Speaking of Women's Rights: 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Latina Equal Pay Day: Not a Day to Celebrate

By Gabriela Quintana

For the past six years of my life I’ve dedicated my professional life to women’s equity issues. I was an instrumental part of a team that helped develop and eventually pass a paid sick days ordinance inSeattle in 2011. Currently, it’s been all about getting a paid family and medical leave bill passed at the state level.

While having paid sick days and paid family & medical leave are crucial to the economic security of women and their families, having these two benefits is not enough—especially if you are Latina like me. Wages matter and, in the case of Latinas, we continue have a much wider gender wage gap than white women or even African American women.

According to the Economic Opportunity Institute, “Washington women who worked full-time in 2014 were paid $13,000 less than men, diminishing family budgets and undercutting community business prosperity. Women of color face especially large wage disparities. Median pay for White women in Washington is 74% of White men’s, for Black women 68%, and Latinas 48%.

“The wage gap persists at all education levels and across occupations. More women than men between the ages of 25 and 45 hold four-year college degrees in Washington, but women need those degrees to make the same amount of income as men with less formal schooling.”

It’s disheartening. According to other statistics, in Washington State it would take a Latina about three years to catch up to what a white man makes. This means that in 2019, I’ll be making what a white man makes in today’s wages. Yay.

Today is Latina Equal Pay Day, which marks the day that Latina workers finally catch up to what white, non-Hispanic male workers made last year. Yes, you read that right. Nationally, it takes Latinas 22 months to match a white male’s earnings from the prior year, according to recent United States Census data.

Economic security for women means having no wage gap, access to paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave. Show your support by voting yes on I-1433, which will lower the wage gap disparities across the board and ensure that all workers in Washington get paid sick days.

If we can get this done in 2016, then maybe in 2017 we can get paid family and medical leave passed. Just imagine!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Unfriendly Skies

By Priya Walia

Trigger warning: violence, sexual assault, sexual assault of a child.

For people with a fear of flying, it is often reassuring to hear that planes are safer than cars. However, there are safety considerations other than crashing to consider. Travelers are exposed to an array of horrors at the hands of many different state and federal agencies—as well as other passengers—while flying.

The treatment of brown folks, like myself, and transgender people by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is atrocious, and I am sure that history will find it legally unsound. The lack of oversight for who is added to the terror watch list (also known as the no-fly list) is problematic at best and akin to government-mandated racial profiling at worst. Then there is the fear I experience at the hands of fellow passengers: Is someone going to report me for looking too suspicious? Too brown? Am I going to be seated next to a sexual predator?

That last concern may come as a bit of a surprise because, as many of us know, acquaintance sexual assault is far more common than the traditional archetype of the lurking stranger in an alleyway waiting to grab his unsuspecting victim. However, people are particularly vulnerable on planes because there is no way out. Add alcohol, jetlag, and sleeping medicine, and perpetrators of these heinous acts have the opportunity to strike with little to no detection.

In one reported incident, a reverend inappropriately touched a sleeping woman—touching that he considered “consensual because she did not reject his touches and he interpreted her silence, because she was asleep, as ‘coyness.’” The victim was not aware of the touching until she awoke with his hand on her thigh. He later admitted to FBI agents that he enjoyed “cozy flights” with women.

In another case, a man switched seats to sit next to a young unaccompanied minor. She was trapped next to him while he repeatedly sexually assaulted her for 30 minutes until a flight attendant saw her crying and caught him in the act. He was removed from his seat and arrested by the FBI upon landing.

While the FBI has jurisdiction over airlines and cases of sexual assault while flying, it does not track the number of sexual assaults on planes; neither does the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) or any other organization. According to Slate, in 2014 Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton proposed a bill that would have compelled the FAA to keep statistics on airplane sexual assault. This legislation never came to fruition. In 2015, the best estimate is that there were 170 assaults aboard domestic flights. But sex crimes are cited as one of the most underreported category of crime, so this estimate could likely misrepresent the problem.

Keeping track of these assaults alone will not solve the problem; we live in a rape-friendly culture that laughs at affirmative consent laws, rejects women from juries for being survivors of sexual assault, treats survivors as suspects, questions survivors for taking years to courageously come forward, and teaches survivors that abuse is their fault. Airlines must take a more proactive role in preventing these attacks and making potential perpetrators fear the consequence of their actions.

Currently, it is rare for airlines to release a statement beyond the pre-written boilerplate they have used in many of these cases. In response to the assault of an unaccompanied minor, American Airlines released a lackluster statement: "American cares deeply about our young passengers and is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for them. We take these matters very seriously…” Being sexually assaulted is not an unpleasant travel experience—it is criminal, dehumanizing, traumatizing, and utterly unacceptable.

So, what is the solution? As it stands, most flight attendants are trained to alert the pilot when a sexual assault occurs so the pilot can make the choice to land the plane immediately or continue to the final destination. The pilot is also in control of alerting the authorities on the ground or deciding that the behavior was simply rude but not criminal. Victims are left with no direct line to contact outside emergency personnel without filtering her assault through undertrained airline employees. The perpetrators of these acts may walk free as soon as the flight lands, making it difficult for authorities to track them down.

The problem is complex and the solution should be well thought out and intersectional. Rape culture—the environment that entitles men to women’s bodies—is to blame, but if airlines took steps to make their stance known that inappropriate and unwanted touching is not tolerated, maybe perpetrators would not feel so protected.

Perhaps airlines could treat sexual assault with the same seriousness as sitting in an exit row and require verbal consent.

Priya Walia is the Reproductive Justice Fellow for If/When/How serving both Legal Voice and Surge. She is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Law (’16) and West Virginia University (’13) and a proud dog mom. Tweet at her @PriyaJWalia

Monday, August 29, 2016

It's Time to Call Out the Deceptive Practices of Crisis Pregnancy Centers

By Lara Hengelbrok

Reproductive health care advocates have won some important victories lately, particularly this summer’s Whole Woman’s Health decision, which preserved and strengthened the constitutional protection of the right to choose. But while we’ve been celebrating, advocates have been waging another battle over reproductive health care. In California, lawmakers and advocates are fighting against the deceptive practices of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) that exacerbate existing barriers to reproductive health care access.

