, “a woman must carry her ‘no’ through. We [men] can hardly know with a simple ‘no,’ whether she really means it.” According to national statistics, “between 7,000 and 8,000 rapes are reported every year.” BFF, a national association of women’s help groups based in Berlin, believes these numbers only represent 5% of the real number of cases. BFF also states, “only 13% of rape cases result in convictions.” One possible explanation for this is the law’s limitations.

Interestingly enough, in German workplace it is clear that “it’s not OK for someone to touch you, to try to kiss you, to lay a hand on your back.” This is called “sexual harassment at the workplace” and every women and man knows it is unacceptable. Heike Lütgart, a criminologist and career police officer with decades of experience investigating gender-based violence, says that not having a law outside of the workforce is a tremendous problem for women because they do not realize that they do not have this protection.

After reading about the laws in Germany surrounding sexual assault, I became curious about how the three most populated countries handled sexual assault. In China, they recently overturned a law that “mandated a more lenient punishment for men who had sex with girls under the age of 14 if they could ‘prove’ that they paid the girl for sex.” There is now a heavy mandatory penalty for this crime with the highest punishment being the death penalty. India passed a new Anti-Rape bill in April of 2013. This bill includes crimes such as acid violence, stalking, and voyeurism. Attackers can be charged anywhere between 14 years in prison to the death sentence for extreme cases. The bill states that even if the victim does not physically struggle, that does not constitute as consent. Unfortunately, marital rape is still legal, but the age of consent was raised from 16 to 18.

I then looked at the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 percent of U.S. women experience some kind of unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime. The Model Penal code, the go-to documents for lawmakers rewriting their criminal laws, still allows for men to rape their wives, but this “marital exemption” has been outlawed in all 50 states since the 1990s. It was not until about the middle of the 20th century that victims needed to prove their chastity for their cases to be taken seriously. In the United States, forty-three states and the District of Columbia specify that unwanted sexual contact is prohibited. Five states have laws prohibiting battery, public indecency or “lewd and lascivious” behavior. Mississippi and Idaho, on the other hand, do not have “criminal laws that clearly forbid unwanted sexual touching such as groping and fondling.” In 2013, Mississippi’s Democratic state Republic Kimberly Campbell proposed a bill to create a misdemeanor crime called “indecent assault.” This bill would handle adult fondling cases, which could prevent future crimes by stopping the act early. The bill died due to the fact the bill was too vague with the explanation of intent and opponents feared that the bill could “criminalize accidental touching or bumping.” On the other hand, there has been an indecent assault law in Pennsylvania since the 1970s. Deputy District Attorney Janet Necessary says that she takes several dozen of these cases a year. Her office has used this law to prosecute cases involving supervisors who have sexually harassed their workers in a physical way.

We, the citizens of the United States, need to work together to first, create a universal law across all 50 states to protect unwanted sexual touching/assaults against women and men. Second, eventually, spread this idea to other countries so that no human being has to live through such an uncomfortable situation.

The Importance of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

By Kelsie Merrick

In 1973, Roe v. Wade was, and still is, a controversial case that passed through the Supreme Court. The ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally unless a woman was in the third trimester then the state had a right to enact abortion regulations to protect the fetus. The only exception to this rule was if the pregnancy was a threat to the mother’s life. Then in 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey reintroduced the controversy around abortion this time about whether consent from a spouse or parent and a 24 hour waiting period is necessary before an abortion. In this case, the court ruled that “states may not impose an ‘undue burden’ on access to abortion: a law is invalid ‘if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.'” Now, abortion has reentered our court system with the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case.

In previous abortion cases, there has been a clear argument with two clear sides: pro-life and pro-choice. That is, the concern has generally been about the baby not about the mother, but with the introduction of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt the conversation is shifting from the baby to the safety of the mother. This case began in 2013 when Texas created a law requiring “doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles away, and set clinic standards that are similar to those of surgical centers.” Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider, argues, “the law isn’t medically necessary, is demanding and expensive, and interferes with women’s health care.”

Since 2011, “at least 162 abortion providers have shut or stopped offering the procedure” with at least 30 of those closures coming from Texas alone. One of the main reasons behind the closures was the new state regulations that have made these facilities too expensive to remain in operation. Texas is the primary case study of these new regulations and the repercussions of stricter regulations are already noticeable. According to certain providers, “full implementation of the law would leave almost a fifth of Texas women 150 miles or more from a facility.” Texas has already dropped from 42 to 19 clinics since 2013 and if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the new law, Texas would be left with nine abortion clinics. This is a problem for women who need an abortion, whether it is for personal or health reason, and are incapable of traveling that far. A more serious problem caused by the extreme distances of abortion clinics is that “more women would now die of complications from self-induced abortions.”

