Speaking of Women's Rights: 04/13

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Small Steps Forward in the Uphill Battle Against Sexual Violence Can Make a Big Difference.

by Caitlin Zittkowski

In ancient Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king condemned by the gods for all eternity to roll a boulder up the side of a mountain, only to have it roll back down again when he neared the mountain's peak. The gods sentenced Sisyphus to this task because "there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor."

Sisyphus' struggle has been in the back of my mind as I have read news articles about the recent rash of sexual violence incidents. Those dedicated to combating sexual assault appear to be engaged in a similarly never-ending effort. Just as advocates seem to be nearing the summit, making progress against the occurrence of these tragedies, we discover another appalling event, the boulder backslides, and we are forced to begin again.

Within the past couple weeks alone, two such stories have come to light. Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott, two teenage girls who lived thousands of miles apart, both hanged themselves after allegedly being sexually assaulted by groups of teenage boys and subsequently suffered through having humiliating photos of the incidents circulated online. Though social media can provide proof to back up sexual assault accusations, such as in the Steubenville rape case, tipping the scales in what could be a deadlocked he-said, she-said situation, it also provides an avenue for bullying, turning sexual violence survivors into social pariahs.

And unfortunately this wave of sexual violence has not been confined to high schoolers. Recent congressional hearings concerning how the military has handled sexual assault among service members, spurred by incidents such as an Air Force commander throwing out a fighter pilot's sexual assault conviction, has shed light on this widespread but often unseen problem. In fact, women serving in combat zones are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by the enemy. In response to accusations that the military's autonomy has led to a lack of accountability, the Pentagon has proposed an overhaul of the court-martial system for prosecuting service members.

Though the Pentagon's proposal is a positive step, reports of sexual violence still churn up feelings of frustration and helplessness. Sexual assault ripples outward from those who survive it, affecting their family, friends, and community. But what can we do when we are seemingly surrounded by an onslaught of potential perpetrators and an often unresponsive legal system? People are angry, but fortunately anger can breed action, and because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to tackling sexual violence. So here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Examine your own behavior. Objectively assess your own actions and words. Are your actions (or inactions) somehow contributing to a society in which sexual assault is commonplace? Even something as simple as commenting on how someone dresses without thinking about how such a remark could be interpreted (or not putting someone else who makes inappropriate comments in check) could be fostering an atmosphere that discourages sexual assault survivors from seeking support.

2. If you have children, you can prevent sexual violence by talking to them early and often about these issues. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has steps materials to help you start.

3. Support (or start) a group in your community working to effect change. If you are in the Seattle area, you could attend a screening of The Invisible War, a documentary about sexual violence in the U.S. military, at in Mobius Hall at Cascadia Community College on May 2nd at 6:00 PM. The Kirkland-Redmond branch of the American Association of University Women is sponsoring the event, and they are looking for volunteers to greet attendees and staff an information table.

By taking even small steps, we can chip away at the boulder-sized problem sexual violence poses. Increasing awareness of the sexual assault epidemic will hopefully motivate more people to help push the rock up the mountain, making it more likely that we will one day reach the top. 

Caitlin Zittkowski is a former legal extern and current fan of Legal Voice.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Plea Bargain

by Lillian Hewko
poem by D.R.


I took a plea
To save the precious one
Growing inside of me.

The truth shall set me free.

For now, I am just the property of the DOC.
Number 3389XX.

Behind the razor wire fence
Is where my life lies.
Hopefully time flies.

Meanwhile, my heart cries.
Slowly but surely I
Will find the wonderful
Person I use to be inside.

I signed my name on that
Dotted line.
To obtain a better career
And to find a more stable mind.

God gave me a sign.
And up the ladder of faith
I will climb.

D.R, 3389XX

I work with D.R, a mother of three, at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. I received this poem from her along with a letter explaining that she had received a phone call at the prison informing her that it was the second day of her termination of parental rights trial for her two older children. Her rights were permanently terminated without being afforded the right to be present at trial.