CPCs are facilities designed to look like medical clinics providing services for unintended pregnancy, but in reality are venues for anti-choice organizations to coerce pregnant people into carrying their pregnancies to term. CPCs lure pregnant people, particularly those who are low-income, with offers of free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. They often conceal the fact that they are not medical facilities and do not provide abortion or contraceptive services, even when directly asked. They then lie to clients about the effects of abortion—that abortion causes breast cancer, likelihood of later miscarriage, infertility, and sterility, in addition to spiritual and emotion trauma, PTSD, and depression.

If a crisis pregnancy center has harmed you in some way, or if you have visited one of these centers and want to share your experience with us, please do so now!

CPCs also try to encourage people to wait, either by misinforming them about the length of their pregnancy or the likelihood of miscarriage, which can result in pregnancies being too far progressed for abortion in some states. These delays also prevent women from receiving prenatal care, which can increase the risk of infant mortality.

And in spite of these dangers, CPCs receive support and direct funding from the federal and state governments. Twelve states directly fund and 20 states directly refer people to CPCs. Not to mention that CPCs are being awarded federal grants to provide abstinence-only sex education in public schools, increasing the rate of unintended teen pregnancy.

California responded to the threat that CPCs pose to reproductive health care by enacting the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act. The Act, which went into effect in January of this year, required CPCs licensed under the California Health and Safety Code to provide notice of available free or low-cost reproductive health services, including contraceptives and abortion, through the Medi-Cal program, along with a phone number to the local county social services office. It also requires unlicensed CPCs to affirmatively disclose to all clients that they are not licensed and do not have a licensed medical provider supervising services.

Naturally, CPCs immediately challenged the Act, arguing that it was unconstitutional on free speech grounds. CPCs argued that their speech is protected non-commercial speech because they don’t charge for their services. This argument obscures the connection between their free services and their ability to secure funding, both from private donors and state governments. It also ignores that their false advertising about pregnancy services prevents consumers from accessing the health services they’re seeking.

Fortunately, the Reproductive FACT Act survived preliminary injunctions in federal district courts. Following the decision, Los Angeles City Attorney recently issued warnings to three CPCs for failing to comply with the law. Failure to comply within 30 days would result in a $500 fine, with subsequent violations costing $1000 per offense.

While this may sound like a rather limited regulation with a minor penalty, it’s actually a pretty big deal. Efforts to curb CPCs’ deceptive practices have been largely unsuccessful; even requiring CPCs to affirmatively disclose that they do not provide emergency contraceptives, abortions, or prenatal care has been considered an infringement on free speech. CPCs have argued that these disclosures would impede their ability to express their disavowal of abortion while simultaneously listing abortion as a pregnancy option on their websites and advertisements.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with organizations pursuing religiously motivated advocacy, and CPCs are certainly well within their rights to denounce abortion. But the government funding of CPCs’ campaign of medical misinformation and false advertising, combined with the ceaseless attacks on Planned Parenthood and abortion providers, demonstrate that CPCs are just another example of the ongoing assault on bodily autonomy and access to reproductive health care. It’s a relief to see that California legislators and local officials are responding to those threats to reproductive freedom.

Lara Hengelbrok is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising third-year student at the University of Washington School of Law. She received a PILA Grant to pursue public interest work and hopes to work towards ensuring access to quality education and curriculum reform. She is also a baking goddess and unapologetic pop-culture junkie.

Photo courtesy of Esparta Palma | Creative Commons

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Get it together, Olympic commentators.

By Kelsey Jones

This headline is a metaphor for the entire world, reads the caption for a photo of a newspaper story about the 2016 Rio Olympics. The headline? “Phelps ties for silver in 100 fly.” Underneath it, in smaller type, sits the sub-headline: “Ledecky sets world record in women’s 800 freestyle.”

Katie Ledecky beat the world record and won the gold and was celebrating in the pool before her competitors even touched the wall. That phenomenal performance was placed beneath—in both newspaper layout and newsworthiness—the silver medal performance of Phelps.

The caption spoke to the rampant sexism at the 2016 Olympics, where fans and viewers are repeatedly left dumbfounded by media and commentator coverage. But also to the way that women’s accomplishments are viewed in the world of sports more generally. According to the UK’s Cambridge University Press, male athletes are three times more likely than female athletes to be mentioned in the context of sports, while women are routinely described with regards to their appearance, marital status, and age.

From the opening day of competition, the media aligned with that study. During the women’s gymnastics team final, an announcer commented that Team USA’s gold-winning Final Five appeared to “just be standing around at the mall” while they were waiting for their turn on the next apparatus. And after Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú’s gold medal and world record performance in the 400-meter individual medley was immediately attributed to her husband and coach, despite the fact that he most definitely was not the one in the pool. Along that same vein, the Chicago Tribune published an article headlined “Wife of Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today at Rio Olympics.”

During Ledecky’s performance mentioned in the headline above, she was referred to as a “female Michael Phelps” and was said to “swim like a guy” by fellow USA teammate Ryan Lochte.

The United States has swept up 78 medals so far in Rio. Two of the top three medalists are women: gymnastics star Simone Biles and swimming phenome Katie Ledecky. Yet despite dominating performance after performance, the female athletes have faced blatant sexism in media comments, headlines, and social media commentary.