Another issue facing the abortion world is the discriminating views that then lead to the vandalism of buildings and clinics. Susan Cahill from Kalispell, Montana was unable to rebuild her practice after it was vandalized due to the cost of repairs. Planned Parenthood, one of the leading abortion clinics, has had their fair share of tormenting and vandalism from people protesting outside to fires being started at their facilities. About a third of the facilities that closed or stopped performing terminations were operated by Planned Parenthood. This is detrimental to Planned Parenthood’s operation as a whole since their main goal is not to give abortions but to education society, mainly young adults, about safe sex and contraceptives available to the public.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were “210 abortions for every 1,000 births in the United States.” Even with abortions being almost one-fifth of the births that year, abortions are decreasing without implemented regulations. Since 2010, the Associated Press estimates abortions have decreased 12 percent. Possible explanations for this could be that teen pregnancy rates are decreasing which leads to the reason for more access to birth control. If abortion rates are already decreasing, is it necessary to regulate the clinics? On the other hand, verifying that clinics are safe and healthy and that properly trained doctors are performing the surgeries is also highly beneficial to women that need and want an abortion. Hopefully, the Supreme Court can figure out how to ensure women’s safety without the closure of abortion clinics.

Our campuses, our selves?

From the essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” by Laura Kipnis, writing for The Chronicle Review:

I don’t quite know how to characterize the willingness of my supposed feminist colleagues to hand over the rights of faculty—women as well as men—to administrators and attorneys in the name of protection from unwanted sexual advances,” he said. “I suppose the word would be ‘zeal.’” His own view was that the existing sexual-harassment policy already protected students from coercion and a hostile environment; the new rules infantilized students and presumed the guilt of professors.

Quote from a member of the Faculty Senate, answering the question as to whether there’d been any pushback in response to a new “consensual-relations” policy. What’s noteworthy about this faculty member’s reply is that it asks persons concerned with the prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, and prejudice on campus to consider the potential problems with empowering university administrators to investigate and adjudicate sex crimes. This blogger takes the view that for all the talk of college being a “learning community”, the reality is that these institutions resemble corporations far more than communities. Institutional priorities are evaluated in terms of liability control (rather than the protection of community members) and a favorable public image (rather than an actualizing and authentic community culture). Where this is true, we might hesitate to task unelected, unaccountable administrators with the work that, in our actual civic community, we assign to employees of the public service: professionals who are committed — by regulation and public expectation, if not explicit pledge — to uphold the common good for all members of the community.

The unnamed faculty member raises a prudent question: Are we foolish to so zealously entrust the college bureaucracy with ersatz police and judicial powers? Are such institutions capable of accepting and reciprocating our trust in such matters?

The government, we’re told is of, by, for the people; in that regard (and this is admittedly an idealizing view) we are protecting ourselves when laws are passed to protect against sexual abuse and exploitation, when police investigate such abuses, and when cases are brought to trial. Who are we asking to safeguard our campus learning community, when we ask a college to shoulder this responsibility? Is this not something we can do ourselves, through the institutional powers we already have a stake in, each of us, as residents in the civic community? What do we stand to lose, what do they stand to gain?

Patriarchal culture, being a  saprophytic parasite of a social complex, already saps so much of the strength of the people living under its influence. How then can we not be skeptical of the suggestion that the best way to build a safer campus culture is to trade in a system we collectively own, for a system wholly conducted by provosts, vice-presidents, trustees, and other officers of the alma mater?

Cui bono? Let us know what you think, below.

Women at Harvard Law: an exhibition, and an anecdote

The Harvard Law School Library has just announced their newest exhibit, titled “Women at HLS: 60 Years of Transformation.”

From the announcement:

Since women were first admitted to HLS in 1950, they have transformed the Law School, the legal profession, and public life. A special library exhibit, Women at HLS — coinciding with the upcoming Celebration 60 Reunion of women at Harvard Law School — explores themes such as enrollment, campus life, and the impact of student organizations such as the Women’s Law Association (WLA). It draws on Historical & Special Collections’ Student Photographs collection and the recently processed Red Set Ephemera collection. Jane Kelly and Margaret Peachy curated Women at HLS, which will be on view in the Caspersen Room, Langdell Hall, Monday-Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM through December 13, 2013.

All members of the public are invited to visit the exhibition in Cambridge.

* * *

While on the topic of female graduates from Harvard Law, file this one under “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby”…

Raya Dreben was among the earliest of the women to graduate from Harvard Law School. She had a distinguished career, culminating in her appointment to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. At one point she was hired by the very traditional but excellent law firm of Palmer & Dodge (now Edwards, Wildman, Palmer).

Here’s the thing: the firm insisted that she have her own letterhead. Her name did not appear on the firm’s standard letterhead which named all the (male) partners and associates.

(Source: Sarah Baldwin, on the EXLIBRIS mailing list.)