Stories like D.R.’s exemplify why we must support SHB 1284 in order to help prevent the unnecessary separation of children from their incarcerated parents (more info here, and action needed now below.) Her story also reminds us that there are real people behind statistics:
  • The rate at which women used drugs actually declined from 1986-1996, but the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses increased by 888%.
D.R. is serving time for non-violent a drug related offense, an offense that 20 years ago may not have carried prison time at all. She is headed to work release and will be out by September 2013.

  • The vast majority of incarcerated women are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, other forms of sexual assault, and/or battering.  Most have been abused by multiple people.  
D.R. is a survivor of domestic violence and was separated from her children initially as punishment for the “failure to protect” her children from domestic violence—a policy largely discouraged by domestic violence advocates because it places the blame on the victim and does not serve to protect victims or their children from the violence perpetrated against them. Further, separation anxiety is greater for children who witness domestic violence and are subsequently separated from their mother.

D.R. experienced hopelessness after the loss of her children related to her domestic abuse situation. D.R. was not treated for the abuse she experienced. The lack of resources and alternatives largely led her to turn to cope with illegal substances, leading to her charges and current sentence.

  • Only 1 in 5 women in state prisons with a history of substance abuse and 1 in 8 women in federal prisons receive treatment for substance abuse.
Luckily, D.R. is serving the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA), so she receives a priority for substance abuse treatment. Mothers who are not on DOSA usually remain on a waitlist. Due to the current timeline requiring termination after children are in out of home care for 15 of the last 22 months, despite the fact that she was in compliance with all of her case planning requirements, the state moved to terminate her parental rights on her older children.

  • Nationwide, an estimated 85% of women who are incarcerated are mothers, and more than half have children under 18.
D.R. is the mother of 3 children under 18, ages 9, 3 and 6 ½ months. D.R. gave birth to her son last September while serving her sentence. Because of the above failure to protect finding on her record she was unable to participate in the residential parenting program to keep her son with her.

  • In 2004, more than half of parents housed in a state correctional facility had never had a personal visit from their child(ren), and almost half of parents in a federal facility had experienced the same.
D.R. did not receive visits with her children until the very end of her dependency case, a factor that makes it difficult to maintain parental rights in the face of termination.

Just last month, without being afforded the right to be present at the trial, D.R. permanently lost her parental rights to her two older children. The termination stemmed from the state agency’s finding of “failure to protect from domestic violence” and the fact that the federal timeline had come up. She was called on the second day and informed that the trial was taking place unbeknownst to her. She still maintains rights to her baby, but her baby is now in foster care, and it is likely that she will be fast-tracked to lose her rights to him as well. The state can move to terminate her parental rights against the baby as soon as 6 months after the baby was declared dependent on the state.

SHB 1284 will give courts the guidance and discretion needed to make individualized family specific determinations that are needed in difficult cases like D.R.’s.  Please help us by taking action and support SHB 1284 today.

Immediate Action Needed:
Help get SHB 1284 (Children of Incarcerated Parent’s Bill) on the Senate floor for a vote! Please call and/or email your Senator and ask them to vote to pass SHB 1284. You can find your Senator here:

Sample Email/Comment:
Dear Senator _______,

I am writing in support of SHB 1284. I believe that incarcerated parents need a fair chance to work toward reunification. We need to give the court the discretion and guidance, when necessary, to find safe permanency options that do not involve severing familial ties forever.

[Add personal story, if applicable, for your support].

Increased family reunification has been linked to reduced recidivism and reduced chances of inter-generational incarceration. For these reasons, please pass SHB 1284.


Lillian Hewko is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Legal Voice.  She is working to implement a project she developed to provide legal education to incarcerated mothers and implement litigation and legislative strategies to reduce the chances of family separation in Washington State.