Of course, the athletes themselves aren't the only ones affected by this gross display of misogyny. Of the millions of people who watch the Olympics, many are undoubtedly young girls who aspire to be like Simone Manual, the first African American woman to win an individual gold medal in women’s swimming; or like Katie Ledecky, who appears to be superhuman in the water with her record breaking speed; or like any member of the Final Five, a group that is more diverse and more dominant than any other gymnastics team. Focusing on athletes' appearance or marital status over their accomplishments is unnecessary at best and, at worst, damaging to young girls' perception of their ability to become an Olympic athlete.

The Olympics do not exist in a vacuum. Women’s sports, and women’s accomplishments in general, are much more likely to be belittled or filed under those of a man. In 2016, there is more pushback than ever, but the fact that these instances still occur with shocking regularity is appalling.

Women don’t compete “like a man” when they do well. They perform like the strong, disciplined, talented world class athletes that they are. No comparison necessary.

Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Photo credit: Agência Brasil | Creative Commons

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sexual Harassment and Powerful Men

By Kelsey Jones

It usually remains hidden for some time, as the victim grapples with societal victim blaming, job pressures, and the larger manifestation of the everyday sexism she has endured her whole life. But then she comes forward. And then more women come forward. And then consequences, or hope of consequences, for the offender.

Roger Ailes is the latest in a string of highly publicized sexual harassment and assault cases. The former chief of Fox News recently stepped down after sexual harassment allegations, and a subsequent lawsuit, were brought by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. After that, other reports of sexual harassment came pouring in from employees and former employees.

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly also said she was harassed by Alies, along with other unnamed employees. Ailes’ response to Kelly’s accusations, as released through a statement by Ailes’ lawyer stated: “Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”

The sinister implications of those words, the indifference to Kelly, and the direct attempt to justify any sexual harassment by claiming to have helped advance her career are all indicative of an abuse of power.

Like in the case of Bill Cosby, who was accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by more than 40 women over the past 40 years. The case is currently working its way through trial but the position of power he held in respect to many of the women is eerily similar to that which Ailes had and used to manipulate women.

This past spring at the University of California, Berkeley, students came forward and accused an assistant professor of sexual harassment. The investigation unearthed unnerving evidence that the university may have been protecting professors who were accused of misconduct against students.

Rape culture and the stigmatization of sexual harassment already minimize and silence victims; compounding those societal pressures with the power dynamic of an influential man makes it even more unlikely that a survivor will speak up—or, if she does, that someone will listen. This abuse of power runs rampant in workplaces, Hollywood, schools, and government institutions like the military, which struggles with a sexual assault rate higher than that of the citizen population.

In 2014, 90% of sexual assaults in the military happened in a military setting, by a higher-ranking service member who knew the victim. Roughly 160,500 men and women were sexually harassed and 20,300 were sexually assaulted, and around 86% never even report the abuse. The military’s pervasive sexual assault and harassment problem again echoes the nationwide pleas for a societal reform.

It is a national crisis. Vice President Joe Biden has worked diligently to raise awareness of the extremely high rate of sexual assault on college campuses, and the military has attempted to create better programs and stricter disciplinary measures.

But a problem so widespread and systemic will not be erased by mere procedural changes for a few institutions. The problem is bred by a culture that promotes the hypersexualization of women, systemic racism and bigotry, and dangerous ideas of masculinity.

Roger Ailes is no longer a public face of Fox News, but the exact details of his departure are still unknown. The suit is still in its infancy and it is unknown whether or not it will lead to any justice for Carlson or the other women Ailes is accused of harassing.

A society that makes it that difficult for consequences of extremely heinous and appalling behavior is a complacent one. We will continue to watch in shock as people come forward, exposing one abuser after another for a handful of headlines and maybe a long trial that may or may not bring any restitution or justice. When will it end?

Ailes' abuse of power is not unique. And that is terrifying.

Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Photo credit: PumaByDesign | Creative Commons

Friday, July 29, 2016

#NotMyConscience: The Ever-Growing Prioritization of Religion Over Patients' Needs

By Rachel Kuenzi

“The consciences we should protect belong to women who should choose their own reproductive destiny.”
–Rep. Lois Frankel

On July 13, 2016, the House passed the Conscience Protection Act. Based on the title, this bill is agreeable and has nothing to do with my uterus, right? Wrong.

This bill would considerably expand and make permanent the Weldon Amendment, an annual appropriations rider that restricts funding to abortion care. The Conscience Protection Act would allow any “health care entity” to refuse to “facilitate,” “make arrangements for,” or “otherwise participate in” abortion care in order to safeguard the “conscience” of religious employees and institutions. Under this bill, a hospital could refuse to serve a woman in need of medical care and refuse to inform her of her potential treatment options.

This bill is part of a growing trend of “right of conscience” legislation and policies that allow prioritization of religious freedom over medically appropriate standards of care. For instance, Catholic hospitals are guided by the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD), a set of regulatory guidelines outlining religious healthcare, which mandate that Catholic hospitals cannot provide sterilization procedures, end-of-life procedures, gender transition procedures, contraceptives, abortion, or fertility treatments. Conscience protection laws permit Catholic hospitals to employ the ERDs, ensuring that physicians have no obligation to provide or even inform a patient of her full treatment options if the procedure conflicts with the institution’s “conscience.”

For example, if a woman is suffering from an extra-uterine ectopic pregnancy (that will likely kill her without medical treatment) and is rushed to a Catholic hospital for assistance, the hospital can refuse to treat her because of the ERD and her physician has no obligation to inform her of another institution that could assist her. Such delays in treatment are extremely dangerous and can be life threatening. Further, ERDs routinely prevent physicians from providing treatment they wish to prescribe. In fact, one in five physicians report a conflict between ERDs and their desired recommended treatment.

This growing trend towards prioritizing provider’s “conscience” is particularly concerning given the prevalence of Catholic hospitals and the increase of hospital mergers. Republicans in the House posit the myth that a patient can simply choose another hospital if she does not want her care directed by Catholic beliefs. However, in Washington State, where Catholic institutions own more than 40% of hospital beds in the state, this claim is highly unrealistic. Traveling to non-Catholic hospitals can take hours of driving, substantial amounts of money, and may not be covered by insurance, posing substantial burdens on access to needed health care. What’s more, while there are efforts underway to improve hospital policy transparency, patients often do not realize that their local hospital operates under the ERDs or other restrictive policies and will not provide the services they need.

Instead of prioritizing the hospital’s conscience, shouldn’t we be prioritizing the “conscience” of the patients seeking accurate and legal health care options? What about the “conscience” of the physicians attempting to provide medically appropriate services? Our health system should aim to endorse medically based treatments, use best health care practices, and fully inform patients of all treatment options.

The Obama administration stated that the President would veto the Conscience Protection Act if it arrives on his desk, acknowledging that it would “limit women’s health care choices.” However, with the upcoming election and with “conscience” laws rapidly becoming an expanding frontier for preventing access to reproductive health care, we should be concerned about the passage of the Conscience Protection Act and the ever-growing prioritization of religion over health care needs. This bill is #NotMyConscience!

Rachel Kuenzi is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising second-year student at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a Public Interest Fellow dedicated to alleviating intimate partner violence and day dreams about founding a domestic violence advocacy theater troupe that includes pro-bono legal services for victims.

Photo courtesy of Pexels | Licensed by Creative Commons 0

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I Want Justice for Rape Survivors—but I Don't Think Incarceration is the Answer

By Lara Hengelbrok

Like so many others, I was, and continue to be, outraged by the sentencing of Brock Turner last month after he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault. It felt wrong that Judge Perksy lowered Brock’s sentence below the minimum for a horrific crime that is common, underreported, and largely unprosecuted. It’s monstrous to dismiss the profoundly traumatic impact that these crimes have on victims in avoidance of the impact incarceration can have on perpetrators. It isn’t justice when privilege upon privilege becomes an excuse for rape, for inflicting trauma, for ruining a life. I’m disheartened by the relentless apathy we exhibit in the face of rape. I read the survivor’s statement and wept at her pain, wept that she had to be so strong and passionate after experiencing such trauma, and then re-experience it again and again and again throughout the proceedings. I’m sickened that our legal system so failed to hear her voice over the wail of Brock Turner, mourning his lost privilege.


(There shouldn’t be a “but.” I don’t want there to be a “but.”)

But I don’t believe in incarceration.

I hate that Brock Turner successfully shielded himself from repercussions by blaming “drinking and sexual promiscuity,” as though promiscuity has anything to do with the assault of someone who’s unconscious; as though alcohol consumption inevitably ends in rape. I hate that his “lost future” is more important than what the survivor lost – “[her] worth, [her] privacy, [her] energy, [her] time, [her] safety, [her] intimacy, [her] confidence.” I want Brock Turner and other people who commit rape and sexual assault to go to prison for long enough to reflect the horrible crimes they commit, because that’s what justice looks like in our system.

But I don’t actually think that incarceration is justice at all. It won’t undo what he did. It won’t make sure he never hurts anyone again. It won’t make her whole.

What's more, incarcerating perpetrators of rape will not end rape. Within three years of release, 46% of convicted rapists are arrested for another crime. Within 15 years of release, 24% recommit sexual crimes, a high rate considering that two-thirds of rapes and sexual assaults are unreported and only 2% of reported rapes actually result in conviction.

The Stanford survivor repeated the outcome she wanted from the proceeding multiple times in her statement: “What I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing […] We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it head on, I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on.” But she, too, seems ambivalent. She said that she didn’t “want Brock to rot away in prison,” but that a sentence of a year or less is a mockery. She would have accepted a lighter sentence if he’d admitted his guilt and remorse, but his sentence should clearly communicate the seriousness of rape. Maybe this dissonance, on her part and mine, stems from the limited and unsatisfying options the legal system offers: only innocence or guilt; freedom or incarceration and a lifetime of revoked rights and collateral consequences. There isn’t room for healing, for accepting responsibility and sincerely trying to rehabilitate; there is only more damage, endlessly.

I don’t know what to do with this conflict. I don’t know how to square the outrage and horror of this moment – along with the overwhelming commonality of rape and sexual assault that are not reported, not prosecuted, and not convicted – with the knowledge that the carceral system is a seat of dehumanization and racist social control; that it serves to punish the poor and marginalized; that it doesn’t stop people from reoffending.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s no room for ambivalence when someone has violated you in this way, when that person has dragged you over the coals, forcing you to relive that violation again and again and again while silencing your voice. Maybe there is only room for punishment and retribution, for a loud, unequivocal NO, because, the Stanford survivor's words, “we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”

But I can’t help wanting more. I can’t help wanting our justice system to hold people accountable for rape and sexual assault, while also wanting that accountability to not be inhumane, socially damaging, and ineffective. I want our justice system to take rape seriously and work towards ending it without re-traumatizing the survivor. I want perpetrators to be rehabilitated in truth, not dehumanized and marginalized to the point that reoffending is almost inevitable. I want a justice system that is actually just. 

Lara Hengelbrok is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising third-year student at the University of Washington School of Law. She received a PILA Grant to pursue public interest work and hopes to work towards ensuring access to quality education and curriculum reform. She is also a baking goddess and unapologetic pop-culture junkie. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Don't Leave Women Out of the Conversation on Police Brutality

By Kelsey Jones

Last week, in the span of less than 48 hours, two black men—Philando Castile and Alton Sterling—were killed by law enforcement, reigniting protests across the country against police brutality. Thousands of men, women, and children marched in the streets, and millions more shared their grief and outrage over social media.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was started by three women in July 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, has been at the heart of the push to end police brutality since its inception.

Although the #BlackLivesMatter movement itself has made a point of recognizing the specific experiences and intersections of police brutality and gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, much of the media portrayals and public perceptions label police brutality as an issue facing black men exclusively.