D.R. is currently incarcerated in Washington State and fighting to keep her family whole.

photo: Strong Families Mama's Day Card Campaign, image by Veronica Bayetti-Flores.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Girl in the Mirror

by Lillian Hewko

Drawings and Poems by  Carine Perry and Tammara Perry

As an Equal Justice Works Attorney at Legal Voice, I provide know your rights information several times a month for women at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) who are facing separation from their children due to incarceration. For the past 8 months I have had the opportunity to witness as Chandra Perry and her daughters fight to keep their family whole in the face of barriers created by our criminal justice system and our child welfare system. I was given permission by Carine Perry, Chandra’s oldest daughter, to share two poems and a sketch that express how her mother’s incarceration and subsequent separation impact her life. On March 23rd, 2013, I was a part of a youth outreach day at the prison, where Chandra’s 11 year old daughter drew the sketch with a note (center drawing) and asked me to share it with our supporters.

I look in the mirror
And see a girl
Who is staring back
At me. I don’t know
Who she is
Because she is
The girl
I want to be.

She puts a smile on,
While inside     she’s falling      apart.

She says she’s “ok” as pain fills her heart.
She pretends not to care. 
Everyone slowly walks away. 
She hides
Behind her mask,
And pretends
To be okay.

She is scared
To open           up,
And call someone
Her best friend.

They all turn out the same,
And never really care in the end.

They all turn out the same,
And never really care in the end.

She is scared
To let people come close.

It always ends up as heartache.

She decides to trust someone,
But it always ends up
As a big mistake.

She feels like a stranger in her own home. 
Like she doesn’t even belong.
She tries the best she can
But it always seems to be wrong.

She freezes up at the word.
She freezes up at the word— love

People throw it around too much.

Her muscles constrict,
As she is afraid to be touched.

She has ideas for the future, hopes and dreams for her own.
But she doesn’t hold her breath,
Because disappointments are all she has ever known.

She asks “Why am I never good enough?”
“Why am I always second choice?”

People tell her she’s got to stand up for what she wants,
She’s got to stand up for what she wants,
She’s got to find her own voice.

Voice: I know who I want to be.
It’s all so much clearer.
But the fact of life is
I’m only a girl in the mirror.


Dear Mom,

Now, Mom this is only a poem. Don’t think anything bad from it, ok? I love you with all my heart and I know the answers to ALL these questions, but I was just making a poem out of them, ok? I love you so much. We only have 129 days left to go and I am 100% sure we can make it:

Mom, why did you have to leave?
Why did you go so far away?
Why did you have to go somewhere we couldn’t?
How come you haven’t come home?
When will things be normal again?
Will they ever?
I miss you.
Why are so many people hurt?
Who’s fault is this?
Was I doing something wrong?
I miss you!

From the voices of youth, we find that although their parents may be less than perfect, the love that they have for their parents is as real and strong as any other child’s. The loss experienced by these children when their relationships are severed is real. This loss is one that we should be concerned about since there is significant evidence that maintaining contact with one’s incarcerated parent improves a child’s emotional response to their parent’s incarceration and supports parent-child attachment as well as lowers the likelihood of recidivism among incarcerated parents.  HB 1284 will give Incarcerated parents who are separated from their children a fair chance to work toward reunification and safe permanency options that do not involve severing familial ties forever. More info here.

How can you help?  
SHB 1284 (Children of Incarcerated Parents bill) passed out of the Senate Human Services and Corrections committee and has been referred to the Senate Ways and Means committee. Help us get the bill out of Ways and Means by the April 9th deadline.

If your Senator is on the Ways and Means Committee (click here for list), please contact your Senator by phone or by email and ask them to support SHB 1284.

If your Senator is a Republican (click here to find out who your Senator is), but not on the Ways and Means Committee, ask your Senator to urge Senate budget writer Sen. Andy Hill to move SHB 1284 out of committee.

If your Senator is a Democrat who is not on the Ways and Means Committee, please ask your senator to urge Senator Hargrove to support moving SHB 1284 out of committee.

Carina Perrty, 14, and Tammara Perry 11 are the daughters of Chandra Perry who is serving her time at Washington Corrections Center for Women.  Carina and Tammara live in separate foster homes and are avid poets and artists and send their mom their creations on a regular basis. They hope to be able to overcome the child welfare system and live together as a family.