Women are primarily discussed as fearing for their sons and husbands, which is an important reproductive justice issue. But without the acknowledgement of black women’s specific experiences with police violence, this framework isn’t telling the whole truth.

“I think any conversation about police brutality must include black women,” said Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history at Georgetown University, in an interview with Dissent magazine. “Even if women are not the majority of the victims of homicide, the way they are profiled and targeted by police is incredibly gendered.”

The African American Policy Forum released a report last year detailing police violence against black women. The list of names is long, and their stories cross lines drawn by age, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and location.

As the report says, “The erasure of Black women is not purely a matter of missing facts. Even where women and girls are present in the data, narratives framing police profiling and lethal force as exclusively male experiences lead researchers, the media, and advocates to exclude them.”

This week marks one year since Sandra Bland died in police custody after being arrested at a traffic stop. She was originally pulled over for failing to use her blinker to switch lanes, and the officer eventually pulled her out of the car after she declined to put out her cigarette and demanded to know why she was being arrested. She was found dead in her jail cell three days later, sparking national outrage after a video of the arrest surfaced.

#SayHerName, a campaign to increase visibility of black women who are victims of police violence, was chanted at protests and rallies across the country. Sandra’s death was a sobering reminder of the vulnerability of black people and the necessity of an inclusive movement.

But the public uproar surrounding Sandra’s death was an outlier to the countless other stories that have been underreported, or not reported on at all. We cannot exclude these women from the discussion on police brutality, race relations, and systemic oppressions. When we #SayHerName, it must carry the weight of every woman who has experienced, and who will experience, injustice at the hands of law enforcement.

Meagan Hockaday and Janisha Fonville were both shot and killed in 2015 after officers responded to calls of a domestic dispute and domestic violence, respectively. Within the span of a few months, videos surfaced of two teenage girls, one in Texas and one in South Carolina, who experienced excessive force by officers. Rekia Boyd was shot and killed by an off-duty officer after he confronted her and her friends for talking too loudly. And the list continues.

Women—especially transgender and queer women—experience the same systemic oppression and violence that black men face. But what makes black women’s experiences distinct is the perceived power dynamic between men and women and the threat of sexual violence.

For instance, Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer, raped and sexually assaulted at least 13 black women—ranging in age between 17 and 57 years old—in the neighborhood he patrolled, targeting women he believed would be less likely to report him or press charges.

Black women experience police violence at a rate almost identical to that of black men, but aside from a handful of cases—Sandra Bland being one of them—those acts of violence do not always spark the same public outcry.

In order to recognize the purpose of Black Lives Matter and create true systemic change, the media, and culture writ large, needs to afford the harassment, assault, and shooting of black women by police officers the same outrage and outcry as that accompanying the deaths of black men.

Because black women’s lives matter, too.

Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Photo credit: Johnny Silvercloud | Creative Commons

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Unpacking United States v. Bryant:
When Does Federal Protection of American Indian Women Become Overly Paternalistic?

By Rachel Kuenzi

In United States v. Bryant, decided unanimously last month by the United States Supreme Court, the Notorious RBG heralded a victory for American Indian domestic violence survivors, demonstrating respect for tribal court criminal procedure.

Michael Bryant had over one hundred tribal court convictions, including several misdemeanor convictions for domestic assault. Between 1997 and 2007, he pled guilty to five occasions of domestic violence charges. Bryant contended that because he did not have representation during the tribal court proceedings, those convictions should not count toward a heightened sentence in federal court.

However, his Sixth Amendment claim citing his right to counsel fell flat. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that at least two prior domestic violence convictions adhering to correct tribal court procedure are sufficient to escalate a third charge to a new crime – a felony, punishable by up to five years – created by the 2005 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

This decision reinforces the message that repeat offenses of domestic violence in American Indian communities is a serious crime, and upholds the severity of repeat offenses as outlined by VAWA, which was created with input from many tribes. With nearly 46% of American Indian and Alaska Native women experiencing physical violence by an intimate partner, repeat incidents of abuse can result in escalation and can even be fatal.

While this case sends positive messages with regard to the severity of domestic violence, as well as respect for the independence of tribal criminal procedure, it poses questions about tribal sovereignty over substantive law. Should American Indians rely on Congress to police domestic violence within tribal communities, or is VAWA overly paternalistic? Is this acceptance of “uncounseled” convictions lowering the bar of criminal legal protections for tribal members? Does this decision reinforce over-criminalization of tribal members and should tribal law instead focus on restorative justice?

Passionate responses to these questions may come out in upcoming months from American Indian communities and domestic violence organizations, so be on the lookout. For now, let’s celebrate the rare moment when the Supreme Court sided with victims of domestic violence.

Rachel Kuenzi is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising second-year student at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a Public Interest Fellow dedicated to alleviating intimate partner violence and day dreams about founding a domestic violence advocacy theater troupe that includes pro-bono legal services for victims.

Photo credit: Jay Galvin | Creative Commons

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Corporate Feminism:
Empowerment Cannot Be Bought

By Kelsey Jones

An ad on my Facebook feed encourage me to join Lean In, advertised as a non-profit organization designed to “empower all women to achieve their ambitions.” The organization stemmed from a book by the same name written by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Scrolling down my feed, I caught another advertisement, this time for Aerie’s #aerieREAL campaign against photo shopping and the use of thin models.

The feminist movement has been at the forefront of the push for women’s rights for decades, but it’s increasingly also becoming something that companies wanted to plant their own stake in.

While that fact alone proves the power of the feminist movement, it is also a tricky tightrope to walk: using an intersectional political movement to sell products to a specific subset of women versus actually supporting feminism and its ideals across class, sexuality, and racial lines.

Empowerment has long been associated with something that women need: to be empowered in education, in the workplace, in the home. And now, companies are advertising products to help make that possible, as if the right beauty product and a little confidence is all it takes to solve sexism and systemic discrimination in education, in the workplace, and in the home. These messages, paired with catchy, viral-worthy phrases, contribute to the rising prevalence of hashtag feminism.

For instance, one of the most popular ads during last year’s Super Bowl featured several young girls demonstrating what they thought it meant when the producer asked them to run or throw like a girl. It was produced by Always, the feminine product company owned by Procter & Gamble.

The premise of the commercial was profound. It brought to light the insidious nature of common phrases like “You throw like a girl!” being used as an insult. But after challenging the viewer to redefine what it means to do something “#LikeAGirl,” Always flashed the brand logo and encouraged women to buy their product.

Companies like Always do have large audiences, especially when the commercials air during an event like the Super Bowl, so it's heartening to see these issues be raised at all. But juxtaposing a product with a powerful message dilutes the message, especially when the motive is to boost the company's own bottom line and pad the pockets of its largely white, heterosexual, male CEOs. The watered-down feminism of these "empowerment" campaigns—such as ones from Pantene and Secret—is even more apparent once you consider the fact that women generally pay more for the same beauty and hygiene products, thanks to the "pink tax."

The problem is not that the companies are taking feminism and putting out their own social campaigns crafted around their interpretation of it. The problem is that many of these campaigns are still aimed at selling a product. More often than not, that product is marketed in a way that says, “Look, if you buy this, you will be empowered.”

It is the hypocrisy of creating a commercial to break down gender stereotypes while producing other commercials for those same menstrual products with blue liquid to simulate blood and extra coverage to prevent the undesirable leak.

As companies move away from sexism and degradation marketing towards the adoption of feminism for profit, the goals of the movement and the companies becomes muddied. Feminism is a political movement. The misappropriation of such a movement for profit is deplorable.

Companies are not alone in the adoption of what has been deemed corporate feminism. Organizations like TED and Makers regularly hold conferences aimed at empowering women, but at a prohibitive cost—the TEDWomen conference in San Francisco this October costs $2,495 to attend. A price tag like that generally attracts a primarily white, wealthy, heterosexual women audience.

Furthermore, the talks come from a range of speakers, but many of them leave the audience with a feel-good positivity that side-steps some of the real issues facing the movement. The TEDWomen conference Jessica Valenti attended in 2014 didn’t have any mention of abortion access; when asked why, conference co-host Kelly Stoetzel said that abortion did not fit into their focus on “wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights.”

Feminism began as women gathered in small groups at houses across the country. They picketed, protested, and demonstrated in front of corporations and the government. They demanded their rights as citizens of this country.

When corporations and organizations lose sight of that history in favor of dollar signs, they limit the movement as they shave off the parts they deem undesirable or unmarketable.

Empowerment cannot be bought. The term in and of itself is empty; empowerment is almost always discussed by those who hold the power. Companies should be welcome to participate, but feminism should not be a marketing prop. Feminism and empowerment should not be a pastime for wealthy white women to discuss at expensive conferences.

Feminism is still political, not commercial.

Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Punishing Women for Abortion Hurts All Women

By Sara L. Ainsworth and Jill E. Adams
Members of the SIA Legal Team

Overzealous prosecutors, judges, lawmakers, and yes, even presidential candidates, have been threatening to undermine the abortion right by punishing women for having abortions. Let’s be honest, even when politicians say they don’t want to use the weight of the legal system to punish women for having abortions that isn’t the full story, because women are already being arrested and jailed for self-induced abortion and unintentional pregnancy loss.

The Self-Induced Abortion (SIA) Legal Team, of which Legal Voice is a member, has spent the last year exploring the criminalization of abortion, and we have found at least 17 arrests or prosecutions involving self-induced abortion. Several of those arrests, especially the most recent, were of women accused of using medication—the drug misoprostol—to terminate their own pregnancies.

Sweeping in Those Who Experience Unintended Pregnancy Loss

Of course, for every person who gets caught up in the legal system for an intended pregnancy loss, there will be another ensnared for a pregnancy loss that was not intended.

As the Guttmacher Institute reports, “The mere existence of medication abortion is providing some legal authorities reason to conduct fishing expeditions to go after not only women who have clearly terminated a pregnancy, but also women whom they suspect have done so.”

This idea—that people who terminate their own pregnancies should be arrested and jailed—also affects people who suffer a pregnancy loss or a poor birth outcome. In a tragic example, Melissa McMillen, a young woman in Washington State, gave birth unattended at home to a baby who was either stillborn or died immediately. Hemorrhaging and alone, having hidden the pregnancy from family and friends, she put the baby’s body in towels and did not call for help. None of this is, or should be, a crime in Washington—and yet, Melissa was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to two decades in prison. One of the things the prosecutor argued at Melissa’s trial was that she had considered an abortion during the pregnancy. So, ambivalence about a pregnancy—something countless pregnant people experience—was used to argue that Melissa was a murderer.

Two members of the SIA Legal Team, Legal Voice and National Advocates for Pregnant Women, along with the ACLU of Washington and the Birth Rights Bar Association, filed an amicus brief in this case, explaining that decision-making during pregnancy is constitutionally protected, and that to prosecute someone for the outcome of an unattended birth endangers all pregnant people. After all, childbirth sometimes happens in taxis (and now Ubers), on planes, and when the pregnant person is alone.

Impacts of Criminalizing Self-Induced Abortion

If the justice system is allowed to criminalize self-induced abortion, unattended childbirth, and pregnancy loss, we know who it’s going to hurt most: people of color, people living in poverty, and immigrants. The majority of people prosecuted in relation to their own pregnancies are women of color, who are also more likely than their white counterparts to suffer poor birth outcomes. Between worse birth outcomes, heightened exposure to state agents, and racist or xenophobic stereotyping, it's no surprise that immigrants, people of color, and those struggling to make ends meet will be under the greatest scrutiny and suffer the deepest impacts of this trend in criminalization.

But, in truth, this targeting of women who self-induce their abortions harms everyone by nullifying the right to abortion entirely for growing numbers of pregnant people in the U.S. A Texas Policy Evaluation Project report concluded that as many as 100,000 women in Texas have already attempted to end their own pregnancies outside the formal healthcare system. For decades now, global data have demonstrated that highly restrictive laws do not reduce the abortion rate, they simply relocate the site of abortion care from the clinic to the home.

The Real Face of Self-Induced Abortion

In a nation where abortion is a protected constitutional right, and caring and courageous abortion providers continue to work in the face of unrelenting opposition, why do some people end their own pregnancies? There are hundreds of lived experiences that may push someone away from the formal health care system or that may pull them toward self-directed care. With abortion clinics closing, women are traveling farther and paying more for abortions and attendant costs, like travel, overnight accommodations, and childcare. All told, securing an abortion can cost some half a month’s pay, which is prohibitively expensive for many families.

Resourceful women and their loved ones have and will continue to find ways to end pregnancies outside the formal healthcare system. While the thought of home abortion may conjure up gruesome images of pre-Roe coat hanger abortions, the current reality is one of safer, less invasive means. More often than not, women use traditional herbs or misoprostol, which is far safer and more effective than many self-induced abortion methods of the past.

Safe home abortion will be a positive experience for some, occurring in a private place through effective means while accompanied by a loved one. For others, particularly people living in poverty, immigrants, and people of color who are disproportionately arrested for pregnancy-related crimes, the self-induced abortion experience may be shrouded by the fear of jail or deportation.

A woman who cannot afford an abortion or access an abortion clinic may turn to the Internet to research less expensive alternatives to clinic-based care. Rather than accurate information about how to procure reliable medications, proper dosage, and likely side effects, her search might turn up headlines about Purvi Patel, Jennie Linn McCormack, Kenlissia Jones, and other women arrested and jailed for allegedly ending their own pregnancies. What is this not-so-hypothetical woman to do? She’s decided—for whatever reason—that it’s better for her not to have a child. She doesn’t have insurance coverage for an abortion, doesn’t have money to pay the costs out of pocket, and doesn’t want to go to prison for taking matters into her own hands. That’s why we created the SIA Legal Team—to expand access to reliable information about ending one’s pregnancy, and to halt criminalization of women who do so.

The Future We Envision

No one should face prison time for the outcome of a pregnancy—intended or unintended. Rather than arrest and jail people who have self-induced their abortions, we should work to make abortion more affordable, more accessible, and less stigmatized. Pregnant people deserve access to the full panoply of provider-directed and self-directed abortion care options, along with the freedom to choose the setting and method right for them―without fear of going broke or getting locked up.

Sara L. Ainsworth is Advocacy Director at Legal Voice; Jill E. Adams is Executive Director of the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice and Chief Strategist for the SIA Legal Team, a consortium of organizations using law and policy tools to ensure people throughout the U.S. can end their own pregnancies outside of the formal health system with dignity and safe from the threat of arrest for themselves or anyone who assists them.

Photo courtesy of bekassine

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Real Reason Washington State Failed to Pass a Bill to Protect Sexual Assault Survivors

By Martha Burwell

Legal Voice has been fighting, and winning, some tough battles for women’s rights in the Washington State Legislature. But when this year’s legislative session ended in March, the very popular SB 6151 that would have improved protections for sexual assault survivors was left unpassed. This left bipartisan supporters saying, “Wait, what just happened?”

What happened was not at all what you would have expected. But let’s start at the beginning.

Currently in Washington State, if someone is a victim of a sexual assault, they can, understandably, get a protection order to help keep their attacker away from them. This is called a SAPO, or a Sexual Assault Protection Order, and it only applies in non-domestic violence cases. The problem is that SAPOs only last a short two years, unlike other types of protection orders.

When nearing the end of the second year, the survivor has two options. First, they can let the SAPO expire, giving them the extra stress of not having legal protection to keep the perpetrator away from them. Alternatively, they can go back to court, through an often re-traumatizing process, and renew the protection order. This includes filing paperwork, and taking time off during a weekday to go to court. It likely includes seeing the perpetrator in person, and hearing about their behavior over the past year or more. It includes reviewing, again, whether the survivor should be protected, which may include the details of the assault. And often, it includes the cost of a lawyer. It is an exhausting, unfair burden to bear. Unsurprisingly, survivors will often move away, find a new job, or leave school to get away from the perpetrator, rather than endure this process.

But even if they do choose to go through the work and stress of renewing the protection order, it is again only valid for two years. They would have to repeat this process over and over, every two years, if they wanted to continually be protected from the person who assaulted them. And each time, there is no guarantee that the extension will be granted.

SB 6151 was meant to lift this burden. Instead of having a two-year expiration date, it would allow courts to issue SAPOs for longer periods of time—even permanently—so the survivor would not have to keep going back to court on a two-year schedule. They could rest just a bit easier, and get on with their lives.

This bill passed unanimously in the Washington State Senate during the 2016 legislative session. At a time when the Legislature can be sharply divided on partisan lines and no party controls both houses, that is no small feat. When everyone agrees on something in a starkly divided political world, it is clearly a commonsense idea. Unanimous votes in this setting are a rare and precious thing.

The next step was for the House of Representatives to confirm the bill. It was expected to sail right through, given the popularity it had in the Senate.

But they did not pass the bill. So, what happened? What went wrong?

Enter the National Rifle Association.

After the Senate approved the bill, the NRA lobby began to protest that if someone had a SAPO against them with no expiration date, this would restrict their gun ownership for life. And this, they simply wouldn’t have.

But here’s where the problem lies—their claim was not true.

As the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs clearly states in their Sexual Assault Protection Order guide, “a SAPO cannot order the offender to surrender any guns or weapons.”  

It’s that simple. This bill had absolutely nothing to do with firearm ownership.

It is true that Washington law requires a court when entering any type of protection order must require a person to surrender firearms if there is clear and convincing evidence that the person used a firearm in committing a felony, or previously committed an offense making him or her ineligible to possess a firearm. 

But that is a separate issue from whether a survivor is entitled to a sexual assault protection order.  And frankly—should there be any question that a person should be required to surrender firearms in cases where they used a firearm to commit a felony, or are already prohibited by law from owning a gun?

In short, the NRA didn’t do their homework. It appears they were confusing this bill with the law passed in 2014 that put restrictions on gun ownership of those who have domestic violence protection orders—rather than sexual assault protection orders—issued against them (which also passed unanimously, it should be noted).

Surely, some Washington State Representatives must have been notified of this? Yes, they were. But when the NRA raised its voice, too many of our lawmakers got cold feet. Rather than standing up to and correcting the NRA, they stalled the bill to avoid the bullying of the long-standing firearms lobbyist organization.

All of this comes back to the sexual assault survivors, who we have let down. The NRA has ensured that, for now, they must still carry the burden of renewing the protection order every two years.

Legal Voice and their allies have publicly decried the Legislature’s failure to pass this bipartisan legislation, and have affirmed their commitment to see the bill through in the 2017 session. But what can we do about it? Email or call your Representatives, and let them know that you won’t stand for this kind of interference, and that when this bill comes around again in the next legislative session, you expect them to support it. This sounds like a small thing—sending an email or making a two-minute call—but it’s actually incredibly important. If many of us show our support, and give them a strong reason to vote in favor, we can help give them the courage to stand up to the NRA and support sexual assault survivors.

Martha Burwell is a gender equity consultant, researcher, and writer based in Seattle. You can see her explorations into intersectional feminist topics on her blog EqualiSea: The pulse on gender equity in Seattle and beyond, or say hello on twitter @EqualiSea.

Photo courtesy of Patricia Feaster | Licensed under CC by 2.0

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Never-Ending Nightmare:
Why We Must Ban Rapists from Seeking Parental Rights Over Children Conceived by Their Crime

By Martha Burwell

Your hands are sweating. Your heart is pounding. You pull your jacket closer around you, against the late winter breeze, as you focus on climbing the stairs, one at a time. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

Every atom in your body is screaming for you to turn and run, to get out of this place. But you can’t. You must keep going. Because in order to keep your child safe, you must finish walking up these stairs and go into the courtroom, where a judge will decide if the father of the child can have visitation, or even—you shudder at the thought—custody.

But this case is different from most custody battles. Because in this case, your child was conceived through rape. And the rapist is waiting for you in the courtroom. 

Unfortunately, with our current laws, dealing with the legal aftermath of rape can be extremely re-traumatizing for the victim. After the horrific violence of the act itself, there’s the rape kit, the police report, filing paperwork, going to court—all part of a lengthy, grating process of getting the rapist convicted, which happens only in 2% of rapes.

And what if the unthinkable happens—what if the woman gets pregnant? (Yes, women can and do get pregnant from rape, despite what dangerously misinformed male politicians may say).

Currently, if a woman keeps the child, which women decide to do in about 30% of pregnancies caused by rape, the rapist may petition for parental rights, depending on which state they're in. Yes, you read that right. The fact that the child is a result of rape is not grounds for denying paternity rights such as visitation, or even custody, if he can prove he is the biological father. This is true in many U.S. states.

And one of those states is Washington.

Surely, the mother can block the rapist from obtaining these parental rights, you’d think. Technically? Maybe. But it’s extremely difficult, and can only be done through an invasive and often expensive legal battle. And stringent conditions must be met, including the rapist being *convicted* of rape (remember how rare that is?). 

It’s clear to see how damaging this would be to both the child and the mother, having to deal with draining legal work, repeatedly discussing the rape, and seeing the rapist in court. And of course, 98% of cases wouldn’t even meet the requirement of having the perpetrator convicted of rape.

Additionally, with current laws, rapists can use the potential of custody or visitation as a legal bartering chip, pushing the mother to give away other rights in order to protect her child:

“When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these [parental] rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.” Not to mention that rapists may use the courtroom as a way to continue to harass their victims, emotionally and psychologically.

Some might argue that the woman doesn’t have to tell the rapist that she’s having his child. But unfortunately, most women are raped by someone they know. They may have been dating the rapist; they may share mutual friends or family. Also, “some of these men discover they are fathers only when the state targets them for child support, as single mothers must identify them to qualify for government assistance. This prompts some to file a lawsuit of their own.”

It’s obvious that this setup is far from ideal for rape victims. But what should we do about it?

Legal Voice has a solution.

In the 2014 session of the Washington State Legislature, Legal Voice advocated for two bills (​SB 6364 / HB 2559) that would have made it much more difficult for rapists to petition for parental rights. These bills mirrored similar laws passed in several other states—rather than requiring a conviction of rape for this legal barrier to take effect, the law would have required “clear and convincing evidence” that a rape had occurred. This is the same standard family courts use to decide whether a child has been abused or neglected. Since most rapes are not reported to the criminal justice system and those that are rarely result in conviction, this piece is key.

Not only would this bill prevent rapists from gaining parental rights over the child, but it also would prevent dragging rape survivors through traumatic and expensive court cases. While the bills did not pass the legislature in 2014, Legal Voice will revisit this issue for its 2017 legislative priorities.

When a woman has been raped, is unintentionally pregnant, and makes the extremely challenging decision to keep the unexpected child, the last thing she needs to worry about is going to court over the custody of that child.

Let’s make sure that she doesn’t have to.

Martha Burwell is a gender equity consultant, researcher, and writer based in Seattle. You can see her explorations into intersectional feminist topics on her blog EqualiSea: The pulse on gender equity in Seattle and beyond, or say hello on twitter @EqualiSea.

Photo courtesy of Donne Ray Jones | Licensed under CC by 2.0